At the time of writing my entire business operation is run entirely by remote staff. I say ‘at the time of writing’ because I have a new sales and account manager starting in-house next month (but that’s a topic for another post).
I want to share exactly how I built my remote team that powered my business through its highly successful first year. If it wasn’t for my team I’d likely have had a meltdown and watched my business stagnate. So this post also goes as a shout out to the great work they’ve done!
Types of Roles Suited to Remote Employees
I should start out by saying that not all roles are suitable to remote employees. Luckily my business model (a link building agency) has a need for the types of roles that are perfect for remote workers anywhere in the world.
- Content writing
- Web development/design
- Data and analysis work
- Admin work
As long as you can create good training documents that are easy to follow, you should be able to utilise remote employees for your business.
Types of Roles NOT Suited to Remote Employees
- Sales (if you care about your brand)
- Customer Service (if you care about your brand)
- Complex work which changes on a job by job basis (such as SEO consultancy)
As a caveat to the above, I’m not saying these positions can’t be worked remotely. However, I would definitely only give these positions to someone I had worked with closely in-house first.
I find that work that is relatively unchanging and process led is perfect for remote workers. However, on the flip-side, remote working is difficult when no two tasks are the same and require a lot of judgement.
What Sort of People You Are Looking For
In short, what you’re looking for is a smart, hard working person who isn’t currently in highly paid or full-time work.
In the most modest way possible, I’m looking for myself 8 years ago (see my original blog post).
The Ideal Candidate
The type of candidate who typically fits well into remote working is usually one of the following:
- Undergraduate students who are looking for something more flexible, comforting and intellectual than a part-time retail job.
- Graduate students who have a non-vocational degree and are struggling to find skilled work.
- Parents who have taken a career break to raise their children and are looking for part-time work that is flexible and can be completed remotely.
- People who are retired or semi-retired and looking for remote work to fill their time and supplement their income.
For long-term success pick up cheap talent, and then reward it with a voluntary pay rise as soon as you can.
If you get greedy and try to keep great talent at a cheap rate for a long one of 2 things is going to happen:
- They will get burned out and quit because the volume of work to earn a liveable wage is too much.
- They will begin producing sub-standard work because the ‘thrill’ of a new work from home job has worn off and the rewards aren’t motivating.
So make sure once you’ve found good remote workers (it can be challenging) you give them they pay rise they deserve.
Where is the Best Place to Hire Remote Workers?
Finding reliable and productive remote workers can be a challenge, just like with in-house employees. I don’t claim to have tried ALL the channels to find remote employees, but I have tried the majority of them.
Winner – Reddit
Reddit (the front page of the internet) is a website of user-created communities for literally everything you can think of. Each community is known as a subreddit or sub for short brings together like-minded people around a single topic.
Therefore there are also subreddits for people looking to hire, and people looking for work. Here are some of my favourites:
Reddit (in general) has a community of members that are above average intelligence, discerning and somewhat against mainstream culture. So you’re going to have more success finding someone who can deliver quality work for cheap than say on a Facebook group for writers or virtual assistants.
In these subs there are typically two types of posts, those that start with [For Hire] and those that start with [Hiring]. These tags are pretty self-explanatory, but either way you should think of them like classified ads.
The post has a title and an offering; the rest is taken care of via direct messages or the new in-built chat function. Reddit does not facilitate payments, mediate workstreams or take any part in the process. So everything is up for you and the remote worker to negotiate and facilitate.
Therefore I recommend starting with small batches of work to build up trust between the two parties. Some workers will want payment upfront, some will invoice on completion. Either way it’s not a good start for one party to be largely indebted to the other – so start small and build from there.
Why is Reddit the winner? Workers you pick up from Reddit seem to be the most likely to stay long-term as a remote employee.
Maybe it’s the site’s counter-culture which means the users are less likely to go seeking traditional employment? Maybe it’s because unlike the dedicated marketplaces the hiring process is less transactional? Who knows, but it definitely seems to be the case.
Runner Up – UpWork
UpWork (unlike Reddit) is a dedicated platform for employers and remote contractors to set up project work. It uses an escrow system where the employer’s money is held and only released to the worker upon satisfactory completion of the work.
In my opinion it’s the freelancer platform which has the highest percentage of quality western workers. Most projects I’ve posted receive bids from workers in the UK, USA or Canada.
Now it’s not a case of just posting up a job ad and hiring an established native English freelancer with great feedback. Why? Because these workers aren’t the type you’re looking for, they’re already settled and comfortable doing work for multiple contractors. You want hungry and fresh workers that you can claim for yourself and contract full-time to your company.
Ideally you want to hire someone who is within their first month of joining the site as a remote employee. They should also have only completed zero contracts/projects or a very small number.
This does mean you’re taking more of a risk on people, and will need to do some virtual interviewing and screening first. Ask for samples of their work, talk to them about why they think they’d be a good fit. You usually get a good impression of who is going to work well and who isn’t fairly quickly.
A good tip when posting a job ad is to put in a special question that applicants need to answer. This helps weed out auto-applications which is a big problem on these sites. So for example at the end of the job description for a writer I usually ask ‘IMPORTANT – What is your favourite book and why? Applicants who do not answer this question will be marked as spam and ignored’.
Third Place – Freelancer.com
Freelancer is much like UpWork in that it’s a bid-based freelancer platform which operates an escrow service to mediate transactions.
I find that it’s not as good for higher skilled work which requires more qualitative skills such as writing. However it’s very useful for data work, automation work and simple web development tasks.
These are the sort of tasks that you don’t need native English speaking workers for, and so can get good talent dirt cheap.
I’d say that Freelancer.com is more reflective of your classic low-cost outsourcing platform. The majority of workers will be mediocre and so you may have to go through a lot of trial and error to find the right talent. However, the low labour cost makes this a plausible undertaking, the real cost is time.
I would definitely consider mixing freelancer.com into your hiring process though. I found my marketing assistant on there and she has been with the business since day 1, and now pretty much entirely manages my operations for me. Her work ethic is second to none and so I moved her onto a permanent contract with a sizeable pay raise as soon as I could.
The hiring process on this site is pretty much the same as on UpWork, you post job listings, communicate with candidates and then choose your desired freelancer(s). The process then goes into an escrow-bound workflow with payment released upon completion.
Fourth Place – Fiverr
Fiverr started out as a marketplace for people to sell pretty much anything for $5. Since its beginnings it has flourished to become a full scale service marketplace where its users can charge anything starting at $5.
Unlike Upwork and Freelancer.com you can’t post tasks or jobs on this site as an employer. The way this site works is you browse peoples services for sale and ‘checkout’ your desired quantity.
Therefore there is sometimes a bit more search work and Q&A to find the right worker for your needs, as they don’t come to you.
Now remember the object of this hiring method is to find new talent and then secure them as your own well-rewarded employees. So when using Fiverr you need to get a little bit cute with your search filters and techniques. If you just go by the standard search results you’ll get established workers with high prices, or low priced workers who are poor quality.
To find potential employees who are new to the platform (and therefore offering good work for low prices) use the built in filter Fiverr has for ‘newest arrivals’. The only caveat to keep in mind is that lots of established sellers create shell accounts to pick up buyers looking for newly established workers. Therefore the search isn’t over with just this one filter application. You can tell pretty easily which accounts are real and which accounts are fakes though thankfully. Just look for those with genuine pictures/videos and good descriptions, avoid the listings which use generic stock images and cookie cutter descriptions.
Honourable Mention – People per Hour
I’ve never had any success finding freelancers that I want to sign to become full-time employees via People Per Hour.
However, I feel it deserves a mention as I have used the platform to successfully find specialists for one-off projects. I have found some excellent consultants for legal documents, HR issues, creating custom excel vba functions and other specialist tasks.
The way it works is actually a combination of the platform types discussed above. You can browse ‘hourlies’ which are listings people set up selling their services. Or you can create a custom project and have freelancers and contractors bid on your job.
For anything that’s not a cookie cutter task I’d recommend posting a custom project for best results.
How to Transition Freelancers to Remote Employees
Now remember, the purpose of this hiring technique is not to keep using 3rd party marketplaces indefinitely. It is to use them as a means of discovering talent and then taking them ‘off-platform’ as your own dedicated employees.
By most of the platform’s rules (except Reddit) soliciting their members for independent work is frowned upon. However, it’s better for both you and the worker. You gain more control and the worker doesn’t have to pay high commission fees to the platform.
On some platforms if you type in the words ‘email’, ‘skype’ or ‘phone’ in the message dialogue it comes up with an active warning.
So the first step is to try and locate the worker on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook. If you can find them on one of these sites and connect with them you can reach out and offer a formal employment contract directly with your company.
If you can’t find them or are unable to connect with them then you’ll need to be a little creative. My favourite method is to create a word document with a message for the freelancer. It basically says “I’m really impressed with your work so far, I’d like you to come work for me directly under a proper contract and I’ll give you a pay rise of £X/$X per hour. If you’re interested contact me at my company email email@example.com”
Now you don’t want to just send this file direct in case the freelancing platform has something in place to scan them. I really doubt they do, but it’s better safe than sorry.
So to add another layer of protection put the word doc into a zip file and password-protect the zip. Then send the newly protected zip file as one file/message, and the password in a separate unprotected word doc or notepad doc as a separate message.
You now have a way to make a job offer to the candidate that can only be picked up on by a thorough manual review by the site’s admins.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my guide to hiring remote employees for your team!
This is the process I’ve used to build my own business, and I’m not claiming it will work for everyone. But it should provide value to most people looking to build out their business remotely.
This isn’t a magic shortcut; it’s still damn hard to hire good people remotely and can be exhausting. However, the benefits in terms of costs and flexibility of creating a remote workforce are great and I’d highly recommend it.