The cost savings of outsourcing low-level work overseas to countries like India, China, and the Philippines can look pretty attractive. But it's folly.

The lack of language skills among the outsourced employees can lead to misunderstandings, lost credibility, customer service complaints and missed opportunity.
I learned this first-hand. I tried outsourcing some of my personal work to a virtual assistant firm in India. I wasn't so much concerned with saving money as I was in freeing up the time I spent responding to email and performing other tasks that did not necessarily merit my personal involvement.
Just like all of those companies that outsourced their call centers, I saw the error of my ways after seeing the difficulty my virtual assistant had with basic email communication. One of his emails to me, with the subject line of "Results can be even worthier than you pay!" sounded like spam and I almost deleted it by accident! His email continued "I am really exicted about our newly build relationship." Egad!

It's not that delegating and outsourcing are bad or wrong -- on the contrary, as I wrote in a recent MarketingProfs article, farming out tasks that you don't absolutely have to do yourself is the key to greater productivity and reduced stress. The more work you can assign to others, the more time you have to concentrate on issues that genuinely need your attention. But be careful whom you outsource to. Do you really want someone who can barely speak English to answer your phone or handle your email? (Though it's not meant to be funny, this podcast interview with a Chinese virtual assistant company CEO amusingly illustrates this point.) In fact, do you really want that person to do anything of importance for your business? I sure don't -- so much so that I recently fired my India-based virtual assistant.

The issue is not the country that you outsource to; it's the quality of the people doing the work, or at the very least, the quality of their language skills. Outsourcing to a country where the native language has to go back four branches to find a common ancestor with English is, I have found, rarely a good idea. I shudder to think of the aforementioned guy acting on my behalf, replying to my business-critical emails in Borat-speak. I realize now I could have avoided this whole debacle by taking some common-sense precautions, namely the ones recommended by Tim Ferriss and outlined in my above-mentioned MarketingProfs article. These are:

  • Make enough inquiries to receive 20-30 proposals.

  • Look to hire multiple virtual assistants; never hire a single individual -- you don't want your project to fail because someone got sick, took a vacation, or quit on you.

  • Immediately delete any boilerplate form responses when evaluating initial responses.

  • Test your VAs by assigning easy 20-30 minute tasks to the top 3-5 candidates. This will eliminate around 50% of them.

  • Next, test them further by taking a longer project (20-30 hours), and assigning it to all three. Ask them to stop after three hours and send you what they've completed, and you will know who performs best.

To reiterate, I'm in no way against VAs -- the concept is wonderful! But I needed to be a little more picky about which company and which individual VAs I chose. So with the above points in mind, I was able to find a much higher quality company based in Canada. The VA I chose there costs a lot more money, but I'm getting a lot more value out of her work. Now if my credit card company would only follow the same advice, I won't need a translator to talk to them...

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Drawbacks of Outsourcing to India or China

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Stephan Spencer is the founder of Science of SEO and an SEO expert, author, and speaker.

LinkedIn: Stephan Spencer

Twitter: @sspencer