Outsourcing vs. Automation: Which is best for your niche marketing business?

| April 16, 2012 | 4 Comments

If you’re new to the niche marketing business you are probably doing everything yourself: keyword research, writing articles, setting up web sites, and link building. However, if you’ve been in it for awhile and want to scale your operation, you probably have come across both outsourcing and automation for at least some parts of your business.

What Roles Do Outsourcing and Automation Play?

Outsourcing and its Advantages

With outsourcing, you are essentially hiring someone else to do some or all of the work for you when you build your niche sites. I believe that the most common form of outsourcing is content creation or article writing, but you could also hire people to do things like install and configure WordPress, or build links to your website.

Time Saver

Outsourcing is beneficial if you don’t have a lot of time to work on your sites. Because you can hire a virtual assistant (VA) from places like oDesk, you can have things done for you while you’re asleep, and wake up to completed tasks. If you hire someone from overseas, they will typically work at very affordable rates.

oDesk - Hire Your Virtual Assistant

Not An Expert? No Problem

Another benefit of outsourcing is that you can outsource tasks that you are not good at to someone else who is an expert. Article writing on certain topics is the most obvious example. On the flip side, you can outsource things that you ARE good at but don’t want to do, because they’re either too tedious or don’t provide you any extra beneficial effect once you’ve mastered the process. An example of this could be link building: once you know how to do it well and have everything down to a simple, repeatable task, then you can outsource that to someone else.

Disadvantages of Outsourcing

Trust Issues

One disadvantage of outsourcing is that you really have to trust your VA or your team who is doing the work. If you constantly have to peek over their shoulder, correct their work, etc. then you are spending too much time and money trying to make things happen. You have to be able to let go and trust that things will be completed to your satisfication, to a certain extent.

You Need To Create Great Documentation Beforehand

You will also have to have a really good, detailed process nailed down to a science. It needs to be repeatable and well-documented, whether written or perhaps in video form (both is ideal). Further, it needs to actually work. If it doesn’t achieve the expected results then there’s no point in outsourcing it. Do not try to outsource something that isn’t proven.

Your VAs Will Abandon Ship Eventually

Another disadvantage is that if you hire a VA from abroad, oftentimes they tend to quit for one reason or another. Then you’re stuck with the hiring process all over again, and finding a really good VA is not necessarily the quickest process.

Automation and its Advantages

With automation I am primarily referring to software tools that can help mechanize your niche marketing business. The idea is that if you can type it, or you can click it, then you can automate it. I’m not really referring to tools like SECockpit, which does an amazing job of doing mass keyword competition analysis in the background for you. I’m thinking more along the lines of iMacros or AutoIt. Basically, the premise is that you setup a macro or a script, you push a button, and then you walk away. The macro then completes some kind of task for you that is infinitely repeatable. An example of this would be submitting a URL to the indexing tool at IMTalk.org.

iMacros Twitter Tweet Sample

iMacros Sample Code

Automation is beneficial when you have these repeatable tasks that have to be done over and over ad infinitum. You can save a lot of time and you don’t have to pay someone to do the work for you when you can have a program do it for you instead. It takes time to learn and setup scripts, but once you’ve got it down, they work pretty smoothly.

Disadvantages of Automation

You Need Special Tools

Zennoposter from ZennoLab

Zennoposter from ZennoLab

One disadvantage is that for more complicated automation you will not only have to buy special software tools to perform tasks, but you will have to learn their language as well. There are tools out there that require you to have some knowledge about the way they work before you can start automating things. Examples I found were ZennoPoster and Ubot Studio, but there are many, many others.

Small Mistakes Can Lead To Bigger Mistakes

Another disadvantage is that while automation rewards intelligent setup on your part, it severely punishes ignorance as well. If you try to automate a link building campaign and mistakenly enter the wrong URL for example, the results could be disastrous. You really need to spend the extra time to make sure your scripts are correct.

They Need Dedicated Resources

Another downside to automation is that software tools work best when they have dedicated resources to use. Meaning to say, you will need to have a computer available to do all the work with the tool. If this is your home PC, you may even need to have a larger bandwidth cap from your ISP especially if you are trying to automate link building. If you’re not using your home PC, then you may have to invest in a virtual private server (VPS), which is a fancy term for a computer hosted elsewhere. You typically connect to this computer remotely via some remote desktop program, and you can use it like any other PC. VPS’ are usually rented out in monthly plans, which add to the cost of your site operation.

You Can’t Automate Everything

I’ve yet to see something that can write unique and compelling 1000-word articles on a given topic that can engage and amuse the reader. Oh, and I do know that article scraper software exists that can scrape the web for articles, steal content, mix up paragraphs, spin it for you, and spit out as many copies as you like on a scheduled basis. This doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea, because the results are usually terrible.

What To Use And When

What to do: outsource or automate? Or both?I think that it makes sense to do both if you can fit it within your budget. If you’re just starting out, do everything yourself first so that you have an understanding of how it all works and what tasks are the most repetitive and time consuming. Leverage resources elsewhere to do those tasks for you once you have a little bit of money rolling in.

You’ll need to use your own judgement as well. It wouldn’t make sense to invest too much into either if you only have 1-5 small niche sites with 5-10 pages of content. It may make sense if you’re planning to build 1-5 large authority sites with hundreds of pages each.

If I had to do everything all over again, here’s how I would go about it assuming that you built all these sites at the same time:

Level 1: Newbie Niche Marketer (1-3 small sites)

  • No outsourcing
  • No automation
  • 1-2 services max as per budget
Level 2: Small Niche Marketer (3-10 small sites)
  • Outsource content writing
  • Write your own macros in iMacros for basic, repetitive tasks
  • 1-2 services max as per budget
Level 3: Average Niche Marketer (10-25 small sites)
  • Outsource content writing
  • Outsource or automate link building using services
  • 2-3 services max as per budget
Level 4: Aggressive Niche Marketer (25-50 small sites)
  • Outsource content writing
  • Outsource or automate link building using services or tools
  • 3-5 services or tools max as per budget
Level 5: Established Niche Marketer (50+ small sites)
  • Outsource content writing
  • Outsource or automate WordPress installation, setup, and configuration
  • Outsource portfolio management
  • Outsource or automate link building using services or tools
  • 5-10 services or tools max as per budget

What I Am Doing Right Now

I am using outsourcing for the following:

  • Article writing. Although I can write fairly well, I’d rather spend my time on other parts of my business. So I do outsource most if not all content creation. Although for some of my sites I have written some or all of the content myself.
  • Manual link building (Web 2.0s primarily). This is just really tedious, and I’ve tried tools that attempt to do this but they are all terrible for one reason or another. I would even settle for a tool that can do proper Web 2.0 creation successfully, but I’ve tried A LOT and again the results were abysmal. Manual it is. I don’t have a dedicated VA for this, but just keep hiring people to do 10 Web 2.0s at a time. Sometimes I just hire people to create 100’s of accounts and change the theme or layout, and then I just pick from the lot for different campaigns.

I use automation for:

  • Indexing and bookmarking pages/posts. I do have an iMacro that reads off of a spreadsheet list that I fill out, and once in awhile I let it ride and it submits the links to be indexed for me. Not the biggest time saver but it does remove a lot of the tedium when building out sites. (UPDATE: Lately I haven’t bothered as much; Google tends to find my links a little better in recent tests.)
  • ManageWP

    ManageWP = Awesome

    Posting certain content to my niche sites. For example, some of my sites have posts based around events. It’s usually a generic message that works across multiple niches, so what I’ve done is schedule out a post within ManageWP for several of my sites. Without revealing what that post actually is, think of events like holidays. You could automate the posting of a “Happy New Year!” message for dozens of your sites if you wanted to.

  • I’m currently testing some automation software on a VPS that I’m renting for about $10/month. No results yet so nothing to report, but it is basically for Tier 2/3 link building. I’m renting a VPS only because of the bandwidth problem. In Canada our ISPs suck and we have awful bandwidth caps, so I’d rather use someone else’s connection (which is faster anyway). Plus, I don’t have to tie up my Mac and/or my PC for long periods of time.

The Ideal Setup

In general I would actually prefer to automate EVERYTHING if I could. Here’s why: No one else but you actually gives a damn about the quality of the sites you put out. When you outsource to a VA, they may understand why you’re trying to do the best job that you can, but they won’t care about it like you do. You may get lucky like I did and have a VA or a writer who does a good job regardless, but that won’t always happen. I am the type of guy that becomes “less than pleasant” when I see the default “Hello World!” post left on a new WordPress site, or one that still uses the default 2010 theme, even when I explicitly lay out in my instructions that these should be deleted/changed.

I’d rather have a piece of software do exactly what I tell it to because I know that it’s going to follow my instructions precisely. The downside is that it takes a lot of time and dedication to set up such a tool properly, and if you make a mistake the results can be horrible. You need to set aside time for testing and more testing; it definitely requires a lot of patience. This is something I learned the hard way from my years of experience in the IT industry. Get the method down, test it out on a dummy site, and then go from there. When you see successful results though, the experience can be very rewarding.

Return On Investment

Check your ROI when outsourcing or automating anything

LOL hey guys maybe we shouldn't have bought all those tools! Check out our profits!

As you can see from my post history I started with outsourcing first and only now am I starting to explore automation on a small scale. As to which you should do first, I’m not sure if there’s a right or wrong answer here, but it mostly depends on what you want to accomplish and how much it costs. If you’re not seeing the return on investment when outsourcing for example, then it might be a sign to take things back under your control. After all, you’re doing it to save time, but what are you actually doing with that free time?

Similarly with a software automation tool that could potentially be very expensive, can you make your money back on that tool to make it worth while? Or are you spending too much time to learn it and not get anything done?

I still do prefer to outsource article writing as the writers I have used have all done a good job for me and I believe that it’s money well spent. It’s certainly paying off when it comes down to my monthly progress reports. Check my progression from January, February, and March of this year.

So What Do You Do?

Do you outsource or automate? Or do you do everything yourself? Which do you prefer and why? Let me hear your thoughts.

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Tags:

Category: Niche Marketing

Comments (4)

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  1. Mike says:

    Great post
    Have you tried Magic Submitter for web 2.0s? If yes why didnt it work?

    • Andre Garde says:

      I haven’t tried it seriously yet, but I just recently signed up for the trial.

      I’m looking at automation as a whole, not just link building. So I need/want something more powerful.

  2. Wesley Banks says:

    I always find it interesting to see how others structure their business and make use of their time.

    I’m kind of caught in the middle of not wanting/trusting someone for outsourcing and not having enough time to do it myself. I’ve used Text Broker a few times, but it’s too dang expensive.

    Really if I could just find a link builder at a reasonable price I’d be happy, but I’ve tried a lot of places and never seem to get results unless I do it myself.

    • Andre Garde says:

      TextBroker is really expensive, but I have yet to find something that can rival a really good writer there for a good price. I’ve tried to cheap out a few times and have always had unsatisfactory results. I figure the extra $ is worth the time saved.

      I’m at the point where it’s really difficult for me to scale up and/or do R&D into other income streams by myself. It’s just too much to manage. It’s not the number of sites so much as it is the amount of content, quality assurance, and link building that needs to be taken care of, let alone the monitoring and analytics.

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