What you get from a $14/hour overseas worker

By Marcia Turner, contributing writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- I have always had trouble delegating. Even as a manager in corporate America, I had a tendency to do all my work myself -- everything from scheduling meetings, to reserving conference rooms, to ordering lunch for guests and sending faxes. I was convinced I was the best person to complete these tasks.

That tendency continued when I started my own marketing agency and hired a couple of interns. Rarely could they get the work done as quickly or as thoroughly as I could, so, too often, I kept it for myself.

As you might expect with only one person working at capacity -- me -- my firm quickly hit a revenue ceiling. Everything I was able to do myself, I did. It was only when I encountered a need for a website, which I had no idea how to design and create, that I was forced hand over a key task.

And after witnessing how much could be done by someone else, I did a complete about-face. I began looking for opportunities to delegate and outsource.

Buoyed by Tim Ferriss' recommendation of low-cost help in his bestselling The 4-Hour Workweek, I turned to Brickwork India, in Bangalore, for some market research. I wanted to know how large a particular industry was to help me determine if it was worth targeting. But since this was a not yet a revenue-generating concern, I also wanted to keep my costs as low as possible. Hiring Bain or the Boston Consulting Group was not an option.

I have a virtual assistant in Texas (I'm in New York) who handles much of my Web work, at $50 an hour, but this project required a different skill-set. I had already spent a few hours of my time conducting my own top-line investigation and came up short. So when Ferriss indicated that Brickwork charges as little as $15 an hour, I decided to test them out.

I went to the company's website and completed an initial Request for Information form identifying myself and the specific tasks I needed a Brickwork analyst to perform. Based on that input, I received a quote for a block of 10 hours of work in the next 30 days. The cost was $140. Total. I was more than willing to risk $14 an hour on this experiment.

The next step was setting up my Brickwork account, which took a matter of minutes, and paying the $140 via credit card. I received an introductory e-mail from my senior executive assistant the next afternoon, the start of their work day. I would have liked to have been able to request a particular worker, since a colleague had recommended a talented researcher there, but there was no opportunity to request anyone specific during the sign-up.

Unsure of whether I should immediately hand off this important research project, I started with a softball task -- compile a list of associations and organizations for writers in the U.S. Within a matter of hours, I had a spreadsheet listing 15 such organizations, their corresponding locations and number of members. Given that I could rattle off close to a dozen writers' associations off the top of my head, I was a bit disappointed it took my executive assistant two hours to come up with 15. I was fairly certain there were more, but the information I received was well-organized.

So I forged ahead and with eight hours remaining on my credit I asked for help in finding the size of the ghostwriting industry. Mindful that more than eight hours could be spent with little to show for it, I set a cap of two hours. Those two hours were quickly gone and, in exchange, I received a list of four small companies that compete in that market. Not exactly what I was after. And then there were six hours left.

We spent some time going back and forth, as I tried to clarify exactly what I needed while also trying to assess whether there was any chance I would actually get it. Looking back, I should have picked up the phone and spent five minute making sure my assistant truly understood what I wanted, but e-mail was so much more convenient; I had her phone number but didn't use it.

From the tasks I assigned and the deliverables I received, it slowly became clear that Brickwork was awesome at tracking down information with a single known value. For example, if you wanted to know how many babies were born last year worldwide, I'm sure my executive assistant could have found that fact. But ask for information that requires some primary research or deductive reasoning and you'll burn through several hours just explaining what you're after, information-wise. Alas, my industry research task falls into the latter category.

At such a low hourly rate and with the flexibility to hire a Brickworker on a whim, I may turn to them for administrative help in the future. But only when the data I need is well-defined and finite. To top of page

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