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  • #979565
    Boballoo
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    As the owner and only employee of my completely on-line company, it truly is a difficult task to see beyond the four walls of my office and into the minds of my clients and service providers. I am redesigning my website/business from the ground up. I provide a variety of services worldwide with the help of my freelancers. Although I have tens of thousands of freelance providers and thousands of returning clients it is mostly automated so I have kept it as a sole proprietorship and I am the only employee. It’s lonely at the top, and the bottom, and I find it very difficult to give myself advice . . . because I often don’t listen. So, I am turning to you to help me come up with a solution or at least some new input into a problem that has been rattling around in my brain since the business was conceived in 1998, and I promise I will listen to your advice. In fact, I am hoping you will provide me with new insight into the problem.

    THE PROBLEM:
    Given that the freelancers individually agree, should I allow direct contact (the exchange of email addresses, telephone numbers etc.) between clients and freelancers a la Odesk and others?

    At present, I do not allow this and I never have. All projects, all messages to and from clients, all invoices etc. are individually monitored and approved or rejected by me. Contact information included in messages is removed with a warning sent to the offender the first and second time. Further attempts to circumvent the rule result in suspension and then removal of the account. This system allows me to provide a level of quality control for my clients and direct intervention in a project, should that be warranted.

    Here are the pros and cons, as I see them from my tiny window on the world, of allowing direct contact between freelancers and clients (access to or the exchange of email addresses, telephone numbers etc.) :

    Pros:

    1) The system becomes very convenient for both freelancers and clients as they do not have to login every time they send a message. They can simply send a messages from their email client or webmail if they are on the road.

    2) Clients will save $ because freelancers will be able to charge less as the percentage I take from each project will be much lower.

    3) Freelancers will make more $ because the percentage that I take for each project will be much lower.

    4) All of the above will lead to more projects from more clients and more freelancers who register.

    5) Much less work for me as the system can be almost completely automated.

    6) Potential for additional income from “membership” fees if I charge a fee to freelancers for including their contact info in their profile.

    7) Potential for additional income from “membership fees” if I charge a fee to clients for access to those freelancers who have agreed to allow their contact information to be shown.

    Cons:

    1) Once the client and freelancer have each other’s contact info there is a great possibility that I will lose the client and all future projects that client might create.

    2) I lose all control over the quality of the service provided and the quality of the communication between clients and freelancers.

    3) No matter how much I tell clients, “You are in charge of your project,” and “When selecting a freelancer it is buyer beware,” if they feel they have not been treated well they will invariably blame the system or the company at some level, not the freelancer. (I don’t blame them. See below for more on this.)

    4) The percentage I get from each project will be much lower as I am not involved.

    5) There is an ongoing and controversial discussion around paying or not paying for work through membership fees. However, this may be a side-issue specific to the solution I choose, such as offering memberships.

    As if that wasn’t enough, here are some additional points.

    In fact, I agree with clients who blame the company for poor service from a freelancer. That is one of the things that bothers me about Odesk. They take no responsibility for the work of the freelancers they allowed on their system. I believe the company has a responsibility to test and screen the freelancers before the client ever sees their online profile. (Just so you know, I do have tests and strict screening procedures in place.) Clients are more likely to place blame on the company for a poorly done project in the case where no direct contact is permitted, but in that case, I have some control over it, as all communication between clients and freelancers is monitored by me and I can immediately rectify any problems the moment they arise and step in personally if I feel the client is not being treated properly.

    #1115262
    relentless
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    It’s highly possible that your clients will go directly to your freelancers for future projects that is the nature of online outsourcing unfortunately. If the client knows the freelancer works well and is reliable then what is the value you are bringing to warrant going through you, it’s cheaper and more efficient to go directly to the freelancer as you have said.

    Employ an account manager to free yourself up, train the account manager to do all the tasks you do. This way you can have all your clients liaise with this person instead of you.

    #1115263
    Divert To Mobile
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    Hi Boballoo,

    The reason your business works is because you are acting as the middle man.
    Like you said, you are vetting the suppliers and ensuring quality of service to the customers. You are in fact saving them from eachother.

    What is it that you hope to achieve by taking yourself out of the equation. Is it more time for yourself ? If so …
    Consider hiring a VA to do some of the QA work for you? You can maintin the high quality of service and acheive your time goals.

    Steve

    #1115264
    Boballoo
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    Divert To Mobile, post: 129312 wrote:
    You are in fact saving them from each other.

    Thank you, Steve. I love this quote. Can I use it in my marketing? :)

    Divert To Mobile, post: 129312 wrote:
    What is it that you hope to achieve by taking yourself out of the equation. Is it more time for yourself? It’s interesting that both you and Relentless suggest ways to make more time for myself and you are probably right: I do need a holiday. However, my goal is to increase clients/sales/profits. I see the big boys like Guru and Elance and Odesk who, while not condoning the “offsite” approach, merely rely on the honesty of their clients and providers and the value and benefits they get from using their site as the project platform to keep them loyal. They take no measures to stop users from exchanging contact info aside from polite messages to scare the users away from doing so. I just don’t see how it works, but apparently it does. I never wanted to give out contact information and I don’t and probably won’t. But it makes me wonder why they have so much return business when, from my view, the benefits to the users are not that special.
    #1115265
    Boballoo
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    relentless, post: 129305 wrote:
    It’s highly possible that your clients will go directly to your freelancers for future projects that is the nature of online outsourcing unfortunately.Thank you, Relentless. I appreciate the time you took to respond and I agree with you. My question centers around the fact that Odesk and others do allow the exchange of contact info and yet they are huge. I don’t see the benefit to the client or the freelancers, but they still come back as evidenced by the staggering number of projects on their sites every day. This is what I am trying to figure out with this post. Ultimately, my goal is to increase sales/clients so I am exploring the options and came here because, like you, I could not see the benefits for me of allowing access to my provider’s contact info.
    #1115266
    Greg_M
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    I’d say over time you would experience leakage of your client base, having direct contact with freelancers they become familiar with the process and decide to deal direct.

    Without knowing your exact workflow it appears as if you use Odesk, or similar as a tool to provide some type of value adding through project managing the process.

    If this is a successful business model, I’d consider taking Odesk out of the process all together. ie have your own portal, you have the connections and ability to screen on skill, plus you can use your discretion with direct contacts, guess you won’t want to develop a platform from scratch to achieve this but I’ve seen some pretty good off the shelf web apps for managing diverse resources, “Mavenlink” is one I’m currently playing with (free to trial, plus a minimal free version ongoing… you can even brand it as your own), I reckon it would manage most of the work flow you’ve described.

    As mentioned you could have someone else apart from yourself managing it if wanted.

    #1115267
    Kosta_Kondratenko
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    Boballoo, post: 129286 wrote:
    As the owner and only employee of my completely on-line company, it truly is a difficult task to see beyond the four walls of my office and into the minds of my clients and service providers. I am redesigning my website/business from the ground up. I provide a variety of services worldwide with the help of my freelancers. Although I have tens of thousands of freelance providers and thousands of returning clients it is mostly automated so I have kept it as a sole proprietorship and I am the only employee. It’s lonely at the top, and the bottom, and I find it very difficult to give myself advice . . . because I often don’t listen. So, I am turning to you to help me come up with a solution or at least some new input into a problem that has been rattling around in my brain since the business was conceived in 1998, and I promise I will listen to your advice. In fact, I am hoping you will provide me with new insight into the problem.

    THE PROBLEM:
    Given that the freelancers individually agree, should I allow direct contact (the exchange of email addresses, telephone numbers etc.) between clients and freelancers a la Odesk and others?

    At present, I do not allow this and I never have. All projects, all messages to and from clients, all invoices etc. are individually monitored and approved or rejected by me. Contact information included in messages is removed with a warning sent to the offender the first and second time. Further attempts to circumvent the rule result in suspension and then removal of the account. This system allows me to provide a level of quality control for my clients and direct intervention in a project, should that be warranted.

    Here are the pros and cons, as I see them from my tiny window on the world, of allowing direct contact between freelancers and clients (access to or the exchange of email addresses, telephone numbers etc.) :

    Pros:

    1) The system becomes very convenient for both freelancers and clients as they do not have to login every time they send a message. They can simply send a messages from their email client or webmail if they are on the road.

    2) Clients will save $ because freelancers will be able to charge less as the percentage I take from each project will be much lower.

    3) Freelancers will make more $ because the percentage that I take for each project will be much lower.

    4) All of the above will lead to more projects from more clients and more freelancers who register.

    5) Much less work for me as the system can be almost completely automated.

    6) Potential for additional income from “membership” fees if I charge a fee to freelancers for including their contact info in their profile.

    7) Potential for additional income from “membership fees” if I charge a fee to clients for access to those freelancers who have agreed to allow their contact information to be shown.

    Cons:

    1) Once the client and freelancer have each other’s contact info there is a great possibility that I will lose the client and all future projects that client might create.

    2) I lose all control over the quality of the service provided and the quality of the communication between clients and freelancers.

    3) No matter how much I tell clients, “You are in charge of your project,” and “When selecting a freelancer it is buyer beware,” if they feel they have not been treated well they will invariably blame the system or the company at some level, not the freelancer. (I don’t blame them. See below for more on this.)

    4) The percentage I get from each project will be much lower as I am not involved.

    5) There is an ongoing and controversial discussion around paying or not paying for work through membership fees. However, this may be a side-issue specific to the solution I choose, such as offering memberships.

    As if that wasn’t enough, here are some additional points.

    In fact, I agree with clients who blame the company for poor service from a freelancer. That is one of the things that bothers me about Odesk. They take no responsibility for the work of the freelancers they allowed on their system. I believe the company has a responsibility to test and screen the freelancers before the client ever sees their online profile. (Just so you know, I do have tests and strict screening procedures in place.) Clients are more likely to place blame on the company for a poorly done project in the case where no direct contact is permitted, but in that case, I have some control over it, as all communication between clients and freelancers is monitored by me and I can immediately rectify any problems the moment they arise and step in personally if I feel the client is not being treated properly.

    Basecamp allows you to have your contractor and client on there without them getting each other’s contact details. If the contractor needs to send a message to the client they can setup a discussion or comment on a task and vice versa for the client.

    In either case you can put a non compete term into your contractor agreement and, well putting a similar term in a client contract may be awkward. Anyway that would be my suggestion.

    The other way is company based emails @xyz.com.au then the contractor would have to login to check (if you have someone doing support). That way once the contractor leaves you simply shut off the email or redirect to you.

    Keep your contractors supressed! Do not give them too much knowledge! Keep them in the dark! lol.

    #1115268
    relentless
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    • Total posts: 137
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    Thank you, Relentless. I appreciate the time you took to respond and I agree with you. My question centers around the fact that Odesk and others do allow the exchange of contact info and yet they are huge. I don’t see the benefit to the client or the freelancers, but they still come back as evidenced by the staggering number of projects on their sites every day. This is what I am trying to figure out with this post

    It’s very hard to find reliable and skilled workers, not to mention many disappear after working for a few months (or slowly become less reliable) So once I’ve found a great contractor I go direct to them

    I believe the high number of projects is due to the high turnover, I’m constantly looking for a new people because the ones I’ve hired are no good or disappear.

    Also I create new projects on there but only for the people I’ve hired in the past, so that is another factor with the number of projects.

    I do use Odesk to track their working hours and automatic payments, so Odesk is providing me value in that area.

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