Outsourcing for Indie App & Game Developers

As an indie developer, you’re intimately acquainted with the frustration and paralysis that accompanies Too Many Ideas, Not Enough Time. It’s hard to focus–and finish–one project when you’ve got so many others vying for your attention. And what about all the other stuff — marketing your game or app, schmoozing critics, tech support, social media. There are only so many hours in the day. If only, you think, I could clone myself.

Tina Pruitt

Tina Pruitt

Enter Outsourcing. You might be thinking, yeah, right, maybe after my game’s making enough money. You might be surprised to hear you can hire a full-time Virtual Assistant for less than your car payment. It’s money, sure, but way cheaper than cloning. And it can greatly accelerate your ability to get sh*t done. I caught up with Tina Pruitt, Chief Imagineer at Cartwheel Studios, to find out what it’s like to outsource–and how you can get started.

Charlyn Keating: How did you get started with outsourcing?
Tina Pruitt: I worked for the government for many, many years. As a program manager, I had a contractor that worked for my program specifically. I had read Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek and applied some of the tips and principles he shares in that book with that contract. (BTW, I won an editing contest for his 2nd edition, and have my name mentioned in that edition! heehee)

I took an early retirement in 2011 to start my own business. I hired out all the website work, newsletter set-up, workshop design, etc. This was through a large, high-end coaching package that I had purchased, so while it was not a true “outsource” like I think and do now, it was paying someone else to do tasks that needed to be done.

Then….between my experience with the contractor, and then with having someone do all the setup and design work for my healthy lifestyle business, I saw the benefit of hiring out. So, in 2012, I hired a full-time virtual assistant (VA). This was one year after I had retired, and about a year and half into my business. It was great! It helped me work on my business instead of in my business. It turned into a stepping stone for me to see what I really wasn’t enjoying about my business model at the time.

So is that what you did in the beginning? Look at what tasks you weren’t enjoying, and pass them to your assistant?
Tasks that were taking up my time that weren’t necessary for me to do: setting up the newsletter for each week, posting the blog post, selecting the blog and newsletter graphics, transcribing my videos. Things that were taking my time that, while important, were not necessary for me to do. I needed that time for clients, networking, creative work, etc. To do things that truly I could only do. I still have that same VA over a year later. And I am just now retraining her on app-related activities!

Are there any tasks you tried to outsource, but later took back in-house?
Nope! Once it is gone off your plate, it needs to stay that way!

I’m sure then she is fabulous since you’ve hung on to her. But everyone makes mistakes. Can you think of one? And how did you handle it?
She has been really good. The only thing I can think of are some transcribed video texts that she would send back to me. Sometimes the translation didn’t always come back exactly right! Haha! But, I proofread all of them just in case. No published mistakes for sure!

How much does a full-time VA cost?
Well, it depends on where your VA lives. Different countries have much different economics than we have, and it is important to keep in mind that you should start with pay what is considered a fair wage for that country. It will sound ridiculously low for U.S. standards, but for elsewhere, it is providing a good income for these employees. So, you can find full-time VAs from around $65/week and up.

I think that will interest many indies, since I would imagine most think a full-time VA would be well out of their price range. So is your VA from out of the U.S.?
Yes, my VA is in the Philippines. Love her. There are local customs that should be discussed at interview, like holidays. Her hours are pretty close to being exact opposite, although we do have some email communication that is “live.” What is great, because whatever I give her to do is done when I wake up the next morning.

I should also mention that I have other team members:
Artist in Philippines
Artist in India
Programmer in India
Development group in Canada
Tehcnical support in USA

But my assistant really “has my back” and is so loyal. I plan on keeping her for as long as she will work for me!

How do you go about finding the help you need? I assume your friend didn’t find them all ๐Ÿ˜‰
One of my online colleagues was interviewing VAs, and she had it down to two. She liked them both, but could only select one. She had them do a small task and ended up choosing the one that felt best for her business. She asked if I was interested in interviewing the other one for my business. I did the interview via Skype (text), and we are still together today!

oDesk is a great resource for VAs, artists, developers, etc. Some of my colleagues use eLance as well. For VAs in the Philippines, check out onlinejobs.ph. Another place to look for part-time workers or project work is Hire My Mom.

Interview well, Give them a small task to perform and pay them for that task.

What specifically does your VA do for you?
She does research for me, writes up directions for me…
For example, I needed to know how to set up an LLC in a different state than my original one, and she did all the research, wrote up a small summary and provided me with all the links for the documents. I loved that!

How do you handle payroll?
PayPal. I pay her a flat weekly rate. Other contractors are either by project or hourly.

Does it balance out? Some weeks you have more work for her, some weeks less?
When you have someone on weekly, it does balance out, because you want to keep them. Once you have trained them, and they know your style, you want to keep them on your team. You can also hire a VA for a few hours a week, not just full-time. But full-time is desirable for most people.

How do you train your VA on recurring tasks? Using video?
I use Screenflow. PC users can use Camtasia. I video the new task and put it into a shared folder on Dropbox. Once a video is made, than no matter who you hire, they can also watch the same training video.

Tools I use for VA communication and work:
Lastpass (passwords)
Hootsuite (social media)

Let’s talk about app and games development. You have a programmer, a dev group in Canada, and artists. How do you see your role? Project Manger? Game Designer? CEO?
I am best at being a leader, so Program Manager is what I have always done best I think. I can easily manage all the moving parts. I just don’t need to be getting in the way of those parts! When we, as business owners, try to do it all and be it all, we are really getting in the way of our business’ progress and therefore success. The hardest point is start turning work over to others, because we think we “need” to do it, or it will save money, or we can do it better. But those are simply the “stories” we have engrained in us. The point of growth starts occurring when you have others who have brilliance in that area do that work. Then you start using your brilliance in an even bigger and brighter way. Leveraging!

Tina, you have been fantastic. Thank you so much for your time today!
Ahโ€ฆ.thank YOU so much! My pleasure for sure!

Author Photo--Charlyn KeatingAbout the Author:ย Charlyn Keating is equal parts business, creative and tech. She brings proven success in online marketing to the app and games world, helping you level up so you can earn the players and profit you deserve.


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Comments 24

  1. Tina!!! This is hugely helpful. I’ve hired interns and have been gearing up to work with a VA. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, “How do you train your VA on recurring tasks? Using video?”
    I use Screenflow. PC users can use Camtasia. I video the new task and put it into a shared folder on Dropbox. Once a video is made, than no matter who you hire, they can also watch the same training video.” That is genius and removes the obstacle that I saw with hiring VAs. THANK YOU for this!

    1. Karen – So happy to hear a big obstacle was removed for you! Yes, you can easily do this…and NO NEED to have the video “perfect” either….just turn it on and go! Sometimes the errors you *may* make on-screen are a great teaching moment for the VA!!! As in, “okay, don’t do what I just did!” – LOL!

      Good luck….BTW, your work is AMAZING!
      Tina xo

  2. This is fantastic! I have been struggling with hiring a VA and these tips are SO helpful. Thank you so much for sharing your process and resources. I now have a place to start with this process!

  3. Tina, thanks for sharing these great tips ๐Ÿ™‚ I finally dipped my feet in with outsourcing some tasks for my business and I couldn’t believe I didn’t do it sooner! I’ve tried both Elance and Odesk and would recommend them for others. My suggestion when using these sites would be to use detailed descriptions of the type of contractor you’re looking for and to ask them to complete a small task (as a test). The reason for being very detailed is to filter out most of the applicants as you WILL get a lot of proposals with these two sites – and I found that a good majority use “templates” and they all read the same. So don’t be afraid to be picky and have an idea of the type of VA you’d like to work with ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Bianca, Yes! Giving them a small task to perform first is the best way to go…I suggest something that they have to write. Also, in your job posting, you can put a little feature that lets you know they have read the entire job description and are not just blasting out template responses (which they do). Have them put a specific word in their response – tell them to respond with work “monkeys”, or whatever word you choose, in their application. This is a great first cut of all the ones who didn’t follow your instructions!

      Thanks for the comment!
      Tina xo

  4. Tina, thank you for sharing that these tips would help any business owner and I could not agree more. I personally am just starting and agree the need to do it all is already starting to be upon me. I will considering outsourcing once I make a profit that can pay for outside help.

    1. Happy to hear that things are getting busy Renee! It is well worth the investment, and it is not as much as you may think! Defo look into it as it will help you GROW even FASTER!

      Good luck sunshine! Tina xo

  5. What a great resource, thank you for sharing all your experiences! I just bought two services from Fiverr last week, and I feel that was just the start! Heard a lot of horror stories, so it’s not all happiness and timed saved, but with a little research it can be such a help. Thanks to everybody who are sharing their tips as well!

    1. Christine, yes, I’ve had ups and downs in the last week and a half since I’ve jumped in with both feet. But overall it’s been very positive, and I am beyond excited about the possibilities for my business. I’m taking notes for a follow-up feature so I can pass on what I’ve learned putting it into practice. Stay tuned…I should have it put together in a few weeks.


    2. Christine,
      So happy you liked it….as far as Fiverr goes, I try to limit those tasks to VERY specific needs and also only select someone with good ratings and examples of work. Preferably even referred to me. For actual day-to-day business, I would stick to someone you hire, train on YOUR business, and keep longer term. They are loyal and take pride in working for you and making your business run well. Hire slow, fire fast!

      xoxo, Tina

      1. Christine, I agree totally with Tina. Let me add that I’m totally hooked on Fiverr right now. It’s my go-to for one-off tasks, especially graphic art because I can see exactly what their style is before I buy. For example, I had an idea for a custom drawing I needed for a new logo. The guy did a great job in 2 days, exactly what I wanted, for five bucks. You just can’t beat that!

        But for ongoing, recurring tasks, it’s worth the investment in someone you hire yourself and train, as Tina pointed out.


  6. This is PERFECT timing for me. I’m in the middle of hiring a VA. I’ve worked with a few people here and there but I’m ready now for a reliable team. I so appreciate all of your suggestions.

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  7. I’ve been toying with the idea of adding one more team member specifically from the Philippines. I often hear such great things & this is one more to help confirm it. And definately agree that the easiest way to train is by using video. As a PC user I use Screencast-o-matic.com or Jing (made by the same company that makes Camtasia). Having a 5 minute timer on the videos helps me to wrap things up quickly & making individual videos vs. lumping tasks together & having to edit later.

    Loved your post. Great questions Charlyn.

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      Thanks, Loralee! I love Jing too. I own a license for Camtasia Pro, but Jing is so easy and intuitive. The 5 minute limit frustrated me at first, but now I’m used to it. I agree, the time limit makes you keep them short and focused.


    2. Great suggestion Loralee! Mine go about 6-12 minutes as some tasks are a little more intensive. And I NEVER edit. I may laugh or apologize if things aren’t going just right, but these videos are not “perfect” and I am perfectly okay with that. I find they can actually be teaching moments! Like, “oops, okay no, that is NOT what you want to do – LOL. Okay, HERE is the right way to do it!”….I probably get some laughs and eyeball rolling sometimes, but I am okay with it! Easier for me to record, post, give link and wake up to task complete! LOVE IT!
      xo, Tina

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