Small business owners are overburdened – they have small teams & and not enough managerial bandwidth or resources to handle all functions – marketing, HR, administration, operations, accounting, & financial management but they cannot afford to hire staff for each function. To thrive and to grow their businesses, they need versatile workers who can multi-task and efficiently discharge responsibilities but versatile workers are scarce, more in high demand & seldom easy to find especially if you are in smaller cities; even if you do find them, as small business owner, it is a challenge to get them interested to work for you.

An alternative to the resource problem is to hire part-timers, or what I refer to as fractional manpower. I believe that hiring fractional manpower virtually is an even better option. In the interconnected world that we are now in, the availability of virtual workforce is a huge opportunity. Virtualization of businesses became a reality when reliable internet services became available in the 1990s but was accessible only to the larger corporations. But with increasing penetration of broadband worldwide and lowering costs of bandwidth, it is transforming into a mainstream, strategic business component for not just large enterprises but for smaller businesses as well.

With a pervasive cyberspace, physical proximity is meaningless for many transactions/operations and there is a global workforce now available to serve your myriad requirenents. Organizations are no longer constrained by barriers of time and place. Virtualization of business processes is a flexible and cost effective option for the small businesses to improve performance and profitability, to effect dynamic organizational changes, to meet challenges of fulfilling customer expectations effectively, to reducing cost, improving efficiency and accelerate time-to-market.

A virtual workforce helps small businesses in cutting costs; hiring employees virtually reduces the cost of office space, computers, desks, phone and other such facilities. An employee in a virtual office set-up has a computer, phone, and other work related essentials; by utilizing these under-utilized resources, the overal cost of service is reduced. An employer can even pay a higher hourly rate to a worker than what he or she would otherwise earn thus making it a win-win for both. Hiring a virtual worker on contract an employer also avoids the burden of retirement plans, vacation or sick pay.

Access to talent which was otherwise not available is also great boon for small businesses with limited capital and resources as it helps thems jump start their operations with ease. Virtual organizations have greater access to talent; a virtual business can hire someone who would not relocate. Yet another advantage is the ability to straddle multiple time zones. Small business can use the resources available in different countries and ensure completion of work in a short span of time.

I can relate one of my experiences in early 2006. A small owner managed ‘staffing company’ in New England had an opportunity to win a contract to fill in around 30 positions within 3 to 4 weeks, with more to come if successful. However, this was not possible with the 2 employees that she had. The owner with whom I had done business with in her earlier company, shot me an email asking if I could help in any way. I offered her the virtual workforce option and we got off ground soon engaging the services of few individuals in India who had basic experience in hiring. Their task was to post the requirements on several job boards and forums to attract applications, to search for suitable profiles on Monster & Dice. They also emailed potential candidates and answered their queries via email. Any contact that required talking to the candidates was taken over by the client and his two staff.

The job of filling in the positions for the staffing company was thus accomplished by people in different time zones and this ensured the completion of work in the set time frame.

Another instance of meeting the challenge of deadlines was with an internet marketing company which hit on an idea of cashing in on the gift certificates sent during the holiday season. They wanted to launch a website & sign up with hundred of affiliates before end of December so that they could launch their offer on New Year’s day.

However, they could not get work going as their staff were already stretched for the holiday season in December. And getting additional help locally in the States was proving very difficult when they got in touch with me. I took responsibility for the project, and the client loaned me Project Manager and a graphic designer. We hired 2 coders from Romania, contracted a few freelance content developers from Philippines & India and engaged a data entry company in India to create the database of about half a million records. This was not a normal outsourcing project, but a collaborative project executed by a virtual team working across different time zones.

But employing a virtual workforce is not without its own challenges and problems thyroxine prix. I had written about managing a virtual team team earlier and will be writing a few posts in a couple of weeks time elaborating on topics such as ‘How Small Business can become Virtual?’ and ‘Meeting and Overcoming Challenges in a Virtual Organization’.