Online businesses have a decisive advantage over offline ones, provided they have the skills, knowledge, and patience to leverage them. One fairly obvious advantage is the likely absence of a lot of normal expenses that an offline business must pay – such as rent for an office or storefront, and the associated utilities. You will likely need to find and train employees online, however. And this brings with it a whole new set of problems. How do you find reliable, hard-working employees online? Furthermore, how do you train them without having them physically present at a training seminar or session?

There are a lot of misconceptions about finding employees online, and a great deal of tactics that, from personal experience, simply don’t work. If you want to find the employees you need to make your business successful, start with the place where these employees learn the skills necessary to be successful.

Finding Employees Online

Some of my favorite targets for finding employees online, and the ones with which I’ve had the most success, are college job boards. For the most part, you can avoid the scams and spams that plague sites like Craigslist and Elance, and target college students that are likely hungry to find work. Considering my alma mater as an example, check out Northern Michigan University’s off-campus job board for an idea on how these postings work. As a side note, for all you link-hungry web developers out there that started foaming at the mouth when you saw a potential opportunity to get an easy link from an .edu domain, it’s not worth the effort:

  • These pages rarely get indexed
  • The links are temporary

But if your goal is to hire employees, I’d recommend college job boards as a primary, if not sole strategy. Better yet, post on college job boards in your area so you have the chance to attract some local employees. You might decide to shift to brick and mortar offices in the future, and having a local online employee gives you the option of having the occasional live meeting. When I was involved in one start-up, we not only posted on all of the community college and university job boards in the area, but also made a point to attend the schools’ job fairs and post fliers in the English and Computer Science departments. Don’t be afraid to advertise online jobs in offline places.

There are some larger directories that connect you to college students around the country, but most sites that do so are designed similar to CLEAR wireless’ coverage finder, which means that you might have to sift through each state and city to find employees. Additionally, the national resources usually charge a fee to list a job, while college job boards are often free.

If you decide not to target college job boards, you should still stay away from large job directories like Craigslist. Instead, try targeting industry-specific job websites that have less spammy advertisements, and have more potential for having the people you need. If you need a content writer, for example, you might consider posting on sites like FreelanceWritingGigs.com or TheWriteJobs.com.

Whichever job boards or methods you choose to advertise employment opportunities, keep these things in mind when writing the posts:

  • Be as specific and clear as possible. What specific skills should the employee posses?
  • Avoid mentioning compensation – you can discuss this during the interview (but mention it early).
  • Explain exactly what the employee will be expected to do (don’t say “blog writer” – say “finance and credit blog writer.”)
  • Be honest about the time commitment – just how “part-time” is the job?

Most importantly, get samples of their work. A resume is easy to beef up. If you plan to hire a writer, pay them a reasonable wage to write a short sample for you. Don’t accept pre-made samples – you have no idea how long it took them to prepare that sample, if they actually created it at all. This is a small investment to avoid a big headache later.

Training Online Employees

One quick note about training online employees – tread very carefully with compensation and training. If you are hiring a person on contract, meaning they will be paid a set rate per delivery (popular with online writing, programming, and design jobs), you cannot require the employee to be available during a specific time period. You can offer a payment to cover training time if you plan to do it through a set time-frame or meeting. But, it’s often best to set up a training package or dedicate a private portion of your website to training new employees.

One of the best ways to train new employees is to start small. You can’t expect an online employee to learn 50 new things in their first week. Instead, choose one area where their skills will be the most valuable and train a new employee in that area first. Put together a small training package that can be transmitted through email – usually consisting of some .PDFs, video files, articles, and checklists. Don’t forget to train new employees to use your systems and processes as well. For example, if you use a project management system like Central Desktop, BaseCamp or Smartsheet, make sure the employee understands how those systems work first.

As part of the training, be sure to include some instructions on how the employee will handle the daily problems that can arise. Once again using content writing as an example, your training might include:

  1. What problems will result in a rewrite/rejection of an article. How to handle a rewrite request. Whether rejected articles will still be paid.
  2. How deadlines work. While you can’t ask a contract employee to work 9-5, you can request that any assignment be completed in a certain timeframe.
  3. What ownership they retain over their content, if any. When dealing with ghost writers, write a contract that each new employee must sign where they surrender all rights to the content they write for you upon payment for the content, including their right to claim it as their own work.

Remember to use the mastery system, where new employees master one task at a time before moving on to another. For content writers, this might be creating small blurbs of content like meta descriptions and article summaries before moving on to writing full articles. This gives the employee a chance to read what other writers are doing. For programmers, it might be as simple as having them handle content HTML codes like header tags and simple organizational tasks. If they excel immediately at these small tasks, give them more responsibility/more difficult work to test and develop their skills.

About the Author: Mitch O’Conner is an online marketer and writer. When he’s not busy testing sites, generating traffic or writing content, he enjoys spending time with his wife and kids, watching TV, playing games or going camping.