Welcome back everyone to 101 Questions Church Planters Ask, I’m your host Danny Parmelee.  Today we’re going to be talking about something that I’m guessing some of you aren’t aware even exists, and others of you may have found out this secret and are already using it.  We’re going to answer the question “How Can I Use International Freelancers and Virtual Assistants for My Church Plant?  


I want to start out by sharing how I stumbled upon this whole freelancer thing and why now I’m addicted to utilizing this resource.  When our church plant was growing in number, but our finances weren’t growing at the same pace, we were always understaffed.  By that, I mean that we didn’t have money to hire all the pastors and staff that we needed or that I saw other churches hiring at our size. So I was forced to utilize contract workers. A prime example of this would be graphic design. If we needed to create a postcard or new logo, a t-shirt design, or website I would find a freelance graphic designer. Sometimes this would be recent college grad, a stay at home mom, or someone running a business out of their house.  I couldn’t afford to walk into a real marketing firm and ask them to create a website for me, I just didn’t have that type of money.  And this was before Wix, Squarespace,  and easy WordPress templates were available so I needed help.


When hiring a freelancer like this it was on a per-project basis.  I could say, “Hey, I need a postcard for our Christmas eve service, can you come up with 3-4 concepts for me and allow me to pick one and have a couple modifications to get it right?  How much would that cost me?”  They give me a price, we’ll say $300 for sake of argument.  Then they would come up with the concepts and email them to me and I would either call them or email back my tweaks or suggestions and finally they deliver the final file that I bring to the printers.  This was fantastic because it was affordable, and if they did well I could use them again. If they didn’t, I could try someone else.  Oftentimes I never met the freelancer in person.


I think the first time I heard of “virtual assistants” was when I was reading Tim Ferris’s book, “4 Hour Work Week.”  That’s when it dawned on me. I thought,  wait a minute, maybe I don’t need to limit my choice of freelancers to just people in the city I live in, but could expand to other cities or even other countries.  That’s when I discovered the beauty of international freelancers and virtual assistants. 


I tried a couple different websites that facilitate the process and currently my favorite is upwork.com.  Because YES I still use international freelancers today in my job and for this very podcast.  For example the podcasts were mixed by Ricardo, who is an audio engineer from Spain, this website was set up and coded by Monika from India, many of the social media graphics were done by Danylo from the Ukraine.  To help you see how it actually works, you can watch this video demonstration and tutorial that I created.  You’ll see the process of me hiring a freelancer to create new podcast cover art.  


I just gave a few examples of how I use freelancers, but I want to expand your understanding.  There are freelancers that do just about anything that you need.  Let me list some more examples here:

If you need to hire an architect to give you different options of chair layout for a school gym or warehouse that you’re going to rent.  I’ve done this multiple times and helped other church planters do this.  


You can hire a freelancer to do map work.  Put pins in a map for all the area churchers.  Or put pins in a list of addresses of all your team members.  


You can hire a freelancer to do demographic research for your city. 


You can hire a freelancer to run your social media (not one I recommend, but they are aplenty)


As mentioned before, if you want a cost effective way to launch a website. This website is a WordPress site that runs off of a divi platform.  Cost me $150 to set up.


Logos, graphic design, merch design, brochures, business cards, the list goes on and on.


If you have a website, you may want to hire someone to help you with search engine optimization, or using marketing tools like Facebook Pixel, or Google Ad Words or even to set up your google analytics and reporting.  


I mentioned architecture already, but understand that you can get high quality 3D renderings.  This becomes super helpful when you’re casting vision for a space.  Let’s say for example, you are going to rent out a space and build it out. Even if you need to have someone create a visual for your connection booth.  Instead of paying thousands of dollars to a local architect firm, you can hire a freelancer for hundreds of dollars to give you a video 3D rendering. Message me through the contact form or on social  if you want a really good 3D rendering person.  Alekandra from Slovenia is superb.  


Let’s say you have some large outreach event and people fill out paper conntact cards with their info, and you don’t have time and don’t have an assistant to do data entry of 1000 response cards.  You can easily hire a freelancer to enter all the info of those cards into a database for you. 


I could go on and on with examples but I won’t.  


So let me share with you three advantages of using overseas freelancers.


  1. Cost

Because of the wage difference and economy of the United States, your dollar will get you more outside of the United States.  Maybe you’ve experienced this before if you’ve traveled outside the United States to countries where you can do some simple exchange rate math and see that what you were able to purchase with an American Dollar in the other countries was considerably more.  The same thing happens as you use freelance platforms.  If you hire a graphic design freelancer in the United States, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to pay $20-$30 an hour.  Whereas in other countries if you paid $7-$10 an hour, you’d be paying a very fair wage.  Now let me give  word of caution and wisdom here.  If you’re not careful, you could take advantage of people in other countries.  There are people in other countries that will work for $3/hr.  Which in my opinion would be categorized as slave labor.  Remember that even if they agree to that rate, that you could be taking advantage of someone’s desperate situation.  So as global ambassadors for Christ, make sure that you are paying fair wages.  Sometimes just a little research and you’re able to understand another country’s economy and salary rates so that you are fair in this area.  Later on in this podcast, I’ll share some of the countries I like to work with freelancers the most.  Bottom line, hiring overseas you will see that your dollar travels further. 


  1. Speed & Availability 

When you post a job on a freelance website, you will have people that are ready to work and start right now.  Because you’re not limited to the city you live in, but the entire globe.  I’ve been in a bind many times and needed a graphic in the next 30 minutes and had a freelancer pump that out.  Something that staff and or a local person may or may not have time to do.  Which brings me to an important point.  At the time that I left epikos, we had 20 staff members and I still used freelancers and encouraged our staff to use freelancers if they needed.  So while we had paid people to do graphics and video, oftentimes they would essentially subcontract out that work so that they could focus on other things.  Or they could get multiple ideas and concepts from different freelancers and then take those ideas and bring them to completion. To me this is a matter of stewardship.


  1. Detached Investment.  This may be more important than you think but this is especially true with graphic design and I have LOTS of stories both person AND from church planters I coach.  Often times when church planters start out they have a “friend” or “launch team member”  that is willing to do some graphic design for free or for a reduced cost for them.  So most church planters feel that this is God’s miraculous provision for them.  Okay, sometimes it is.  But oftentimes it’s not. Here’s why. Graphic designers often tell me “Hey, give me some critique on my concepts.  I’m open to criticism and won’t take it personally.”  Then they present some designs to you that you give this welcomed feedback to and they are like “How dare you, don’t you understand.  Look closely at the T it’s actually a cross and this is perfect to represent blah, blah, blah, blah…”   You get the idea.  Now you have a problem. You have a friend, or worse yet a team member, who has given their heart and soul, invested interest into a design.   Now, you’ve hurt their feelings because you don’t appreciate their art or expertise.  Now there is this awkwardness and you end up looking like a jerk or control freak. Have I used team members, friends, to create stuff? YES absolutely I have.  At times it has worked out well and we used their design and I’m sure it was cool that they used their gifts for the Lord.  However, I do have stories of the reverse where people get sour and leave.  With a freelancer, if they create the crappiest logo you’ve ever seen, there isn’t this personal investment. You either fire them, or at worse you lose out on the money you invested but you don’t lose any relational equity.  Especially for things like a logo that are long-term. I suggest you hire a couple freelancers who give you a number of concepts, instead of relying on just a friend or volunteer to give you only their style.  Anyway, you get the idea.  


So let me give you the basics of how to utilize a freelance website such as upwork.  But again, head over to the blog to watch the video as I screen share using an international freelancer to create a new podcast thumbnail.  


Of course you can use these platforms to hire people for an ongoing basis, but I tend to use it mostly for per-project situations.  So when you start out you will “post a job.”  Give it a title.  So for my example, I’ll title mine “Podcast Cover Art”.


It will ask me a category, which I’ll choose “graphic design”.


Then it asks me to give a description of the work and the deliverable.  


This can be causal, but should be specific to what you actually want.  So I might just say, I’m a podcaster and need better cover art, so I’m looking for a freelancer to create and deliver a 3000 by 3000 pixel jpg.   I would love to have 3 concepts using the provided image and must use the text “101 Questions Church Planters Ask”.  


The great thing is that part of this section, you can upload the image or images that you want them to use AND its always helpful to give examples of final products.  I personally LOVE graphic design, but I couldn’t design my way out of a wet paper bag.  So what I do instead is look at some podcast art that I really like and say “something like the attached images.”  The better direction you give, the better your result will be.  


Also in the description you can add if you need this ASAP or if you have some time.


The next part, you get to create questions for the freelancers that will apply for your job.


It’s like a virtual written interview.  


My standard favorite questions are.

  1. Have you viewed the files that I’ve sent?
  2. How long will this take you to complete?
  3. What programs will you use to complete the project (this is more important as you get into technical projects like renderings, or video, or audio, etc)?
  4. What questions do you have for me?  


You can require a cover letter but I usually find this completely useless as everybody says they are an expert at everything and that they will do an amazing job. 


Then you get to just click on some skills that you require.  Not super important, unless you’re looking for specific computer program skills that they need.  For the example of the podcast art, of course I want them to be able to be skilled at Adobe Photoshop and probably Adobe Illustrator as well. 


Then you can select if you want only people from the United States or if you’re open to people around the world.  Of course I always choose worldwide.  I have used US freelancers through upwork, just usually they aren’t the best candidates for the job. 


Next you get to choose if you have a preference on a region.  This can depend on what you’re doing but I almost always choose Europe and as a free tip I have found that Eastern Europe are where many of my favorite freelancers are from.  And even more specifically, Ukraine.  I know its bad to stereotype, but I have found that my Ukranian freelancers are the nicest, hardest working, and most delightful people.  I would even consider some of them friends!  I’m not joking.  One of the freelancers that was the computer programmer behind the web app RevCoach (which by the way, if you don’t know what REVCoach is, you can go to MyRevCoach.com: it’s free coaching software for church planters and coaches). Anyways, Dmitry has become a friend of mine.  So much so that he even traveled to the United States and we met up in Chicago and he came to our church planting banquet and I showed him around the city. Pretty crazy to think I hired a freelancer to create an app that later became a friend and now he’s done multiple projects for me that are on enterprise level.


The next part is really important. You can set your proposed bid price based on Hourly or Per Project.  Especially if you are just starting out I want to highly, highly suggest per project.  You need to think about how much time will it take to complete this and how much is it worth it for you to spend on this item.  So for our example, I think that someone could complete 3 concepts and make some revisions within an hour or hour and half.  So I might set my proposed bid for this project as $10 or $15.  When you’re setting that price, you are really only suggesting what you want to pay.  People will respond with bids both higher and lower than that. You may have  a designer that sees it and says “Oh I can crank that out quickly, I’ll do it for $7”  or on the reverse a freelancer might say “Whoa, that’s a much bigger project, I’ll do it for $50.”  That’s the beauty of it: the freelancers read your project and tell you how much they will charge.  As a side note, as you build a team of people you trust you can switch to hourly. This is important for ongoing work where it’s not easy to come up with a price and you’ve built trust with this person. One of the unique features is that if you are paying someone hourly, upwork will take screen shots of their computer and tell you how many keystrokes are happening.  You basically have a big brother way to see if they are actually working on your project or if they are just charging you per hour to surf their own Instagram account.  Which yes, I have had freelancers in the beginning that I caught not working on my project and still charging me for that hour.  This is why I love project prices, until I have a good established relationship with them.  


Then you post your project and it’s available for freelancers to bid on.


One of the things that you can do, to increase the quality of your applicants, is to personally invite freelancers to bid on your project.  There are easy search tools where you can type in search like “graphic designers” and then you could narrow it down to Eastern Europe and then narrow it down to freelancers who generally charge $10 or less per hour and on and on.  Quick note here: just because someone says they charge a certain amount per hour doesn’t mean that is what they actually charge.  That might be what they hope to charge but they could do your project for less or because you have a difficult project they could charge more.  It’s just a guideline.  


You get to invite up to 15 freelancers, and I would use all of those invites.  Look at their profiles and pay attention to their portfolio more than anything.  Don’t look at their degree, or years of experience, but look at their portfolio.  Here is why.  Sometimes freelancers aren’t going to fit your design style.  I want to be careful how I say this so that I’m not misunderstood, but when I first started using freelancers I would get inexpensive bids from freelancers from Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and India who said they were experts at graphic design but when I looked at their portfolio I could see that their design style was totally opposite of what I wanted.  Now their design style may actually be culturally relevant for their country, but it was a total mismatch for our church.  I gave some of them a chance thinking they could adapt their style, but it just never happened.  Again I found a lot of great graphic designers in Eastern Europe.


Now the fun part.  Over the next few days not only the freelancers you invited but freelancers from all over the world will bid on your project.  They will answer the questions and send you their profile and some may even send you a sample of their work.  They might say “I did something very similar and it was the delivered project.  Or they may even give you a mock concept of what you are looking for and add a watermark to it and say “Hire me, here’s a free sample of my work for you and I’ll give you 3 more of these concepts and give you revisions until you are happy.”


You can chat with them via chat feature or ask follow up questions or even do a video chat.  


Finally, you choose one of the freelancers.  The great part about the system is that you use a credit card and make a payment that sits in escrow.  That means that you pay the money but the freelancer doesn’t get it yet.  Let’s say that they deliver a horrible project or they all of the sudden ghost you.  Well, you get your money back.  On the other hand, if they do their job then at the end of the job you click release payment and they are paid.  No paperwork or anything needed: you just pay them and have an electronic copy of paying them.  Its beautiful.


Over time, you will find a team of freelancers for different types of jobs.  As I mentioned before, I have some of my go-to people.  And from time to time, I will explore new freelancers.  Sometimes I get freelancers just starting out and so their bid price is low because they are breaking into the market.  Then because they are so good, I can’t afford them anymore.  It sucks but I’m also happy for them and I always share my freelancers with others and want them to be successful.


So, don’t think that your church plant team is limited to those in your city.  God can do some amazing things in this global world in which we live.  Again, if you want to see my screen and how I actually post a job for the new podcast art head over to churchplantersask.com and watch the video.  Also if YOU have a question about church planting or follow up questions about using freelancers send me a message and I’d be glad to help.