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The Perks and Perils of Outsourcing Your Errands


If there aren’t enough hours in the day to make travel arrangements for your upcoming vacation, pick up the dry cleaning or finish your taxes, outsourcing the task to freelancing sites can get it done for as little as $5. But will it be done well? Only if you’re willing to do some legwork, too.

Even job hunters are now turning to such sites, which often rely on computers and workers based in India, to get their resumes in more hands, according to a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal. One applicant paid $80 over his five month search, during which the site sent more than 500 resume submissions on his behalf. (He ultimately landed his desired sales job.)

Outsourcing personal tasks can be a great use of time and money, but only cases where there’s a lot of work to be done, or the task in question is one you aren’t skilled at, says Kenneth Zeigler, a productivity consultant based in Denver, N.C whose clients have included The Federal Reserve, Fidelity Investments and Hertz. But it’s at best a wash and more likely a waste if you have to spend more time explaining what you want in say, a bargain Las Vegas hotel room, than it would to actually do the Expedia search yourself. There’s also the risk that your rep — who is often based overseas — will misunderstand. “You want to be very careful that you set it up correctly in the beginning,” Zeigler says. “Go in prepared that it may not work out perfectly and you have to go back and fix it.”

It can also be dicey if the people handling your task don’t necessarily have any expertise in that particular field. In a 2009 story I wrote on buying your way into a then-scarce H1N1 flu shot, the firm we hired to call 200 doctors in the city included in its list psychologists and dermatologists. (Of course, none of them had it.)

To improve the odds of finding a good fit, try posting your needs on a site like or, which let freelancers bid for your attention. That helps you find someone that fits your budget and also has expertise in the task at hand. (Many consultants are U.S. based, too.) For creative tasks, Fiverr fixes a $5 price tag for everything on the site, whether creating a PowerPoint presentation, planning a Walt Disney World vacation or knitting a hat. Consumers looking to outsource but stick close to home have options, too, with a number of local and national concierge and errand services like and Premier Concierge Services offering monthly retainers or hourly bundles. Even Craigslist often has experts looking to sell or barter their services.


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  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to or tweet @SMPayDirt.