All Things oDesk
November 26, 2012 by Monica Chua

Planning a trip to a foreign country in the past was quite an effort — and without a travel agent, it was close to impossible. Now, with tools like Trip Advisor, Kayak and other online travel sites, the average person can create a dream vacation in hours.

I wish planning an international event was now that easy — at least, that’s what I thought as I planned two large events for oDesk this year.

Early in 2012 we decided to recognize our most active contractors by hosting oDesk events, which we named Contractor Appreciation Days, in a city near them. We held a Facebook contest to determine which locations had the most active and engaged contractor communities, and two of the winning countries were Bangladesh and the Philippines. The goal was to host fun events in each country, where we could engage with a large group of our members, reward top earners, share news from oDesk and enable contractors to network.

I had never been to Bangladesh or the Philippines, nor do I have relatives there. Plus, in addition to planning the events from 7,000 miles away, I was working with a rather conservative budget. At first this project seemed extremely daunting and nerve-wracking, particularly when one event was estimated to have 1,000 attendees! But with a little prep and on-the-ground support, I’m happy to say that these events were a success. We had excellent feedback from our members and we learned a lot about contractors, their countries and ourselves in the process.

As a result, I wanted to share my experiences to help future event planners. I won’t sugarcoat it, it does involve a lot of work. But with the tips laid out here, I hope you can benefit from my experience.

Tip #1: Leverage local talent

One of the best things you can do is find a local event planner — one that lives in the area where the event will be held — who has a lot of experience planning previous events in the area. For Bangladesh, I found a contractor on oDesk who specialized in project management. After an interview over Skype, I knew Saidur would be knowledgeable, capable and proactive. We started with a small task: send me three locations where we can host at least 500 people. I requested pictures of the locations, quotes, and availability. Within a matter of days we had a venue selected and Saidur proved himself invaluable in helping with all the other logistics.

In the Philippines, the event was much larger and needed more than one local contact. This is where a few great contractors came in, two of which were Judy and Jasmine. Judy is a professional event planner who not only works on oDesk, but who also works for an event planning company in Manila — which means she had the connections we needed to secure a facility, food, A/V and security. Jasmine connected with a large network of oDesk contractors. She scoured the talent of colleagues in that network and found us a DJ, registration desk staff, photographers and entertainers.

The big lesson I learned here is that online talent is not just for online work! These contractors were my eyes, ears and feet on the ground, helping to pull these events together in ways that I couldn’t.

Tip #2: Preparation is key

With the proper planning, you’ll find that putting together an event is easier than you thought. First, create a planning document that can be easily understood by both you and anyone you may pull in to help with the event. I’m a big fan of checklists — mine included the basics like the facility, travel, and presentation content. It also included uniquely international items like getting vaccinations, hiring security, and packing every type of AV adaptor we could possibly need.

And when it comes to materials, over-prepare. For example, bring back-up copies of all your presentations (we had copies in an email inbox and a thumb drive, on our laptops, and sent to our local staff) and bring printouts of the attendee list, the presentations and nametags. Try to order all of your promotional items and giveaway products through local vendors. Don’t be afraid to hire an assistant event planner to manage these details.

Tip #3: Plan ahead with payments

In many locations, cash is the only payment option, particularly if you are looking to minimize costs. Some contractors are willing to make payments and be reimbursed; others would like the cash upfront. For any expense that was paid by a contractor, I requested a signed and scanned official receipt from the vendor. Make sure you have the vendor’s contact information, so if you have any concerns, you can call him or her to verify the expense before you send a payment. Remember that it can take several days for a contractor to be able to withdraw the funds they receive through oDesk.

The day of the event is when the bulk of the expenses need to be paid. If you are uncomfortable traveling to a country with upwards of $3,000 with you, there are a couple of options: You can wire funds to a local Western Union outlet and pick it up when you arrive, or you can contact your bank to pre-approve the ability to withdraw a large sum of funds from a bank or ATM in the country you are visiting.

Tip #4: Communicate early and often

It’s good to check in with your online team once a week, over the phone or via Skype. As you get closer to the event, increase the frequency of your calls. You can also keep everyone on the same page between calls by having a daily email check-in and a shared spreadsheet with the budget and task lists. After you have hired people to staff the event, you can make on-the-ground collaboration easier by creating and distributing a document with all their photos, names and mobile numbers. And don’t forget to have a call with all of them in the weeks prior to the event to address any questions or concerns.

Tip #5: Make the most of your trip

Flying halfway across the world is a big investment. Depending on how many people you send, one-third of your costs can be the flight alone. We had about four days on the ground for each trip and not a second was wasted. Prior to the trip, we contracted with a PR specialist for that region and had interviews scheduled with target media outlets. Through our networks we were able to secure meetings with government officials to discuss online work opportunities, and our contractors also organized a little sightseeing trip. (Clearly, sleep was not a priority.)

While we did put a great deal of time and effort into these events, in retrospect it really was a treat to be able to plan and attend them. Not only did I meet many great contractors and establish a team of resources in the local community, I learned so much about each culture and now can better visualize the daily lives of the people I work online with every day.

If you are planning an international event, I wish you the best of luck and a bon voyage!

For those who have already experienced planning an international event, what did you find most important? We would love to hear your tips in the comments section below!

Monica Chua

Product Marketing

Monica has a passion for companies that bring opportunity to hard-working and inspired individuals. As a product marketer at Elance-oDesk, she is focused on customer success and launching solutions that deliver more value to the network. Monica comes from eBay and PayPal where she worked on small business growth and marketplace protection. She received a degree in Business Administration from the University of California, Riverside.

  • Md Nahid Hasan

    I will have few professional meetup with few of my Clients from Singapore, this articles will really help me to prepare myself, basically tip 1, 2 and 5 is gonna play a vital role for my trip. Thanks for sharing such a valuable information and tips, I was one of the member of your Dhaka Events, and it was really a great day with you and Matt, Saidur did a great job, thanks to odesk and all of you.

  • happinesshealthwealth

    Oh goody! This is a great initiative Monica.

  • Fe Aguilar

    thanks Monicafor sharing with your readers the specific ideas in line that helps in promoting an international plan together with your marketing & business technique. keep up your nice work girl. ;). From-Faith A. Silliman University, Philippines.

    • monicachua

      I’m glad you found the information helpful Faith! Thank you for the compliments. :)

      • Yogesh Gupta

        Hi … Do you have any such plans for India. In India, there is huge amount of talent and at the same time huge working opportunities. I am from Bangalore and I can see increased number of freelance Contractor. — Yogesh Gupta, Bangalore

      • Jayakumar

        Good Morning Monica, Thank you very much for sharing such valuable information, but here I would like to point out some other things also

        As far as education associated with secondary schools in India is purely based on conventional topics only. Government of India is rethinking its demerits, if students are not opting any professional training after their school education. Since IT is identified as a core component in every industry, all skill based training must be integrated with trend based Information Technology

        The State Government of Kerala (A state under Indian legislature) has gone ahead with another mode of training called Additional Skill Acquisition Program (ASAP) adopting Govt. of India’s initiative like State Skill Development Program (SSDP) with the guidance of major industrial leaders.

        In vocational training areas, Of course ODesk can do a lot in equipping candidates capable of client interaction, methods for grabbing the projects, job ethics and values. I found one big and unique advantage of Odesk is, people train themselves in communication, interaction, ensuring quality of work and more over keeping good faith in job ethics in every respect.

        As its proved that ODesk has already achieved a separate niche in the job industry, My humble request is ODesk should spread their wings to assist building curriculum for educational sector as well, which will definitely help students to interact with global market, it can be a major leap in the job industry. Being a consultant in Govt. Sector in India, I can do a lot in making arrangements in the similar area.

        India is one of major potential market for business and manpower. ODesk could take initiatives in organizing such type of events in India aslo.

        Nobody else can claim the slogan, only ODesk can “Creating employment and economic development globally”

        I wish all success for all odesk new endeavors

        • Engr. Md. Shaikat Raihan

          Thanks for shearing it with us. I think we are like a global family working at a same platform Odesk. Odesk doing a great role for collecting talent from the whole world and also distributing them at right place. We should arrange more event to increase our bond… Thanks