Hiring VAs For Your E-Commerce Business – Part 1

 In e-commerce, HR, Workforce

When I got into e-commerce at the beginning of 2017, I had decided to get out of the world of finance and do something new. Something that would be more focused on people getting what they paid for, rather than people putting their financial hopes on charts and a good pitch.

I knew from the start that I would need to start hiring at some point.

A person has only 24 hours in his day, and as a business grows, there is only so much you can do in a day. Are you too busy fulfilling orders and putting out fires? Is product and seller research taking too much of your time and energy? Are you wasting your mind on menial, repetitive tasks? Do you not have the time and energy to keep learning?; to try new methods and tools?; or to take a breather and come back with new energy?

 

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.” – H.E. Luccock

 

You need to hire. There is no way around it.

However, early on I realized that the cost of maintaining an office with workers and all it entails would be too high to make a profit in the early stages of an e-commerce business – but not hiring workers early on would keep me stuck for way too long. What do I do?

Do I go to Upwork and Fiverr to look for full time VAs? I had used these portals for fixed short term projects in the past, but had doubts whether I could source my entire workforce from these portals…

 

How do you control someone over the internet?

How can you trust them not to hurt your business or just disappear?

Is it even possible to get quality work done for such little money?

Won’t they just do a worse job than you could?

Can they be trained to do what you need?

 

At the end of the day, these VAs that you will hire from the internet are human beings. They are the same as people you would interview and hire in person. Sure there are rotten eggs out there, but your job as a business owner is to find promising talent and engage them in such a way that they will be loyal to you and your business because they believe your growth will be theirs.

 

“There is only one way… to get anybody to do anything. And that is by making the other person want to do it.” – Dale Carnegie

 

If you think that these people are desperate for your pitiful dollars, just because they live in less developed countries than you and are happy with less, you will have bad experiences.

You need to treat each VA you hire with respect and dignity, and put yourself in their shoes. At the same time, you have to inspire respect and have them understand that you are the one that pays their salary – you expect a lot from them, but you are also fair and understanding.

With this short introduction on what mindset you should have when hiring VAs, I will now cover the different types of VAs you will need when starting your e-commerce business, including: where to look for them; how to interview them; how to test them; how to hire them; how to manage and maintain them.

Whether you are building a general store or a niche store, or even a branded store right off the bat, you are building that store to make money! Right? You shouldn’t be doing it with the mindset of “let’s just see if this works before really getting into it”. If you are, just give up now. Really. So now that we understand that you are in this to succeed, let’s cover the most crucial types of VAs that you might need to hire at the early stages of your business.

Designer

This VA will be with you for the long term. Whether you just want the designer to create a banner, or logo, or make the store not look like crap, or whether you want to invest a few thousand dollars on creating a premium store, you will need to find your loyal designer before anyone else.

Portal for long term hires: www.upwork.com or www.freelancehunt.com

Portal for short term hires: www.fiverr.com or www.upwork.com

Upwork designers usually demand more money up front than those on Freelancehunt, which is a Ukrainian jobs portal, but with enough searching you can get a designer for more or less the same price.

Cost At Hire: Around $5 per hour, but start at $3 per hour during their trial period. They want to be hired for the long term and earn more money? Let them work hard and prove their worth at $3 an hour first.

For short term jobs, or if you need someone for a one off job, I found these prices to be acceptable:
– Logo: $15-30
– Landing Page/Funnel: ~$70
– Ad Creatives: ~$5 per creative

Short term jobs will usually cost you more per action than long term hires, which is why I always recommend having your favorite VAs on call even if you don’t have work for them at the current moment. I will go into the psychology of achieving this later.

Once you have enough work to give to your designer, and you have built trust both ways, you should start paying per project rather than per hour. Your designer (or any other VA) will naturally start taking more time when their salary depends on hours spent working – but at this point you will have a grasp of how much time each project should be taking them more or less.

For example, our last store cost us $2,000 including the designer and 7 other VAs that were managed by our designer. A normal branded or niche store should cost between $500 to $1,000 for all VAs together, the designer always taking the biggest cut.

Coder

This VA might not be as crucial from the beginning, but a good designer needs a good coder to work with. Whether you want something done on your Shopify store, or your WordPress website, or your funnel, your designer’s focus is best spent on doing the actual design, rather than playing around with themes and code. Very often your designer will know of a good coder that he/she has worked with on past projects and you won’t have to search for this VA yourself. Just make sure the coder is competent.

Portal: www.freelancehunt.com or www.upwork.com

Cost At Hire: ~$5 per hour. They will usually ask for $7-$10 per hour, but if I managed to convince my coders to work for $5 per hour, so can you. 🙂

A coder will not be needed full time, which is why it is imperative to get your designer to manage the coder as soon as possible. Your designer will be the one to sit on your coder’s ass to get things done, not you. Your coder will be working on other projects, so it will be hard for you to suddenly contact the coder and say “I need you now!!”, but if your coder has a working relationship with your designer, it will be easy to tell your designer “where the hell is the coder? Why is this taking so long?” and get results.

Content Writer

This VA will do everything that requires creative writing: blog posts, product descriptions, product titles, email templates, etc.

Portals: www.onlinejobs.ph or www.upwork.com

I’ve hired many content writers online in 2017 and I have had stellar results from those who live in the Philippines. I tried Ukrainians and others for the cost, but had terrible results. People from other portals demand too much money and perform lower quality work than those I sourced from Onlinejobs.

My experience showed that young Filipinos provide the best results. On average, their English is great, their motivation is excellent, and they are hungry to prove themselves and get opportunities to grow.

Cost At Hire: I advise paying per word, rather than per hour – you cannot have “fast AND high quality” if you set the payment according to hours worked, but you can demand both if the work is paid per article/project.

If you insist on paying per hour, start at $1.80 per hour, going up to ~$3 per hour if they are really good and have proven themselves. If paying per description, I pay around $5 per 150-200 word description, or $5 per four 50 word descriptions – depends on the type of store and what I need. Extrapolate to get the cost per blog post depending on the number of words.

This VA can also make matching product titles that are unique. For around 300-400 product titles, I pay around $50 for the project.

Designer’s Assistant

If you have a big project, try to figure out which tasks the designer performs that are not worthy of paying $5 per hour. Something like removing non-complex backgrounds off of pictures – you can user Pixlr for that. No need for Photoshop or skill.

Portal: www.freelancehunt.com or someone the designer knows. Doesn’t have to be a designer.

Cost At Hire: $1.80 per hour

This is just one example of how you should manage your employees’ time efficiently. It’s not just about how you monitor them, but how you price each action and task.

This VA will be directly managed by your designer and will cut down the design cost significantly.

Product & Seller Research

Do you have free time to trawl all the online marketplaces for products, and then trawl further to find the seller that processes and ships the same product faster and cheaper than the rest? If so, you are probably not taking care of all the rest that needs to be done.

Portal: www.freelancehunt.com or www.onlinejobs.ph

Cost At Hire: $1.80 per hour

I prefer VAs from Freelancehunt for the reason that they usually speak decent English and Russian (and sometimes other languages). There were products that I researched till the end of the earth, thinking I had found the best seller with the cheapest price and good reliability – then along comes my VA and finds the product much cheaper elsewhere. Why? They searched in Russian.

Those of you who have spent a lot of time on the internet will know that Russians get games cheaper on Steam, cheaper music, cheaper software… cheaper everything. So I guess physical products fit into this category too, much to my surprise back then.

Regardless, a good strategy is to give your VA a VPN such as HideMyAss (it’s cheap), and have them try different geozones when searching for products on Google or even on Ebay and AliExpress.

Make sure this VA understands that you also value fast order processing time (2 days and below recommended) and shipping time (epacket or better, as long as the cost isn’t prohibitive).

When your VA finds sellers that match this criteria, they will send a template message to them (via AliExpress, Ebay, Etsy, or wherever else) asking crucial questions that will inform you of the seller’s reliability, ability to process orders, ability to brand, option to receive payment via Paypal or bank wire outside of the marketplace once trust is established, and more.

Your job will be to respond to the sellers that reply positively to these template messages.

Once you greenlight sellers, have this VA upload the products to your store via Dropified or whatever app you use, following your instructions – this is where you have to decide what they do and don’t do. For example, do they follow a rule for pricing and adjust on every product uploaded, or do you do this yourself?

For all other mind-numbing, menial tasks, I recommend getting a VA from www.freelancehunt.com or www.onlinejobs.ph and paying no more than $1.80 per hour at time of hiring. I’ve mentored people who have paid less than a dollar per hour, but I personally feel that this is too brutal and I like to stick to $1.80 per hour.
Your time is worth more than $1.80 per hour, so as with the designer, focus your energies on more meaningful tasks.

When it comes to fulfillment or support, I recommend you take care of it yourself when starting out. This gives you a good grasp of the workflow and you will be able to prepare templates which will cover 90%+ of the cases. Once you scale your store, you will need to get people to work in support and do fulfillment, but by then you should have a VA or two or three that have proven their trustworthiness and can be depended upon to work all day doing what needs to be done.

That being said, this is YOUR business at the end of the day, and nobody can be expected to care about it more than you. You will have to keep an eye on the support inbox even when you are making bank, and you will have to keep an eye on the fulfillment and accounting even when you have people doing the heavy lifting for you. It doesn’t matter if it is e-commerce, or you are running a big financial brand – the owners will always make sure to take care of support matters in order to keep the name of the business clean. Don’t ever think that this is _”below me”_ or you will lose.

When scaling, you will need to add more designers to the team, but they need to be managed by your head designer. You will have to pay your head designer more so that he is inclined to manage them properly, but your other designers can be paid $3-$5 per hour. Pay at little as possible for them. And if your designer has experience, he can haggle them down himself – he knows the design industry better than you after all.

If you liked this post, feel free to comment and let me know. I will post part 2 tomorrow which will cover all that I had intended to cover here but couldn’t.

Happy new year!

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