We are proud to have our CEO Nathan Hirsch featured in Coffee With Tracey, hosted by Tracey Osborne, this past week!
“Being an entrepreneur is hard enough. But trying to do it all alone is the definition of insanity.
Working with virtual freelancers leads to higher productivity and more growth which of course results in more income.
How do you find the right people?
Nathan Hirsch has built a vast group of remote freelancers who help busy entrepreneurs get things done.
In this episode we discuss;
This is such a great episode that we wanted to share the full transcription with you here. Browse through it at your leisure:
Tracey: Hey! Welcome back to another episode of Coffee with Tracey. I’m your host, Tracey Osbourn. With me today is Nathan Hirsch. He is the founder of FreeUp. This is a really cool topic. We are going to talk about delegation as you know it’s one of my favorite things to talk about. Let me read Nathan’s bio. Nathan Hirsch is a serial entrepreneur and expert in remote hiring in ecommerce. He has been selling online for over 7 years and has sold well over $20,000,000 worth of products from his ecommerce business. He is the cofounder and CEO of FreeUp.com, the hands on hiring marketplace connecting hundreds of online business owners with reliable pre-vetted remote freelancers. FreeUp is redefining how businesses are able to hire remote freelancers online. He can be found on leading podcasts such as Entrepreneur on Fire, Eventual Millionaire and more speaking about online hiring tactics. Welcome to the show!
Nathan: Tracey, thank you so much for having me.
Tracey: Alright, let’s talk about your story. How did you get to where you are today?
Nathan: Yeah, so I was a broke 20-year-old college student looking for extra beer money on the side. So, I was kinda angry at the textbooks companies that are ripping me of at our school bookstore. So, I started buying back textbooks from my friends and reselling them myself to different online bookstores and shipping it to them while then getting pennies on the dollar to my bookstore. And that eventually lead me to Amazon because you don’t sell books very long without learning about Amazon.
When I found Amazon, I became addicted and I knew that I didn’t want to do books because although I can make a little bit of money, I didn’t see myself spending the rest if my life buying kids’ textbooks. Plus, carrying them around is kind of a hassle. So, I wanted a way to sell stuff on Amazon because I really enjoyed doing it and I wanted to learn more and become an expert at it. I didn’t want to actually touch products. I didn’t have a place to store products. I was in my dorm room. So, I wanted an alternative way.
So, after six months of thinking, I came up with the idea of drop shipping years before I even knew what drop shipping was even called. I wouldn’t find out until later. So, the concept was I would find people, find products owners, distributers or manufacturers that would sell a product. I was very good at selling stuff on Amazon. I would list their product on Amazon, get them sales. They would handle the making and shipping and the making of the product so, I didn’t have to do that. I would handle the customer service side because I had a background in customer service. And before I knew that business blew up.
I hired my first employee before I could legally drink. I made lot of really great hires and a lot of terrible hires along the way. And I really learned from that. I grew this company. I graduated college and made this my full time focus. But I was just spending too much time on HR. It was driving me crazy just from multiple rounds of interview and going through resumes. There’s a lot in it. So, I created FreeeUp, which I will talk about a little bit, to be what I wish I had when I was spending too much time on HR and instead of expanding my company.
Tracey: Nice. So, is it Free Up or is it Free-e-Up, because you have an extra ‘e’ in there.
Nathan: The extra ‘e’ stands for ecommerce but it’s just FreeUp.
Tracey: That’s what I thought. So, I was saying it the wrong way then. Very cool. I love the honesty that you were looking for ways to make beer money. So that’s really incredible. Did you actually graduate from college?
Nathan: I did. That is always something I’m going to have in my back pocket.
Tracey: Because I know a lot of entrepreneurs. We may start or just never even go. I got one year left, I probably would never finish.
Nathan: My parents are both teachers, so, not finishing college was never an option.
Tracey: Yeah, you kinda don’t have a choice there. It’s funny. So, let’s talk about the whole virtual assistant, remote freelancer thing. Tell us in your words what it is.
Nathan: Yeah, so I kinda started hiring full-time employees and I got an office which is one of my worst business decisions. It was just unnecessary for my business model. But I started hiring employees for 40-50, 60,000 dollars a year. And I quickly realized that I wasn’t getting the most out of that. A lot of them – I wouldn’t say lost motivation, but they weren’t – I just didn’t feel I was getting my money’s worth out of them. If they were working 40 hours a week, maybe, 10 to 20 hours of those were data entry tasks or stuff that didn’t have to be done at that high level of pay.
Tracey: Busy work.
Nathan: Exactly! So, I found Upwork, which was Odesk at the time. A buddy of mine turned me on to them. And I became obsessed with that and I wanted to build an Odesk army. And so, I started hiring these lower level people to be assistants for my employees. And that’s how it really started. So, my employees got their mandate from me that all their time needs to be focused on higher level stuff. Anything lower, they have to come to me, get an assistant and that person does all that.
And that really helped expand the business a lot so much to the point that I ended up getting rid of the office and going entirely remote because I realized that these freelancers – and a lot of people think that I outsource $3 to $4 data entry people – that’s not all what we were doing although we had some of them. We could find people that can do marketing and listing and customer service at a very high level. They ended up being more efficient and a lot of times more motivated and dedicated than our internal assistants.
There are also other pros because they are contractors and not employees. I didn’t need to be in the office space and all that. But I really became addicted to that. And now my Amazon business is entirely remote, FreeUp which I have a 20-person internal group of assistants, both US and Non-US remote. And then we have a network of 400 freelancers that we make available to our clients that are also remote. So, that’s kind of how I took that step from having that office internal employees to just an entirely remote group.
Tracey: The one thing I like about the virtual assistant, something that I talk to people about, is that with an employee, you are paying them for 8 hours a day, whether they’re filing their nails or are actually getting work done. With virtual assistants, you are really only paying the time they are actually working. So, it may seem like you’re paying more in the short run but in the long run, you are saving thousands of dollars versus hiring an employee. You don’t have benefits. You don’t have any of that stuff.
Nathan: Yeah, and it’s a lot easier to cut them if they are not working out and we do very well so we didn’t have to do that. I’ve fired employees before. It’s the worst feeling in the world and it’s bad to fire contractors too. But with employees, a lot of times, they were leaving other jobs; they were depending on you for health and insurance and other stuff like that. With freelancers, they have other clients. You can hire them part time. You can eventually make them full time but you kinda have that way to test them rather than having to commit and then having some kind of obligation that they did something for you.
Tracey: Yeah, that’s true. I also have a problem with firing because I get really close with the freelancers I hire even if they are all subcontractors. We work so close together that we would become friends and so I still have that problem. I have to keep remembering, it’s business, and it’s not personal. It may seem personal but it’s not, it’s a business decision.
Nathan: Yeah, the way I look at it is I owe it to the other 400 people in my network and the other people as assistants to make the best decisions for the marketplace. And so that’s the only way you can look at it. Firing people sucks, it still sucks. It’s never going to get better. But you kinda understand that there’s personal and there’s business.
Tracey: So, before we talk about how FreeUp actually works, let’s talk about the whole virtual assistant thing. How does somebody – how do you know when a VA is the right fit for you in FreeUp?
Nathan: Yeah, so, what I figured out is if I can gather enough information from my clients, I can get them a good fit. And every client is different. It’s not a one-size-fits-all industry. Some clients might be good with a US, some clients with a non-US. Some clients might need someone who are more hands-on and can come up with stuff for them. Other clients have their to-do list, Standard Operating Procedure and they just want a doer. So, we simplified it because simpler is better. So, we got lower level, mid-level and expert level freelancers. For our lower level people, they have experience because we are not a marketplace for newbies but they are very much doers. So, if you have a process, they’ll follow it. If you’re a new business owner, you don’t have those systems, you really shouldn’t hire a lower level freelancer.
We’ve got those mid-level people who are experts on one or two specific things. They do those specific things all the time. You really don’t have to set them up. You are hiring them for graphic design or content or whatever it is, but you are also hiring them to help your company. They are very specialized. And then we got the expert levels. Those are the people that has 5, 10, 15 years of experience that can come in at a high level to do company audit, come up with a long term game plan via a project manager and execute at a high level. And then you’re paying them top dollar. We’ve kind of divided that up and then when you divide that up even more into both US and non-US people, you can really identify what makes sense for everyone and at what stage of their business.
Tracey: So, I’ve always had problems with non-US people. How do you guys get around that?
Nathan: Communication. Communication is everything.
Tracey: And that’s always the problem.
Tracey: There’s a barrier there.
Nathan: And that’s a baseline for FreeUp. We preach communication at our core. So, we have our vigorous interview process. We have 15 pages of communication guidelines that freelancers who are accepted into the marketplace have to memorize and get tested on. We have new freelancer orientation when they get hired to really drive that back into their brain. And that we have policies that we follow incredibly seriously and we kick people out of our network if they don’t follow it. So, if you’re going to be in our network as a freelancer, you have to communicate at the highest level. Telling us after the fact that something happened, like you missed work, you’re not giving enough notice for vacation time or even speaking in English at a high level – they don’t get a foot to our interview process if they don’t.
We are really looking for people that have those skill sets and experience, people that can communicate at a high level. Because I have been a client, I know what people hate. I know what people like. And we also look for attitude too. We want people that want to be there and are not just in there for the paycheck that can do really good work for a client and care about their business. So, that’s what we’re looking for to make sure you have a good experience because that tends to be what everyone hates about hiring remote freelancers internationally.
Tracey: You’re talking about work hours. You’re talking about paychecks, things like that. Those to me are employee trigger words. So, are they contractors or employees?
Nathan: They are contractors. They are not getting paychecks. We call them payouts. We do have policies. And our marketplace policy is to be in our network. But they are all contractors and we do everything possible to make it clear to our clients, make it clear to contractors on FreeUp that they are not employees. In addition, they are allowed to get outside work and a lot of them do to fill up those hours. So, we’re only using them on hours that they can commit to our network and they have outside people that they work for as well.
Tracey: Gotcha. Okay. Some of the things that I see with people that are hiring virtual assistants is that they get stuck in an employee-employer mindset. So, I see those trigger words and it’s like, “Okay, wait a minute. Are you looking for employee? And I see in postings, “Send me your resume.” “Well, I’m a business owner. I’m not sending you my resume.” I don’t even have a resume. It’s been 10 years since I needed one. I always warn people against that employee-employer mindset. How do you get around that?
Nathan: We have a lawyer that went through all our paperwork to try to differentiate it as much as you possibly can. It is a gray area. It’s not as cut and dry as you want it to be. But at the same time there are certain things like not being on call, like if you’re set to work for a client from 2 to 4 and that’s your time with the client and the client doesn’t have you full time whenever they want you. There are other things like how involved they are in a company, different things like those keywords like you said like paychecks and stuff like that.
At the same time no matter what you call them, it still ends up being very similar. They are still in a network. They are still working for the business owner or whatever you want to call it. There are still protocols that you have to follow. Even if you hire like a plumber, if you can sit down with them and set down expectations upfront before they get started and not move forward unless they follow those expectations which is very similar to our policy. So, I don’t want to get too much into the legal side of it because I am not a lawyer but I did my best to describe that.
Tracey: How do you get the clients to realize that like, “This is a remote freelancer, this is a virtual assistant, this is a subcontractor. This is not your employee. They are not at your beck and call. You can’t just expect whatever from them.”
Nathan: So, part of our service is not only providing the freelancers but putting the clients and freelancers in positions to succeed. So, we have our Online Hiring Mastermind group where we are constantly hiring things like that and how to get the most out of freelancers. And we have our own client guidelines about not having the freelancers on call and expectations and stuff like that. We have our eBook, which is free. We are launching another book in April about our best practices that we use for our internal assistants. In, addition we are pretty open. You can contact me on Skype. My calendar is right on the website.
Tracey: So, it’s easy to get a hold of you. That’s kind of cool.
Nathan: And we have our 20 internal assistants that if I’m out for the night, they are covering. So, we are really there to support you and assist you all the way. Every business owner is at a different stage whether they made that hire before and now they are scared to get back into it or they’ve never hired before, or they just have so much going on they can’t focus on every little thing. We are kind of there to guide them along the way and fill in the blanks.
Tracey: Right. I’d like to remind people that even if they are some kind of admin assistant, they are business owners in their own right and they need to be treated and respected as such. I also like to tell people to think of them as a partner of your business. They are not just somebody you’re going to throw tasks to. I also like to tell people that think of them as a partner of your business. They are not just somebody you’re going to toss tasks to.
If you’re going to get one, and you get the right one, you actually – you can have strategies, sessions. I do this with my clients all the time. We’ll brainstorm, we’ll map things out because I have that experience and I can bring that to the table. And I invested in their business, I want to see them succeed and grow. If you get the right virtual assistant, the right person, they’re going to be just the same. So you treat them as a partner, you treat them as an equal in your business and they’re going to perform and do so much more for you.
Nathan: Yeah, I preach this stuff all the time. If you find the right person it’s way better to treat them right and make them feel part of the business and show them what their work is actually contributing rather than just giving them an Excel sheet, taking it back and giving them another one. And that’s what keeps people there long term. Even from a personal side it’s better because you can build relationships. It’s more fun to work if you have good people with you that you like, you trust. Business side, it’s great too because turnover is expensive. Finding someone you like and then replacing them is incredibly hard.
Tracey: It sucks!
Tracey: Trust me, been there, done that. It sucks.
Nathan: So a lot of people don’t think of that and they’ll talk down to a freelancer and then email, or they’ll yell at them and that freelancer is like “you know what, I’m a business owner myself. I’m going to make a business decision and not work – not necessarily in my network because we don’t drop clients – but just in general that I have seen. Then the business owner is like “wow, I really shouldn’t have done that. It’s just a bad business decision. Now I have to start over and it costs way more money.” So –
Tracey: I’ve done that. I actually had a client who, she was incredibly abusive; mentally and verbally abusive to me. I kept going and probably got to the point where I was thinking it was me, I was like, “God, I’ve been doing this a couple of years ago – been doing this seven, eight years. Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this, Am I that really stupid?”
Thankfully I had a coach and she’s like, “Not you, totally not you, it’s her.” And I did, I finally fired her I said, “Look, I’m done with this, you don’ respect me. You are very mentally and verbally abusive.” I’m not part of that anymore. I opened her eyes and she’s like, “Wow, maybe that’s why I have such a high turnover. I didn’t realize that.” Now she’s actually working on how she’d treat her equal. But I absolutely won’t put up with now. I’m to the point the minute she started getting “assholish” – for lack of a better word – I’m like “bye.” I don’t have time for that. I have plenty of people, plenty of clients, plenty of things to keep me busy. I don’t need your attitude.
Nathan: Yeah, we’re on the same page. I’ve consulted with some clients that are nice enough to open up and realize that maybe – they’re new entrepreneurs as well. So, a lot of times, it’s not vicious. They’re not necessarily going in -. Yeah, they just need some kind of coaching and onboarding on the correct way to do it. On the foot side of that, of the VA’s, there’s a proper way and improper way to handle situations like that.
We have policies that protect freelancers just like they protect our clients. But I also expect that if a client yells at a freelancer, they don’t yell back. Because there is that whole “the client hiring you” philosophy. There’s also my name and reputation on the line I’m putting out there. So I expect freelancers to be professional, to let me handle it and get involved. We have our policies and expectations, and I’ll tell the client how it is in a nice and respectful way and pretty much open the opportunity to try again and get some consulting and view it differently. But at the same time I’m not going to let my client go after freelancers or attack them. That’s not part of being in my network.
Tracey: Right. You have to protect them. That’s the nice thing about working under somebody like you. I know back when I had to reramp after I made it back in 2012, 2013 when I lost my best friend and almost pretty much shut my business down. Then I start back over again, I went on Elance. And I got a lot of clients from Elance. I kind of had that suckered down path. It was nice to kind of have that protection while you were “dating”, you know, figure out if you’re the right fit or not and then eventually I got off the Elance platform. I still got clients that I got from Elance years ago. But it is nice to have that protection because both people need to get protected.
Nathan: Definitely. Sometimes it is just good to switch people. Sometimes personalities clash. I consider myself pretty easy to get along with. I would say to most clients – I’m in it to make you happy. I’m going to bend over backwards to do it, but I’m not foolish enough to think that I can get along with every single person on the entire planet. There have been situations where I’m just like “Listen, we’re kind of going in circles, this is my business partner Connor. We still have your best interest in heart. Why don’t he just take it from here?” You can kind of do it in that way, where you get someone else’s personality. He’s a little bit different and you can still get the same result. Like I kind of said, the best thing to do is never to go after a client or attack them. I like to do it in a little bit more professional way while telling them also how it is.
Tracey: Yeah, I get you. And with that one – I don’t think I wasn’t really trying to attack. It was a lot more eloquent than what I’m saying now. But it this is why we’re not working. This is why I’m letting you go. You are actually very mean to me. I find you very abusive. And because I come from a background where I have been abused in relationships, for me, I have to tell people when I find that happening.
But you’re right. You do have to do it in a very nice, professional, tactful way because even when you’re splitting with somebody, you still want to be as amicable as possible. I have to get along with just about anybody as well. I’m really laid back, I’m really easy going. I have a really easy-going, easy personality. Like you, I am not living appeased with every single person. I know who I can work with now. I know what personalities are better for me. And I know when I get on that first discovery call, I’m pretty good at telling if we’re going to be a fit or not.
But let’s talk about a little bit more why should somebody considering hiring a remote freelancer. I mean what’s the benefits to them.
Nathan: Yeah, so there are two sides of it. On one side you’re just so busy and you have so much going on that you can’t do the smaller tasks. And there’s a lot of tasks that aren’t your expertise, or that are lower level than what you should be doing. So you hire those assistants. I have four assistants. They monitor my Skypes, my emails, and they do a lot of the stuff that I just wouldn’t have time for in a week. I work a lot of hours. So that’s one side of it, it’s hiring those low level people.
The other side of it is if your business is a lifestyle business, you focus on what you really like to do and get other people to do the other stuff, or if you’re let’s say, you’re a really good writer, and maybe you’re not a good marketer. You hire a marketing person. And there you’re hiring other people that are experts to come in and handle something that might take you 6 months to a year to really master that you don’t have that kind of time. So it’s just a better business decision to just hire someone to come in at a high level that already has experience that they are bringing in on the table so you can focus on what you like doing, or what you’re really good at. So those are really the two ways that I approach hiring.
Tracey: Love it, love it. I like to think of it also as you need to hire per weaknesses. So, like you were saying, if you’re not great at marketing, hire out or delegate your weaknesses. I’m not great at organization. I have tried for years to become organized. I am not one of these, where everything is color coded and nice and pretty and nice and neat and organized. I have organized chaos. I’m finally, I’m done with it. So I actually have somebody who organizes me. I have to start up. I have to start hiring out my weaknesses as well. So you mentioned something about your book. Tell us more about that.
Nathan: Yeah, so I started two multi-million dollar companies bootstrapping with twenty bucks each. My book is about fifty principles and strategies that I’ve used and my business partner Connor, who I’ve worked with for 8 years whose actually one of my first hires, have used to start these companies and grow them and get the most out of people. And make good business decisions when times get tough. So truly all about that, and I think it should bring a good perspective on the behind the scenes – on what is behind that set up that’s chugging along for that. Sometimes it gets off path but comes back. It should be really good. Our pre-orders actually launch later today. You get a discount if you order early. It will launch April 26 for real, so I’m excited for that.
Tracey: OK. So, this episode is probably not going to go live for a few weeks yet. So if you’re listening to this, that means it’s already been launched, it’s already live, so definitely going to check that out. Where can we find it?
Nathan: Yeah, right In the FreeUp website. Check out our Facebook page. But we’ll be selling it all over.
Tracey: And that’s Free-E-Up, so there’s three Es in there, FreeUp.com. Awesome. You have another book, “FreeUp Your Business” or is that the same book.
Nathan: No, that’s that book and we have our free e-book which is the Ten Most Common Mistakes of Outsourcing. You can check that out.
Tracey: Oh, now that’s a whole other call. I’m just writing that down because I’m definitely going to check that out. Alright, so how can business owners get started working with virtual assistants?
Nathan: You always have those UpWorks and Monster.coms of the world that are boards and you go and push a project and you get a lot of applicants. The way that we do it is different. We get hundreds of applicants every week. We have a great interview process that created ourselves. We have those 15 pages of communication guidelines. And it’s truly hard to get into our networks. We only take the top 1%.
The cool thing about becoming a FreeUp client which you can do right on FreeUp.com, it’s free, there’s no monthly fees. Whenever you need a freelancer, instead of posting a project and getting applicants, you just submit a freelancer request right inside your account. And we fill those requests within a few hours, sometimes even minutes. We match up with a freelancer that’s already been pre-vetted. From there we’re hands on to make sure you have a good experience. We’ll guide you along the way.
And on the very back end, which is cool about us, we’re an insurance against turnovers. So if you hire some and set them up for week, and 6 months later or a year and a half later they quit, we cover all re-onboarding costs. We have very low turnover. But that’s there just to protect you. So we’re kind of the more hands-on way to hire. You can check out Online Hiring Mastermind group, the FreeUp blog is great, we post a lot of content there. We have that new book coming out. You can add me right on Skype, my calendar is right on the website. We’re very easy to contact, and it’s easy to sign up and we like to keep everything simple.
Tracey: Very cool. What could somebody expect to pay on an average for a virtual assistant?
Nathan: So freelancers on FreeUp are $5 to S50 an hour. Both US and non-US. We’re about 40% US 40% Philippines and 20% scattered around the world. It really depends on skill set. If you go to FreeUp.com and click pricing at the top, there’s a great infographic. It shows everything we offer: from graphic design to bookkeeper and to writing broken down by US and non-US with ballpark hourly rates. All freelancers on FreeUp are hourly. It’s all there, obviously depends on who’s available. But we’re pretty much market pricing.
Tracey: Awesome. Before we sign off for the day, what is one final tip you can give to a client working with a virtual assistant to create that amazing, dynamic relationship.
Nathan: One tip that I would that I would give you is to really diversify. Make sure that you’re not hiring that one manager that knows how to do everything. It will back fire at some point. If they quit, it’s going to be way harder to onboard them. If they keep on going on vacation it’s harder to replace them. Really figure out how to build the group by splitting up tasks and making yourself more diverse and less risk-prone.
That’s the biggest mistake I see people making. They’re like, “oh I’m just going to hire this all-star assistant.” First of all, it’s hard to find that person who can really do everything at a high level. Second of all, it can lead to bad things down the line. So, diversifying early is the best way to have success later. You’ll also build a lot of great relationships by meeting different people and be able to put them in positions to succeed with their strengths.
Tracey: That is – I’m writing this down because I never thought of it that way. And on either end, and I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. That’s really cool. Nathan, thank you so much for being here. This is really awesome. Everybody, definitely check out his website, FreeUp.com. Remember there’s three Es in there. Check them out on Facebook, get the books, all of that. So, thanks for joining us, everybody thanks for listening in. We’ll catch on the next show.
Nathan: Thanks Tracey.
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