In this episode of eCommerce Evolution, Nathan talks about scaling Amazon sales and freelancers. Brett draws out Nathan’s unique perspective on both Amazon and on building groups of eCommerce freelancers as they talk about FreeeUp and Portlight, Nathan’s million-dollar Amazon business.
Portlight is a very successful drop shipping business that was founded in 2009. Nathan has since scaled it into what is now a multi-million dollar per year business. FreeUp was launched in 2015 as a solution to the problem that online merchants have finding and vetting remote freelancers. FreeUp is a network of hundreds of the top freelancers with eCommerce experience who are pre-vetted by the marketplace. The idea is to do all the grunt work of hiring so that business owners can free up their time.
Brett digs into some Amazon news and trends that entrepreneurs should pay attention to. These include:
He and Nate also share their specific insights for building and scaling freelancers to adjust. Being flexible with hiring and knowing what you want and need is vitally important to the growth of a business. Listen to the episode to learn more about:
This was such a great episode that we’ve included here the full transcript. We hope you enjoy reading through it to get the juicy details!
Brett: Well hello, and welcome to another edition of the Ecommerce Evolution podcast, I’m your host, Brett Curry, and this is where we talk about what’s new and what’s next in ecommerce. My guest today is Nathan Hirsch. He is the founder of Portlight, an Amazon seller/reseller, and then also FreeeUp, which is a marketplace for finding remote freelancers, all aimed at the ecommerce industry.
And so I loved my interview with Nathan, what we dig in to the first part of the interview is Amazon focus, and so we talked about Amazon changes and shifts and things that you need to do differently because of those shifts. We talk about how he got started in textbooks and then baby products. We talk about some mistakes you should avoid, and some things and trends you should be considering moving forward. We talked about some Amazon ads and just several things that I think will be very helpful that if you’re already selling on Amazon, can help you, or if you’re looking at expanding and selling on Amazon, that part of the interview will really help you.
And then we wrapped up by talking about building a group of freelancers and I’m a huge believer in building a great one and having the right processes. We talked about vetting. We talked about killer interview questions. We talked about how to get the right people because a bad hire could be so expensive and can slow you down and really mess you up. And so, lots of great tips for how to build that group. And so with that, I hope you enjoy my interview with Nathan Hirsch.
Brett: My guest today is Nathan Hirsch of FreeUp and Portlight. So excited to dive into this interview. Nathan, thanks for joining us, and how’s it going man?
Nathan: Doing well Brett! Thanks for having me.
Brett: Yeah, really glad to be chatting. We got some good stuff we’re diving into today. Going to talk Amazon, which is a favorite topic for everybody in ecommerce for very obvious reasons. Also, we’re going to talk about outsourcing and hiring remote freelancers and managing remote groups, which many of us deal with, OMG included. We have some remote freelancers and so managing remote group members creates some unique challenges, but also some pretty amazing benefits; we’re going to dive in to that as well. This thing is going to be packed.
But Nathan, let’s start with Amazon, and if you would, just give everybody a quick background. How did you get into the Amazon business? Any interesting notes you want to share prior to that? And just talk about how you launched your Amazon business because this has become quite large and I want to get into that as well. So, your brief background, if you would.
Nathan: Sure! I started off as broke college student looking for extra beer money. I got pretty angry that the bookstore was ripping me off. I was paying hundreds of dollars for textbooks, selling them back for pennies in the dollar. So I set up my own textbook business to compete with the school bookstore, which they were not happy about. But before I knew it, I had lines on my door of people trying to sell me their books. I would hold on to their books, sell them at the beginning of next semester, make a profit.
I sold the book to different bookstores and it eventually led me to Amazon. And once I found Amazon I just became totally addicted. I thought it was really cool. They were right at that point where they were getting away from just doing books and selling other products like home goods and baby products. And so there weren’t a hundred sellers in every listing – it was me and a few other people.
Brett: And what year was this Nathan, when you first kind of identified Amazon can be huge, around when was that?
Nathan: Around 2009.
Brett: OK, great. So that was early on.
Nathan: Yeah, and so I started thinking about how I could start an Amazon business. I didn’t want to sell textbooks forever. I knew at some point I was going to graduate college and not have it and maybe books would be obsolete anyway if we would all move to Kindle, which hasn’t exactly happened.
And so I wanted another way, and I came up with the idea one day of drop shipping before I knew what drop shipping was, I actually didn’t even know what was called drop shipping until years later – of where I would find products online, list them even though I didn’t have them. And then ship them from the vendor, the distributors, supplier to my end customer and make whatever the difference was as my margin. I started doing trial and error and experimenting everything from DVDs to outdoor products. Eventually I realized that I was really good at selling baby products.
Nathan: I know, it made no sense. So I remember, being in class one day, and I was sitting in the back just listing baby products on Amazon. I got weird looks from this girl right next to me. It was pretty funny. So before I knew it, I was running a multi-million dollar Amazon drop shipping business out of my college dorm room, hiring people, making every good and bad decision that young entrepreneurs make.
Oh man, I really accelerated from there to when I graduated and decided to be an entrepreneur instead of just going out and getting a real job and ended up opening an office, and hiring full-time staff. I eventually got rid of that and went entirely remote but continued to grow this drop shipping business to sell home goods, baby products, toys, and stuff like that.
Brett: It’s really interesting, you know. I can see that going a couple of different ways. And it’s either girls in class see you checking out baby products and think you’re either strange, or you already have kids or something, or you could really leverage it to your advantage of saying “hey I’m touch with my sensitive side and I’ve got a multi-million dollar business,” I could see you using that to your advantage, potentially.
Nathan: Yeah, it’s funny. One of the mistakes I made as a young entrepreneur, which I think a lot of people make, is I was like “Alright, I’m having a lot of success. I found this thing that’s like top secret. I don’t want anyone to know what I’m doing. I just want to keep it all for myself.” Everyone knew I was like running this company but I really didn’t tell anyone what it was or how I was doing it. So it just made it even more sketchy. Even the freelancers, I would only teach them what they had to know to do their job, which is a huge mistake on my part and I realized years later that they can actually contribute more and help me grow my business if they know what’s going on at all parts of the company.
Brett: Yeah, you know what’s interesting – I kind of went through something similar in my entrepreneurial career and I launched my first agency right out of college. And I think we have this misconception that because we want to build something and because we want to step out there and be an entrepreneur and grow sales and take risks and do all the stuff, that, if other people saw what we’re doing they’d want to do it too.
Obviously it is true that there are competitors. A lot of them don’t want to do what we’re doing. They would rather just be a part of something or work for someone. And so a lot of times we’re needlessly to cautious to our own detriment. I fully agree now we try to be as transparent as possible with the group of freelancers that we’ve hired and show them “OK, this is where we want to go; this is how profitable we were first quarter. If we push to get this profit, this is what we can do for everybody,” and getting everyone bought in. Just so many more benefits because it’s not just your brainpower now solving problems – it’s the whole group. So, that’s really interesting. Well hey, what I’d love to do – so 2009, that was just as the Amazon was coming in fired up. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen since then, and I’m sure it’s a ton of them, but some of the biggest changes in the way Amazon functions that directly impact how you run your Amazon business now.
Nathan: Yeah, so they definitely made it harder and harder for drop shippers. I mean a have never been an FBA guy, I do it a little bit for returns. A lot of my clients do FBA so I’m familiar with it but I’ve never sold it myself on a high level. And the thing with drop shipping is you have to very aware of your metrics on Amazon. Back when I started, there were two or three metrics. It was like you can’t have any tax on more than one percent of the orders. You can’t cancel more than 2.5%. And that was really it. As long as you did that you were good to go. And every they would just add more and more. OK, now there’s a late shipment rate. OK now, there’s a valid tracking rate. OK now there’s a customer response time. And so they made it harder and harder for businesses that are just not using their FBA which handles 99% for them.
But there’s also pros and cons to doing that, right? Because if you do FBA, if you buy a lot of inventory upfront, whereas with my drop shipping business I’m not buying anything unless I’ve already sold it. So I want to stick with my dropship model while continuing to give in to Amazon’s demands when it comes to metrics to keep my account safe.
Brett: Gotcha! So if someone was building an Amazon business today, would you advise them to look at going the FBA route or follow your footsteps and look at drop shipping? Or does it just totally depend?
Nathan: Drop shipping is a great business model, but your 100% relying on your supplier – wherever you’re getting the products. If your supplier is on point, if they know how to estimate the shipping times, and ships up on time, and make their products so they don’t have defects, and packages so they don’t break. They communicate well with you and they send you tracking numbers – awesome! You can make a lot of money drop shipping. But you’re responsible for your Amazon account, you’re responsible for your metrics.
mazon does not want to hear that “hey, my supplier messed up.” So if you have that on point relationship and you can vet your suppliers to make sure they do it, and could follow Amazon’s policies, it’s great. Other than that, it’s too risky, and you really should go more of that FBA model.
Brett: Right, because you get a bad supplier, someone who’s not holding their end of the bargain, it all comes back on you. And then you’re running risks of account suspensions and issues like that, that are just really hard to overcome, correct?
Nathan: Exactly. And the cool thing about FBA is that there’s so many experts out there; I’m talking real experts that can help you run PPC campaigns and optimize your listings and analyze your competition. You can hire Chinese sourcers where, as even 5 years ago, a lot of it you’re figuring out yourself and it would cost you a lot of money before you could get it right. So, a lot of sellers now, yes there’s a lot more competition but there’s so much more knowledge out there and people are there to help you along the way that you really find yourself just stuck without any direction to turn to.
Brett: Yeah and I think it also benefits if you’re using FBA then you could qualify for prime and I’ve heard most people say that, when you are Prime eligible. We’ve seen it with our clients as well, you know, often, lists of 20 -30% or more in terms of conversions just by having that Prime eligibility.
Brett: So what are some of the big mistakes you see right now that Amazon sellers are making that are needlessly holding them back from being successful as they could be?
Nathan: The biggest thing I see people making is that they won’t take the time to invest in Amazon’s pay per click and really spend and money and time that it takes to get it to a good level.
People always want fast results. So they’ll have two bad weeks and throw away a little advertising money, which is really good trial and error on the business sense. And then they’ll just cut it off. Whereas I have had clients – they might have a bad month or two. We just came out with some new products on my store and we’re running PPC and it’s all just testing. We had no expectations. But within a few months we expect to have very good results and be able to take our sales to the next level.
So a lot of people, they get impatient; they’re saying that they’re not getting those sales right away. They also don’t realize that busy season is always around the corner and that’s when you’re going to get majority of your sales anyway. And if you’re going to have your PPC campaigns strong going into the fourth quarter, you’re going to have a very successful year regardless how the rest of it was.
So just getting a little impatient is a long-term game. Amazon is constantly changing its algorithms. You want to hire people that are up to date, people that will learn the new stuff that’s coming out. They’ll read the forums, read the blogs. You should be doing it yourself. And really it’s a long term play to help drive traffic to your listings.
Brett: Yeah, I fully agree. We offer service, we manage sponsored product ads. We’ve hired freelancers dedicated to that – they do a phenomenally. I’m more plugged in to the day-to-day of the Google side of our business, but I definitely watch and pay attention to Amazon and I love it. Excited about learning and experiencing more there, but one of the things I think people forget is they forget how good we have it now in terms of our ability to measure and quantify and see what’s working and what’s not.
I got my start as an entrepreneur, I built an agency right out of college, and so this was early 2000s and doing TV and radio primarily, and even if you’re really good, you know, if you have a physical store and you grilled you’re people, made them ask people, what brought you in today, where did you hear about us. It was still so much a shot in the dark compared to anything digital marketing, in term of the ability to track and measure. I fully get what you’re saying, some people are just unwilling of making that investment of saying, “hey the first month or two, this is a budget to learn, this is a budget to figure out what is going to work and what’s not going to work.” This is not ” I need a 300% return on my ad spend in month 1.” That can happen but is often shortsighted. If you get that, you’re probably not pushing the envelope enough. And so yeah, fully agree. You’ve got to invest some learning. You’ve got to watch the watch the metrics. You’ve got to be committed to this absolutely.
Nathan: A hundred percent agree. And the other thing is a whole lot of people will have 8 products, right? And they have one product that, for whatever reason, they’re very passionate about. But they’re not listening to what the market says. They’re having success with the other ones, and instead of focusing on the other one, kind of like, I never thought I was going to sell baby products. I really thought I was going to sell more DVDs and manlier stuff. But I listened to the market and I pointed my money and my time and my effort into what the market was telling me.
Brett: So interesting. You remind of a story. I had a client that worked with for a long time, great people. They sold how to crochet, how to knit, and patterns, stuff like that. Just two dudes who ran the business. And they were like, “We don’t understand crocheting or knitting at all”. What’s interesting about that is they just forced him to watch the numbers, like they had to understand the market based on the numbers.
And so it created this interesting scenario where actually I think they gave him a little bit of an advantage, at least in some ways where they weren’t making decisions based on emotions or based on what we feel that these are hot patterns and hot styles. It was all about the numbers because they didn’t have a clue, which was pretty interesting. Anything else that you see Amazon sellers doing now that you would say, whoa, don’t go that route, try this instead?
Nathan: I encourage people to look at their Amazon business as more than just Amazon business. You mentioned Google Ads, a lot of my most successful clients have been pushing traffic to their Amazon listings outside of Amazon where there’s Facebook Ads and Google Ads, their blog, whatever it is, I know you can’t do the reviews anymore. But there’s plenty of other ways to just drive traffic to your listings. And even if you don’t have a huge budget for it, just start somewhere, create a social media page, just start building little by little and every month invest more into it. And then down the line when you have a bigger budget, you have all that framework ready to go and you don’t have to start from scratch.
Brett: I love it. And it’s so interesting when we were with a lot of established companies, one of the things that we’re seeing, and this has been published, we talk about this a lot because we’re Google shopping people, that’s one of our specialties. More product searches begin in Amazon and even on Google now, and I’ve seen some research statistics have showed that it’s sort of fifty percent of product-related searches begin on Amazon.
So we’ve seen, with some larger clients who do big product launches. So maybe we’re doing a YouTube campaign, Facebook video campaign, Facebook campaign, to an image campaign or whatever. You have to be prepared for what’s that going to do to both of your search and to Amazon search. Recent client in the outdoors space set a huge relaunch, and man, I’m so glad we followed our systems and had our Amazon ads in place because this part just blew up on Amazon even more than it did on Google. So I love that, I think there is so much value in Amazon. I mean they’ve got so many users and they’re growing all the time and their gaining market share that grows at a rapid pace. But you still can’t just put something out there and hope, right? You got to send traffic to it and get things optimized as best as you can and do your part to grow.
Brett: You mentioned reviews. Let’s talk about that a little bit. How would you recommend people get product reviews because it’s so important. But Amazon kind of shifted their policy on that a little bit. How do you recommend people to get reviews now?
Nathan: It’s funny, I’ve never really launched a private label product myself, so I don’t have direct experience doing it. I know a lot of my consultants have their own way and it’s usually goes into outside traffic and blog posts and stuff like that. But I definitely don’t pretend to be an expert with it and I’ve never had to really manipulate the system. So for me it’s more just about making my clients aware of Amazon’s policy and kind of letting my consultants that do focus on the digital marketing and outside of the Amazon factors do their thing.
Brett: Yeah, and one of the best pieces of advice that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen this work in practice is it’s good to ask, you want to ask for reviews. But even just reaching out to a customer, “hey, making sure that everything is good with the product, making sure it was easy to set up, easy to use, checking to see if you had any questions, checking to make sure you’re good.” Taking that step of just offering amazing customer service will often lead to product reviews naturally. So you might not even have to ask after you do that.
Nathan: Absolutely, it’s the same the same thing with FreeUp or anyone starting their own business. Your first hundred clients are so important. You need to make sure they’re taking care, that you’re happy, that as a new business owner you’re probably going to make some mistakes, that you make them right and you make sure that at the end of the day that clients should have good things to say about you online and telling other people. And if you don’t do that, it’s going to be very tough to get your business off the ground. Selling products on Amazon is no different. When you do get that sale, make sure that experience goes well, make sure you follow up with them and do everything you can to get that positive review.
Brett: Yeah, and I think that’s another potential mistake that you will make as they could treat each customer into transactional of a fashion. And let’s just say you’re selling a product or a few products that there’s not a lot repeat purchases on. I still think you can make the mistake of saying, “I just made 20 bucks or 25 bucks on this order. I can’t take the time to follow up and do all the things that people advise as far as customer service goes because I only made 20 bucks on this order. But especially the beginning ones are so much more important, it’s way more than just an order. It’s like the foundation for your business and it’s going to lead to better rankings and better sales overall. And so I think that’s maybe higher level, more general, but treating – being too transactional rather than thinking long-term and building a business, building clients. I think that’s one of the mistakes that business owners make for sure.
So what are some trends you’re seeing on the Amazon, like what do you think are some of the things on the horizon that could potentially change the Amazon game?
Nathan: It’s tough to predict the future. You can never what Amazon’s going to do. They can -…
Brett: And the future almost comes up and the future gets here tomorrow with Amazon. They have an idea, that’s like they’re rolling it out en masse.
Nathan: One of the biggest things that I see them doing is more on the holiday season to restrict sellers. I think they’ve learned that the holiday season is their bread and butter. They’ve seen people mess it up for them by providing poor products or poor customer experience. And every year they’ve made it harder and harder. So kind of see that trend continuing and really affecting FBA more than it ever has. And I could be totally wrong before they made it, so “hey drop shippers you have to follow all these rules and if your FBA, you’re OK. But I kind of seen trends that they’re going to make it. So OK, yeah, you’re OK if you continue to provide this top level customer service. And even more than that during the holiday season.
Brett: How do you teach people to view Amazon – I know your perspective is a little different because your business is primarily built on Amazon. We talked to different merchants, we hear different perspectives from “Amazon is our largest channel” to “Amazon is our greatest competition – our greatest threat” to “Amazon is a friend of me.” How do you think people should view Amazon with trepidation, with excitement?
Nathan: To me, you have to review it as one revenue stream. If you want to build a real business, you can have it a hundred percent relying on Amazon. I strongly encourage people, even if they’re small, open up an e-Bay store, start your own website, start driving traffic in other places and you can still have a booming Amazon business. But I do a lot of with Amazon’s suspension appeals, and I have helped a lot of people get unsuspended. You, of people, who have spent hours and hours and years of their life, putting it all into this Amazon business and on the next day it could be gone because Amazon suspends you because you broke one policy. So you really want to protect yourself and look at it as one source of revenue, and not your entire business.
Brett: Fully agree, love it, get to diversify, get a look at other channels, totally makes sense. Let’s talk about building just a little bit. When did you first realize, dude, because you have a business partner, so just you and your business partner becoming experts at baby products in your college dorm. When did you first realize, man, we’ve got to hire freelancers.
Nathan: Yeah, so remember I had a meeting with Mike Helen for the first time and we were just going over stuff and he was like, “So, when are you hiring a freelancer?” I said, “Why would I do that, that’s a waste of money. That money isn’t going to go into my pocket.” I love working, I could do this all day, every day, for the rest of my life. And he just laughed in my face. And so I took that advice that he had given me that day and started to realize – figure out what I didn’t like doing. I didn’t want to answer customer service emails which you do a lot with drop shipping. I remember hiring a few different customer service people and finally getting one that I could trust that would stick. And just that for a day of not having to wake up and worry about what angry email is in my inbox was incredible. That was really the first thing I took off my plate.
Brett: Nice. So how did you start making those initial hires? Were you – Craig’s List, were you just talking around, getting the word out on campus? How are you making those initial hires?
Nathan: Yeah, it was all on campus. So it was pretty much, you need a job, I have a job. I didn’t have a great interview process at first. Connor, my business partner, he’s one of my first hires. That was complete luck, he messaged me one day on Facebook messenger when I was in class asking for a job and ended up working out really well. It took a lot of learning from bad hires to realize what I was looking for. For example, I wanted people that were workaholics that needed the money, that weren’t just playing with their parent’s money and looking for something fun to do on the side. We wanted someone that was committed and really needed this job and needed to perform to keep the job.
So once we realized that then we started creating better and better vetting to really identify what we were looking for. And then when we graduated in college, we got access to all the people in Orlando rather than the people around the campus. What we quickly realized about that is we were competing with businesses around you. You’re also limited to what talent you have access to. That’s when we learned about remote freelancers from a buddy of mine in my softball team told us about Upwork, which was oDesk at the time, which I thought was the greatest thing ever. I became determined to build an oDesk army.
Brett: Nice, nice. Let’s talk a little bit about that vetting process because I think this is kind of the bane of most entrepreneur’s existence is you go to the interview process, you look at resumes, you check references or truth be told you don’t check references. But you look to see that they have references, and then you do interview and you think, “Aw, this person is great, the interview is so well, charming, and said all the right things, OK, they’re hired.” What are some tips that you have for that vetting process to see, ” OK, we just want the people that are hungry, the people that are going to put in the time and that they need this job to make ends meet. Or they’re going to become workaholics or borderline workaholics versus the person that’s just punching the clock and dying to get out of there by 5 or before.
Nathan: It’s so funny I have hired people with awesome references, they’ve gotten great reviews and they even ended up being terrible hires. I’ve actually had someone that he failed his reference checks and I just needed someone for busy season and we hired him just because we didn’t have a choice. And he has worked with me for over 5 years and he’s been an awesome hire. So you never really know what you’re going to get. For us on the vetting process for FreeUp especially, because we get a lot of applicants, we only take 1% and add them to our network.
We’re looking for three things, we’re looking for someone that has a lot of skills, we’re not looking for newbies. We want a track record success with big businesses. We’re looking for attitude, those workaholics, the people that care a lot more than just a paycheck. We’re also looking for communication especially if you’re dealing with people all over the world. I don’t want to have to chase you down. I want proper notice. I want you to be able to give me good estimates. I don’t care how talented you are, if you can’t communicate with me and communicate with my clients and the assistants at a high level, it’s never going to work out.
Brett: Yeah. What’s interesting – we found, in our business, it’s a lot of times people that interview the best, that just means they’re social, they have social skills. They’re good at meetings and reading people. They’re just sociable. Whereas, sometimes the best freelancers – depending on the type of things you need them to do – maybe don’t interview that well. Because they’re the type that just get in and get to work. They don’t want to talk about it endlessly, they just want to get in and get to work. And so we started using some tools, some personality profile tools and assessments and things like that have definitely helped. We’ve also found that, if you give someone a task – if I’m a hiring a paid search manager – let’s say we had this happen one time where someone worked at some other agencies and we thought, agencies, references like you’ve been – person was in Ad words for something like 5 years. And then when they got in and start working, we we’re blown away at how little they knew.
We started implementing tests and checks, and OK, “hey here’s this account, what would you do to improve it.” You know, really starting to test them before we hire. But let’s talk about FreeUp. So we got FreeeUp, which has an extra “e” in it, so F-R-triple E-U-P.com. So you guys started FreeeUp, I’d love to hear the story of that. And why FreeUp when oDesk which is now Upwork, when Upwork already exists and you’re using Upwork, why build FreeUp?
Nathan: Sure, so I remember, it must have been around year 5 or 6 of my Amazon business, when I was just spending just 50% of my time in the interview room, just going through applications, interviewing people multiple rounds. I would spend all that time just to have them quit or I’ll realize they’re were not that good. I’m really developing this really good interview process over time but it did take up a lot of my time. It was frustrating. And I mean, right now you’re right. You can go on Upwork and the other job boards and that’s what they are, they’re job boards. You go in, you post a job, you get a hundred applicants. You interview them one by one. It takes forever and you still don’t really know what you’re going to get until they start.
I really wanted a better way. With FreeUp we do it differently. We get hundreds of applicants every week to get into our network. We have a great vetting process, great interview process based on my years of experience in hiring. We have 15 pages of communication guidelines that freelancers have to memorize and get tested on because I’ve mentioned how important communication is. We take the top 1% and add them to our network.
Our clients love it because it’s free to sign up, there’s no monthly fee. Anytime you need a freelancer you just submit a freelancer request inside your account. It takes a minute, and within hours, sometimes even minutes, we’ll introduce you to someone from our network, hand-picked, already vetted. All you have to do is talk to them, make sure you like them, Click the “Hire” button and you’re good to go. So if you need a graphic designer, you don’t have to wait a week. You can start in an hour. If you need an Amazon expert who has 5 or 10 year experience on listing products and running PPC and all that stuff. You can have them ready to go.
So that’s really the concept we’ve created. Now, on the back-end of that, we have the hands on experience that Upwork and the other marketplaces don’t have. And we’re insurance against turnover, freelancers on the marketplace rarely quit. But it they do, we cover all re onboarding, all replacement cost and get you a new freelancer right away so you never take a step backwards in your business for HR reasons.
Brett: Nice, nice. So these people are pre-vetted, you’re bringing the top 1%, you’re doing a lot of the work for someone. Now, are you looking at mainly connecting companies with Freelancers or are you helping them maybe make a full-time hire of someone?
Nathan: Yeah, we have plenty of clients that hire freelancers from FreeUp for 40 hours a week. For example we do a lot with customer service and we have big ecommerce companies that’ll hire 6 customer service people to work 40 hours and they’ve had the same freelancers for over 2 years. You can hire a freelancer 20 hours a week, 5 hours a week. We have no minimums. Freelancers are first come, first served. You can use them for one time projects and we never take a freelancer away from you. They can stay with you as long as you want, and they work directly with you. It really does address no matter where you are in your business and what kind of hiring you’re trying to do.
Brett: Interesting. Let’s talk about company culture for a bit. One of my favorite ecommerce books is “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Shay, founder of Zappos. One thing he talks about that always stuck with me – he talks about only two things you have as a company: you’re culture and you’re brand. This old consultant that I met years and years ago when I first started my business, he talked about the concept of you have your “outside perception” and your “inside reality.” Outside perception is let’s get your brand some people think of when they hear your name, when they see you. These are the things that come to mind. And then inside reality is that’s who you really are and how people respond and how they take responsibility or don’t take responsibility, how they come to work.
We’ve also had the up and downs of, for me, I’m very passionate talking about our culture. We’ve got these 3 culture statements and several culture things we talk about and even grade people on and stuff. But that realization of you can say what your culture is, you can say we’re all about constant improvement, we’re all about having fun solving problems, and we’re always learning, and things like that. But if it’s not reinforced and reminded and almost drilled into people, they forget. But, what are some tips you have – how do you keep and protect, convey your culture through a group of remote freelancers?
Nathan: Awesome. We have an awesome marketplace culture both at our Amazon business and FreeUp and it extends past to 20 internal assistants that I’ve hired. Really, the whole 500-plus freelancers, they all buy in. I give Connor all the credit in the world for that because he was the one that first stressed to me how important that was. A lot of it starts at the beginning adding the right people, I mean if your company culture is different than mine, then we should be looking for two different types of people. So we made sure that we were only adding people that are going to have that positive attitude, that they are going to really mesh with the other freelancers around them, even if they’re not doing projects with them. So we have these great group chats of Amazon experts and eBay experts, and really the whole community and everyone is in it for one purpose: to grow FreeUp and to help the others and to be a collaborative player.
A lot of it starts on the hiring side, but it also starts from the top down. We have Monday morning meetings. We’re, like you mentioned, we talk about how we did the week before, what are our goals for the week, what projects are we working on, what’s everyone doing? Do we give recognition to people who are doing well? So that’s from me and Connor to the internal group. From there that trickles down to the rest of the freelancers. When they’re giving updates in the group chat and sending out newsletters and sending out freelancer requests, reminding them and having new freelancer orientation. It all follows that exact same principles, the exact same standards. It’s very unified from the time that you interview for the first time, to when you get in to when we have meetings, and it trickles from the top down.
Brett: Yeah, it’s great. And one of the things we do with the remote members, and we have employees, full-time employees that are remote just because we’re in the Midwest and sometimes finding people that are highly skilled with a lot of experience, it’s hard to find them locally. But we do Monday meetings as well, but some people hate Monday morning meetings – I love Mondays. I just love the fresh start and getting going and like this week of opportunity in front of you. And it also potentially, could be a little bit influenced by the fact that I do have 8 children, I love them all dearly, but weekends are rarely relaxing for me, so maybe that motivates my Mondays as well. But I think I would love it regardless.
We get remote employees involved in the Monday meetings as we’re doing other meetings we get everyone involved, we do video conferencing. We really make people feel a part, I think there is a tendency for me to forget they’re real people as you’re tackling the day to day. You’re doing collaborative stuff and it’s critical that you don’t. We also try to involve some of our long-time members in the interview process. When it makes sense because I love what you said a minute ago, finding that someone is going to be a culture fit, that someone is going to fit in and be a part of the group. We include freelancers and part of the interview process, which I think can be helpful as well. Hiring mistakes, what are freelancers things you see, mistakes you see, ecommerce companies are making right now in terms of hiring?
Nathan: Yeah, so we mentioned diversifying, a common mistake I see all the time is someone will hire one person who’s a little bit of a superstar and they’ll teach them to do customer service, and this is my inventory process and this is how we run campaigns, this is how we do listings and we do this in the morning and this in the afternoon and this at night. And then 6 months later that freelancer gets a higher paying gig and leaves. How do you even start to replace that? Whereas the better strategy that I try to preach is that you hire one person for listing, one person for customer care. You create onboarding docs for each one. And yes, if a person you really like leaves, it sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. You can replace them within a week. So that’s definitely the first step in hiring properly.
The other mistake that I see people make is they go for the cheap version, right? Everyone wants to get those $1 to $2 an hour freelancers and then ends up being a lot more expensive either with the communication or the skill set or jeopardizing your account. For me, if someone is good at what they do and they’re going to have that attitude and that quality, I want to pay them fairly and make sure they’re going to stick around because even if I lowball them, let’s say that they want 10 bucks an hour and I’m like, “hey, you know what, the position is only $8, take it or leave it. They accept it because they need work at that time. The second they get a higher paying offer, they are out the door. All of that screening I put in is gone. So I’d rather just pay them the $10 and make sure they’re a good fit for my business and keep them happy long term.
Brett: Understanding the real cost with freelancers is not necessarily the salary and negotiating over a 10% difference or 15% difference. But yeah, that extreme cost and time and shifting attention that you have to take when you’re onboarding a new freelancer. Yeah, much better to pay them in a way that they stick and I fully agree with that. Great, any interviewing mistakes that you see people making, any tips there on the interview process that could be better?
Nathan: Sure, so the interview process is really for you looking for red flags. You mentioned this before that people learn how to interview. They’re either social or, I even took a college course on how to do interviews. So it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m good at doing the task. It just means I can trick people in interviews and tell them what they want to hear. So your entire interview process should be looking for red flags. What kind of outside commitments do they have? Why did they leave their past companies? What kind of things are going to pop up along the way? What kind of communication issues do you have during the interview process that are really just a reflection of how that person works?
So your questions that you ask them should be designed with a purpose to trick and to pull out the red flags rather than to just get back to those standard interview questions.
Brett: Any favorite questions you have, because I think what you just said, and maybe “trick” isn’t the best word, I think it’s fine. Any favorite questions you have to maybe get someone put away the canned answer that they have memorized and give you something real and something fresh, and something that’s going to be an indicator of what they’re going to be like as a freelancer?
Nathan: Yes, so before we even get to the testing of their skills, we’ll ask them, “hey, OK, you claim you’re good at Facebook ads and Amazon PPC, rank them one to ten, what are you?” If this person comes in and they have 3 months of experience and they’re like “hey, I’m a 10” or if they get to the test and it doesn’t show that, that tells a little something about who they are, and how honest they’re going to be to you and in my case, my clients. I’m looking for honesty. I’m looking for people that can actually display the correct level if skills that they have. If they’re a 5 and their rate is for a 5, there are plenty of people looking for a 5-level freelancer. I have tons of clients like that, but you just can’t be a 5 and tell me you’re a 10.
Brett: That’s great. You’re combining feedback with what you’re seeing in the test and matching that up to say, “OK, are they really shooting straight with me”, or “what are they actually doing?” Great. Any other favorite questions or any resources you would point someone to for better interviewing?
Nathan: Yeah, the thing is that I have hired all-star freelancers. They spend 12 hours a day going through applicants, vetting them. And the cool thing about us is even if we don’t have the person available, which 99% of the time we do, it’s a specific software that we can’t possibly recruit for every software in the world. Or a specific task that’s only for your business. We’ll actually recruit free of charge to our clients. So all these years of interview questions that we have, our 4-step process that takes a very long time, we’ll do it for you and recruit for you free of charge. You have no obligation to hire the freelancers that we get at the end. We’re happy just to add them to our network and give them to other clients if you don’t want them. So if you are feeling kind of iffy on the interview process, or you had bad hiring experiences before, you can try out the FreeUp network and you can have us recruit for you.
Brett: Nice, nice. I have one Amazon question left that I forgot to ask earlier. And then I want talk about how people can maybe take the next steps with FreeUp or check that out more. But any favorite tools or resources that you can recommend that I know anytime we talk about tools, we run the risk of those becoming outdated or fading. But any tools you would recommend to Amazon sellers or people looking at selling products on Amazon?
Nathan: Yeah, my clients use everything in the world. My personal favorite is App Eagle. I’ve been using them for years. They don’t give me anything, I just really like their pricing software that’s helped me get a lot of buybox. I know there’s a lot of other pricing software out there, but I’ve just personally had a good experience with them.
Brett: App Eagle, nice. Alright, cool, I will link to that in the show notes. So, someone’s listening and they’re saying “we need freelancers, we’re having a hard time finding someone locally, or maybe we’ll take you up on that and just say “hey, guys know how to recruit and vet and interview and all that. So I want you to do that for us. Where can people learn more about FreeUp and what are the next steps you’d recommend for them?
Nathan: If you right go right to FreeUp.com, you can schedule a meeting with me, I’d love to talk to you about your business. You can sign up and mention Brett’s name and he’ll get a link to throw in the show notes. If you use that, you get a dollar off the first freelancer you hire forever. It’s free to sign up, there’s no monthly fee, there’s no obligation or commitment. You just get access to the top 1% of remote freelancers. If you want to check out our content on hiring, you can check out the Online Hiring Mastermind group, the FreeUp blog. You can also check out my book “FreeUp Your Business, 50 Secrets for Bootstrapping Multi-Million Dollar Companies.”
Brett: And I know this is likely been very very obvious to us peeled and listening in, but the beauty of this network, and why it has an edge over something like Upwork is, you guys are focused on ecommerce. You know ecommerce since when you built the network all around that and vetting people that also know ecommerce and know how to help if it’s Amazon or design or other areas and so, just phenomenal stuff. Any parting remarks, Nathan, any final tips or nuggets that you would leave with the audience as we wrap up.
Nathan: Yeah, I mean, depending on where you are on your business, if you’ve never hired before or you’ve hired before and had bad experiences, or you’re just so busy that you don’t have the time to hire, you have to commit yourself to hiring. You’re going to be limited. At some point you’re going to hit that ceiling where you just can’t go further without hiring. And whether you’re trying to build a lifestyle business where you have more time for your friends and family, or whether you’re trying to become the next Google and Apple of the world, hiring is the way to make that happen and making smart hires is the key.
Brett: One hundred percent agree. It can be a nightmare, but it can also be really fun to build a group of freelancers. I remember when we referred my business partner Chris, I first shifted and thought, OK, rather than just having couple of people, we need to build a group of skilled freelancers. And so making that initial shift was tricky, but it does free you up and you could do so much more, and you really become a business when you have hired a good group, right?
But one of the other things I mentioned is, when you give them the right freelancer, it is amazing, right? You get someone who thinks proactively, and maybe they’ve got a little bit of experience and they’re owning this one piece of the process, this one area of the business. It is totally liberating. They should bring things to the table that you never would have thought, I would never have the time to do. It can change your business.
And also, I want to mention what you brought up before that I think is worth underscoring, is you have a tendency -we used to do this all the time where you find that one freelancer who’s really good and you just think “geez, just load them up, let’s have them do everything. Let’s have some do customer service and marketing and fulfillment, and all that. We had a freelancer, long-time freelancer, she’s still with us, been with us almost from the beginning, but she said, ” you know guys, it’s almost like you’re a kid that finds a toy that you really like to play with, and you play with it until you break it.” I was like, “yeah, it’s probably true.” So building out that process is something you guys can even help with that too where you’re saying “OK, we need to own this piece, this process. So let’s find the perfect person, let’s get them in place, let’s give them what they need to succeed and then, let’s go from there.”
Nathan: Absolutely. You’ll also lose all your leverage too, right? Once they have access to the keys to everything, they’re irreplaceable, you have to give them everything they want and they can walk out the door and take everything with them. So kind of lose all the power as you have as the employer.
Brett: Yup, yup, and just doesn’t create any instability or diversification. Basically you’re creating another you. That’s typically not what you need. So, very good man. Any other ways you’d recommend people, connect with you, any social ways to connect or anything else?
Nathan: Yeah, I’m very easy to contact – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. You can add me Skype, I’m on Skype all the time. I have assistants that monitor my emails and Skype accounts while I sleep, so you’re going to get a fast response. We’re really there to help you to personally, hands-on help you make good hiring decisions.
Brett: Awesome, awesome. Nathan Hirsch everybody. Nathan, man, thank you for joining us. It’s been a ton of fun. Well, lots of good Amazon stuff, love the hiring conversations. So critical, so critical for growing companies. And so do check out FreeUp and check out Nathan, connect with him. Nathan, appreciate the time, man, thanks coming on.
Nathan: Thanks for having me!
Brett: Yeah, absolutely! And so as always, we’d love to hear your feedback, we’d love to have a review on iTunes. That does help other people find and discover this show. If you have ideas or topics (whether that be an interview, or a deep dive on a topic, please let me know. And until next time, thank you for tuning in.
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