I sat down recently for a chat with Dale, a long-time client of FreeUp. Dale is an eCommerce entrepreneur and aspiring peer coach, among other pursuits. He stopped working in the corporate world about six years ago. He at first continued working part time – about three years more – then decided to invest himself fully into his online business. He hasn’t looked back since.
Dale and I had a lovely time talking about how he got from working in engineering to building an eCommerce business, and about the challenges that he’s faced hiring freelancers online. Just an all-around really nice guy, Dale was very accommodating and had a lot of advice to share about what he’s been doing to overcome his hiring struggles.
Wild Ting Enterprises, in particular The Bucko brand, started out selling a specific cleaning product called the Soap Scum and Grime Cleaner. It was originally a product available at Lowe’s Home Improvement, but was discontinued. People loved the product so much and were calling all the time looking for it, so Dale decided to bring it back. He contacted the man who had formulated the original product and they worked together to recreate the formula to produce a similar cleaner that worked just like the original.
Dale rebranded the cleaner and The Bucko Soap Scum and Grime Cleaner was born. He started selling it on his own website and sales weren’t great. That’s when a friend suggested trying Amazon. So Dale opened an Amazon store and listed it. People went crazy over it. To this day, The Bucko Soap Scum and Grime Cleaner is still The Bucko store’s best-selling product.
After the cleaner’s success, The Bucko customers started asking for more great products. They wanted spare sprayers to replace old ones, quality empty bottles that they could use to put other product in, spare caps for bottles and jugs, and all kinds of other accessories that they needed for cleaning.
From there, the store evolved from just cleaning-related products to home care products as people started looking for something that would hold chopsticks in the dishwasher. Then Dale started selling other products for personal care like the flairosol fine mist sprayers, which are much loved on Amazon.
About what inspires his product choices, Dale says that he is basically just trying to solve little problems for people. Sometimes his ideas come directly from customers. At other times, they come from his own felt need. He has a background in engineering, so he has a keen sense of new little items that can be a big help for people who he anticipates face the same problems he does. As he solves his own little problems, he comes up with different products to sell. He says that helping to solve problems is where it all begins; otherwise, there’s really no point.
Dale also has a couple of other ventures that fix other problems unrelated to selling product. He’s got Confidence Pool Picks, which is something that his father actually got him into. As he began looking into it, he told himself that if he was going to make it official, he was going to be in it to win it. He lost at first, then started blogging about his experience. As that gained traction and he started to figure things out, he turned it into the website to share the knowledge and fun.
Dale has also started a community that helps Asian-Americans become entrepreneurs. As he was just starting out, he didn’t know any Asian-American business owners, so he didn’t have any role models or anything like that. Most of the people he knew had been taught to be doctors lawyers or engineers. Entrepreneurship was something completely new. With EntreAsians, which is starting to take off, he hopes to foster the kind of connections that he needed as a budding business owner. Currently, he is working on building the organization and planning to help with workshops and maybe training and similar activities in the near future.
While Dale was about halfway through his MBA, someone introduced him to Amazon. He had been buying expensive textbooks that he could get at half the price on the marketplace. Amazon was quite new at the time, and Dale didn’t really know how it worked. But the idea of being able to buy much cheaper textbooks was solving a huge problem for many students. So he started learning the process of how to buy and sell on Amazon, and created a website to help others with the process. He was helping to solve yet another problem, and earning a commission from Amazon, too. Interestingly, this is very similar to how FreeUp founders Connor and Nathan got into online selling themselves.
With all these ventures running simultaneously, Dale soon started to feel the need for a little help here and there. He first hired someone to do graphics and logos for his business, which he had started on his own website. These were one-off types of projects, however. He had never actually hired anyone online that he would be working with on a daily basis.
Dale had built his different websites himself, including the one for Amazon. He was populating his original Amazon store based on the different books that he remembered using for different classes. After learning the process, though, he realized that he was using up valuable hours doing research on other books and doing simple data entry tasks himself. So he went on Elance, which is now Upwork, and hired a freelancer to take care of that for him. It saved him a few hours every time he needed to update the site’s content, and he just had to go on Elance and find someone to take it on. He also started using Elance at that time for logos and graphic design, as well as other online sites that specialize in one-off projects.
Dale described his experience using these different platforms as more or less hit and miss. There was no real way to tell if he was going to get good results unless the task was really simple. He also experienced issues with communication, mostly when dealing with the more artistic talents, who he found to be less organized than he was used to. He wanted to find people who were both talented and responsive, and but struggled with that.
Getting on the same page with freelance creatives was also a challenge. Dale feels that he doesn’t have the artistic ability to explain what he envisions well enough to get the results he expects. Sometimes, he did get what he wanted, but then realized that it didn’t look as good as he had imagined it would. Coming from a branding perspective, it’s hard to share with even the most talented designer that specific message that you want a logo to communicate if they have no business experience. Either he got a good logo from the branding side that didn’t look good, or he got a good looking logo that didn’t pack the punch he needed for his marketing plans.
One day, Dale was listening to a podcast episode where Nathan was a guest talking about FreeUp. It was an interesting new concept — a marketplace specifically for eCommerce. All the back and forth was his main hiring pain point, so when he heard that all the freelancers on FreeUp were pre-vetted, he decided to try it out. On Upwork, Dale has no idea if the freelancers he hires can really do what they say they can do. On FreeUp, he doesn’t have to worry about that too much. Plus, Nathan and Connor have been though the same hiring hassles that he experienced on the Upworks of the world, so they understand exactly what a business owner needs. FreeUp is solving this not-so-little problem.
Hiring through FreeUp is not a perfect experience. There are still some misses. But Dale has stayed with FreeUp because the hiring process is so easy, and Nathan — despite being the CEO of a rapidly growing marketplace — is always available for a call. On top of not having to spend a lot of time and effort searching for freelancers, or reading through resumes, or trying to figure out if their experience is real, he can just submit a request. He gets introduced to a freelancer very quickly, gets consistently patient help directly from Nathan whenever he has a problem, and payment processing is really easy.
Even though Dale still hasn’t found all the perfect freelancers for his needs, FreeUp has made it very easy for him to quickly request a different freelancer and do a test project. He has so far found at least one freelancer on FreeUp for Amazon and Shopify with whom he can work comfortably. Taking Nathan’s sage hiring advice, rather than settling for the rest of the design and development roles he needs to fill, Dale has decided to keep working at it until he finds the rest of the freelancers who are perfect for him. Perhaps with the help of those who understand him, he can attract similar talent to complete the group he needs to launch Wild Ting Enterprises forward.
When Dale first started selling, he was carrying product around with him wherever he went. When an order came in, he had to take time at different stops along the way to pack up product and ship it off to wherever it was going. When a customer inquiry came in, he would have to find a place to pull over so he could take care of it. Now, he has a reliable freelancer to make sure the eCommerce side is taken care of as he takes trips to different cities around the country. No more lugging product around just to make sure that orders get filled. No more keeping one eye on the road and another on email, or figuring out how to take a call when he’s going 80 on a busy highway.
Having people there to make sure his stores run smoothly has been instrumental in the growth of Dale’s business. FreeUp freelancers have allowed him to scale, the fundamental piece that he needed in the business growth puzzle. Dale was able to double his business on his own during its first two years, but it’s the hires that he made that allowed the business to double again in size the following year.
Dale says that in his experience, the first thing that business owners need to do is to really learn how to be a good manager. He says it can be really hard, especially if you haven’t managed anyone before. If you don’t have yourself figured out, any assistants you hire are not going to be able to figure things out, either. Just being able to give clear instructions, for example, can already make things a lot better.
The second thing Dale advises is to work on managing expectations. Making great hires is always going to require a few tries before you get it right. Dale himself admits that he is still working on managing his expectations and hopes that he is doing well. The key thing to remember, he says, is that this is a new person you’re working with. You can’t expect them to read your mind. Dale says that luckily, he had a little bit of corporate experience managing interns, so he knows that it helps if you have some management skills. He warns, however, to be careful of what is called the curse of knowledge. When you know something, you have to realize that not everybody else knows it, too.
To illustrate, Dale likens it to when you’re humming a few notes of a song. To you it’s so obvious what the song is, but the person that’s listening to you may have no clue, through no fault of their own. It’s about learning a little bit about yourself first and then learning how to communicate how you process knowledge to another person so they can understand you. Then you can be a good manager and learn how to give really clear directions as you’re starting out.
The third thing that Dale emphasizes is understanding what your strengths are and what a freelancer’s strengths are. For instance, you might find a certain task really easy and enjoyable, but don’t assume that a freelancer will feel the same way. Make it a point to learn about yourself and share that with any new hire you make. Then encourage them to share the same with you. It just makes for much better communication and a smoother working relationship when you both understand where each of you is coming from.
Remember that the mind of an entrepreneur is very different from, say, the mind of an administrative assistant or a web designer. Entrepreneurs see the world differently, see more of the big picture with all its moving parts where an assistant would be focused on one or a few tasks and not automatically make the connection to the other parts that aren’t their area of focus. An entrepreneur would also be more of a risk-taker with lots of ideas of what they can try out while a freelance web developer would concentrate on what works and making sure that the website is going to be stable and function properly. Learn and play to a freelancer’s strengths – and yours as well. Connor and Nathan are always giving this same piece of advice where you should be looking to work with people who complement your skill sets, especially when these people form the core of your business.
After some advice from the FreeUp blog about leveraging freelance talent, Dale also got the idea of hiring a freelance project manager to help him manage hires instead of struggling with managing everyone himself, which he realizes is a challenge for him because it’s not his strength. He had been thinking that the business was small, that there was no need for a complex structure. This fixed idea was part of the problem.
Finally, Dale encourages fellow entrepreneurs not to get frustrated and annoyed when hires don’t work out. For him, it’s about figuring out how much of the problem is his issue and how much of it is the freelancers’ issue, and maybe even how much of it is the marketplace’s issue. Then work from there to tweak your hiring process to find the right people. Dale actually had a second new client meeting with Nathan to ask him about that because he wanted to make sure that his part was taken out of the equation.
After talking to a freelancer on FreeUp with project management experience, he realized something more. This mindset of being small needs to change. That stage when you’re small is the best place to start if you have a little bit of extra that you can reinvest back into talent. That way, you’re not trying to find good people when it’s crunch time and you’re out of time. You can take the time you need to get a feel for this or that person and verify their skills and grow with that person and give that person ample time as well to understand you and to grow with the business. This way, you are building a solid force that will withstand the pressure when crunch time comes around, which every eCommerce business owner knows comes around as sure as Christmas.
Julia Valdez is a professional teacher and decades-long lover of the art of words on paper, the stage and the big screen. She spends most of her time doing freelance content and project management, community volunteer work with the Philippine Advocates for Resilient Communities, adventuring with the Greenhouse Christian Fellowship, and sharing lots of laughs over little crazy things.
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