This post is by Connor Gillivan, the Chief Content & Marketing Officer at FreeUp and the Chief Executive Officer at online retailer Portlight LLC.
In this post, I will discuss the importance of having the right team in place for your ecommerce company. I will introduce the concept of virtual assistants and teach how you, as an ecommerce business owner, can hire remote workers to support the operations and growth of your business.
Whether this is your first time learning about virtual assistants or if you have performed remote hiring in the past, this is a superb crash course to the best practices I have been using to run multiple ecommerce companies. If you have any questions about the details inside this guide, feel free to leave them in the comments and I will be glad to respond.
- How virtual assistants can help
- Where are virtual assistants most helpful in an ecommerce business?
- What are the steps for hiring virtual assistants?
- What kind of virtual assistants are the most difficult to hire?
How virtual assistants can help
Virtual assistants are individuals located around the world that work part- or full-time as remote freelancers for businesses in tasks that they specialize in. They can be data-entry experts from the Philippines or they can be email marketing experts from the United States. The skill sets that are available from virtual assistants has truly become endless.
Virtual assistants act as independent contractors leaving the employer with less responsibilities when it comes to normal HR benefits, i.e. paid vacation, health plans, etc. Virtual assistants also don’t require additional office space. You pay the rate they charge for the hours that they work. You can find them on handfuls of hiring websites.
Remote workers have become more and more popular over the past ten years as the ecommerce industry around the globe has continued to grow at a rapid pace. Hundreds, probably thousands, of new ecommerce companies are popping up every month and millions of people are becoming more familiar with the process of shopping on their computer, tablet, and mobile device.
With this growth has come more opportunity for professional virtual assistants around the world to begin offering their skills to these emerging ecommerce companies. As an ecommerce business, there are a multitude of operational tasks that must be maintained in order to create a positive shopping experience. Most don’t require an excessive level of expertise. Rather, they require disciplined employees that can follow provided systems and procedures.
This is where remote workers can help the most. Let’s look at an example:
John owns a store on Amazon.com selling a variety of toys and games. On a daily basis, John is checking and fulfilling orders, updating inventory levels, sending tracking information, handling negative customer feedback, managing seller metrics, setting up returns, and trying to add new products when he has free time.
John has become so consumed in the daily operations of his online store that he doesn’t have time to work on the growth projects that he’s outlined for the business. At times, John feels stuck in his situation. He wishes he could be focused on growing the business with his marketing expertise.
In this situation, John is weighed down by the daily operations of the business. He wishes he had more time to create new supplier relationships and focus on optimizing his listings for more sales. John can have all of that with the help of affordable, skilled, and reliable remote workers.
Where are virtual assistants most helpful in an ecommerce business?
As we saw with John’s situation, there are plenty of operations that go into running a successful ecommerce business. While the business owner should be involved in some aspects of the operations, there are ten key areas where ecommerce virtual assistants can really help.
Check out these positions and think of how filling one or more of them may impact your involvement in the business.
1. Customer service
This includes a wide variety of specific tasks within your ecommerce operations. Hire virtual assistants for live chat, phone calls, emails, returns, cancellations, refunds, and feedback management.
2. Store management
Once your ecommerce operations have reached a certain level, it is important to have someone who is always overseeing all aspects of the business.
A remote store manager is someone that has once performed all of the standard operations of an online store and now manages the team you have in place to make sure everything is working perfectly.
3. Managing inventory virtually
If you are running a dropship business, having a virtual assistant to update inventory levels communicated by your suppliers is crucial. You want to make sure that you are always selling products that are in stock, but it takes significant time to process the spreadsheets the supplier provides you and then upload them into each sales channel.
The same goes for if you are running a wholesale business. As you receive new inventory, it needs to be added into your software and properly communicated out to your sales channels.
4. Processing orders
Every ecommerce business needs someone to process orders so they are shipped to the correct customer. With all of the different sales channels and ecommerce platforms, there is also always a unique way that they need to be managed.
Having someone on hand who can become an expert in your order fulfillment processes is key to happy customers.
5. Listing and updating products
Listing and updating product information is a time consuming job especially if you are not using bulk upload strategies. A virtual assistant specializing in product listing can be hired to run constantly in the background, effectively growing your inventory each day.
6. Running promotions and sales
A common aspect of running an ecommerce business is sales and promotions following the seasonal trends. This virtual assistant can create a set calendar of the holidays, organize sales around each upcoming holiday, and implement them on your store. Organized promotions can lead to more sales and more happy customers.
7. Google ads and Facebook ads
Once you are ready, advertising can drive more potential customers to your online store where you have the opportunity to convert them into users and shoppers. Creating the right ads and placing them in front of the right audience is a position you want an expert working on.
8. Graphic design for product images
Consumers are turned off by blurry or different sized images. They want uniformity and high quality product shots. A remote graphic designer can make sure that all of your product images meet these standards.
9. Search engine optimization
Are you optimizing all of your product pages for search engines? Do you want customers to find you outside of your social media channels? Hiring a virtual assistant for SEO can optimize your entire online store for visibility in search engines. As your store grows, search engines will be ready to display you more often to people searching.
10. Product sourcing
Most ecommerce businesses are always looking for new products to feature in their online store. A product sourcing virtual assistant can help to identify suppliers for you to contact or specific products that are selling well on given marketplaces.
Did you see potential in having any of these roles filled by virtual assistants? These types of workers are out there looking for opportunities every day. It is up to you to find the most reliable one and integrate them into your business.
What are the steps for hiring virtual assistants?
Now you have identified some areas of your ecommerce business where virtual assistants may be able to help, let’s dive into the best practices for actually making a hire.
Very similar to traditional hiring practices for employees in an office, you want to take the process seriously. Your goal is to find the best possible candidate for your company that will excel in their role and provide long-term benefit to the growth of your business.
I have been practicing the following five steps for the past five years while hiring hundreds of virtual assistants for my ecommerce companies. Follow these five steps and you’ll have a much greater probability of a positive experience with your team of remote workers.
Step 1: Identify the worker you need
The first step to remote hiring is understanding the workers you want to hire. Take ten minutes and write down all of the tasks that you perform on a daily/weekly basis. Think of the story of John in our example. Highlight the tasks that are repetitive and take up the most amount of your time.
These are the tasks that you can most easily hire virtual assistants for, effectively creating more time for you to focus on growing your business.
A common mistake that many business owners make is trying to do everything themselves. While you may have more control, you have less time to work on building your business. Virtual assistants can help create that time.
Step 2: Create a descriptive job posting
The second step is creating a clear description of the worker you need so that you can recruit for that exact person. This includes:
- Ideal price range
- Schedule requirements
- Location preference
- Skills required
- Experience preferred
The common mistake that I have seen the most is not being descriptive enough in your job posting. Because of the massive hiring platforms that have emerged, there are hundreds of workers vying for new positions that are posted every day.
When you are not specific about who you want for the position, you will get poor applicants that could eventually lead to a poor hiring decision. Don’t let that happen to you.
Step 3: Interview the applicants
The third step is to set up interviews with the most qualified applicants. The interview process should be reserved for applicants that meet all of the key requirements you outlined in the job posting.
When conducting the interview, you should break it up into at least two conversations.
First, you should go over all of the requirements that you outlined to make sure they can meet them. For example, are they actually available to work between 9am and 12pm EST? If they can’t meet your minimum requirements, eliminate them from the pool of applicants.
Second, you should meet with each applicant to ask more questions specific to performing the role that you are hiring for. Ask them about their past experiences and how it relates to the job that you are hiring for. Avoid applicants that have never performed the task that you are hiring for.
A common mistake that business owners make during the interview process is not being thorough enough. You should be treating the interview as seriously as if you were going to be adding someone to your office team. Virtual assistants can add immense value, but you must put in the work to find the right one.
Step 4: Test the top applicants
Once you have narrowed it down to two or three applicants, you should test them on their skill sets. Set up a video chat or preferably a screen share using an application like Zoom.
Give them directions for a task they will be performing in the role. Using your screen share with the applicant, you will be able to tell how competent they are with a computer and with the specific task that you’ve given them.
This is a critical part of the remote hiring process. It is often overlooked by businesses hiring virtual assistants because it can take some time to get the screen share set up and technical difficulties may challenge the process.
When you forgo a screen share for testing purposes, you are simply trusting the worker that they can perform the role you are hiring for. This can lead to poor hiring decisions and leave you in a position where you need to start the hiring process over.
Step 5: Make a final decision
The fifth and final step is choosing the best and most reliable worker for your job given all of the information you have collected in the interview process.
By this time, you should know your top two or three applicants quite well. You should understand if they can meet all of your basic requirements. You should know a bit about their previous work history. And you should understand their skill sets based on the screen share test that you did with them.
When making the final decision, think about who performed better in the screen share test. If the worker was able to perform to a level of your satisfaction in their first test, there is a good chance that they will be able to perform your role in the long run.
Make sure to put all of the information together to make a sound hiring decision. You want this person to last at least six months in your company, so you don’t have to deal with the cost and hassle of high staff turnover. Express that up front with the applicants and make sure they are also looking for a long-term commitment.
What kind of virtual assistants are the most difficult to hire?
Hiring remotely definitely has its advantages, but there are also factors that make it more difficult for specific positions.
From my experience, it is most difficult to hire for positions where you are not an expert with the work that needs to be performed. Let’s return to our example of John to depict this situation.
John is an ecommerce business owner and his expertise is in marketing and sales. He’s built a strong ecommerce business, but he is lacking a certain level of technical expertise to push his online store to the next level. He has a general understanding of the technical worker that he needs, but he doesn’t have enough knowledge to really know if they are the right candidate. And even if they meet his initial requirements, he doesn’t have a strategy to test them on their skills. John is stuck in a situation where he is unsure of the next step forward.
Web development is not John’s expertise so hiring for that position is going to be much more difficult than hiring a social media manager – an aspect of business that John knows very well.
If we were to magically switch the story so John has expertise in web development, but doesn’t know much about other aspects of business like sales and marketing, the same theme would ring true. It would be very difficult for him to recruit, interview, test, and hire a marketing manager.
For positions where you are not confident interviewing and testing for a specific skill set, I recommend finding an online hiring agency that takes care of the interviewing and vetting for you.
This has been a crash course on hiring virtual assistants for your ecommerce business. There is still plenty to learn about the process of hiring, but this guide should prepare you with a glimpse of how you can make remote workers positively impact your business at any time throughout the year.
At the end of the day, you (as the business owner) want to make sure that you are putting your time and effort toward the aspects of the business that are going to drive the most growth. When you find yourself in a position where that is not the case, hiring remote workers is a viable solution.
If you’ve had the experience of hiring virtual assistants, please share your thoughts and comments below so that we all can learn from each other. If you have any specific questions, feel free to leave them in the comments and I will respond to them personally.
This post was by Connor Gillivan, the Chief Content & Marketing Officer at FreeUp and the Chief Executive Officer at online retailer Portlight LLC.
Connor has been running ecommerce businesses since 2009 and has sold over $20 million worth of products. He writes about his own startup philosophies at ConnorGillivan.com and has been featured on many websites focused on entrepreneurship.