From hiring a virtual assistant to having a company wiki, Marcin Hashevsky explains the elements your business needs to run like clockwork
This post was by Marcin Hashevsky from Amazing Work System. Marcin helps sellers start systematizing their online selling business so they can spend less time in operations and more time on vision and growth, or simply spend more time with their families.
Recently I realized that whenever I am talking about online, ecommerce, or Amazon businesses, people always ask me three questions:
- How can they build a successful ecommerce business and sell it easily?
- How have I managed to make my business run so smoothly?
- And how do I pronounce my name?
Apart from pronouncing my name, which I know can be tough, the other two questions have pretty straightforward answers. I find it really easy now to run my business efficiently, thanks to my systemized mindset. But I get why people struggle, as I was in the same situation not very long ago.
So today, I am going to tell you about 10 key ingredients that you need to create a very organized and successful ecommerce business. Let’s begin!
1. A Virtual Assistant
To me, not having a virtual assistant is the greatest mistake one can make when running an ecommerce business. I expect everyone to have a virtual assistant if they want to run a successful online business. Especially, when we are living in a digital age where you can outsource anything to anyone across the globe.
Not learning how to delegate tasks is one of the core reasons why many online sellers fail. If you keep doing everything yourself, you are bound to make mistakes and lose money. I often say during my training sessions that you should hire your virtual assistant way earlier than you think, because you can outsource many tasks that you really don’t have to do yourself.
My virtual assistant, Joy, is from the Philippines and I love her, as she is an extension of myself. Most of my business is running well because of her, as I have delegated all the tasks that I don’t have to do myself, giving me more time to focus on other important aspects of the business.
There are various benefits associated with having a virtual assistant in our line of work. I am sure you will agree that running an ecommerce business means loads of emails, correspondence with your manufacturers, working with Amazon and many other tasks that can consume almost all of your time.
With a virtual assistant, I have successfully shifted my workload, and Joy has everything she needs on our company’s wiki. And that’s not all, by incorporating Asana into our business, we rarely use emails because we can talk solely through the task management platform.
If you think online selling is tough, and you cannot manage your time, then you probably haven’t thought about hiring a virtual assistant yet. So do it today!
2. A Company Wiki
Everyone now uses Wikipedia one way or another. Whether it’s to win a debate among friends, or to learn about something new, Wikipedia is being used by almost everyone connected to the internet today.
So I thought, why not have one for my company? Just like we use Wikipedia as a central hub of information on the internet, I wanted one for my business to help myself and my employees.
Here’s the thing, I recently read that your team spends 19% of their work hours finding answers to things they don’t understand. And this is true, as I remember in the early days of my business how much time we spent emailing manufacturers, and writing long notes to each other answering different questions.
Phew! That was a long time ago now and I am happy that it’s behind me, as today I have my own internal wiki that has everything, including email templates, “how-to” guides, video tutorials, company history, regularly used email addresses and more.
Having my own company wiki hasn’t just made my life easier, it has made my virtual assistant’s life easier as well. Joy and I work together on everything. But surprisingly, we don’t need to talk often as anything she needs is on the wiki.
I know that a lot of my friends, and people I’ve spoken to who own ecommerce or Amazon businesses, have lost good employees because they were frustrated at not getting answers quickly enough. They were waiting hours to complete mundane tasks, which created a backlog of jobs that needed doing and led to a very stressful situation for them. But, this can all be avoided by creating a company wiki.
In terms of technicalities we use Google Sites v1 for our wiki. I personally don’t see a need to pay extra for wiki software as Google Sites does the job well, and connects seamlessly with my user management setup in G Suite.
If you’re not happy with Google Sites and are looking for alternatives I would suggest you check out Notion. It looks good and modern but you need to pay for some of the features which are free with Google Sites.
3. A Task Management System
If you’re running an ecommerce business you need to be using a task management system. How can you expect to manage hundreds of tasks without having a system, like Asana or Slack, to keep track of each and every one of them?
I have used Asana in my business and in almost all of my processes you will find two things: my company wiki and Asana. Using them together, I have successfully managed to systemize my business and bring order to it. I now have a platform where everyone connected to my business can find out what their tasks are and what they need to do next. They can also share daily, weekly and monthly reports with me.
There are two major benefits of using a task management system in your ecommerce business.
By using a task management system like Asana, you can easily micro-manage your business operations without micro-managing it yourself. What this means, for instance, is that I can create tasks for my employees at the start of the week and they can find them on Asana.
Compared to using emails to assign tasks, Asana is far more effective and efficient. I don’t have to go into my mailbox and find out what was assigned to whom. I don’t need to frustratingly go between different projects to learn the status of each one, nor do I have to find out what is happening with each of the assigned tasks.
With Asana, tasks, projects, messages and processes are all on one single platform for me to manage – I literally live in there.
It Systematizes Your Business For Added Efficiency
When you start using a task management solution, you will realize how much productivity you were missing out on.
I have managed to easily prioritize my tasks and streamlined how I communicate with my team, especially with my virtual assistant. We don’t use Skype to talk to each other, nor do we use any other random communication tool. Everything is done on Asana.
You can easily group your tasks into different projects or departments like “content marketing” or “product development”, allowing you to keep things organized and connected to your team structure, which I will come onto next.
4. A Team Structure
Running your own business doesn’t mean you don’t have to run it like a real business.
Many sellers who come to me for help systemizing their online business often lack structure and organization. Why is that so?
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that because you’re a small business, with one or two employees, you don’t need to create an official structure. It’s always important to make smaller clusters of your business, each with a specific function. For me, I like to create an organization chart, like the one below.
As you can see from the chart above, you can organize your business simply by dividing it according to the various functions, or tasks, that need to be done. For instance marketing, procurement, sales, administration and so on. I like to call these silos, but you can call them whatever you want to.
Now, even if you don’t have that many people, this chart will show you which tasks have to be done. You will have an overview of all your departments and easily understand what needs to happen.
Here’s the the chart updated to show different tasks that need to be done for your business’ marketing:
Now I know that to promote my website or products, I need to carry out certain tasks. By having an organization chart, I have listed them down under marketing and I can assign them to my virtual assistant, or even to myself.
Doing this allows me to easily assign specific tasks to specific people for each department, keeping everything nice and tidy. Imagine it like this: What would you like? A huge list of tasks? Or a smaller list of things divided neatly according to their departments where everyone knows who is responsible for what?
Here’s another reason why you need to structure your business – your business is going to grow!
See, we are all entrepreneurs and every one of us wants to see our business grow. It’s important therefore to plan for the future. After a while your team is bound to grow and as you bring in more people, each should be a specialist, or an expert, in what they do. This means that they will become responsible for tasks in their departments.
So, I add fake names to all my silos that I will then change when I hire someone for that specific function. Here’s how it looks.
Now, even though these people are not part of your company, it creates a strategy for the future. As you hire more people, you can write their actual names. You don’t have to spend more time deciding where you want to fit them in.
But that’s not all. Having this kind of organization chart helps you easily plan who to hire next. For instance, if you already have people for marketing and procurement, you can then work on hiring someone to push sales for your business.
You might be thinking, why would you create a future organization chart rather just a current organization chart? Well, when you create a future organization chart, you are freeing yourself from the constraining mindset that you have to do it all by yourself.
Consider this right now. Draw your current organization chart on a piece of paper and see how many departments and people you are going to add. You will probably have only a few departments, and only a few people. Most of the tasks will probably be assigned to yourself.
But what if you created a future organization chart that would focus on adding more people down the road? This time around you are going to spend time thinking about your future goals, your vision of the business in the future, and imagine where you want to be in the next few years.
5. An Email and App Suite
Have you ever come across companies that reply with free email accounts like firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com? What was the first thought that came to your mind?
Unprofessional? Maybe it’s a new company that still needs its own domain?
When you are in an online ecommerce or Amazon business, everything is about trust and professionalism. Many people complain to me that they don’t know why they aren’t making a success of selling online, but they haven’t even invested in a professional email service. They are still using free Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail accounts.
Consider this for one moment. You have created one amazing Google Sheet that lists all the tasks for the day. Now you have to share it with everyone in your team. How long would it take to add everyone’s personal email addresses? I am sure that you’ll soon be swamped with a variety of unique email addresses, that you’ve got to add one-by-one.
This is why I always tell people to spend a little bit more and get a paid, professional and scalable email service. I would recommend G Suite, and here’s why:
With G Suite you can easily create email addresses for your employees, add more at any time, and have complete control over their accounts. There is no hassle, or confusion, as all the accounts are under one single domain.
And there is more. I can share documents easily through Google Drive and send out group emails within seconds, although, as I mentioned earlier, we are not using emails for any internal communication.
Basically, what I am trying to say is that you need a business solution when it comes to your business communication. Using G Suite has allowed me to use its numerous tools to run my business seamlessly.
6. A Password Manager
One thing is certain, you will be using a lot of tools to ensure your ecommerce business works perfectly. This might include Asana, Facebook Ad Manager, Camtasia, and your Amazon account.
Most of the time, we have to delegate tasks to our employees that involve using sensitive accounts that you don’t really want to share passwords for. I am sure, like me, you have been in a situation where one of your employees leaves your company and you have to change all the passwords that you ever shared with them. And what about sending sensitive passwords over email and chat messengers? Isn’t that a security risk?
I get it, we are all humans and sharing passwords isn’t easy. But there are solutions you can use. For me, it’s LastPass, an excellent password manager that allows me to share my passwords with employees without having to reveal them.
Basically with LastPass, they all have to download an add-on to their web browser that directly links with my LastPass account. This enables them to easily connect with all the tools that we are using, as the plug-in automatically logs them in without showing them the actual password.
And that’s not all. With LastPass I can control which passwords can be accessed and even segment them according to which accounts each of my employees need to access.
7. Standard Operating Procedures
Numerous people that have come to me for help systemizing their online business have boasted about how they spend countless nights writing meticulous Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). What they don’t realize is that they shouldn’t be doing this!
Yes, SOPs are an integral part of any business. I have some of the best SOPs for almost every crucial process of my ecommerce business and they help me, and my virtual assistant, to do our daily tasks seamlessly.
But here’s the thing – I don’t waste my time writing these. I know how to do my tasks systematically and since I already have very little time on my hands, it is imperative that I spend it wisely. So, I ask my virtual assistant to do it for me.
There is a process that I have, to ensure that my SOPs are well-written and relevant to the tasks. The first thing that I do is create a video of myself working on a task. The video details every part of the task intricately so that nothing is missed out. I use various tools like Camtasia, SOPZY or LOOM to create these videos.
My virtual assistant will then watch the video and write the SOPs for me. Since she can see clearly what I am doing, it allows her to write the SOPs step-by-step. She can also use the video to create screenshots of various parts of the process.
This process helps me in three ways:
- It saves me so much time, as I don’t have to write them myself.
- Whenever I hire a new virtual assistant, I give them this task as a test. I share a video of one my regular tasks and ask them to create SOPs for it. This allows me to see how well they understand my business and its dynamics.
- Lastly, my videos act as an orientation for new employees or virtual assistants. They find out who I am, how I work and what it is like working in my business.
So in summation: Don’t write SOPs yourself! Instead, delegate this task to someone you can trust.
8. Feedback Meetings
In any line of business, holding meetings with your virtual team is a necessity. If you are not holding meetings with them often enough, you can only blame yourself for low productivity and missing your monthly targets.
Meetings are imperative if you want to succeed online. If you skimp on them you will start missing your monthly goals because your virtual team will get relaxed and think you are not serious about succeeding.
Here’s what I do – with every member of my team, I have assigned a day on which we talk about their new and pending tasks. I also hold meetings at the end of every month to learn how we fared collectively and how each individual performed.
So how do you do it? You need to create recurring tasks in your task management system. These recurring tasks are mostly for Monday and Wednesday, and notify the employees to share status updates on the work that they have been assigned. I also talk to them about future goals and tasks, as well as discussing their motivation to work.
In addition, I have created two forms for my virtual assistant – one is for daily reports and the other is for weekly reports. The most important part of these forms is the question which asks how their day (or week) was.
The reason this is important is that it shows their current motivation levels. We are all human and we all have our ups and downs. Once in a while you are going to read that they are unhappy with the work they did, or that they don’t want to do your work anymore. It shouldn’t alarm you that they are thinking about leaving and, as a business owner, you should talk to them to see how you can help them.
Interpersonal relationships are important and your virtual assistant is likely to be doing the bulk of your work for you. So, if you have a virtual assistant who is brilliant and hardworking, I seriously recommend that you focus on getting regular feedback from them.
9. Key Performance Indicators
Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, are important as they help you to measure how well you are performing as a business. Whenever I preach about achieving success online, I always talk about setting goals that you want to achieve. I do this for myself by setting KPIs for my team every month.
Since we use Asana at my company, at the beginning of every month, I spend an hour on setting tasks for each of my employees. But I also add tasks of evaluation that happen at the start, middle and end of the month.
This allows me to keep track of the performance of my employees while, on the other hand, allowing them to know what they need to do to achieve their monthly targets.
10. A Vision
Did you know that J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter book series, once said that when she was at the lowest point of her life, she always had the vision of walking into a store and seeing her book being sold?
The power of having a vision for your business is immense. I too have a vision of where I want my business to be in five years. In fact, as you’ve already seen, I have an elaborate future organization chart that shows me everyday what I need to do next. Having this vision guides me every day when I make crucial decisions, hire new people, and when I am considering new ventures.
I have seen a myth flying around for a very long time, which says that only a few people, like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Elon Musk, are visionary and have the power to create a picture of the future for themselves.
But in reality we all are visionaries, and I highly recommend that all my fellow online sellers create a vision for their business and strive to achieve it.
What Should You Take Away From This?
Starting your own online business is awesome, but it’s important that you adopt these practices right from the start. It gives a real advantage to know what you need to run a well-organized ecommerce business.
If you want to succeed online, consider your venture as a serious business that should run like a well-oiled machine, because only then you will be ready for the exponential growth that’s ahead of you.
By following the tips in this article, you will be able to create an ecommerce or Amazon business that will not only work efficiently, but that will also help you have more time on your hands, be less stressful, and let you enjoy your life. Good luck!
This post was by Marcin Hashevsky from Amazing Work System. Marcin knows from his own experience the importance of systematization in not only operating a smooth-running ecommerce business, but also in the process of selling it. If you’d like Marcin’s help to systematize your online business, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.