Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I do interviews with entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses.
The difference between this interview and other interview programs that have sprouted since I started is that I do this for an audience of real entrepreneurs. I keep meeting them, people who are building real companies, often get them funded, keep growing them, many times have them sold. They’re listening because they’re looking for ideas that they can apply to their business.
My angle here, the way that I like to treat these interviews is as a story, as a biography, where you get to know the guest and through that story, you pick up on a few ideas and tips that naturally become a part of your business. You don’t have to take notes, it’s intentionally done in a story format so that the ideas will get implanted in your head. That’s what it’s about and that’s what it’s always been about.
If you are an entrepreneur, there’s a good chance that you probably have checked out some of the freelance sites, you want to hire someone to list you on the online marketplaces to adjust your website, to build your website. I know I did it. I was looking for a researcher for Mixergy. There were a few guests I wanted a little extra info on and maybe you had the same experience I did, where the research that I got back was kind of crap. So, what do you do in that situation? Well, you can say you won’t pay them, but frankly, they’re kind of cheap so that’s the point. The biggest issue is that I’ve wasted my time looking at crap.
So today’s guest says that he recognized that problem and he decided to come up with a brand new freelancer marketplace, one where he and his team pre-screen the people who are listed there so he knows that he’s not going to have crap and if someone does crap work, they’re not going to continue to be listed in his marketplace.
As a result, he’s got this new business—or actually, it’s not new. It’s an up and running business that’s been around for a while. It’s called FreeeUp. It’s Free with three E’s. I’m going to ask him about that. It seems like he doesn’t own the domain with two, FreeeUp. And as you can see from the website, it’s people who will create and manage your WordPress site, which is kind of typical in the freelance world, but also people that will list your stuff on eBay, Amazon experts who will post your stuff there and even deal with all the issues that you have with Amazon, people who will do customer service, you have one of those live chats on your site, but you can’t be up all day to respond and he’s got people on his site who will do it.
I want to find out how he built up his business, how he’s competing with some of the people who are bigger than he is and how he’s getting customers. His name is Nathan Hirsch. The site is FreeeUp. I’ll talk to him about that. I’ll also talk to him about his book, which actually his cofounder wrote, but actually he’s a contributor on. It’s called “Free Up Your Business: 50 Secrets to Bootstrap Million-Dollar Companies.”
This whole thing is sponsored by two companies. The first will let you send out intelligent email marketing. It’s called ActiveCampaign. The second, for those of you who are looking for me to talk about new sponsors, here it is, brand new sponsor—the company that will help you collect data from your site using smart forms. It’s called Formstack. I’ll tell you more about those later.
Nathan: Andrew, thanks so much for having me.
Andrew: So I’m not getting a commission from this interview, but if I were, if I were instead of telling people to go to FreeeUp.com, I’d send them to a special URL, how would I get paid? I know this is a source of customers for you. What would I get paid?
Nathan: Yeah. So what we realized was all the different coaches out there would send people, “Go to Upwork, go to Freelancer,” and there’s really no kickback there. So what we wanted to do was something different. Any clients you refer to FreeeUp, you get $0.50 for every hour that we bill to them forever. We’re on pace to pay out over $150,000 in referral money this year. We make it super easy right inside your account as an affiliate link. You can introduce people directly to me or you can have them sign up and mention your name, whatever is easiest for you.
Andrew: You mean introduce them to you by email?
Nathan: By email, by Skype, I’m pretty easy to contact.
Andrew: So I really could be making good money for this. I know there are people who are going to sign up for your service.
Nathan: Yeah. We have people who have used our workers here and there. Maybe they’re not a big client. Maybe they go out and tell 10 to 20 people, maybe they go to a mastermind group and spread it around. All of a sudden they’re getting recurring referral money ongoing.
Andrew: So I wasn’t going to mention your competitors by name. You might have noticed I was a little stutter in the intro because I intentionally didn’t want to do it because I know sometimes it flares up my guests and it distracts them, but since you brought it up, the world is full of freelancer websites. Upwork is gigantic. Why does the world need FreeeUp when there are all these other freelance sites out there?
Nathan: Yeah. We partner with a lot of them too. We wanted to be different. We know to the average business owner, if you go on those websites, you’re posting a job, you’re getting hundreds of applicants. You’re going through them one by one. You don’t have time for that. A lot of times it can lead to maybe a bad decision that hurts your business or a good decision and if they end up quitting, you’re right back where you started interviewing all those people wasting all your time.
I wanted a faster way, a marketplace where not any freelancer can go and create an account and apply to jobs, an incredible vetting process based on my eight-plus years of hiring, where we take the top one percent in the marketplace and make them available to clients first come, first serve and have that no turnover guarantee that no one else offers where if the worker quits for any reason, we pay for all replacement costs.
Andrew: What’s a replacement cost?
Nathan: So it could be any onboarding you did. Let’s say someone did half your website and quit in the middle of the project, whatever it takes to get your project back on track to make you whole again. Those are two examples.
Andrew: I get that. I remember reading Tim Ferriss’ book, “4-Hour Workweek,” and he recommended a few outsourcing sites in there. I went and hired someone from that site. It took me a while to get the person up and running because I was pretty crappy at delegating work to freelancers. Once I was, the guy goes, “Hey, Andrew, good news, I’m getting married and I’m moving to. . .” and he told me a different part of India he’s going to and I said, “Well, congratulations to you but what the hell happens to me now?” They’re going to figure it out. God dammit.
Andrew: What do you mean you work with Upwork and the other sites?
Nathan: Sure. So we’re constantly trying to get people to filter in to FreeeUp. We get applicants from everywhere. We have a worker referral program that’s just as big as the client one. We post on other sites and we get about 15% of our freelancers there. We use social media and Facebook ads. All the people that find us on Upwork, we follow Upwork policies, we pay through Upwork, stuff like that, but it’s one of many ways we get freelancers.
Andrew: So you get freelancers from Upwork. Do you also get jobs from Upwork?
Nathan: Occasionally. When I first started, we did that, but now I don’t have the time to apply to jobs. So it’s around 15%.
Andrew: Okay. By the way, if you hear that my voice is hoarse—can you tell, Nathan?
Nathan: It’s not that bad. I don’t know what you sound like normally, so it’s tough to compare.
Andrew: It sounds like a little bit of a hoarse frog. The reason is one of my sponsors before was a company called Fireside Conference. I talked about them. I went to the conference. Dude, three to four days of sitting by campfires talking, swimming, it’s fantastic, but I think I need a week to recover from it. Next year when I go back and I think I will, I’m going to plan a week.
Nathan: I just had knee surgery and I got cleared to walk and I walked around New Orleans for my friend’s bachelor party, so I’m in the same boat. I’m struggling to make it through today.
Andrew: What was going on in the bachelor party? What was the craziest thing he had?
Nathan: Bourbon Street, that’s pretty much it. Just walked around went to bars, stuff like that.
Andrew: That’s not a bachelor party, that’s a bar mitzvah. Was there more that you can’t talk about here because I’m recording and I told you I wouldn’t edit it out?
Nathan: Yeah. There’s definitely a lot. But I’m a little older now. It would have been different if I was in my young 20s compared to late 20s.
Andrew: How old are you now?
Andrew: So you started all this when you were in school. You actually got into entrepreneurship and you started a business in school and one of the things that drew you in was there was new student orientation at your school and every major went up and presented and then the entrepreneurship professor went up and what did she say?
Nathan: She pretty much said if you want to have financial freedom, you will choose to become an entrepreneur. There’s no other way. Then she walked off stage. That was it. That was her entire presentation.
Andrew: Why did you want financial freedom? I wanted riches. I didn’t necessarily want freedom because I didn’t feel shackled at that point? Well, I did, but not financially shackled. What was it about financial freedom that drew you in?
Nathan: Well, I definitely wasn’t poor off as a kid. My parents were both teachers. I grew up in a town where everyone was a doctor, lawyer, dentist and all their kids I felt like were very privileged and I never really had that experience, which was fine. But I also went through life with the mentality that I was going to go to college, graduate, get a real job, retirement account and that was going to be my life. I saw my parents do that as well.
For some reason, I wanted something else. I had a bunch of internships where I was working 40 to 45 hours a week doing retail during the summer and I hated it. I couldn’t imagine doing it for the rest of my life. Then I saw the CEO of the company on the golf course answering a few emails on his phone and whenever he was nice enough to meet you me, he would just be like, “Being an entrepreneur is great. It gives me so much freedom. No one cares where I am or what I do,” and this is all before being a remote worker and having a remote business and all that. But even then, he just had so much freedom and I really wanted that.
Andrew: All right. So you told our producer something pissed me off that got me into the textbook business. What pissed you off?
Nathan: I was a broke college student looking for extra beer money and I was buying these textbooks for hundreds of dollars and going to sell them at the end of the semester and getting pennies on the dollar, not even close to a good deal. I thought I could do better.
I started looking up market prices to all these online vendors and I started making better offers than the bookstore, to the point where they would send me a cease and desist letter telling me to stop buying books and stop cutting them off because I had lines out of my door of people trying to sell me their books over the bookstore. That’s really how I got to Amazon because you don’t sell books very long without learning about Amazon.
Andrew: You were selling locally to people?
Nathan: No. I was buying it locally and holding them until the beginning of next semester when the price would go up and I would ship them to all these book vendors and eventually started selling them on Amazon.
Andrew: Then when you started selling them on Amazon, how’d that go for you?
Nathan: Yeah. So it went well, but I quickly realized that I didn’t want to sell textbooks for the rest of my life.
Andrew: Why not?
Nathan: I thought we’d all be using Kindles by now, but that hasn’t really happened 100%. But they were heavy. I didn’t have a warehouse. I had my college dorm room. I was pretty limited. I didn’t want to carry them around. I didn’t want to spend all day shipping them. I wanted a business that would run remotely that I didn’t have to touch the products I was selling. It wasn’t until years later I knew it was called drop shipping but I came up with that concept without going through any training or knowing that’s what it was even called.
So the concept that I could sell all these products I didn’t have, buy them from some vendor, get them shipping to my customer and make the difference between what I sold it for and what I bought it from was really appealing. Before I knew it, I was running a multi-million dollar drop shipping business out of my college dorm room.
Andrew: Who was shipping the product out for you?
Nathan: I worked with a lot of vendors. I started off with retailers like Walmart and Target and stuff like that. Then I went on to distributors, had some bad experience with them and then I worked with U.S. manufacturers from Wildkin to Step2 to different manufacturers like that.
Andrew: So, wait, you would have somebody buy from you on Amazon, then I’m assuming you’d go to Walmart.com, type in the client’s address and have Walmart ship it out.
Nathan: Yeah. That’s how I got started as trial and error. What supplier wants to work with a 20-year old college student.
Andrew: There’s nothing of margin in that? Walmart was undercutting other prices on Amazon?
Nathan: Yeah. You have to remember—right now you go on Amazon and there’s a listing for one product and there’s 100 sellers on it. Back then, it was me and three other people. So there wasn’t that much competition. If Amazon wasn’t selling it, you can do anything you want with the pricing. People are still doing it to this day. Amazon has kind of cracked down on that and I kind of saw that in advance and tried to get off of it as soon as I possible could, but that’s how I got off the ground.
Andrew: One of the problems with that is yeah, you’ll make money, but when people start returning, you have to deal with that. You have to get it back to Walmart, right? That’s where it starts to hurt your margins.
Nathan: It depends. Everyone has their own return policy. Some are nicer than others. Part of it is the cost of doing business. If you sell 100 products and 5 people complain about returns, even if they’re BS returns, you lose a little money on those 5, did you make money on the other 95? If you are, it’s part of the business. Amazon this year is making their return policy even harder and harder and you really just have to factor it into your pricing.
Andrew: So you were starting to do this. What was the hot seller for you? You don’t get to be a multi-million dollar business by selling textbooks from your dorm room. What was the hot seller that got you there?
Nathan: Yeah. I thought I’d be selling really cool products like DVDs and videogames and TVs. I ended up being awful at selling all those. For some reason, I was really good at selling baby products and toys. I was sitting in the back of my classroom listing baby products on Amazon. People thought I was crazy.
I remember this little toy laptop was one of the first products I would sell. It was for babies. It made some noises and sounds. It was almost a test for me. I was going to drop ship a few of them, if I got customer complaints, I didn’t want to jeopardize my Amazon account, so I would stop doing it. No one complained and I went from there. I must have sold hundreds if not thousands of those.
Andrew: I see you still do that right now. I can get a sand and water play center from my backyard from you guys. I can get one of those cars that a kid sits in but can lazily do nothing while an adult pushes them from behind like a stroller. All that stuff, swing sets, you still focus on that?
Nathan: Yeah. Those come directly from the U.S. supplier. They ship it for us. We have no warehouse. It’s all drop shipping.
Andrew: How much money are you making from the business now?
Nathan: Yeah. The Amazon business has really scaled back. I’ve been focusing much more time on FreeeUp. It does between $1 million and $2 million in revenue a year on Amazon. Back at its peak, it was probably in that $5 million to $7 million a year. When you’re doing drop shipping, there’s two sides of it. One is the quality assurance and working with manufacturers and being picky.
The other side is Amazon is really cutting down on drop shippers. It kind of goes together where we realized we have these hundreds of manufacturers and a lot of them are causing issues on Amazon and it’s jeopardizing our account. So we need to scale back and focus on the ones that can’t actual compete and make money on and sell, but also not run into issues and be easy enough on the quality assurance team where we’re not just racking up payroll dollars dealing with all these issues.
Andrew: I see. None of your stuff is Amazon Prime. So the Graco Pack and Play, that’s being sent by Graco, the manufacturer?
Nathan: That sounds like an error. That’s an old product we used to sell. I would have to take a look at that.
Andrew: Okay. But the stuff mostly is sent by the manufacturer, $1 million to $2 million in revenue. How much of that is profit?
Nathan: Sure. So the profit margin before payroll is around 20% and then factor in payroll and other stuff like that, whether it’s software is probably another 5% to 10%. So somewhere in that and then I have a business partner as well.
Andrew: So $100,000 to $200,000 and the two of you split that.
Nathan: Yeah. It depends on the year and a lot of it depends on busy season because that’s when you make the most money, but yes.
Andrew: Okay. Meanwhile, FreeeUp, what’s the revenue on that?
Nathan: FreeeUp this year should do around $5 million in sales.
Andrew: Then bottom line on that, what does that come out to?
Nathan: Very similar, probably slightly higher margins because there’s not as much manual work. A lot of it is automated, around 20% and then with that, you probably have 5% to 10% is the internal expenses, software and stuff like that and then same deal.
Andrew: I was looking to see if I could help you get FreeeUp with two E’s. Verizon owns it.
Nathan: Yes. Verizon does own it. I made them an offer, they never responded. What we did with three E’s is we started off, this being an Amazon freelancer business because I had all these Amazon freelancers and I was like, “Use my freelancers, I’m a good seller, you can trust them.” Then the people that tried the freelancers were like, “This is awesome. I need graphic designers. I need web developers.”
So we really branched off from there and our real focus has been ecommerce sellers, although we have plenty of clients that have nothing to do with ecommerce, real estate agents, doctors, whatever. So it’s FreeeUp with three E’s and the third E stands for ecommerce.
Andrew: I can see that, actually, from your logo. Once you see the logo, the thing makes sense, but I can see how it can be a little bit confusing. Even in my notes with our pre-interviewer’s notes from your conversation with her, I can see at times she did it with three E’s, at times with two E’s. Do you see the two E’s sometimes and go, “No, you’re getting it wrong?” Does it frustrate you?
Nathan: One day I’ll get that. I still have hope.
Andrew: Okay. I see what’s happening. What I’m curious about is how you transitioned, how you go from doing multi-million dollars in sales out of your dorm room of stuff on Amazon to suddenly deciding, “I’ve got to have something brand new.” But let me take a moment to talk about my sponsor and then I’ll come back in here.
I have a brand new sponsor. I’m actually curious, Nathan, about how I or my listeners could work with FreeeUp with the sponsor. Here’s the deal. It’s called Formstack. Do you know Formstack? It’s okay if you don’t.
Nathan: I don’t know Formstack. I know ActiveCampaign.
Andrew: Right, my second sponsor. I’m going to talk to you about them too. Here’s the thing about Formstack. They create forms that you can embed on your site. It sounds kind of basic, who the hell cares? But here’s where it matters.
I remember when I had my first kid, I started kind of glancing through my email and I realized I’m getting a lot of email from people who want to know what mic I use, how I record my interviews, what’s this whole pre-interview process that keeps coming up. They want to know. I thought, “I wonder if I should be doing a course. Maybe I should sell this in a more formalized way instead of having my assistant respond and give people details.” But I didn’t want to create it until I knew there was a real audience for it.
So what I did was I wrote a simple email. I said I’m thinking of teaching people how to do interviews. Would you be interested? Anyone who clicked yes, I took them to a form where I asked them a couple of questions, like what would you want to know? What problem does this solve for you? Two or three questions.
Then after they hit submit on that form, I said, “Well, if I charged, would you pay for it?” Anyone who selected yes, I said, “Well, you can pay right now. Put a deposit, I don’t know exactly what I’ll charge for this, but I want to see if you really are serious. Put a deposit.” They got to put a deposit, all using this form. So I started collecting data. As I collected data for what problem will this solve, what is important for me to include in this course, I started adding that data to my little sales page that was above the form.
To me, that’s the power of forms. Forms sound so boring, but if you have a form that can actually be intelligent, where someone says, “I would pay,” and then you can follow up by saying, “Will you put this deposit?” and then the form can collect credit card payment and send it to Stripe or Authorize.net or whatever you’re using. Now you’ve got something really powerful. That’s the power of Formstack.
When you use Formstack, you can do all the things that I just described, have fields that pop up only when someone selects the perfect answer to a previous field. You can have the data go to the right person. So, if someone sales to one of my forms, “I don’t know, will this work on an Android?” or whatever, I could have that question go directly to our development. So you could connect the form to Google spreadsheets. You can take a form and send it to—I can come up with lots of different things, but never on the fly, so let me tell you guys.
Here’s the link where they’re going to give us a special deal at Formstack. Go to Formstack.com/Mixergy and you’re going to see the deal they give us. Even if you don’t sign up, I want you to see the full power of forms and what they can bring into your business. Select that little product men and go to features because you’re going to start to see all the different things that you could do with forms, like for example, ask your team questions that you could then route to the right place and keep track of how happy they are or how frustrated they are with you.
Another thing that you can do is put a form on every page on your site to see if there’s an issue and take that issue and send it over to your customer service people or directly to your developers. Go check out Formstack.com/Mixergy. Nathan, the question that I have for you—wait, what are they going to give us? If they go to Formstack.com/Mixergy, they’re going to give us 14 days for free plus 25% off your first three months. What I like about them is they’ve been around forever. I’d hate to start working with a tool like this that you embed in the site and then they go away.
So, Nathan, here’s a question that I have for you. Sometimes I just want to dream up these freaking forms. I don’t want to sit and drag and drop. Can I hire someone from FreeeUp and say, “Here’s my Formstack username and password, here’s the vision I have for it, show me the finished product, have all this if-then analysis done?”
Nathan: Absolutely. Let’s keep in mind, just because I’ve never heard of it doesn’t mean there isn’t a freelancer in the marketplace that has. There’s 700+ freelancers. They know lots of software, lots of programs that I don’t. It really just depends on what level you’re looking for.
We divide it up from lower level, midlevel, expert level, where the lower level people are more doers, they’re followers, they follow your system, your processes for businesses that are more structured, midlevel people are more specialized. Maybe they only specialize in Formstack and they don’t do anything else. Then you’ve got to the experts, which would be an overall marketing expert, an overall funnel expert who would be able to really take the next level and bring their own expertise to the table.
Andrew: I see. Do you think that let’s suppose that I were to say this is—Formstack has been around forever and I’m sure you’ve got people who know it. But if I were to hire someone who had never heard of it, can they actually figure it out? Can they take this little description that I have, maybe even a video that I record where I say, “I want you to go to Formstack, figure it out for yourself and here’s how the finished product looks,” will they do that?
Nathan: Yeah. I’ve never seen the software, but it’s a very popular request that people put in, like, “Hey, I want to hire a VA. I want them to learn how to do this. I want to onboard them in this way and show them this video.” There’s no reason why they can’t do it within reason.
Andrew: Good. I’ve got to start learning to stop doing everything for myself. My initial thing is I can see it, it’s a drag and drop builder. I can do it myself. I have to stop doing that and get really good at passing the work on to other people.
All right. Let’s get into where you came up with the idea for it. So you had a business that was working. It’s still working to this day on Amazon. Why transition to FreeeUp and how did you do that?
Nathan: Sure. I started off hiring full-time employees. It was going great. I quickly realized that I was paying $40,000, $50,000, $60,000 a year or whatever it was and they were spending a lot of their time doing lower level work, what I consider below their paygrade. A buddy of mine on my softball team told me about the other marketplaces, the Upwork, oDesk at the time, Freelancer.com. I started hiring people remotely, started off in the Philippines. It really opened up my mind to, “Wow, this exists. I can do this.”
I became determined to build an army of virtual assistants. I called them my virtual assistant army. They would essentially work as assistants to not only me, but everyone on staff as well. So the people that went from doing 25% high level stuff to doing 60% to 70% high level stuff and it really helped expand the company. What I realized by talking to other Amazon sellers in forums is that everyone was running into the same issues. It was either taking up too much time to go on those marketplaces or they were having constant bad experiences.
Andrew: Like what? What’s an example of an issue that you had when you went on the forms you realized everybody had? What’s a specific issue?
Nathan: Yeah. Communication—communication is everything. It’s one of those—I’ll start off with some of the issues. So you mentioned someone not mentioning they have a wedding and they can’t work for you. There’s other forms of it from someone saying they’re going to hit a deadline, not hitting in, someone just disappearing out of thin air and you have to spend time chasing them across the Philippines.
Andrew: You mean they were having that kind of issue. They were hiring people and they didn’t like the experience because of this disappearing act.
Andrew: What about—were other people already hiring people from the Philippines? Were other marketplaces, other sellers on Amazon doing that?
Nathan: Yeah. I definitely was not the first person to hire a Filipino virtual assistant. I won’t take that credit.
Andrew: Okay. But you are taking the credit for being the first drop shipper, figuring that out for yourself.
Nathan: I’m taking the credit for figuring out drop shipping without anyone telling me what drop shipping was.
Andrew: I see. I actually think that going to the Philippines for a long time was a hidden secret, that most people only heard about India, only heard a little bit about Eastern Europe. But the real goldmine of great talent who spoke English, who were available to do customer service seems to have been in the Philippines and it took us a while to be awakened to that. How did you know about that?
Nathan: Yeah. A lot of it was trial and error, meeting different people from different places. Don’t get me wrong, there are great people in the marketplace from India. My graphic designer is from there and she’s top notch. But for whatever reason, as a whole, Philippines tend to do better in our vetting process. We’re about 40% U.S., 40% Philippines, 20% scattered. For whatever reason, they speak English very well. They seem to care about their clients more than a paycheck.
I would say logical thinking, they have that going for them. My assistants are incredible when it comes to problem solving. Again, you’re talking about people as a whole and every specific person can be different. I think that’s when people started to figure out—when they would just have bad experience time after time again from one part of the world, I think eventually they would get to the Philippines and be like, “Wow, this is a step better or their communication is better or their attitude is better, they did this faster.”
Then there’s a money factor as well. The minimum wage there is $12 a day around. India, it might be slightly more. The U.S. is obviously way more. There’s other factors like that. There’s cons as well. There’s pros and cons to everything. Their weather is poor. If you hire someone that is constantly losing power and wasting your time, that can be an issue as well.
That’s part of the vetting process. A lot of it came from trial and error, similar to figuring out drop shipping. You do a bunch of stuff. I thought I was going to sell DVDs, eventually came across baby products. I thought I’d be hiring U.S. employees, trial and error, trial and error. It’s really taken off from there.
Andrew: So you were starting to hire people for yourself. I’m wondering why you decided you were going to sell it to others. Was it that there was some frustration with the Amazon business? Did it feel like you were never going to build a self-sustaining business that way?
Nathan: Yeah. To this day Amazon was going to get rid of drop shipping. They haven’t done that yet, although they made it incredibly hard to do. It’s gotten harder year after year. It’s one of the reasons that at some point I wasn’t like, “Let’s go all out and do this and drop shop the rest of my life,” because there was definitely a point in my life where I thought, “Amazon is going great, this is what I want to do,” but if you look at the facts subjectively, they’re making it harder and harder.
So I also realize the virtual assistant applies to all different businesses, whether you’re an Amazon drop shipping business or FBA or you do vendor central and you sell directly to Amazon, you still have the same needs, same thing if you’re running an eBay store, Shopify store. I work with really agents, business coaches all need virtual assistants at some level. So, I really saw the demand for that. I really want to create a platform that wasn’t just dependent on Amazon.
Andrew: Yeah. I think that to this day, people who sell on Amazon have that challenge and need to figure out a way to get out of it. What they often do is think, “I’ll create a Shopify store and I’ll blow up my Shopify store.” I like the direction that you went in. You said, “Instead of doing that, I’m going to take some of the things that worked for me internally and see if I can sell them to others.
I wonder how many other businesses can do that or frankly, should we here at Mixergy be thinking we’re really good at, say, researching and filtering through gussets. Would there be other businesses that need that and start off with that? We’re really good at systemizing a business with the other businesses that need that. I see a little smile on your face and I’m trying to read if that’s the right direction or if you disagree.
Nathan: There’s no right or wrong. I had plenty of clients that went from an Amazon business to building a Shopify store and the Shopify store is taking off and then they go and sell their products on Walmart and all of a sudden a year later and great. Amazon is a great revenue channel. You don’t want to just cut that off unless they make you. But then there’s’ the other way you just said.
I’ve been on 100 podcasts in the last year or whatever and a lot of them have created these side businesses, where they’re doing podcasts for other people, vetting guests, working as booking agents. For the first six months, I had a booking agent getting me on podcasts and she got it because she worked for some podcasters, she got it from there. There’s really two ways to go about running your business and whether you’re diversifying your business in one way or coming up with a new business, that’s what being an entrepreneur is all about.
Andrew: I feel like Pat Flynn did that well as a podcaster. He needed a way to play podcasts on his website and the players that came with Libsyn and other software weren’t very good. He created one. He’s selling it now on a monthly to annual basis We pay for it. It’s good. It just works and I know that other podcasts do.
You told our producer that what you started to do was cold call business and you faked FreeeUp with a little network of workers. Talk about that early day experience when you were trying to figure I tout?
Nathan: Sure. When I say fake, it was real. We did have the workers. It’s one of those things, you fake it until you become it. I had sold a lot on Amazon. I had that backing. I had a group of VAs that I was either using part-time or ongoing or maybe a project here, project there and I knew they were reliable. Just from going on the forms and talking to other business owners, I knew that other people had that problem.
So I started reaching out to different businesses and pretty much telling them my story and what I’m trying to do and I’m fortunate that a lot of those people gave me a chance and believed in it. One of the things about if you’re going to spend time and effort making those cold calls and calling 100 people to get one client, when you get that client, you have to treat them like gold because that’s what makes or breaks your business.
So once I got those people to agree and give me a chance, give me a week, whatever it was, I would treat them like top priority at all times and make sure they had a good experience, which was a huge game-changer for them because a lot of people, they’ve had bad experiences hiring, they’ve never hired before or they just don’t have the time to keep hiring.
So if you can address those concerns and give them that piece of mind where they know their business is in good hands, all of a sudden, those people started referring other people and like I mentioned before, they were like, “Oh, okay, you do Amazon. Do you have a graphic designer? Do you have a bookkeeper?” From there, it was like, “All right, we need a recruitment team. Let’s start vetting these workers.”
Andrew: I’m seeing an early version of the site. It’s just a WordPress site with I think a free WordPress theme on it.
Nathan: You’ve got an early version?
Andrew: Sorry? Yeah. An early version of it, the one with the skydivers on it. That’s all it was. It was just you calling up businesses and saying, “I have some freelancers, they can do your work, what kind of work do you need?” Where did you find the people who you were calling?
Nathan: Man, everywhere, from just Craigslist to Google. My business partner, Connor, he’s always been good at research. Back when we were contacting manufacturers, he was the one who would run the research and contact team. It’s all numbers. You’re figuring out lots of different companies in different industries and different sizes and figuring out who will work with us. It’s a lot easier to get that solopreneur on the phone, but the bigger companies are the bigger clients, but if I call some huge $30 million a year Amazon seller, even in some cases $100 million ecommerce store, they might not talk to me right away, so you work your way up until you can get in to bigger and bigger openings.
Andrew: How did you even have time to do that? These Amazon businesses take forever?
Nathan: That’s what I’ve been able to do with virtual assistants. A lot of it has been growing as an entrepreneur to take things off my plate, have the Amazon business run as much without me as humanly possible, have someone that places orders in customer service and stuff like that. I mentioned that we scaled back our Amazon business a little bit. If it was running at the $5 million mark, it probably wouldn’t have been possible.
We scaled it down. We made it so it was automated and that gave me the free time. To be honest, it was a part-time. It was something I was doing five hours a week, then ten hours a week, then fifteen, then it started to build up to the point where now it’s become bigger than my Amazon business, so that’s where I’m focusing most of my time.
Andrew: I remember—by the way, I’ve got my shirt unbuttoned. I quickly put it on so I look professional for you and not hanging out in a t-shirt and I realized just this top button is all I had time to button. I was not paying attention. What I’m curious about is when you were starting to do this, what did you learn about working with freelancers in the beginning?
I know for me, the reason it didn’t work out with the guy I found from Tim’s book was I wasn’t good at delegating. What I eventually learned was you have to be really clear about what you want the person to do, especially if they’re new. So I started creating what someone on our team now calls a click by click, click by click telling them what to do so they know how to get the result that I’m asking them for. Then we can evolve from that. That’s one thing that I learned that’s helped me. Take me to the next step. What else can you teach me about working with freelancers?
Nathan: Yeah. I always tell my clients I can do step one for you very quickly. I can put a very good vetted freelancer in front of you, but that’s just the beginning. There’s two other steps. You have to onboard them and get them integrated and then on the back end, you have to motivate them and keep them passionate and reduce turnover and do everything you can.
So what I’ve done is I create from the free up blog to the online hiring mastermind group different resources that can help clients out and the two of them that I find very important are the client expectations doc, I call it that because I haven’t come up with a better name, but essentially it lays out everything from these are the different important people in the company, this is who you contact for who. These are my pet peeves, these are what I expect.
For example, I get thousands of Skype messages every day and one of my pet peeves is someone messages me, “Hey,” and then waits for me to respond before asking me their question, which takes forever, but how would they know that if I didn’t tell them that up front. That’s something that’s only a pet peeve to me. So, really laying it out clearly and then handing it to them. Then the other thing is communication. I have my own guidelines that people in the network have to memorize and get tested on.
But I encourage clients to come up with their own. Do you like Skype, WhatsApp, phone call? Do you want daily updates? Do you want to be talked to once a month, which I don’t recommend? But every client has their own way of communicating and really establishing those things up front. Then when you interview someone and you talk to them and you tell them it’s going to be a certain way and you set the expectations and you set the communication, then you hold them accountable after the fact and you’re very quick to move on if they’re not holding themselves to what they told you and what they agreed to.
Andrew: I see. I’m looking at this client expectations doc that you’ve got on your site. It’s about the company. So, you tell them what you do and how you make money, number of employees, current challenges, who the owner is, who’s on the team. I see it here in the doc, important things to remember and pet peeves. I get that. For me, I wouldn’t want someone to at message me using our software—we use Basecamp for project management and communication. Only at message me if there’s something urgent that needs my attention right now because my phone will vibrate. You’re right. How is someone going to know that that’s my little quirk?
Okay. And then links to training videos—that helps a lot. Do people even read it? I always wonder if I’m giving them homework and until it matters, they’re not going to read it.
Nathan: Yeah. I can’t speak for workers outside the FreeeUp marketplace. I can only speak for the ones in. They do an incredible job. The clients seem incredibly happy. It’s one of those things that whenever you start a new company, you never know what the client feedback or the client reaction is going to be like.
But the workers like being there. They like having clients brought to them. They’re very passionate about what they do and they want to make the clients happy. They want to stay in the marketplace. They want to have long-term relationships. They are willing to do it. I’m sure there’s plenty of them that are not willing to do it and it’s on me to vet those people out.
Andrew: So first you said I’m going to focus on the people who I have, the kinds of companies that are like mine and so you started out as an Amazon-centered freelancer marketplace, right?
Andrew: You started out also teaching classes. I’m looking at early versions of your site. It seems like you were teaching classes about Amazon and about eBay but the Amazon ones came first, is that right?
Nathan: I never taught eBay class. That was something we want to do in the future. We didn’t really teach drop shipping. It was more just Amazon. When we started FreeeUp, we didn’t really know what direction it was going to go in. We thought that classes were taking off. You see all those Amazon classes out there. We can create our own. We started doing that and then the freelance side of the business really took off and that’s where we focused our direction.
We also do seller appeals. We’ve been doing that since the beginning. We got suspended once. We know how to get people unsuspended. We’ve gotten 50+, maybe even 100+ sellers unsuspended. So that was always a side service we offered in the time. It’s something we still do, but we probably do one or two a month. It’s not a big part of the business.
Andrew: That’s good to know. So, if I get suspended, I can contact you and you can help out?
Nathan: Correct. It’s up to the Amazon gods. It’s never 100% and we make it very clear up front, but we have an over 85% success rate.
Andrew: What I meant about the classes it seems like I’m looking at early versions of your site, the data I have on it is not super clear, but it looks like what you did to get customers was—was it offering free classes? Like here’s advanced selling on Amazon, inventory management, order fulfillment customer care, Amazon seller performance, pricing strategies. You were teaching all that. I thought what you were doing was using these classes as a way of bring in potential customers to free up.
Nathan: That was the idea. It wasn’t going to be free classes, but very affordable compared to the market, get people growing an Amazon business. They would hire our workers and then go from there and you’d have a long-term customer. What we realized was it was almost better for us to get people that were already established, they would hire more, run into less of the ups and downs of a new seller. That’s kind of the direction that we took.
Andrew: I see. I’m searching as you’re doing this to get a sense of what that was like. One class, $209.99.
Nathan: Exactly, pretty affordable, can’t beat that.
Andrew: I’m wondering you didn’t just go to $199. What was it with the $209 you thought would work well?
Nathan: That’s a great question. I don’t even remember. That was two years ago.
Andrew: Okay. You started this as a college kid. You created, you told our producer, SOPs. Things were starting to work out. SOPs are standard operating procedures. Those are the click by clicks I talked about. Then you said, “The business is working. I’m going to take a vacation.” You went to Myrtle Beach. When we come back, we’ll talk about the thing that happened day one of your trip to Myrtle Beach.
But first, I’ve got to talk about this software, ActiveCampaign. If you’re out there listening to me, you know that you should be collecting email addresses of people that come to your site. They hit your site once, they may never come back again. If you get their email address, you get to come back into their lives. You get to build your relationship with them and over time, they might become customers.
Here’s the thing. Email is stupid. If you just send out the same email newsletter, you’re going to just be boring everybody and pissing off the best potential customers. What you want is intelligent email marketing, email that says hey, someone joined for the first time. They shouldn’t get our latest newsletter.
They should get an onboarding email that tells him what we’re about, maybe a follow up email that tells them why they should care, maybe another one giving them something for free that gives them some benefit, maybe another one where you come in and sell. I don’t know what your drip campaign, but I do know that at some point when someone buys, you want to stop selling to them because you don’t want to start giving someone a 10% discount offer if they already bought. It’s kind of embarrassing and stupid.
So that’s where marketing automation comes in. This has existed for 10, 20 years online, smart email marketing. The problem is it’s always been expensive and very hard to implement. so, most people could not do it themselves. That’s where ActiveCampaign saw their opportunity. They said, “We can make this really easy and we can actually make it affordable.”
So, if you go to ActiveCampaign.com/Mixergy, you’re going to see how affordable it is. You’re also going to get your second month of using them for free. You’re also going to get a free trial to get you started and since I’m throwing free stuff in there, two free one on ones with their consultants who will show you, the person listening to me, how to do intelligent marketing automation.
That means more than just if they buy you stop emailing them, but depending on what they do on your site, you might want to send them a different message. If I were Nathan and I owned FreeeUp.com, I might say, “Whoever is coming to my site and constantly looking at the hiring should start getting email about what they can hire for and how to work and how to hire properly.” If the person is spending a lot of time on the section on how to get hired by FreeeUp, my marketing automation, ActiveCampaign, would need to start sending a different kind of email.
So the free one on one sessions you get with their consultants will help you implement that kind of thing in your business. Finally, if you’re listening to me and you already are working with dumb email software, they will give you free migration. All you have to do is go to ActiveCampaign.com/Mixergy. Nathan, before we started, I asked you if you heard of them. You said, “Not only have I heard of them, we work with them. What is it that you guys do with ActiveCampaign?
Nathan: We don’t partner with them. We have workers that know their software very well and do it for clients. I actually filled a ticket this morning where our client wanted an expert in ActiveCampaign. We filled it. The client hired the worker a few hours ago, so they’re off doing that. It’s a very popular software that a lot of workers know how to use.
Andrew: Yeah. And it’s the kind of thing that frankly anyone can go in and use on their own. If you’re a business owner, you’ll know how to use ActiveCampaign. But at some point, you don’t want to do it all yourself. You just want to say, “Here’s an email describing what I want. Go do it for me.” I was talking about one of my past guests who apparently heard about a good book and instead of going to Amazon and doing the one-click order, he sent a text message to his assistant, “I can’t be bothered,” and his assistant went and bought it.
At first I used to think that was kind of weird. Why are you trying to pass off everything you’re doing to someone else? But in time I’ve learned that that’s what makes him efficient. He does not waste time by doing the kinds of things someone else can do for him. He status focused on what only he can do.
Nathan: I’ll give you a good example of that. I get hundreds of emails every day. I have someone that works from 3:00 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. clearing out my inbox. They know how to answer 90+ percent of my emails. They’ll mark five for me when I wake up. So, when I wake up, instead of spending the first hour of my day clearing them out or two hours, I answer those five and then I get a head start on my day.
Andrew: Isn’t it weird to have somebody go through your email, see some personal stuff? Frankly, with all these VAs, there’s a danger they’re going to take your not just data, but find a way to funnel money out of your account.
Nathan: There’s always a risk. Even if you hire your best friend and have them sit right next to you, there’s always a risk they do something stupid. This is my work email. There’s only so much they can do. They can make me look really bad. Honestly, in my eight years of hiring, I’ve never had an issue.
In FreeeUp, two years, never had an issue. I’m sure if I bill enough hours, eventually some security issue will happen, but these workers, they’re business owners. They’re providing for their family. They care a lot more about making you happy and offering a good service and in my case, staying in the FreeeUp marketplace than they do about stealing and jeopardizing your information.
Yes, you should never just hire someone and be like, “Here are all my passwords, here’s a six-month project, go.” There should always be that test period and the time where you get to know them and build that trust before you give them more access, but the alternative is you hire no one and you do everything yourself and eventually you just stall as an entrepreneur. For me it’s really the only way.
Andrew: What’s another thing that you’ve hired for, another task that I might now just realize that I could have somebody else do for me?
Nathan: Yeah, billing. All of our billing is done in the Philippines with three workers. They do an incredible job. They blew my mind. I fired. Five people before I came across them. We’re going to be doing $100,000 a week in invoices for freelancers and they’re on top of it. They use our software. They’re keep tracking of overdue stuff. They’re really on top of everything. Not only that, but they pay the workers each week as well. Talk about risk. I have to have complete trust in them because they have the ultimate passwords for everything.
So I’ve been able to set up that system. It obviously took me five plus years of hiring to get to that point that I can trust them to do that, but that’s something that you can do if you actually spend the time to hire properly.
Andrew: Okay. So let’s go back then to what happened when you hired properly. You had your business working. You go to Myrtle Beach. Day one, what happens?
Nathan: So I get a call from our top supplier telling us that they didn’t want to work with us anymore.
Andrew: Top supplier meaning someone who does tasks for you, one of the virtual assistants?
Nathan: No, supplier like a vendor we were working with. I won’t say their name.
Andrew: What do you mean video?
Nathan: Someone shipping products for us.
Andrew: Oh, this is the Amazon business you’re having this issue.
Nathan: Sorry, this was way back, the end of the first year on Amazon. I got a call from my manager of the day, who I had hired unintelligently to do everything, from orders to customer service and stuff like that, they didn’t want to work with me anymore. Then I got a call from my bookkeeper saying that someone had filed a tax return in my name and stolen $40,000 from the government. This was before I hired virtual assistants and all that. So it wasn’t them. But I went from this ultimately high, where I was making more money than I ever had in my entire life to, “Wow, let’s start over and do this again.”
Andrew: Wow. So did you ever get back the $40,000?
Nathan: They didn’t steal it from me. They filed it and it was a tax return from the government. The government paid them. I never lost a penny. I just got a pin number for my Social Security so it’s more secure. I don’t know if they ever caught the guy.
Andrew: I see. It’s not that they got your tax refund. It’s that they filed a tax refund on your behalf. The government just pays that out?
Nathan: Just paid him out.
Andrew: What’s the deal with a pin? I didn’t know you could get a pin on your social.
Nathan: Yeah. If you call the IRS and you’re like, “Hey, my identity’s been stolen,” or, “I’m worried my identity’s stolen.” They’ll give you a secure pin and whenever you file a tax return, you have to put the pin in, and if you don’t include the pin, they don’t accept it.
Andrew: Okay. You also told our producer one of our challenges was we were growing very rapidly but the internal development was challenging. It was hard to keep up with. Talk about the issues that you had there.
Nathan: Yeah. This is with FreeeUp. When you start off as a small business starting off and you’re like, “I have this software.” People are like, “This is pretty cool, I’ll use it.” As you get bigger and bigger and you start working with bigger clients and keep in mind, you’re competing with the other people, the Upworks or Freelance of the world that have a lot more time to build the software. What was cool at first isn’t cool now. It was outdated. While we’re growing faster, getting lots of clients and they love the workers and all that, keeping the software up to speed on that has also been a challenge, I’m also not a developer. Hiring developers is a whole other animal when you’re dealing with communication and all those things.
So it’s always been a challenge. It probably always will be a challenge. I just met with my business partner before this about what we’re trying to do with dev because we’re trying to revamp our UI and all that kind of stuff. It’s always a challenge. It’s going to be a challenge and it’s something you have to embrace and it’s something that I can probably improve on. I’ve become so good at hiring these VAs and Amazon workers and all that, the next step is becoming a master at hiring developers.
Andrew: Yeah. The first site was just as I said, built on a free WordPress site, free WordPress theme. The development of the site, when did you decide, “We can’t keep dealing with this WordPress site. We have to go beyond. What is it you needed?”
Nathan: We’re still using WordPress for the site, it’s just not the software. If you go to FreeeUp.com, it’s a WordPress site. If you log in, it’s Node software that you log into that takes you away from the WordPress site.
Andrew: I see. That’s where it takes me into your software.
Andrew: I had no idea this is a WordPress site. There it is WordPress theme, it’s the Rare theme, I don’t know what that is, but that’s the theme on your site.
Nathan: It’s all Connor. Yeah. He did a great job. Every six months, we update our WordPress. It kind of integrates nicely. Most people can’t even tell unless they ask. I’m sure eventually we’ll get off of it, but right now our focus is really on investing money on the software side of it rathe than the front website side it.
Andrew: The software does what? I think what happens is if I wanted to be a customer of yours, the first thing I’d do is I’d fill out a form and then I’d get on a call with somebody from your company, right?
Nathan: Kind of. The call is optional. You don’t have to do it. You click sign up. It will ask you a few questions so we have your contact information. You sign an agreement saying that you would try to steal workers from the marketplace and you’ll pay for work. Add a payment method, it’s free up front. We bill you every Thursday for work done. Once you do that, you get access to your account. Anytime you need a worker, click request a worker at the top. A pop up comes up where it asks you questions so we know exactly what you want. You submit that.
Within 24 hours, your ticket gets filled. With a worker, you can meet them, you’ll see their hourly rate. If you like them, you’ll click hire, they get added to your account. If you don’t like them, click reject and it asks for feedback so we can get out someone else based on that and then inside your account, see the rest of all your workers, all their rates.
You can see when they punch in, punch out, they have to leave notes when they do it. It adds it up per day, per week so it matches your invoice you get each week. We’re adding a lot more payment functions right now where you’ll be able to view a lot of that inside your time clock as well. There’s also that whole affiliate program we talked about that you can view your affiliates—
Andrew: That’s all built internally.
Nathan: Exactly. We built all that.
Andrew: And the time tracking, that’s also built internally.
Andrew: You guys added screen capture. What’s the screen capture.
Nathan: We have not added that yet.
Andrew: You haven’t. That’s something you want to add? Why do you want to add screen capture? What’s the vision for it?
Nathan: Upwork made it the industry standard. I personally don’t agree with it. I’ve been doing it the other way forever. I don’t have the time in the day to go through and look at someone’s screenshots. If I think someone is stealing from me or something like that, I do it, but that’s really the extreme. Really, what I’ve found just by talking to clients and I thought this would be a bigger deal than it has been is there’s always going to be that 1% to 5% that really care about it.
For those clients, you can buy Time Doctor for $10 a month and have the workers use that and they’re happy to do it and they’ll send an adjustment to our time clock and make sure it matches. That’s an option. It’s also just prioritizing. I told you we have all this stuff we want to build here. 50 pages worth of new additions we want to add. At some point, you have to prioritize. If screen capture is a six month development process, what do we want to get done before we start that huge project?
Andrew: I see. So you’re not going to create it, but the reason for Time Doctor is it actually will watch what people are doing on their screen, give you a report of what they’ve done and also let you watch it?
Nathan: I believe you can watch it, screen capture. You can see like every ten seconds or every one minute. You can set it how often you wanted to capture their screen and you can go in and see what they’re doing.
Andrew: So when you’re deciding whether to build something or not, what’s the decision process? What takes priority?
Nathan: That’s a great question. You’ve got the client side, the worker side and the admin side. And it’s important that the admin side works and gets stuff done, but if you’re constantly pouring money in the admin side and the worker’s side and the client’s side isn’t seeing it, a lot of times people can start thinking less and less of your software. You have to prioritize the client side and the worker side first on top of that, there’s other factors like cost and the time of development.
There’s other factors like if it’s a bug, if it’s something important, if it’s something we just realized this has to be done, those things are obviously going to prioritize, especially if it’s going to prevent Time Clock from working at some point. There’s also just our internal team, let’s say our takes our bookkeeper 10 to 20 hours a week to do a task and we can spend 2 weeks and automate that task and get him his time back as we grow and as we add more and more clients. That’s something that becomes a necessity.
So there’s really no one way to go about it. It’s a combination of what’s important versus client worker admin, what actually needs to get done bug wise, what will free up people’s time and then how long the projects are how you can prioritize them in that way.
Andrew: I can see that as the world evolves and more and more stuff is made that there is going to be a necessity for more of these types of marketplaces. I’m trying to think of a good example. Right now, augmented reality is big. But I don’t think that this is the kind of marketplace for augmented reality. I don’t know what it is. But if five years from now or two years from now there’s a new need and somebody—how about chat bots? Let’s say someone’s listening and says, “You know what? I want to do a chat bot marketplace.” What advice would you have for them for how to build that business?
Nathan: Yeah. It’s all about getting the right people. It’s the same thing that every business owner goes through, whether you’re in real estate or you’re selling a product on Amazon or your own website or whatever it is, it all comes down to the people. If you hire good people, it makes you look really good. It saves you time. It saves you frustration. It keeps your clients happy, whether they’re working for your clients or interacting with your clients. If you Skype me today and you ask a question and my assistant had no idea what the answer is, that doesn’t make you look very good, especially being a virtual assistant platform.
So I would really start with the people. Before you market it, before you get clients, make sure you have whoever is answering those live chats or make sure your software that’s answering those live chats is good and you’ve tested it and you know what kind of result you guys are going to get. It really branches out from there. All the referral programs and recommendations all come back to that core of good people that we add to the network that make me look good on a day to day basis that I couldn’t do it without them.
Andrew: What’s your process for hiring to get those kinds of good people?
Nathan: Good question. I only hire people on my internal team that are in the FreeeUp marketplace. So, to get into the FreeeUp marketplace, we vet you on three things—skill, communication and attitude. We already talked about communication and the 15 pages of guidelines. Attitude is broken up into—are you passionate about money or are you passionate about what you do? If I’m a business owner and I like processes and I hate doing my QuickBooks, if I hire someone to do my QuickBooks, they need to love QuickBooks as much as I love being an entrepreneur, as much as I love doing the processes.
So making sure they really care about what they’re doing, make sure they put the client first, make sure they just show up with a smile on their face. I’m sure you’ve worked with someone that comes in, in a bad mood every day. They bring everyone down and it’s a cancer.
Then in the skills side, there’s a time and a place for a five out of five worker. There’s a time and a place for a ten out of ten worker. There’s all these different price points. What’s important for you as a business owner is you know who is who and that you’re not getting tricked into paying for ten out of ten and getting a five out of ten work. A lot of that is coming up with interview questions and evolving them over time and bringing in experts to really come up with those questions because I’m an expert in not everything and what I’m expert in. So, really stressing—
Andrew: So, if you decide, for example, you have WooCommerce and suddenly Shopify takes off and you decide you’re going to do Shopify developers, you’ll bring in an expert in Shopify development and say, “If you were going to hire, what would you be looking for?” What is it that you ask the expert for? I’m seeing this happen a lot with people who hire, they’re looking for someone who’s advanced, who can help them structure their interview process.
Nathan: We’re really looking for interview questions. So, people, in my mind, people interview the wrong way. They’re always looking for the right answer. Well, I once took a college course on how to interview. It didn’t teach me how to do the job right, it just told me how to answer interview questions correctly.
What you really want to be looking for is red flags. What stands out where that tells you this person might not have a great attitude. They might not have communication, when you’re dealing with skills, maybe they aren’t up to date on previous updates or maybe they aren’t as much of a pro as they say they are.
What we’re trying to do is get a serious of questions on our recruitment team, if you’re claiming to be an Amazon expert or a midlevel Amazon person or you claim to do video editing, yes, I’ll look at your portfolio, but also want to make sure that you understand the basis and that you are what you say you are.
Then you continue to adjust the over time. If you let someone into the marketplace that might be a seven and they claim to be a ten. How do we go back and look at they answered these questions, we need to focus more on A, B and C and get these kinds of answers before we let more people in the marketplace? You’re constantly letting people in and adjusting. We do all that for you.
Andrew: You know what? I’m thinking of all the uses that I personally have for FreeeUp. I don’t know why I’m not coming up with business uses right now. I’m thinking things like I have a bookkeeper, but my personal books, I’d love to have that kind of date—my personal books are on Mint. I’d love to have that really cleaned up. Can I hire one of your guys here? I’m looking at prices. You guys have bookkeeping at non-US, $8 to $20 an hour. Can I hire one of them to go through my Mint account, like with my username and password and they’ll start tagging stuff?
Nathan: Yeah. I love Mint. Yeah. You can definitely do that. We’ve had someone hire a VA to run their fantasy football team. The possibilities are endless.
Andrew: What’s an interesting business that was built on top of FreeeUp, that because of FreeeUp is working really well and maybe that’s largely how the company is run.
Nathan: Great question. I’ve never been asked that in a podcast before. So I can’t give the company name because it’s covered by NDA. We had someone who took my Amazon course, learned how to sell on Amazon, then created an Amazon agency that only hires FreeeUp workers. They did cold calling. They hired cold calling FreeeUp workers, went out and got people, all they do is focus on Amazon and they hire Amazon experts from FreeeUp to run their agency when a year ago, they didn’t know what Amazon was and the entire business is built on FreeeUp.
Andrew: What does the agency do?
Nathan: They push products on Amazon. So it’s people come, they have their product, maybe they don’t have an amp store and they’re not getting any traction. They’ll list the products. They ‘ll do the SEO, run the campaigns and stuff like that.
Andrew: So, if I have something to sell but I don’t want to figure out Amazon SEO, Amazon listing process, I come to this agency, they both list by stuff, they’ll SEO it, they’ll sell it, all they have to do is send the stuff out.
Nathan: Yeah. They charge a monthly fee.
Andrew: The only way I would have discovered them is they have people from FreeeUp call up businesses that have these products and I might get a call from them. That’s what it is.
Nathan: Yeah and cold emails.
Andrew: You have cold callers and cold emails and the system?
Nathan: Definitely. They wrote their own PR but we have PR people. There’s a lot of different ways to market. You’ve got to get creative and do trial and error. I’ve used VAs for ever to help me cold call. Yes, I was the one on the phone, but people gathering that information and putting it in front of me, I had people sending emails, all that kind of stuff.
Andrew: Do you have a list of ideas for what I can do with your guys?
Nathan: Yeah. We have an eBook that you can get for free on the FreeeUp blog called “100 Things to Outsource.”
Andrew: All right. I’m going to check that—what about this—if I have stuff that I bought from Amazon, like the treadmill I’m standing on that I’m not using, can I hire one of your ecommerce experts—I can get a really good Amazon person for anywhere from $18 to $50 depending on some of the criteria, but I could get a lower level person for like $6. Can I get someone lower level to get my username and password and start listing my other stuff on Amazon?
Nathan: Definitely. Remember, I mentioned it’s a system and process thing. If you have a system and process, they can follow it. If you’re someone that has no idea what you’re doing on Amazon and then you hire a lower level person, it’s probably not going to go well.
Andrew: So, basically hire a better level person, he sells my first thing and creates a system and process, then I go to the lower level people and say just list the stuff.
Nathan: I have plenty of clients that have done that.
Andrew: I love these ideas of stuff that I can freaking outsource. I actually got diverted from a few other questions that I had, like some of the other challenges just because I’m fascinated by what could be done with virtual assistants. I also didn’t ask you about your book, “Free Up Your Business.” What’s one thing we should know about the book?
Nathan: Yeah. I bootstrapped two companies. I started each one with $20. It all really comes down to business mentality. Part of it we talked about is hiring and investing in people. It’s something I firmly believe in. With that, having systems and processes, but there’s other stuff like diversifying and being frugal and really being on top of your finances that any business owner should know. If you want to be an entrepreneur or you’re just getting started or you struggled. I encourage you to check it out, it’s 50 things that I use on a day to day basis no matter how big my companies get.
Andrew: Like what?
Nathan: I mentioned diversifying, which kind of goes back to the Myrtle Beach story, treating people well to reduce turnover. I’ve had people quit on me. That has hurt me a lot more than it’s hurt them and it was probably in my best interest to treat them better as a young entrepreneur, when to take calculated risks and how to do it, how to problem solve.
So the different steps of problem solving, from identifying what the problem is and the different possible solutions to who you need, that last step that people always forget, which is put systems in place to make sure that same problem doesn’t happen again. So, a lot of it really breaks you down from real experience I had as a young entrepreneur.
Andrew: All right. The website is FreeeUp.com, FreeeUp with three E’s, FreeeUp.com. I’m going to check out all the different things that I could do with assistance. The two sponsors that we had were the company that will help you create forms that you can use to sell, gather information, forward that information everywhere you want or wherever you want it to go, go check them out. They’re great product that’s been around for a long time. It’s Formstack.com/Mixergy. The software you need to do smart marketing automation in an easy way, it’s called ActiveCampaign. Check them out too at ActiveCampaign.com/Mixergy.
Nathan, thanks for being on here.
Nathan: Andrew, thanks so much for having me. It was fun.
Andrew: Cool. Bye, everyone.