Nathan Hirsch | Finding Better Freelancers

Unstoppable CEOPodcast

You start a business. You work your butt off, alone, to grow and get profitable. But at some point, says Nathan Hirsch, founder of Freeeup.com, you have to make that first hire.

And that, says Nathan, is where many entrepreneurs go wrong. Instead of freeing up their time, they’re busier than ever working in their business instead of on it.

That struggle inspired Nathan to start his site, which offers clients access to pre-vetted freelance professionals – the top talent in all sorts of specialities. During our talk, he shares his top tips for outsourcing success, including what he’s learned about who to hire and where to find the best people. 

We also talk about…

  • The first job you should outsource or hire an employee to do
  • How too many business owners sabotage new employees – and themselves
  • The 5+ questions you should ask during a job interview
  • What can be more important than skills and experience in a team member
  • And more

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:

Transcript

Adam Lean: Welcome to P is for profit, a podcast that breaks down business concepts into simple and clear language. This season is dedicated to interviewing eCommerce experts that can help you improve your eCommerce business.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the co-founder of an agency that helps you find quality freelancers online. So why does this matter? So as a business owner, if you feel like you’re wearing all the hats, then you have a problem. Why is that? You should only really be wearing one hat. And that hat is the thing that you and only you do best. This is the thing that probably got you into the business in the first place is the thing that made your business successful and why people look at your product or service. 

And if you start taking on multiple hats, especially in areas that you’re not confident in, you’ll get stretched too thin. And you know what will suffer? The thing that you and only you are good at the hat that you should be wearing. So you need to find people that can do the things that you shouldn’t be doing. That’s why it’s important to either hire full time or part-time, or even freelancers, which are essentially independent contractors, they could take the burden of all these other jobs off of you. Plus, they’ll probably do a better job at it than you could ever do. Anyways. So let’s jump into the interview with Nathan and talk about how his company helps you find freelancers. Nathan, welcome to the show.

Nathan Hirsch: Hey, thanks so much for having me excited to be here.

Adam: Yeah, so you own freeeup.com. That’s Freee, 3 e’s, up.com. And you help you essentially help people find pre-vetted freelancers that are in the top 1% of their field. So what made you get into this? Well, what led you to this point?

What Is FreeeUp.com?

Nathan: Yeah, so I’m a long-time entrepreneur. I started my first business when I was in college back in 2008. I was a broke college kid that knew that when I got out of college, I did not want to get a real job. So I started hustling, and I started buying and selling people’s textbooks. I created a referral program. Before I knew it, I had lined out the door of people trying to sell me their books, to the point where I got a cease and desist letter from my college telling me to knock it off. 

Adam Lean: Really?

Nathan: Yeah. 

Adam: On what grounds?

Nathan: I was competing with the bookstore.

Adam: Really? Okay.

Nathan: Yeah, I mean, there’s no legal grounds. I wasn’t breaking any laws, but I mean, they, they were a private college, they can tell me to do whatever they want. And I didn’t want to kick out of school. My parents are both teachers. So I pivoted a little bit I, I had sold on Amazon. This was back in 2008. No one knew what Amazon was, it was kind of this big bookstore that people were just starting to sell other products on. And I started experimenting with outdoor equipment, sporting equipment, video games, computers, typical college guy stuff that I liked. And I just failed over and over and over. And it wasn’t until I branched out of my comfort zone and found the baby product industry that my business really took off. So there I am, as this 20-year-old single college guy selling baby products on Amazon, if you can imagine me doing that. 

And I was crushing business, my parents said, “Hey, you should probably start paying taxes.” And I met with an accountant. And the first question my accountant asked me is, when are you going to hire your first person? And I kind of shrugged them off? Like, why would I do that that’s money out of my pocket, they’re going to steal my ideas, they’re going to hurt my business? And he just laughed in my face and said, you’re going to learn this lesson on your own. Well, sure enough, my first busy season comes around the fourth quarter, I’m not prepared, I’m doing everything myself. And I just get destroyed, I’m working 20 hours a day, my social life plummets, my grades go down. And I worked my butt off to get to the other side and just keep this business alive. And when I got to the end, in January, I thought to myself, man, I can never let that happen again, I need to start hiring people. And I quickly learned that hiring college kids were not very reliable, which pushed me to the remote hiring on Upwork or Fiverr.

And I made some pretty good hires over the years. But I also made a lot of bad hires. And it took up a lot of my time to post a job get 100 applicants, interview them one by one. And I always wanted something faster. And when I couldn’t find that, I said, “You know what, I’ll build it myself.” And that’s really what FreeeUp did, is I took everything I liked about the other platforms and changed everything that I didn’t like.

Adam: Interesting. So what were the things that you didn’t like about the other platforms or even the existing platforms?

Nathan: FreeeUp is different in four ways. The first one is there’s no browsing and not everyone can create a freelancer account on our platform. If you go on Upwork, or Fiverr, anyone can offer services with us, we get thousands of applicants every week. These are virtual assistants, freelancers, agencies from all over the world, we vet them for skill, attitude, communication, take the top 1% let them in. And then we make them available to our clients quickly whenever they need them. On the back end, there’s no browsing, you put in a request, and we fill it within a business day. And you can always request more people, you can interview them, you can meet with them. If you don’t like them, you can click pass and provide us with feedback. And we’ll get you someone else. So it’s almost like a Tinder of hiring, it’s a much faster matchmaking process.

And then on the backend, I didn’t love the customer support and other platforms, we have 24 seven support in case you have even the smallest issue with any freelancer. And I added a no turnover guarantee that the other platforms didn’t have, where if someone quits, which is a huge hassle, we cover replacement costs and get them a new person right away. So those are really the four ways that I tweaked our marketplace to be different than the others.

So if somebody is in need of a freelancer and we’ll get to what people need in a second. They essentially post on your site that this is what they’re looking for, then you vet and sort of give them you know, like top five, or how does that work? So we don’t really send one person by default, most people come to us, “okay, I don’t want to meet 20 people.” But if you say, hey, send me 3, send me 5, whatever it is, we’re happy to do it. We understand everyone’s different. A lot of clients who have been using us for years, trust us, and they just want to get one person and get started the same day. And other people are like, “Hey, you know what, I want to talk to four different options and then make my decision.”

Adam: Got it. Okay.

Now that makes sense. So what, in your experience? And also with owning this business? What are the top positions that people need to freelance that they shouldn’t do themselves?

Why You Should Outsource

Nathan: Yeah, it’s always a tough question. Because every business is in a different place. I like to divide it up into three different levels of people, you can hire: the followers, the doers, and the experts, the followers, they’re their virtual assistants outside the US five to 10 bucks an hour. They’re there to follow your systems, your processes, the mid-level people, they’re specialists, their graphic designers, bookkeepers, writers, they’re there to do projects at a high level, you’re not teaching them how to be a graphic designer, but they’re not consulting with you, either. They’re doers. And then you got the experts that consultants, the high-level agencies that are bringing their own strategy and systems and processes to the table. So what you have to decide as an entrepreneur is, are you stuck in the day to day operations, and you need to get your time back? Or you have these projects building up that you’re not good at what you need to get off your plate? Or are you taking on something, let’s say Facebook ads, that yes, you could take six months to become a Facebook ad expert. But that’s not a great use of your time. And you can’t do that with everything in your business. So you want to hire an expert. So really depends where you are as an entrepreneur.

Adam: No, I know that make sense followers, doers and experts. What is the biggest mistake when people are hiring, say they’re hiring for a doer. They know they need creative done for a, you know, say email marketing strategy. What’s the biggest mistake that people make when trying to find somebody to do this?

Nathan: To me, it’s all about setting expectations. A lot of people spend a ton of time on their interview process and asking the right questions and references and all that which is great. But if you don’t spend the extra time to set expectations and get on the same page, before you get started with someone, you’re going to run into a lot of issues down the line. And you have to remember that freelancers work for lots of different clients, and you’re just one of them. And what one client likes, you might not like what you assume might be different for another client. So you need to spend that extra time to get on the same page. What’s the scope? What’s the due date? What’s success? What’s failure? What are your pet peeves? How are you going to communicate? What do you work with? What are the type of people that are this type of work environment, you want to be in communication you want to have with that person, if you spend that extra time to make sure you’re on the same page, and I even give people a chance to back out because I’d much rather, someone told me you know what, those expectations don’t work for me, I can’t live up to them, whatever it is, then for me to find out months down the line.

So to me, that’s what saves entrepreneurs a lot of time when they really spend and focus time on that those expectations before they even start the project.

Adam: So what are the types of one of the most popular types of jobs that people are looking to get somebody else to handle for them.

Nathan: It’s such a wide range, I mean, we get 100 requests a day and they’re all over the place. Some people need customer service reps or virtual assistants 20 hours a week, other people need graphic designers or they need a landing page or, or they want some blog articles. And other people need those experts, they want an Amazon agency or a marketing expert to run their ads or build a Shopify store. Or like you right now I’m looking for someone UI/UX that to help me an area that I personally struggle with. So it’s such a wide range, we live in an amazing time. That’s I mean, unless you need a warehouse worker or a cashier and your retail shop, you can hire almost anything remote nowadays.

Adam: So I mean would it be fair to say that you would recommend you outsource many different functions, instead of maybe hiring one full-time person to be a jack of all trades? Instead of you know, instead of a master?

Hiring Freelancers vs. Traditional Hiring

Nathan: Yeah, I mean, I’ve learned a tough lesson about hiring one person to do everything. Back in the day I did that I spent six months I called them my manager of the day, this was for my eCommerce business, they did orders, they did customer service, they adjusted pricing, there was no Amazon software back then. So there was a ton of manual work. And after six months of training him, I took my first vacation, a well-deserved one. And on the first day of my vacation, he quits on me. So six months of training out the door. And I learned a very valuable lesson. Although it was devastating at the time, I’m very happy that I learned that lesson early on as an entrepreneur. And when I got back and rebuilt my team from the ground up, I departmentalized, one, one or two people for customer service, one or two people for listing, and it wouldn’t be the last person that quit on me. But the next time that happened, it wasn’t as big of a deal. And there are certain people that I do find that that has a lot of different skills and I’ll use them for certain things. But I always go in with the assumption that anyone can quit at any given time. So I need to make sure that my entire business is not in completely caught up in one person where if they leave that they get sick, and they get a new job that my business just stops.

Adam: Yeah, super important. I completely agree with you. I started an eCommerce store back in 2005. And my first hire was a was one person as she was the general manager, I called her, and she did a pretty much everything you just described. But she was not that, you know, great at any one thing. Yeah, I totally understand. What do you so you know, our audience is made up of eCommerce business owners. What, in your experience, separates a highly successful eCommerce business owner from somebody who just constantly struggles.

Nathan: I mean, right now, it’s all about building a brand. I mean, back when I did it, it was the wild wild west, I could list any product on Amazon and it would sell and it didn’t have to be my product, I didn’t have to have a marketing campaign behind it. Now fast forward ahead. Everyone is selling on Amazon, there’s so many courses, so many gurus, if the only thing that you’re focused on is is the small hacks and the ways to get around Amazon and master their algorithm, long term, you’re not really building a business, you need to have a community and and and figure out who your customer avatar is, and how do I actually contact them and engage them and direct sales to Amazon, but also have sales outside Amazon and have an actual brand that people recognize and the people that are focused on building a business and a brand instead of just an Amazon business, that those are the people that succeed. And it’s funny, I had Ryan Miranda on my podcast, he’s a big eCommerce seller. And he said only with Amazon. will you have people that call themselves like an Amazon business, everywhere else, you’re a business, you wouldn’t be like, “Oh, I’m a Kmart business” or, or “I sell at Target. So I’m a target business.” No, your business is your brand. And Amazon is just one channel of that brand. And the people that look at it like that are the ones that have successful long term.

Adam: Yeah, totally, completely agree with you. You can’t commoditize yourself. You can’t be just like everybody else. Because you’re not just you’re not going to win in the long run. They’re just not. If the barrier to entry is is that low then you have to expect everybody to jump on board. So you have to create. Well, just like you said, a brand, something that separates you from everybody else.

Nathan: Yeah, I agree.

Adam: So if you can go back in time to when you first started eCommerce. What is one piece of advice that you would give younger you?

Nathan: Younger me. So back when I was doing eCommerce again, it was a new I mean, it was the new thing to do that no one else really understood it. And to me, it was kind of like this deep secret, right? I didn’t want anyone else to know how to do what I was doing, because it would hurt my business. And fast forward to today. I mean, there are so many different groups, there are so many resources, there’s different gurus and experts out there. And there’s so much to learn. And if you do what I did back in the day, and you just lock yourself in the room, and it’s just you and Amazon and your team and your manufacturers, you’re going to really struggle, you can learn a lot from other people, most people that you talk to in groups, they’re not selling your product, they’re not in your industry, but you can still pick up a lot of information and you can learn from others who have figured stuff out and have done things on a much bigger level. So if I could tell myself younger me to stop being ridiculous and stop thinking that I’m holding all these crazy secrets and that I shouldn’t share with anyone. That’s crazy.

I mean, you should be trying to provide value and helping other people in the community. And vice versa. They’re going to help you right back. And that’s going to help you and then build a better business together.

Adam: Yeah, make sense? So you started in 2008, essentially. And you know, it’s 2019. Now what, what’s the biggest change in the eCommerce world, compared to back then?

How eCommerce is Changing

Nathan: I mean, outside of the brand stuff I talked about before is just competition. I mean, China has thousands of new sellers popping up every day, you’ve got all these, these big brands now that weren’t focused on Amazon before. I mean, think about how many brands you see running TV ads that now that Instagram and LinkedIn and Facebook are, are really taking over that is going to start investing their dollars there that the bigger brands have started to catch on of what the smaller brands can do, which is a big issue for a lot other small businesses. I mean, there’s so much potential to get in front of your audience and target your audience. Back when I was doing it there, there really weren’t any Facebook ads or any way that to really get in front of who you’re even selling to… Amazon just held that data and you didn’t get access to it. And you had no idea who you were selling to. So I think the data and the access to who your client, your customer avatar is and getting into communities of those people is that now is the time to do that.

Adam: Yeah, I agree with you. I agree with you. To me the biggest change also in along the lines of what you’re saying? It seemed like all of a sudden, within like months of each other. I think this is probably back in 2010, I would guess it seemed like all the big offline retailers woke up to the fact that that the eCommerce is here to stay. And they all of a sudden became a threat they became there was major competition. And it is, I don’t know, I just seemed, like all of a sudden that I was now competing on Google AdWords, with these major brands, whereas before, I was just competing with other independent retailers.

Nathan: Exactly. And I think it’s only going more and more in that direction.

Adam: So that actually leads me to my next question, Where do you see commerce going?

Nathan: Yeah, I mean, we’re right that right. Still the beginning of it. I mean, eCommerce isn’t going anywhere, it’s still growing, that the people can make a lot of money in eCommerce. It’s just not the get quick road get rich, quick scheme that it was back 10 years ago. And again, the people that are just focused on how do I manipulate Amazon’s algorithm are going to lose to the people that are like, how do I build a brand long term that people actually recognize? And I think the whole customer experience becomes a huge factor. I think the companies that not only sell a product but also to have an amazing customer experience that goes with that product, those are the ones that are going to stand out with more and more over time.

Adam: Yeah, I agree. So when you’re vetting in your business, freeeup.com, when you’re vetting these, you know, top 1%? What do you look for, in, in having someone you know, and hiring somebody to give to your clients?

Nathan: So we look for skill, attitude and communication. So, for skill, we don’t need everyone to be a 10 out of 10, there is a time and a place for an eight out of 10, five out of 10 at three out of 10 when we’re talking about skill, what we care about is are they honest about what they can and cannot do? And are they priced accordingly? And we have still tested we put them through for attitude. We do one on one interviews, we look for people who are passionate about what they do, if I hate bookkeeping, which which most entrepreneurs do, and I do hate bookkeeping, and I hired a bookkeeper, they need to love bookkeeping. As much as I love being an entrepreneur, those are the type of people that we want to work with. We want people who don’t get aggressive, the things that the second thing is don’t go their way people can take feedback without taking it personally, people who care about the client and their overall experience, not just the money at the end of the day.

And then the last thing is communication, and communication is so important. I mean, if you hire someone with a great attitude and a great skill set, and you can’t communicate with them, nothing else matters. Communication is the key to everything. And our platform is really built on communication. And for us, communication is if a freelancer is a business, they should operate as a business responding within a business day is a Terms of Use on our platform. There’s also other stuff like being able to get on the same page quickly with a scope and be able to hit due dates, and how do you report personal issues or, or anything that might impact those due dates, or the actual work and just strong communication across the board.

So for us, we look for the skill, the attitude, that communication, and then once they’re on our platform, we hold people those expectations. If they’re taking on projects, they can’t do at a high level, we’re not a place to experiment with our clients if there any show any signs of a bad attitude. I mean, we know not every client is rainbows and butterflies, right? There are tough clients out there, but how you handle them and it whether you stay professional or not determines whether you get more clients from us. And the same thing on communication, if my team has to stop what they’re doing and contact you because the client can’t get ahold of you. Now, again, there’s a difference between responding in a business day and being available 24/7, but you should have strong communication with your clients. And we hold people to all three of those, what you mentioned the the the agreement that the that this Freelancer has to abide by, like the responding to a client in one day, what are some non-negotiable that they just can’t violate? 

Yeah, so we have two things, we have terms of use. And we have our best practices, the best practices that are optional, they’re there to help you. However, if you don’t follow the best practices, and you get complaints from your client, that there’s not much we can do, you should follow those best practices. 

However, you’re welcome to run your business however you want, as long as clients are happy, and we don’t run into any issues. Now the terms of use, an example of best practices, is what’s a good example of best practices. So like how, like billing hourly for projects and billing for all time, let’s say that all meetings are our billed time. But establish that with the client upfront, you don’t want to have three meetings with the client, and then have and then send the client an invoice and the clients like why are you billing me, we haven’t started the project yet.

But if you don’t know that best practice, and you have your own arrangement where hey, you don’t build it for meetings or, or you’ve come up with some other side agreement with the client that it’s fixed price for meeting, whatever it is, that’s fine, as long as you and the client are on the same page. And we don’t have issues with it. A term of use is stuff like responding within a business day doing all payments through our platform to keep everything safe, not asking clients for personal information or stealing their information for your own benefit. Like, go if you work for an agency stealing their clients, stuff like that, that actually has to be a Terms of Use on our platform. Does that make sense?

Adam: Yeah, totally. Yeah. And I like the fact that you’re, you’re essentially you have these pre-vetted people because I totally agree with you. When I, in the past, when I’ve tried to find somebody to do something on a freelance website, it’s a pain to have to sift through thousands of people to find, to you know, try to find, you know, one person that could or could not work out. Yeah, makes complete sense. So somebody is listening. And they’re thinking, yeah, I’m bought in, I know, I need to offload some of this stuff I’m doing what’s the, what’s one of the lowest hanging fruit or easiest things that they should offload an entrepreneurial type person should offload to a freelancer.

Nathan: I mean, there’s so much what I recommend doing is creating to list the first list is everything you do on a day to day week to week basis, and put it on order from easiest to hardest label, how many hours you’re spending each week on it on average. And also what is the hourly value of that if if you have a test, that’s 10 bucks an hour, and you just started the company, and you have no revenue stream. Yeah, you should probably be doing $10 an hour tasks, your time isn’t worth that much. If you’re a year into your business, and your business is making money and you’re doing over a million dollars a year, you probably shouldn’t be doing $50 an hour tasks, you need to hire other people for that. So that’s the first list. And you can start at the top and start chipping away getting your hours back in the week by outsourcing those things to followers because you already have systems and processes for them.

And on the flip side, a list of everything you’re not good at. Once a quarter my business partner and I Connor, we sit down and we say hey, you’re bad at this, but you’re doing it every single week. And we create a list of all the things that we’re doing that we’re not good at. And we hire those specialists and those experts to turn weaknesses into strengths. Those, the average entrepreneur is really only good at 1-3 things. They might wear a lot of hats, but their core competencies are 1-3 things. So if you can identify what those things are, and figure out how do I surround myself with people that are good at the things that I’m bad at, you’re really going to struggle long term as an entrepreneur.

Adam: Yeah, it makes sense. I completely agree with you. Most people are especially entrepreneurs, there’s what got them in business is different than what they actually do on a day to day basis. They got because of their core competency of you know, the two to three things that they are great at, but then all of a sudden they find themselves having to wear multiple hats.

Nathan: Yeah, if you’re a baker and you start a bakery, at some point, you’re not gonna be baking anymore, you’re gonna have to hire someone else to do that and, and grow the actual business part.

Adam: 100% agree there. And that’s the catch 22 of entrepreneurs Is that you, you know, you have to find other people to do things that you’re not great at, but you have to be able to afford them. And so it’s sort of a catch 22 situation, but that’s where hiring freelancers you know, offloading one job at a time, you know so that you can afford it easily. And then just once you get that rolling, hire a second position and, and keep building your business.

Nathan: Completely agree.

Adam: Yeah. So Nathan, where can people learn more about you and your business?

Nathan: So we have a Facebook group called Outsourcing Masters that you’re welcome to join me posting a lot of great content to help you hire better. We have the Freeeup blog, the FreeeUp YouTube channel, we have our own podcast called the Outsourcing and Scaling Show. And if you go to FreeeUp.com with 3 e’s, my calendar, my team’s calendar is right at the top, you can book a time with us. We’d love to talk to you about your hiring needs.

And if you create a free account, mention this podcast, get a $25 credit to try us out. That’s it, it’s free to sign up. There are no monthly fees, you can put that $25 towards a VA, a freelancer, an agency, whatever you’re trying to do.

Adam: Awesome. Okay, and we’ll put all those things in the show notes, the Facebook group and FreeeUp.com and your podcast.

Excellent. Well, Nathan, this has been really good information. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Nathan: Thanks so much for having me really appreciate it.