At the time I started my business selling on Amazon FBA 2 years ago, I’d just learned the hard way what I’m sure you already know…
You can’t grow working “in” the business, you grow working “on” the business.
I’d slaved away on my first business, a media production company for downhill skateboarding, by doing everything myself… everything!
I slaved away hundreds of hours on manually posting to social media accounts, doing invoicing, updating spreadsheets…
Knowing what I know now, I could have been spending those hundreds of hours longboarding more, filming new videos, or actually growing my business. I could have had that time back for about $5 per hour.
I’m going to take you through my journey from “The One Man Army of Danny” to where I am now with two businesses, eight VAs, and the luxury to spend my time on real revenue generating activities, not formatting documents.
My First General Virtual Assistant
I hired my first general VA from the Philippines a few months into my Amazon FBA business selling private label products. I worked with her to:
- Respond to Amazon customer emails using templated replies
- Process refunds for customers
- Reply to negative reviews on our listings
- Run keyword research and keyword indexing reports
It was difficult at first to trust someone else with important tasks. After all, my business was my baby! I thought everything had to be done exactly my way, so I spent a lot of energy on what I now clearly see was micro-managing. Not only a waste of my time, but I’m sure she didn’t like it either!
Slowly I started trusting her more, freeing me up to work on business development. It was then that I started seeing the TRUE power of outsourcing…
Lessons Learned From my First Hire
While these lessons cost me painful amounts of time and money, the beauty of overseas outsourcing is the low price of those lessons. If I’d learned them on a local employee here in Vancouver, Canada, it would have cost me triple! That’s literally the price of an equivalent Canadian hire.
Key Lessons Learned:
1. Let Go of Perfection
No one likes to be micro-managed. Not only is it likely to result in resentment, but it’s just not a good use of your time.
Part of learning to let go of roles in your business is realizing that certain tasks have nearly EXACTLY the same effect on your business when done at only 70% of your “standard of excellence.”
- Set Clear Expectations
I made the mistake of assuming some things are obvious. Remember, just because your brain thinks a certain way does NOT mean that’s “the way it is.” Before assigning any task, define the expectations specifically and in a way that can only be interpreted one way.
- Document Everything
I made the mistake of spending a large amount of time personally onboarding and giving feedback to VAs without documenting any of it. Without well documented Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), I had to do it all over again with the next VA.
It also meant I had to remind her many times to fix mistakes I’d mentioned before. If she had SOPs to check when she was unsure, this could have been drastically reduced.
Taking Action on Those Lessons
After learning the hard way with my first hire, I was far more diligent with the next ones. Here’s an overview of the systems and processes implemented to avoid making the same mistakes as I hired more VAs. I needed them to have more time to work on important tasks, not to create a management nightmare for myself!
For this example, I’m going to use my Amazon-focused Marketing Agency Kenji ROI.
System 1: Internal Knowledge Base (SOPs)
For any new process in the business, I do it myself until I’ve figured out a system and process that works well, then immediately document it.
The best way I’ve found for this is with a software called Confluence by Atlassian ($10/m for up to 10 users.) It’s easy to create a searchable, well organized knowledge base where you can:
- Assign user permissions to hide sensitive information from certain VAs
- Comment within each article and see the revision history
- Create templates for documents that are created often
The more detail the better, but I’ve found it most effective to film a screen capture video while you’re doing the process, embed it into the knowledge base article, then write a quick written overview of the process while it’s fresh in your mind.
WARNING: be careful not to rely too heavily on video. If part of the process changes, the video becomes useless so it’s a best practice to make only short videos of individual parts of a process rather than half hour mini documentaries. There’s no award at the Oscars for “Best Company Knowledge Base Video.”
Once you assign a process to a VA, also assign them the responsibility of updating the knowledge base article when the process evolves.
System 2: Shared Communication Channels
If you’re only ever communicating with VAs individually, you become the middleman for ALL communication… I don’t know about you, but even the thought of this makes me want to scream!
Using communication methods that include all relevant members and that allow outsiders to easily see context is ultra-key.
The 4 main ones we use at Kenji ROI are:
- Slack: collaborative communication
We set up separate channels for each department. This allows the entire relevant crew to stay current with important updates without bothering the rest of the VAs.
- Podio: project and task management
Set up in a similar way to Slack, but communication lives within the comments section of each project or task. This way the context of the convo is always clear and anyone can open the project and immediately see what is going on without having to reach out and ask anyone… particularly me 😉
- Agile CRM: customer service and sales
We use this to respond to messages and inquiries from clients and keep track of important information before orders are made. Members from other departments often need to enter in on conversations that have been going on already, so this software allows them to jump in and chime in on what needs to be said.
- Google Drive: shared documents and templates
Ensuring that everyone is operating out of a shared Drive is essential. If certain members are downloading templates to their hard drives, they won’t be using the most current version after it’s updated.
It also eliminates a TON of back and forth asking people for files. Make sure everyone knows which files should be uploaded to which folders, then all you’ll have to do is a quick search rather than “hey, is that document ready? If so, please send it to me.”… then getting a reply the next day.
System 3: Expectation Based Management
This one is a doozy. While it does take more time to write out the task or project description in this fashion, it’s SUPER worth it in the long run.
I can’t begin to explain how much frustration it’s caused when people deliver finished work that is so far off form what I wanted… especially now that I see it was all my fault.
Spending the extra time to write super clear descriptions of the desired end result for each task is your responsibility. We can’t blame anyone for not being able to read our minds and fill in the gaps exactly how we’d like, but for some reason most of us do!
Here’s My Favorite Structure for Basic Task Descriptions
- Unambiguous Task Title
The title “Get PDF’s from Site” leaves way too much information out. Not only is it unclear for VAs, it’s unclear for yourself when you come back later and can’t remember what you meant!
A better title is something like “Download all PDF’s from /photography page on kenjiroi.com.”
- Short Overview of What’s Involved
The 1000 ft view of what you need done. Give the task context, and give enough detail to properly frame it.
- List of Important Milestones, People, and Software Involved
A bullet point list of specific milestones that assigned VAs will need to hit in order to complete the task and what else is involved. Skipping this step often means you’ll be receiving clarifying questions partway through the task.
- Clearly Defined Desired End Result
This is perhaps the most important and most commonly skipped step. If you’re fine with receiving a wide range of possible end results, then not much definition is needed… but this comes back to the assuming people can read your mind thing.
It’s only reasonable to expect an end result that is as specific as your instructions are. If you need the files named a certain way, say so! If you need to be notified at a specific milestone so you can ensure they’re on the right track, say so! If you don’t say it, you’re putting it into their hands and chances are their brain isn’t exactly the same as yours.
Key Takeaways and Action Items
The amazing thing about what we talked about here is that you don’t have to learn them the hard way like I did. I didn’t have any experience hiring and managing remote freelancers before my 2nd and 3rd businesses, so I was winging most of it. You on the other hand can learn from dummies like me and the many others who’ve fallen into the same traps.
- Ensure expectations are super clearly communicated… then make them clearer.
- Document everything so you can hand off processes to new people.
- Set up shared communication channels to avoid making yourself the middle man.
- If hires make mistakes, ask yourself how it may be YOUR fault before blaming them.
Danny Carlson is a 26 year old entrepreneur & expert in Amazon Ecommerce. He started his first business producing extreme downhill longboarding videos in 2014 as a way to fund travel for longboard racing. After a near death experience longboarding in the Philippines, Danny dove headfirst into building an Amazon FBA business. After selling $200k in home & garden products his first 6 months, he founded Kenji ROI, an agency to help Amazon sellers create an advantage through product listings. Through psychologically driven copywriting / keyword optimization, product photography, videos, EBC, & PPC Management, Kenji ROI has served over 400 Amazon sellers & created over 600 listings from scratch. Danny is also co-host of the Actualize Freedom Podcast and regularly speaks on live webinars, other podcasts, & business events in Vancouver, Canada. Reach out to Danny to learn more about Kenji ROI’s Amazon listing creation services: copywriting / keywords, product photography, video, EBC, or PPC Management.