E135: Under the Hood with Kevin Sanderson Part 2 – Hiring, Training, and Delegating Tasks to VAs

We recorded the intros in our Philippines office during our Asia trip. Our office is not optimized for recording; apologies for the bad audio quality.

Last Monday, Kevin and I talked about one of the biggest problems most small ecommerce entrepreneurs encounter: becoming a bottleneck to the growth of their own company. This is something that usually happens when we try to do the unthinkable, which is to do every single task on our own.

Naturally, the best way to solve this is delegation. You can try to be as efficient and productive as you want, but there will only by 24 hours in a day and one body to work with. But how can you find someone you can trust enough and can perform tasks as good as you do without breaking the bank?

That is the question we answer in this episode, which is Part 2 of last Monday's conversation. Kevin and I discuss my VA hiring process, from weeding out spam applications (or applications of people who don't read, which is a lot), what questions to ask, the tests we require applicants to take, training, and how to manage them once they're hired. Ultimately, we talk about how to find a VA who is smart and quick on their feet, who will help him grow his company.

Some conversation points:

  • Red flags when hiring VAs
  • Filtering irrelevant applications
  • My hiring process
  • What questions to ask during the interview process
  • What kind of experience to look for
  • Using Camtasia as a training tool
  • Best practices when delegating tasks to a VA

Delegating is not easy, especially if you're assigning tasks to a person who is literally on the other side of the globe. But if you find someone trustworthy and smart, delegation will work wonders not just on your stress levels, but on your business in the long run.

Resources mentioned:

EcomCrew webinar
Under the Hood
Sellers Summit

Thanks so much for listening to this Under the Hood episode! If you want to be in an episode yourself, just sign up here and we'll reach out to you for more details. Until the next episode, happy selling!

Full Audio Transcript

Mike: This is Mike, and welcome to episode number 135 of the EcomCrew Podcast. Today we're back with part two with Kevin Sanderson talking about delegation in his e-commerce business. You can go to EcomCrew.com/UndertheHood to sign up for your very own episode of the EcomCrew Podcast, and be on the Under the Hood segment.

This is something that I really look forward to doing these days. It's been really awesome. The people that we've interviewed so far have been really interesting. And it's been a very diverse range of topics and I look forward to having you on a future episode as well. And without further ado, on the other side of this break we're going to get into part two with Kevin Sanderson.

All right so let's move onto phase two of this tangled web we weave.

Kevin: All right, good deal

Mike: And talk about like the how are you're going to like execute on that. You've got the person in the chair, you took my advice, it took you let's say three to six months to find them. Now how do you actually get these tasks offloaded? And the way that I did it and what I would recommend similar thing to you her, over the next three months while you're looking for this person and you're doing these tasks, your new best friend will become Camtasia, which is a program that allows you to do screen share or screen recordings.

So you can record your screen and your voice at the same time. It's what we use to do all of our EcomCrew training. For instance all the courses we release we use Camtasia for that and we use Camtasia also for all of our training videos for our VAs. We don't do that as much anymore because we have a larger team now and don't need that as much anymore. But when it was just Mia and Heidi, this is all I ever did was record my screen to give them daily tasks.

I would do that during my day because I'm very big — I'm very adamant about having them work Filipino hours. I’d do that during my day. There was a sharer menu in Camtasia. I would share right out of Google Drive. I have a Google Drive that was like for that particular VA, and they would just check that each day. And if there was a video in, they would know to look at it and work on that task.

So when you're launching new SKUs, or optimizing SKUs or optimizing your PPC or doing your bookkeeping etcetera, you're already doing the task, just kind of walk through it and record it as you're doing it. It doesn't have to be like over professional. The only person that's going to see it is this other VA. And then they can just typically play on that and watch you go through that a couple times.

And these are ultra smart, college educated, free thinking people. I mean these guys over there do an absolutely incredible job. I mean they are really like the new killers of our company now. It's not just – I would almost call them the main office at this point. It's kind of getting to that point. So don’t underestimate the types of tasks they can be doing. In fact they proactively surprise us all the time with the things that they can do and continue to do.

Launching new SKUs is totally in their warehouse, and optimizing SKUs is totally within their warehouse of things to be doing. The thing that you'll probably want to continue to have a handle on is the actual copy. So you might want to write the title, the description, the bullet points for the listing because you will probably know the products better than they will at least to start with and until you can hire a copywriter specifically.

I think that that's probably still in your best interest to do, so you could just put that in a notepad file or something and then they actually do the listing and could do the keyword research for you and add the photos and do Splitly for you and optimize your PPC and all these things. I mean these are all things that our staff does already. Bookkeeping, certainly they could be doing the bookkeeping, the low level stuff that takes all the time, grabbing stats or figures from all over the place and putting them in a spreadsheet.

We have a gecko board dashboard, one of our VAs every day, the first thing she does when she comes in does this for us. We have tabs on our accounting on a daily basis, tabs on inventory. This is something else that they could be doing for you. There's almost — answering customer e-mails. So I would say six out of the eight things that are on this list are things that you could train them to do relatively easily over the next few months to where you're taking a management role in this process instead of the person that's in the weeds actually doing it.

And it takes some time to gain the confidence in having someone else do it. So what I recommend doing and the way that I gain confidence is just give them one thing at a time until you're confident with that one thing, then give them another thing. And eventually you'll start to gain confidence that they can do more and more, that's really how it played out for me. But these are 100% things that they that they can do over there in a general VA role.

The thing that I would caution you against is just to be sure that think about I mean humans are humans whether they're in North America or in Asia. You wouldn't hire a person in the United States that put a job application out that's someone that can basically do everything. So you want to keep tasks that are the same type of job description you would have in the US. But most of these things I would say six out of eight of these things fall in that category.

But I would be careful not to give them things like graphic design task. They shouldn’t be creating your images because that's a different side of the brain that would do that and a different person that would be an expert in making the graphics themselves or the copywriting. We've eventually got to the point where you want the VA or someone over in the Philippines doing your copy writing. That's probably a different person.

But all these — and then administrative type task which is launching new SKUs, optimizing SKUs, optimizing PPC, bookkeeping even though bookkeeping technically accounting is a separate type of function. The bookkeeping that you're going to be asking them to do is administrative. It's just pulling numbers from one place and putting them in the essential point so you can look at them or help get your accounting done.

So that's something that they could do, keeping tabs on your inventory, very administrative type function, very necessary function. In fact as of recording this podcast, we just had a new hire start today. His fulltime job is doing nothing but that. So a very important task but easily could be done by one of the VAs in the Philippines. Answering customer emails, absolute slam dunk thing for them to be doing.

So what you have left on this list is finding new products. That's probably not their forte, that's a crucial business decision that that we still do here in California in driving sales off of Amazon to figure out like what that is and how that's going to look like. You probably want to figure that out yourself, but that's a much better use of your 15 to 25 hours a week than being in the weeds on PPC and making sure keywords are optimized.

Kevin: Good points, it works, like it.

Mike: Yeah so those are my general overall thoughts. I mean do you have any other questions in regard to this and how else could I help make this an easier transition and sell for you to start moving along his direction?

Kevin: Well the hiring part, so I do have a decent amount of experience hiring in my full time roles. And at every job I've ever had, I've noticed there's just little things I had to start looking for because I realized I was making mistakes early on in hiring like questions I should've asked or red flags that should have come up. For this type of role what would you say are those red flags or those, gosh I wish I had only known this when I first started hiring VAs?

Mike: Yeah let me go through a few things that we do in this regard. First of all because there's just so much interference, it's even worse in the Philippines than it is in the US and it's a big problem in the US where you'll post a resume and get your just basically what I call application spam. People see the resume and they just apply, apply, apply, apply and like they're actual looking for a fry cook or a job in McDonald's but they're applying for your like logistics position.

So what we do there is we actually set up a special e-mail address now at our company for people to e-mail their application to with instructions specifically on what they need to do to apply which is super simple. It's like put — this is the subject line, and attach your resume and cover letter in PDF format when you apply. And that weeds out late 96% of the crap, so at least the stuff that ends up in your inbox are people that you know read the full job description as that's the last thing we have at the bottom of the job description is to do that.

So now your filtering process is a lot better because you're not frustrated by having to go through all the other BS because it's actually a pretty frustrating part of the whole process. So you know that you have at least semi qualified people that can at least follow basic directions, probably a pretty crucial attribute for someone applying for this job out of the way. So you're at least at that level.

And then when I go through, I try to find the ones that at that point make the most sense to me, and I want to get them through some sort of a test that we have now. We have like a test. We bring them in or give them online actually now some basic questions including some mock support questions especially since we are going to having them answer customer support stuff.

This weeds out another 50% of those people or 70% of those people. Quite frankly allow the ones that will come back, the English is not perfect or it's written in some awkward way that because people in different parts of the world talk differently, and quite frankly you're looking for American English, USA English. It's actually; it's one of these things you don't think about much. The UK speaks differently than the United States and parts of Asia speak differently than the United States when it comes to English.

And the reality is – you might not agree with this, I think it's actually kind of effed [ph] up in a lot of ways, but Americans look down on non perfect American English. They don't think about the fact that it's a globalized world and that this might be their second or third language, and that we're really stupid and you're being critical of someone that's way actually smarter than you, but it's a bad American culture trait in my opinion.

And honestly I used to be that exact way until I start traveling the world and realized that I was the one that was dumb not them. Everyone else in the world speaks two or three languages and it's kind of funny. But unfortunately at some point you have to also cater to your customer and be a business person, right? So you can fight the political or moral thing in your own way and some other way but your business is your business.

So this helps filter that out which I think is really important. And then if they passed through all those hoops, I get — I mean again, this is happening in the Philippines now. So kind of going back and forth to what we're really doing now and what I used to do before we got to that point which is to do a Skype interview. That way you get some face time with them and just see their mannerisms, ask them as many questions as I possibly can.

One of my favorite so– not softball but let's do the curveball questions I always throw out is give me ten uses for a pencil other than writing. It's a really stupid but interesting way to get people uncomfortable and see what happens when they don't know the answer off the top of their head. And I ask them to give me ten reasons again not to use a pencil or that you can use a pencil for other than writing and tell them there is no right answer and there is no time limit.

What I'm looking for there is just how can they think quickly on their feet because this is going to be a position where you're not going to be there to manage them in person, and do they give up. I will never hire someone that won’t at least figure out a way to get the ten. I don't care if takes them an hour, but I want them to answer all ten answers, because there's a million different ways you can use a pencil. And again there's no wrong answer. You can say anything from stabbing somebody to using it to twirl your hair.

I’ve have heard like all the different answers but I want ten answers. And ask some other questions like where do you see yourself in five years? Ask some career questions. This is something I think is a big mistake. People don’t ask these types of things because they don't think of them as career people because they're on the other side of the planet. But they're just as clear minded as any of us are. And make sure that they want to be with you for a long time.

There's an unfortunate culture of job flipping in the Philippines just because people are treated unfairly. Usually it's because they had some type of life event, they got sick, or parent got sick whatever, and just like when people were building the Hoover Dam, if someone falls to their death there's another one waiting kind of thing. It's kind of a sad situation. So you try to look for the people that are actually thinking longer term. That's another thing that we look for.

And hopefully you'll get someone that answers, I hope to be a manager or I'm looking to excel long term. But through all that process — and it's definitely arduous, it's a lot of work, but eventually hopefully you come out the other end finding your perfect candidate.

Kevin: Good, I like the luck support questions. It is a test because at the end of the day we want to make sure that people can understand what they're saying especially in written English. I’m sometimes amazed how even Americans have trouble with written American English. And then as far as I think I like some of your interview questions about ten uses for a pencil. I've never heard that one but that's a good kind of to see how they react type question.

Now as far as experience goes, like what do you look for with experience or do you worry too much about experience and more for moldability?

Mike: Yeah, mostly more for moldability. I do look for people that have at least a couple of year’s experience, so we don't want this to be their first job. But their second job is fine or their third job or something along those lines. Almost all of the people in our office are actually really young. In fact I think everyone there might be under 30, or probably under 35. I don't think anyone there is actually really under 35.

So it just happens to be that’s kind of where we're at. It certainly is not what we're targeting necessarily, but maybe it's just the job pool, or actually I hadn't really thought about it till now, and it's kind of an interesting – I don’t know why that's kind of worked out that way. But I don't know if it's just the types of people that are applying or whatever, but that's just kind of what we've ended up with.

So yeah I mean most of them don't — I mean no one has an e-commerce experience, or I think maybe one or two who’ve come through the door with that specific thing. I’m not even sure we ended up even hiring those people necessarily. But yeah you want people that are smart, quick on their feet. They're going to be learning this stuff one way or the other. No one's going to come in with the knowledge of being will do all the things in your business the way that you want.

So we look for an ability is definitely the thing, and that's why I ask a stupid question like give me ten uses for a pencil. I want someone who's smart. That's all I care about, someone that's quick on their feet, they can figure stuff out on their own, that doesn't need me to hold their hand through every part of it, because if you get that type of person which I actually had.

My very first VA was like that and I found that it was more frustrating giving them something to do than just doing it myself when I had to like basically show them every little thing. I want our employees, whether they're in this office in the United States or in the Philippines to be free thinkers and have autonomy over their job, and hopefully bring us ideas and not the other way around.

And that is how they operate there and that's how this office here operates, and that's what we want and that's what I'm looking for in the interview process. That’s what I was looking for in interview process for Mia and that's what she knows that she's looking for when she's interviewing now because she does all the hiring. She's hired every single employee for us now, all 12 of them in the Philippines at this point following the same method.

Kevin: Do you do like a final interview with some of the top candidate or she just makes all the decisions?

Mike: We do, yeah we have a final — it's a usually about 30 minute final interview after they pass through all the hoops, and I think we probably hire 70% of the people she brings us at that stage.

Kevin: Oh so she must be doing pretty good.

Mike: Yeah I mean like I said, she's awesome, she's definitely done a great job for us.

Kevin: Okay good deal. I think that's the major things that I was really hoping to get out of it.

Mike: Awesome.

Kevin: Yeah and my last question I'd written down here is when – I was going to say when should I hire my first full time employee, but you've answered that. But let me phrase it to you this way, when did you hire your first full time employee?

Mike: So I mean are we're talking about in e-commerce or going way back to the very beginning?

Kevin: Let's say in e-commerce. Was it around where I’m at or earlier or later?

Mike: I actually hired someone basically as soon as we got started. I knew that this was something that I wanted to be in. I would say I was several quarter million dollars in revenue. But I was able to cheat because I had been through this before and I realize now that the number one thing I think that entrepreneurs make as a mistake is waiting too long to hire, it's pervasive. Everyone ends up in this situation.

And in this company now we're trying to hire ahead of the curve. We're trying to hire and build a team for where we want to be next year because it takes six months to get employee up to speed no matter how good they are. We have a bunch of superstars in our team, but I mean you can only learn so much so quickly, and you can only hand the reins over to things and have the comfort level so fast.

So our goal is to next year to be at 15 million and we're trying to build a 15 million dollar team not the team that at five million where we were and were constantly struggling and always like running around with our hair on fire. I mean that's not a great feeling either where you’re just constantly up against everything at all times.

So we're trying to build for the future. I think it's one of the things that I've really learned over the course of the last 15 years of entrepreneurship. And at some point it kind of just got bad in our last company especially. So yeah I mean I don't know if there's any magic number. Everyone's got to do what makes them comfortable, and it's just certainly advice from my point of view.

But I think as you said, you already know that you're the bottleneck, so it's just how do you fix that? I mean that was kind of what you already know the answer that you're at that point. And typically what ends up happening is that realistically you should have hired someone much sooner, because if you are at that point, you've probably been — there's probably it's like the stages agree. There's probably like a certain period time where you like didn’t think that this was a problem and it actually was and then finally it was like, okay, this really is a problem and at that point it probably had been a problem for a long time.

Kevin: Right, that's a very fair point. As I start doing some numbers in my head of what I've been paying for part VAs the last month or so, I would say even if I end up paying a little bit more than $600 a month, I probably would still end up being ahead and I would have a more invest – it’s let’s say a little bit more invested. The ones I have now are great, but having someone who's more invested full time in the company, I can definitely see the benefit of that. So I'm really glad you brought that up.

Mike: It's really important. And the training that you're doing right now with those employees is like an anti investment of your time, because you're going to have to go back and do all the stuff that you're training someone to do right now again when you hire a full time employee. And if you had the full time person now, you wouldn't have that issue.

And the first place I would start to look if you're looking to hire someone full time, you just mentioned you're happy with the people you have now. If you're really happy with them and think that they're superstars and they could potentially be your Mia, offer one of them the position and see if…

Kevin: Certainly.

Mike: They're willing to come work for you full time versus the other person. And the reality is that this is the problem with having a part time person, the other guy might do that someday. This is why you need to get your own full time person where you're not at risk at some point of them doing that to you. You want to do that to the other guy in the situation and hire them full time if you're really happy with them. If you're not, then it's time to move on and just have a difficult conversation with them.

Kevin: Sure, yeah it's a good point too. Yeah so I really enjoyed this conversation. I really got a lot out of it.

Mike: Awesome, good well hopefully everyone else listening did as well. I definitely appreciate coming on. I always ask everyone to please give me like a six month or twelve month follow up when you get to that point. Shoot me an email. I'd love to hear from you and hopefully I'll see you at Sellers Summit.

Kevin: Good deal. I look forward to seeing you there.

Mike: Excellent, thanks so much Kevin.

Kevin: Thanks Mike.

Mike: I appreciate.

That’s a wrap. I want to thank Kevin again for coming on the EcomCrew Podcast, hopefully we’re able to give him some good ideas that he can implement in his own e-commerce business. And again just as a reminder, you can go to EcomCrew.com/UndertheHood to be on your very own episode of the EcomCrew Podcast. We would love to have you on.

And another reminder, you can go to EcomCrew.com/135 to get to the show notes for this episode. Let us know what you think if you have any thoughts about how this can help you in your own e-commerce business or you have any thoughts about Kevin's business, we'd love to hear from you. So two reminders again with the links EcomCrew.com/135, or the show notes for the episode at EcomCrew.com/UndertheHood. Thanks for supporting the EcomCrew Podcast, and until the next one happy selling and we’ll talk to you then.

Michael Jackness

Michael started his first business when he was 18 and is a serial entrepreneur. He got his start in the online world way back in 2004 as an affiliate marketer. From there he grew as an SEO expert and has transitioned into ecommerce, running several sites that bring in a total of 7-figures of revenue each year.

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