Everything you need to know about hiring your first eCommerce employee

Apr 11, 2017 7:25:00 AM

I lay in bed for what seemed like an eternity, staring at the ceiling endlessly. I couldn’t sleep. I had a big decision on my mind…

Should I hire a virtual assistant (VA) to help me grow my business?

It was a difficult choice. On one hand, I could really use the help. Working 60+ hours every week with increasing demands was catching up to me.

On the other hand, I had a lot of questions.

  • What if they didn’t do as good of a job as I would?
  • What if they lied to me about the number of hours they worked?
  • I hate doing taxes as it is. How will this impact my taxes?
  • I could do the work myself for free. Is it really worth $20 an hour?

After some research, I did end up hiring a VA. That research, plus a few interviews with other business owners who made their own hiring decisions, helped me create this guide.

Here’s what we’ll discuss:

And... begin!

Employees vs. Independent Contractors: What's the Difference?

When hiring someone to do a job for you, there are two ways you can go: Employees and contractors.

Employees are someone you hire to work for you on an ongoing basis. They earn a regularly occurring paycheck and, depending on where your business is located, you have to think about things like worker’s comp, a 401K, tax withholding, insurance, and more.

For more information on hiring a full-on employee, visit the IRS’s guide to hiring an employee.

Independent contractors, on the other hand, are people you pay to do a single job for you. They typically invoice you for work done, run their business through a separate business account, and operate under a business name.

employee-vs-independent-contractor.png

It’s important to know the difference because there are some legal repercussions to claiming an employee as an independent contractor. For more information on the difference between an employee and an independent contractor, visit the Small Business Association’s website.

So which should you hire?

Well… it depends.

Contractors may be easier to hire and you can fire them at any time without worry, but they can also be more expensive and aren’t really a part of your team. They’re building their own business.

Employees usually don’t cost as much per-hour, they’re a part of your team and you’ll see and talk to them every day in most situations. It’s easier to grow your business with an employee than a contractor. But, you have to worry about withholding taxes and offering insurance benefits, among other things. It’s also harder to part ways with them.

To help you make the decision, check out the Entrepreneur's “Should I hire a contractor or an employee?” post.

Roles to Hire For

Enough of the legal talk. Let’s get to the fun part; finding people who can help you grow your business!

There’s almost no end to the roles you can hire for. To figure out what you need, ask yourself these questions:

  • What takes time out of my day that can be outsourced?
  • What needs to be done that I hate doing?
  • What are some easy, mindless tasks that are time consuming?

Your answers should give you some good ideas of what you can get help with. But, if you’re still drawing a blank, here are a few ideas:

  • Marketer
  • Order fulfiller
  • Developer
  • SEO specialist
  • Social media manager/marketer
  • Virtual assistant
  • Product photographer
  • Graphic designer
  • Content writer

Now, I’d like to give you some other perspectives.

Interviews with 6 eCommerce Store Owners

It can be tough to get an understanding of how and when to hire an employee just by reading an article. To help you get a feel for what’s right, we interviewed six other eCommerce store owners who went through the same process you’re going through right now.

Let’s hear what they have to say.

1. The Pommier

The Pommier is an online accessory shop that works directly with designers to get their work out in the world.

the-pommier.png

Here’s what they said:

“We hired our first employee over a year ago. We decided that our main focus was growth and hired a multi-talented social marketer to grow and drive organic traffic through our social networks.

Our platform worked well from a tech perspective so our main focus is to drive revenue. After hiring a social marketer, we went ahead with hiring a content marketer to assist with social and SEO growth. We’ve also hired an Events Manager to focus converting Offline Customers to Online through a series of pop-up events throughout the UK.”

Key Takeaway: Focus on growth first. Whether that means hiring a marketing specialist or someone to pack boxes so you can spend time working on your business, lead your decisions with revenue generation. After all, the more money you make, the more good you can do for the world.

2. Morale Patch Armory

Morale Patch Armory is a veteran-run store selling morale patches.

morale-patch-armory.jpg

Here’s their input on hiring decisions:

“We waited until we just had too much to efficiently handle fulfilling our orders within a 24 hour period. Our first hire was a part time fulfillment and customer service ambassador and we moved them from part time to full time as we scaled our growth. Payroll will always be your biggest expense in any business so we believe in scaling in the most cost efficient manner.”

Key Takeaway: Be as cost-efficient as possible. If you’re able to keep costs low (without compromising quality), you’ll be able to hire sooner and become more efficient as a business operation.

3. Vape Pen Sales

Vape Pen Sales is run by vaping enthusiasts who care about the quality of their vaping products.

vape-pen-sales.jpg

Here’s their hiring story:

“We started hiring when we started to get complaints about our customer response time and realized we needed more help to respond within the time-frame most customers find acceptable (24-48 hours MAX). Our first 2 positions were customer service agents to help our customers with order issues, product knowledge, and troubleshooting.”

Key Takeaway: Don’t wait until you’re getting complaints from customers to hire help. Sometimes you can do damage to customer trust that can’t be undone. Also, strive to respond to customer service within 24 hours. If you can’t, you may need help.

4. Samantha Dulay Designs

Samantha Dulay Designs is an online shop created by Samantha Dulay, an award-winning jewelry design artist.

samantha-designs-jewelry.png

Here’s Sam’s take on hiring:

“When I could no longer meet my deadlines consistently (yes, this sounds bad, but I needed to be sure) for a few months I decided I needed help. I began stretching out my deadlines for weeks and when my customers began to get antsy I realized it was time.

Having someone help me on the back end with work I don't have to be immersed in is extremely beneficial to my time management during the day. I have much more time to put into growing the business.”

Key Takeaway: Your time is valuable. If there are back end tasks you can delegate to save time to work on your business and keep customers happy, delegate away.

5. The Natural Health Market

The Natural Health Market is a health food and supplement shop that started as a healthy lifestyle blog.

natural-health-market.jpg

Here’s their story:

“We started 2.5 years ago working from home and just employed our first guy recently. After building a company from home it's hard to let go of tasks, even if it is just packing. But growth forced us to employ someone.


We went through 3 people before we have found a settled employee. With any remedial job it's hard to find someone who cares. I have outsourced lots of virtual tasks, and that's a mine field. I could talk forever about outsourcing!”

Key Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to fire people who aren’t performing or aren’t a good fit with your culture. Remember, even though you may be small now, one day you could employ dozens or even hundreds of people. The people you hire now could have a profound impact on your culture in the future. Keep looking until you’ve found someone you could keep for years to come.

6. Sniper Skin Sports

Sniper Skin Sports manufactures and sells sports equipment.

sniper-skin-sports.jpg

Their experience with hiring an employee is a good lesson:

“The biggest factor is recognizing your strengths and your weaknesses. Outsource your weakness and everyone wins.

For example, accounting. I can do accounting but I don't enjoy it and it takes away from my passion of marketing and growth. But it is an essential piece of the business that should be done regularly. So, I hired someone. I can run reports and assets and analyze but I'm focused on my core business day to day without getting behind or resenting the task.”

Key Takeaway: Hire out your weaknesses and hone your strengths. This is a good lesson in business and in life; Know yourself. I hate copy-paste work. I don’t care if it’s just a 10 minute task, it feels like a lifetime to me. So, I’ll hire out for it. What do you suck at that can easily be outsourced?

I hope these real-life scenarios from other business owners has provided some deeper insight into when, how, and why you should hire someone. Now let’s get into how to actually find and choose the right hire.

How to Find and Choose the Right Hire

Finding the right person to bring onto your team is one of the hardest parts of running a business. The right people can build you an empire that lasts forever, while the wrong people can tear your business down.

As Steve Jobs said, “The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.”

But before you can hire anyone, you have to find them. Where do the best and brightest hang out?

Where to Find Your First Employee

There are millions of people looking for jobs online. There are job boards all over the net with varying degrees of success and credibility.

Here are the best ways I’ve used to find great people:

  1. Your network. Often times, your colleagues will have already hired someone for a task or know someone personally who’s looking for work. I like referrals because you get an idea of how the person works before you even reach out to them.
  2. Social networks. I found my virtual assistant as a referral of a VA I found on social media. I didn’t know either of them personally, but I could tell from their profiles and the way they interacted with others that they were good people. Just do a search for “virtual assistant” or something similar.
  3. Job boards. I personally landed my first client (meaning I was the contractor) on jobs.problogger.com. While this job board is meant specifically for writers, there are tons of other reputable job boards you can post your job opening on.

There are, of course, plenty of other ways to find employees. For more help locating the right person, check out Betterteam’s guide to finding better employees.

How to Make Sure They’re a Good Fit

Let’s be honest; Sometimes you just need a job done. If you’re hiring someone just to do a task for you then go away, it doesn’t much matter who that person is.

social-media-expert-cartoon.jpg

But, if you’re hiring someone to build a relationship with them and make them a part of your team, it matters.

So, how do you avoid the bad eggs and find the golden goose?

First of all, you should interview your candidates. This sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who hire someone for an online role without ever talking to them over the phone.

Lindsay Kolowich from HubSpot came up with this awesome list of 15 interview questions to ask candidates. Here are my personal favorites:

  1. Tell me about the relationships you've had with the people you've worked with. How would you describe the best ones? The worst? (Shows what kind of people they tend to get along with.)
  2. Is it better to be perfect and late, or good and on time? (This helps assess their ability to hit deadlines.)
  3. Tell me about a time you screwed up. (Shows their capacity to take responsibility and how they handle their mistakes.)
  4. What is something you'd be happy doing every single day for the rest of your career? (Shows their interests and what they’d be good at.)
  5. Pitch [name of your company] to me as if I were buying your product/service. (Shows their sales ability and how much homework they did.)

If you’re hiring them for a customer support position, you can also use this customer service interview question.

Now, before making the ultimate decision to hire that person, I suggest you take one more precautionary step…

Give them a trial assignment.

This doesn’t have to be a major task, but something they’d be doing as part of their job with you. It could be writing an article for your blog, choosing some posts to share on social media, spending an hour packing boxes, or assessing your finances.

Whatever it is, give them something to do so you can see how they work. Just be sure to pay them for their time, and let them know it’s a trial run. In fact, if I were going to hire someone, I’d stick them on a two week trial run to see if we’re a good fit for each other.

A Final Candidate Review

After they’ve completed the trial period and you’re ready to make a hiring decision, set aside some time to review everything. Ask yourself:

  1. Are they a good fit with you personality-wise? Are they easy to get along with?
  2. Do you believe they’ll hit their deadlines, based on their interview and trial period?
  3. Is their work good enough? It doesn’t have to be perfect, (or even as good as you’d do it), but it does have to be good enough to satisfy you.
  4. Ultimately, will this person help your business grow in the long run?

By now, you should know in your gut if this is the right person or not. If your gut says no, chances are, you shouldn’t go with them. Your gut’s often right.

One last tip: When you do find an awesome person for your team, treat them well. Here are Bold, we let everyone know about our new hires and how proud we are of them.

Conclusion

Hiring an employee to help you grow your business can easily be one of the best things you ever do. They can help you free up your time, grow your profits, become more cost-effective, and more.

However, blindly hiring the first person you find is never a good idea. Take your time to be selective about this process, and listen to your gut. It’s much easier to not hire someone than to fire the wrong person.

But, if you do choose badly (or already have someone on your team who isn’t right), don’t be afraid to fire them. Or at least let them know how you’re feeling so they can try to make a change.

Ultimately, hiring an employee is a daunting task but well worth it. Trust me, the feeling of being an employer - even just of a contractor - is a great feeling.

As always, feel free to leave a comment with any questions, concerns, or tips of your own!

Topics: eCommerce News

Bill Widmer

Written by Bill Widmer

Bill is an eCommerce content marketing and SEO consultant. He's run several stores and worked with many well-known brands including A Better Lemonade Stand, SaleHoo, and Lifehack.

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