FBA Sellers often ask us, “What’s the first hire I should make?”
For our second installment of Stress Awareness Month content, answering this important FAQ seemed fitting not just for FBA sellers but for all entrepreneurs. Making the right early hires is the most practical move you can make to alleviate the pressures of scaling and operating your business.
If you’re the founder of any company, there’s a timeframe when you can expect to put in a 16+ hour day—giving up weekends and time with family. Even when you love what you do, there’s a level of growth where you need to start staffing up to take your business to the next level.
While there are many operations positions you can outsource or hire for, laying a solid foundation with strategic hires will make future scalability that much more efficient.
Virtual assistants (or VAs) are among the most recommended first hires of any business, especially in the FBA space. It’s not only because answering emails and setting up appointments are so valuable. It’s that VAs are more versatile in what they can do than you might think.
You can hire a VA full-time, part-time, or on an as-needed basis. Organizations based overseas offer inexpensive packages that work out to be about $3/hour. U.S.-based Agencies and freelance VAs will charge more, but their experience and scope of expertise may bring enough benefit to justify the extra cost.
Offshore-based companies like VA Relief (founded by FBA seller Derek DeMeo) offer ecommerce expert VAs. They help with things like customer service, listing management, daily sales reporting, etc.
DeMeo recently sold his business to Thrasio and talked about the benefits of hiring a VA on Private Label Live:
Some VA service companies are based offshore (e.g., India or The Philippines) and tend to offer pricing packages in the $2-$4 range. Other companies are U.S.-based and fall more in line with personal VA pricing starting at about $30/hour.
There’s no doubt these VAs Services can save you time and money by taking care of the tedious, monotonous tasks required to run an ecommerce business. These VAs are someone else’s employees, so if they aren’t meeting your needs, there will be a manager you can give feedback to without having to get into hairy personnel issues.
However, if your needs are more substantial than just your ecommerce dashboard, hiring a VA with a broader skillset may be what’s most effective for you.
VAs like Michelle LaVine’s company, Your Essential Assistant, offers similar packages, and many have experience in the ecommerce space. However, the scope of their expertise exceeds the sales dashboard.
Michelle has been with Thrasio since our founding in 2018. She was initially Co-CEO Carlos Cashman’s Virtual Personal Assistant and started handling Thrasio’s miscellaneous tasks. Three years later, she’s dealt with everything from planning offsite all-hands to onboarding and procurement to travel. She’s filled in wherever needed as we’ve scaled.
“VAs like me are self-employed, so we have the same entrepreneurial mindset that you do,” says Michelle. “Because I work with a lot of other entrepreneurs, I can bring systems and ideas to your business. I’ve learned from other clients and vice versa.”
These types of VAs can work with you as a partner on essential tasks—filling in the blanks wherever they may be. They are often (though not always) college-educated professionals who have had a lot of experience as an executive assistant and can help with the repetitive tasks involved in day-to-day FBA operations, but can also lead management tasks like:
- Employee management
- Marketing (blogs, SEO, etc.)
They provide all-encompassing premier services. These types of VAs will do the bookkeeping, inventory, and forecasting, but they can also place the order on the last-minute birthday cake for your wife, set appointments, or hire someone to mow your lawn.
Lindsay Kulhanek, the founder of The Productive Co. (who also works with Thrasio in various capacities), says that she thinks of herself as “a silent, strategic partner” for each of her clients who can find ways to run a business more efficiently and implement those processes.
If you go with an experienced, self-employed VA, you’ll seamlessly benefit from their network of clients. VAs like work beyond the list of tasks, ingraining themselves in your business, and help create strategies to meet your goals.
You’ll pay a little more for this service (U.S.-based, personal VA’s rates range from $25- $60/hour). Having someone to manage all your miscellaneous tasks may be well worth it. Especially if (like a lot of FBA sellers) you’re also juggling your 9-5 job.
How do you know what’s best for you?
Know Your Priorities
You’ll need to know what you’re looking to offload and approximately how much time that will take. Weekly repetitive tasks are usually a good place to start. Also, start thinking about the things you hate to do or things that could increase your revenue but often get put off in favor of more pressing things.
Asynchronous v Synchronous
Do you need someone who is immediately responsive to your emails, slacks, or messages as if they’re sitting right outside your office? Or are your needs more structured toward someone who can tackle 72-hour projects and get back to you?
Thinking about what tasks you’re going to have your VA work on and being prepared for this question when deciding between different VA services and packages will help you determine the right fit. Both overseas and localized services should accommodate both asynchronous and synchronous needs, but prices may vary.
If you’re looking to start with some small tasks and have their responsibilities grow, you’ll need to ask about availability upfront. If the VA you’re interviewing already has a full slate of clients, they may not be able to grow with you as you scale. Finding a new VA and training them amid your scaling velocity could be a money-losing hassle. Look for someone who has the bandwidth to grow or has team members they can bring on without missing a beat.
Time Management & Billing
You want to partner with an organization that will help you watch your costs. This goes for both your operating costs on Amazon and with their hourly rates. Your VA needs to be meticulous with managing their own time.
Do they batch their work? How long does it take them to do repetitive tasks? Ask for references to determine if this type of service will bill you 15 minutes for answering a 30-second email.
Contract & Service Level Agreement
For any business relationship, make sure you have a contractual agreement with whoever you’re working with. Review the Service Level Agreement (SLA) to make sure their commitments are aligned with your needs.
Like with any hire, you need to make sure you’re partnering with someone you trust and with whom you can communicate easily— whether you go with a sizeable overseas operation or a personalized service.
If you’re meeting with someone cheap and experienced, but you feel it will be a struggle to include them in your team, it’s worth it to find someone you can depend on long-term.
Accountant or Bookkeeper
Chances are you got into the ecommerce racket to make money. So there are arguably fewer aspects of your business more deserving of special attention than your finances.
Without a solid, trusted foundation in place, you’re making your life (and making operating your business) harder than it should be. To compete with other sellers and grow your company, you need to make informed, data-driven decisions.
Your financials touch every aspect of a growing company: forecasting, inventory management, expanding into new markets, hiring, etc. Employing a dedicated expert to have all the facts and figures ready when you need them will make you that much more agile.
A bookkeeper will put together up-to-date financials and cash flow. They keep their finger on the pulse of the business in all transactional aspects. This includes:
- Reconciling P.O.s
- Accounts receivable/payable
- Payroll, etc.
Bookkeepers use software like QuickBooks to keep track of every dollar coming in and going out to provide you with financial statements.
For serious players with long-term aspirations for their company, or those who are financially involved in more than one venture, you’ll want to engage an accountant.
Accountants add way more value to a business than just during tax season. An accountant will take the time to study the ins and outs of your business and advise you on how best to structure your business well before it’s time to file taxes. They can advise you on purchasing decisions to help you keep as much of your hard-earned money as possible. Their understanding of your company within the financial landscape will identify potential liabilities and open you up to opportunities.
Of course, accountants do taxes too. Don’t be the IRS horror story among your network. Accountants and CPAs will look for red flags in your financials that could prompt an audit by the IRS and make sure your books are clean. And if you do get audited, your accountant will have a relationship with the IRS and any tax attorney contacts you may need.
Retire the Excel spreadsheet
When it comes to your business, don’t cheap out on what matters most. Running into cash flow issues puts any business in jeopardy. This is especially true on Amazon. Inadvertently making a late payment to suppliers threatens your ability to secure more inventory.
If you’re in a position of mounting sales velocity, that’s easily tens of thousands of dollars in the short term and potentially hundreds of thousands in the long run that your company could lose.
Thrasio itself is scaling rapidly. We’ve gone from about 60 employees to 600 in two years. The motto touted by Co-CEO, Carlos Cashman, has always been “hire higher.” That is to say, build the foundation of your company by making intelligent hires. Bring on people who can be in leadership positions, build teams of their own, and most importantly, bring on people who are smarter than you.