109: How to organize and focus with Nathan Hirsch of FreeeUp

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Nathan Hirsch, Founder and CEO of FreeeUp, LLC.

Nathan Hirsch, Founder and CEO of FreeeUp, LLC.

How to organize and focus with Nathan Hirsch of FreeeUp

Read the episode transcript:

What are the things that I struggle with as a solopreneur still to this day is how do I scale my business and since I am the core creative and designer of everything one of the things I struggle with is actually finding the right people to bring on to help me with workload and its really prevented me from becoming super big and a part of me likes that and part of me doesn't because obviously you know you're in business because you want to grow your revenue, you want to increase your your business, otherwise it's kind of a side hustle or a hobby. This business has supported me for the last 13 years and I hope it continues to support me and the lifestyle that I enjoy for the next 20. I mean I plan on working for a long time because I absolutely love what I do and what are the things that I've dabbled with in the early days was finding people to help me and what times I reached out to a virtual assistant companies as they were coming online maybe no 6, 7, 8 years ago and finding out that it was really difficult to find people who actually really cared about the work that they did.

Now I am making a generalization, so just keep that in the back your mind is your listening. It's one of those things that when you are living in the gig economy and what I mean by gig economy is like there are so many people out there that literally travel the world with a laptop and they do all sorts of digital work to support themselves and their lifestyle. In fact I actually have one on my team that is currently in the Philippines right now and traveling and it's just kind of amazing because she does great work and it's a great relationship but she is living in—she's the epitome of the unconventional work life and I think that's actually kind of cool. Me, being a baby boomer, I look at that like because that's just not the training in the environment I grew up in but I'm learning to embrace it and one of the things that I found is I was trying to bring on a digital workforce was there a certain things I liked about that certain things I did and I am not going to go into all kinds of detail about my experience, it'll pop up from time to time in the podcast and throughout my content.

However I did come across last year a wonderful gentleman and his name is Nathan Hirsch and he founded this basically this virtual assistant—I don't even want to call it that because it's really not that it's so much more but he has a company called FreeeUp and that's spelled f r e e e e u p so just like free up with an extra E in it. It's just such a great name because it really pinpoints what's solopreneurs struggle with. When we get freed up to focus on the work we love doing the most and where we have the most impact. When I started working with Nathan and using his product I realized that this is the way to go because what Nathan does (and he'll talk about it on this interview) is he spends a lot of time vetting and qualifying his freelancers and he's just recently expanded into agencies as well. I'm actually looking forward to using more of the people that he has brought into the foray and it's just he makes it so convenient to get an expert or get a you know any type of caliber person in business capacity in a lot of the general areas from advertising and actual producing content to just administrative stuff and it's one of the things that I think is really important as a solopreneur that you can't do everything yes you want to bootstrap in the beginning you want to try to carry the load but if you are going to have any type of growth, if you're going to have any type of success you need to figure out sales and you need to figure out staffing, and that's what Nathan (actually I'm stealing that from him) and so I just really believe Nathan's onto something great and I love working with him and I am a customer and I hope you enjoy this interview with Nathan Hirsch of FreeeUp.

The Interview with Nathan Hirsch

Hey Nathan, how are you today? I'm so glad that you decided to join us on the Simplify & Multiply show.

Terry I am excited to be here. Thanks a bunch for having me.

Alright, you got it. I wanted to start off everybody you just kind of telling us how this is your baby you started this up this was your idea you saw some things in the marketplace going on and you wanted to address it and I will definitely be able to speak to that as well because I am one of your customers so why don't you just tell us exactly how all that unfolded.

Yes, I was a longtime Amazon Seller I mean if you want to go way back parents were both teachers and I kind of had that mentality that I was going to get a real job after college and work for 30 years, retire, and went when I had some experience working 40 hours a week, I really realized that that was not for me and I was going to be miserable or it could be my life so when I got the college and I went to Quinnipiac University in Connecticut hand started hustling. I sort of looked at is as a ticking clock I had four years to start a business and if I didn't, I was going to the real world. I started buying and selling textbooks and that eventually led me to Amazon I got it at a really good time back in 2008 before the courses before the guru's and it was I was going to be, I started throwing things against the wall I I tried Outdoor Equipment I tried video games, computer games, stuff college guy uses, and I just failed at first over and over and over and it wasn't until I branched out of my comfort zone and found the baby product industry if you can imagine that my business really took off.

Connor Gillivan and Nathan Hirsch, CMO and CEO of FreeeUp

Connor Gillivan and Nathan Hirsch, CMO and CEO of FreeeUp

There I was, a 20-year-old entrepreneur selling baby products on Amazon as a single college guy and it was exciting people thought I was weird, and I learned a ton of lessons along the way and I remember I had to start paying taxes for the first time because I was selling millions of dollars and so I met with an accountant and the first thing he asked me was when are you going to hire your first person? And I kind of shrugged him off why would I do that that's money out of my pocket that's they're going to steal my ideas they're going to hurt my business, pretty standard entrepreneur excuses, and he just laughed in my face, and said you're going to learn this lesson on your own. So sure enough my my first busy season comes around I don't know what busy season is it I just get destroyed. I'm working 20 hours a day my social life goes down my grades plummet, somehow survived the January cuz I'm a workaholic and I wasn't going to let my my baby die right then and there and I say oh my God I can never let that happen again, we gotta start hiring people. So what do I know about hiring? I post a job on Facebook a guy messages me from one of my classes and says hey I don't know what you do I want a job I hire him on the spot and he ends up being incredible! He’s working hard, he’s learning my business, and he makes my job way easier. He’s actually my business partner today, Connor Gillivan.

There I am as a 20-year-old entrepreneur, thinking, boy hiring is easy! You post a job someone shows up, you make more money, you become less stressed, and I proceed to make bad hire after bad hire after bad hire. Quickly learning college kids, not very reliable. And no 30-year-old wanted to work for me, right? And I got thrown into the remote hiring space. The Upworks, the Fiverrs, and I got pretty good at it, but I always just wanted something faster and I kept looking and looking for a better way because time is the asset right and you’re spending all that time doing interviews and if I don't understand you know what I'm going to build this myself.

So I created my own platform, FreeeUp, whenever you start a business you don't know what the people's reaction is going to be like and people seemed to like the idea of the fast talent, and our customer support which has always been a priority, and the business took off from there and once that surpassed my Amazon business, that became my full time focus. Thanks kind of the short long version of how I got to where I am today.

That’s a great story and I love how honest you are about failure after failure and then the baby products that's awesome. But you know what a great journey and and so many of my clients and people I encounter who have their own business that's how they started they started by cutting their teeth on something that required a lot of elbow grease and just really trial by error and it's a great way to learn but it's very time-consuming.

Right. That might be one of my weaknesses. For me, part of being an entrepreneur is figuring it out and trying new things and seeing what works. I tend to stay away from the gurus and the courses and the business coaches, I have a lot of clients who are way more successful than me that do it that way, but for me there’s kind of that excitement about figuring it out. I mean, I got into Amazon before people were doing Amazon and now everyone is doing Amazon and selling courses, and becoming a business coach and here I am over here running a freelancer marketplace. So I tend to stay away from the norm.

And one of the things that I really appreciated and appreciate about what you're doing in your business is and this is what I believe big distinguisher for FreeeUp is that your vetting your freelancers as opposed to just being an aggregator or a conduit for the hirer and the hiree without any type of screening other than maybe a criminal background check. But you’re checking on skill sets, so talk to me a little bit about why that was important and how you do that.

Yes, so at the end of the day we're a platform for service providers right and we want to make sure the service providers on our platform not only do great work but also give the rest of the experience. So when we vet, we’re focused on the attitude and the communication skill, attitude communication skill, for skill, we don’t need everybody to be a 10 out of 10. You can be a 5 out of 10, a 4 out of 10, as long as you’re honest about what you can and cannot do you and your priced accordingly. So we have different skill tests week there graphic designer different depending on what you're saying your skills are communication which we learned a long time ago is very important to having a good working relationship with someone who is the same for everyone for a attitude we do want to interview people who are in a reasonably businesslike manner and for communication we have 15 pages of communication best practices that they have to memorize and get tested on and I wrote those are all based on my own bad communication experiences from the past 8 years, so once they're on it it kind of self regulates itself because they they want to check on project they can do or not a place to experiment with our clients they want to have a great attitude they want to communicate and we're very quick to show us that they can't maintain those high standards that we’ve set so that's really our vetting process.

That's awesome. Now is part of that do you follow back with people like me, your clients, who are hiring your talent to understand their experience working with them cuz I remember when I started working with one of your writers at the beginning I remember getting a request for review what are you doing over time?

It’s one of the things I struggle with. We have a competitor who who kind of went the opposite way and then they put reviews on their platform at and they say that their wedding people at whatever we're only letting people on a charger a place where everyone has a to me that doesn't add that much value now it could give you their way with something I've gone back and forth with it's one of those things at once I can submit the review system I can't take it back down so I've been hesitant to go all in there for porosity we ask for feedback relationship I have an assistant who every day since I don't mail merge saying hey you hire this person her project how did it go and we do people that have that give our clients a bad experience so we have our own internal measures that were using to review the freelancers we don't have it client-facing but we want people to know that we take that seriously and if we introduce you to someone, because we’ve vetted them, we want them to be having a great experience with clients.

So in my experience working with virtual assistants because I've been in business 13 years now and primarily do the bulk of the work myself from strategy to design a copy and so on, however there are I have several people that I bring in on a subcontractor basis to help me with if I get too busy so like I have creative people I have copywriters one of them is yours and these people I really rely on to maintain the level of output that I can actually produce and so I stay sane and can actually have a day off to go play golf every now and again. One of the things that I as a business owner in is a very I guess perfectionist control freak a lot of the things that entrepreneurs have is one of the things that I struggle with is hiring people and getting them up to speed to my level of expectation and quality, turn, professionalism all of the things that you were just talking about. And I've been probably more reluctant then I should have been in bringing someone on and growing my business for those reasons. So for someone like me and many other solopreneurs out there at that point where they've got a lot of work and they really need to start getting help, whether it's somebody temporary or whether it’s a full time traditional hire, what do you suggest as far as helping them bridge that gap of understanding that this is what they need in order to grow their business?

It's a great question and I kind of break it down into my five-step hiring process and in the first two steps that is where a lot of people can't get off the ground and that's pretty to list the first list is everything you do want to dated a month-to-month basis and that stuff that you're going to hire for to get hours and your day back in the second place is all the things you're not good at what is outside your core competency and how do you turn those weaknesses in the straps and what you have those two less and you sit down and you look at the numbers you say I want to be super aggressive I want to be conservative maybe if you're aggressive you're reinvesting 40 to 60% of your profits back in your business to grow in a few more conservative maybe you're in that 10 to 30% figure out what that number is now you have the number you have those lists and then step 2 what is your perfect person look like is it internal person in the office is it a virtual assist in the Philippines what kind of skill what kind of attitude to have you have to really be able to imagine what your perfect person looks like and I feel like a lot of people they don't go into anything I need help and I'm just going to go go through people until it until I find someone that I like when really it should be I know what I'm looking for and I'm going to get wait until I find that person so I can plug them in that spot.

What are the is that all five or is that just the first two?

Step three is the interview and if you're not using free up that skill attitude and communication finding someone for that if you are using free up focus on is this person the right fit for me because even the best freelance in the world are not the best fit for every single client out there different clients have different expectations and he got to get on the same page and stuff 5 my personal favorite is that the feedback where you get a little bit of work to give them feedback feedback and what you build a relationship shoot the feedback the other way you want their ideas you want to know how you can improve as a business owner they're going to be doing different things in your business that you might not be aware of it some of the best ideas best feedback that if maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars have come from other people because I'm afraid of that loop where neither of us take it personally we're both on the same side and it will working together.

That's great I love step 5. And you know it's funny because and this is what I love about the the person that you connected me with as my first person that I've worked with with you and that's my writer Sarah and what I loved about Sarah is there was a degree of you know I had to give her feedback on some of her writing so she could match what had been done up to that point because I was basically doing a transition from my writing to her writing and I didn't want the clients’ customers to have an abrupt experience a speed bump or something really like wow this is like totally different you know because writing is very subjective right so she took the suggestions and the resources to heart and she did a much better job on her next pass and what's great about it is she's taking an interest in what I'm doing and she's offering suggestions so that exactly what you're talking about in that feedback loop is actually happening and what’s great about it from a client perspective I'll just speak for my case right here, is it's helping me trust her more, it's showing me that if if she's taking an interest in not just like the job were the gig, but she's taking interest in me and my business that means a lot to me. And I think that there's so much that goes into working relationships that's about trust building that's about mutual respect, that's about helping that person vision and take that step into what they're wanting to accomplish because you know when you as you know I mean this is why why you started this company it's tough going through person after person for a long time that's really what I was doing because I had such a hard time finding somebody. So that was really I like that that's step number 5 that's awesome.

And again, that’s what worked for me. And feel free to take that 5 step process and make it your own. I always say, there’s two parts to your business: you got to figure out sales and you got to figure out the hiring. And you got to keep working on your sales process until you get it down and there's a lot of tweets and listen to feedback and figuring it out until you get to a good point and its the same thing with hiring it took me five years to figure out my hiring process I wish that there was a free make it faster but keep working on your hiring process when someone gets through and and they're really good go back and say hey what did this person say and how can I get more people like that it if they get through and they're not right fit how do we improve our processes that same type of person doesn't get through it again.

Yea, definitely. And I've also heard that it's important for the business owner to document processes especially if they have an area that they require more than one person doing a similar task so if they if they need three people doing Facebook advertising for example.

It kind of goes into the three different types of people you can hire: basic, mid and expert. Basic ten bucks an hour outside the US and their followers, they’ll follow your process. SOPs are perfect, onboarding docs, all that, you got the mid-level people the specialist, the graphic designer, you’re not teaching the graphic designer how to be a graphic designer figured you'd been consulting with you either they're do the experts 20 and up high-level freelancers, consultants, agencies, they bring their own strategy their own experience to the table, and they’ll help you to get to the next level for you want their own strategy what type of person you need at what type of person you're going to hire.

Simplify & Multiply

That leads me to a good question that I wanted to ask you. And when a new client comes on and they really don't know, they know their business, but they really don't know where the where they need to put somebody, you know like, what, I know you said about identifying your strengths and weaknesses but like in my business for example I mean I can pretty much do everything not to sound arrogant, but it's the point like what do I give up? What is something that is replicatable, like writing or design or even building a website and what is something that like a special methodology or a strategy that I do that only I could do the way I do it. Do you offer any kind of like coaching to a client that's coming on to you have to get them on a consult where you can kind of walk them through do you do anything like that is part of it or do you kind of just let them go through the interface and figure it out on their own?

So yes and no. My calendar’s right on the website, people can book a call with me, I’m more than happy to give my opinion to give certain types of advice, certainly walking them through the platform and answering any questions that they have, and my team of virtual assistants are highly trained and they can answer 95% of the questions and give advice too. I don’t take the stance of you need to hire this person right now. That’s not how I really do business. You can talk to me on the phone for 20 minutes it doesn't necessarily tell me enough about your business to start making business decisions for you, so I'm more there to provide you which work for me with working for other clients to give you different options to answer any questions but at the end of the day it's up to you how what you want to do for your business. There is no one-size-fits-all just because five other clients are doing one thing doesn't mean you can have success doing it. Part of it is somewhat easy, see if someone comes in there if they're stuck in the day-to-day operations they need that basic level up there and help them with mistakes I wouldn’t call it coaching, I’m not qualified to be a business coach, I’m just there to share my experience and give them options.

That's great. So this is kind of like I feel like I'm being a little selfish on the show cuz I'm asking a lot of my own questions but I know I have listeners that are going through the same struggles. So speaking of which, what are some of the really and I know you've written some blog posts and I want to recommend to my listener check out Nathan's posts on LinkedIn look at the blog posts on FreeeUp.com and educate yourself on what's involved actually bringing on a virtual person someone to expand your digital work for us because he has some great content but while we have him live on the show I want to ask you what are some of the common mistakes that new business owners new to the digital workforce make that you'd like to just give them advice on.

Part of that is those five steps. Not setting expectations. Not having the feedback loop stuff like that not knowing what you want, outside of that, one of the biggest ones that I see is not diversifying, a lot of entrepreneurs fall into this trap. They have hiring is hard, they make a few bad hires, and then they finally find someone they like, so what do they do? They load that person up with everything. And short term, it might be great. You might sleep better at night. Long term it makes your business incredibly risky. I had a situation if you listen to any of my other podcasts, I trained someone for 6 months with my Amazon business and had him quit on me the first day I went on vacation. And six months down the drain never getting that back. It taught me a very valuable lesson about departmentalizing. Hire one person to do your emails, one personal is product, one person to do XYZ and break it down and people to answer 10 emails a day that's not what I'm talking about but make sure that your business protected in that your business isn’t thrown all into one person. So if they quit if they get sick if something happens outside of your control your business is going to stop.

Yeah that makes a lot of sense and you know I talked about this a lot about making sure you've got backups, backups of your data, backups of you know all things, so if the worst happens and something does happen to your work force even if it's just one one person, that you have some redundancy even in staffing where someone can jump in and cover. And if especially if you have a business that requires a lot of customer care 24/7 or something like that.

Yeah hundred percent. And I mean a lot of people they don't build that Rolodex of graphic designers they can go to. Writers they can go to. So if an extra client project comes up, they’re left scrambling. What we encourage of our agencies is to build that up. I have a video editor and graphic designers that I don’t use every month, and I’ll go to them and I’m not like hey do this project right now, but I’m like, hey I have this can you do it or when can you have it due by and I may go with the person whoever can do it first or whatever it is. So you kind of have all this flexibility now with the gig economy that you got to take advantage of it and put yourself in a position to succeed and be very proactive.

When I look at my business and and other people can think about their business this way too, it's one thing to have a certain weight in a certain way to do things, but if you make it so custom that you can't you're like locking yourself into anti-scalability because you need to create systems processes when we all get beat over the head about that and anything we're learning regarding business and I find that especially in my work as it's very customized and it's very creative so it's subjective. And every customer does have, in my opinion I'm not a boilerplate kind of person so that's one of the reasons why it's been hard for me to expand and build talent but that's also something that I actually am getting better at and using a resource like yours is really helping me do that because of the quality of the people that are available and the way that you're helping me do that so I can expand the people that I have on my team now to really be that diversification like you were talking about.


Awesome will listen it's been a great conversation I'd love to talk more and pick your brain more but I do want you to share how people can learn more about FreeeUp, learn more about you and get their questions asked about whether or not they're ready to expand into a virtual digital workforce and the benefits of that and how that can actually help them level up their business.

If you go to FreeeUp.com my calendar’s right at the top, you can book a meeting with me, if you just want information join the Outsourcing Masters Facebook group, we post a lot of great content there, you can also follow us on social media, check out the FreeeUp blog, YouTube channel, if you are ready to hire, go to FreeeUp.com and create a free account and keep us in your back pocket. Mention this podcast and get a $25 credit and me and my team are really here to serve you we want to make sure you have a great experience and we want to help you grow your business and provide you the freelancers you need.

Well that's great and you're helping me grow my business and I greatly appreciate your time today and just for the listener I want you to know that I'm going to have those links on the show notes page and you can grab those on SimplifyAndMultiply.com. Nathan it's been a pleasure, I look forward to more chats with you and thank you so much for helping me grow my business.

Thank you.

Your actionables for this episode are Nathan’s 5 Steps:

1. Make a list of all you do every day and what you’re not great at.
2. Define what your perfect person looks like.
3. Interview, is this person the right fit?
4. Set expectations from the start.
5. Instill a feedback loop.
— Nathan Hirsch

How to find out more about Nathan Hirsch and FreeeUp

Nathan Hirsch is a serial entrepreneur and expert in remote hiring and eCommerce. He started his first eCommerce business out of his college dorm room and has sold over $30 million online. He is now the co-founder and CEO of FreeeUp.com, a marketplace that connects businesses with pre-vetted virtual assistants, freelancers and agencies in eCommerce, digital marketing, and much more. He regularly appears on leading podcasts, such as Entrepreneur on Fire, and speaks at live events about online hiring tactics.

Terry Pappy

Terry Pappy