ABOUT THIS EPISODE
Dillon: Hello everybody! This is Dillon Holst and today, I am joined by the founder and CEO of Freeeup, Nathan Hirsch. Nathan is a serial entrepreneur. He is an expert in remote hiring and e-commerce in general. Nathan, thank you for being on with us today.
Nathan: Dillon, that's for having me.
Dillon: One of the things that I found interesting, just browsing through your site, how many people it seems, really have latched onto this idea of remote hiring and are really excited about the things that it can do, just in terms of either augmenting, or completely staffing their workforce. Maybe you could just give me a little bit of background about how you were introduced to the idea of remote hiring and how you decided to kind of make this your thing.
Nathan: Sure, so, going way back, when I was 20, I'm 27 right now, I started an e-commerce drop-shipping business out of my college dorm room. It quickly blew up. I was running a multi-million dollar business before I knew it. Hiring my friends for the first time. I hired my first employee before I could legally drink. I really just had no idea what I was doing. I got lucky and I made some really great hires. People who are still with me seven years later.
Like every entrepreneur, I made some bad hires as well. My business was always drop-shipping, so you never have to touch any products. So, I could hire people that could work at their place or across the hall in a different room, or whatever it was. It didn't really matter whether they were with me at any point. We would have group meetings and what not to get on the same page, but, for the most part, we could be in different states or any part of the world and still do your job. When I graduated and I decided to become an entrepreneur full-time, and I moved to Florida, I actually did end up opening up an office, which I think was one of the biggest mistakes that I've made. I've hired a lot of full-time people, employees. I quickly realized that if I'm paying someone $50,000, $60,000, $70,000 a year, I need to get the most out of them, because I'm an efficiency person. It was really bothering me that they were spending a lot of their time doing very easy data-entry work or answering simple emails. It didn't feel like I was getting good value. I didn't feel like I was challenging them either. They enjoy their job more when they're being challenged and building rather than doing. So, a buddy of mine that was actually on my softball team when I moved down here, introduced me to oDesk, which was Upwork at the time, and I just fell in love with it. I mean, in my mind, and I'm a pretty logical person, I'm very limited in the talent that I can get in Orlando, Florida. If I open myself out to the entire world, the possibilities are endless. Not to mention the other benefits of no payroll taxes for hiring contractors, hiring, maybe outsourcing certain tasks, although, I did remote hiring, so, it wasn't all international. But, I was determined to build this army of remote workers, which I did. I found that hiring these remote workers allowed my full-time people, the people who I was paying to think rather than do repetitive tasks, would really excel and would be able to put a lot more of the company, enjoy their jobs more. We just grew so much faster, to the point where I got rid of the office and made the entire company remote, and I kind of had the idea that I wanted to help other businesses do the same thing, because, there are tricks to the trade. It took me a while, just like it took me a while to learn how to hire employees correctly, it took me a while to learn how to hire remote workers and even international workers correctly. I created Freeeup to help other business owners free up their time the way I have for the past seven years.
Dillon: Sure, okay. In terms of just building a workforce, I love the fact that you identified that your most valuable employees were maybe not using their time in the most efficient manner, or the way that they might have wanted to be spending their time, do you feel like that is something that exists across all industries or is that specific to the tech industry? Basically, remote teams, is that something that can work for every industry or is it just specific industries that you see as being in need of augmentation via remote teams?
Nathan: I mean, there's certainly some industries that it might not apply, if you own a bakery or something like that. But, for the most part, most businesses are online in some way, shape, or form. Even if you own that bakery, someone should run your social media, someone should build your website and run it, and all that. If you're not tapping into remote workers and talent from across the world, you're really missing out on a huge opportunity to expand your business at a fraction of the cost of what it would require to hire internal employees.
Dillon: Yeah, sure, okay, so let's say somebody comes to your site and they're looking for somebody to do some specific thing, let's say data entry. What should that person be looking for in terms of qualities. What should we be looking for in people? What makes somebody a good, remote team member?
Nathan: Sure, and that's one of the reasons why I created Freeeup, because, there are a lot of places out there, where you go to them, and you want to post a job, but it's hard to really figure out what you're looking for. Especially if you've never hired before, or you've never hired remotely before, and you're trying to pick out from 50 people that are in the Philippines, it can be challenging. A lot of times you don't know what to look for.
From my past seven years of hiring, I have a pretty good idea of what I want to look for, and I'll get into that a little bit later. So, the cool thing about us, is we identify these people, we vet them, we test them, we have a strict communication policy that they have to follow, which I'm sure we'll touch upon later as well. Then, we make these workers available to our clients. On our site, there's very little thinking involved. You tell us what you want in terms of skill, "Hey, I have this project day, I need this full-time position," whatever it is, and we pick someone from our network that's already been pre-vetted, that we already know has those qualities, and we introduce them to you. It's really that simple.
Dillon: What kind of metrics are you testing people for when they come to you and they say, "Hey, I want to be a freelancer. I want to work for you guys."?
Nathan: Sure, so there's three things. One is skill. Obviously, if you're hiring someone to build your website on WordPress they have to have years of experience in WordPress. We're not that new, freelancer marketplace. People that are freelancing for the first time, they don't get into our network.
Dillon: What's the requirement like there?
Nathan: We want people with three plus years of experience for the most part. It can be less if it's a newer platform or something that just came out, but that's a baseline. There are really talented people that learn fast that are the exception to the rule, but, for the most part, three plus years. We have people on our team that have 10, 15 years of experience. We're really looking for that. A track record of success with past clients and years of experience.
Two is their attitude. We want people that care more about money. That are workaholics. That really like working. Where work is the number one priority, or close to the number one priority in their life, and that can really care about our client's business as if it was their own, and not just doing it for the paycheck, like I said before. Then, quality number three is communication. Because, to me, communication is everything. I don't care how talented of a person that you hire, if you can't communicate with them, it's going to go south so fast you won't even believe it. Those are really the three things that we look for when we're hiring a worker.
Dillon: Okay, somebody might argue that building a remote workforce could leave yourself open to people leaving early, or maybe they'll feel like you, as a company, are not investing them because you're remote. Is employee turnover more difficult to handle, I guess, when you're dealing with remote workers?
Nathan: If you treat your worker like they're not part of the team, like you're just using them, and you're just giving orders, and they don't care at all about your business, the turnover is going to be high. What I teach is to change that mentality. Make them a part of the team. Make them care about your business. Make them want to be part of the journey in growing your business, and your turnover will be pretty low.
I mean, we have a pretty large network of workers, and our turnover is extremely low. The lowest it's been in either of my two companies at this point. It's all about how you treat people, how you vet people. Whatever your company culture is, if you're adding people to the team that are like that culture, or if you're adding people that are more of that corporate mindset, but you're a start up, or vice verse. Anything that you can do to make people fit in to what you're building, is going to reduce turnover. To me, it's not the fact that their remote workers that leads to turnover, it's your whole attitude and how you treat people in general.
Dillon: You say what you teach, do you offer resources for business owners who are using a remote workforce for the first time? How does that work?
Nathan: Definitely. I mean, we offer free consulting. I do a lot of webinars and podcasts about it. We have e-books that we have continued to come out with. We have our Freeeup blog that you can check out. We always talk about building a culture, and managing people, and how to hire, and stuff like that. We have an online masterminds Facebook group that people can post questions in. We're pretty responsive. We try to answer every single one in as much detail as possible. We're really there to assist you along the way as much as we are to provide you those workers that you need.
Dillon: In terms of people that are not familiar, or maybe are just starting to build a remote workforce, what would you say the most common question you get asked by business owners is?
Nathan: Are they going to steal my information or what are the risks involved in something like that?
Like I tell them, there's nothing I can do to make that risk zero. There's always going to be a risk, that employee, or contractor, or worker, whatever it is, makes a bad decision. But, at the same time, we're pre-vetting these people. Most of the time these people are in it to provide for their family. They care a lot more about having the job than they do about stealing your information. What a lot of clients realize, is their information, unless you're a huge company, really isn't as valuable as you think it is to have someone jeopardize their job over it. I mean, even with us, what's cool about it, is it's so hard to get into our network. Once they're in, just like our clients like it, 'cause they don't have to interview hundreds of people, our workers like it, 'cause they don't have to do hundreds of interviews. They want to stay in the network. They want us to bring clients to them, and if they jeopardize anything, they get kicked out for life. Yes, you should be protective of your stuff, and you should give people limited access when it applies. But, you really want to have the mentality that you're trying to build trust with these workers, and everyone is in it for the same reason.
Dillon: Sure, yeah, so, keeping in the same kind of thought process with first-time business owners that are doing the remote worker thing for the first time, what would you say, just from your years of experience in watching people do hiring, what would you say the biggest mistake is, especially within the context of remote hiring?
Nathan: The biggest mistake that people make is not diversifying. They'll hire one person to do everything. They'll teach them how to do bookkeeping, how to answer customer emails, how to do this and that, and everything that it takes to run their business. They put them in that manager position, and six months later, that person quits and they have to start all over and their entire business is in shambles, and it sets them back three to six months. It's the worse thing that you can do.
If you're hiring and your business is growing at a good pace, diversify. Hire one person per team. Spread it out, if one person quits, it's not the end of the world. Come up with training guides and videos where your ... No one on your team is indispensable. If you look at your business right now, and you have 10 employees, and three of them it would just be an absolute disaster if they left, you really need to work on diversifying and changing that kind of atmosphere.
Dillon: Hm, okay, yeah, that makes sense. In terms of just working with a remote team, often, in the past when I've worked with larger companies, you'll have specific teams do team building. They'll do things to try to build group cohesion, all that kind of stuff. What would you tell business owners, and how would you guide them in terms of building team cohesion when everybody is not sitting in the same office, or they might not ever see each other face to face, how do they build team cohesion?
Nathan: Sure, so, step one is make sure everyone understands the company. When you hire someone, or you onboard someone, you should hand them a piece of paper that's like, "Hey, this is how we started. These are our goals and expectations. These are the important people in the company, and their contact information. These are my personal pet peeves, if you're going to be working under me."
Just, everything is laid out and clear. On top of that, as you hire them and you set these goals, make sure you're updating them. Is your company having a good week, having a bad week, what projects are you working on? When projects finish and you launch them, make it a big deal. Make it so that everyone's talking in a group. Have those Monday morning meetings where everyone gets on the same page and then spends a week attacking instead of everyone logging in at different times and going and doing their own thing away from everyone. Build that atmosphere where everyone is working together and is rooting for each other for a common goal. It's really not that hard to do if you put some time into it up front. A lot of issues arise when you just have 10 contractors that never talk to each other, that don't know what the other pieces are in the company, and for the most part, don't even know what their contributions are, they just know that they do their job and hand it to you and do the next job. That's very easy to lose a person, because, the second that someone comes along like Freeeup, or anyone else, that has that positive company culture, and is paying the same rate, then that person's going to jump. You can either pay people a lot of money and treat them poorly, or you can pay them market rate and have that great culture and lower turnover and have a great team working together.
Dillon: Can you give me an example, or maybe a specific scenario in which you've seen, either somebody do it the right way or do it the wrong way in terms of building team cohesion?
Nathan: Yeah, I mean, I've had clients that I've sat down with them, and I've been like, "Listen, you shouldn't talk to workers that way," and I'll be honest with them, I'm like, "Listen, I want you to succeed. It's not my job to tell you how to run your business. If you want my advice, I'm happy to give it."
They're good enough that they want my advice and I'm like, "Listen, if someone's pissing you off, you can't just scream at them. You have to look at it as in a problem-solving situation. Yes, you can always fire them and replace them. But, it's in your best interest, if you invested two months into training someone, to sit down and have an honest conversation and hear them out and get feedback on yourself." Because, a lot of the time, it's not only the worker's miscommunication, but, it's also how the client manages people. It may be stuff like organization and stuff like that. In my atmosphere I'm always looking for feedback. I'm a totally different owner now than I was five years ago. A lot of that is because my business partner, Connor, looked me in the eye and he was like, "You need to change these things." Because, we got feedback from my team of 15 to 20 assistants, that when I'm doing performance reviews or anything like that, it's right back at me. Tell me how I can be a better leader or a better manager, because, people think I'm a business owner, that the only thing I care about is money. I'm going to make more money if I'm a better manager and a better leader and people stay here. I try to adjust people's just attitude in general, because, that's a lot of the problem. They're so used to being that boss, it's like, "Do this. Do that," without having that team mentality.
Dillon: In terms of just ... I'll give you an example from our own company, we do hire quite a few people from either overseas, or contractors here in the United States, and one of the things that we've found to be somewhat challenging is that, I guess the best way to say it would be, to build a communication process that has longevity, I guess. And what that looks like for us is, we've done our best to do kind of like a stand-up meeting every week where everybody gets together. They talk about what they've been working on. They share positive things that have happened, negative things that have happened, but one of the things that we ... Especially when we were first starting out, struggled with, was consistency and everybody making an effort to be there on time, all that kind of stuff. Because, it's really easy, when you're working remotely, it can be easy to fall into the trap of, "Well, I've got this project going on, so I'd rather get this project done, rather than show up to the meeting."
That sort of thing. Give a company like us some advice in terms of instilling, I guess, an attitude of this is really important, that we have this time to connect as a team, that we have this time to motivate each other. What would you say to somebody, especially a company that is new to the whole remote hiring scene, what would you say to them in terms of establishing some sort of consistency?
Nathan: I would divide it into two parts. Is it the workers or is it the system?
If you're just looking at the workers, are you hiring the right people? Are you hiring people that prioritize communication, that prioritize teamwork and company culture and group building or are you hiring people that just get satisfaction from completing projects and don't care about the rest of the team in any way? If you're looking at the systems, I would say, does it flow from the top down? Connor and I, we've been working together for seven years, and we're pretty honest with each other. One of my biggest issues with Connor in the first years that we were in business is he would be like, "Yeah, let's do this project, this project, this project, this project," and he would get overwhelmed and he would be inconsistent, because meetings that he wanted to have would get pushed back. Projects that he wanted to do would get moved around or changed, and it flowed down. Everyone else just became completely unorganized below him. On the top flowing down, I mean, with us we have Monday morning meetings, 10 am, every Monday, that for the past two years that I've been running Freeeup. It hasn't changed, everyone knows to show up. If you're an assistant of mine and you're not showing up to Monday morning meetings, you're not going to be an assistant of mine very long. For me, it's setting that culture and putting it set in stone, and making sure that if you have other owners in the company, or other people that are up top, or even assistants that maybe have been with you for a while and have gotten a promotion or in a manager position, or whatever you want to call it. Make sure that they're following the policies and the culture, and that trickles down to the new people that are hired. Because, if you have a new person that walks in the door of McDonald's, and every person working there being like, "This place sucks. I don't want to be here right now. Get out when you can."Or, if you walk in and everyone's like, "Hey, the boss is awesome. We're all working together to make as much money as possible. They treat us well. If this happens, we get rewarded." Then, it's going to flow down. People that walk in the door are just going to snap right into it and know, "This is how it's done here. I need to follow suit."
Dillon: In remote offices in general, give me some keys to what good productivity looks like in a remote office, and maybe if you have any particular tools that you're using in terms of project management, that kind of thing, what are the biggest keys?
Nathan: Sure, so, all my assistants, I have a team of 15 to 20 assistants. Then, I have an internal team of six people that run the teams and have their own assistants outside that. All my assistants have a combination of daily tasks that they know they have to get done. They have short-term projects. Stuff that, cool ideas we've came up with or things that we're building, that are one weeks or two weeks that they know have these due dates and they have to get them done, or tell us in advance if something comes up they need an extension, but, for the most part get it done. Then, they have long-term projects. Things that we're building over the course of the year. They know that they're responsible for these three things.
During the day I'm getting the most out of them because the day-to-day operations that I just don't have the time to do, I know are getting done. The short-term projects, I'm utilizing their brain to chop away at these projects that I can implement right away, which is huge when you're running a startup, because you don't want to wait too long to implement things. Then, I also had the long term vision in mind where my bookkeeping team is working on a long-term solution to payments, or whatever it is. My HR team is building our new testing platform for new hires in six months. It just works out very well that every worker knows they have these responsibilities and sticks to it and reports on them. It's very structured. There's really just no excuses along the way. Everyone knows that that's the way it is. You're responsible and ... We never are like, "Hey, if you don't do this, you're going to lose your job." But, I mean, everyone knows that that's what's expected of you. They've seen that if people come in and we assign them stuff and they don't do it, they're no longer a part of the team. We don't threaten them. We just say, "This is the way it is, if you want to be here, you have to do it."
Dillon: Are there any other things that you'd like to bring up, just in context of what we've been talking about that maybe I haven't asked you or you think is important for people to know about remote hiring in general?
Nathan: Yeah, I think you should value your time at a very high level. Valuing your time also applies to valuing your workers' time, you're business partner's time, your clients' and your customers' time. Really think about how long it takes you to do HR, and how long you spend doing interviews, and going through resumes, and training people, and even turnover. Because, turnover is the most expensive thing in business. It can set companies back for a while.
I really created Freeeup to end all of that. We have a very great interview process. We get hundreds of applicants a week. We take the top 1%. When you're a client of ours, it's free. Whenever you need a worker, you press a button, it asks you a few questions so that we know exactly what you want. We introduce you within 24 hours or even less. Because our turnover is so low, we have a no-turnover guarantee that if our worker, on the rare chance that they quit, because it is real life, people do leave jobs, we cover all retraining costs, and get you a new worker right away. The amount of time that you can save just on the HR alone, nevermind turnover cost, is huge. It really, I mean, think about whether you're actually spending time in your business focused on sales, marketing, and expansion, or whether you're focusing them on day to day operations and HR. Because, you'd be surprised how many really smart business owners wake up one day and realize that they're spending 40, 50, 60% of their time on the latter.
Dillon: Yeah, sure, so, maybe you could give us a high-level overview of what Freeeup can do for a business owner.
Nathan: Like I said, signing up is free. We have a network of workers from $5 to $50 an hour. We're about 40% U.S., 40% Philippines, 20% scattered throughout. Everything e-commerce and online business, from WordPress, graphic design, data entry, customer service, advanced consultants on Amazon, eBay, click funnels, all that stuff, and they're ready to go.
Our workers are first come first serve. We're very much a vast hiring platform, which, I don't know any others that are like that. Where you can have someone hired within an hour. We make it super fast. All our workers have strict communication policies. We have 15 pages of communication policies that our workers have to memorize and get tested on, so that you know our workers are not going to disappear. If you ever need to get ahold of your workers, you can come to me and my assistants, and we grab them for you. It's a very streamlined process, so you never find yourself chasing down remote workers, or interviewing, or any of that. Then, I mentioned that we're hands on. We're there to help you along the way. We're there to guide you with our blog and our Facebook group. You can always ask us questions and ask our assistants questions. And we have that no turnover guarantee. We're really trying to be that solution for the business owner, to help free up their time, hence the name, along the path to building their business.
Dillon: Awesome, so, what are you guys looking forward to in 2017? Are you guys working on any new initiatives or new projects that people should be aware of?
Nathan: Yeah, #beeverywhere. That is the goal for 2017. Connor is doing a great job on the marketing front with the blog, lots of podcasts, and webinars, and all of that. Just hired a great PR manager. I'm pretty sure she's the one that got me on this show. We have our new software that's being updated. We're always looking for software improvements. We just added five new people to the internal team to help that extra level of support, so our clients always have someone to go to whenever they need something.
We're really trying to be that hands on solution that's always there when you need us. We're really not interested in you hiring a worker, having a bad experience, and us making a few dollars. We want to make sure that you love the workers that we give you, and that they help you grow your business long term.
Dillon: Cool, well, thank you, Nathan. I appreciate you taking the time to answer some questions here today. Guys, please check out the link to Freeeup.com in the show notes. Then, we're going to also have some additional information on services that Freeeup can provide for you down there as well. Nathan, thank you for your time.
Nathan: Sure. One quick thing. Anyone that mentions this podcast gets $1 off their first worker forever. So make sure-
Dillon: Awesome, is there any kind of code that they should use?
Nathan: I'll get you an affiliate link after the show. We can track that.
Dillon: All right, that'll in the show notes as well, guys. Cool, thanks, Nathan.
Nathan: Thank you.