What does it cost you not to hire a VA? In this episode, Nathan Hirsch, CEO of Outsource School, joins Penny Zenker to talk about scaling remote businesses through proper outsourcing and effective hiring. Nathan and Penny discuss the different objections that hinder business owners from pulling the trigger on outsourcing and why you should scrap those objections. Having experience with thousands of virtual assistants, Nathan talks about allowing your focus to shift on your business’ important areas by moving away from the day-to-day tasks. Tune in as they dig into money versus time and where your mentality should be if you’re thinking about scaling.
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Pulling The Trigger On Outsourcing: Scaling Remote Businesses With Nathan Hirsch
I am excited that you are here because the topic that we’re going to talk about is very important when we talk about taking back time and working smarter. Nathan Hirsch is with us. We’ve met a couple of years ago at CEO Space. In the past, he had a business called FreeUp, which was a business that I joined in and worked with some VAs, and loved the service that was there. He’s now doing something with Outsource School. He’s an entrepreneur and expert in remote hiring and eCommerce. He made and cofounded FreeUp in 2015 with an initial investment of $5,000. He scaled it to $12 million per year in revenue and then was acquired in 2019.
Nathan is now the Cofounder of Outsource School, a company that’s working to educate entrepreneurs on how to effectively hire and scale with virtual assistants through in-depth courses and other types of work. He’s appeared in over 300 podcasts. He is a social media personality and he loves sharing advice on scaling remote businesses. You are in for a treat because you’re working on your business and you’re looking to scale your business. This is the guy who’s been there and done that. We’re going to learn right from him. Welcome, Nathan.
Thanks so much for having me.
There are a lot of people reading who liked the idea of outsourcing and getting a VA, but they don’t pull the trigger. Maybe they say they don’t have the time or it takes so much time in order to do that and whatnot. What would you say to them? Why are they not pulling the trigger and what can they do about it?
There’s a bunch of different objections. One of which is time or money. What I like to point out is if you do the math, if you pay a virtual assistant $5 an hour, which I have a lot of great VAs at $5 an hour. If you hire them for five hours a week, you’re going to save over 260 hours a year for about $1,300 for the entire year. That’s about the cost of a meal per week. There’s a little bit of time upfront creating a hiring process. That’s where the next objection is, which is confusion. People don’t know how to do it or what to do in what order. That’s where Outsource School comes in where we teach them, “Do this first, do this second, interview, then onboard, then train, then manage.”
The last objection is fear. Everyone’s business is their baby. FreeUp was my baby and Outsource School is my baby now. Everyone’s concerned that someone’s going to hurt their business or steal from their business or whatever it is. What I found working with thousands of virtual assistants is they care so much more about keeping you as a client, providing for their family, getting a good review, staying on the marketplace they’re on or that you got them, then they do about hurting or jeopardizing your business. There’s always going to be a risk. Even if you hire your best friend to sit right next to you, there’s always a chance that they’ll do something stupid and jeopardize your business. The risk is a lot smaller than people think. If you follow the right processes and the right steps, and you focus on making an opportunity to get your time back, usually those objections can all be overcome. The entrepreneurs are a lot happy once they make the hiring and set up the process.
I want to talk about each one of those a little bit. One of the things that I always have people do to get past that time and money issue is I have them value their time. They can see what’s the opportunity cost. What could I be doing with that? What did you say, 260 hours?
It’s about six and a half weeks that you get back from hiring a VA for five hours a week.
Putting it into some perspectives like that helps people to understand not in terms of what is it costing them to hire them, but what is it costing them not to hire them. What do you think about that?Everyone's business is their baby. Click To Tweet
I’ll tell people not in a mean way, “If you’re not making any money, if you’re getting your business off the ground, the VAs not going to build the business for you. Maybe your time isn’t worth that much right now based on the business you have.” For a lot of people reading, if you’re running a business that’s maybe a little bit below 6 figures, 6 figures or 7 figures, your hourly rate is worth way more than $5 an hour. You have to be valuing your time. As an entrepreneur, you need to be focused on the sales, the expansion, the marketing, not just the day-to-day tasks, the repetitive tasks, and things that you already know how to do. Getting people in that mentality to value time over money is a big thing.
The other thing that struck me is when you talk about fear. You mentioned the fear that somebody is going to do something in your business. I think we’re control freaks. I don’t know that it’s fear that somebody’s going to do something to hurt my business. This was the case for me many years ago when I started my first technology business. It was the fear of losing control. Maybe I would have done it differently and I want to do it my way or feeling like I don’t have everything in the boxes and things like that. What have you seen with people and how do you get people past that fear of control?
Alex Charfen has a great quote on this that I like to tell people. The quote is, “If you think you’re the only one that can do what you do in your business, I have news for you. You’re not that special.” It’s true because there are many people out there that can do exactly what you do, even better than you can or at least the same way that you can. If you are in the mentality where you have to do everything, you’ve set a ceiling on how far your business is going to be. I’ve been there with my Amazon business. I was drop shipping. I didn’t have actually to package or ship anything. By working 40, then 50, and then 60 hours a week, I got this business to seven figures. One day, I hit that ceiling. The business could get any bigger and I could not work any more hours. If I wanted a week off or two weeks off, that wasn’t happening. The business wasn’t going to run. You have to see that there are very few $1 million, $3 million, $5 million-a-year entrepreneurs out there that are doing everything themselves. It doesn’t exist.
Hopefully, everybody who’s reading gets that there are a lot more reasons why you should look for support and how there are a lot of different supports that’s out there. You said $5 assistance. There are probably people with more experience that might be a little bit more. There’s something almost for everyone out there. There’s someone that is going to be able to support you to get back 260 hours a year. That’s huge. Let’s talk about the part of what are some tips to find the right person and then to onboard them right. I’m a big believer that somebody is going to succeed if you put them into a process that is going to work that you have structured. That’s going to give everybody some certainty and security both on the VA side, as well as the entrepreneur side.
We like to break down hiring into four parts. You’ve got interviewing, onboarding, training and managing. For interviewing, we want to focus our members on hiring not just experience because it is part of it, but also for attitude and communication as well. You want people who their money isn’t their top priority. Everyone cares about money on some level, but there has to be something that they care about outside of money. Maybe it’s stability, family or self-improvement, which is incredible. Maybe it’s being a part of something bigger than that. There has to be something other than money that they care about because there’s always someone out there that can offer your virtual assistance more money than you can. If you only are hiring VAs that care about money, that’s going to backfire you at some point.
You want someone who has a positive outlook in life, who can interact with other people, who’s the bigger man and the bigger woman in every situation. We both know that not every client is rainbows and butterflies. If your VA comes across some adversity, they have to be able to handle it and not take stuff personally. Communication is key. It doesn’t matter how experienced someone is or what their attitude is. If you can’t communicate with them at a high level, then nothing matters. We want someone who can speak our language at a high level. We interview and teach people to interview and onboard via Slack. Unless you’re hiring someone for a voice or video role, you are going to communicate with them through email or through Slack. Why not interview them in the exact same method that you’re going to talk to them?
If they take forever to respond on Slack, if they can’t understand what you’re saying on Slack, if you can’t understand what they’re saying, that is a huge red flag that’s going to cost tons of issues, especially when you get into meetings and stuff down the line. My last tip on interviewing, and then I’ll let you jump in before I dive into onboarding, is a lot of entrepreneurs look for the right answers when people know how to BS the right answers. What you have to be looking for are the wrong answers. What are the red flags? We call it our CARE interview process, which is Communication, Attitude, Red flags and Experience. What does this person saying that shows you that they don’t have the communication skills you need? They don’t have the attitude that you want or they don’t have the experience that you need in your business?
Interviewing is a skill. If you don’t have it and that’s something that you’re afraid of, you can easily learn and put some process in place that can support you. These types of courses in learning these pieces are all available in Outsource School.
We stopped calling it courses, it’s more like systems that you can plug into your business. We give you the exact nineteen interview questions that we ask people, what good answers are and what bad answers are. We then even have videos of us interviewing VA, some good and some bad. You can see it and we’re pointing out all the red flags as we go, so you can learn and be able to implement that process when you get to onboarding, which we call our SICC Method. It stands for Schedule, Issues, Communication and Culture. You’re going through this with the virtual assistant, making sure you’re on the same page with expectations and giving them a chance to back out. It’s the same thing. We give you the exact questions that we ask, all the red flags that we look for, and all the issues that we know will happen down the line if you don’t address them early. We show ourselves onboarding those same virtual assistants so you can see. The same thing with training, we show you how to make good SOPs, management, how to run meetings, bonuses and raise programs, all that stuff.
That’s a piece that a lot of not just entrepreneurs but also a lot of big companies are challenged with. They get somebody in the door and they don’t onboard them and train them appropriately. Therefore, they’re off to a bad start.
As you get bigger, you’re not going to be hiring every single person in your company. That’s how it goes. Are you going to trust someone that works for you but, is there a background in hiring people, interviewing people, interviewing VA? What we’ve seen is we have 300-plus members at Outsource School and a lot of them are larger companies. They’ll take our processes and give them to their project managers to hire VA. They know that if they have five different project managers, they are all using the same system to make sure that they’re getting A-players once they get through the interview process. That consistency is key when it comes to business.
The next aspect that we’re going to talk about is training.
Training comes down to SOPs.
Can you tell people what SOP is? I know that you might be familiar with that, but not everybody knows that term.
It’s a Standard Operating Procedure or a training guide. It’s the systems of your business that you want to own. I hear all the time entrepreneurs that say, “I just want to hire an agency to run this. I’m just going to hire someone who already knows how to do it.” It can be okay and there are certain times to hire experts and hire doers, but the core stuff in your business, you need to own those systems. You don’t want an agency running your entire business. I’ve seen this where a member of Outsource School, back when I knew him from FreeUp, he hired a family to run his Amazon business. The family knew Amazon well and his business did great. One day he pissed off one person in the family and the entire family quit in him. His systems went out the door because he didn’t have SOPs. He didn’t have standard operating procedures.
Creating standard operating procedures, I like to break them down into the why, the steps, and the important reminders. We dive more into this in Outsource School. The why is, why are we doing this task? Many entrepreneurs skip that. They say, “Here are the ten steps, go do it.” They don’t give the virtual assistant any idea why they’re doing this task, how it impacts the big picture, what success, what failure looks like, what the expectations are. I even like to take it a step further. If I fired VAs in the past for that role, I won’t mention them by name but I’ll say, “The last few VAs didn’t work out for XYZ reason.”
Before the VA even starts, they know the big picture. They know why they’re doing the tasks. They know what success and failure look like, and they know what’s going to happen if they do the things that the other VAs did. That’s the why, then you got the steps, the steps 1,2, 3. We know that videos do better than texts. Usually, texts and video are better, but videos versus text, video is better. Video is a pain because your SOP will get updated over time, then you have to refilm the video or hire a video editor. We built a software called SimplySOP that our members get for free.[bcct tweet=”If you are in the mentality where you have to do everything, you’ve just set a ceiling.” username=”” ]
That allows you to create easily, update, switch out steps and give your VAs access, share and have your SOPs all in one place. You’re creating those steps, steps 1, 2, 3. You’re improving it over time. Usually, the first draft of the SOP will get you 70% to 80% there. My goal is always to give the virtual assistant ownership of the SOP so they may update it over time. With FreeUp, when I had 35 virtual assistants, I didn’t update all these different SOPs. When we went to sell FreeUp, all our SOP had been updated by the VAs every single month for the past four years, which is important.
It’s an important piece because, as a productivity coach, I’ve worked with a number of CEOs and business leaders. It’s not any different. Even if they’re not virtual assistants, they’re in the organization. I want to make sure that everyone who’s reading, this doesn’t have to be about hiring a VA. This could be about hiring somebody in your organization. These same steps and definitions are important. I remember there was a lot of, “I can’t write all this down. I don’t want to be responsible for documenting it. I hate that thing.” You can have somebody shadow you doing the work. This VA is keeping the process up to date because in the end, they’re the ones who are doing the work. They’re knowing that initial definition that you gave where it’s a little bit off and where they’ve tweaked it over time. That’s critical that that is in their responsibility.
It’s also one of the best indicators for team leaders down the line. When you have 35 VAs as I had with FreeUp, I don’t want 35 VAs all reporting to Nathan. I need to have team leaders and assistant team leaders. I also don’t want to wake up one day and say, “I need a team leader. Who should that be?” While hiring external can be great, it is also super risky because you’re going to hire someone. You’re going to train them and only after you train them are you going to know if they’re going to be a good team leader, once they learn your processes and even if you’re not training them from scratch. I loved promoting internally, but when I go to hire a team leader, I want to say to myself, “Who has taken ownership of their tasks, their role, and the SOPs?” That’s a great indication of who a good team leader is going to be.
My last point in SOP is the important reminder. An example of that would be, I have a VA that runs my inbox. My important reminder is that if my accountant or my lawyer emails me, don’t respond to those emails. That’s an important reminder. I’m not going to hide it in step 10, part B. It’s going to be at the bottom of the SOP. If they’re missing the important stuff that I put at the bottom, that’s a huge red flag. Create good SOPs. That’s the key to freedom in your business.
We’ve got the training and then we have the managing.
Managing, we probably can’t cover in the whole hour. That goes in everything from meetings and having “all hands on deck” meeting, team meetings, one-on-one meetings every quarter, setting up bonus and raise programs so that your VAs feel appreciated. We gave bonuses to our team every six months. We gave them raises. When we sold FreeUp, we took $500,000 from the sale and gave it to our internal team in the Philippines. We made sure their jobs, bonus, and raise programs were secure because we know how important that is. It goes into handling issues. It goes into team leaders and assistant team leaders, and make sure that they’re okay with that and the additional responsibility.
It goes into firing virtual assistants, because here and there, although I haven’t fired a VA in a while, you do have to do it. When you wake up one day and you have to fire someone, you don’t want to be scrambling around and thinking, “What do I have to do?” You need a checklist where you do seven steps, the VA is fired, you inform the team, and you move on. It’s breaking down how you manage them on a day-to-day basis.
This is very system-oriented. I love that because I believe systems make things more flexible and easier for you. There are a lot of people who don’t follow systems well. I know many leaders in organizations who set up systems and it’s good for everybody else, but they don’t follow the systems. What’s your feedback on that?
What I like to tell my team leaders and my virtual assistants is that I want them to imagine that I have a million things going on at all times. Everything is pulling me in a million different directions because that’s the truth. That’s what the life of an entrepreneur is like. I need them to be more organized than me. I need them to keep me accountable. If I say, “I only do one podcast today so I can block time for XYZ,” I need them to hold me to that. What I like to do is make the support system around me incredibly organized and focused on the systems. That makes me as an entrepreneur even more drawn to the systems and keeps me in line, even though they’re working for me.
You give them permission to call you out.
It goes even past systems. I struggled early on working with VAs because I tend to be a very direct person. That turned off a lot of people from the Philippines because their culture is a little bit more shy and reserve, not everyone but for the most part. I had VAs that I would say, “When I fire off an email that comes across as rude or disrespectful, know that it’s not intentional. Make sure that you tell me and inform me so that I can get better.” You can use your virtual assistants to keep you accountable in lots of different things and whatever your weaknesses are across the board.
That’s a great thing to put into the onboarding. They know personality-wise who are they dealing with. You can have an open conversation and they can let you know what they like and what they don’t like so you can be clear on that. This is great stuff. It’s so important. I want to ask you a couple of general questions and then maybe a question about you personally. One of the questions I ask everybody who’s on is, what’s your definition of productivity and why?
My definition of productivity is taking the most productive hours of each day and getting the most out of them. I’m a big proponent of this and I wish I had figured it out earlier. I’m most productive between 7:00 AM and 9:00 AM. I make sure that between 7:00 AM and 9:00 AM, I am incredibly productive. I do whatever the most important task is that day. What people don’t realize is a lot of entrepreneurs are not just chugging eight hours a day work on the most important thing. Every day, they’re doing the most important thing for one or two hours. If I schedule meetings then or if I do podcasts then, I’m not maximizing my most productive time of the day. I have a friend who’s most productive between 2:00 AM and 4:00 AM. That’s totally fine too but he better make sure that he’s maximizing that time every single day.
We all have different energy rhythms. We have to know what that is and embrace that. Although there is some science behind that after we wake up, those first hours after waking up is our most productive brain time or the time when we’re most creative. I know that some morning people will disagree with that brain research.
I used to resist that as well. When I was in college, I wasn’t waking up at 7:00 AM.
I don’t think it meant when you’re waking up. It was after you’ve had a chance to rest that the way the state that your brain is in. I would take that to also that there were a lot of great thinkers in our time like Einstein and Edison. They’re all known for taking naps. It’s not necessarily having a long night sleep but taking naps during the day. That’s probably why they were so creative because they took a lot of naps. I asked this question about shortcuts. Everybody’s looking for the fastest way and the shortcut. What’s the biggest shortcut that you use or that’s your secret sauce? If there’s only one thing you could share with somebody, what’s your shortcut?
Whenever I started a new business, I take every single possible common question that I would get. I’ve done this three times now. I map it out and I use an app called WordBoard, that’s why I had the answers to all the most common questions. I also have my most common links like my schedule link, my certain social media links or whatever it is. I’ll even make quick videos like with FreeUp, when people say, “How do I request a video? How do I request a freelancer?” I would make a 30-second video that shows it. Whenever someone would message me, instead of me having to stop what I’m doing and type it out or send a voice message, I would say, “Here’s the link to this,” or I click a button and that response goes in. Over the course of a year, it saves you so much time. It doesn’t mean you have to be a robot. You can still make it personal and be like, “I made this quick video about it.” If you spend the extra hour or two, setting that upfront in your business, it’s going to save you so much time down the line. You can give it to your VAs and it’s going to make your VAs better as well.
I use TextExpander, but I think it’s the same type of thing. We all have something that we can learn or a challenge that we’re struggling with. What’s your biggest challenge?
With every business, I feel like I learned something and then I apply it to my next business. With Amazon, I had no idea how to hire. I spent years and years wondering and doing a lot of trial and error until I eventually figured out a hiring process. That’s why I built Outsource School so that people don’t have to do what I did. I eventually created a good hiring process, so when I started FreeUp, I had a good hiring process. I implemented that right away. I hired rockstars but I had no idea how to market because with Amazon, I paid them their 15% and they got me all the customers. I had to learn organic marketing, getting on podcasts, SEO, partnerships, all the stuff that goes with that.[bcct tweet= “Not every client is rainbows and butterflies.” username=”” ]
With FreeUp, we never ran paid ads. In four years, we grew to $12 million without spending any money on ads. It’s mostly because the business model that was very difficult. It’s not impossible but it’s hard to run ads to because there’s are no minimums. You can start and stop. How do you measure churn? There’s a lot that goes into it. With Outsource School, we have a good organic marketing blueprint that we can do with VAs. We implemented the same thing that we do at FreeUp. We teach that blueprint at Outsource School. We know how to hire. We have a rockstar team already. We’ve only been in business for a few months, but we need to learn that paid ad side to take it to the next level. That’s what we’re working on.
How about for you personally? That’s the business challenge. What’s your personal nemesis? People always say to me, “You’re always talking about productivity. You must be so organized.” I’m like, “No, that’s not my natural way of being. I have to work at it.” What do you have to work at because it’s your nemesis?
I’m bad at turning my brain off and relaxing. A lot of entrepreneurs struggle with that. I’m always thinking of ideas. The more time I take off, the better ideas I come up with. I’ve been working on meditation and being able to get away reading a book that has nothing to do with business stuff like that.
Do you have any recommendations that you can make to other people that are having that same challenge? Because that is pretty common for entrepreneurs.
Try meditation. It’s been a game-changer. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on it. Go on YouTube, find some meditation channel and test it out. Find someone that knows what they’re doing to talk you through it and try it. It’s not for everyone but it’s been an interesting experience.
Is there anything else that you wanted to share with our audience before we close out?
I’m very easy to contact. I love networking with other entrepreneurs so people can feel free to reach out to me, Nathan Hirsch on Facebook or LinkedIn, @realNateHirsch on Instagram or Twitter. Even if it has nothing to do with VAs, I’m more than happy to chat.
Thank you so much. I could ask you a ton more questions and get into more about the selling of your business and why you started those businesses and all those things. We’ll have to save that for another time.
Anyone that wants to check out Outsource School, go to OutsourceSchool.com. You can grab a free trial of our membership Outsource School Insider. You can grab a free trial of our software, SimplySOP. You can also schedule a call with us if you have any questions.
I’ll be posting those links so that you guys can get those because this is important. This is how you grow and scale your business. Wherever you are now, if you’re not at that point already where you take that plateau, you’re going to get there. Don’t wait until you get there. Organize your business in such a way that you’re already hiring people to support you. You’re offloading anything that isn’t the highest priority, anything that’s repetitive, and anything that you can delegate. You want to take a look at how you can do that, and constantly re-looking at it, stepping back and saying, “Where am I now and what else could I take off my plate?”
The time that you gain back and take back is going to be the time that you’re going to be able to use to scale your business further, to spend more time with your family or traveling or that extra other project that you wish you had time for. Why wait? Now is a perfect time. We’re all in this pandemic situation where things are changing. Even if you want to call it an experiment, I find that if you don’t like change, sometimes when you see it as an experiment, it doesn’t seem as daunting. This is a perfect time to try it out, see how it works, and gain some experience with it. Nathan, thank you so much for all of your great inputs.
Thanks so much for having me.
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About Nathan Hirsch
Nathan Hirsch is an entrepreneur and expert in remote hiring and eCommerce. Most recently, Nathan co-founded FreeeUp.com in 2015 with an initial $5,000 investment, scaled it to $12M per year in revenue, and was then acquired in 2019. Today, Nathan is a co-founder of OutsourceSchool, a company working to educate entrepreneurs on how to effectively hire and scale with virtual assistants through in-depth courses. Nathan has appeared on 300+ podcasts, is a social media personality, and loves sharing advice on scaling remote businesses.
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