Running an ecommerce company is a lot of work, no matter the size of your operation. Mom-and-pop shops often feel they can’t compete with the massive ecommerce corporations like Amazon, and there are some ways in which they can't (and some ways they can). What it really comes down to, however, is human-hours to Get Stuff Done. Chances are, you don’t have the need or the finances to hire a dozen people, and that’s okay. Maybe you only need one or two - and maybe you only need them once or twice.
Choosing Your Ecommerce Talent
Before you decide how many to hire and whom, you must first determine your greatest needs. Have you defined your needs based on your sales funnel? Are you tracking the most important ecommerce growth metric? Do you need to create content to drive more traffic or create pre-transactional conversion points to improve your conversion rates? Running an ecommerce company involves a wide variety of tasks, from website design to accounting, and all things marketing in between. Your chances of being found online rest on your ability to provide excellent content and then making sure potential customers see that content.
If you’re like most business owners, writing and designing aren’t your strong suits. The idea of designing your website or making changes at a later date probably terrifies you almost as much as the thought of writing a regular blog. Add to that the task of reaching out four to seven times per day on social media, and you might just be a nervous wreck.
With the idea of hiring staff to take care of these items, you might sit down and begin working out a budget. How much can you afford to pay one full-time employee, including benefits and paid time off? Will your new employee be the web designer or the writer? Or do you have even more pressing needs for a full-time employee, like an office manager, an accountant, or a social media maven?
How to Have It All
Once you add up the employees you need and compare that to the budget available, you’ll probably find the need is greater than the means. Rather than throwing your hands in the air and tackling everything yourself—a move that could leave many projects undone or half-done—consider alternative hiring options.
Freelance employees are available to work on a contract basis, and most won’t mind if you only send a few hours of work per week their way. These freelancers might be ghostwriters, social media professionals, web designers, graphic designers, and even accountants. In fact, almost any of the additional assistance you need might come from hiring freelancers.
If you can’t find one contract employee to handle all your additional needs, that’s okay, too. With four freelancers working on various tasks, you might pay as much as you would for hiring one full-time employee.
The most attractive thing about freelancers is how easy it is to map them to your current cash flow needs. Any startup knows that cash-flow is king, and hiring employees can be very expensive. Freelancers can scale up and scale down with your business's needs - without the business owner feeling bad about having to hire and fire people. Freelancers can come and go into your life as the needs and resources of your business grows
Where to Find Ecommerce Contractors
Your next hurdle to overcome is finding the talent, which might not be easy if you’re looking for contractors in your own city. If you want the very best for your money, you might have to accept that the best lives elsewhere. Fortunately, you’re virtual-minded. You run an ecommerce company, after all. With the latest in technology, you can send and receive assignments with ease, and never once will you need to meet your freelancers in person. If you do desire a face-to-face meeting or interview, online tools are available for that, too.
By spreading your search over the whole country, you have a much better chance of finding the right contractors at prices you can afford. For instance, if you’re based in New York City, you may have amazing graphic design talent at your fingertips. However, a freelance designer from southern states might produce similar work for a fraction of the cost. Consider the cost of living when seeking out your talent, and you just might get a great deal.
There are some specific sites that I've used that can help you. I'm not guaranteeing any results here, but I've found some awesome people through these sites:
1) Content Writers: Zerys
Zerys is a network of freelance writers ranging from completely part-time novices to full-time, high quality experts. I'd suggest you go somewhere in between. Finding great freelance writers is somewhat like speed-dating - it might take a while for you to find someone that really clicks with you. I usually started with assigning a very short article (or even tweet-length) job to a large number of Zerys writers (more than 100 once) to see who wrote something that vibed with my style. From that, I can narrow it down to 20 or so writers to whom I assign a larger article - and from there I've found some amazing (and amazingly affordable) writers who still work with me today (one of them, a woman in Nashville, even edited this article for me).
Also, your end-relationship doesn't have to be monogamous. I've found 4 great writers on Zerys that I'll keep with me forever. Having a diversity is great for the marketer, since freelancers can be unpredictable in their availability and responsiveness to rapid-requests. Maintaining a relationship with a few different writers makes sure that when you suddenly need all 1,500 product descriptions on your website rewritten, you'll have the Get Stuff Done bandwidth available.
2) Coders & Developers: vWorker
I've also had entire sites and custom applications designed on vWorker. Sometimes it doesn't work out (I had a coder in Pakistan whose work was interrupted by riots in his city), but vWorker has a very friendly and very buyer-favorable conflict resolution system that makes you feel comfortable with buying from people you haven't worked with before. I tend to hire mostly American freelancers simply because of language barriers, but it's up to you and it's nice to have safe access.
3) Graphics & Design: 99 Designs & Swiftly
If you're like me, your design skills may be limited to editing in MS Paint and rearranging images in PowerPoint. Good design work doesn't have to be incredibly expensive though. Small adjustments to your existing work can have a big impact - and specialist freelance designers can help you with that. 99 Designs is a good site for larger projects like logo design, and Switfly (also a 99 Designs company) is great for fast turnaround on smaller jobs.
4) Miscellaneous Work: Task Rabbit, Mechanical Turk, and Fiverr
Not everything falls into those categories. Sometimes you need someone to knock out a quick video of puppets rapping about your new product (I did that when we launched Signals last fall) where I used Fiverr to get the video made. I've also used Fiverr for quick jobs building video outros.
I've used Task Rabbit for a lot of things - personal and business - but there's such a diversity of skill there. Back in the early days of Twitter, the general "best practice" was to follow back everyone that followed you. I don't think anyone realized there'd be people with thousands or even tens of thousands of followers that weren't celebrities. So, in 2012, I found myself following more than 50,000 people - a completely unmanageable number. So I hired a freelancer on Task Rabbit to manually go through who I was following and unfollow people that didn't fit a specific profile so that I could start getting real value from following people.
Regardless of what you need done, you don't necessarily need to do it alone or hire someone full-time to do it for you. Don't use "No time/Too hard" be an excuse to not create an awesome inbound marketing experience for your ecommerce customers. Even if you're at a larger company, sometimes hiring a freelancer can get good work done faster than going through your normal internal channels.
Now that you’ve got plans for growing your staff, what will your first freelance employee do for you?
Originally published Feb 27, 2014 2:00:00 PM, updated October 20 2016