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This article is a part of series of interviews we conducted with different virtual assistants who work for Shopify store owners. We finally selected 3 interviews to publish them on our blog.
The reason is simple, we noticed that many small/medium business owners require some help - at some point - running their online business, at the very least with customer support inquires.
If you're interested in hiring a virtual assistant or wondering how could a VA be of help, this series of articles is for you.
Disclaimer: The answers provided by the interviewee represent his/her opinions and we don't take responsibility for them.
Hey M.M, can you start by telling us where do you usually get hired from?
I started out as a freelancer/VA on what is now known as Upwork (Odesk previously) and have always been hired here. I am aware of other alternatives like Freelancer but there’s a good reason Upwork is the largest hiring platform on the planet.
What skills do you offer for your Shopify Clients?
What specific work a Shopify VA does depends largely on the client and to speak plainly, how deep their pockets are. As most small to medium enterprises are cutting their teeth in the e-commerce business, they need to keep expenses down so they tend to hire one assistant and train them to do almost all aspects of the business. These include but are not limited to; sourcing products, contacting suppliers/processing orders, brand promotion and management, graphic design, customer service etc
Personally, this is how I started out and I was lucky enough to be hired by a; pragmatic, honest and approachable Shopify owner. We were a team from day one and she made it clear that the success of the business was beneficial to both of us. She asked me what I was comfortable doing and being young and naive, I said, “everything” so she taught me everything. We parted ways about 3 years ago but I still do recruitment/training and other consultancy services for her businesses.
While this was a success story, in retrospect, I can see some limitations with this modus operandi; getting one person with little or no experience to do multiple jobs can compromise quality at a critical stage in your business’ growth. Furthermore, the reliance on person can cost you dearly if he/she decides to abandon ship suddenly because of better pay or any other reason. In a nutshell, my advice would be to hire 2-3 VAs with a minimum of at least 1 year experience in a similar position. Each would have different but inter-woven roles.
That is very interesting, so I'm curious what qualifications do you have in respect to your VA role?
Interestingly enough, most Shopify VAs for small business have no formal qualifications specifically related to working as a VA. Usually experience is the ‘qualification’. I have an honors degree in International Relations & Diplomacy but not a single employer has ever inquired about it as about as useful to the job as a bicycle is to a fish.
As the business grows, so will the need and resources to hire persons who are specialized in the different aspects of the business.
So you're mostly a customer service rep? or do you do other tasks as well?
Yes, I found a calling in customer service but most customer service roles encompass a number of other tasks. For example, as a Customer Service Rep for a fashion apparel ecommerce store, my duties are varied:
I’ll start my shift by responding to all business/customer emails and social media messages. These are mostly order status requests and general inquiry queries so I can breeze through these quickly. Interestingly, a few years ago, it would take me about an hour to do about 10 emails but now with the integration of CRM features and apps into Shopify, I can breeze through hundreds of emails in a few hours. After this
I usually then get on the phone and contact suppliers about; anything from delayed shipments to wrongly shipped orders. I will then get on social media and source/contact potential promoters on Instagram or Facebook, if I can get a good offer then I send it to upstairs for confirmation. As our target is the youth, ages 13-35, most of our promotion is done via these mediums. We also have a Google doc. where we type all business related; ideas, suggestions, potential new products, complaints etc. This document is reviewed in detail at the weekly Monday meeting.
What are your going rates?
As I now have over 5 years’ experience and an impressive resume/CV, I charge $15/hour for any job that is a VA related position. (I know of western based employees who charge double that but I guess that cost of living is much higher there). When I first started out, I charged $8/hour but I am aware of VAs who charge as little as $3/hour. I, cannot, however, vouch for the quality of this work.
What industries, niches have you worked in?
Food & Beverage, service industry, fashion apparel, electrics, trading platform etc
How many clients have you worked for so far?
Great, so how does it work? Do you work with them in parallel or only take one client at a time?
Depends on the workload really. Some business only require 1-3 hours of work a day while others need work being done round the clock. At the moment, I work as a VA for three businesses that require 1-3 hours of work a day.
What applications from the Shopify App store do you use most often?and how do you rate them?
These are the main Shopify apps I have worked with;
5 star rating from me, it is excellent.
- Upsides are that it; saves time and effort by managing returns through a dedicated portal, increases sales by marketing directly to customers making returns!
- Not sure about better alternatives.
5 stars as well.
- Upsides, Makes your store socially dynamic for all social media platforms, increases social media followers fast and reduces the amount of time you spend on embedding pictures and posts
- Not sure about alternatives.
Excellent, I love it.
- Increase sales by generating more site & product reviews and its super easy to use
- I'd don't know of any alternatives.
Do you usually use applications outside of the Shopify App store?
Largely Asana and Google Calendar.
How do you usually communicate with you client and how often?
Again, depends on the client and their management style. Currently, I have one client who I haven’t communicated with in 3 weeks and I have another one who I chat with throughout the day about everything and anything.
That is true, it depends on your client and social/work habits. From that prospective, I'd like to know if you ever run into miscommunication issues with your clients?
Personally, never. I have an excellent grasp of the English language and make it a point to always ask whatever I don’t understand or question what does not make sense to me
Also, one of the biggest problems that prevented me from being communicating promptly or working reliably was power cuts and poor or intermittent internet connection. Luckily, I had a good relationship with my boss who invested in $200 worth of solar equipment and a better ISP which I paid back gradually.
So depending the your different tasks, how much do you estimate the min time to perform your job in the best possible way?
As my specialty is in customer service, this is usually an on-going project unless you’ve been hired to train/recruit or design strategy. The number of hours required a day are a direct result of the amount of business the company is generating. For instance, while working at one job as a Customer Service rep, I usually worked 40-50 hours per week but during the holiday season this was scaled up to 70 hours a week.
Those are a lot of hours, I hope you've had a good rest afterwords.
Given you experience now, in your opinion, what VA tasks do you perform that can be automated?
There are some tasks that can be automated like; order processing and refund creation but I am of the opinion that the risk of machine error and therefore losses is too great.
Can you describe the most successful store that you worked for, and what are the attributes that led to their success in your opinion?
The most successful store I worked for recently made it into the Fortune 500 group of companies. I believe the reason for success is that they have the best work culture I have ever been a part of.
Personally, as a young black man living in a third world country, I am only too well aware of the stereotypes associated with Africans and subsequent discrimination and treatment. At this company, I was treated with respect, my ideas were listened to and I was able to communicate with everyone from the CEO to my subordinates at any time. There were also both career advancement and financial rewards for hard work. As a result of this, every employee worked their asses off for the company.
Can you tell us about the estimate revenue of your Fortune 500 client?
At the time I moved on to a new challenge, gross revenue was about $1,000,000 per week and growing.
What is your worst experience working with a Shopify store owner?
Haven’t really had a bad experience but I did work at one job for a week before I quit.
I was hired as a Customer Service Manager for a medium sized company to restructure the whole customer service strategy as it was in shambles. During the interview, I asked the owner for 3 days to assess the situation and the give him a report which he agreed to. As I was working using a Google doc that he was privy to, he could see my report in progress so to speak and as soon as I started working, he bombarded me with questions, suggestions and counter arguments to my suggestions.
He also hired another CS manager to get a second opinion before I finished the report which isn’t wrong but completely undermined my work and the confidence of the rest of the company in my abilities.
It was the worst case of micro-management that I have experienced.
Do you have any advice for Shopify owners who are looking for a VA?
- Pay a little bit more for experience and skills. The temptation to cut costs by hiring VAs for peanuts is high but in my opinion this is false economy. You may end spending so much of your precious time; training, correcting mistakes or even simple English grammar when you could have been doing something else.
- Do a video interview: This may seem superfluous but you need to be comfortable with someone you may be interacting with on a daily basis. Do they sound and look as good as their resume? Are they fun, outgoing, sharp? Whatever personal traits that you’ll need in a VA will come across in a 5-10 minute interview.
Do you have any advice for Shop owners who are already working with a VA?
Yes, make the VA understand how valuable he/she is to the business and that the success of the business is beneficial to everybody.
Also, be approachable. The VA may have experience with other businesses and is in constant and daily contact with the business’ customers, suppliers and etc, he/she may have a better insight into sustainable solutions to challenges or innovative ideas to improve sales.
During the life of a small business, in your opinion: When is it exactly the best time to hire a VA? And when is the best time to hire a full time employee?
This depends on the needs of the owner and the business; as the owner, you might have quit your job to start your this business and thus have ample time or you might only have a few hours a day for the business. The former has the luxury of hiring a VA later when they absolutely need to while the latter not so much. Whatever the case, one needs to strike a healthy balance between the business and your work/personal life.
In my experience, there’s not much difference between a VA and a full-time employee unless it is a one-time project with a clearly defined end. I have worked as a VA and full time just the same as somebody in a traditional job who will get up every morning and go to work full time. I think there is miss-conception among people not familiar the virtual work world that freelancers are some sort of uneducated hippies or failures incapable of holding traditional jobs. This could not be further from the truth, the majority of freelancers are highly qualified and competent.
Over 65% of all trading last year was done online, e-commerce is the future and freelancers have positioned themselves way ahead of the pack just as Shopify owners have.
So if I understand correctly, it is related to the number of processed orders? or do you think other factors should come into play as well?
Definitely, as long as your business is growing, you will need help at some point. Usually, an unprecedented surge in the number of orders is the major factor for hiring a new VA(s).
For example, one of my former bosses was used to personally fulfilling about 40-60 orders a day and responding to customers. A new promotion strategy saw him swamped within over 1000 orders (and more inquiries) within 3 days of the promotion which is the point at which I was hired. I’m sure most first time Shopify business owners can relate to this scenario.
Thank you for this great interview, one last thing, I'm curious did you run a Shopify store before?
No, but I am saving up to do so in the near future J
We hope this interview uncovered some of the information you were looking for or assisted you in any way. If you're interested in reading the other 2 interviews we conducted then here are the links:
And here is our conclusion.