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Help Your Online Business Grow by Hiring Help

Here's what to consider when it's time to become an employer.

It’s no surprise to anyone reading this article that online sellers are busy. You know what it’s like to research an item, while at the same time reminding yourself about the orders you need to pack and ship, and the new packing peanuts you need to pick up.

If only there were two of you. Unfortunately, you’re one of a kind, but you can get more done in your online business by hiring an assistant. Jason Smith, an eBay seller of more than 13 years, did just that, not only to get the extra help, but to take his eBay business to the next level.

We asked him to share his experience so other sellers who may be thinking of taking this step will know what to expect.

eBay business begins to boom

Smith, a member of Thrifting with the Boys, began selling casually on eBay to bring in some cash while he looked for a job. He explains that his wife’s work caused the couple to move around the country a lot.

“I could always sell online before finding a ‘real’ job,” he notes.

Then four years ago, Smith decided it was time to sell on eBay, full time. An infection in his arm landed him in the hospital, giving him plenty of time to think about his employment situation. “The one thing I knew for sure was, when I got out, I would quit my job and sell on eBay, full time,” Smith says.
“The only way to take it to the next level was to hire someone. I couldn’t keep up with the ‘finds’ I kept coming home with”

The move paid off. In his first month of full-time selling, Smith made as much as he had at his previous full-time job. Eventually, though, his house was flooded with plastic tubs of inventory he had yet to list. He rented a storage unit to declutter his home, but knew he had to do more. That’s when the idea of hiring an assistant for his eBay business came to mind.

“I decided that the only way to take it to the next level was to hire someone,” he says. “I couldn’t keep up with the ‘finds’ I kept coming home with.”

More hands mean more time

There’s an obvious benefit to having someone work with you: You’ll get more done in your online business with an extra set of hands.

Since Smith brought his assistant, Maria, on board last year, sales have tripled, and tasks get done more quickly. Plus, having someone to help with everyday operations allows Smith more time to look for even more inventory to continue growing his eBay business.

And they’ve developed a system that Smith says makes the duo very efficient.

“When shipping starts in the morning, Maria starts to pull all of the sold items from the night before,” he tells us. “As she packs, I weigh and print shipping labels. We get done in no time!”

On the days Smith works at home, Maria takes pictures with a digital camera equipped with an Eye-Fi card. The card sends photos instantly to Smith’s computer, so he can start editing images even as she takes snapshots. Then, Maria writes up item descriptions while Smith catches up on emails from buyers, his Thrifting with the Boys Facebook group and billing.

“On days when I go out thrift shopping, she is still at home taking care of every aspect,” he continues.

On the days when his favorite thrift shop has a 50-percent-off sale, Smith can leave the house at 8 a.m. and be gone until 7:30 p.m., scouring for goods to resell, knowing that sales and packing aren’t being slowed by his absence.

Challenges to hiring an assistant

But having an assistant does come with some challenges, Smith notes. For instance, paying an assistant can be tough when you’re dealing with the ups and downs of the online selling environment. Like all employees, assistants expect to be paid on a regular schedule—as they should—but slow sales weeks can make this hard.

Smith also reminds us that there will be a learning curve as you train assistants. In his case, Maria caught on fast to the process of photographing and listing items. However, she knew little about pop culture before taking the job, and since Smith sells a lot of pop-culture items, it was up to him to bring her up to speed.

“I spend a lot of time teaching her the difference between The Beach Boys and the Eagles,” he says.
Paying an assistant can be tough when you’re dealing with the ups and downs of the online selling environment

During training, it’s important to “emphasize the fact that everything they do will reflect on our eBay feedback and Top-rated Seller status,” Smith continues. This includes reinforcing the importance of correct spelling, taking good photos, writing clear descriptions, labeling sizes appropriately, etc.

You can’t assume assistants know this. They may have never sold or bought online themselves, so if you decide to take this step and hire someone, set expectations early on and be clear. Also, be willing to part ways with an assistant who doesn’t pick up what you teach them, Smith adds.

Setting a schedule and finding help

Deciding how often an assistant should work will depend on the size of your eBay business, Smith continues. Keep in mind, though, that finding the right schedule may take some time, and a little trial and error. You may think you need help just twice a week, and start off that way, then realize that three times a week is a better fit.

Smith has help three times a week, normally. He bumps it up to four times a week if a lot of orders or inventory come in. During the busy holiday season, he asked Maria to work five days a week.

When it comes to where to find help for your online business, you have several options. Smith tells us he found his assistant during a game of blackjack with the guys… sort of.

As they were playing, one of his buddies mentioned that his sister, Maria, had recently quit her job. Smith asked his friend if Maria would be interested in helping him with his eBay business.

The two friends left the conversation at that, but two days later, Smith got a call that Maria was ready to work if he needed her.

“I hadn’t really thought about it in depth,” he admits, “but I told her to show up on Monday, and we would wing it.”

Needless to say, the outcome has been good, so Smith highly recommends asking friends and family if they—or someone they know—would be interested in being an eBay assistant, if you’re ready to take that step.

Sadly, though, Smith will have to look for another assistant for his eBay business in July. Maria will be starting law school, and the two will part ways. However, Smith now knows how to train an assistant, and how to work with someone else.

About the author

Olga Munoz
Olga Munoz is editor of TheOnlineSeller.com. In addition to writing news and feature articles about e-commerce, selling trends, online marketing and other topics of interest to online sellers, Olga manages the site's social media efforts. A journalism graduate of Chico State, Olga says her favorite part of being a journalist is learning interesting facts that help put stories into perspective, attending industry events and meeting interesting people "that leave you smiling, even in tough situations." Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

  • No mention if he is in the US, but if so, how does he handle withholding payroll taxes, etc?  According to the tests set forth by the IRS, Maria would be considered an employee, not an independent contractor: http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=99921,00.html

    This is the biggest thing stopping me from hiring someone to work for me.

    • Scott

       I hired a guy, he works for me 3 days a week now. I do the withholding, my accountant sends me all of quarterly filing paperwork. That and my taxes cost me around $175 a year. 

  • I like the idea of hiring help but knowing how to train someone who is totally unfamiliar with writing descriptions, etc seems daunting to me.  And how does one decide on pay?  Pay by hour or task?  Someone should write a book!! 🙂



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