This isn't really a blog post, it's a full on How To Guide. So because off that I've added a table of contents so that you can go straight to whatever section you want. But I would recommend that you read through the whole article first.

If you read my previous post on why YOU shouldn’t hire a Virtual Assistant to do your Amazon FBA product sourcing (you can read it here) and still want to go ahead, then I like you and want to be your friend.

And what do friends do? Help each other. Don’t worry, they only thing I’m going to ask from you is to keep reading.

What I am going to do for you is walk you through the practical steps you need to do to actually hire your VA.The first things that we are going to cover include everything you need to think about, plan and decide before you even place your ad for your shiny new Virtual Assistant.

I know that’s not very sexy, I know you just want to get stuck in, but believe me - get these things wrong from the beginning and your VA dreams will fail, I promise you. I’ve come up with a catchy way of reinforcing this method - IYSEOBYHLTWAL. H. Which obviously stands for: If You Sort Everything Out Beforehand, You Have Less To Worry About Later. Honest.

Ok, that might need some work.The process isn’t particularly difficult, but it’s easy to make simple mistakes which means you have to keep repeating the recruitment process many times until you get the right person.You can trust me on that because it’s likely I’ve made most of those mistakes.The process below is the one that works for me. Doesn’t mean it’s perfect, or can’t be improved upon. That part is up to you.

I’ve hired quite a few VAs to source on Amazon or carry out other work for me - some of them are still with me, some I work with occasionally, and some I wouldn’t hire again, even if they offered to work for free.The information below is going to be assuming you are hiring from the Philippines.Let’s get into it.

Before You Place Your Ad - Checklist

First I prepare a checklist of what it is I’m looking for, and try and make it as specific as possible. This makes it so much easier to write the advert, but also helps you ensure that you have covered as many of the things you will need to have in place later in the process.

1. What do I want to recruit someone to do?  Describe in one sentence what you want, e.g. I am looking for a Virtual Assistant to identify profitable products to sell on Amazon FBA using online arbitrage.

2. What do I want the VA to do specifically? E.g. they’ll be manually going through online stores and using Keepa and Camelcamelcamel to help identify profitable products, based on the criteria I will provide them

3. Full or part time? The temptation is to go in with full time from day 1, but it maybe more sensible to start at say 20 hours per week and scale up. Also, one of my main problems has been with VA’s who insist that they can work full time (40 hours per week) and it turns out that they can’t, or they can but only by working all night. I understand they want to earn as much as possible but as a long term option it doesn’t really work for either party.

4. Expectations - in a previous post (click here to read) I made the point that your expectations of what results your new Virtual Assistant will be able to produce should be carefully thought through. Having a realistic idea of how many results you think they should be able to produce - bearing in mind the training you are providing them, the tools you are making available to them etc. - is important to think about before you recruit.

4. Relevant experience or not? When I first started recruiting Virtual Assistants I would always go for someone who was as experienced as possible. This can be beneficial as it means that your training in theory can be condensed to the specifics that you want to cover, and that the management of the VA would not need to be as hands on because they know what they are doing. I’m going to use the phrase “in theory” again here, as you never really know what level of experience they have, how productive they have been previously etc. I have had mixed success going for experience, and as a result only go for candidates who have no direct experience of online arbitrage.

5. What particular skills are required? If you were going to list the qualities you would want for the perfect product sourcing Virtual Assistant, what would they be? Some of the qualities I look for include (but are not limited to):• Good Level of reading and writing English• Able to follow processes• Able to follow structured plans• Computer Literate

Now of course every applicant is going to say that they have these skills, but listing them in advance enables you to prepare your advert and also make your interview questions more targeted.

6. What training are you providing them? This is THE biggest cause of either success or failure of a product sourcing Virtual Assistant. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that by not having a detailed, structured training program you are pretty much guaranteed to be wasting your time and money. I will be going into Training in a separate blog post, but I will just say for now that we have spent weeks preparing and testing the training we have created for our new VA’s, until we’ve got it down to a well oiled process that makes it almost impossible for the VA to fail. If they do, it’s because we haven’t got the recruitment right, not because we haven’t trained them properly.

7. Based on your training, how in depth do you want their knowledge to be? This links in to the point above, but also means you need to think about if you want them to be a sourcing guru who can read a Keepa graph upside down and back to front whilst looking the wrong way through a telescope. Riding a unicycle. On fire. Or if you want them to be able to follow a structured process that is relatively simple to pick up and which will allow them to be able to provide good results within a day or two of starting work. Think about it - you’ve got amazing sourcing software like Tactical Arbitrage (free 10 day trial if you enter coupon code greenlava at checkout right here ) or FBA Wizard (which you can check out here).Why then would you need your VA to understand the intricacies of product sourcing if you have genius level software to do it for you. Up to you of course, but I like to keep things as simple as possible. Use the tools you have at your disposal would be my recommendation.

8. How are you going to pay them? By this I mean by the hour or based on results. I have only ever gone with by the hour, as I feel that if someone has done the work, they shouldn’t be penalised if there just doesn’t happen to be any profitable products at the store you’ve asked them to source at. But I know that some people advocate only paying on the number of results their VA has found for them. I think that these people are a little bit evil. Not evil in a big way, just a bit. Most VA’s prefer to get paid in USD via Paypal, but again it helps to have this detail ready for when you recruit.

9. How much are you going to pay them? We pay our product sourcing VA’s $2.00 an hour for a weeks trial, during which time they receive their training and demonstrate if they look like they’re going to make the grade. If they are successful after this first week we increase to $2.50 per hour. We will then increase their salary at points in the future by set increments. 

10. How are you going to manage them? After Training, I would say that how you manage your Virtual Assistant becomes the number one priority. This ranges from coaching and motivating to time tracking and monitoring your VA. I’m going to do a whole post on Management, and show you some free tools that you can use that makes the whole process a lot easier and more effective.


How To Write Your Job Ad

I personally don’t think that this is as complicated as some people make out. Actually, thinking about it, I don’t remember anyone saying that it was complicated. Perhaps I imagined it.It’s fairly simple, but it’s taken me a few attempts to get it to the point where I am happy with it.If you have completed the 10 points earlier in the post you will be a lot closer to being able to do this quite quickly.

This is the first ad I posted on onlinejobs.ph (the way you input your job ad details is slightly different on Upwork but the result is the same):

Job Title: Product Research to Identify Products to Sell on Amazon (UK and US)

Job Description: Thank you for your interest in our product internet research position. The job consists of searching major retail websites in the UK and US and comparing them to prices on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.Criteria will be provided of how to identify products to report back to me, and a list of retail websites will also be provided for you to source from.

Initially I will ask you to do 10 hours work as a trial, then I will be looking for you to work a minimum 20 hours per week. Over time this may increase.

Applicants must have experience in sourcing products to sell on Amazon, and understand how to show net profit, ROI (return on investment), calculate FBA fees etc.

What do you think? It’s fairly bad but not terrible. It is specific in some areas, but not others.It mentions experience at the end, whereas it should be at the beginning.It doesn’t mention how they will be trained.

It doesn’t mention how they will be managed.

I keep changing my mind on whether I share my latest sourcing VA ad with you. I’m trying to be as helpful as possible. You know that don’t you? I mean there are about 1800 words above this, and you must find at least a few of them useful. So how much free usefulness is too much?

It’s a tricky one. Ok, I’ll do it.

No, I don’t want to.

Oh bloody hell, I will. There is a chance that depending on when you are reading this there is just a blank space under this sentence because I’ve been back and deleted it.

It’s not that it’s perfect, and I bet quite a few of you think it’s not very good. To those of you that do: Screw You.

Anyway, it works for me, and underneath I’ll explain why.

Job Title: Full Time Virtual Assistant to run software and track results

Job Description: We are a Spanish based company looking for talented VA's to work from the comfort of their own home and help grow our business.The role will require you to follow documented processes to use specific software, reviewing data and logging results.

Full paid training will be given and access to the required software will be provided.

This role is Full Time and so you must be able to commit to this before applying. You will need to be able to download and install time tracking software.Skills Required

• Good Level of reading and writing English

• Able to follow processes

• Able to follow structured plans

• Computer Literate

Other Requirements:

• A Computer

• Reliable Internet connection

• Chrome web browser

After successfully completing training, there will be a 1 week trial. Progress and performance will be regularly reviewed.

When applying for the job, please provide the following information:

Confirm you are able to work full time

Provide details of any work experience you have

Provide details of what your key skills are

Are you currently working for, or plan to work for, any other company while you would be working for us? If so, how do you plan to fit your work for us around your other responsibilities?

Key Points To Note

  1. Nowhere in the advert title or description does it mention Amazon, online arbitrage or product sourcing. This is intentional because I want someone with no experience of that. My training is that good, and tightly structured that I don’t want someone who comes into the role with any preconceptions, bad habits etc. I find being able to train and mould someone gets you much better results long term.
  2. So most people will tell you to be as specific as to your requirements as possible. That’s difficult to do if you are intentionally leaving out the main aspects of the job.
  3. However following “ documented processes to use specific software, reviewing data and logging results” is pretty much exactly what they will be doing. So is this not specific enough? Remember, you will have opportunity further into the process to say exactly what they will be doing if you really want to.
  4. The other important section for me is the “This role is Full Time and so you must be able to commit to this before applying. You will need to be able to download and install time tracking software.” Whilst putting this detail into the advert won’t guarantee The skills required, the information requested from them - what else do you need? I do get why this flies in the face of other “hiring a VA” guides I’ve read, but tell me - if it works (and it does), why get more complicated than this.
  5. One of the biggest issues I’ve faced when hiring a VA is that almost all will agree to work whatever hours you want, but when it actually comes to it they struggle to do so. This is generally because they have other employment or are studying. So that is why I ask them if they have other jobs, and if so how they plan to manage them both.

Two points I will reiterate over and over again - the recruitment process is pretty much the easy part of hiring a product sourcing Virtual Assistant. The management and training are the more difficult aspects. I know both my management process and training courses are shit hot, and that’s where my main efforts are concentrated.

But you can save so much time, effort and money by getting the recruitment right.

I’m going to leave the advert side of things there, and move onto where you will be placing your ad, and how to place your ad. So let’s take a look. No, after you.


Which Websites To Recruit From

There are many companies who can provide fully trained VAs for you. I haven’t used these services so I’m not in a position to comment on them. The reason I haven’t used them is because the salary tends to be a lot higher than if you do it independently and I also like to be responsible for the training of my Virtual Assistant, so that I know exactly what they can and can’t do, and helps me manage my expectations of them.

The two channels I have used several times are ones you may well be familiar with. Upwork.com and Onlinejobs.ph. I’ll give a overview of both of them, go through their pros and cons, and let you know which I currently prefer and why.

Upwork.com

I love Upwork.com. It’s basically a site that connects freelancers with people who need one off jobs, long term projects and anything in between. I’ve used Upwork for the development of Chrome extensions (Buy Box Checker or AZ 90 Day anyone?), software, design work, and of course online arbitrage Virtual Assistants.

Let me take you by the hand, and walk you through the streets of Upwork.

When you go to post a job you get the two options below. Depending on what you have decided you want full time/part time etc. will determine which route you go down.

Whichever option you choose you will then need to select the category and subcategory of the job. To be honest, there are a few things you could pick, and get good results as far as applicants are concerned. I tend to go for the more obvious option:

You then get to put in the job title and description of the role. This has been covered above in the What Should My Ad Say? Section, so I’m going to move on to the next part.

We’ll assume for now you’re hiring one VA (let’s not get carried away now!). We then have the optional section of being able to add in required skills. Whilst it is optional, I would recommend taking the skills you identified earlier and getting as many of them as possible into here. Think of it like a dating site - the more specific you can be with your requirements, the more likely you are to get a hot date out of it. Start typing the skill you want and Upwork will give you a selection to choose from.

You may need to play around with this part to get Upwork to recognise the specific skill. You can see from this example the first one I have gone for is data entry.

You will then choose Ongoing Project, Pay By The Hour and Entry Level. As you can see by the Pay By The Hour option you get to benefit from Upwork’s time tracking, payment and work monitoring systems (I’ll go into these more in the Managing Your Virtual Assistant blog post). The reason you will select Entry Level here, avoiding the temptation to go for Intermediate or Expert, is because you need to be realistic about what level of experience you can expect based on the amount you are looking to pay.

Based on your previous selection of Virtual Assistant in the job category, the Entry Level will default to less than $7.

The next section allows you to define a bit more the type of contract that you are offering.

If this is your first time hiring a VA, I think it is a sensible approach to go for 1-3 months. However I haven’t noticed any difference in the type of applicants when I have selected 3 to 6 months. The time commitment is self explanatory.

We then skip to the section below. The Screening Questions are vital to help you select the right candidate.

Basic examples of screening questions could include:

Can you please confirm you are able to work full time (40 hours per week)?

Can you provide details of any work experience you have?

Can you provide details of what your key skills are?

But obviously you want to make these as specific as possible based on the skills and experience you have already identified that you require. When we get to screening the applicants, we can quickly remove those who either haven’t answered the questions, or have provided unsatisfactory responses.

Similarly, requiring a Cover Letter will allow you to make better selection choices at the screening phase.

Once you have posted the job, you will then get taken to a screen that shows you people who Upwork think maybe suitable candidates.

Here you can see their normal hourly rate, how much they have earned in the time they have been registered on Upwork (the more they have earned is a good indicator of reliability and experience), Job Success is based on feedback by previous employers and you can click on the candidate to find out more about them, see specific feedback etc. If you like the look of them you can invite them to apply for your job, or save them for later to have another look at.

This is a really useful feature of Upwork, because it allows you to invite potential VA’s who you think would be a good fit. Think swiping Right or Left on Tindr!

You will now receive notifications from Upwork letting you know when you have applicants.

Other Key Features of Upwork

  1. Communication - when communicating with your VA you have to use the message system on the Upwork site. This has its benefits in that you have everything in one place. But it also means that you are tied to Upwork for the duration of your hire. I have more effective ways of managing my VAs so prefer not to have this forced on me.
  2. Time tracking - when you agree to hire your Virtual Assistant you have the option of enabling Upwork’s time tracker Work Diary which records their key strokes and takes pictures of their screen six times an hour. USE IT!
  3. Automatic payment - based on the hours logged in the Work Diary Upwork will automatically deduct the money due to your VA from your chosen payment source and pay them for you.
  4. Upwork offer an escrow service if you have a project rather than an ongoing hire. Not really useful for a VA but good to know.

Here are the benefits and downsides that I have found using Upwork:

Pros of Upwork

  • Well structured, easy to use website
  • Huge amount of freelancers to choose from (not just VA’s)
  • Ability to see previous earnings, feedback etc. to give you a good idea of your candidate’s ability and experience
  • Payment is made automatically from your billing source to your VA (minus Upwork’s cut)
  • When you hire your VA you have the opportunity to use Upwork’s inbuilt time tracker which logs the hours your VA works and takes screenshots of what they are doing at random intervals
  • Your virtual assistant in theory could be anywhere in the world, not just the Philippines. Having a wider geographical spread can help if you want a truly 24 hour operation

Cons of Upwork

  • Minimum hourly rate you can pay your VA is $3.33. That means when you do a trial, or want to increase your Virtual Assistant’s salary, your costs are going to go up quite a lot compared to onlinejobs.ph
  • The way that Upwork makes it’s money is by taking a % of the freelancer’s (i.e. the VA’s) earnings. So for the first $500 you pay your VA, Upwork takes 20% from the VA. After that this charge drops to 10%. So you need to be aware that when you are paying your VA they won’t receive the full amount
  • Client (that’s you) is charged 2.75% of any payment you make to the VA (there maybe other charges by Paypal or whoever you use to make the payment)
  • Everything has to go through Upwork. Whilst this may not be a problem for you (after all, it is free on the client side), I have my own ways of managing and communicating with my Virtual Assistants and I don’t like the inflexibility of not being able to use them. Can be a deal breaker.

OnlineJobs.ph

OnlineJobs is specifically geared towards matching up Filipino workers with employers. I like a service that does one thing and does it well, and although there are some caveats which I will come to in the Pros and Cons, OnlineJobs fits that criteria.

Let’s have a walk through of how it works.

Once you create your free account, you are ready to place your first job advertisement.

As you can see, it is fairly self explanatory. I have highlighted three sections.

  1. If I am recruiting for a full time employee I put the monthly salary ($2.50 x 40 hours x 52 weeks / 12 months). I also mention in the advert and in the Wage/Salary section that the first week trial is paid at $2.00 per hour. If I was recruiting a part time VA I would put the hourly wage
  2. Obviously ensure that the Type of Employment matches the salary details
  3. The Require ID Proof section is interesting. This is how OnlineJobs explain what this means:

I always set mine at the highest option, which is 70, and still get more applicants than I can shake a stick at. Not that I would shake a stick at a Virtual Assistant - that’s a management no no.

I like the next section, and find it is quicker and easier to use than identifying required skills in Upwork.

Basically you click on each blue box and select the skills that you would like your applicants to have. I would recommend that you take a note of all of the skills that you tick, so that you can question the candidates if required at selection stage.

You then post your job for approval. This can take up to 48 hours to approve HOWEVER, you can get them instantly approved and also gain some additional benefits if you sign up to the PRO version.

This costs $49 per month, but I am able to carry out all of my recruiting well within a month, so then I cancel my subscription.

So in theory it’s costing you $49 to recruit. Being able to read worker reviews is a huge plus For me it is well worth it, and I’ve never used the Free option, but some people don’t like an upfront cost. Note: for the purposes of research for this article, I set up a new free account and posted a job. It got approved in about 24 hours, which was good, but with the free account I couldn't find a way to actually review the applicants. Which makes it pretty pointless. So from what I can see, you would have to pay the $49 to recruit using OnlineJobs.

And that’s it! You will start receiving emails letting you know about your applicants.

Other Key Features of OnlineJobs

  1. Communication - there is a messaging system for you to liaise with your applicants in OnlineJobs. It is sufficient to get through the recruitment stage at which point you would be better moving to a different communication channel. I will go through this in my How To Manage Your Virtual Assistant blog post.
  2. Time tracking - when you agree to hire your Virtual Assistant you have the option of enabling OnlineJob’s time tracker TimeProof which records the time that they have worked and takes pictures of their screen at random intervals. USE IT!
  3. Automatic payment - based on the hours logged in TimeProof OnlineJobs will automatically deduct the money due to your VA from your chosen payment source and pay them for you through it’s EasyPay solution. Please note that this is currently only available to employers in the US and Canada, and is currently in beta, so I don’t have any experience of using this facility.

Here are the benefits and downsides that I have found using OnlineJobs: 

Pros of OnlineJobs

  • Posting a job is incredibly quick and easy
  • OnlineJobs only has Virtual Assistants in the Philippines, therefore it is much more targeted
  • Ability to see previous feedback etc. if you use the Pro option to give you a good idea of your candidate’s ability and experience
  • Payment is made automatically from your billing source to your VA (if you are US or Canada based)
  • When you hire your VA you have the opportunity to use the TimeProof inbuilt time tracker which logs the hours your VA works and takes screenshots of what they are doing at random intervals
  • No minimum wage, so you can be cost effective whilst paying a fair wage
  • Freedom to manage and communicate with your VA’s in whatever way you want - not tied to a proprietary system
  • Once the VA is hired, they are with you, not Upwork
  • Everything you pay wage wise goes directly to the VA with no deductions.

Cons of OnlineJobs

  • You really have no choice but to go for the Pro option - so the "Free" option isn't really viable
  • $49 month fee for the Pro option. You can cancel after you have completed your recruitment however
  • If you’re not US or Canada based you have to remember to pay your Virtual Assistant each week

Which Recruitment Channel To Use

I’m trying to think of a metaphor to compare Onlinejobs.ph to Upwork. Let’s try a few.

Like Virgin Atlantic to British Airways

Like the Rolling Stones to The Beatles

Like Banksy to Van Gogh

The point I’m trying to make is that Upwork is a more traditional, sophisticated solution to hiring a Virtual Assistant. Also more expensive, but you know that what you are getting is more likely to be good quality.

So looking back, the metaphors don’t work at all do they? Virgin Atlantic are very good quality, I’ve see the Stones live (recently, I’m not that old) and they are the tightest quality band you’ve ever seen, and art is always subjective anyway.

I haven’t used Upwork.com to recruit product sourcing Virtual Assistants for a long time.

The facts that I have complete flexibility over salary levels and that I can manage my VA’s through whatever system I want are not negotiable for me. When I hire a VA through Upwork they feel like I have an employee of Upwork. When I hire a VA through Onlinejobs.ph I end up with an employee of my own company.

By going with OnlineJobs I also save myself an estimated $1700 per annum per VA in salary costs compared to if I recruited through Upwork.

So for me, it is www.onlinejobs.ph everytime. But I hope that the above run downs and comparisons help you make the best choice for you, which after all is the most important thing.


Drawing Up A Candidate Shortlist

So we’re getting closer and closer to that exciting point where you actually be employing your Virtual Assistant. Just a couple of steps to go.

In my experience you will start getting applicants very quickly, sometimes within minutes, depending on the time of day you post your job ad.

I think the most recent job ad I placed on OnlineJobs got 95 applicants in around 24 hours. If I had placed the same advert on Upwork I probably would have got about a third of that.

But please don’t equate quantity with quality. It is likely that the percentage of good candidates in the smaller Upwork pool would be a lot higher than in the larger OnlineJobs pool. And you tend to get more verifiable experience from Upwork.

And if you think about it, 30 candidates should be more than enough to choose from!

With those kind of numbers as applicants, I will pause the advertisement, as I now have a sufficient amount, without being overwhelmed with hundreds to work through.

For both sites, I employ the same approach.

I quickly go through all of the applications and delete the ones who didn’t answer the questions I asked in the advert. I also reject those who seem to have misunderstood the requirements (e.g. you may well get applicants telling you that they can easily get your Amazon products ranked. That’s great, but it’s not what I’m looking for).

I will also reject those who don’t compose their reply in a structured manner.

I also reject those who have managed to read between the lines and tell me that they have experience in online arbitrage. Because as I’ve mentioned previously, I want someone without experience. Again, this could well be different for you.

I also immediately delete those who beg for the job so that they can afford to feed their children. It’s a horrible feeling, and it serves as a reminder to me of the type of lives that many of the Filipino’s looking for work have, which I try and take into account in the management part of the process. But it wouldn’t work for me having an employee who I am unable to let go if they can’t meet the required standards because I feel guilty about how it will affect their family.

This last point is not one I have seen addressed anywhere else, and I honestly can’t tell reading that back if it makes me sound like an unsympathetic monster or not (I’m not, honestly), but it is as well to be prepared for it, particularly with some of the applicants through Onlinejobs.

Once I’ve managed to get my shortlist down to a more manageable level I will go back through and save/bookmark (both Onlinejobs and Upwork allow you to do this) the candidates that are strongest based on their applications.

I then go back through again to narrow it down to three or four. I don’t delete the ones who don’t make the cut here, because I may well need to go back to them if my first choice or choices don’t work out.

The criteria for this final selection is: when I read the candidate's application, do they make me think something like “She sounds really good” or “I would really like to work with him”.

Now obviously this is not scientific. But connections and relationships aren’t, and I’m comfortable with that. I’m looking to form a long term connection with someone. You may have more specific requirements, and this is the time to apply them.


Interviewing The Candidates

So now we’ve got down to the wire, I will conduct brief interviews with each of the final candidate. I know some people do this via Skype, and I think that is a brilliant idea, particularly as it will encourage more face to face interaction in the future with the successful candidates.

Despite this it’s not a method I’ve used yet. I think it’s because I know not everyone will be comfortable with having a conversation in this way particularly as their first language is not English. And I don’t want to rule somebody who could be a really good VA out because of this.

But this is an area that is up to you, and you should use the method that you think will work best for you.

My interviews are pretty basic. I will reconfirm some of the requirements of the role, I will double check about their full time availability, I will ask them any questions that I have based on what they have said in their application, and I will take the opportunity to tell them more specifically about what they will be doing and how we would be working together.

I will ask them for feedback on what they now think of the role. Invariably they will say that they love the idea of it, but at least they have some clarity before they start on what they will actually be doing.

I do the interviews via messages within OnlineJobs or Upwork.


Making A Selection

Before I have interviewed the final few, I will already have a pretty good idea about who I am most likely to recruit. What I find is the interview confirms that idea. If I am recruiting one VA, I will select two to do the one week trial. If I am recruiting two VAs I will select three or four to do the one week trial and so on. I accept this as a cost of the recruitment process.


Informing The Unsuccessful Candidates

For those applicants who I have interviewed but decided not to offer a trial to, I tend not to fully reject, but to keep them “warm”. This is because there is always a reasonable chance that whoever is doing the trial will not work out, and I don’t want to have to start the recruitment process over from scratch.

So instead I thank them for their time, inform them that I won’t be progressing their application further right now because I have had so many candidates apply, but that I like what they have said so far and that I may be in touch with them in a week or so.

I always ask them if that is ok with them, as I like them to feel as though they have some control over the process themselves.


Agreeing Initial Terms With Successful Candidate

Just the good news left now - to congratulate your new employee(s), confirm terms and welcome them to their one week trial with your company.


What's Next?

You will be coaching them through the training that you have slavishly prepared over the past few months and introducing them to the management process that you have set up.

What do you mean you haven’t done all of these things?

What do I keep telling you are the most important parts of having an Amazon FBA product sourcing Virtual Assistant? Management and Training.

So I guess you want to to tell you the best ways to do those things now aren’t you?

Ok, maybe.

If you smile at me that way that you know I like, I will.

Waiting.

Waiting.

That’s the one, thank you.

For the next instalment in this series, click on How To Manage Your VA, where I've made some videos where I show you exactly how you can communicate with and manage your product sourcing Virtual Assistants. Including some free and paid tools to help you along the way.


The emphasis in the headline is intentional and important.

Out of the millions (ahem) of people reading this blog post, I’m talking to you specifically.

Yes you. I’m going to tell you why I don’t think that YOU should hire a virtual assistant to do your Amazon FBA product sourcing.

If at the end of this blog post you still want to hire a VA, then we can talk.

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to be talking about potential VA’s being from the Philippines, and that what we want them to do specifically is online arbitrage for products to sell on Amazon. The points below will still be relevant no matter where they are from, however.

Cheap Labour

(For US based readers, I have spelt labour in the correct, original English)

There is the perception created by advocates of hiring a VA that you can pay very little money and get a sourcing superstar.

That may have been true 5 or 6 years ago, when the average Filipino salary was around $160 per month. Even as recently as 2015 the average monthly wage was as low as $289.

But now I wouldn’t consider paying less than $433 per month, and that would be for someone with no experience of sourcing.

Now that’s still ridiculously cheap at only $2.50 an hour. Within a few months I will have raised that to $3.00 if the VA is performing as hoped.

I see people saying you can pay a VA $1.50 per hour. I mean come on. These are people, many have families to support. You’re not running a charity but you should be paying a fair wage. After all, they are helping you make money. There a hundreds of potential candidates for every VA vacancy, so that can force the successful applicant to agree to such a low wage. But have some respect for them – you want to them to be motivated,

Why should they work for far less than the average wage, just because some greedy Westerner wants something for nearly nothing?

So if you were thinking of hiring a VA and paying peanuts – YOU shouldn’t hire a VA.

You Want Someone Who Knows Better Than You How To Source

It’s the magic bullet isn’t it? The golden goose, the er, deep fried thingy… anyway, you know what I’m getting at. You’re struggling to source products to sell on Amazon at a profit, why not hire someone else to do it for you?

What does everyone who recommends that you should get a Virtual Assistant to do your online arbitrage for you say? “Wake up in the morning with an inbox full of perfectly profitable products that you just need to buy and ship into Amazon”.

Sidenote: I hadn’t planned on the alliteration of ‘perfectly profitable products’ there, it just happened. Sometimes I think my fingers have a mind of their own. That’s certainly what my wife says anyway.

Something I see a lot in Amazon FBA related Facebook groups are inexperienced sellers asking questions about hiring a VA because they think that by doing so they can shortcut their way to selling success. Unfortunately that just doesn’t work. Understanding product sourcing yourself, at least to a reasonable standard, puts you in a much stronger position to be able to work with a VA.

It doesn’t mean you have to be an expert, but at the end of the day you will still be making the buying decisions.

About 8 years ago I hired a Virtual Assistant from an Indian company called Brickwork (it was recommended in The Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris).

I asked them to find companies in the UK who would dropship Sci-Fi products. 

It was a waste of time for them and me.

They didn’t know what dropshipping was (why would they?)

They didn’t really know what type of Sci-Fi products I wanted

Do you know why? Because I didn’t really know either. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing and just thought that by hiring an untrained Virtual Assistant without knowing what to do myself and without being able to provide instruction I would get some results.

So if you think that just by hiring a Virtual Assistant to do your online arbitrage for you you’ll get great results – YOU shouldn’t hire a VA.

Before I forget – this is the first in a series of VA related blog posts – sign up here so that you don’t miss the rest of the series:

You Want Someone Who Knows How To Source To The Same Standard As You

Ok, you’re an expert at online arbitrage. You can find 20 great products just by blinking at each page of the Toysrus clearance sale.

Does that mean your VA is going to be able to do that?

Answer is no. Everytime.

One of the mistakes I made when I first started hiring VAs, and I see people making, is they expect their Assistant to source like they do.

Think about how you learnt product sourcing – chances are you did a course, or you were self taught, maybe reading the odd blog post and watching Youtube videos. And along the way you bought things, maybe even sold some of them. Made mistakes, had successes and built up your experience.

But if you think about it, your VA isn’t following your path. They might be following some training you put together. Perhaps even following a course you’ve shared with them. But there is a factor in them building their experience that you didn’t have – you.

Your VA is having to deliver results to you pretty much from the get go. A certain quantity and quality. Could you have done that in your first few weeks of sourcing? After following a half arsed set of instructions in a different language?

Even an experienced product sourcing VA won’t source like you do. They will source in the way they have been taught, or developed their own way. And it’s going to be different to you.

So if you expectations are that you can hire a Virtual Assistant who can do online arbitrage to rocket your Amazon FBA sales upwards, YOU shouldn’t hire a VA.

 

 

You don’t know how to train them (or you think you do, but really, you don’t)

As I mentioned in the rant section above, how your VA works and performs is based on how they are trained and coached.

My mistake when I started out was to hire Virtual Assistants who had product sourcing experience, gave them a list of online stores to search, and a spreadsheet to fill in. Along with instructions not to go above a certain sales rank or below a specific ROI percentage.

I got results. Crap ones. I’d get about 10 products a day, and would be lucky if more than one was worth buying. What did I expect?

When I had an actual real, 9-5 job for an established company, I had a weeks induction, with training that spanned several weeks. Plus regular ongoing training. That’s when it was fair for my boss to have high expectations regarding my performance. If on my second day at work he had complained that I wasn’t doing a great job, how do you think that would have made me feel?

When you get trained at a job, you are shown how to follow a structured, established process (if the company you are working for are doing it right).

This is the approach that you should be taking with your new product sourcing VA. I’m going to have an upcoming post on “How To Train Your VA to Product Source”, and I’ll show you a method that works really well. But that has taken me a long time and a lot of mistakes before I got it right.

If you’re not prepared to put the planning into the training for your Virtual Assistant – YOU shouldn’t hire a VA.

You are not prepared to manage and work with your VA

I 100% recommend outsourcing as much as possible. I like to focus on the things that add real value to my businesses. Having elements that run “hands off” is fantastic. This works particularly well with a prep and shipping company (although I would still recommend regularly touching base).

But having a product sourcing Virtual Assistant shouldn’t be hands off. Cultivating a relationship, being there to help them if they need it, coaching them to improve in certain areas – all of these things will result in a more motivated and therefore productive employee.

I don’t know if you are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If not, the picture below is fairly self explanatory. The first things we need, that motivate us to do anything, are the basics to survive. Basically – I need to earn money to eat, to have somewhere to live, to support my family.

Once we have that in place, the requirements to make us happy are not necessarily financial. Yes, a lot of you are saying “Hell no, I want to be rich” (I’m assuming you’re American, if you’re British it will be more like “Er, actually I wouldn’t mind quite a lot of money if it’s all the same with you old chap”).

But what does that money facilitate? We go higher up the hierarchy of needs and it means that we can have a nicer house, we can have time to develop social connections etc.

For most people, money facilitates all of the other things we need to make us happy, until we get to the point of self-actualisation.

Now why would your Virtual Assistant be any different? They are initially motivated by earning enough money to survive, then maybe to buy something they have had their eye on for a while, or a gift for their partner or child. But once they have achieved that level consistently, what is that motivates them?

Sense of connection.

Confidence.

Sense of achievement.

You can help them achieve those things by managing and coaching them with care and attention, and understanding what is in it for them as much as what is in it for you.

So, if you’re not prepared to manage and work with your Amazon FBA online arbitrage Virtual Assistant – YOU shouldn’t hire a VA.

Summary

So I hope that you have realised that this blog post hasn’t really being about you not hiring a product sourcing Virtual Assistant. I actually think that you should (well maybe not YOU, but the rest of you definitely should).

What I wanted to highlight were what I see as the important factors you need to think about, plan and work on in order for it to work for you.

Because when it does, it really can transform your business.

Luckily, I have a series of blog posts coming up over the next couple of weeks that will show you how to do the whole process properly and effectively, and will cover:

How To Hire a VA
How To Manage a VAHow To Train a VA

 

And as always, I’d love to hear your feedback on this, so please leave comments below.

Let’s cut straight to the chase – the more your products have the Buy Box, the more sales you will make (unless your inventory consists of terrible products that have terrible sales ranks).

In this blog post I’ll show you one of the main ways you can take action to increase your Buy Boxes.

To summarise how you get the Amazon Buy Box:

Seller Metrics –  Your Order Defect Rate, Cancellation Rate, and Late Shipment Rate – the better you do at these the better Amazon’s opinion of you will be as a seller, and you get closer to the top of the queue for the Buy Box

Every serious Amazon seller should be monitoring their account health, as well as feedback (as you can read in this blog post here)

That’s all great, but all of the above are things that happen over time. Is there anything you can do TODAY to get more Buy Box Action and hopefully more sales?

I’m glad you asked, otherwise I would have had to stop there.

Price is obviously a key factor in whether Amazon is going to let you have or share Buy Box. If you make your price more competitive, you are more likely to get the Buy Box.

What you need to take action today is Information. If you don’t know which of your products has the Buy Box, how can you do something to increase the chances of those that don’t?

Another good question, you’re on fire today.

There are two pieces of information that will help you.

  1. Buy Box Percentage at item level – what % of the time does your product have the buy box. This information is readily available and I’ll show you how to find out in just a minute
  2. Which of  your products have the Buy Box at any given moment in time. This isn’t readily available. Or at least it isn’t until I just released a brand new free Chrome Extension that will show you just that – you can get that by clicking here

Ok, back to Buy Box Percentage at item level. I’ll show you step by step what you need to do:

  1. In Amazon Seller Central go to Reports>Business Reports:

2. Then select Detail Page Sales and Traffic

3. You will then see this report, with the Buy Box Percentage column showing the % of the time each product has had the Buy Box:

4. You can then click at the top of the Buy Box Percentage column and sort by Ascending Order. This will show you the products that are getting the least Buy Box action:

For the product above, I would say there is clearly a long term problem. Given the amount of page views, to never have the buy box suggests that if all of your seller metrics are in good standing, you clearly have a price problem. This could be one where you take a hit on profit just to get the product shifted so you can invest in better inventory.

So you would take a closer look at the products that have a low or zero Buy Box Percentage and take action to improve this. You do this, you get products shifted and move on – it’s a great feeling because you have done something today to improve your business.

I hope that helps. You need to be doing whatever you can to get ahead of the competition, and trust me, not all of them will know about this.

 

Who knows best what to sell on Amazon?

I know it’s not me, although I try. You may think it’s you, and who am I to disagree with you? You seem like a smart enough person to me (you’re reading this blog post after all. That alone puts you in the top 1% smartest humans).

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Amazon kn0w best what to sell on Amazon. They have quite a bit of data, clever algorithms and robot slaves working 24 hours a day with little more than a quick squirt of oil for sustenance (probably).

So why don’t we take advantage of that, and let them tell us what we should sell? I know some of you reading this will already do that, so stop shouting.

To make the most of the method below, using the code GREENLAVA at checkout will get you a free 10 day trial of Tactical Arbitrage – click here then come back to this blog

It’s all very well having this information (I’ll show you how to get it in a minute if you don’t already know. To be honest I’ll show you how even if you do know. It’s not an intuitive blog post, it’s fixed words in a certain order) – but how does that help us actually find them at a price to make us a profit?

I know I’ve asked you a lot of questions so far. I hope you haven’t spent too long trying to work out the answers. They were mainly rhetorical. A device to try and get you to engage with this blog post. Has it worked?

Ok, so first, let’s get Amazon to tell us what to sell.

First we dip our toe in the sea of tranquility that is Amazon Seller Central.

Then we go to our reports and select Amazon Selling Coach:

2016-09-09_12-04-38

 

 

 

We then go to Products:

2016-09-09_12-08-42

 

 

 

 

This is where Amazon are being extra friendly to us, and they whisper sweet nothings in our sellers ears about things like “Popular This Season” (603 products) and the slightly erotic “Items With High Customer Interest” (499 products). Works for me.

You could break things down into those categories, but here I tend to just download everything.

2016-09-09_12-14-47

 

 

Only takes a few seconds. Now for the fun part. Sorry, the even more fun part, if that were possible. You can use the details in the downloaded report to search manually in the normal stores that you try. You can give them to your Virtual Assistant (what do you mean you don’t have one? They are de rigueur this season) to source for you. Or you can plug them into whatever sourcing software you use that has the facility to “reverse search” for products, and let it finish the work that Amazon has started. I use Tactical Arbitrage which has recently reopened it’s doors to new members, which to me is the King, Queen and slightly disreputable Prince of sourcing software.

All you need to do is slightly format the report to meet the requirements of Tactical Arbitrage:

2016-09-09_12-19-41

 

 

 

 

Fill in whatever Filter settings you want and click Submit. You don’t need a screenshot of that.

So what we are doing is harnessing data that is only available to us through Amazon to find targeted products that AZ are telling us will sell. All we need to do is source them.

I’ve done just that, following my own instructions, and the very first item TA found was this for my US selling account:

2016-09-09_12-27-15

 

 

 

 

Thank you very much.

Another report you can utilize to take advantage of this Reverse Searching method which I love is basically to search on the ASINS of everything you have ever sold. To find the data for this we go to:

2016-09-09_12-29-26

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then to By ASIN and Detail Page Sales and Traffic:

2016-09-09_12-31-19

 

 

 

 

 

And then over to the top right of the page where you can adjust the date to get TWO YEARS WORTH OF ASINS!!

2016-09-09_12-33-28

 

 

 

If you want to, before you download, you can select which columns to display and download so that you are only grabbing the ASIN. Then just a bit of formatting as above and Bob’s your uncle, Fanny’s your aunt (for US or Oz based readers I don’t know if that makes any sense. I haven’t made it up, honest).

Again, the first item on the results list when I have just run this for my UK account was this:

2016-09-09_12-35-44

 

 

 

So that’s it. Two easy to obtain reports with potentially extremely valuable data ready for you to use to make money.

What are you waiting for? I have managed to negotiate a 10 day free trial for readers of this blog – just use coupon code GREEN LAVA at checkout here

I’m sure that the overriding thought you had after seeing my last blog video was “well at least he’s hit rock bottom as far as boring titles are concerned”.

Well, look what I’ve managed to do. I’ve gone and surprised you by beating myself at my own game.

This video is about how and why I define my processes, and then taking it onto the next stage of making them more efficient.

Is that the sexiest title for a blog post you’ve ever seen? No, no it’s not. It’s like the opposite of click bait. It’s like I’ve thought to myself, “what title could I come up with that will mean that no one watches my video?”.

Or, have I cleverly come up with a boring title to make you think that the video couldn’t possible be that dull, so you watch it. Or that there are amazing secrets in the video that I don’t want everyone to see, so I’ve tried to put people off. Could I really be that clever and cunning? Again, the answer is no.

 

Here are the links to the free tools I use in the videos: https://www.mindmeister.com/ and https://www.mindmeister.com/

First in an occasional series on how the Amazon Buy Box works, and how you can increase your chances of getting it (hint, it’s not all about having the lowest price).

When I started selling on Amazon I kept seeing people refer to a mythical wonderland destination they called the Buy Box.

Everyone seemed to want to be there. So much so that I knew I had to be there too, even though I didn’t know where it was. I imagined it was warm and sunny with very reasonably priced beer. Club Tropicana if you like.

My journey to get their involved travel through a thick fog; reading, Googling, watching Youtube videos on my journey to find out more about this five star destination (more on the five stars later. I’ll do a clever callback to this sentence that will make you raise one eyebrow imperceptibly).

And then I got there. I arrived. I stepped off my metaphorical plane (I’d flown Ryanair so I’d originally landed some way from the Buy Box and had to make my own way there by metaphorical bus) and into the Buy Box, and it was as good as I’d hoped. I made my first sale! Not quite Club Tropicana drinks are free, there’s enough for everyone, but close.

club-tropicana2jpg

You’ve had enough of the holiday metaphor now haven’t you? I could keep going all day, but I would like to stay with me, so I’ll stop now.

 

 

 

 

82% of buyers go with the buy box. If we want to sell something we need to be there.

buy box 1

There are various factors that Amazon take into account when their clever algorithim decides who they are going to give the buy box to at any given moment. Their own definition is:

A seller’s eligibility to win the Buy Box is tied to specific seller performance criteria that identify the sellers who have consistently provided customers with a great buying experience on the Amazon.co.uk site.

So straight away Amazon are telling us that it isn’t just about price  – again from Amazon:

“The lowest price doesn’t guarantee winning the Buy Box, as pricing is just one factor that is evaluated. ” 

Of course price is a factor, and I’ll be covering that in another post, but today I’d like to concentrate on the seller performance side of things.

Everytime a customer places an order for one of your products, you get assigned a Quality Score from Amazon  – if it all goes perfectly, you get 100 points. If there are issues, however, you can lose points.

Now fortunately if you are selling using FBA, you are covered for most of the potential issues, such as late shipped or seller cancelled orders. What you would expect to see in Seller Central is this:

buybox2

There are two areas that you can influence that can impact your seller rating, and that you should not ignore.

The first is ensuring that your respond to any message from a customer within 24 hours. That should be simple enough to do.

The second is to proactively manage your feedback from your customers. Negative feedback on an order will impact your seller rating.

Now again, most things are covered if you are FBA with regards to negative feedback – if a customer complains about the price they paid, the packaging they received, the condition of the product – in theory you should be able to get these removed by Amazon by raising a case in seller central.

But what I like to do is try and anticipate any potential issues and ask customers to tell me if there are any problems before they think about leaving feedback, to give me the opportunity to put them right. And at the same time I can ask them very nicely to leave me positive feedback.

Ever wonder how sellers get stats so good they like to include them in their store name?

buybox3

 

 

 

 

I use an automated service that costs me $10 per month to do this for me. I adapted the email wording that they provide slightly, and this is what a customer gets when they order something (I’ve chopped the top and bottom off):

When you receive your item, please take a moment to verify that it was not damaged in transit. If there is any reason that you wouldn’t rate this as a 5-star experience, please [[contact-link:let us know]] right away and we’ll do what we can to make it right. You can also simply reply to this email. If everything looks fine, we’d appreciate it if you could take a few seconds to click the link below and rate this transaction.

We are a small family run business and your feedback is very important to us.”

And then four days later they get this:

It was delivered a few days ago, so I hope that you’ve had a chance to open up the package and make sure that everything is in order. Please [[contact-link:let us know]] right away if there is anything wrong so that we have an opportunity to correct it. You can also simply reply to this email.

If everything has gone smoothly, I’d really appreciate it if you could take just a few seconds to leave feedback for Mystorename. As a small family run business it really affects our ability to sell and be successful. One of the things that makes Amazon such a great place to shop is the feedback system and active participation by buyers like you.”

So you can see that we’re trying to intercept negative feedback before a customer even thinks about leaving any – this works. I have had an instance where I had sent the wrong product into Amazon (a smaller version of the one on the listing) and two customers got in touch with me directly in response to the above email. I refunded them and sent them the correct version, and got two five star reviews (there’s that call back I promised earlier. Did you notice? If so, did your eyebrow raise imperceptibly?).

And I’m pretty sure that not many people will go to the trouble of finding out who on Amazon they purchased a product from to leave positive feedback – after all, Amazon did all of the customer related work anyway right – unless they have a link they can click on in front of them, with an emotional call to action (think “small family business”).

So in summary, if we are not doing everything we can to get the buy box, we are reducing our chances of getting it. I know that everyone says you make your money when you buy, but this is an end to end process, and you need to carefully manage each step of it. Give yourself the edge over your competition. But don’t give yourself the edge over me. That should be your main takeway from this post – leave me out of it.

BQool, known for their repricing software, also do a similar service: https://www.bqool.com/products/feedback-central/

I hope that was helpful. Let me know in the comments if you have anything you’d like to add.

I enjoyed writing it, particularly as when I started this blog I wasn’t expecting to be able to make many Wham references.

Dan

For other Buy Box related posts take a look at:

How To Use Amazon Buy Box % To Make More Sales Today

wham club tropicana 7

 

cap1You know how it works. You sell products at a profit. Simple.

But do any of the following apply to you?

  • you have old inventory hanging around
  • the selling price has tanked
  • you have high value stock that isn’t moving

If so, let’s take a look at how to turn those to your advantage.

Problems

I had two main problems when I first started selling on Amazon FBA ( I had lots of problems, but these were the main ones) – panicking and dropping my prices if something hadn’t sold for two weeks, and buying something only to find out when it got into stock at Amazon that I had bought when AZ’s price was artificially high for whatever reason, and I was never going to sell mine. So I held onto the stock in the desparate hope it would go back up in price. Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Which brings me to my third problem (where did that come from, I thought I said I had two?). Months later I was still sitting on that stock, and I never had enough cash to buy as much stock as I wanted to (is that a fourth problem? I’m starting to lose count).

Now, I will cover how to avoid the first two problems in other posts. But what I want to talk to you today about what I did about problems three and four.

I fought every natural instinct, and I identified which products I should sell at a loss. We’ll come to how I did that later.

I had to argue with myself about this, which I think confused my wife. It’s completely counterintuitive:

It doesn’t feel right psychologically cap2

You have failed.

You have lost money.

Feeling Better

If you choose the right products to sell, none of the above matters.

You have learnt a lesson in making your buying decisions (call it investing in learning).

You have got rid of that nagging feeling you get when you think about your inventory.

And best of all, you have some cash coming in for you to spend on sweets and wine more stock.

You are improving your cash flow, and you are going to be spending it on better decisions that will make you more money faster. I would rather take a £10 loss on something this week and turn it into a £20 profit next week that hold onto a product for ages and start incurring Amazon Long Term Storage Fees.

Now I’m not suggesting you should sell all of your existing stock at a loss and start again (you weren’t thinking that anyway were you?).

Solutions

What I started to do was the following:

Check my prices of all stock against the Buy Box.

See how much stock the sellers have who have a lower price than me (the How Many? extension is great for this).

Check price history and sales rank. See what the three month averages are and see if I can at least break even (maybe even make a small profit).

If you don’t think you can break even, what is the highest price you could sell for.

Make the appropriate price change.

The feeling you get when the products start marching out the door and you Next Payment amount on your AZ Sellers APP starts increasing will make you get over the fact that you were (whisper it) losing money.

So go on then, check your stock and take action. Let me know how you’ve got on.

Dan