Most small businesses and e-commerce stores begin with one person: you. For a while, you might be running the whole show, from taking care of customer service to fulfilling orders to doing marketing and promotion for the business. At some point, though, your business will inevitably grow, and you’re probably going to need some extra help.
One of the toughest parts of running a business is building a team of employees you can trust to handle the many aspects of the company and share a cohesive vision with. From finding the right people through job postings to integrating them into their roles and making them feel engaged, navigating team-building can be a major challenge.
Allen Walton, a successful business owner, and team leader has gotten team building figured out. Since opening his online retail store SpyGuy in 2014, Allen has built the business up from a one-man show to a cohesive team of remote and physical workers. His process of hiring, training and engaging employees can be a valuable example to any aspiring e-commerce business owners who don’t know how to get started.
Building A Foundation
SpyGuy began 4 years ago after Allen realized his passion for spy equipment while working at a security store in Dallas, Texas. After learning more about the gear and carving a niche for himself, Allen worked for a TV show called “Cheaters” before making the decision to start his own company.
SpyGuy is a retailer of gear like GPS trackers and hidden cameras and only sells other people’s products for the time being. Everything is sold completely through the website and not on other platforms like Amazon. One of the key features of the business is that there is no physical store to visit, which helps customers maintain anonymity and privacy. Today, SpyGuy is a seven-figure company operated entirely online with a small team of 5 employees and a single warehouse and distribution center.
A Remote Team Structure
The SpyGuy team grew slowly, but quickly took a form that is not as common in small business ventures—it is almost completely remote.
While remote employees are not a plausible option for every business, they certainly can work for smaller e-commerce sites like SpyGuy. As a business owner, you must weigh the cost of operating a physical location as well as the available talent in your area. If both of those seem like negatives, building a remote team might be a great way to get the help you need, particularly in the realms of customer service and marketing.
One of the first things Allen noticed when he started his company was that his customers were purchasing equipment that they were unfamiliar with and had never used before. They typically came to the website with a problem that needed to be solved but were unsure of the direction to take to solve it. Because of this common issue, Allen was spending a lot of his time doing customer service.
Now, SpyGuy has a team of 3 full-time customer service employees who answer customer questions via email, live chat, and telephone. Another employee handles stock in the physical fulfillment center, which doubles as an office and a studio for video marketing. The most recent hire joined the team to do search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing.
The best part about this team is that almost all of them work from home—the SEO employee even works in Spain! By giving his employees more flexibility and choosing a team to work remotely, Allen was able to choose the best talent available regardless of location, which could have otherwise limited him to a local pool of employees.
Additionally, operating a remote team of employees has allowed Allen to focus on the work that is most important to him and growing his business—the others are able to take on writing blog posts or answering customer emails. The remote employees appreciate the freedom and trust given to them and are able to get things done on their own time from the comfort of their own homes.
The Trouble With Hiring Help
One of the problems many business owners—including Allen—fall into when they are growing their business is that they wait too long to hire someone to help them. This extremely common issue can cause a disaster for your business if you are trying to do the job of many people on your own.
When a business first starts out, it can be easy to try and wear the many hats of a business owner. After founding SpyGuy, Allen had a great start doing all of the pay-per-click marketing, customer service, fulfillment and more for his company. Eventually, though, these tasks became overwhelming, and Allen found that his time was not his own. His company, which prided itself on being different from the competition and offering great customer service, was actually failing to provide good service because of a lack of help.
This realization helped Allen cement the idea that he needed to hire someone to keep his company growing. SpyGuy’s first hire was someone he used to work with, who actually trained him on the surveillance products he used to sell. Allen brought the man in and allowed him to work from home doing email and phone customer service. This move gave Allen the freedom to grow his business more than what was possible before.
Unfortunately, many business owners fail to make this realization until it’s too late, leading to a lack of opportunity or a major downfall for the company.
There are a few different reasons why business owners might make the decision to hire too late. A common issue is that they lack the funding needed to bring on another person. This is made more complicated if the person is not working from home, because they will need desk space and equipment, which can add up. This is just another reason to consider letting your employees work from home.
Another reason is because they aren’t thinking far enough ahead. Employees aren’t usually able to be completely functional within your business immediately. It can take up to 8 months to get your new employees fully trained and working at 100% capacity.
Unfortunately, many business owners don’t realize where their companies will be in 6 months, so they don’t anticipate needing the help. By hiring someone early, you can get your new team member up to speed and ready for when a turning point for your business presents itself and you truly need the extra hands.
Finally, it can be scary to bring a new person onto the team and ensure you will do everything right. Opening the door of your business to a new person is intimidating, and so is dealing with all the legal stuff like payroll and taxes when paying another person. Fortunately, new apps and technology have made these processes much easier for entrepreneurs.
In many cases, the first hire you make could have the biggest impact on your business, as well. When hiring your first employee, you should look to hire someone better than yourself, someone who can bring your company to success. Find someone who understands your industry, who shares the objective and vision for the business and can hit the ground running to help your company really take off.
Finding Your Team
Another major roadblock business owners face when building a successful team is simply finding the right people. There are tons of job-hunting websites out there, so it can be difficult to pinpoint where your rockstar team will be looking.
In Allen’s case, he resisted the hiring process at first. Having posted jobs on Craigslist and Indeed in the past with no luck, he wasn’t sure where to go to find quality remote workers. This led him on a search to learn everything possible about hiring and bringing on a remote worker.
Books like Remote, written by the founders of Basecamp, are some of the many resources available to help you find more information about hiring and organization a team of successful remote employees.
Perfecting The Post
Job boards are a key resource to take advantage of when searching for remote workers. Places like the Dynamite Circle Job Board and Getapprenticeship.com were integral to Allen’s search because they attract people looking for more lifestyle or entrepreneurship-type jobs. By browsing through the current job postings, you can find the language and formatting that will appeal to the type of employees you want to attract.
Writing the right kind of job post is extremely important. Most large corporate job postings focus on the duties of the applicant and the intricacies of the company, but applicants really like to read job postings that are about them.
Keep your posting focus on the person applying and write a unique description that caters to what the employee wants, not what the company wants. Applicants will always look for what is in their best interest. The trick is to use language that communicates your company’s best interest in a way that your applicants will understand and resonate with.
Building A Remote Team Culture
Building a team of rockstar remote employees can be challenging in and of itself, but so is maintaining a positive culture once the team is established. One of the most important things to remember is to not disconnect your local and remote employees. Everyone should be engaged and have the ability to connect with one another, whether they are working in-house for fulfillment or at home.
One resource Allen uses for the SpyGuy team is Slack, an online forum that allows for company-wide and individual messages and updates. This tool allows you to be transparent with your team and keep everyone in the loop equally.
To keep people engaged with each other, build a fun channel on Slack or another platform where employees can share videos, content and off-topic posts to get to know each other on a more personal level.
If it’s possible to get together with the entire team for dinner or a company outing, that can also be a great way to engage everyone. Unfortunately, you have to be careful to not leave people out.
For example, the SpyGuy team in Dallas can usually meet for dinner, but the team member in Spain isn’t able to join. To compensate for that, Allen is paying to meet that employee in Barcelona during an event to connect on a personal, individual level.
Creating A Smooth Hiring Process
It is to be expected that your new employees will require some form of training and guidance when they first begin at your company. Even the most knowledgeable people in your field will need to learn how your business operates and what processes are in place.
One of the best ways to do this is to create standard operating procedure (SOP) documents to aid your new employees. Many business owners overlook SOPs when they bring on a new person or two, perhaps because the employee was knowledgeable already or because the processes were not yet in place. It’s important to think ahead when doing initial hiring to plan for a smooth hiring process down the line.
At SpyGuy, Allen realized too late that he should have recorded the process for training new customer service employees as it happened so they could use it to train future employees later on. Now, he and his employees are taking the time to create SOPs and checklists in anticipation of future growth.
Being A Better Boss
When creating your own business, it can be easy to forget what it feels like to be an employee working under someone else. This may get even more complicated when you realize you understand the vision of your company, but may not have communicated this to your team.
One big issue employees and employers run into when starting to form a team, remote or otherwise, is that the boss doesn’t clearly articulate their expectations. Nothing drives employees crazier than not knowing what their boss wants them to do. Second to that, they hate unrealistic expectations and bosses who grind them into the ground.
If your employees don’t know what to do or what they should be doing, they won’t do anything at all, which isn’t productive for your business. Always make sure to stay proactive. Give your employees clear-cut goals and assignments. This doesn’t mean you have to micromanage your team, but be available to give them direction and feedback to improve their performance.
Cohesive Teams Are Good For Business
At SpyGuy, Allen wants to grow his business bigger and create more remote teams that are still connected on a personal level. As a business owner, he understands that he will eventually be unable to do all of the tasks he currently manages, like designing and operating the company website. When the time comes to let go, he knows he will need to seek out and hire another team member and teach them what he knows to get them to succeed.
These lessons are critical to remember when building your own business’s remote team. Staying attentive to all the parts of the hiring process—from realizing where you need help to writing interesting job postings to training employees and keeping them engaged with each other from afar—will help you build a cohesive and successful group of employees that are all dedicated to your mission.