Being your ecommerce business’s most versatile employee can be empowering, but it also can overwhelm you. That’s why delegating work within your small business to an ecommerce expert can let you focus on your strengths.
But if you’ve never hired an ecommerce expert before, you may have a lot of questions: Where do you find help you can trust? How do you work with them? And what’s a wireframe, anyway?
Most important: Is hiring an ecommerce expert the right move for your business?
We asked some Shopify Experts for a roadmap to help with hiring ecommerce experts—whether it’s for a one-off project, like migrating your eBay store to Shopify, or to take an entire function off your plate, like your email marketing strategy.
Hire an ecommerce expert in 5 steps
Hire verified ecommerce experts who get Shopify
The Shopify Experts marketplace is a curated community of skilled and experienced agencies and freelancers who specialize in helping business owners like you. Browse profiles and submit a job to get matched to qualified ecommerce experts.
1. Prep your business first
Before you hire anyone for anything, it’s good to take stock of your business and figure out where an extra pair of hands will have an impact, and how much you can afford to invest in hiring.
What do you need most?
Look at your business, as well as your daily and weekly routines, with a critical eye to identify opportunities to get help with what you consider to be your biggest “problem areas.”
If you spend 80% of your day shipping orders, that’s a strong indicator you need to hire someone to optimize your shipping process or work with a third-party fulfillment service.
It’s less clear when your problems don’t point to obvious solutions. If you say something like, “I don’t know why my store isn’t converting,” that’s a sign seeking professional advice is a good next step.
Luckily, you don’t need to know whether the exact solution is online marketing or conversion rate optimization before you start a conversation with an expert. Many ecommerce experts offer free consultations with new clients.
According to Chase Clymer, co-founder of Electric Eye, before consulting an ecommerce expert you need to identify your acute problem rather than trying to prescribe your own solution—that’s their job.
“You should go into the conversation with an open mind,” says Chase. “Think of them like a doctor. You go into a doctor and you say, ‘This hurts.’ You don't go into a doctor and say, ‘I need pain killers.’ Remember the expert is there to help you identify the problems in your business and solve them, as opposed to just putting on a Band-Aid.”
What’s your budget?
Hiring outside help is a big line item in a small business’s budget—there’s no denying that. Before you sign on the dotted line to secure the help you need, make sure you have a solid plan for investing in your business.
That means understanding your business’s finances, how much you need to pay yourself, and the other financial commitments you have to juggle. Once you know that, you can begin to allocate money toward whatever form of contract work is right for your business.
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A quick look at the Shopify Experts marketplace shows qualified ecommerce help is available starting at $50 per project for lower-priced options to over $5,000 for higher-end specialists.
- An ecommerce store redesign can cost around $5,000 for a custom-built and fully branded storefront from a team with many years of experience.
- Product photography might be $500 for a day shoot if it includes unlimited shots in a premium studio, full-service photo editing, and fast turnaround.
- Copywriting for short product descriptions can be $8 each when bundled into a larger package.
- Content writing services from a blogger may cost $80 for a 300-word article for SEO, depending on the industry and whether you require subject matter expertise.
- A detailed conversion rate optimization audit could be more than $1,000. If it reveals leaks across your marketing to your ecommerce store to your email marketing campaigns, it will include your next steps.
Rates for experts are dependent on many factors, including the type of work you outsource to them, the scope of the project, value-adds like fast turnaround, their years of experience, area of expertise, location, and current market conditions. When evaluating candidates, read the two- and three-star reviews, not only the five-star ones, to get a detailed picture of the ecommerce professional.
2. Find the right person or team
You can refine your search results based on the ecommerce industry, location, specific services, and the price range you’re comfortable with to ensure you can select from a candidate pool suited to your business's needs.
Hiring an ecommerce specialist should be treated as an investment in growing your online business so it doesn’t become just another line in your expenses. Take your time finding the right person to ensure it’s the former.
Once you’ve made the decision to hire someone and have vetted potential candidates, always interview a few of them before making a decision. Ensure higher-priced ecommerce consultants respect your online business and can provide a legitimate solution to your problem.
Ask for referrals
It turns out, referrals are the most common way entrepreneurs connect with Shopify Expert teams. When you’re looking for someone to work with, your best bet is to start by asking around.
“Talk to your friends who are running online businesses. A referral can go a long way toward finding the right fit,” says Chase Clymer of Electric Eye.
Asking around on LinkedIn is a good way to start finding talent within your network. This can be as simple as giving a brief description of your business’s needs and asking if anyone in your network can provide introductions to qualified candidates.
However, just because someone comes highly recommended doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your due diligence, even if it’s just a peek through their business’s website and online presence.
You can also run a search for services on LinkedIn to find Shopify Experts with a mutual connection you can ask for a reference.
Pay special attention to past projects they’ve included as case studies, anything they’ve written about how they work with clients, their previous experience with the ecommerce industry, and their social media presence—those things can give you additional insight into what it would be like to work with them.
Browse the Shopify Experts marketplace
If you can’t find anyone who is a good fit for your business via referrals, another option is to check services marketplaces like the Shopify Experts marketplace. You can find experts based on the services they offer.
Shawn Khemsurov, co-founder of Electric Eye, says finding someone local is an ideal way to connect with an expert for some store owners. “Some people really like finding a local business they can support and form a long-term relationship with,” says Shawn.
That’s not the only way you can rely on the Shopify network to connect with a freelancer or an agency, however. “We’ve met some future clients in person at the Shopify meetups,” says Natasha Murphy, Principal at Nicely Built. “People will come out and meet me or another team member in person, and that’s kind of the entry point for working with us.”
Shopify meetups happen often, and all over the world, and are a great chance to network with other ecommerce entrepreneurs. You can check out the Shopify Community Events page for local meetups, webinars, and workshops in your area.
ALT: The Shopify Community Events page showcasing upcoming events around the world.
Interview for fit
The Shopify Expert teams we spoke with stressed the importance of finding the right people to work with. That’s why interviewing an ecommerce expert, whether by phone or video, is necessary before you start working with them, even if you can’t meet in real life.
“If you can talk to your vendors when you’re making a selection, it can make a huge difference,” says Natasha. “Either in-person meetings or through Skype or Google Hangouts, talking one-on-one is always a really good idea, just to get a feel for who they are. If you can meet multiple members of the team, that's also really helpful.”
On the other side of the call, your ecommerce experts are trying to determine if you would be a good fit, too. Since they have extensive experience working with other clients, you can expect them to come prepared—and if they don’t think they’re able to help with what you need, they’ll tell you.
When you do consult with a vendor or expert, always be wary of unrealistic guarantees. It’s fine for them to promise deliverables and deadlines, but grandiose promises around performance or results should be taken as a red flag.
“If they guarantee they’ll design you a new webpage, OK, that’s fine. But if they're ‘guaranteeing’ you a 10 times ROI in two weeks, that’s sketchy,” says Shawn. “Internet marketing and ecommerce is such an agile thing that the tactics that work today are different tomorrow, and they’re different across all industries.”
3. Set the project scope
Once you’ve found a great person or team to work with, the next step is outlining what work they’re going to do and on what timeline. This is commonly known as setting the project’s scope.
Don’t worry if you’ve never outlined a project scope before. Optimizing a business strategy may look different for a small business compared to Amazon, but following a few simple frameworks can help clear any confusion about the process.
A detailed project scope will often include:
- Project constraints like budget or time
- Approval process to know who signs off on what
- Timeline for when each milestone and the total project is expected to be completed
- Cost estimate breaking down the project’s pricing and potential out-of-scope costs
Often, the experts you’re working with are strategists with years of experience executing on business scopes, and they’ll have processes in place to ensure it’s a smooth experience. If you find someone you’re speaking to isn’t prepared with a defined process, it’s a sign to revisit your search.
Paid scoping versus unpaid scoping
Every business is different, and while you should expect some type of process from any vendor you work with, what exactly that process entails and how much it costs can vary greatly.
Some teams scope out projects (unpaid) before the start of paid work. “If we think we can do a project and we want to do a project, then we’ll work with our clients directly to come up with a list of specifications,” says Natasha.
Other teams prefer to do paid scoping projects. They’ve put together a standard process they work through with every client and deliverables they work on for a few dedicated hours, and that initial work is a paid engagement. It allows them to take a holistic view of your business, beyond just website issues.
“How are you handling fulfillment, how are you handling email, how are you handling marketing?” asks Chase as he talks through their paid scoping process, called Shopify Business Roadmapping. “Those aren’t necessarily part of your website, but they are part of your business, and it sets the expectation about how much work goes into a successful outcome. We get to really dig into the business and find out the entirety of what the project entails.”
There are pros and cons to both approaches, so before working with an agency or freelancer take time to decide which one suits your current needs.
Tips for a successful kickoff call
Whether it’s paid or not, there’s work you can do before your first conversation with your chosen expert.
“All of our projects start with a kickoff call,” says Natasha. “We really dig into what they want their site to look like and spend time discussing how it’s going to work. Any preparation they can do for that call is really helpful. They can go through and pick out other sites they like, or just have examples ready to go in terms of what they want and need. If they can show us how they want it to work, it makes our job a lot easier.”
To make your job easier, Nicely Built also put together a blog post that goes over all of the best ways you can prepare for a kickoff call.
4. Communicate clearly with your ecommerce expert
To keep a project going for the duration of the project, communication on both sides is key.
“When you hire an expert, they should clearly explain, ‘This is what you should expect over the next weeks, months. This is what milestones look like, this is what the timeline looks like.’ They should set expectations from day one around what the project will be and how it will be delivered,” says Shawn.
Throughout the project, you’ll be expected to give feedback on the work at different stages. If you’re interested in providing more effective feedback, even when you don’t have all the technical know-how your expert has, Natasha has some good advice on how they handle it.
“From the beginning, whenever we start working with someone, we place an emphasis on providing visual examples, which could be screenshots or websites they like,” says Natasha. “Let’s say that they want a frequently asked questions page that has an accordion functionality on it. They could try to describe that and be like, ‘It opens up, or expands.’ Or they could just show me what they’re talking about and be like, ‘Oh, OK. Well that, you call this feature this’. It's just easier to start with a picture sometimes.”
What to do if things go wrong
Prevention is the best cure for a lot of things, bad hires included. That’s why doing due diligence before hiring is so important.
If there ends up being a significant gap between your expectations and their delivery, there are actions you can take:
- Remind them of your agreement and expectations, especially where you have it in writing, such as a contract or email thread.
- Renegotiate the work if unexpected work was introduced into the original scope.
- Show them clear examples of the style or quality of the work you want. It might just be a case of miscommunication.
If nothing else works, you may have no choice but to fire them.
Most services contracts have termination clauses that outline what’s to be expected should either party decide to part ways, such as how many days of notice must be provided, what work is to be completed and paid for, and what obligations exist to minimize disruption to both businesses.
But what if a freelancer disappears on you halfway through a project or doesn’t deliver some or all of what they promised after getting paid?
If that happens, you can try to:
- Directly request a partial or full refund from the freelancer or agency
- Request a refund through the marketplace you found them on if it facilitated the transaction (be sure to check their policy around refunds)
- Report their business to the services marketplace you found them on, making sure you have documented proof
- Consider legal recourse if the damages warrant it
Don’t let one bad experience turn you off from hiring an expert ever again. If it doesn’t work, you’ll be wiser and more receptive to red flags the next time around. Hiring is an inevitable part of being a small business owner so chalk it up to experience.
5. Wrap up the project
You’re nearing the end of your project, and you’re getting excited to get the results of all this work out in the world. How should you wrap up the project to make sure it goes smoothly?
Follow process and timelines
It’s necessary to pay close attention to next steps near the end of the project since it can be a critical time for important tasks and handoffs.
“We close out every project with a full round of user acceptance testing,” says Natasha. “That’s when the client actually goes through the site and logs bugs, logs anything they see isn’t working correctly.”
Offer feedback—good and bad
As a client, the best and most valuable gift you can give is constructive feedback on how the project went.
“We want to learn so we can be better in the future,” says Chase. “I remember one time, we sent an email to a client asking for feedback and they responded with negative feedback. I reached out for clarification, and it turned out they were upset because they didn’t understand how to use the site we built for them. It was just something I didn’t think about at the time, and I was like, ‘You’re absolutely right.’ We scheduled a call and I taught them how to use what we had built.”
Even Beyoncé hires ecommerce experts
One of the most instructive memes around is, “You have the same 24 hours in a day as Beyoncé.”
There’s a valuable lesson there many people overlook: Beyoncé spends those 24 hours doing what only Beyoncé can do.
She isn’t wearing every hat and doing every job in her empire. Beyoncé focuses on making the biggest impact she can in the time she has available—which means she delegates, hires, and outsources anything she doesn’t need to handle personally.
That’s a strategy you can use to level up your business, too.
Beyoncé didn’t build her own ecommerce website, after all.