How (and When) to Hire An Ecommerce Expert to Level Up Your Business

how to hire an expert

One of the most unexpectedly instructive memes out there today is “You have the same 24 hours in a day as Beyoncé.” 

It’s easy to look at it as an entrepreneur, drowning in tasks and to-do lists, and feel overwhelmed, or inspired, or even just irked. But there’s a valuable hidden lesson there that most 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. She’s relentlessly focused 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. However, hiring expert help can be an opaque process if you’ve never done it before.

Want to hire experts with proven, Shopify-specific skills?

The Shopify Experts Marketplace is a curated community of skilled and experienced agencies and freelancers who specialize Shopify Merchant's needs. Browse profiles and submit a job to get matched to qualified experts.

Hire expert help today

Where do you find them? How do you work with them? What’s a wireframe?

But there’s an even more important question you should tackle before addressing any of the above: Is hiring an expert the right move for your business?

Prep your business first

Is your business ready to hire an expert?

Before you hire anyone for anything, it’s important to take stock of your business, and figure out where adding an extra set of hands will have the most impact.

What do you need the most?

Look at your business, as well as your weekly routine, with a critical eye. You can make some great guesses just by identifying what you consider to be your biggest “problem areas.”

If your most painful problem is that you spend 80% of your day shipping orders, that’s a strong indicator that you need to hire someone to help you with shipping.

Things get a bit less clear, however, when your problems don’t point to their own solutions.

Things get a bit less clear, however, when your problems don’t point to their own solutions. If you find yourself saying things like “I don’t know why my store isn’t converting,” that’s a sign that professional advice is a good next step.

Luckily, you don’t need to know exactly how to solve those problems, or know which ones to prioritize, before you start the conversation with a Shopify Expert. According to Chase Clymer, co-founder of Electric Eye, before consulting an expert you should work on identifying 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 in to a doctor and you say, ‘This hurts.’ You don't go into a doctor and say, ‘I need pain killers.’ Remember that the expert is there to help you properly identify the real problems in your business and solve them, as opposed to just putting on a Band-Aid.”

If you’re breathing a sigh of relief that you don’t need to go into it knowing everything ahead of time, you’re not alone.

What’s your budget?

Hiring outside help might be a big line item in your business’ 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 you need to understand your business’ finances, how much you need to pay yourself, and all of the other commitments you have to handle, financially speaking. Once you know that, you can begin to allocate money towards whatever form of contract work is right for your business.

Hiring an expert can be intimidating

If you need to hire help doing something you already understand, like training someone to take over your shipping, it’s much easier to be confident going into it.

However, when it comes to hiring outside of your expertise, such as a developer, designer, marketer, or a team that handles all three of those things, generally you’re doing it because you astutely recognize your time is best spent running your business, not mastering every discipline or specialty.

If you’re new to working with professionals, stepping into their world will expose you to domain expertise and industry lingo you’ve never encountered before, which can be intimidating. That’s why we spoke with two Shopify Experts to go over some advice in four key areas of the process.

Their answers will give you a solid footing to make sure your first experience with an Expert is a positive move for your business.

Finding and hiring the right person or team

Hiring an expert: how to approach it

Once you’ve made the decision that yes, you’re ready to hire someone, the next question is how do you find them? And equally important, how can you make sure the person or team you found is a good fit for your business?

Ask for referrals

It turns out, referrals are by far the most common way entrepreneurs have connected with both Expert teams we spoke with. 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 to finding the right fit,” says Chase Clymer, of Electric Eye.

However, just because someone comes highly recommended doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your own due diligence, even if it’s just a peek through their business’ website and online presence.

Pay special attention to any past projects they’ve included as case studies, anything they’ve written about how they work with clients, and their social media presence—those things can all give you additional insight into what it’d be like to work with them.

Browse the Shopify Experts Marketplace

If you can’t find anyone who seems like a fit for your business or your project via referrals, another option is to check Experts Marketplace. You can find experts based on the services they offer.

Shawn Khemsurov, co-founder of Electric Eye mentioned that 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.”

Interview for fit

Both teams we spoke with stressed the importance of finding the right people to work with. That’s why you should always plan on at least one call with an agency or freelancer before you start working with them, even if you can’t meet face-to-face.

“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, taking 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 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 any grandiose promises around performance or results should be taken as a red flag.

“If they guarantee they'll design you a new webpage, okay, that's fine. But if they're “guaranteeing” you a 10X 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.”

Setting the project scope

Hiring an expert: how to set project scope

Once you’ve found a great person or team to work with, the next step is outlining exactly what work they’re going to do, and on what timeline. This is commonly known as setting the project’s scope.

If you’re worried that you’ve never done that before, don’t be. The experts you’re working with have, and they’ll have processes in place to make sure it’s a smooth experience. If you find that someone you’re speaking to isn’t prepared with a defined process, it’s likely a sign to revisit your search.

Paid scoping vs. unpaid scoping

Every business is different, and while you should expect some level of process from any vendor you work with, what exactly that process entails and how much it costs can vary greatly.

Some teams, like Nicely Built, scope out projects 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, like Electric Eye, 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 really goes into a successful outcome. We get to really dig into the business and find out 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 would better suit your current needs.

Tips for a successful kickoff call

Whether it’s paid or not, there’s work you can do ahead of your first conversation with your chosen Expert to make the most of your time.

“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 for us. 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.

Communication is key

Communication is key when working with an expert

To keep a project going smoothly for the entire duration, communication is key on both sides.

Up front, your Expert should let you know what to expect during the process.

“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 really place a big emphasis on providing visual examples, which could be screenshots or websites they like. 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 like, ‘Oh, okay. Well that, you call this feature this’. It's just easier to start with a picture sometimes.”

Wrapping up the project

You’re nearing the end of your project, and you’re getting excited to get the results of all this hard work out in the world. How should you be wrapping up the project to make sure everything goes smoothly?

Follow process and timelines

It’s especially important to pay close attention to next steps nearing the end of the project, since it can be a critical time for key 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 that they see isn’t working correctly.”

Offer feedback—good or bad

Last but not least, once all is said and done, there are still some things that should be said. 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.”

Hiring help can be a big business boost

Bringing in an Expert can be a great next step for your business, but the key word there is your business. Before you make the call, it’s important to take a look at your business’ finances, goals, and priorities.

But on the other side of the coin, it’s also important not to wait too long for fear of handing over control, or for fear of admitting you need help. The best people in every field, from business to athletics to music, rely on paid professionals to keep them at the top of their game. There’s no shame in bringing in expert help to level up your business when and where you need it.

Beyoncé didn’t build her own website, after all.

Do you want to create your own online store?