Nathan Hirsh has been an entrepreneur since his college days. He got his start selling on Amazon, then moved into a virtual assistant business, and now teaches people how to outsource to help their business grow. He recently launched a new SOP Builder and shared with us the struggles and triumphs of starting a new business during a pandemic.

Things mentioned in this episode:
The Outsource School
The Outsource School SOP Builder
Find Nathan on Instagram | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter

John Meese 0:03
Nathan, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you doing?

Nathan Hirsch 0:27
I'm doing great. How are you?

John Meese 0:29
I'm doing phenomenal. Thank you better than I deserve. I'm glad to have you here. And I look forward to diving into your perspective on on really everything that business owners need to know right now. But first, I would love just to know a little bit about you. So let's assume there's someone listening to this podcast who has not had the pleasure of getting to know you on the internet or in person? Why don't you start by just telling us a little bit about who you are and what gets you out of bed in the morning?

Nathan Hirsch 0:53
Yeah, so I'm a long time entrepreneur, I actually got into being an entrepreneur because I had these summer jobs growing up and I hated having a boss. So when I got to college, I started buying and selling people's textbooks competing with my school bookstore eventually got a cease and desist letter from my school telling me to knock it off. So I pivoted and I started selling...

John Meese 1:12
So you're doing something right

Nathan Hirsch 1:13
Doing something right. I pivoted and started selling other products on Amazon and eventually came across baby products and eventually started selling millions of dollars of baby products out of my college dorm room on Amazon, needed to hire people, college kids were super unreliable. So I got into the VA space and created some really good systems and process for hiring VAs. But I always wanted a better marketplace than the Upwork and the fibers of the world. So I built my own marketplace called free up that pre-vetted VA's, freelancers match people up quickly had great protectio. Scale that from a $5,000 investment to doing eight figures. by year four, we were acquired by one of our customers at the end of last year at the end of 2019, which is a whole other story we can get into if you want. And then now once I sold it, people started reaching out and asking if I can teach them how exactly we scaled both my Amazon business and outsource school with VAs and our exact systems and processes. So I launched a new venture called outsource school where our members get our exact systems, our exact processes or esops, our playbooks not only for the fundamentals, but also for specific things like having VAs do podcast research, or bookkeeping or customer service. And we also just launched this SOP building software that comes with the membership that we're really excited for, as well. So that's the short version of how I went from books to baby products to free up to outsource. Cool.

John Meese 2:38
Well, that's pretty cool. And I'm familiar with the stuff you're talking about. I've got a VA myself, but I'd love to let's not assume that people listen to this do know, because we do have some just kind of traditional brick and mortar business owners who listen who are listening in who may not be familiar with the whole online outsourcing space. So could you define a couple terms? I know you mentioned VA a lot, right, let's say with let's talk about what that is what that means. It's an acronym, of course. But and then let's also talk about SOP is because you mentioned that,

Nathan Hirsch 3:00
yeah, so the way that I define a virtual assistant sometimes is different than other people do. Some people say a virtual assistant is anyone that works from home, what I like to do is divided into three levels of hires that entrepreneurs can make the followers, the doers, and the experts. And it's so important to understand these levels, because you work with each level differently. Now, the followers, for me, that's what I consider virtual assistants non U.S. five to 10 bucks an hour, they might have years of experience, but they're there to follow your systems, your process, if you don't have systems and processes, you're going to struggle to hire those followers. The doers are like graphic designers, writers, specialists, you're not hiring a graphic designer to teach them how to be a graphic designer, but they're not consulting with you either. They're there to do that one task at a high level. And then you got the experts the high level freelancers, consultants, agencies, they bring their own system, their own process to the table, their own strategy. And just like you shouldn't hire a follower and say, Hey, I don't know how to run Facebook ads, go run Facebook ads, you don't want to hire an expert who has their own way of doing things that they've had success with and say, Hey, I'm gonna pay you top dollar, but you're gonna follow my system, I'm gonna teach you how to do it. That doesn't make sense either. So understanding the different levels that you need, because you're probably going to need to hire all three and how to use each level is incredibly important. I don't know if you've anything to add there before I jump into SOPs?

John Meese 4:19
No, I think that's great. I just want to clarify terms, I'm sure we'll have more to talk about in this conversation about that. But I really want to make sure we at least laid a foundation for what those are and why people should pay attention to that. So let's talk about SOPs. Because that's totally related to what you're talking about with VAs, right?

Nathan Hirsch 4:34
Yeah. So with the SOP, is that that's a standard operating procedure. And essentially, it's a training doc for your business. And I mean, I we teach people I guess two things off that we teach people to break them down from the why the important stuff that how this has impact the big picture what success and failure looks like, so they know this before diving into the steps, which is part two, and then to put in the important reminders and not just hide the important stuff. Step 10, Part B and putting them all at the bottom for the VA to learn and, and for years. I mean, we did SOPs via Google Docs, instead of doing it via video for the main reason that videos just get our data. It's so quick when you're running a startup. And even when I got eight figures, we were still a startup, you're constantly updating systems, updating processes, and to hire a video editor to go back and refill them something is annoying. So we created this SOP building software that you can do text if you want. But if you do videos, you click eats, you could add in steps as you go. So as you're recording, you say this is step one, step two, step three. So all the steps are laid out for you. If you need to replay step two, you can just quickly replay step two, you can give your VA access to do it for you if you want. And so

John Meese 5:42
pretty cool.

Nathan Hirsch 5:43
It just makes it very easy for you. And that's a software we just launched yesterday, actually.

John Meese 5:47
Wow. Congratulations. What's that called?

Nathan Hirsch 5:49
Uh, it's The Outsource School SOP Builder

John Meese 5:51
Okay, cool. Great. All right. So let's dive into our conversation for today. Because it sounds like we have a lot to unpack. So thank you, Nathan, for giving us a little bit of the inside scoop on who you are. So I love to go way, way back in time, if you would with me, let's just jump on our time machine and go way, way, way back to about March 2020. So you know, like another world, but February or March 2020. And a lot of things have changed since then, and still are changing. So let's talk about COVID-19. And I don't know about you, but in my personal life, I'm kind of tired of talking about it. So I've taken on the professional burden to say we need to talk about this for business perspective. But it's okay, if you're tired of talking about it. I would love to know when you first realized that COVID-19 was a real threat in your personal or professional life. And specifically, I'd love to know if you remember where you were or what it was that stuck out to you. That made you perk up and say, Wait a second. This is a big deal.

Nathan Hirsch 6:38
Yeah, so I remember exactly where I was. So just a quick background. I live in Florida and my business partner lives in Colorado. We meet up once a quarter we do a trip and for this trip we did we went to the mountains of Colorado and it was a ski trip and we we work the first part of the trip. We had friends meet us in this really nice Airbnb for the second part. And it was actually the week that we were launching Outsource School. So we came up the idea of Outsource School sometime in January, we spent months creating our first course cracking the VA code, building the website setting up all the foundations, and we're launching that week and I remember being there and then Tom Hanks got Coronavirus, that was like the big news. And then second, the NBA season got canceled. And we were like

John Meese 7:20
So this was mid March, right? Do you remember the date but a chance?

Nathan Hirsch 7:23
I think it was around the 19th of March. There's like that sounds about right, third week of March somewhere in there. And so we're off in the mountains, right? Like we're we're kind of away from the real world, we actually got the last day of, I snowboard, but the last ski day in before they close the entire mountain. So the day that we showed up they implemented the the six foot rule. And then the next day they cancelled it. But we that was our last day of skiing anyway. So we got that last day in. But we're still up in the mountains, we still we launched people were were buying our products. We got like 80 members on that first day. And it didn't actually hit us until we got to the airport because we had been in the mountains for a week away from civilization. And we're in the airport and we're looking around and no one's there besides some people that are frantically around and the news is on. And we're like oh my god, we're in the middle of a pandemic. This is real. So that was kind of our situation.

John Meese 8:12
Wow, that's great. That's crazy. But I mean, that's also interesting to know that in your business life, you were in the midst of a transition, right? And you were like launching the new thing right after selling the last business. So I don't know that we have time to get into to detail about selling the last business. But can you just talk briefly about what that transition was like kind of moving out of that and selling that business? And then kind of moving out of that into figuring out what the next thing was? Because it sounds like that timing is kind of the transition you were in the middle of when COVID-19 hit?

Nathan Hirsch 8:39
Yeah, I mean, we were purchased by it by one of our clients who reached out to us and said, Hey, we love FreeUp. We've been using it for a year we want to get into the space. We don't want to start it from scratch. And I mean that's a whole nother thing. Like we went to diligence, we made sure that that they weren't going to blow things up that they were gonna treat people well, we took $500,000 from sale and gave it to our team in the Philippines and made sure they were taking care of it and all that it was a 60 day transition that the first two weeks they needed us a lot after that they they really took over and we were just there to help and and then once we we started to get free time again. And we weren't really working on FreeUp. I mean, the first conversation Connor and I had was Hey, are we sick of each other right? Do we do we still want to work together? Do we want to go do our own thing. And fortunately, he wanted to work with me and vice versa. So then it became what do we want to do? We were both planning on doing a lot of traveling this year and working remote regardless. I mean, that kind of changed with Corona, all our travel plans are canceled. But did we want to take a year off six months off? Did we want to go into real estate? Do we want to stay in the same space? Do we want to go do something different? And so we started reading books and talking and listening to podcasts. And then people started reaching out to us and asking if we could teach them our systems, our processes. We really didn't want to go into like coaching or consulting or anything that required like one on one time because that just wasn't we didn't just sell a company to jump like right back into doing one-on-ne stuff. But we had this idea of launching this first course called cracking the VA code that taught people our exact process for interviewing, onboarding, training and managing. And I mean, honestly, just because we sold the company doesn't mean every idea we come up with going forward is going to be a good one, right? So sure, we got it out there with a minimum viable product, and we took it to market and we didn't know if people were gonna like it or hate it. And fortunately, people really liked it. And they asked for more. And so we started creating these different playbooks and stuff like that. And instead of just selling a million different courses and playbooks, we turned it into a membership. And then our developer who was part of the buyout, he built the FreeUp marketplace. He said, hey, I've been working on the software, this SOP building software and we had a conversation and brought him back in we love working with him and tied it all together. So it wasn't sounds awesome grand master plan, it was kind of slowly came together over time.

John Meese 10:51
So be given that you launched in the middle of like as the crisis was, as you got to the NBA and Tom Hanks, which is definitely a milestone in the history books for those of us who are living through this strange time. But as a business owner, how did you respond? So when you were in the airport, with your business partner looking around going like, Whoa, this is not business as usual? What was your immediate response in terms of how you approach your business?

Nathan Hirsch 11:54
I mean, first of all, we made a firm day one, we're like, we're not using Corona in our marketing. I mean, we didn't want to do that. I think there's ways to do it properly. We didn't want to get into the gray area, the black area, so we're just like, we're not doing that at all. And then it became like, Alright, are we really just gonna like not launch our business because of crona. Like, that doesn't seem like ideally, we're launching this business to help people to help other entrepreneurs to help them scale. And I mean, we're donating 3% to our favorite charity Teach for the Philippines. So we kind of look at it as adding value. And so and then it's like, Alright, do we push back the launch, but this is a pandemic, like it's not ending anytime soon. So we're pushing it back a week or two weeks do and, and once you start doing that, then then everything becomes murky. And we also have a lot of people on our waiting list that have been waiting 30, 45, 60 days for it. So we made the decision to kind of go as normal that we made some small changes, like we added a no interest payment plan for for three months. And we actually still have that on the website, just because we know that there's some crazy times and and everyone's kind of in a different spot. And, and of course we had some people reach out that say, hey, they wanted to buy it, but they couldn't. And yeah, because of financials or whatever. Luckily, a lot of those businesses went down at first, but now we're kind of back up again, or pivoted and made changes and they become members and other people. I mean, we kind of came from a point of understanding there, there was no hard sales pitch, it was Hey, man, like we understand if we can help it all, let us know, if you need a different payment plan, let us know like we're here to help and support you. And I think the other change was, we have all these affiliates who we had about 150 affiliates, they know me from Outsourse School and other stuff. And I think a lot of them were planning like a very aggressive push. And we kind of understood without them even saying anything that that doesn't make a lot of sense to push hard in that first week. So we kind of sent an email out to them saying, hey, like, first of all, don't use Corona in your marketing. Second of all, like, if you don't want to push aggressively, we get it. You don't need to apologize to us. Yeah, we everyone's in different place. And if you still want to promote us, that's great. And we're going to be kind of conscious of the whole thing. So more like small changes and tweaks.

John Meese 13:57
Okay, well, and I'm in a similar boat in the like launching a new business in the middle of this, that I just opened a coworking space. We had a big giant grand opening. It's like an entrepreneur center/coworking space in downtown Columbia, Tennessee, where I live and we had been open for 58 days, when we found out we had to close and so we were and then we were, you know, getting off the phone with my lawyer that to confirm that- Yep, I'm a non essential business was not very fun. It's not good to hear that. But we were close for 48 days. And during that time, we kind of like restrategize and rebuilt everything and relaunched on the flip side. So things have been good since then. But I'm with you. And then it's a it's an interesting, a uniquely challenging opportunity when you're launching a new business to go like, Well, what do I do? Do I just go back? Do I, kind of just stop? In this case, I was already so committed with like the lease and the build out was already done in the space that we were like, no, we're gonna we're all in so but I'd love to know, center in this point where you're laying the foundation of a new business after a win after success scaling a successful business and selling that. Is there anything that you're different in terms of how you're approaching building this new business because of the fact that we're in a pandemic in an economic crisis, and so I'm curious, like, Is there anything in terms of a difference in how you approach your financial management versus how you would have otherwise? Or in terms of which hiring decisions or which product launches? I love to know how you're adapting your business strategy to the current crisis?

Nathan Hirsch 15:20
Yeah, I mean, you have to remember, if there's any business that's kind of set up for this type of situation, it's the businesses I run. I mean, I only run remote businesses, I've been working remote for 10 years, I work with virtual assistants like they all work from home anyway, they're not really affected. We're right now are selling more digital products. So again, not really affected. So part of that hasn't really changed. I think some of our messaging and stuff has changed. I guess the other side of it is we have this really good organic marketing playbook that we think applies to every business. And we came from the Amazon space where we didn't have to market at all right? We pay Amazon are 15. But they're 15%. They get us the customers. When we started FreeUp, we had no idea how to market. So we had to learn everything from scratch tons of trial and error. And we eventually created this blueprint that helped us organically without any paid ads, to scale his business from 5000 to a million to 5 million and 9 million to 12 million, and then get acquired. And we're using the same playbook on Outsourced School, which, which I'll go into in a second. And we also teach people throughout Outsourced School how to do to use this playbook with virtual assistants having the VAs doing 90% of it, and apply it to their own business. And we have playbooks for all this stuff. And the bottom line is have affiliates, which we kind of already talked about and having an affiliate program that's clear on your website that you mentioned at the end of every call with FreeUp every time I talk to someone at the end, by the way, we have this great affiliate program, we would teach our VA to say the same thing when they did phone call. So that's kind of the basis of it. Obviously, you need a good product that people will actually refer right. But then it's content. We put out content very consistently people that follow me on Instagram or Facebook or LinkedIn, I'm putting out content all the time, we go on podcasts like this one, it's a great way to get in front of thousands of people at once to build a relationship and networking to get SEO and backlinks. It has a snowballing effect that leads to more podcast guest speaking appearances, summits, whatever it is, and I go on a podcast every single day, I recommend that people go on at least one a week. Next is partnerships. And we have a partnership playbook at Outsource School, it's 97 bucks, or it's included in the membership. And it teaches you how to find other people in your space that don't have a competing product, but have the same type of community, the same audience and you do guest posts with them, you do email blast, you can even do VIP networking events back, if we're ever allowed to travel and do that again. And that's the high end of it. But there's so many different content swaps that you can do with people to keep cross promoting. And with free up, we built up over 300 of these partnerships, where we were just constantly getting promoted to other people's communities, which helped us grow.

Next is going after influencers, people that they could have a podcast, they could have a Facebook group, they could have a large Instagram following it. And we have a course called the lead generation formula. And it's identifying the influencers reaching out to them, yes, there's going to be failure, there's going to be rejection involved, but it's about consistency. And the last thing is networking, I reached out to three new entrepreneurs every single day not to pitch them not to sell them. But to set up a networking call, learn about them, try to add value and all this stuff kind of goes together, right? Like the networking call could lead to a podcast, the podcast could lead to a partnership, the content could get an influencer notice you like they all go hand in hand. But none of these things take that much time. Like the thing that takes the most time is your podcast today, that's 20 minutes to an hour. Or even if you're doing a once a week, it's less, but doing this stuff every day and having a VA that does podcast research, or VA that does research on partnerships, or lead generation or a writer that helps you write your content like this stuff complements anything you do on the paid side. And it works during a pandemic just like it works before a pandemic. And we really believe that this organic blueprint is one of the reasons why we're probably not as affected as other businesses. I'm sure we are on some level. I guess the last part and a point that that needs to be said is we don't have anything to compare it to, right? Like when you're starting a new business. We don't know whether we'd be doing better or worse, if there wasn't a pandemic. And when you're you're kind of trying lots of different things, which is how I like being an entrepreneur. And when things work. You're like awesome, that's great. And when things don't work it the confusing part is you're like, Hey, is this not working? Because it doesn't work for this business? Or is it not working because of the pandemic? And you don't know, you don't really know.

John Meese 19:38
The experimental variables, I think is what they would call those back in. If I'm recalling back to science class. Now we've got a giant experimental variable known as a pandemic. That definitely makes it harder to figure out what's working, what's not working, or why rather well, that's interesting. So thank you for sharing just a little bit about that marketing playbook. Was there anything specific you want to say about the marketing strategies itself because it seems like that's something That is that your're really passionate about.

Nathan Hirsch 20:02
Yeah, I mean everything. Not everything works for every business. And there's some trial and error. I mean, for me, I try to focus less on like marketing hacks that work for like a month. And that's not what we want to teach it out to school and and there's lots of them out there and you can use them to grow your business. There's nothing wrong with them. But I, for me, it's all about finding stuff that consistently works over time, like podcasts aren't going anywhere contents not going anywhere, partnerships or partnerships. Like if you have all these partners and your Facebook ad stop working, your partnerships are still working, like you're still getting promoted and other other things. So I think that FreeUp had a unique model where which made ads a little bit difficult, just because it's free to sign up people might hire ten VAs and might hire one VA is that they it's kind of hard to track it back to ads, and they might hire people nine months later. So I think without your school, there's a little bit more potential to add. So I'm not saying right, don't run ads, ads will be a part of it. But anything you do on the ad side is only going to complement your organic marketing playbook. And I've seen so many businesses that are crushing out ads, and Google changes something Facebook changes something. And that's how they get all their clients. Whereas if you have a good organic marketing playbook where we're getting random clients from podcast, random clients, from partnerships, random clients from content, and they're all coming from different directions, if one of those things stops working, you still have those in place, and most of the stuff is evergreen anyway, so they really don't stop working.

John Meese 21:23
Mm hmm. Yeah. Well, I love that. Well, okay. So given your dot, you know, given that you're launching this in the, in the midst of the pandemic, so you don't necessarily have anything to compare it to. And I totally recognize and appreciate what you're saying about the fact that it's, you said, you know, what, we're not going to address the Coronavirus head on in our marketing, because it's just too tricky. And I totally get that. But given that it is still happening and going on. Is there anything in terms of it may just be internal conversations. But how are you pivoting to pursue opportunity in the midst of this crisis? Is there any opportunity that you're seeing and going after that you think maybe you wouldn't have otherwise?

Nathan Hirsch 21:58
Yeah, I mean, I think the VA space in general is a very good space to be in with the carona and with everyone working from home now. So I think a lot of residences that if I had gotten to them a year ago and said, Hey, you probably should be using VA, they would have said, why I've got this office, I got people there. And now that everyone's working from home, and they have to pay these people anyway, like, why like, why not be open to hiring VAs, even if it's just a compliment your full time staff. So I think the opportunity is that the amount of businesses that would even be interested in outsourced school has probably gone up. I don't have any stats or anything to back that up. But in every business is affected differently. So I think for us, and it's more about the long term message than the short term message is, hey, the VA space isn't going anywhere. Like you can either have a competitive advantage over the people that are not using VAs or the people that are using VAs have a competitive advantage over you. And and that's kind of how I think long term this will play out. But who knows what's gonna happen?

John Meese 22:56
Wow, well, Nathan, what advice you have, and you've kind of already sprinkled this throughout our conversation, but to the business owner who's listening to this right now. And they're at a point where they're trying to figure out, and they may not be in a space like yours, it's as flexible, right? So they could be a brick and mortar business, like a restaurant or a barber shop or a day spa. I mean, I'm literally at my windows, I can see the three businesses I just mentioned. And they're trying to figure out how do you build or rebuild a profit business? Or they may be one of the, you know, 10s of millions people that was recently promoted to entrepreneur. And now they're trying to figure out how, wait a second, I was just employed, now I'm an entrepreneur, what do I do? What advice do you have for entrepreneurs, business owners about how to build or rebuild a profitable business in any economy?

Nathan Hirsch 23:36
Yeah, and I'm not sure I'm the best person to give advice to nail salons. But at the same time, I think the whole your entire hiring needs to be reevaluated, like whether you actually need the people that you have whether you can get used VA, whether you can get cheaper labor, whether you need everyone full time, a lot of businesses can use people part time, project based, even build your website, build your logo, you don't need full time people for that. So I think that's part of the mind shift. And I think there's a certain element of creativity and trying new things. I mean, my gym down the street, which I feel for I know the owners like they put their heart and soul into the gym, and not not much you can do about owning a gym, but they started doing live streams and they're charging 20 bucks a month to do live streams. And it's less than their membership, but at least it pays the bills and they they have us supporting them. Like I've actually been loving the live stream a live stream gives me a chance to work out from home and follow routine. So I and I'm not sure that every business can do that. I'm not sure how you live stream like nail salon stuff. But I think that the creative adjustments is something that every business has to go. So my two tips would be to evaluate your hiring and look for creative ways to add different revenue streams even if it's just temporary.

John Meese 24:45
Well, I love that. Well thank you so much Nathan for your insight, your experience. I appreciate you sharing that. Where can we go online to find more about you and what you're up to and how you can help us?

Nathan Hirsch 24:55
Yeah, so Nathan Hersh on LinkedIn or Facebook, Instagram or Twitter real Nate Hirsch go to where you can sign up for a free trial we've got this free VA calculator you can figure out how many beads you can afford, you can check out our membership and our SOP building software and appreciate you having me on.

John Meese 25:11
Okay, great. So right? Yep. Okay, thank you so much, Nathan. Appreciate your time.

Nathan Hirsch 25:16
Thanks for having me.

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John Meese is the author of the #1 bestseller Survive and Thrive: How to Build a Profitable Business in Any Economy (Including This One). An entrepreneur himself, John is on a mission to eradicate generational poverty by equipping entrepreneurs with the tools and training they need to build thriving businesses from scratch. He is the CEO of Cowork.Inc, co-founder of Notable, and host of the Thrive School podcast.

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