05/11/2018 at 1:15 am #39664
Here’s my latest update on my attempt to be able to have a virtual assistant, that is a helper who is not at my location assisting with listing drafts. I want to hire someone from the Philippines, but this could be applied to anyone not at your location. I plan on using eBay’s file exchange to upload listings but not to manage the listings. It’s pretty straightforward, you just have to have your photos hosted to a site that supplies a url with a .jpg ending. I tried a few sites, but none ended up working for me. Imgur blocks eBay, so although they give you a unique url with a .jpg ending, sometimes the photos don’t load fast enough due to blocking and the image is not shown in your listing. I finally landed on just creating my own word press blog and using it only for hosting photos in the image library. the url’s are very consistently named, making it easy to use them in the spreadsheet. I went with dreamhost.com due to the low cost, free domain name registration as a sub domain, and free word press ap. It runs 60/year to host all photos, unlimited size.
The high level automation process will look something like this:
1. create templates with boiler plate information already pre-formatted, such as shipping information, business policies, format, duration, etc.
2. upload photos to the wordpress site and they will be in the library. The photos will come with the titles from your computer, and in my case, they are already sequentially numbered. the key will be to have the same number of photos for each listing, that way when the spreadsheet is created, it will just be a matter of creating a formula to populate the photos url cells
3. the lister can work from the photos to input the title, description, item specifics, etc.
4. once created, i can review the file for errors and conduct the upload through file exchange in ebay
It would probably be easier to use one of the 3rd party ecommerce platforms for more sophisticated file management, like wonder lister. For now, I’ll try to refine this for specific categories and run the process myself. I’ll keep you all posted as I implement the process more fully.
05/11/2018 at 8:43 am #39671
Interesting work around. Be interested to see how it works.
I was surprised to find out that Sixbit, Inkfrog, and probably wonderlister have no way to be run on a server. Its all just desktop software. So if we wanted our helper to work from home, she couldnt. I guess if these companies worked on cloud based software then they’d basically just be duplicating eBay.
eBay should allow stores to have different accounts so you can give limited access to someone helping you. I wonder what those big eBay stores use who have multiple employees.
05/11/2018 at 12:59 pm #39691
05/11/2018 at 3:20 pm #39702
05/11/2018 at 6:05 pm #39712
Jay, I’m not familiar with the specifics for Staff Accounts. I have a small business with no employees. When I searched for some info. on them, I ran across a seller spotlight that mentioned:
“As the business grew, the option to create staff accounts with custom permissions became quite a useful feature as well.”
05/11/2018 at 2:43 pm #39698
Small success to report. I successfully ran the process for one listing (273207528355). The biggest pain was getting the boiler plate information entered correctly. The photos filled in without any error or hiccup. That is fantastic news for me. In fact, the more I think about it, I could conceivably ensure that the VA wouldn’t even access my word press site. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to my library of photos, which could be conceivable if someone has access to that catalog of photos. So, I think I’ll have them access the photos on Google Photos, where I currently upload all my photos to as I take them on my phone. The photos are named by Google photos and are imported with those sequentially numbered titles. those titles carry though to the word press site, so that may be a seamless part of the process. Now, I’m off to run a large number of the same type of items to further refine this process.
It looks like InkFrog is relatively inexpensive and may be a really great option. But it doesn’t appear to interface with Etsy.
05/16/2018 at 4:28 am #40054
Day 2 went even better. Listed 20, the first day, 27 the second day, plus fixed photo problem from first day, plus did spreadsheet for another 48 done, just need to do the photos for those 48 and then get those urls populated on the spreadsheet. This time I’m going to try inkfrog’s photo hosting instead of my wordpress site. The dream host.com hosted site doesn’t successfully load all my images on the first go around. I get failed uploads and have to go back through one or two more times to reload photos individually until they all get uploaded. I’ll see if the inkfrog solution for photo hosting is a viable solution.
My goal is to have bread and butter items that I can easily source, get a VA to ultimately handle and leave the one off and home runs for me to handle.
05/16/2018 at 7:47 am #40059
05/16/2018 at 11:37 am #40078
05/16/2018 at 12:30 pm #40083
Hi, I have just a moment to give an update. I plan on hiring my own VA from the Philippines. More to come on that later. I am having trouble with my photo uploads to the dreamhost server. The problem is being worked on, but that is eating the majority of my time. Essentially, here’s where we are at on day 3:
1. 30 minutes to take 4 photos each of 47 books, so conceivably 100 books an hour photography is manageable.
2. 1 hour to log those 47 books into my spreadsheet, but I plan on speeding that up with voice to text solftware, maybe…
3. 1 hour for the photo upload to dreamhost because of the technical problems I’m experiencing
4. 30 minutes to review and finalize my csv file for file exchange upload
My goal is to get to 100/day photographed and uploaded. I think I can get there as every day seems to be getting better and more bugs being worked out.
I sent an email to inkfrog to see if their photo hosting will allow me to access the .jpg URL for the photos for use in my csv file exchange upload. They replied with a fix. I will try that next. If I can easily do that, then I will not deal with dreamhost anymore for my file uploads and that will speed things up.
my plan for a VA is to simply create a procedure that outlines the process, and for the interview give them 10 files to do. If they can do that, they can go on to the next round of interview. That is how I will weed out anyone without the capacity to follow simple instructions. I won’t be handing them complex items. My goal is just to get bread and butter their way, like commodity items, or basic collectables, not something that requires a ton of research. They should be able to glean the info they need right from the photos.
Bottom line for today 47 listings done and its not even noon. 🙂
05/16/2018 at 12:35 pm #40084
T-SATT- I plan on paying a very low wage per hour, and implementing a commission structure 90 days in. For example, I will try to get someone for $3-4/hour with the idea that they can list 100 items/day once they are up to speed (e.g. likely by 90 days). Then I will give them some kind of scaled per listing bump to their pay. For example, 50-100 listings/day is 5 cents per listing bonus. 101-150/day is 10 cents per listing bonus, something like that. I haven’t drilled down on it yet. I’ll keep you posted.however, commission will feature large in my pay. I prefer folks to make at least 50% or 75% of their income by commission. I come from a commission background and I know how much of a motivator it is. plus, I’m on commission right now! 100% 🙂
05/16/2018 at 12:51 pm #40089
Gotcha. I went down the VA route earlier this year, but we couldn’t get the numbers to work with what we do. The labor rates are cheaper, but there wasn’t a way to get the volume efficiency where it made sense.
That was why we went down the photographer route. Veronica and I can crank out the listings (either Draft through eBay for her or SixBit for me) very efficiently, and then the photographer takes our items from there. He does the prep, photo, photo editing, weighs the items, and puts them in clear poly bags and attaches the SKU tag. Twice a week, he drops of the completed items, I get the photos from his thumb drive, and he picks up new items.
It has speed up our process tremendously, as I can do 50 items a day by myself with no problem. We have kept our listings per week around 120 the past couple of weeks and I have been gone 2 days doing contract accounting work.
For us, we found that the lister needs to have the item with them during listing. Data from photos wasn’t enough. So when we hire a lister, we are looking for someone that will list at their own house using Drafts. That way they can work on a different schedule from us (like a VA) and we can pay per item.
05/16/2018 at 2:16 pm #40098
05/16/2018 at 8:17 pm #40122
Hey Jay, you are correct. It’s not much at all. Not saying this is the definitive example, but I figure something like this: Assuming that the VA is being paid $4/hour as a base, and they are able to put up 200 listings/day, in a 6 hour day, then they would be earning $34/day instead of $24/day, or earning $4.67/hour. I’d much prefer a model like 20 cents per listing, with a base of $2/hour. That example would be $52/day for those 6 hours. It’s moot now, since I’m not ready to get the VA going yet.
An update on having a wordpress site for hosting photos, its totally unnecessary. First of all, dreamhost is wayyyyyy too klunky. I shouldn’t have this much trouble loading photos. And, inkfrog includes photo hosting. So, now I’ll just upload the photos into inkfrog, grab the URLs from inkfrog, do the .csv file exchange into eBay and manage through inkfrog from there for things like automatic 30 day sell similar, etc.
My next step for tomorrow is to build my title from the attributes automatically by using concatenate functions. My idea is to use a speech to text function within MS Word to note listing details.
Assume these are the item specifics for a women’s top:
brand: Banana Republic
Type of Top: Button Down
Material: 100% Cotton
Country of Manufacture: China
Fit (optional added custom detail): Form Fit
I would use those specifics to build the title, using a text-delimiter in word, pull that into excel, run a text to columns and concatenate formulas to make the title for the .csv spreadsheet. The word doc would read like this:
Banana Republic,Button Down,M,Brown,100% Cotton,Classic,Form Fit
The title would auto populate into the title field of the CSV File Exchange spreadsheet:
The title format would be = Women (boiler plate for every women’s listing)+ Brand + Type of Top + Size + Color + Material + Neckline + Fit + Preowned (boiler plate filler statement for titles which end prior to 80 characters + Made in USA (again, more boiler plate filler)
The final 80 character title would be=
Women Banana Republic Button Down M Brown 100% Cotton Classic Neckline Form Fit
I’d use the LEFT formula to ensure only 80 characters populate and the LEN formula to validate the final title is at or below 80 characters.
I’ll do something similar to auto populate the description area. It will include the tile on the first row, followed by a reiteration of some of the item specifics.
I just want to be able to grab a stack of something (books, belts, purses, etc.) rattle off the specifics into the word doc and pull everything into excel. take the photos, pull them into excel and make the whole thing self populate the entire listing. I can always add one-off notes to higher end or unique items as a revision after the listing is created.
I feel I will be able to get there pretty soon.
05/17/2018 at 9:27 am #40160
Marjean: Wow. I have to commend you on this process. I’m a total spreadsheet geek and I can follow what you are going for process wise. My only concern with your process is to make sure you have some checks along the way. I’ve done similar processes for accounting and inventory, and while it can be wonderful, it can also make a lot of mistakes quickly (and sometimes hard to unwind).
I hope this works well!
05/16/2018 at 8:26 pm #40123
T-SATT: What happened with your VA? Did they just operate too slowly, or with too many mistakes? Were they out of the country? I love the idea of the photographer. How much do you pay your photographer? Brilliant idea of you to have them come to you for the pick up and drop off. And they do the prep too! WOW! Did you supply their photography equipment? Was the volume efficiency an issue because they had to flip flop between category id’s?
My goal is to have the VA & Photographer work in tandem on bread and butter items. And then all I would do is quality check the spreadsheet and handle the upload. I would reserve items needing special research to me. I don’t encounter too much just yet that needs much research though. Assuming my time were freed up, I would have more time to do more deliberate sourcing.
05/17/2018 at 9:33 am #40161
Marjean: We never went with them, as I couldn’t see a remote VA doing our listings on just the photos. And by the time we would have to provide enough information to them to do the listing, we could just do it ourselves in eBay or SixBit. So we decided to outsource the photography.
We have an outstanding young photographer that has his own studio at his place with his own equipment. I provided our mannequins, a table for flat lays, and a steamer to prep clothing. We pay $2 per item.
I work to keep him efficient by grouping the items. Batches of shirts, batches of pants, batches of shoes, batches of sport coats, etc.
Adding a separate lister would be our next step, in a similar fashion by them creating listings from their own home.
05/17/2018 at 9:45 am #40162
Our experience with helpers matches Troy’s experience. We know that if we paid our workers too little, we wouldn’t have consistency and quality. $2 an item is roughly what we pay.
I’d be suspicious paying someone less. If you can hire someone overseas to virtually list for much less, but then I’d worry about how much hand holding you’d need to do. I think the items they could handle would need to be “easy to research” commodity items and not the weird, vintage items we mostly sell.
For us, we also want more time to do the things we really want to be doing. So we’re willing to pay for that luxury.
- This reply was modified 4 months, 1 week ago by Jay.
05/17/2018 at 10:14 am #40164
Funny how you talk about paying less than $2/item. We know someone that photography for some binners. They only pay him $0.75 per item to photo. It is basically front, back, tag, flaws. They have him do 400-500 items per week. Nothing but bin after bin after bin of clothing…
That is just a sweatshop…
05/17/2018 at 11:50 am #40175
T-Satt – regarding mistakes, agreed! That’s why I will QA and handle the file exchange upload myself. I plan on making a checker type function within Excel too. My background is in compliance, QA testing, business operations, process flows, procedure writing, etc. So, that’s likely why I’m heading this way.
My procedure and process will need to be extremely controlled and robust. I don’t plan on doing a lot of teaching. I plan on the actual procedure and spreadsheet being self explanatory. With a cell locked, drop down only, spreadsheet, and step by step procedures, it should be manageable. Time will tell. If nothing else, it will be easy for me to follow! And this assumes that someone can read the tag, or book title, etc. from the photo. I haven’t tested that yet.
I really want to get a photographer here too. And I would have to pay decent money for a US Based employee for sure. Again, I would gravitate toward a scaled commission structure.
My next step is learning what I can of inkfrog right now so that I can get the 30 day listings to automatically re-list. And today, I’m rolling out a new catagory id spreadsheet (on to bras now) and will see how that goes.
Looking ahead, I can see wanting an access data base over the spreadsheets, but I’m holding off on that. Correction, I’m forcing myself to hold off on that.
05/17/2018 at 11:54 am #40176
05/17/2018 at 12:30 pm #40183
I guess Im confused what problem you’re trying to solve? Why not just hire someone local and spend a day or two teaching them your system? As long as you find someone who is motivated (usually by the need for money!), it’s pretty easy.
The key is finding someone willing to work without much supervision.
05/17/2018 at 3:02 pm #40202
The difference is the money. I can hire someone for 1/3 the money remotely. Teenagers won’t work around around here for less than $11/hour. Babysitters make $15/hour. In fact, it may just be that all I end up doing is making a faster process for myself. I can’t stand using the mouse or phone to enter the information. I much prefer a matrixed environment of a spreadsheet. Who knows? It’ll probably just be me in the end anyway! LOL!
05/19/2018 at 2:46 pm #40373
Another successful update. I have 3 templates working well now, children’s picture books, bras, and women’s tops. I am figuring out more about what happens when you make your listing template first and then take the photos of the items in a different order than what you listed them in. Then, what happens if you don’t have your photos all in perfect order? Problems solved. I even had one of the uploads get accepted with no glitches on the first try. So, I’m feeling very hopeful.
I am looking into a local photographer. And yes, for cheap. Here’s why: I want them to only take photos of the clothing type items: belts, purses, scarves, clothing. And I only want 4 photos for each item. Front, Side, Back or flaws, and tag. That’s it. And I ultimately want the VA to be able to make the listing from that. There is not going to be any research that they will do. It will only be plugging data into a spreadsheet. So, for tops, it’s about 6 data points of item specifics: brand, size type, size, color, material, pit to pit. That’s it. They don’t even have to write the title because the formulas do that.
Will they be listing my Netsukes? No way!
05/19/2018 at 6:01 pm #40385
05/19/2018 at 9:26 pm #40423
05/19/2018 at 9:39 pm #40426
True. Photos and data entry are different tasks.
Here’s how we approached it with our helpers:
–We determined the two tasks work better when done together since the person photographing knows the flaws, details when they list. Quality of the listing is better.
–Doing the same task over and over gets old real fast. We know for experience. I dont know how realistic it is to expect someone to do data entry for more than two hours at a time without losing a lot of efficiency. Our helpers do better when they can take photos, then write listings for the photos. Variation is good.
We know an eBay seller (much bigger than us) that has workers who photograph, workers who list, workers who pack. I would love to know how efficient that process is. It might work.
We’re just worried about burnout and high turnover. It takes valuable time training someone.
05/19/2018 at 10:11 pm #40431
Jay, I totally agree.
What see at the price for labor is that it is easier to segregate. If you want to have someone that’s doing it all, you’re going to have to pay a lot more per item or per hour to get that kind of quality.
When Veronica worked at her other company, they had to have the segregation and that would keep up the efficiency and keep the cost of labor down. Veronica was so good at her job, that she became the type of person you were talking about. Someone who is doing it all. But at that point, she could make more money just doing her own business. That is why she left and came back to do this full-time.
05/19/2018 at 10:52 pm #40434
I see the pros and cons of what Jay says and the pros and cons of what Troy says. I seem to agree with both of you.
I agree with Jay that data entry is hard work and you lose efficiency as time goes on. I also agree that tasks work better when done together.
I agree with Troy in that it is much “easier to look for two sets of skills” when looking for people to do the work.
My take on this is that it depends on the actual person that you have to work with and what their particular skills are. Some people are good at multiple things, some are not. I am glad that my current lister can do it all. The process is much more efficient than when I separate out the tasks (outside of my house). However, I am not sure I could easily find another person like that without a lot of hand holding. If I were to get another person, I would start them on photography and then see if they can do other things well. It would be ideal to get someone with ebay experience, but that may just be a pipe dream.
When I look at the future of my business, if I were to get much larger, ideally I would want people to be interchangeable. For example, have 3 people: one photographer, one lister, and one shipper. But cross train them so that everyone knows how to do the others job. In my low season, the focus would be on listing, in the high season, the focus would be on shipping. So in this model, you would be able to easily shift people around to the work needed at the time. Not sure how that would work in real life, but that is how I picture it now.
05/20/2018 at 7:16 am #40454
05/19/2018 at 11:29 pm #40436
I looked into getting a VA at one time. From what I was reading on the web, some of them were awesome, but a lot of them were not good at all. As I recall, the person had to go through 3-4 VA’s or more to finally get a good one. A lot of the VA’s would just disappear. I was not willing to go through all that drama. But if you did go through the work and found a really good VA worker, it would be well worth it.
05/24/2018 at 2:13 pm #40933
Hi folks, just a quick update on the process. I have hired the photographer and not the VA yet. I’m on day 3 and she is getting along pretty well. I plan on just having her photograph 600 items at first and then I’ll assess whether or not I wish to continue in that vein. I’m still working on creating templates and they are going pretty quickly with minimal errors and only errors that are not repeat. The only piece I need to figure out is the best way to deal with the item specifics and the measurements. Do I want to be the one to capture that information, as I am now? Or, do I want the VA to do that data entry? If I go with a VA to do the data entry, then is that done from looking at the photos? Or would they be better off working from dictation? I’m still ironing that out.
06/11/2018 at 8:06 am #42110
- Location: Central Maine
Jay said, “$2 an item is roughly what we pay.” Could you please clarify what that covers? I’d love to come up with a piece-rate (with a per hour minimum, of course).
Photo taking and cropping
Posting to scheduled status
And does not cover(?):
Final approval, live submission
ps: love you guys, want to explore inkfrog more, and I’m one of those still selling the bulk of my items on Amazon.
06/11/2018 at 8:19 am #42116
We pay by the hour and not by the piece, so it’s difficult to come up for an exact cost per item. Sometimes our helpers get a whole lot done on easy items. Sometimes we give them a pile of items more difficult to photograph.
We find that an hourly payment gives them more stability in how much they’ll make. I know other sellers choose to pay per item as motivation to get them to do more, but I find this will cause burnout as happens in most commission based jobs. We’ve luckily found people who are good workers that we trust which is important to us.
Our helpers photograph, measure, write titles, and fill in item description. We do a final check, research, and price. They do between 5-10 items an hour.
06/11/2018 at 9:41 am #42135
- Location: Central Maine
06/11/2018 at 9:52 am #42138
Remember that we give them piles of similar items. So they may be doing 50 shirts, 50 pieces of art, or 50 random trinkets. The more similar items are, the faster the pace.
The equation for our helpers is the same equation for ourselves:
–quality of information/photos
When I see sellers talk about really pushing their helpers to list more and faster, I imagine that helper wont last long and their listing quality may be poor. You also don’t want to give them cart blanche and have the only list 3 items an hour. We always train helpers by working with them for several weeks, side by side so they us doing the process ourselves. It’s definitely a fine balance.
- This reply was modified 3 months, 2 weeks ago by Jay.
06/21/2018 at 8:01 am #42985
Hi all, I have updates. My photographer was pretty good, and her photos were generally very good for clothing. However she flaked out on coming to work 2 straight days in a row. Knowing her background, I recognized this to be a pattern she has had in her past jobs. I was not immune to the same treatment, like I hoped I would be. So, she didn’t work out.
So I switched gears and went the remote VA way instead. It has worked out really well so far. I used inkfrog. They have limited access to the site as I specify when setting up their profile. I don’t give them access to publishing listings, so I can just review them and list easil, and keep up quality control in that way.
I hired 4 of them to start. They are paid 25 cents per listing, but they have pre-populated listing templates I made in inkfrog. I don’t know for sure, but it seems as though they do around 12-15 listings per hour right now. I don’t track their hours, so I can’t say for certain.
All they have to do is figure out the appropriate template to use, put in a basic title, add the photos and drop in their folder for me to review.
Out of the 4, 3 were able to successfully follow my instructions with minimal assistance. The 4th must have been younger than I thought, because she couldn’t follow even a basic instruction. I soon had to let her go.
This first week in, they have created about 200 listings between them. So I’m satisfied for the moment.
06/21/2018 at 10:48 am #43013
I started them off with postcards. I made many listing templates (called profiles in inkfrog) for them to use. I indicated the profile they should use in the name of the image. I scanned in the postcards, like spinach eater / Popeye’s postcards does. I even bought the same scanner he uses to do it. For example, if I have a Linen era, Lithograph (printed) card for a monument in Arizona, then the detailed procedures I wrote directs the lister to use the listing profile entitled: VTG AZ Postcard Linen Litho. Then they are instructed to add one item specific that I couldn’t pre-fill (the city & region of the card). The title is pre-filled with certain key words/phrases and they only have to look at the front and the back of the postcard to complete the title. So, its pretty well established for straight forward cards. They won’t be doing research. So, for example, when I move on to cards that need specific research, like an old cryptic Real Photo Postcard from 1910 which requires research, they wouldn’t do all that. Then I would just have them load the photo to the listing and maybe pick the state and not do the title. Either way, it all goes to a folder that I have to review each listing before going live with it.
Clothing would be more involved I think, but still is doable. They told me that they typically get 50 to 60 cents for clothing from their other e-commerce employers. I’m sure they have more proficiency in the clothing arena having experience in that area.
First I will get my current VA’s more proficient with postcards as I move forward. I started them out on chrome era postcards. Next, I’ll move them to Linen era, then I’ll get them more and more refined as they go. After that, I plan on moving on to other ephemera that can be scanned next. I may move on to books and records for them too. I like being able to have something that I can give them in the hundreds and then write the procedure out for them to follow.
Likely I’ll get them doing clothing, though I wish that inkfrog had the capability to have listers for poshmark. unfortunately, none of these listing platforms interface with poshmark.
06/21/2018 at 10:50 am #43015
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