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How to Make the Most out of Hiring and Working Remotely. Run your Business from Anywhere in the World!
by Eugene Mironichev
About this book
This book is for both novice and veteran entrepreneurs interested in building a remote business and running it from anywhere in the world. You will learn how entrepreneurs operate their business remotely, how to build and manage a remote team, how to work with partners remotely, how to build your customer base and generate sales remotely, and more. The author analyzed more than 200 articles, studies, and books, and interviewed more than 20 entrepreneurs as well as representatives of major and niche freelance online marketplaces.
About the author
Eugene Mironichev has been operating his business remotely for more than 15 years. His journey took him from his start as a software engineer to his current status as an established serial entrepreneur. He works with remote teams from almost every continent and he now serves as a consultant for international startups entering the market by facilitating their global sales and marketing operations.
Table of Contents
My personal path to remote work
More global. Cheaper. Faster.
Why do entrepreneurs work remotely?
How to plan?
The principles and methods of planning
Time Management Traps for remote workers
What you should tell your friends and family about working remotely
My Work Rules
Applications and tools: who to trust?
The Home Office
Coworking spaces versus offices
The Remote Team
The upside of remote work
The downside of remote work
Where to look
More about freelance marketplaces. What other ways can entrepreneurs use them?
Who shouldn’t be working remotely
How to Hire and Test Remote Employees
Overseeing projects involving large numbers of remote workers
What to look for when working with remote specialists
Hiring remote managers
Advice on avoiding the most common mistakes made by new entrepreneurs seeking new employees
The Ideal Remote Employee
Bringing new workers on board
How to monitor remote employees
The culture of remote work
No trolls allowed
“Picturesque” stories on the web
The Truth behind “Magical” Search Engine Optimization
Virtual Office Tools
Online chats as the online platform for virtual teams
The Hollywood Model for startups
Partner – or part of the team?
Partners who facilitate sales
Virtual Mastermind Groups
How to sell digital products online
How to find remote clients through a freelance marketplace
The Ideal Remote Client
How to correspond with remote clients
The Pitfalls of Working with Remote Clients
Naming your website
This certainly wasn't the first time Xenia found herself seeking out remote workers for her company. And today, Saturday, she'd scheduled a follow-up video interview for 10 a.m. Today’s interview was with a young woman who, according to her resume, had been “freelancing” for three years. Three years’ experience was excellent for a remote worker! As was often the case with early-morning interviews, Xenia expected to see a sleepy girl in pajamas. But once the camera started up, what the recruiter saw on the screen made her smile despite herself. The woman sitting before her was attired in a suit, with flawlessly styled hair and impeccable makeup. On the couch behind her, staring directly into the camera, sat three cats.
Why did I decide to start off with this real story? Because it is a wonderful illustration of some of the differences between how remote work looks and functions compared to a standard office. We are likely to be at home, possibly even in our pajamas, but that doesn’t prevent us from completing serious assignments. The world is changing, and we must keep up with these changes.
Who is this book for? For entrepreneurs, including those who are taking their first steps and those who have already acquired some experience, and also those who already work remotely, and who manage a remote team, or are just beginning to think about setting up a distributed team for new project. For this book, I interviewed more than 20 entrepreneurs from the US and Europe, as well as representatives of online freelance marketplaces such as Freelancer.com, Upwork.com and others. I provide examples from well-known companies and real entrepreneurs from around the world, and share my personal experience. Surprisingly, I discovered that successful companies with remote teams all use the very same approaches and tools that I am sharing with you.
The book contains the following parts:
- Introduction: overview of the latest changes in how people work
- Entrepreneurs: how entrepreneurs operate remotely, how to manage your time when working remotely, the pros and cons of remote work, the best tools for working remotely
- Teams: how and where to find great remote workers, how to build an international remote team and how to manage it, the most common pitfalls, and the best practices and tools
- Partners: remote partners and why you may need them; services that may replace partners
- Customers: how to find remote clients and customers, what types of digital products and services can be created and sold online.
My personal path to remote work
In 2000, I was unable to find an interesting job as a programmer in my small provincial town. Fortunately, a post in an emailing list-serve seeking programmers popped up on the Internet. I responded and soon began working remotely for a company that was located thousand miles away. I have never visited its office. Moreover, I never personally met my colleagues, and for year, I never even spoke to them by phone as we used email for all communications, which wasn't a problem. So my very first work place was in "cyberspace," and that is how my experience in remote work began. Of course, around six years later, I took a job in a regular office simply to try it out for a few months. But spending an hour and a half – half asleep – commuting to the other side of the megalopolis (where I now lived) during the morning rush, and then in the evening, another hour and a half commuting back home only to arrive at 9 p.m – 3 hours every working day just on commuting – was killing me, and soon I quit, having decided to start my own software business.
What then? I started working on my own. Also, by then laptops, smartphones and cellular Internet were widespread, and you could easily send e-mails or chat while on the road. Soon I saw that many people who love working in the office had begun themselves to work remotely for various reasons. The key factor, especially when one is switching from office to remote work, was and still remains the time and effort it takes to commute
The average one way commute is 26 minutes in the USA and there are 260 working days in a year, so skipping the journey to work and back saves almost ten days a year, and in ten years the savings add up to more than three months – three months that you can devote to family, travel, sports, and many other important people and activities in your life!
In addition, for entrepreneurs, remote work offers a great opportunity to build, manage and grow a business that is not limited by the local workforce and local clients.
At least, as long as you have a good Wi-Fi signal and you don't forget the charger.
More global. Cheaper. Faster.
Globalization changes the world and eventually the economies of entire countries. According to the joint research of Accenture Strategy and Oxford Economics, the volume of the global digital economy was $19 billion in 2015 and will grow up to almost $25 billion by 2020, representing 25% of the worldwide economy. Companies without an office, remote workers, distributed teams, and freelancers are playing an important role in this growth. According to the report by Freelancers Union and Upwork, the United States is the leader with 55 million freelancers that make up more than 30% of the total workforce in the US. India follows with 15 million freelancers. And with millions of freelancers, Europe shows an amazing 44.5% growth. The leading online freelance marketplaces, such as Upwork.com and Freelancer.com, already have tens of millions of registered remote workers representing almost every country on the planet!
This is all made possible thanks to the rapid evolution of technologies making communications cheaper, faster, smaller. The available Internet connection speed has grown about 1000 times since the year 2000, and according to Akamai State of the Internet Report, the global average connection speed is still growing up to 15% per year. A laptop that can simply be tossed into a backpack is as powerful and fast as a cumbersome desktop computer just a few years ago. iPhone, judging by its capacity, is actually already equal to supercomputers from the 1980s, and its computing capacity would be sufficient to complete calculations for the entire Apollo space program. If there is anything putting the brakes on changes, it is not technology, but our mental inertia and stereotypes that are hard to change. Scott Berkun, the former manager of the remote team at Wordpress.com service, jokes in his book Year Without Pants that one can’t say for sure what the person next to you in Starbacks is really doing on her laptop: hacking a bank or just spending time on social media.
– We live in a globally connected world and the number of freelancers is growing rapidly on all continents.
– Changes in the economy and technological changes our daily life mean that work and life are fusing into one.
– Technologies are changing faster than we are, and faster than our stereotypes.
Why do entrepreneurs work remotely?
One day offices will be a thing of the past. I have always worked from home so I CAN spend more time with my family. In 30 years time, as technology moves forward even further, people are going to look back and wonder why offices ever existed.
Richard Branson. Founder of Virgin Group, which controls more than 400 companies. This is from a blog post on the Virgin website
Entrepreneurs know that at first sight, it may seem that their lives look beautiful and alluring, but in fact, (especially when the business is still young) it is made up of never-ending stress, 18-hour workdays with no days off, no time for family and friends. How can remote work help entrepreneurs in such circumstances? It’s simple: remote work will save valuable time and resources that can be spent on other components of your life that matter, such as family, travel or personal development.
Some entrepreneurs opt for travels:
For around $8 a day, a mobile hotspot can help you work from essentially anywhere – especially when “anywhere” means “the beach.” Since working from Canary Island beaches and a rocky Romanian train became my new norm, I soon found myself working my nontraditional office anywhere I switched my hotspot on.
Entrepreneur Arianna O’Dell,
in the article for Fast Company
Other entrepreneurs are running new ventures without having to be present physically:
I have a remote job completely in the new project in Barcelona. We are all distributed around the world. Managers work in Barcelona. I am in Moscow, and my partners, and the manager and another partner, and marketing – all these are in Saint Petersburg.
Pavel Annenkov. Serial entrepreneur and author of Million Dollar Mistakes, in a personal communication with me.
Some entrepreneurs work remotely to focus on strategy:
Why do I like working at home? I do not have to deal with the routine there. Every time I show up at my office, all my top-managers descend on me at once and start to bother me with all their issues regarding agreements, approvals and so on. But when I work at home, I don’t get caught up in this stuff, and I can think about strategic tasks calmly. So, I try to combine the office with remote work: 2-3 days a week working in the office. The rest of the days – working from home.
Sergey Kotyrev (CEO and Founder of the UMI CMS application that powers more than 1 million websites worldwide) in interview with Get8.
It is obvious that the number of entrepreneurs working remotely is constantly growing. Also, many former freelancers are launching their own ventures, relying on distributed teams from the very beginning.
- Entrepreneurs work remotely to save time and resources for their family, and for traveling and personal development.
- The ability to succeed in working remotely depends on the specific nature of the business
How to plan?
Once you've moved from to office to remote work you need to learn how to plan your day and your schedule to make the most out of working remotely. I have to confess that I used to be pretty bad at planning. Instead of being proactive, most of time I would simply react to changes in external circumstances. Although I had some ambitions and specific goals, I would usually put them off until later. And plans that actually came to fruition, well, lots of time it was thanks to a twist of fate or a lucky break. And this is despite all the books on time-management that I’d read!
How did I learn practical planning? I hired a remote coach and mentor who for months on end asked me every day what my plan was for the day, what I'd accomplished the previous day, and why I’d selected certain priorities. When a person much older than you asks you this, and when you’re paying him to ask you, you have to provide a response, and also ponder it. And so every day I wrote a report on the previous day and made a to-do list for the next day. The results came very quickly – I began to see rapid progress on new projects, and old ones, as well.
For me, personally, such a regime was hard, but I found out that it really is beneficial having an outside person observe and comment on your plans – someone you trust and who trusts you. This can be a friend, a companion, or a mentor. Of course, this person should not criticize you when you fail, but should instead give you their full support.
A number of entrepreneurs successfully help each other by acting as so-called “accountability partners” who make an Internet call every week to discuss plans for the following week and the results of the previous week. Virtual clubs can also help. Usually these are comprised of 3-4 people (a so-called mastermind group). Generally, people form such groups via forums for entrepreneurs or social networks.
Actually, for me, learning how to plan was a pretty hard process. Then I found a café with horrible Internet. In the morning I would relax there with a cup of coffee and write my plan. I admit, it was hard at first –half an hour of planning my future felt like the equivalent of carrying a heavy sack for 3 hours. At first, if you are not accustomed to planning, it may be hard for you, too. But later, you’ll find it gets easier and easier.
Over time, when planning began to become a part of my daily routine, a surprise was waiting for me. It turned out that once I decided to start planning and making conscious decisions, the greatest challenge to my success was not me, at all, nor was it the processes of planning and executing my plans. The greatest challenge was the pushback of my habitual surroundings, my old habits, social circle or even my family that wanted to pull me back into the familiar chaos of “unplanned” activity.
Lots of people love things to happen on their own, especially when everything goes well. Unfortunately, our world is arranged such that either you plan and manage your life, or you live according to a plan written by others. Either you follow your own plan and work to achieve your goals, or you serve others by carrying out their plans. And the transition from a reactive existence (you have no plan, and you just “go with the flow”) to a proactive one (when you set up your own plan and act to carry it out) can be difficult.
Next, I will share some approaches I’ve developed to facilitate planning.
The principles and methods of planning
The main planning principle is that if you fail to fully implement your plan, don’t worry, because the plan itself isn’t the goal, rather, it’s a tool! So if you fall, the important thing is to get up and move on. Picture yourself as a roly-poly toy. If you punch it, it rocks backwards, but then it bounces right back. In the same way, you too will always get back up, and then you give it another try. Start by taking baby steps. For example, instead of deciding to read for an hour, your goal should be reading just three lines a day. Instead of an hour at the gym, set your goal at doing just one squat. This technique is described in detail in a book by Stephen Guise: How to Be an Imperfectionist: The New Way to Self-Acceptance, Fearless Living, and Freedom from Perfectionism.
Find a planning interval that works best for you. Perhaps it will be blocks of three hours, an hour, or even half an hour. Pomodoro is a popular technique based on 20-minute blocks. Many famous people, such as Bill Gates, are like the President in that every day is scheduled down to the minute, and sometimes even down to the second. Such minute time planning, though, is only possible with the help of a dedicated administrative team.
I actually prefer 3-hour blocks, and I also divide my working day into two large halves. Over time I’ve learned that I can fit a maximum of three major tasks into each 3-hour block. The Canadian serial entrepreneur and mentor Dan Martel advises entrepreneurs to plan out only half of the day, because the other half will be filled on its own.
My usual daily routine
I try to spend morning hours on tasks that require a "breakthrough" and creative effort, such as working on strategy. I do my best to complete this work in a three-hour block from 9 to 12 a.m.
• 9.00 a.m. – 9.20 a.m.: Quick overview of mail, a short call with the crew, or an ad hoc conversation on urgent issues.
• 9.20 a.m. – 10.00 a.m.: Read, watch a conference video. This is the kind of learning which you never have time for. And by doing it in the morning, you can truly make it happen. Reading a book is like meditation.
• 10.00 a.m. – 12.00 a.m.: Creative assignments and new projects, which sometimes include previously long-avoided "eat-the-frog" tasks. “Eat-the-frog” tasks are projects that are due that day, but that you’ve been procrastinating on for whatever reason. You have to do them because the deadline is fast approaching. There is an old saying: If you eat a live frog first thing each morning, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that it's probably the worst thing you'll do all day. Also if you constantly have to "eat the same frog," think about finding a remote employee for whom this "frog" (unpleasant task) would be like "candy," and delegate this task to him or her.
• Every two weeks from 9 a.m. to 12.00 a.m. I work through a so-called "strategic block." According to the authors of the book The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington, by finishing one such block every two weeks, an entrepreneur can boost sales several times over. I’ve been using this technique not just for business, but for planning all other aspects of my life. It requires you to be in an environment where no one can disturb you for 3 hours. This, too, is meditative. The key to this is that you must think deeply about matters. For few hours you attempt to look into the future and derive insights on how you and your business should develop. The purpose of this “meditation” is to come up with plans that will help you achieve your goals. If you are struggling to work out a course of action, do the following: imagine yourself as you’ll be in ten years, and then write a letter to the “future you” from the “current you.”
• 12.00 a.m. – 1.00 p.m.: Dinner, checking social networks, reading the news, listening to audio books. This is also the ideal time to fit in a workout of some sort, be it the gym, a walk, or a bike ride.
• 1.00 p.m. – 2.00 p.m.: The afternoon "coma" or "dead zone." For this time of day, it’s better to plan on very simple activities that don't require much thought, but which must be done. If there’s nothing like this available, then you can read or listen to an audiobook, or even take a nap.
• 3 p.m. – 5 p.m.: A block of daily tasks. This is the time when routine tasks and projects should be scheduled. This includes writing to partners, following up on tasks that have been assigned or completed, and so on.
• 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Domestic and family time.
• 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.: Another creative block can be fit in here.
Set tasks by weekday
In addition to scheduling tasks for a day, many entrepreneurs use a schedule whereby every day of the week is devoted to a particular sphere of activity. This approach works especially well for planning operations that involve small teams of 5-7 people where each member is a kind of Jack-of-all-trades. Here is an example of this kind of schedule:
• Monday – Marketing: marketing and everything related to it.
• Tuesday – Your strategy for yourself is to spend three hours focusing on the essentials, where you draw up a strategic plan with the Internet turned off. Next, strategize with a team: summarizing the previous week and asking each team member three questions: 1) What was successfully accomplished over the last week? 2) What is the main task on the agenda for the upcoming week? and (3) What problems is anyone having with doing their part?
• Wednesday - The product: Work on improving your product or service.
• Thursday – Sales: Write to all customers and ask them whether they are ready to buy or are still deliberating.
• Friday – Feedback: Review and analyze communications from customers.
Simplified task system by weekday
There is another simplified system for planning when you’re under the weather, or traveling. I read about this approach some years ago, but, unfortunately, I don’t remember the source. This approach is useful when you are traveling or if you have health issues that sideline you from time to time.
• Monday and Tuesday – Planning: collecting data for up to 3 important tasks. The planning needs to be thorough, you need to learn the details, determine how much time and other resources will be required, in what order you will carry out the tasks.
• Wednesday – Execution of these 2-3 tasks using the detailed plan that you prepared.
• Thursday – Recovery: recreation and rejuvenation.
• Friday – Contemplation: Analysis of how it went, and thinking about what tasks to carry out next week.
Work schedules of some well-known people:
Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft, the richest man on the planet in 2016)
Although Bill Gates has moved away from business and spends most of his time engaged in non-commercial projects, his daily plan is made up by his assistants almost to the minute. According to The Telegraph every day is planned in five-minute blocks, with every meeting and every single handshake planned right down to the second.
Steve Ballmer (ex-CEO of Microsoft and billionaire).
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Balmer said that he scheduled his time using an Excel spreadsheet, allocating time for business meetings, face time with his kids, even for relaxation. It is as if he was planning a “time budget,” i.e., a budget made up of time.
Jack Dorsey (CEO of Twitter and Square)
According to Wall Street Journal, his workdays are divided into two halves: the morning is dedicated to Twitter, and the second half of the day to Square.
According to “A guide to Jack Dorsey's 80-hour workweek” by CNN Money, each day of the week is also devoted to different spheres:
Monday: Management meetings and "running the company" work
Tuesday: Product development
Wednesday: Marketing, communications and growth
Thursday: Developers and partnerships
Friday: The company and its culture
In his autobiography, he described the following daily schedule:
From 5 to 8 a.m.: “Rise, wash and address Powerful Goodness! Contrive the day's business and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study; and breakfast. ”
From 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.: "Work.“
From 12 to 2 p.m.: "Read or overlook my accounts, and dine."
From 2 to 6 p.m.: “Work.”
From 6 to 10 p.m.: “Put things in their places, supper, music, or diversion, or conversation; examination of the day. ”
From 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.: “Sleep. ”
Every modern entrepreneur faces more and more demand for creativity and innovative ideas. You can take the example of a major figure from the arts, himself an innovator, Pyotr Tchikovsky. His daily regime has been documented by Mason Currey in his book “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work”:
7 to 8 a.m.: Arise.
8 to 9:30 a.m.: Have tea while reading: begin with the Holy Bible, then, from 9 to 9:30, books related to work. Take a walk.
9.30 to 12 p.m.: Work
12 to 4 p.m.: A lunch followed by an obligatory long two-hour walk, regardless of the weather.
4 to 5 p.m.: Have tea while reading historical magazines or newspapers.
5 to 7 p.m.: More work.
8 p.m.: Dinner.
- The process of writing a plan and pondering it is very important. Turn off the Internet and phone once a week for a few hours, and spend them on planning.
- In order to implement your plan, seek help from external people. You can get support from a coach, mentor, friend, or groups of like-minded people.
- If you have to perform different “work roles,” then try to separate them and dedicate different days to each role.
Time Management Traps for remote workers
Actual and perceived time
I was quite surprised to find that I perceive tasks differently in terms of the time I actually spent on activities, and the time I thought I’d spent. Once I conducted an experiment: for a few weeks I used the Hours iPhone app to auto-record the amount of time which I actually spent on two different projects. One was a new, exciting project and the other was an old, pretty boring routine project. Later on, on the same day, without looking at the time reports in the app, I jotted down how much time I thought I’d actually spent on each project.
When I compared what I’d written down with the time tracking report, the results were eye-opening! According to the app, I’d spent about three hours a day on the new project, but what I perceived myself as spending on that project was only half an hour, and I clearly remember that I always had a lot of energy left after working on that project. It was the exact opposite with the routine project. What was actually just 30 minutes felt like three hours, which is what I’d estimated I’d spent.
You may try conducting the experiment to find out if your perceptions of how you’re spending your time and energy square with the reality, and then plan your schedule accordingly. For example, I decided that I should always try to put creative tasks first so that I have enough energy left for routine, boring tasks.
Measuring and controlling the actual time and efforts spent is important especially if you have multiple ongoing projects and even if you are not billing others for your hours.
The morning trap
When you work at home you run the risk of falling into the following trap: Before you know it, you’ll find yourself doing jobs around the house instead of working, especially if you should be biting the bullet, i.e. grappling with something especially unpleasant that day. Your family or significant other, by the way, may even be happy with your ducking out of work responsibilities to, say, clean the house or babysit. Or you might go to the store in the morning, do shopping when the store isn’t crowded, pick up the kids from school or kindergarten, or you might do the cooking that day. Whatever. The upshot is that it won’t be until the evening, say 6.00 p.m., that you finally sit down to work (when the rest of the household is into their evening plans or the kids are about to go to bed and won’t be bothering you) and then you end up working until 4 or even 6 a.m. when dawn is breaking – that’s when you get to sleep, only to wake up at 9-10 in the morning. It takes another few hours to come to your senses while again getting sucked into domestic chores. And that’s the way it goes, over and over again.
And it gets even worse, such as when your work hours gradually shift to the night and then you end up sleeping all day, arising from bed only when evening has fallen. I have a friend whose family fell apart because of this: the couple began to live as if they existed in different time zones, with one of them working the day shift, and the other – the night (after sleeping all day). In the end, they spent less and less time together.
The moral is that creating a comfortable work space and working during the day is definitely worth the effort. At the very least, you avoid working late into the night. Once you’ve established a late-night work regime it’s difficult to reverse it, and in my experience, it takes massive effort to switch to normal working hours. TIP: One interesting way to reset your internal clock to standard working hours is to travel to another time zone and then come back.
The Smartphone addiction
52% of smartphone owners check it a few times an hour or more
Gallup Research, 2015
If you want to cut back on how much time you spend on your smartphone, a good trick is to switch your screen to grayscale mode. This technique was invented by James Hamblin, MD, the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic. He spoke about it in an interview with Tim Ferriss:
There is a reason that every notification on your phone is red. This is a color that stimulates excitement in your brain. Las Vegas is known for its red neon lights flashing and getting your attention. You’re constantly stimulated.
I use this mode regularly, and it really helps, probably because grayscale is all you need to read. This trick immediately reduces the amount of time you want to spend on your phone. Apple MacBook, by the way, also has the option of switching to grayscale mode (in the Accessibility section in Preferences). On your laptop, this mode is great for working with huge volumes of text. Finally, grayscale mode really diminishes the appeal of online ads.
Speaking of social networks, they’re one of the biggest time sinkholes for many of us. According to TechCrunch and Mark Zuckerberg (CEO, Facebook), users of Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger spend an average of about 50 minutes a day (25% more than in 2014) on those sites. This means that every year, the average Facebook user spends about 304 hours on the site, or almost 13 full days. How do social networks “compel” users to spend more time with them? Notifications are the main trigger to getting users to the log in. Facebook notifies users when somebody likes something or leaves a comment, when a friend posts for the first time, and so on – there are over a dozen different contrived “events.” I disabled all Facebook notifications, and so can you via a special page in your Facebook profile settings. I also removed social networking apps from my smartphone, and now I only use social networks through the built-in browser. And I have other tricks that will help you reduce the time you spend on social media:
• Only read the news from 3 to 5 select individuals. Simply launch a search for the person in the search string. His or her name is then saved in the search history, and the next time I need only click on the search string to select the name from a list. Also, control who you read by “unfollowing” all other users.
• Limit your time on social media to around 15 minutes per day. Set the timer on your smartphone for 15 minutes, and after the signal sounds, log off and move on.
• Set one day per week for social networking. Don’t browse the social networks on any other day.
- A to-do list with a few top items, and a daily routine help you come up with daily “milestones” to keep you on track.
- It is important to strictly control the time you spend in “sinkholes”, such as social networks and news sites.
- Try out different routines and methods to find what works best for you.
What you should tell your friends and family about working remotely
What they say when you work at home
(Spouse or significant other): Hanging out on Reddit again, eh?'
The kids: Daddy, why are you always on the computer? Why don't you ever go to work?
Friends: Don't you have it good – turn on the computer and get to work, then, when you feel like it, just turn it off. Lucky you!
Parents: Still sitting around and not doing anything? Why don’t you mow the lawn?
Many people still have stereotypes about various professions: the store owner stocks his shelves, the writer works at a library, flipping through books, the journalist in the newsroom talks to the star reporter, the broker at the exchange with a notepad in his hand and pencil behind his ear screams into a phone, while the manager sits in his office reading performance reviews.
In fact, many of the above occupations now look the same: The store owner, the writer, the journalist, the broker and that manager are all sitting at their laptops.
How to explain this to your spouse or significant other
If your significant other works in an office and has never worked remotely, it’s important to explain that just because you work at home this doesn’t’ mean that you’re available for chores around the house. Ask him or her to pretend that you’ve left for work and aren’t even there. Unfortunately, these invisible boundaries are sometimes difficult to observe in practice. Especially if your partner is busy with the kids or also works at home!
In that case, it doesn't hurt to explain that your income (and sometimes the family’s income) depends, in part, on how easy it is for you to get work done.
How to explain this to any children
When your children grow up, in all likelihood they’ll work remotely themselves. Therefore, it is better to explain what you do for a living. And you should also explain that the work itself doesn't depend on where you’re located, but on your performance and the actual results of your work. Children might simply be curious, so be sure to tell them what's going on in your work, and what it's all about. This will be of interest to them and they’ll understand that this isn’t just you sitting at a computer, but actual work happening here.
How to explain your situation to your parents
You probably don’t need to explain much to the older generation. It might just be a hassle for them and for you. Often, older people judge a job by superficial trappings, and this can be hard to change. Maybe for them a good job is when you set off for work at a large building with a lot of people wearing a suit and clutching a briefcase, rather than sitting in your underwear on the edge of the bed balancing your laptop on your lap. Of course, technology has greatly changed business, and now a team of 10 programmers may earn more than an entire plant. Remote work and freelancing for many is still connected primarily with risks and unpredictability: “What’s it like working at a company that doesn't have an office? In our day that just didn't happen!” So you’re better off making up some kind of comprehensible occupation that will satisfy everyone and not generate apprehensions over your future.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and you yourself might be a remote worker of an advanced age. In that case, congratulations on escaping the office!
How to explain this to your friends: Do you really have to?
A true friend doesn't care how you earn a living and where you work. And those who work at a brick-and-mortar office and envy your remote profession aren't themselves capable of working remotely. Some people really thrive at the office – they like certainty and stability, and even spending an hour on the road, while for others, predictability seems like slavery, and uncertainty spurs self-development. That's fine – the important thing is not to be critical and to maintain the friendship.
How to explain things to yourself
The superficialities and rituals are important to a lot of people. To some people, all they need is a laptop and a table, while others need at least a secretary and a personal driver to feel good about themselves! When working remotely, especially if you’re also traveling, you begin to value minimalism: in a modern civilized world, anything else you need can be rented. But superficialities and rituals are important! Perhaps changing into work clothes, or at least wearing your special 'work slippers' can help put you in a productive mood. For many people, using a dedicated work computer helps them get into a work groove, although in practice this isn't always feasible.
How do I explain to myself where I work? The period of anxiety arising from not having a physical brick-and-mortar office has long passed, and I explain my situation to myself as follows: my business exists in the cloud, I connect to it, like employees from anywhere. And of course, if a 'virtual' business succeeds, its results materialize in the form of very real income, and isn't this what really matters?
- When working at home, the physical walls of the office are replaced with virtual walls in the form of understandings with people close to you and also with your own understandings with yourself. Thinking ahead and letting others know about your project schedule and plans will help matters; your people will know when you'll be working and when you'll be done.
- Work isn’t a building you go to anymore! Now, work is performing for results, and now it depends on the individual and on his or her planning skills, decision-making, and the implementation of these decisions.
My Work Rules
Entrepreneurs may also write and share their own communication rules to their remote team so that the team knows the best way to communicate. For example, you may write that you check your emails at 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Pavel Annenkov, a serial entrepreneur, shared with me the set of rules for “working with me” that he shared with his teams. He has used them successfully in several companies:
• No calls, except for those dealing with very important issues. I will not answer calls during the workday.
• If there are urgent issues requiring my feedback, then an online messenger or a message should be used.
• A response to incoming communications will be provided within 4 hours.
• During business discussions heated arguments are not acceptable; logical arguments should be used instead.
- Keeping the remote team informed about each other’s communication rules really facilitates collaboration.
Applications and tools: who to trust?
No doubt you already use an array of applications and Internet services to operate your business. We are so interconnected with various technologies now that we may opt to communicate via an online chat even if we’re all in the same room.
And we have at our fingertips a variety of tools for remote work. Over the course of years operating my business remotely, I created a checklist of how to select the best tools.
• The service (or application) should be from a large, established company, even if the service costs a little more, and seems less wide-ranging in its functions compared to trendy start-ups.
By entrusting your documents, your data, customer info and other important information to start-up companies, you run a risk if the company has problems. Often, new services (even if the investors are well-known) suffer “growing pains” or even go under. When that happens, their users have to quickly transfer their data elsewhere. And do your homework! Take the time to read reviews about each service from companies like yours. If the service is designed for large corporations that plan on spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on implementation costs, then clearly it’s not a good fit for a small company.
• The more users the service has, the better.
Ideally, the service should have hundreds of thousand, or even millions of users, like Trello and Google Docs. You know not only that the service is alive and well then, but that it’s thriving. Also, you know the service has already been adapted to a variety of different uses, even some you don't need yet in your business.
• If the service suits you in terms of how it's promoted, but you aren’t sure how good it will be in reality, take 15 minutes to find someone who has already used the service and get their perspective.
Seek out complaints about the service in social networks by simply listing the service and then adding words such as “sucks,” or “frustrated,” or even stronger words, and seeing what the search engine generates. If you see complaints from all around the globe, then you know they’re on social networks. Now you’ll for sure find out all you need to know about the service.
• If you store important information, for example, data on your clients, then the service should enable you make and download a backup copy of the data.
Put a reminder on the calendar, and backup your data at least once a quarter. In Google services, you can download a backup for each of their services (GMail, YouTube, Google Docs) at a special page.
• Verify your ability to integrate the service with other services.
Many small companies are transferring their operations to a series of specialized services that are interconnected with each other. Thus, the best tool is selected for each task as it comes up. Therefore, it’s important that the services you employ be compatible with each other. For example, the Mailchimp service for sending emails can be integrated with the Zendesk user support service, so you can add a user to the mailing list with just one mouse click.
We will discuss apps in more details in “Remote Team” chapter.
- Select established, well-known apps and services, even if they cost a bit more. Avoid start-ups, especially if the service is integral to your company’s operations.
- The interoperability of the service with other services and apps is very important. Otherwise, you’ll end up spending a lot of time and money on integration
In addition to apps, the right portable electronics are also important tools. Based on my experience, the following devices are must-haves as of 2017 year:
• Apple Macbook Pro (13 or 15 inches) – A quality laptop with a formidable battery that goes on and on. Its advantages are the battery, the excellent screen, comfortable keyboard, and also how easy it is to operate without a mouse. In my experience, the Macbook Pro can withstand a constant load of 18 hours a day for three years. If you are not an Apple fan, then check out the Lenovo Thinkpad series
• Apple iPhone ”Plus” edition – The large screen and long-lasting battery, which, altogether, makes this a great smartphone for viewing documents and negotiating the Internet. The camera on this phone is also a handy tool for quickly snapping photos of documents. Samsung Galaxy Note is a good alternative.
• Bose Quiet Comfort 20 (30) – The best noise-canceling headphones that really work. They help at the cafe, at home, and even on planes. I fully agree with the user of an online forum who said that “when these headphones break, I want to stand over them for a minute of silence as a sign of my respect.”
• 3M Privacy Filter – A special transparent overlay for laptop screens that hides what you’re working on from anyone standing around. It's fun seeing the reactions of children, who are always trying figure out why I would sit around looking at a laptop with a black screen.
• Amazon Kindle Paperwhite – The best backlit e-book, so you can read in any light.
• A portable battery – Ao you can recharge your phone if there is no outlet around.
• A portable travel power strip – If you travel a lot or work in different spaces, a small extension cord with three sockets and a 1 meter cord really comes in handy.
The Home Office
An entrepreneur’s time is his or her most treasured asset. Small conveniences (or inconveniences) when you’re at work can have a significant long-term impact on your business.
So if you are working from a home office then you should take a look at your environment.
• Your desk. Should be wide and stationed in a convenient place. If you work standing on your feet, a cardboard box or a small bookcase on the desk may be a cheap option for your laptop. If there is a wall nearby, an easy fix is to mount two wide shelves on the wall: One for the monitor (or laptop) and another, slightly lower, for the keyboard and mouse.
• Your office chair. It should really be comfortable for you. You must be able to adjust the height. Do not hesitate to bring a measuring tape with you to the store, and measure the height of the various chairs they sell, because the sizes may look different inside the store. Make sure that when you sit in the chair, your feet are flat on the floor and your knees aren’t higher than your hips. Also, take note of the head support and upholstery – make sure you’ll be comfortable when you’re dressed for hot weather.
• Air. All kinds of activities require a constant inflow of fresh air. And according to experienced programmers, mental activity requires even more fresh air, so make sure you have great air circulation where you work.
• Temperature. Everyone feels comfortable at a certain temperature, but this really differs from person to person. Thus, it makes sense to find the precise temperature that works for you by experimenting a little. According to research carried out by Cornell University, a temperature of 25 °C works best. When they raised the temperature in their experiment from 20 °C to 25 °C, computer errors by staff dropped by 44%.
• Noise. If you are easily distracted by sound, then headphones may help a lot. There is a cheaper option: earplugs. Also, be aware of low frequency noises made by refrigerators and other appliances, because, although not loud, these noises really get on your nerves over time. Many people work better in silence, but from time to time, to boost creativity, you may need to dive into the clamor of a public space, such as a coffee shop, or take a walk on a busy street.
• Monitor. Even if you have a laptop with a large screen, a display of 22 and more inches will help you work more efficiently. Almost all modern laptops allow you to connect an external monitor, or even two monitors. Two screens increase your efficiency by letting you keep reference materials and open documents on one monitor, and your active work on the other.
• Movement. It is not good to sit too long in one place – doctors advise you to get up every 30-40 minutes and move around a little for a few minutes. There are various phone apps that remind you to take a break. You probably know already that sitting for several hours greatly increases your risk of death from various diseases. But recent scientific research has also demonstrated that the dangers associated with sitting for eight hours can be eliminated if a person takes the time for a one-hour burst of activity, such as sports or a workout, on the same day they sit for hours. So take advantage of working remotely – find a convenient time to move, walk, or enjoy some kind of sports activity.
• Water. It is very easy to get carried away by an interesting job and forget about staying hydrated, so I recommend that you buy a sports bottle, fill it with water, and keep it at hand.
• Socialization. Mental productivity can be positively impacted by the presence of other people. This is the so-called the “social facilitation” effect, discovered by the psychologist Norman Triplett in 1897, described in detail here. In his experiment, cyclists showed better results in the presence of other cyclists. The scientist attributed this effect to a competitive instinct that helps the brain to release additional energy stored in muscles. Of interest is that later research from Robert B. Zajonc in 1965 and others suggests that the presence of passive spectators increases performance only for simple routine tasks, but may negatively impact the performance of complex tasks.
To summarize, a home office may be good for performance, but it still requires you to spend money on equipment and maintenance. And sometimes you’re not able to make the office really comfy. Also, if you have a family, then as your family grows, you’ll need more space. One of the solutions to this problem is to divide your work time between co-working spaces, cafés and coffee shops, and your home workplace. And that also is a means to providing yourself some productive socialization, as well.
- Every little thing is important when setting up your workplace. Some elements, like fresh air and temperature are very important.
- Remember to stay hydrated and move around on a regular basis.
- If you find socialization helps, then consider coffee shops or coworking spaces
Coworking spaces versus offices
Coworking is redefining the way we do work. Inspired by the participatory culture of the open source movement and the empowering nature of IT, we are building a more sustainable future.
Coworking is an integral part of the sharing economy and is a compromise between working at home and the traditional office. As a phenomenon, coworking first emerged in San Francisco back in 2005 in a coworking space called Citizen Space. Of course, even before the appearance of coworking, anyone could rent space in a friend’s office. But as the number of people working in coworking spaces grew, coworking itself evolved into a separate industry. If the first office of Google and Apple was a garage, today’s companies are born in coworking spaces. For example, the first version of Instagram was created by two programmers working in the coworking space known as Dogpatch Labs in 2010.
Coworking (from the word ‘cowork’ — to work together) is, as a rule, an “open space” without separate offices, and only one large room with work spaces. For an additional fee, you can rent a conference room with equipment for presentations, or a room for private negotiations. Programmers, designers, various freelancers, entrepreneurs, startup founders and sometimes even large companies work alongside each other. For example, at WeWork you’ll find employees of such companies as Facebook, InBev, The Guardian, SoundCloud, KPMG, Visa, IBM. A typical picture: on one side of the space, a small group of entrepreneurs are sitting around, discussing a new trend, and across the room, an Excel marketer is engaged in data analysis, while nearby a designer wearing headphones is creating a character for a game.
Because there is little direct competition or internal politics, they don’t feel they have to put on a work persona to fit in. Working amidst people doing different kinds of work can also make one’s own work identity stronger.
Gretchen Spreitzer, Peter Bacevice, Lyndon Garrett.
The Harvard Business Review: “Why People Thrive in Coworking Spaces”.
Sometimes, workers from large companies make a point of working at coworking spaces from time to time, just because it “recharges” them. Not surprisingly, according to WeWork, more than 50% of WeWork’s members have done business together.
Coworking spaces are often created out of traditional offices. For example, in Amherst Massachusetts, population 38,000, a coworking space was created in the former bank building. And to attract millennials, Capital One launched network of Capital One Cafés, including more than a dozen cafes where users can work even without being a customer of the bank.
Coworking spaces might be rented out on an hourly, daily, or monthly basis. At the Workshop Cafe, the first 10 hours are free of charge, and then each hour costs $3. And the global WeWork network lets users rent a workplace in any of more than 50 locations in 12 countries after the user pays a subscription fee starting at $45 per month.
There are completely free coworking spaces. For example, the Amazon AWS Startup Loft coworking in San Francisco, where registration and work from 9 to 5 pm on working days is free, as well as use of a free mini-kitchen with drinks, sweets, coffee and water. Amazon is the sponsor and owner of three such coworking spaces – in San Francisco, New York and Berlin, and regularly conducts training on its cloud services. And some companies have even begun creating the semblance of coworking spaces in their existing offices.
But there is one drawback to coworking spaces: usually, sleeping is not allowed.
– Coworking is an office “for an hour” and without long-term obligations.
– Finding and communicating among people who are close in spirit at coworking spaces increases performance and productivity, and helps you stay on top of important trends
The Remote Team
Ask yourself: How important is it where your employees are actually based? Does this really impact your business? And when the issues at stake here are specialized skills and abilities, as well as the cost for expertise, then how much does it really matter in which country, or which city the professional is based? Remote workers can even live in other countries. When you hire remotely, then you hire globally.
Automattic (the creator of the technology behind WordPress, which is used on every 4th site in the world) is valued at more than $1 billion, but still operates as a remote team. More than 550 Automattic employees work from 52 different countries , including the USA, Canada, various European countries, Australia and elsewhere, all around the world. Automattic's brick-and-mortar office existed in San Francisco for several years and was used as a coworking space, a place for conferences, and various events. In 2017, the company closed this office, deeming it expendable. A year earlier, Buffer (the creator of a mobile app) closed its office. Buffer employs 79 people in 7 different cities.
And other companies never even open an office when their business was booming! For example TopTal, a fairly young company that finds engineering talent for large companies, employs more than 400 remote workers and has no office anywhere. The absence of an actual office didn’t stop the company from reaching revenues of $100 million, or from numbering among its client base large banks and multinational companies:
Being a remote company means that I can open up LinkedIn or any platform and hire just about anybody there. Think about that for a second. Very few companies can say that. If you’re limiting your hiring search by location, you almost certainly won’t be hiring the best people because you’ll only be considering a tiny subset of all potential candidates.
Breanden Beneschott, Co-founder / COO, TopTal said in an interview with Remote.co
Indeed, when you compare the global labor market with any city’s local market, the global market will always prevail. You can also hire people who don’t want to or who are simply unable to relocate.
And labor costs are an important factor in any business. You can hire remote talent in countries where labor costs are significantly cheaper. This is especially true of highly-specialized workers. Indeed, some jobs are so specialized, that sometimes there are only a couple of dozen people scattered around the world who might qualify for it. Then, hiring remotely is the only option. And in general, when you increase the pool of talent hundreds of times, you might even find candidates who not only have the background you need, but also have other very specific skills tailored to the project you’re working on.
With a vast number of candidates, you can refine the search to ever-more specialized skills. Ultimately, this lets you quickly put together a team of professionals.
Here are real examples of different kinds of specialists I found, hired, and successfully worked with on different projects:
- Marketers (Bali, USA, Canada);
- E-mail marketers (Thailand, Canada);
- Wordpress specialists (USA, Canada, Kazakhstan);
- Programmers with experience in image processing (India, Ukraine);
- Programmers with experience in machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (Russia, India, Japan, Kazakhstan);
- Market research specialists (India);
- Data collection specialists (Pakistan).
Almost all of these gigs (except, perhaps, the last) were unique in terms of what I needed, and the successful candidates met my specific requirements. Was it important where he or she was physically located? It didn't matter at all. In fact, I myself was often on the road during the course of the project, and maintained communications using my laptop, my phone, and I worked from various airports, and cafes, and even from my house.
The next time you’re looking for help, don’t limit yourself to placing an ad in the usual places (e.g., your city's Craigslist, or your preferred social network). Instead, try placing your ad on several global freelance marketplaces. You’ll really appreciate the diversity and quality of responses you'll get from all over the world.
– By hiring remotely, you can quickly assemble a reasonably-priced team of professionals that fits even the most specific requirements.
– Try hiring remote workers for your project: you will be pleasantly surprised by the results.
The upside of remote work
Pavel Shashkevych, the CEO of GdeEtotDom, a company developing a software app for the real estate market, noted to me that “Payroll was reduced by almost a third. In total, the company spent 28% less on salaries in 2015 by replacing office workers with remote employees.”
Almost ten years earlier, another company, Two Pilots, (famous for its photo touchup software) switched to remote employees because the 1998 economic crisis in Eastern Europe decimated its business plan and customer base. As Rais Garifulline, the serial entrepreneur and founder of Two Pilots recalls, “The ability to create a remote team and operate remotely gave me a lifeline. [..] The staff regarded the departure from the office to home as a boon in light of the market situation. [..] Then, for a long time, 6 years or so, I operated from a cafe.”
Larger pool of candidates. Ads for remote work can attract more candidates because you are not limited to a single location. And more candidates mean you can find people to fit any project, even projects that require highly specialized skills. You may think that the skillset you need can’t be found, but thanks to the Internet, it can be. When you have a big pool of applicants, you can find people who love their work, rather than people who simply go through the motions.
The company now focused on employing people who can grow: people who were really motivated, who expressed interest in the work and the desire for self-development. It turned out there was a large pool of candidates in other smaller cities willing to work remotely. The company was not only able to slash the time it took to recruit new people, payroll costs were also drastically reduced. Thus, the company was able to find the kind of people they needed. Now, almost all of the company’s departments function remotely.
Pavel Shashkevych (CEO, GdeEtotDom)
Measurable results. Usually, remote work is based on measurable results rather than time. Different metrics are used for different jobs: for a marketing specialist, this might be the number of new leads generated, for a salesperson, sales volume is the key metric, for a programmer, it might be the number of milestones reached on a project. You’ll know soon enough if someone is only pretending to work! Unlike the traditional office, when you work remotely, you can’t pretend to be very busy, you can’t pretend to work without producing results and it’s pretty hard to coast while others do the work. Results are constantly measured and so remote employees are more focused on reaching specific measurable goals. In light of this, office employees might have a hard time switching to results-oriented work.
While working on this book, I was surprised to learn that even small companies who mainly sell to their local market rely on remote staff from other cities and countries – they just keep it quiet most of the time. By attracting remote specialists with unique skills, these companies create unique competitive advantages for themselves on the local market.
- If you can’t find local specialists at the right price with the right skills, you may be able to find them remotely.
- The use of distributed remote workers helps small businesses compete and weather out hard times.
The downside of remote work
Those who like to talk about the benefits of remote work often avoid talking about the downside. The downside of remote work does exist, and so I should warn you about a few common myths and misconceptions.
Employing remote staff is not a silver bullet to solving all your business problems. The savings from hiring remote staff are not due to lower wages, rather, they’re the result of specific and measurable results. A distributed team of employees is just another business management tool. Don’t expect your staff costs to drop 10 times or your employees to work “for their daily bread”. Yes, of course, a freelancer from Pakistan performing routine tasks like checking links or collecting contact information from websites is likely to cost less than a standard employee in an office in New York City. However, a professional with a unique set of skills working remotely may be even more expensive than one of your office employees with similar skills.
Your personal experience of working in an office may hinder, rather than help you organize your remote employees. For example, incompetent managers may demand that the remote team follow strict working hours or answer their messages within the next 15 minutes at any time of the day or night. Or else they might not respect things that remote workers love, such as a day off during the workweek. They may monitor who is working, what time they are getting to work, or even demand full screen recording during working hours (which is something a lot of remote workers dislike, because they use the same computer for home and work). You’ll find that such actions lead to the rapid dissolution of your virtual team. This happens because it is more difficult to control a staff remotely; it is harder to supervise them and provide guidance as needed. Managers who are real micromanagement enthusiasts have it rough working with a remote team because they can’t control every sneeze their remote workers let out, so to speak. While they can easily breathe down the back or glare at their brick-and-mortar employees, they might not even hear from the remote workers until the latter feels it is necessary. If we proceed with our comparison, we will see that not all management tools work well with distributed teams.
Former office employees resist the transition to result-focused work. Converting existing internal office-oriented processes to the kind of work that makes the most of distributed teams often proves to be really challenging, so much so that it is easier to assemble a new team altogether.
Many former office workers were not happy about the idea of working with "freelancers" or else they were outright opposed. As a result, the company kept the remote professionals while most of the previous office staff was forced out. The new corporate culture, based on communicating, results, and reaching goals began to depress them. Most of the former staff was unsuited and did not want to cope with the company's challenges in crisis periods. Therefore, their places were filled by over-achieving freelancers. As a result, our team was reborn.
Pavel Shashkevych (CEO, GdeEtotDom)
Problems with effectively communicating complex information in writing. In face-to-face communications, the bulk of information is transmitted through nonverbal channels, such as body language, voice modulation, etc. However, when working remotely, the bulk of communications are accomplished via written messages, in the form of correspondence, and that important nonverbal part of communications has to be expressed via text. This is why managers and entrepreneurs working with remote teams need to be proficient writers and must learn to convey their thoughts in a clear manner, in prompt fashion. If you can’t figure out how to quickly respond to an e-mail on your phone, then you will have a hard time managing a remote team. Of course, you can use video calls, or even face-to-face meetings every six months, but these meetings do not negate the need for good writing skills. For remote employees, writing skills are equally important.
If you are trying to decide between a few people to fill a position, always hire the better writer. It doesn't matter if that person is a designer, programmer, marketer, salesperson, or whatever, the writing skills will pay off.
Diana Larsen, 37 Signals Company Blog
Balanced control over the employees. It is important for an entrepreneur managing his or her company to strike a balance between too little and too much control. The GitHub company, which employs close to 600 employees (about half of them work remotely) originally used the so-called "bossless" management scheme. But in 2014, the company went back to some form of management and reporting (at least a short checkup of the play for the day to make sure their people were on the same page ). According to Bloomberg, these changes and interdivisional coordination at GitHub made it possible to launch more projects and reach a new level by concluding a key partnership agreement with IBM. This example shows us that even a simple ten-minute reporting session can pick up the pace and fine tune the direction of the work and help everyone stay on the same page. Having replaced its office team with a remote one, the company GdeEtotDom keeps conducting voice meetings every morning as a primary tool for organizing the team, despite different time zones. As Pavel Shashkevych, CEO of GdeEtotDom, notes, “Such phone calls are highly effective, and our experience has demonstrated this.”
Mutual trust between members of a virtual team and its manager. Mutual trust is the cornerstone of all remote work. No virtual team can work without mutual trust and transparency among its members. Don’t hire people that you don’t trust.
Domestic comfort while travelling. You can’t always get what you need, especially while travelling or if you’re in a hot climate. For instance, it might sound great to work at the beach, but not when you have to keep up the pace to complete a project. Dmitry Semiriazhko is the co-founder of Pinxter, Inc. He has been working and traveling for the past several years. Here is what he told me:
Sometimes, the Wi-Fi doesn’t work or the signal isn’t stable enough to make a call. Or they shut down the power (as frequently happened in Thailand). What to do? Get on a bike, go to the nearest Starbucks, sit at some uncomfortable table, and, hunching over the table, try to make a call while music and clamoring people sound in the background... Of course all this would be better if I was at home, where it’s quiet. Or just domestic matters: While travelling, you change apartments like socks, and each one has a different layout, different staffing. One apartment has a place in the hallway where you put the keys, and in the other, you have to hang a hook or hammer a nail into the wall, but there are no nails – you must go to the store to buy them, and then you need to remember to buy a hammer. In the end, you’re not going anywhere, you just toss the keys somewhere, then you end up having to look for them – and you end up experiencing a series of microstresses, and when everything accumulates, it’s a real nightmare!
The way out is to use established travel destinations, even if it costs more.
Lack of strict control after having worked in a brick-and-mortar office. After working at the office for an extended period of time, it’s not easy for employees and employer to restructure their daily work schedule and habits. In the office, the pace of work is often driven by external stimuli and other people; without the office, you have to work out your own regime. In other words, remote work requires internal motivators rather than external ones. As a result, remote work novices might not be able to draw up and maintain a daily schedule. If you notice that your remote employees are having difficulties, you should certainly help them master the essential techniques for scheduling and planning (like writing down the single most important task at the beginning of the day, or taking a short break every hour). Micromanagement (i.e. when employees need to be babysat while performing all the tasks) does not really work in a remote setting and is only acceptable at the very beginning, when a new employee needs to be trained quickly. And if entrepreneurs themselves have problems with their own time management and organizing skills, this could negatively impact the work of the entire team, slowing down the workflow.
Your friends and family may not like you working at home. When you work remotely, you’ll find that your relatives and close friends might find it difficult to accept a new reality and to respect the boundaries between work and home, even after an understanding has been reached. It often happens that, in the case of problems with self-organization, the family cannot restructure itself to fit into the new work mode without conflicts and, as a result, you have to return to the brick-and-mortar office.
Lack of real-life communications. So-called extroverts often have problems with switching to remote mode and working at home. Extroverts are known as people who look outward rather than inward, and love (actually need) to communicate with other people because they gain energy from such communications. When they work remotely, extroverts can undergo a kind of withdrawal due to the solitude. While remote work is a “godsend” to introverts and sociopaths, for extroverts it’s the exact opposite – remote work can deprive them of the vital energy they derive from face-to-face communication. The way out is to find the time for hobbies, sports, volunteering, conferences and so on – get out there and find like-minded people who share your interests. Also, as more and more people work remotely there is a high chance you may find them in your local coffee shop..
Lack of face time with your friends and family due to constant travelling. Those who have been traveling for a long time start to feel the need to create and sustain long-term social ties, “Existing business and personal connections break down. If you go away for six months to work abroad, not only are useful professional connections start to fray, but your friends won’t waste time finding someone to take your place,” told me Roman Aleksandrenko, a manager from San Francisco, CA who has been working and travelling for several years. And entrepreneur Anna Wickham, after 14 months of traveling and working remotely, decided to return home to the United States and “put down roots.” In a BBC interview, when asked why she decided to stop travelling, she said “You arrive in a country alone, accumulate friendships, and then, just the same, you’re on your own when it’s time to leave.”
- It is difficult to transition employees used to the office to a remote format. It is easier to assemble a new team.
- Oversight over the remote team must be well-balanced. A short daily video call works best as a minimal, yet sufficient tool to make sure that your remote employees are on the same page..
- Remote workers often have issues managing time during their work days. They also lack face-to-face socialization with like-minded work peers (like in an office). When working at home their relatives (or housemates) may not support them by respecting boundaries. When traveling and moving from country to country they may miss their circle of friends and acquaintances
Where to look
Over the past few years, I’ve turned to freelance marketplaces when I need to hire freelancers because anyone you find on such sites, even if they haven't worked long as remote workers, is at least going to be more comfortable with the experience. Freelancers with experience are more disciplined than beginners and the marketplace provides an escrow service for payments. This means that if the freelancer disappears or if he or she doesn’t work out, you can get your payment back via an arbitrage service. Another important factoid is the users of different online freelancing marketplaces can differ, so if you’re looking for a programmer, there’s one site that’s better than another, and likewise with, say, a designer.
And so when it comes to freelance marketplaces, the following sites stand out:
• Upwork.com – the oldest marketplace with 12 million registered freelancers, 5 million registered clients and about 1 billion dollars in annual billings. A lot of technical specialists, programmers, and designers can be found on Upwork. Payment for projects can be set up by the hour, by the stage of the project, and even by fixed monthly payments. This marketplace is the best resource for locating technical specialists.
• Freelancer.com – the closest competitor to Upwork among online freelance marketplaces, with more than 25 million registered users. This site is the result of the merger of a dozen different freelance marketplaces from around the world.
• 99Designs.com – an online platform that features first-rate designers. About 1.3 million designers are registered on this site.
• Fiverr.com – an online marketplace for small orders starting at $5. The difference from the other freelance platforms is that this is a kind of showcase, where freelancers from all over the world provide services ranging over 3 million different offerings (for example, shooting a short video, coming up with a slogan, editing a photo, etc.). But you need to understand that if, for example, someone offers to attract 10,000 subscribers to your Facebook page for only $5, then you’d better not ask where he’ll find them.
If you opt to forgo the help of a marketplace to find freelancers for your project, the next best thing is to turn to recommendations of friends and acquaintances. Unfortunately, in my experience, this is a far less expedient approach to take.
Don’t forget about social networks. According to many entrepreneurs with whom I communicated, Facebook and LinkedIn are useful for finding good professionals prepared to work remotely. “We have two sources – a freelance marketplace and personal contacts. We also often post queries on Facebook. For example, we need such and such a contractor, such and such a specialist – people respond,” said Pavel Annenkov, serial entrepreneur. Many other entrepreneurs with whom I spoke also noted the effectiveness of finding good freelancers through networking, social networks and educational institutions. For example, Dmitry Ivchenko (CEO, True Positive Lab) he seeks out and recruits talented students, while Polina Kachurina (CEO, DocSourcing) puts a lot of effort into her company’s PR projects. The resulting stories about interesting projects have the added benefit of attracting the attention of the right people. Then there’s Alex Pavlenko (CEO, Immigrant.today), who found one of his remote employees at a science fiction forum. In other words, all sources are useful, so don’t depend on one alone.
In my experience, the most important thing when searching for a remote specialist is to reach the widest possible pool of candidates, ensuring that they meet your requirements. The “one percent rule” works: your ad will be read by 10 thousand people, 100 (that is, 1%) of whom will respond, but only three of whom will meet all the requirements and successfully complete the test project. And in the end, only one (1% of 100) will be better than anyone else at the test. How you reach enough prospective candidates depends on you. You can use networking and PR, or you can buy a premium placement of your ad on this or that platform or on a freelance site. Almost all job search sites and freelance marketplaces offer such services.
How to create an ad that attracts enough candidates? Try to make it really interesting. Think about which ad will draw in the most responses:
We need someone for boring work on yet another boring project.
Or how about this?
Top priority! A unique opportunity to participate! Apply now! See if you have the right stuff!
As many experts note, in reality it’s easier to find people for complex projects involving a challenge. If your project isn’t “shiny” enough, then you’ll find it’s more difficult to sell your project to freelancers.
Tens of millions of freelancers are dispersed among various resources, ranging from online forums and social networks to specialized online marketplaces. And by and large, a successful quest for remote employees comes down to casting your net over the largest pool of candidates as possible.
- Freelance marketplaces and social networks are the main platforms for finding remote employees.
- Try to create an alluring, or at least interesting ad. Your goal is to sell your project
- The greater the number of people who see and read your ad, the sooner you’ll find the best candidates, and the right person for the job.
More about freelance marketplaces. What other ways can entrepreneurs use them?
There are some 300 different online sites featuring marketplaces to locate freelancers from all around the world. Online marketplaces for locating remote workers were the natural next step on sites featuring job advertisements and not only make it easier to find employees and customers, they also provide the following additional services:
• Verifying freelancers. Unfortunately, it happens: a pretty freelancer writes to you and takes up your project, but in fact you’re dealing with a few men who resell your project to another company. Freelance marketplaces verify freelancers, confirming their identity, and also engaging in ongoing battles against scammers.
• The convenience of rendering and receiving payment. The leading online marketplaces provide a range of convenient ways to render payment. And they also provide various ways of securing payment for the freelancer carrying out the work.
• Arbitration and assistance in resolving conflicts between the customer and the freelancer. The very existence of arbitration already backs up relations between the customer and the freelance worker. Arbitration can come in handy not only in the event of a conflict, but also in more routine situations: a freelancer, for example, suddenly leaves on vacation and fails to get in touch.
• Escrow service for your payments: Large marketplaces provide so-called “safe transactions,” where the money is stored by the online marketplace until the customer approves the project results. Thus, for whatever reason if the contracted freelancer disappears before the project is completed, then the funds for the project are returned to the customer. And if services are being provided on an hourly basis, then if the customer has doubts, he or she has two weeks to challenge the amount of time actually spent on the job.
• Marketplaces connect customers and freelancers from different countries and different jurisdictions. An online marketplace provides legitimacy for both sides regardless of their physical location.
• Ensuring competition among freelancers. When freelancers bid on a project by sending their proposals for carrying out a project, the customer can find the best freelancer for the job.
•The transfer of intellectual property. In their service agreements, many marketplaces (especially large international ones) oblige the freelancer to transfer all rights to any intellectual property resulting from the project to the client after payment has been made. But, of course, it never hurts to sign an additional agreement with the freelancer.
• The online marketplace requires following the rules. If the rules are violated, a freelancer may lose his or her account on the marketplace. These rules usually include: a prohibition against registering a second account, mutual respect for all parties and, of course, actions against fraudsters.
• Marketplaces often provide free basic tools for collaborative work online. For example, online chats, document marketplaces, audio and video calls.
• Marketplaces provide feedback on the results of cooperation from the freelancer and the customer. On some marketplaces, private feedback is also an option, because not everyone wants to openly write negative reviews. Marketplaces also use analyses involving various parameters to help you as quickly as possible find the perfect freelancer for your project.
• Various paid options. For example, you can purchase the option of hiding the size of the freelancers’ respective bids, so that freelancers don’t know how much others are requesting to work on your project. Also, marketplaces provide other services for a fee: help in finding and selecting a freelancer, the posting of projects with confidential data in which the freelancers need to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) before viewing the job posting.
Features of freelance marketplaces
• For its services, the marketplace takes a cut from each transaction. The commission for the transaction can reach 10-20%.
• For complex and long-term projects, it’s not very convenient to carry out communications through the marketplace itself. This disadvantage is avoided by using another service for project management. If this is the case, the marketplace service recommends that both parties send a short digest to each other summarizing results at least once a week. Online marketplaces require that project correspondence be conducted (or duplicated) on their platform so that this correspondence is available if there are conflicts.
• Ratings. It’s not just the customers who read feedback about freelancers – freelancers also look at feedback, in their case, about potential clients. If any of your projects went wrong, if you quarreled with a freelancer and she wrote a negative review about you, next time other freelancers may think twice about working with you. “Freelancers, like customers, pay close attention to how the author of a job posting is rated. According to statistics, postings from new hirers receive fewer offers than gigs from verified customers.” noted to me Xenia Zinovieva (online freelance marketplace YouDo).
• Good specialists are often already engaged in other projects. Therefore, they may not see the posting about your project. The solution is to actively invite freelancers to your project. Also, don’t hesitate to re-post your announcement if you fail to find a suitable freelancer.
- Freelance marketplaces are the best place to find remote help from all over the world. Freelance marketplaces bring together tens of millions of freelancers.
- Online marketplaces make it possible to find a specialist, or even assemble a team quickly and safely, which is especially important for new projects.
Who shouldn’t be working remotely
What is it that you wouldn’t assign to remote workers? I asked various entrepreneurs from different cities and countries this question. According to Pavel Annenkov, you shouldn't entrust financial management to a remote employee:
After all, whoever manages the company's finances must have a good “sense” of what’s going on with the business, and he or she must operate from inside the company’s premises. He or she must see how all of the departments function, how the company works. It won't do if the financial manager is on the sidelines, doing his thing, not fully plugged into the company’s various activities. I would never relegate the finances to remote operators.
In his opinion, it’s also bad policy to outsource sales of complex products:
We experimented with using remote workers for sales – it never worked out. Regardless of what people say, when it comes to sales, you have to really have a sense of the product, an understanding, and you have to know the ropes. It’s impossible to do a good job at sales when sitting at home. You need to really immerse yourself in the “aura” of the business; you need to understand the product, the service. You need to see the people around you, to see what it is you’re selling.
Dmitry Ivchenko (True Positive Labs) agrees with the difficulties that come with remote sales and business development in the corporate and public sector:
There are some tasks that require face-to-face meetings. For example – the establishment of a partnership. And likewise for major sales. It’s hard to handle sales for a large corporation without actually going there. A small business can operate via the Internet. But when it comes to a large business, you have to really meet in person so that you can say “we saw them, yes, they’re legitimate people,” and so on. That's the way it works in many countries.
Alex Pavlenko (Immigrant.Today, Canada) also noted that an office is absolutely essential for sales of the services offered by his company.
Selling software is one thing; no one cares where and how it’s made as long as it works. But if you’re dealing with immigrants, then you need an office where the clients can actually go, where they can submit documents.
And although the company GdeEtotDom transferred almost all of its people to remote work, it opted to keep a secretary and sales managers at the office. Said Pavel Shashkevich, CEO:
We concluded that some posts cannot be handled remotely. For example, we need one secretary at the office at all times to personally work with clients when they drop by. Another secretary can handle clients from home. Sales departments are always based at the office. This is because the personal touch and control are important elements when it comes to sales.
And Olga Katina (founder of a running start-up) noted the effectiveness of face-to-face meetings between partners, especially in the case of a new growing company:
Every Saturday, my partner and I spend three or four hours working together. Every day we remotely handle a large number of day-to-day issues, but we discuss the most complex or strategic issues in person. Face-to-face meetings are priceless. I want working groups to meet once a month to discuss current issues, and brainstorm. For example, one working group is made up of myself, the seller, and the marketer. Face-to-face communication strengthens the connection, plus there is an exchange of energy – more ideas are born than when we communicate in normal work conditions. We are a startup, so we spend a lot of time debugging processes; we have a lot of ideas for development, but in order to launch them, sometimes what's needed is not only an understanding that they matter, but also a kind of spark, faith, inspiration. This spark is easiest to achieve at a face-to-face meeting.
In my own experience, even a single short face-to-face meeting (when possible) is great because even during a short “offline” meeting you may quickly establish the true personal connection by quickly discovering important shared interests and by learning valuable personal details about each other. All this helps in establishing a trust and helps your remote communication to be much more effective
And so, to summarize what employees shouldn’t be remote workers:
• Sales managers. They need to immerse themselves in the business’s “aura” and really understand what they’re selling. Moreover, remote operations don’t work when central control over transactions with customers is needed. And sometimes customers need the personal touch or the work involves sensitive data. Then customers want to see who it is they’re dealing with. And an actual office is important for large corporations for whom the existence of an office is a sign that they’re established.
• Financial managers. They need to be deeply immersed in the business and its processes.
• General managers, member of working groups, partners in a start-up. They need to discuss complex issues and brainstorm, which require face-to-face contact. If face-to-face communication is not possible, then video calls are an option.
- Partners, startup founders, financial managers, sales managers work more efficiently from a brick-and-mortar office.
How to Hire and Test Remote Employees
A remote employee’s key distinction is his or her specialization. At a standard office, what's often prized is a master of all trades, and the staff is usual comprised of multi-taskers. In contrast, a remote team operates more efficiently when fast turnaround is required on a job where each team member works in his or her specialization. How this works is that 2 or 3 remote workers will replace a single office worker, but each of them will work for several hours strictly in his or her narrow specialization.
Even before the search begins, you need to describe on a single page (no more):
• How the end results will be measured. For example, for content marketing, the aim might be generating 2 new articles for a site per week of at least 500 words. And for e-mail marketing, this might be 4 email mailings a week, or perhaps even an increase in sales volume resulting from a mass mailing.
• The details on the ideal workflow for the project. For example, once a week we discuss new topics for articles, spending an hour on this.
• What source data and materials are already available for the project, and what is needed. For example, we might already have a list of topics for articles, with a short description for some, and drafts that are ready for publication for others, but we need more illustrations.
• A monthly or weekly budget for this task. The budget can also be worked out in the course of the search for the right team for the job, meaning they’ll let you know what they require to do the job.
• Who the ideal candidate is in terms of experience, professional skills, and work volume. For example, a former or current marketing manager with six months’ experience creating articles for a site.
First, you can simply jot down what you need done, then consider your list of requirements to make sure it’s complete. Then, you can use it in a posting on a freelance marketplace.
If your goal is to find an employee for long-term collaboration, then this approach works best: Post a small subproject related to the main project, and see how the candidate copes with it, how he or she carries out the task. Once, after several problems with new workers resulting in significant damage to existing projects, I began to start out new hires by giving them small projects with deadlines ranging from several hours to several weeks. This approach also let me see what the new hire was capable of doing. And according to a book by a former employee of Automattic, before assigning a major project to a new remote employee, the company first assigns him or her to work in customer support for Wordpress.com. Automattic makes the technology behind Wordpress.com's online website hosting service, so by working in customer support, new hires learn the product better, communicate with customers, demonstrate their remote work skills and collaborate with other team members before become a full member of the team.
But maybe you don’t have any ideas for small test projects. Well, I'm sure that if you think about it and are patient, some small tasks will manifest among what needs to be done. Also, jot down any ideas for new products and services. And it’s very important that you ensure the test project you select isn’t critical to your operations, and won’t impact your core business. Otherwise, any failure by a new employee in his or her first project could result in big losses.
As regards test projects, the risk of failure should be seen as part of the hiring process, and so you must pay for any work submitted, regardless of the outcome. Of course, this does not apply to cases of out-and-out fraud. For example, I’ve been in situations where programmers tried to pass someone else's code off as their own, or copywriters tried to submit plagiarized text instead of original writing.
For content marketing, you can start, for example, with an assignment to write a short piece on a select topic. If you are satisfied with the results, you can then ask them to write a feature article. And only then, once you're happy with the quality, move on to regular collaboration, ordering several feature articles a month.
Consult with an expert on hiring remote employees if you still find it difficult to come up with a good test project for new hires. There are many freelancers on marketplaces who manage their own small remote team. You can post the job, and just put it out there that you need advice and help in formulating what the project consists of. And don't feel like you have to give the project to whoever comes forward to help you work out the details!
For inspiration, look at projects previously posted by other companies. Just do a keyword search and see how other customers described their projects, and what they consisted of. In fact, it often turns out that 90% of projects have already been implemented in one form or another. This is especially true when it comes to global freelance marketplaces that host millions of projects, such as Upwork or Freelancer.com.
Remember that the purpose of your posting is not just to describe what you need, but to do your best to “sell” your project. So what happens if you post the ad, but there are very few responses? If the description of the project is interesting, even tempting, then potential candidates are more likely to be interested in it, and might even offer you better rates (sort of like how Tom Sawyer got his friends to paint his fence for free).
An example from my practice: I needed to create a small application for automated correspondence in a chat using the very latest tools, which, by the way, were a hot topic on the Internet.
First I posted an ad something like this:
I need an application – a chat-bot that will respond to users based on a prepared table with answers.
This generated a lot of responses, but anyone willing to take on the project asked for very healthy compensation.
I changed my posting as follows:
A unique opportunity to get to know the latest tools and acquire hands-on experience with the hottest new app – chatbots!
In no time, I found a programmer who not only took on the project at an affordable rate, but was grateful for the opportunity to work with cutting-edge technology.
When posting a job, consider the time and day of the week. The best time to post something is at the start of the workday, or else very late at night. But to accurately assess what time works best for you, make the effort to re-post your project, i.e., place it on the site yet again. Many online marketplaces let you re-post job announcements free of charge.
After posting, determine for yourself how many candidates you need before making preliminary contact. If you sit around tracking each new response to your posting, you’ll waste your time. You're better off waiting for a pool of 5-7 responses, and then getting back to each one of them, asking for details. Then, move on to the next collection of 5-7 applicants, repeating the process. This is more effective than taking the time to respond to each applicant in real time.
What if you don't want to openly describe your project for one reason or another? In this case, post a short general description of the project, for example:
I need someone to create a mobile app.
I need someone to create a website.
In the posting, indicate that you will provide a detailed description of the project on request. Some freelance sites let you set it up so that the posting of the project can be viewed only after a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is signed. However, I myself don't recommend this approach, as it greatly reduces the number of potential applicants and immediately suggests that the project is high-end, i.e. costly. As a rule, veteran remote workers are ready to sign an NDA later, after discussing the project and before starting work on it.
Please note that, as a rule, solid, quality freelancers are already busy and probably don't look much at new postings about projects. Therefore, in my experience, you shouldn't hesitate to turn to the freelance directory run by the marketplace and manually send out invitations to apply for the project. After spending no more than an hour on this, you’ll get more candidates of a higher caliber.
Peter Schekochikhin (co-founder of Work-zilla.com, freelance marketplace ) talked about his experience with hiring in his company:
In our company, all employees work remotely. And over the course of 7 years of service, we’ve worked out a system whereby we hire only people who really suit us. In short, the algorithm is as follows: resume => questionnaire => interview => testing => trial period.
At the first stage we announce an opening wherever we can, and we gather together the resumes. We ask those candidates whose resumes are of interest to us to fill out a short questionnaire. To do this, we create a form in Google Drive with ten questions. We ask the potential candidate to describe his or her experience in the field related to the project. We also ask them to indicate their usual working hours in Moscow time (and see how much our schedules intersect – it’s important that there’s an overlap of at least 4 working hours). We always include situational questions in the questionnaire: “Imagine that you have to handle such and such a situation. What would you do?” So, at this stage, we usually end up with a list of 3-5 worthy candidates. We thank everyone for participating in the selection process, and continue on with the best candidates. Then we conduct an interview in Skype where we set a small test task to test the candidate’s professional acumen (something like the notorious “Sell me this pen” challenge). After this begins a paid trial period.
A small business can employ another process. I like to think that it was developed by our customers. First, they place on the service several small tasks, for example, “Call 25 contacts”. And then they wait to see how the remote workers carry out this task. They listen to their calls, and form a consensus. If they liked someone’s performance, they offer him or her work on an ongoing basis. The downside to this method is that a freelancer may not be interested in full-time work. If that's the case, you’ve’ wasted your time. Plus, you’ve’ immediately checked out the candidates in action, without wasting time on resumes and interviews.
If you are looking for workers on a freelance marketplace, be sure to examine the reviews provided by other customers, as well as the potential candidate’s portfolio. The more details about the concrete results of a project and about the specific work carried out, the better.
And again: even if it seems to you that the candidate is ideal, always start with small test projects, gradually increasing the work load. Only then can you assess the freelancer’s ability to meet your requirements, as well as his or her ability to work effectively with you as a remote worker. A beautiful resume really isn't the same as actual skills that produce real results.
- The effectiveness and results of your quest to find the right remote employee hinges on the quality of your posting for the project and the number of eyeballs on your posting
- Always start any remote collaboration with a small, simple project.
Overseeing projects involving large numbers of remote workers
Some projects require hiring a large pool of freelance workers on a short-term basis for a massive volume of work. For example, you may need to research and compile information on a specific topic from hundreds of different sites, or manually classify multiple documents or photographs, or you need to generate a lot of content for a website. When this happens, it’s highly inefficient to communicate in detail with each potential hire (imagine having to correspond with dozens, or even hundreds of applicants). And so your objective when it comes to oversight for hiring and managing workers for such a project is as follows:
First, use online forms to filter through the initial round of applicants and ask them to check off their agreement with each requirement. You can use Google Forms for free (or paid services such as SurveyMonkey, TypeForm) to create a form for applicants. Google automatically saves the results in a convenient, easy-to-use online spreadsheet. In the instructions, describe the general guidelines for the form and detail how to fill it out. At the end, make sure you provide a checkbox that must be clicked stating the applicant has understood the instructions and agreed to the terms and requirements. For example, they might be asked to place a checkmark as follows:
[x] I understand that the text I create must be completely original, and that no text is copied and pasted from outside sources
[x] I understand that I must run a spell-check and check grammar before submitting articles
[x] I affirm that I have the software required to edit Word docx files
You’ll be surprised to find out that up to 80% of the applicants will fail this first step: they won’t read the instructions. On the other hand, those who pass this stage will have already agreed to the terms of the job.
Record screenshots of what your team is up to. There are special apps that you can use to take remote screenshots every few seconds and store them on a server for subsequent review by the project manager. If you have a large pool of contractors carrying out routine tasks, there’s no point in looking at what each worker is doing. But screenshots are useful in finding out what’s going if someone isn't performing well. You can also review the screenshots to see how the work is actually being carried out and then make adjustments as needed.
Use online services for group chats (Slack, Telegram, Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger) to create temporary virtual “rooms” for project communications. Online chats have the advantage of rapidly immersing the remote team in the details of a project, and also providing them with a way to help each other out. Also, and equally important, these chat services make it easy for you to add new workers and remove workers from the project, saving you time and effort when a lot of temporary staff is involved, or when the turnover is high.
Have temporary hires sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). You can have remote workers access the NDA in Google Docs or DropBox, providing a link in the project description and instructing new hires to sign the NDA before the start-up of the project. You can also use document e-signature services, such as PDF.co, HelloSign and RightSignature, which speeds up this step. If you work with an agency, then such agreements must be made only with the agency, although they’ll apply to both the agency and whatever staff the agency provides, including contracted help. I’ve found that some remote workers have problems with these documents – either they don't enter their data accurately, they append someone else's signature, or else they don't sign it at all. And If the project involves valuable data requiring stringent oversight and accountability, then you might be better off using an agency to hire workers.
- When the project requires dozens, or even hundreds of workers, you should start off by creating written instructions, or even recording a video explaining the application process and what the job requires.
- You can filter through the first round of applicants by using a simple online survey.
- Use group online chats as a scalable tool for communications within a large team of temporary workers.
What to look for when working with remote specialists
5 signs that your remote employee is a psychopath:
1) Within 5 minutes, he responds to messages at all hours of the day or night;
2) As soon as he hits “send,” he also contacts you via Skype, WhatsApp, and Facebook – “just in case”;
3) Every three months he suddenly disappears for several days, and won’t even pick up the phone;
4) He’s been running a blog for 12 years now for collectors of rare caterpillars;
5) When you contact him on Skype first thing in the morning, he’s constantly downing tablets (he claims they’re vitamins!).
How you feel. Don't ignore it if for any reason you don’t really trust a new remote employee. Consider the situation, and think about if you should continue collaborating with her. When working remotely, you have limited to no oversight over the freelancer, so you should work only with people you trust. If you’re feeling uneasy about anything, you’re better off arranging a face-to-face meeting, or at least a video chat. It could be that there are issues that need to be addressed.
Experience and previous projects. The best scenario is to collaborate with someone who’s already worked on projects similar to yours at least once, but preferably several times. This means he’s already learned the ropes, and knows what to expect, including the risks. Of course, beginners without experience are probably cheaper, but they’re also more likely to sink a project. Judge for yourself: who would you like to repair your car – a brand new mechanic (even under the supervision of his experienced colleague), or a mechanic who’s been working on cars like yours for ten years every day?
Reviews and reputation. Review the feedback provided by other customers before initiating collaboration with anyone. Especially note detailed positive feedback. The more detailed a review is, and the more enthusiastic, the better.
Here are a few examples.
Examples of reviews for an average or mediocre specialist on a freelance site:
- “We completed the project, and everything went well”
- “Work completed on time; normal rates.”
Reviews for a good freelancer:
- “Great! We definitely look forward to further collaboration”
- “There were a lot of unforeseen difficulties with the application we were constructing, but in the end it all worked out! Thank you for your patience!!!”
- “At last I found someone who could really do the job! Success! I look forward to working with Joyce again and again!”
Isn’t it clear already which freelancer you'd prefer to work with?
But what if the freelance marketplace doesn't have any reviews? If possible, request references and really make contact with the people listed as references. A good portfolio in itself is not enough – previous work only matters in conjunction with good feedback from specific customers.
Specializations. Let's say it again because it's worth repeating: a freelancer’s forte is a narrow specialization. The more focused the freelancer is on a single specialization, the better.
For example, if a professional freelancer doesn’t a have a specialization, you can see projects such as the following in her portfolio:
“I’ll type your document in Word”,
“I’ll create a mobile application”
“I’ll construct a site on Wordpress”
“I’ll translate ten pages into 45 languages”
”I’ll draw crocodiles for your game.”
As you can see, all of these projects are quite diverse, from typing and translating to creating a site and drawing characters for a game.
In contrast, the portfolio of a truly specialized freelance artist will feature a very different array of projects:
“I’ll draw characters for a game,”
“I’ll draw a character for a hardcopy booklet,”
“I’ll create drawings for your script.”
As you see, all of this artist's projects involve drawing characters for different projects, and that's a good sign!
Verify. Ask the candidate several questions about how she would solve a particular test problem. A good specialist won’t hesitate to respond, and in detail. Even if you don’t hire her, she can give you some insights into how to implement your project, and provide a fresh look at it.
For example, you need to do something about the menu on your site. You can ask the candidate: “How would you improve my site?”
A mediocre freelancer will answer: “I'll think of something! I’ve never made a website before, but as they say, there’s a first time for everything!”
A strong freelancer will answer: “I’ve already created and managed a site like yours. We ended up tweaking the site settings and updating the script to get the new pages up”
Relevant writing skills. If the candidate responds right away, this usually means that she’s currently available for your project. But there is another extreme: be wary of trolls and psychopaths who, even before the launch of a project, write unusually long, rambling messages talking about their personal lives. For remote interactions it’s vitally important to respond quickly, but to also keep it short and lucid. Often, one of the greatest assets of a professional is the ability to write well and to the point.
Planning. Be sure to specify the deadlines for the work you parse out to freelancers. Most of the time, project deadlines are not respected, especially if we’re talking about software development, but you and whoever you hire will at least have an approximate benchmark. You can assess a new hire’s planning skills by how much his time estimate for a task coincides with the reality. If your preliminary plan is long-term, with stages lasting a month or a quarter, then talk about how to break the project down into weekly stages. As a rule, when you have weekly benchmarks, this greatly reduces the risk of project failure. This brings to mind Tom Cargill of Bell Labs and his famous quip about the Ninety-ninety rule:
The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.
Intellectual rights. Before work starts, make sure that you’ve clarified the freelancer’s willingness to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) or an assignment of intellectual property rights. In some professions, such as design, the assignment of intellectual rights might be of key importance, greatly impacting the cost estimate for the job, so this is an issue that has to be addressed right away, before the project gets off the ground. Many freelance marketplaces automatically assign intellectual property rights as part of their user agreement if they handle the payments for the project. At the same time, freelance marketplaces advise users to conclude a separate agreement directly with the contractor if at all possible. Any contract with a remote employee should also provide for liability in the event that the contracted freelancer copies or simply steals someone else's intellectual property and passes it off as his own.
Get back to everyone who responds to your job posting. If you turn to a freelance marketplace to find a freelancer for your project, then usually the selection process is based on bidding, and there’s no requirement that you select the first person to respond to your posting, or that you even contact those who submit bids. And so if you have any doubts about who to select, take your time, and get in touch with all the freelancers who respond. It’s perfectly normal to take a few days – or even weeks – to find the right person for your project. Avoid anyone who tries to rush your decision. It never hurts to carefully review all of the applications you receive.
What not to do. You post a project, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone with the right experience. However, you get 5 applications from freelancers who tell you that, although they lack experience, they can figure things out and complete the job. And you decide to work with the first one to respond. There aren't any reviews for this particular freelancer except for a couple of ratings without comments. But since his profile seems solid enough, you decide that you can trust him. This is the path to a failed project and a waste of time.
A good approach: After posting your job, no one with the right experience comes forward. You don’t give up, and so you post again, and a few more people respond, but still lack the kind of experience you need. Then you flesh out your description of the project, change the title on the posting, and finally you fine a specialist with experience on a very similar project, and she has 5 reviews from customers expressing their gratitude and appreciation. In this scenario, the probability of a successful project is much higher.
- Very important: mutual trust, experience in working on similar projects, good written communication skills.
- If you can't find the right professional, try, try again. And again. The more prospective contenders that see your posting, the sooner you’ll find just the person for the job.
Hiring remote managers
The risks involved in hiring managers are greater than when hiring regular freelance specialists. Therefore, you should expend more time and more effort on hiring and finding remote managers for your remote teams. Don’t forget the famous adage “hire slow, fire fast.” It is normal to spend multiple hours exchanging communications with potential managers. And the bigger the team that the manager will manage, the more time you should take to select him or her. It's better to spend this time before working together than to have to set up a “performance review” or spend the time and effort correcting fatal mistakes down the road. In my experience, remote managers are best recruited from among the ranks of personal acquaintances or people you’ve collaborated with in the past.
When seeking out candidates, start with remote professionals who would like to try a managerial position. Not everyone likes the transition from specialist to manager, so it is very important that the candidate makes it clear that he or she actually wants to become a manager and lead a team. If such a transition (with your help and mentoring) should come about, the results can be very good. If the candidate does not express such a desire, but for some reason you see him or her as a contender for the job, then you’re taking a serious risk. Don't embark on trying to change the people you work with remotely.
Another source of potential candidates is the pool of managers with remote work experience. If you don’t know the future manager, be sure to ask him if he's prepared to provide recommendations from previous employers or employees. If the candidate ended his collaboration with predecessors without any issues, then he’ll have no problems providing you with references. If you've been provided with references and the contender for the job has assured you that they’re ready to vouch for him or her, then you really should make contact with them. Once, an applicant for a managerial position provided me with references, but I was too lazy to check them, assuming that if he was ready to provide the references, then that was enough. The result was that despite our vetting process, involving several interviews and a test project, all of which went well, once collaboration started, it quickly became clear that the individual’s actual abilities did not correspond with his claims.
As with standard specialists, candidates for managerial positions should first complete a test project. A test project for a manager should include organizing and managing a small, short-term project that does not directly affect (this is important!) ongoing operations. To track the progress of the project, simply have the candidate copy you on all messages and communications. Then you can track how the project is going. Also, unlike test projects for specialists, a test project for a manager can be somewhat important, so you can see how the manager copes with any difficulties in its implementation and how she reaches a solution for the problem, and communicates with the team. The main objective of the test project is to observe in real time how the manager carries out his or her job. If the process of executing a test project is less than inspiring, you’re better off aborting the project ahead of schedule, and moving on to a new candidate. Regardless of the results of the test project, don't neglect to pay for it.
The most important quality a remote manager can have is proactivity. Though the key qualities of a manager when working remotely are self-discipline, good correspondence skills, independence when it comes to planning, and the ability to quickly learn are also important. Ideally, it's not you who should be setting the tasks and proposing a new plan, rather it’s the manager who should propose new tasks to you for consideration and discussion. Of course, as with any member of a remote team, the manager needs to have worked remotely before, preferably for at least a year.
After the manager starts working, you shouldn’t give him or her full authority right away. If the manager asks for access to all projects and all tools at once, this is a bad sign. Transfer powers gradually, as the need arises.
- Keep in mind the principle: “Hire slow, fire fast”. Take plenty of time to seek out and communicate with the prospective manager of your remote team – this is normal. Request and verify references.
- Always start new managers off with a small test project. Transfer authority gradually, carefully observing current results.
Advice on avoiding the most common mistakes made by new entrepreneurs seeking new employees
When you’re looking for new hires, you can save a lot of time and money if you don’t simply settle for someone because they work remotely, and instead seek out people who are truly inspired by your project. I’m talking about people who won’t just see your project as a job, but who will really look forward to working on it, or, even better, see it as an exciting new challenge.
Take note of the following common mistakes and how to avoid them:
Don’t “suffer fools” when recruiting remote employees. People who haven’t hired remote workers before are sometimes under the illusion that employing freelancers and remote workers will let you work wonders for pennies. Of course, you can work wonders with a smart approach and a good team, but not for pennies. Some entrepreneurs lose all sense of reason, and begin to ask for the impossible, for example, someone to come up with the next Facebook or Snapchat for $50. Freelancers and remote workers, of course, disdain such projects and if they agree to them, it is only in the hope that they’ll somehow be able to get more money for the job.
Don’t believe in “wizards.” Sometimes, you’ll come across an agency, freelancer or a team of freelancers among respondents to your search ad who immediately announce that they’re the best of the best candidates for the job. They’ll tell you that they've already completed a project just like yours, but they won’t provide details. Moreover, they’ll stress how great it is to work with them, and how easy. What this often suggests is that you’re dealing with sales managers at this stage, rather than with anyone who actually knows anything about what the project entails. Their goal is to sell the project, and the people who will actually carry out the work will be completely different from who you’ll be communicating with. As a rule, this scenario will increase the costs of your project (by 20% or more), without any qualitative benefits guaranteed. Indeed, you may find that the team you end up with doesn't even have any experience working on projects like yours. But, by the way, if you suddenly post a project involving a lot of simple and routine tasks, then this agency can ensure the rapid execution of the job. These kinds of agencies can attract and manage a lot of low-skilled contractors, and also provide you with people who can step in if any problems come up with other workers. They can also carry out quality control (freeing up your time).
You can’t just assign the work to a contractor and forget about it. If you have a large, complex project with many potential difficulties, you can't just parse it out and expect to get the finished results in a few months. When such a project fails, don’t think you can blame the people who carried out the work. In fact, the main reason for their inability to cope could be the high level of complexity involved in the project, leading to unforeseen difficulties. And if you are out of the picture for the duration of the project, then, most likely, what you get in the end won’t be what you expected. Managing complex projects and monitoring their execution should be carried out by you or your managers. If the project is complex, divide it into segments and stages, then divide the stages into blocks of tasks. Ideally, your team should complete and deliver the blocks of tasks on a weekly basis, and then the maximum risk will be reduced to the span of a single week. Don’t forget to describe how you intend to measure project results.
Inexperienced entrepreneurs come up with inadequate, fuzzy project tasks. Because they agree to collaborate with freelancers outside a service that guarantees financial security, they often fall victim to scammers. Also, many customers don't set up check points (they give instructions and disappear until the delivery deadline), resulting in a situation whereby they can’t take corrective action when it’s needed, and they have no control whatsoever over the project timeline. The failure to understand the performance criteria often makes it difficult to accept the work once it’s completed.
Petr Shchekochikhin. Founder of the freelance marketplace Work-Zilla.
Don’t leave the online marketplace to work directly with a new contractor. Working directly with a freelancer that you barely know, have never worked with before, and do not fully trust is a bad idea. Freelance marketplaces are indispensable in that they provide guarantees in case the freelancer disappears or provides subpar work. The rare exception are “stars” who are well known in the industry. They might post a profile on a freelance site “just in case,” and also to extend their digital presence. These are professionals that have a clearly established reputation and, as a rule, have their own business website with a portfolio, testimonials from other clients and sometimes even an online payment page where you may pay directly for their services. The experience and the professional level of such an expert is so outstanding that if you want to hire her or him, then you probably have to agree to her or his preferences if they want to work outside of the marketplace.
Don’t deviate from the project plan, and don’t try to get the last drop of blood out of the freelancer. Some inexperienced entrepreneurs, even before the end of the project, succumb to the desire to add several more tasks to an existing project without offering the freelancer any additional compensation. In this case, the freelancer will most likely say that “the customer is always right,” and will do what it takes to implement your add-ons. But if you try to add more tasks than originally planned without offering additional compensation, then, even if, out of principle, the remote employee completes the project, don't expect him or her to want to work with you again, and don't be surprised if he or she posts a negative review about collaborating with you on the freelance marketplace.
Of course, this doesn't apply to start-ups. If your project is a startup, try to break it down into logical stages, and inform your team about this in advance, explaining that because it’s a startup, there’s the potential for several adjustments to the project over the course of its implementation. It’s likely that the remote worker will offer to accept an hourly rate rather than payment based on the project as a whole, or based on the various stages. The easiest way to break down hourly payments into stages is to divide them into blocks of several hours (for example, 10 hours).
I was once involved in a startup for which we created a cloud storage service. After the basic functions were implemented, new “cool” ideas came up: how about integrating the site with other services? And why not put out a mobile version as well? And wouldn’t it be awesome to also add support for large files? As a result, we strayed from the initial plan more and more – the new ideas required changes to the original project. In the end, the project took twice the time to implement, and while the end product had a lot of features, none of them worked well. It’s no surprise that the product was never released. Nor were there any funds left to overhaul it.
Resist time pressures and don’t select the first respondent. Imagine that you post an ad on a bulletin board or freelance marketplace, and an hour and a half later, you’re contacted by someone who seems to fit your requirements. Maybe she isn’t so experienced, and what she’s asking for is a bit above budget, but you’re so happy that you’ve already found someone for the job, that you can’t resist starting work right away. This is mistake. Take your time, wait a few days, communicate with all of the other applicants who appear in the meanwhile. If your project is not super-urgent, then, in my experience, waiting and patiently communicating with all applicants will at least provide you with more information, and at best it will ensure you get the best price-quality ratio. It doesn’t pay to rush the process, because sooner or later, you’ll find the right person for the job.
The worst mistake that an entrepreneur can make is to ignore the freelancer’s profile and focus solely on his or her bid for the job. First, the entrepreneur must trust whoever he or she selects to execute the job. It is trust that should become the main factor when deciding who to hire. This issue is resolved by the system of ratings and reviews. Once a job is done, the client leaves a review about the contracted freelancer, and vice versa. We strongly recommend that clients take note of profiles, especially if work samples and reviews of previously completed assignments are published.
Xenia Zinovieva, manager, YouDo freelance marketplace.
Based on my many years of experience in seeking out and hiring specialists, the most important thing is to start the search process as early as possible and attract as many potential candidates as possible. Ideally, you should start the search a few weeks months before the start date for the project.
- Don’t suffer fools, and don’t believe in wizards; don’t forget to monitor the execution of the project, especially at the very beginning of a collaboration.
- To ensure that the pool of candidates is a large as possible, start the search for remote employees well in advance of the start date for the project.
The Ideal Remote Employee
There's a certain gimmick used in sales where you come up with a portrait of your ideal client or partner. Similarly, we can create a portrait of what constitutes an ideal remote employee, highlighting several attributes.
And so here’s some features to look for in the ideal remote employee:
If they have a family, this means that you can rely on them because they won't just disappear or take off somewhere without any warning.
If they have children, this means that in all likelihood they have a set routine. Whether or not he or she wants it, if kids are in the picture, that means they have to follow a schedule. In general, anyone with a family and children is usually more dependable.
If they live in a small city, this suggest that a reasonable pay scale for the both of you is possible. Larger cities usually mean there are major companies offering competitive wages that are hard to compete with.
Age: Over 20 years. If they are younger than 20, this means they just don't have the experience you need, especially when it comes to remote work. And they lack the professional background they need to operate as an independent specialist. Of course, you can always find students looking for part-time work over the holidays.
The ideal employee has already worked remotely for a year or more. If they haven't yet experienced remote work, then they’ll face a lot of challenges transitioning from a traditional brick-and-mortar office, and this might be hard for them to grapple with at first. Thus, preferably, your remote employee has already adjusted to remote work by having made the transition at least a year ago.
He or she should still be working with an established client base with no plans to immediately move on when you discuss collaboration. This means that the remote worker’s interest in new work is primarily in connection with a quest for more appealing projects, and so there’s no risk for either side in starting out by collaborating on a small pilot project.
By the way, take note that in many countries, it’s against the law to inquire about a potential employee’s marital or family status, about their age, sexual orientation, and so on. Likewise, it's illegal to consider an applicant's marital and family status when selecting the best candidates for a job. If you do make personal inquiries, you might be accused of discrimination or harassment.
- Even if someone appears to be an ideal remote employee, you should make sure of this by first collaborating with him or her on a small project.
Bringing new workers on board
When someone new has just been added to the team and is still working on a test project don't be in a hurry to fully acquaint him or her with all of your company’s services and systems. Just like at a brick-and-mortar office, you wouldn't give the newbie a copy of the keys to all the offices and files right away. You can start by connecting him or her to the online chat (to certain channels), to e-mail, and also by providing partial access to whatever documents are required in Google Drive or Dropbox. As for everything else, integrate the new worker gradually, in due course.
It's good to have materials on hand explaining the company’s mission (at least briefly), with information about whatever products and services might be relevant. If you don’t have such materials, then a quick and efficient substitute is to set up an audio or video call with the newbie via Skype. During the call, briefly talk about your company, lay out the company's goals and discuss what the team is working on. A succinct overview like this is much more effective than a long series of email messages where you transfer multiple files, and it has the added bonus of helping you polish your pitches for your company.
Take note of any questions the new people ask, especially if you hire several remote employees at once and are making a group call. It’s not a good sign if there are no questions and everyone indicates they’ve “got it.” After all, when your remote workforce is invested in the business, they display interest and curiosity. “Pay attention to who is and isn't speaking, and solicit participation from whoever isn't saying anything. [...] you're seeking an all-inclusive participation, rather than trying to embarrass someone who is shy,” advises Tsedal Neeley, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, in an interview with Inc. Com.
Ideally, you’ll begin integrating a new remote employee into the company long before they actually start working there. It starts with what the future employee learns about the company from the media, blogs, or from colleagues. This is why many distributed companies actively talk about how they operate. For example, the company Buffer runs a specially created website where it regularly publishes articles on how the company functions, how teamwork is run, and Buffer even publishes how salaries are calculated and how employees are paid in different countries. Thus, even before new people actually begin work at the company they can simply go online and decide whether the job and company are right for them. In the same vein, Automattic invites potential employees to watch videos where its employees talk about themselves. Also, many companies with a remote workforce sponsor or organize meetings, conferences, and get-togethers in cities around the world for current and potential employees.
In my experience, it's faster and easier to connect a remote employee to a distributed team than it is to integrate a new team member in a brick-and-mortar office. And if you face a downturn in sales or on the market it’s easy to scale back operations.
- Integrating remote workers, and also letting them go, is much easier than doing the same with brick-and-mortar workers.
- Posting articles and stories online about how a distributed company operates is a good way to attract potential employees long before the hiring process starts.
How to monitor remote employees
For a new project or a young startup, the tools for monitoring a remote team are basically organizational and include:
Daily briefings. Ideally, the briefing should be carried out in a video call. If the connection is bad, you can employ an audio call, or in extreme cases, an online chat or e-mail. With a daily briefing, at least once a day, you’ll find out about the current status of work on the project. A daily briefing where you speak one-on-one with a manager is also a good idea, in which you discuss what was accomplished yesterday, the plans for today, and any difficulties.
Once a week hold a general briefing. At the weekly briefing, each employee should share what went well over the past week, their goals for the next week and any difficulties in accomplishing these goals (if any). The team should respond to each of the above issues, keeping it short. If the members of a remote team are not all able to join in a video call, then an online chat, or board on Trello with a card on which each team member writes a weekly report and plan will suffice. In an interview with Y Combinator, GitLab co-founder Sid Sijbrandij said that to boost connections among the staff, they hold a video call four times a week that is dedicated to sharing personal news. The company also conducts virtual coffee breaks over the course of the workday.
Centralized document storage. Thanks to services such as Google Drive/Gmail, you can create a business account to store files and e-mail with accounts for team members. When using this service, all working documents are centrally stored and centrally managed. If an employee leaves the team, all of his or her documents and e-mail are still available. A similar service for businesses is provided by Dropbox .
Sometimes, what matters isn’t controlling access, rather, it’s tracking the history of document changes. In other words, it is important for you to see who makes changes, what they change, and when. Many services (for example, Wordpress, Dropbox, Google Docs, GitLab, GitHub) let you not only track the history of changes, they also let you rollback to previous versions.
Legal agreements with the employee. Consult with a lawyer. For start-ups, there are services that provide standard legal documents: Clerky and LegalZoom. Some freelance sites publish template agreements, for example, Elance (UpWork) published standard agreements on their support page. The startups GitLab and Buffer also published templates of their agreements with remote employees here and here. Please note that for any intellectual property (designs, websites, applications, mobile applications, etc), you need a contract to assign rights. Even when working through the freelance marketplace, you should conclude a separate contract for the assignment of rights to any intellectual property resulting from the project. If the remote employee is in another country, then the text of the contract must comply with the laws of both countries.
Any creative work must be confirmed by an agreement (for example, a custom work contract). It is very important that the customer ensure the receipt of all of the rights for further use by either obtaining an exclusive right in full, or obtaining a license for use as needed. The requirements for creative work are also fixed in a contract or in an addendum to it (to ensure there are no questions as to what will actually happen).
Igor Motsnyi. IP and IT lawyer and trademark attorney, Motsnyi Legal
When your business project starts to generate a profit, it's time to think about arranging for the storage of contracts with remote employees. Simply create a separate folder in Dropbox or Google Drive, and store all the documents there: NDAs, contracts, important emails. Make agreements and contracts with the help of a lawyer, and sign agreements and contracts, even if you don’t feel like bothering with them at all (or don’t have the time). When looking for a lawyer, keep in mind that for the most qualitative results, you need to find lawyers with experience in dealing with the issues involved in your project.
Technical control. Large freelance marketplaces such as UpWork and Freelancer.com provide a special app for remote professionals. These apps take screenshots of the full screen as an employee works, and send the shots to the employer. Not all freelancers like this, and it's not suitable for all remote workers. In my experience, overly strict oversight can sometimes even interfere with, rather than help the employee if he or she uses the same computer for work and everything else.
General face to face meetings. When possible, companies with remote employees try to hold joint meetings with the entire team every six months. There’s a reason for this: according to a survey of 1.2 million office employees in 52 US-based companies conducted by Sirota Survey Intelligence (Purchase, New York)., it takes just six months for employee motivation to drop by 85%. Need I say that remote workers experience declining motivation at an even faster rate than this? To counteract this, said serial entrepreneur Pavel Annenkov,“We hold general meetings every quarter, and at these meetings, anyone on the team can ask a question on a particular topic. Employees also prepare questions in advance for discussion during the meeting,”
The main secret for monitoring a remote team is that the best forms of control are employee enthusiasm, high self-motivation among the staff, and transparency within the team. And the goals of the entrepreneur and managers are to provide convenient, reliable channels for communication within the team, create an atmosphere of mutual trust, and to promote the culture and mission of the company.
- Daily video calls help you keep track of how things stand and how the employees are feeling; they help you “keep your fingers on the pulse.”
- Specialized services allow you to maintain control over project data.
- Mutual trust is crucial. Without it, there are no technological fixes.
The culture of remote work
John was talking about the mission behind his small start-up: he silently drank a bottle of beer, and sighed heavily. Then he said, hesitantly: “Well ... in short, it’s like ... you know ... clients, business, they’re... seriously... Does that make sense?”
His new employee nodded his head and replied: “Got it, boss, I’ll do my best.” And he, too, fell silent as he drank his beer.
At the brick-and-mortar office, people learn the routine and chain of command in part just by being there, i.e., they look into each other’s eyes, chit-chat, read through materials together. When working at an office, the entrepreneur is the primary standard-bearer of the company’s culture and mission, and he or she passes this on to the employees simply by communicating with them. Employees look to the entrepreneur to show them how to interact with other employees, customers, partners, and vendors.
But in a remote team, this process isn't automatic – a new employee’s adoption of the system of values, his or her training, no longer happen by default. And so developing mutual trust with a new team member is more important than ever, along with checking early on to make sure that the new person (regardless of his or her experience and previous accolades) fits with the company. It’s important to seek out people who embrace your work culture, and that you then work to integrate them. It’s always a mistake to work with people whose values don't align with yours, and this is especially true of remote workers.
Therefore, when putting together a remote team, the entrepreneur must formulate the company's core values, its mission, any special attributes in writing. This will prove useful not only for current employees, but also in future. Many companies publish and post details about their values precisely to attract new employees and partners and improve their image. For example, GitLab and Buffer openly talk about their values and plans for the company. And Automattic also posts videos where the company’s remote employees talk about their work.
As Dharmesh Shah, the founder and CTO for Hubspot notes in the article for OnStartups.com:
Couple of years ago, I started a simple document for use within my startup, HubSpot, that talked a bit about culture. The document described the “people patterns” of HubSpot — what kinds of people were likely to do well at the company. Said differently, if I were to write a grading algorithm to predict the likelihood of success of a given employee, what would the parameters of that function be? We identified things like being humble and analytical (2 of the 7 things). That document turned out to be relatively useful — and well worth the time.
According to him, a "cultural code" is not permanent, rather, it is updated, tweaked, and used as a standard:
We've used it during the interview process, we use it during reviews. [..] I had already started sending it to people that I was trying to recruit to HubSpot. Though ideally, I'd get to meet everyone and tell them about our culture code in person, that's just not possible.
Again, it is important to find those who do support your values, mission and approaches and to avoid those who are not. With your values described in a written form, it’s easy to discern if a future member of your remote team matches your team’s “culture code” or not.
I also created a document describing the rules and values of our team. This is a simple text document that is stored in Google Docs, and a link which is sent to any new team member requesting confirmation that it has been read, along with his or her agreement (or disagreement):
1. Complete trust, don’t be afraid to lose face. Don’t be afraid to express yourself, even if it’s to criticize (although keep it civil). Don’t be afraid to be passionate when discussing work issues; be ready when others are also passionate about their viewpoints.
2. Don’t be afraid to discuss various work issues. Discussions should be well-founded. Our goal is to create a quality product. Minor disagreements during the discussion only help in working out a quality solution.
3. Engagement: all key people must be on board to achieve serious goals. Everyone should participate in decision-making. But once a decision is made, act boldly and decisively to achieve the goal, even if you personally have some misgivings.
4. Don’t be afraid of setbacks: They’re essential components to ultimate victory.
5. Rhythm – the formulation and maintenance of a work rhythm is important.
Do you have documents expressing your company values? If not, first, simply jot down your principles and values in 1-2 sentences. You can even use a famous quote if you’d like. Your values are how you explain to team members, partners and buyers you do what you do, and the way you go about doing it. When discussing key issues, you can refer to company values as they are set in paper form. Also, you can include your answers to two questions that are always asked by potential employees: “What makes your company better than others?” And “Why should I work for you?”
- Even a small list of principles or a short presentation on your company’s principles and values will save time and align your team to your corporate culture.
- Many companies openly publish their values on their websites. This helps them attract new people from around the world.
In addition to principles and values, it is also great to have very detailed instructions with the particular tools you and your remote team use. This could cover everything from updating the website to rules for internal communication.
The most outstanding example of this is the GitLab handbook, which consists of more than 500 pages that cover a range of issues, from the company’s culture and values to practicalities, such as how to arrange a video call or create a GIF animation. According to CEO Sid Sijbrandij in an interview with Y Combinator, the goal was simply to avoid inventing the wheel over and over again, as well as endless repetition, by putting all the answers in the handbook. Another great example of an internal handbook is the handbook used and openly published by the Basecamp company.
And I use shared folders (shared with the team) in Google Docs where team members put instructions, spreadsheets, presentations sorted out in folders by topics (Marketing, Products etc).
- A document with written rules for communications, tools to use with guidelines, answers to frequently asked questions facilitates remote collaborations and communications.
No trolls allowed
5 signs that you’ve hired a troll:
• Before he even begins work on a project, he starts off with a discussion about his predecessor, even if he didn't personally know him.
• After a couple of days of work, he already communicates with you – confidentially – about the professional and personal inadequacies of the other team members.
• He takes excerpts from other people’s messages, and responds to each excerpt in onerous detail.
• If you lose your temper and start yelling, he leans back in his chair and watches with a contented face.
• Despite the fact that, according to him, “there’s some real some freaks in this company,” he himself isn't going anywhere.
The Urban Dictionary, an online encyclopedia, defines “trolling” as follows:
Being a prick on the Internet because you can. Typically unleashing one or more cynical or sarcastic remarks on an innocent by-stander, because it's the Internet and, hey, you can!
Internet trolls easily exploit the vulnerabilities of a remote team, inflicting great damage on the trust between team members. How to avoid trolls? Look at how the potential employee conducts himself on social networks. If it seems to you that the candidate is problematic and likes to troll, then go with your impression. It’s better to err by not hiring a good person then to risk hiring a troll.
In my experience, it’s easy to ignore alarm bells when you’re tired of looking for the right employee, or if you feel like you don't have many options, and you need somebody right away. However, after a few hasty decisions leading to working with trolls, you’ll quickly find out that it is better to work with a smaller team that is unencumbered by toxic coworkers.
- Don’t hire trolls, or any other toxic people. Distributed teams are very fragile and it’s easy for Internet trolls to really do damage to the team, especially if they themselves are members.
- Never, ever resort to hiring a troll, even if you need to fill an opening ASAP.
“Picturesque” stories on the web
It all started when one of our writers posted a blog on a client’s site—it was about finding great deals in Omaha, Neb., complete with an altogether underwhelming photo of the city [..] More than three months after the blog had been posted, the client got an email from an attorney. This particular lawyer deals with one thing and one thing only: image copyright infringement. For the sake of the story, let's say his name is Curtis M. Leech, Esq. [..] Mr. Leech sent the client a formal complaint letter, saying that they were being sued for $8,000 for using his client's copyrighted photo on their website.
Rick Sloboda, the founder of WebCopyPlus, didn’t have to spend quite so much after using an unverified photograph on a client's website: “It cost us almost $4,000. We urge others to recognize and accept a simple fact: If it’s on the Internet and others wrote or created it, don’t use it without permission.”
Unfortunately, this “picturesque” story is typical for those who work with freelancers. An entrepreneur told me that a few years ago his small company was updating his site and the remote designer who worked on the project selected a beautiful photo for the landing page. When asked about copyright, he replied “No worries.” A few years after the site went up featuring the photo, the company received a letter from a representative of the copyright holder who owned the rights. It took several thousand dollars to settle the issue. If they’d purchased the license before the page went up, then the costs would have been far less. And the license itself would also have cost less right from the start.
If a disputed photo belongs to a famous photographer, the consequences for a small company could be catastrophic. Entrepreneur and lawyer Julian Zegelman shared an illustrative story from his practice:
One of my clients once took a photo from the internet and put it on their website. In other words, they didn't check the copyright and then got sued by the famous photographer whose work they’d used without permission. When all was said and done, this simple mistake cost them about $50,000, which contributed to the abandonment of the company and its bankruptcy.
And it’s not just pictures that are subject to copyright issues. More than once I’ve accepted work from freelance copyrighters – important articles destined, for example, for a website. But upon using Google to check several phrases, I quickly discovered that the article was simply a montage of extracts culled from already published articles written by others.
Many freelancers from Asia and Eastern Europe, especially novices, simply ignore copyright law, sincerely believing that everything on the Internet can be used without permission. It’s not that they’re malicious, it’s just that they they’ve never had to pay for music, video and other copyright materials – at least for personal use.
But entrepreneurs and managers are the ones who have to understand that any risks are borne by the final customer of the project, regardless of what the freelancer promises. Large freelance marketplaces include an item in their user agreement whereby the copyrights to the materials created during a project are automatically transferred to the customer. But don’t rely too much on this. If the freelancer uses someone else's copyrighted materials for a project, it’s the owner of the project, not the freelancer, who will be hearing from the copyright owner’s lawyer. And by then, the freelancer will be long gone.
And so when you use content in your project – photos, paintings, video, text, code – do not neglect to find out who owns the license, what it allows you to do, and what it prohibits. If you really need the content, buy the license. Losses from the unlicensed use of materials can result in unpleasant, if not exorbitant, costs. Licenses vary, as well: they might apply to just one site or several sites, they might be geographically limited, etc. If possible, consult a lawyer before licensing third-party materials.
How can you independently check the originality of content?
• Photos, pictures, video: You can upload a picture and run a search for similar pictures using Google Images. Generally, if the picture isn’t original, the search engine will locate the very same picture or pictures that look a lot like it. If the picture is original, then your search won't produce any results. Licensed photos and videos can be purchased from online photobanks like 123rf.com, DepositPhoto, ShutterStock, GettyImages, Fotolia.
• Text: Take a few sentences from the text and one at a time, throw them into a Google search and see what happens. There are also services that analyze the originality of text: CopyScape.com and others. Note that the author's content might not even be published on the Internet (especially in the case of specialized articles).
• Audio: The easiest fix is to use Shazam app to check the music clip. Shazam actually “recognizes” compositions. Thus, you can find out if the freelancer lifted an excerpt from a famous song.
• Programming Code: Checking code is, of course, a more complex task and it is better to hire experts in code analysis. They usually do a search for segments of code on Github, GitLab, Code.Google.com, SourceForge, Codeproject.
Experienced freelancers with good reviews from customers won't risk their reputation, and so they take it upon themselves to ask permission to use third-party materials, proposing that the purchase price for the license be included in the final project costs.
- Copyright infringements could lead to unforeseen, significant expenses that could even bankrupt your business. Respect copyrights and make sure your remote workers understand the importance of copyrights.
The Truth behind “Magical” Search Engine Optimization
For a year and a half, I waited. The revenues kept trickling down.[..]. It got to the point where we couldn’t pay our bills. That’s when I reached out again to Matt Cutts [Google’s head of Web Spam], “Things never got better.” He was like, “What, really? I’m sorry.” He looked into it and was like, “Oh, yeah, it never reversed. It should have. You were accidentally put in the bad pile.”
Matt Haughey. Founder of MetaFilter, in an interview with Indie.vc.
MetaFilter was a once popular online community. After November 2012, the site’s monthly traffic dropped by 90%, (and with it, 90% of revenues) and continued to decline over the next few years. And only then was it revealed that the site had somehow ended up on Google's “blacklist” of malicious sites – by accident.
Think about it: if a website can lose most of its traffic due to a bug in Google’s software that no one catches leading to poor search results, imagine if, from Google's point of view, you or one of your people really do violate their policies. The consequences to your search results – and site traffic – would be even more dire.
For online companies, a website isn't just a business card on the Internet, it’s the main channel for sales and drawing in new customers. Since up to 90% of visitors reach sites through Google and other search engines, it’s only natural that companies want their sites to be as high as possible in the search results – at least on the first page. The top spots in the search results help generate sales!
But this isn’t very easy to achieve. The experience of several Internet entrepreneurs I’ve known has been grim: they could not achieve an optimal placing in search results on their own, and so they turned to a remote team that promised to quickly land them in one of the top spots.
In one case, a small remote agency based in Eastern Europe promoted the site, but it soon became clear that this work was carried out using “black” methods (buying web links and generating fake sites with links to the site), which led to the site suddenly “taking off” in the search results. This was followed, however, by a subsequent sharp drop.
In the second case, the goal was to increase the number of visitors, and the number of visitors really did multiply, or, rather, the statistics measuring site traffic showed growth. To the surprise of the site owner, the number of actual customers didn’t increase at all. After the agency concluded its work, it turned out that the increase in traffic was generated by so-called “bots,” i.e. special apps that simulate real users.
Igor Shoifot, a serial entrepreneur and investor, recommended that novice entrepreneurs carry out search engine optimization – SEO – activities as follows:
SEO is a freak science!
These are the golden rules for communicating with specialists in search engine optimization for websites:
1) First have them demonstrate that their own site is at the top of search results;
2) Have them share their client portfolio and the results they achieved in terms of site promotion;
3) There should be a test period to check how work on your project is going.
If you want to increase site traffic, then use only verified companies. If your budget doesn’t allow for outside experts, then try out various channels (for example, put up a blog, post guest articles on blogs run by other sites, create a video blog or podcast, post on social networks, use Twitter) for a short period of time. And then compare the results between the channels to select the one that results in more traffic for less money. Don't believe anyone who promises that your site is going to take off in just a few months! It takes six months or even a year, generally speaking, for the results of real work on site optimization to be seen.
- In recent years, most visitors to a site find it through search engines like Google. Don't try to deceive the search engines.
- Test different methods to generate traffic before settling on the ones that work best for you.
Virtual Office Tools
What exactly is a virtual office? Your company’s virtual office consists of documents, tools, services, policies and relationships through which a distributed team interacts with each other, with partners and customers.
I myself use or have previously used all of the services listed below, and can recommend them for remote teamwork.
• Google Gmail (or GMail) – an Email provider that is easy to use on whatever your preferred device is: smartphone, tablet, or computer. It has a solid spam filter. For a small monthly fee you can get a personalized address (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can configure mailboxes for the entire team and even control access to them. Recommended for small teams.
• Zoho Mail – similar to GMail, but with the option – for free – of creating an address featuring the company name.
• Trello.com – a popular free online collaboration service with a virtual board that features cards. It also supports mobile applications for on-the-go work. It’s a popular platform for people who like to create personal to-do lists, and also for managing teams and collaborating. It replaces a physical board with post-its, or hard-copy plans.
• Google Docs – many teams use the free version of Google Docs to manage projects using online tables with features such as commenting, built-in chats, and so on.
• Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Presentation – a free online service for working with Excel, Word, and PowerPoint documents. It’s the leader among platforms offering these services, because it's simply the best, because it’s the most comprehensive in terms of functionality. This free service is widely used for distributed teamwork.
• Zoho Docs – a free document management service similar to Google Docs.
• Microsoft Office 365 – a paid document management platform requiring a monthly subscription and featuring integration with Windows and macOS software installed on your computer. Provides many options for professionally editing documents, tables, and presentations.
• Dropbox – a cloud service for storing files, which is essentially a virtual flash drive. Five GBs are free. This is one of the leaders among document sharing services.
• Google Drive – another leading service which, in addition to file storage, features editing capabilities for office documents.
• Slack – a free application for group online chats. It stands out due to its multiple options for setting up internal chats and its excellent mobile applications.
• Skype – a well-known free application with extremely wide usage. It also provides for group chats, although this feature is not as user-friendly as similar apps on other platforms.
Video conferences and video calls
• Zoom.us – high-quality video calls, video and audio recording. For an additional fee, you can host webinars with hundreds of participants.
• Google Hangouts – calls with up to 10 people are free; you can record calls, as well.
• Skype – calls with up to 5 people at once are free; call and video quality vary.
• GoToMeeting – calls involving up to 100 people at a time; the moderator controls participant access; supports both video and audio calls.
Automated routine operations
• Zapier.com – links various business services in the cloud. For example, you can automate the copying of documents from one service to another.
• GitHub – storage and collaboration on code applications and websites; paid plans.
• GitLab – like GitHub, but with free features and functions.
• BitBucket – like GitHub, but less convenient.
• WordPress.org – the world leader among platforms for building personal and business websites, used to create more than 28.6% of all websites. What does this mean for business? This means that you can find a specialist for your site in almost any city.
Handling a large volume of incoming messages and questions
• Google Gmail – the easiest way to create a mailbox and share a box with multiple users. It’s also free. For a small monthly fee, you can set up a mailbox with a personalized address.
• Zendesk – paid online support systems that can also be integrated with existing mailboxes. What's best about these online services is how easy they make it to process large volumes of incoming messages. You can arrange for several people to respond to messages, and you can customize the settings for processing messages and automating responses.
• Intercom – like Zendesk, but with the option of more customized communications on the buyer’s side. Olga Vysotskaya, the US-based founder of 300Editors, an editing and translation marketplace, told me that she uses Intercom for interactions with customers and remote workers alike.
• Mailchimp – the world's leading e-mail marketing service, with a simple, user-friendly interface. One of the oldest such services, and according to e-mail marketing experts, it features the best delivery rates for users.
• ActiveCampaign – a paid service that has all of Mailchip's features. It differs in that it allows you to create complex visuals for automating multi-stage mailings.
• MadMimi – a paid, simple email marketing service
• Yet Another Mail Merge for Google Docs/Gmail is a free add-on to Google Sheets that can pull addresses from Google Sheets and send out a mail template through your GMail mailbox. Up to 50 letters per day are free.
• Trello – the versatility of Trello’s virtual board is simply amazing. You can create columns with cards where each column is for a separate stage of the transaction; on each card you can collect information about the client and the transaction and, when you want, drag it to the next stage.
• Google Docs – you can use it to create tables to keep track of customers, and you can use Google Sheets to create accounts in the form of tables. You can create business proposals in Google Presentation.
• Pipedrive – an online service for tracking customers and transactions that is a very similar to Trello’s online board. The difference is that this is a paid service,
• SelfControlApp (Mac OS X), SelfRestraint (Windows), ColdTurkey (Mac OS X, Windows) – Applications for temporarily blocking websites. For example, you can block access to social networks and news sites for 3 hours.
• DropVox App (iOS) – a voice recorder that automatically downloads each audio recorder to a Dropbox folder.
• Hours (iOS) – an application for recording time spent on projects.
• LICEcap – a free program for recording what happens on a screen in the form of animated GIF-pictures. It's amazing how much easier it is to record video in GIFs that open on any computers and phones.
• F.lux – a small utility for Windows and Mac OS X that adapts the brightness of your display to the position of the sun. In the evening, after sunset, the program makes the screen yellowish and warm, and after sunrise it gradually changes the screen to white and bright, like sunlight, as if following a natural rhythm. Scientific research has shown that simply reading a bright screen before going to bed disrupts the production of melatonin and reduces sleep quality. This program alleviates the negative effects of reading a screen at night.
I use these tools, or have used them on past projects. Remote teams also use these services, and I spoke with many representatives of these teams in the course of my work on this book. As of 2017, these tools are the gold standard for small remote teams.
- Be sure the tools you use have been tested by others.
- Many tools are free or very inexpensive. It costs less and less to start an online business.
Online chats as the online platform for virtual teams
Remote teams generally use the following communication channels in descending order of speed of response:
• Phone calls (voice);
• Online chats;
• Project or documentation services.
Online chats, which started in the last century, have made a comeback in recent years in the form of online platforms. These platforms not only include the chats themselves and the ability to configure settings for specific tasks, they also provide a wealth of ready-made integration options with other online services. Better still, online chat platforms now are often used as the central hub for exchanging information in remote teams. Some virtual teams are even not using emails at all!
For online chats, remote teams usually use the following applications and services:
All of these services are free. But the most popular platform for online chats used by business teams is Slack. Slack lets you connect an unlimited number of users free of charge (although it limits storage to 10 thousand of the most recent messages on the free plan). As a rule, there are no such restrictions in the other messengers. Slack integrates with virtually all of the major online services for marketing, analytics, customer support, online document editing, and more. If you don't require integration with other services, and only need to communicate, then Skype, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp will handle your needs for free.
In online chats, a convenient option is to use so-called channels (or chat rooms) to separate communications by topic.
Channels can be:
• open (anyone with a link can connect);
• open to any team member (anyone on the project team can connect);
• closed (only members added by the channel owner have).
Channel names often use a hashtag ("#"). For example, the channel #newproject is for announcements.
I compiled examples of various channels, along with a description of their functions
Sample channels or rooms
#arrival – Members let everyone else know when they arrive or leave, or the start/end of work, or when they’re out for lunch
#meetings – For daily short meetings where each team member writes a short report and plan.
#announcements – for important announcements exclusively from management.
#tempproject – A temporary chat for discussing new ideas regarding a new project called tempproject. The moderator of the channel invites members of the project group to the channel to discuss the project. After discussions have concluded, the channel might be kept up for further discussions on the project, or else it is archived.
#bigproject – For discussing how work is progressing on a long-term project called bigproject. This channel isn’t just for employees, it's also for the company's customers. Thus, customers can also track how the project is progressing, and ask questions in real time. Dmitry Ivchenko (CEO, True Positive Labs) told me how the chat is used to discuss the project:
One of our clients basically didn’t want to use chat to communicate with the project team, but as soon as he saw that he could almost instantly get answers to his questions and quickly make comments on the project, he immediately changed his attitude, and from then on used the chat function for communications.
#public channel. Some startups use a public channel (usually in Slack) and provide all their customers with a link so they can use this channel to communicate both with the company's representatives, and also with each other. Thus, an online community is created. For example, several thousand participants are connected in a public chat about a web publishing platform project called Ghost.
#humor, #music, #food, #travels, #movies, #funny, #kids and more are channels for non-work-related interests. Channels for discussing music, serials, new recipes, sports, travel are “entertainment” channels that help team members with the same interests and hobbies connect with each other.
#newyork, #sf, #london channels help bring together people in the same city or region.
#random is for all kinds of musings.
Chat channels not only help in creating working groups on the job, but also groups with outside interests. The latter increases the overall connections between employees, fostering better communications, and this helps the overall morale of the distributed team.
The key advantages of chat rooms
• The format of the online chat itself makes communications more informal, unlike e-mail
• Closed chat groups are protected from spam
• The chat speed is the closest thing to vocal communications
• It's fast and easy to create and shut down group chats (channels)
• Chatting on mobile devices is easy. Slack, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, Telegram work on laptops, tablets, and on different kinds of phones
• Most people are well-acquainted with chat rooms, and know how they work – after all, the major chat platforms collectively have more users than the four major social network platforms
• The administrative costs for chats is low and it's fast and easy to add and remove new chat participants
• The same online chat applications are often used for both work-related and non-work-related communications.
Where online chats fall short
• The chat format means project members must be synchronized, both in terms of their work and their schedules. To help with this, many teams actually use a “delayed mode,”,where everyone responds at their convenience. Think about whether you really need all of the communications to take place in real time where everyone responds in seconds, or if it's okay if responses come in a few hours.
• Using a chat can lead to fragmentation in the resulting body of correspondence and knowledge. This is especially critical in the case of complex and long-term projects. If the project materials (documentation, media files, code) are stored in different places, then you have to duplicate the same correspondence from the chat in an e-mail, or in the project management system.
•,You’ll have to duplicate the information from the chat for them if your company's customers prefer e-mail and phone calls rather than online chats for communications.
• If there are no clear rules for the chat, some employees might constantly distract everyone else with outside issues (however, nothing will prevent them from using other methods, or simply using email to distract their coworkers). Many companies simply create rules for chats, which all participants try to follow.
• Unfortunately, not all chat services provide full-fledged content searches for documents sent in a chat. This refers to a situation in which a document is sent via the chat room, but later must be located not by its name, but by its content.
• Confidentiality and file storage: If you use chat rooms for working correspondence, then you need to take into account that almost all listed services store forwarded documents, images and text on their servers. Sometimes you don't even have the option of deleting files sent earlier. In this, chats differ from specialized services for working with documents. You can store files and documents in trusted services such as Google Docs, Dropbox, Google Drive, and instead of the files themselves, you can forward links to them.
The online chat platform Slack is often the preferred choice for communications in a distributed team. For example, Mikhail Gurevich, responsible for the development of a popular entertainment resource Fishki with 18 million visitors a month, shared the story of how he built a completely virtual chat-based editorial team in Slack:
Not everyone can generate new ideas, be constantly online and feel like they're members of one team when they’re thousands of kilometers apart. It was a real challenge. Everything was done remotely: Interviews, tests, getting to know each other, even workplace scandals. As a result, today our creative team consists of 10 people and its already time to think about new blood. It doesn't matter where they live [...] Putting together the editorial staff has led to improvements in the tools we use for communications. First there was Viber, then Skype was added for daily briefs. Then finally there was Slack, and we were finally able to concentrate on one tool. Skype is still in use, although a couple of times we tried the alternatives already integrated with Slack.
More and more remote teams use online chats, because chats are the easiest way to communicate, as close as possible to natural communications between people. Even email requires more effort to send a message: You need to write the letter, select a recipient, fill in the Subject field, and send it off. An online chat makes it a lot easier to send messages, and it's faster, too.
Online chat rooms are convenient for quick discussions and short-term projects. However, for complex, long-term projects it's still best to use specialized services for project management. These make it easier to accumulate and compile knowledge and information. And in such cases, the chat acts as an auxiliary tool.
- Using chats to discuss non-working topics helps unite a distributed team.
- Online chats can be used as the main tool for communications within a growing distributed team.
The Hollywood Model for startups
The team had never worked together before, and the scenes they were shooting that day required many different complex tasks to happen in harmony: lighting, makeup, hair, costumes, sets, props, acting. And yet there was no transition time; everybody worked together seamlessly, instantly.
Adam Davidson. The New York Times ,“What Hollywood can teach us about the future of work”
This “Hollywood model” is used not only to produce movies, but in startups too. By leveraging a team of highly specialized, experienced professionals during the initial phase of your project, you can quickly get your project off the ground. And then, later, you can use your primary team to manage, update and distribute the final product or service. In contrast, when a project team doesn’t have the required experience, then you face the serious risk of failure due to having to “reinvent the wheel,” and in the end you’ll waste valuable time and resources trying to get it right. In my experience, instead of trying to use your existing team to work on a new project in an unfamiliar area, you’re better off putting together a separate, outside team of professionals with demonstrated expertise on just such a project. “Outside” experts will help you take the very first steps and gain a foothold in the market. And once you’ve passed the first milestones, then you can bring in your regular team and let them take the reins.
Some large venture firms do recognize the value of providing access to a team of professionals and modeling themselves after Hollywood agencies. For example, the Andreessen Horowitz (A16z) venture capital firm had dozens of experts work on launching startups they’d invested in. As Marc Andreessen, an A16z founder and successful entrepreneur, explained:
Those 45 folks are across five teams of professionals that work with our entrepreneurs. And they represent five disciplines: executive recruiting, engineering recruiting, two different what we call talent functions, and a function we call market development which helps companies meet the big companies that matter in their industry.
A16z based this model on CAA (Creative Artists Agency, an American talent and sports agency). CAA’s legendary roster of talents includes famous artists, directors, sports stars and other luminaries such as George Clooney, Michael Douglas, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, Steven Spielberg, Sharon Stone, Meryl Streep, David Beckham, Joe Biden and many others.
And there are smaller companies that provide experts for their clients based on this model. Last year I interviewed Polina Kachurina, CEO of DocSourcing, a small business that helps startups with market research and business plans. The company relies on a distributed team of experts where the CEO tests each expert to ensure the highest standards. For every project (like preparing a business plan) they form an online project group. The company’s fees depend on the actual success of the project, for example, the success in raising funds for the business plan. This model engages experts in the project, and the transparency and goal-oriented nature of the process attracts more customers.
If you are considering running a new project based on the Hollywood model, then you should be aware of the following advantages and disadvantages:
Advantages of the “Hollywood Model”
- The resulting quality of the first iteration of your business is much higher.
- Experts can foresee and avoid critical risks based on their experience, resulting in a lower failure rate.
- Because these professionals are experienced and know what they’re doing, they know what to focus on first, so less time will be required for the first steps.
- Your existing team will face fewer conflicts and less stress since you’re not taking them away from their regular work.
- Your team will be empowered to take control over the project once the first milestone has been achieved.
Disadvantages of the “Hollywood Model”
- Be prepared to pay up to 2–5 more for experienced professionals compared to your in-house team. At the same time, you should consider the resources, time and money you’d spend to train your team to reach the same level of experience.
- Be prepared to invest in whatever new tools are required by the outside professionals. These tools may differ from those you currently employ. This is why you’re better off treating the outside team as contractors, and, in some cases, even as a separate business entity.
- Be ready for processes and workflows that differ from your standard practice. Don’t try to train or ask the professionals to adapt to your tools and existing processes. Asking them to follow your workflows could lead to a higher total cost. The magic of “Hollywood” workers lies in the unique combination of workflows, tools, and professionals.
- Your existing team should be ready to collaborate and to provide whatever data and knowledge is required. The team should also be willing to learn from the outside workforce about how to successfully adapt their standard practices to what is required once the new project is launched.
My recent experience: An outside team of professionals helped my team move my existing website with hundreds of pages and a lot of customization onto a Wordpress platform. My chief difficulty, however, was that my standard team of programmers had no experience with Wordpress! Instead of trying to figure out the best approaches and instead of learning the nuances of website customization, we decided to put together a team of outside professionals. I found a specialist in exactly what I was looking for: moving websites to WordPress. For executing this project, this particular specialist charged twice what I paid my full-time programmer for one month’s salary, but he carried out the migration in less than two weeks! He also recommended the most suitable website plugins and set up the hosting service for the site. Meanwhile, I had another professional carry out tests on the site by comparing the new one and the old to make sure all the links and pages functioned as expected. The whole process took about one month, and now my primary team maintains and updates the website.
So, where to find these professionals? First, don’t assume that they are waiting for you to contact them. They are highly valued by the market and by other entrepreneurs, and are already working on another project – maybe even for your competitors. You will need to find them, engage them and motivate them not just by the amount of money they may earn, but by providing them with a new challenge. Though money is not their end-goal, you should expect to pay a higher rate. As New York Times noted, in Hollywood, even entry-level electricians make 40% more than the national average for electricians in the United States.
- When you and your team don’t have any previous experience in a project that is risky in terms of its execution, turn to professionals. Seek out candidates who have executed the very same type of project.
- Don’t integrate these professionals into your team; rather, form a distinct project team, or even a temporary business entity. Allow them to use their tools, services, and approaches. Invest in these tools and services if they request it.
- Expect to spend 2 to 5 times more than what you would pay your standard team, but expect the full project to be executed much faster and with a much better success rate.
- The project should be as transparent as possible so that your team can extract the information it needs to run and support the project once the outside professionals are gone.
Partner – or part of the team?
Remote teams are not only remote employees, but also the diverse array of partners that provide team support, starting from technical support for the infrastructure and ending with legal issues and physical delivery. A partner is a company from whom you buy services on a regular basis.
Remote partners can provide:
• Advertising campaigns
• Customer searches
• Legal assistance
• Primary customer support
• Accounting and tax services
• Maintenance of service infrastructure
• Production and delivery
• Courier services
• Website maintenance and support
• Production of specific goods
• Delivery to customers
• Software development
Remote partners even help companies rely less on the office by transferring part of the functions formerly carried out there to partners. Imagine an office company that transfers accounting to one partner, marketing to another partner, moves infrastructure to the cloud, and only employees who work on the digital product are left, and they probably don’t even need an office. Another advantage of transferring duties to partners is that some tasks can be performed faster and better by partners. And these are partners who don't have to be local at all – they can be remote!
The advantages of remote partners
• You can find a remote partner at a good value for the money, and also with the right experience because the search isn’t limited to local companies.
• You can put together a team of highly specialized professionals who can be hired only for the duration of the project. For example, if you need a dozen contracts with a client from China that requires careful negotiations, you should find a law firm with exactly this experience.
The disadvantages of remote partners
• Often, correspondence can be less effective when discussing complex tasks, but Skype and similar programs for audio and video calls can solve this problem for free. After a conversation, it is always useful for each party to the call to briefly record what was discussed and send a short summary of the conversation out by e-mail.
• You should thoroughly vet each partner: read up on his or her background, reviews, ask for recommendations from the potential partner’s other clients. Generally, these rules apply to any partners you work with, even if the future partner is sitting in a neighboring office.
You yourself might someday be a remote partner! For example, I heard about the experience of a small printing house – Printing House No. 1 – that works with remote clients from different points of Europe. Dmitry Tsybin, the head of the company, describes the advantages of his approach:
Our advantage is that we immediately tell them that we can completely replace their advertising and production department and do so completely remotely. We allocate a manager, who is the sole contact for all questions. The client also receives expert support. And of course, we are always looking for the “yin and the yang” between us and the remote client.
The company doesn't just offer its services, it initially positions itself as a remote partner who understands the potential client’s business. It doesn't just carry out orders, but integrates itself into the client's business processes, doing all this remotely.
In my experience, when the project has grown both in terms of responsibilities and revenues, it's more profitable to form your own team. But when the business is just starting out in terms of its development, partners can provide crucial support, and do it remotely. Thus, you can launch your business faster and with less money.
- Good remote partners can replace entire departments in your company.
Partners who facilitate sales
The bottom line for any business, of course, is the sales. When sales are healthy, entrepreneurs, investors, and, as a rule, employees all live the good life. But if sales are anemic, then no matter how great the team, product or service, the business perishes.
First of all, what we call resellers help with sales. The main advantage of resellers is that they provide access to the core market of buyers for your product or service in exchange for a percentage of sales. Also, often large companies make purchases only through certain resellers. Mikhail Filipenko, co-founder and CEO of Fast Report, has been selling his applications around the world for many years. He shared his experience working with resellers in our interview:
Resellers – they have CHANNELS. They have a client, we have a product they can use to earn their profits. But you need to stay on your toes with them – [they’ll want] interest from the transaction, control, often prepayment. Once, in the early stages, we experienced how very serious-looking resellers, authoritative types, turned out to be unreliable partners. How do we find resellers? We scour the whole market – who exactly sells the same thing that our customers use (there should be 10% that fall into our market and channel), and we talk them into a partnership. Or, conversely, people come to us and want to make sales. Usually there are two types: enthusiasts from the ranks of our users, and professional resellers. Contracts must be concluded with both. :) With us, a part of our internal CRM (Customer Relationship Management system) is focused on work with partners, and they distinguish between ‘credited’ and ‘not credited’. Credited partners are those who pay based on monthly results, and the not credited are irregular or small in terms of volume, or for whatever reason don’t inspire trust. They have to prepay for our licenses.
In my experience, the easiest way to find resellers is to look at a similar company and study the list of its resellers, which are usually publicly accessible. Then you should write emails to these resellers proposing that they sell your product or service. If you have a popular digital product or service, the resellers will be the first to contact you. The reseller fees range from 5-20% or more of the purchase amount, depending on the total amount for the transaction.
For bigger sales partnerships, other companies can also help. You can team up with a company that sells to the same core client base as you, and in the same market, but who doesn't compete directly with you. As Mikhail Filipenko noted, "You need to really know those companies that aren’t your direct competitors. For example, in our case, our partners might be companies that sell something for software developers.”
You can join forces and sell a so-called bundle, when several products or subscriptions from different companies are sold at a single attractive price or discounts are provided on purchases from a partner (and the partner, in turn, gives its customers a discount on your products and services).
- There are many companies you can partner with to help you increase sales, find new customers, accept payments, and successfully compete in the market.
Virtual Mastermind Groups
Entrepreneurs working remotely also need to network and communicate with their counterparts elsewhere. If you have an office or work out of a coworking environment then this kind of socialization can happen all by itself. But what if you live in a small city or travel a lot? What if you simply won’t run across like-minded people where you happen to live and work? And if you need to find people who work in your industry, it’s even more complicated.
The solution is to create a virtual mastermind group of entrepreneurs. Such groups meet once a week or every two weeks through a video or audio call on Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom or other programs to discuss plans, work results over the past few weeks, and industry news.
As a rule, a one-hour virtual meeting should suffice for a group of 2-4 people, where everyone has at least 15-25 minutes to speak. Be forewarned – not everyone will be up for talking. Although many people like the idea, in reality not everyone is ready to share and discuss their business with others on a regular basis.
In my experience, it is important to follow a pre-arranged schedule when it comes to online discussions. For example, you can use this format: In the first 5 minutes, each participant shares his or her results and plans, then in the remaining 40 minutes one participant talks about his or her primary business challenges at present, and the others join in the ensuing discussion and give advice. You may talk fellow entrepreneurs into forming this virtual group and you may also try to find people with a special online matching service called MastermindJam.
If you don't succeed in forming such a group, a weekly one-on-one call with another entrepreneur is just as effective. There are also a number of online forums in which entrepreneurs share their stories and discuss various issues. One of the most active is Reddit Entrepreneur, which has more than 320,000 members.
- Virtual group meetings are a great way for entrepreneurs to provide each other support, advice, and the latest industry news, and to simply network with like-minded professionals.
How to sell digital products online
When you sell services to clients (for example, website development, design, mobile app development and so on), then, on the one hand, it's easier for you to start a business and find customers, but on the other hand it's harder to scale a business, because sooner or later, your business growth will be limited to the number of employees you have on board.
Unlike services, so-called “digital products” can be created by a small team and sold an unlimited number of times to customers around the world. It is important to note that a digital product, as a rule, is not sold and is not transferred to ownership, rather, it is licensed. Simply put, the product is as if “leased out.” With licensing, each buyer receives a copy of the product and uses it in compliance with a license agreement. Thanks to the Internet and the low cost of data transmission, digital products can be distributed virtually for free, i.e., the product costs nothing to actually reproduce. Thus, you can sell (or rather license) your digital product to an unlimited number of customers an unlimited number of times.
Here are examples of real digital products that a small team, or even one person, can create and sell independently:
• Photos and videos. For example, photos of animals to be sold through a photo bank website.
• Templates of documents. For example, a template for a quotation, a presentation template, a contract template, an invoice template, a template for calculating a financial model, and so on. For a fee, you can customize a template at the request of the customer.
• Original musical or sound clips which you’ve recorded.
• Email newsletters featuring your articles and sold via a monthly subscription.
• Audiobooks or audio–lectures.
• eBooks. For example, a guide to creating a website. And this very book is also an example.
• An online tutorial on this or that topic. For example, how to create an email newsletter. The course can be paid or even free (in which case you’d earn money through advertising, as is the case with many videobloggers). Or you can sell custom personal advice.
• A set of recipes, such as a set of recipes for a diet + the list of products required for each dish. For example, you can sell a complete menu with lists of products to feed a family of 4 for a week.
• Sewing patterns. For example, patterns of original dresses for dolls.
• Patterns for doll clothes.
• Customized websites complete with design and content, or a finished mobile app.
• Custom photo-wallpapers for computers, tablets, phones.
• Analytical reports and studies. For example, reports on the status of a particular market with an in-depth focus on key players.
• Teaching webinars (interactive video lectures streamed online). You can sell tickets which let participants ask questions, and also provides them with access to videos of the lecture.
• Drawings and 3D-models. For example, the US entrepreneur Aida Legrand told me how she creates 3D models of custom dolls and sells these dolls not only as dolls generated on a 3D printer, but also as the file for a 3D model (a file for a special program) so that the customer herself can print the doll. Her customers include collectors of custom dolls from all around the world.
• Audio ringtones.
• Digital stickers (sets of pictures related to a given topic for use in instant messengers).
• And of course, everyone knows mobile applications and games for Android/iOS/Windows/Mac OS X.
There are also many specialized online marketplaces for selling digital goods.
Few major online marketplaces for selling digital goods:
– Amazon Kindle KDP – sales of digital books for Amazon Kindle.
– Craftsy – sales of patterns in PDF format.
– Udemy – sales of online courses.
– Pixiefaire – sales of clothes for dolls.
– Theme Forest – sales of templates for websites, audio, video, 3D models, photos.
– Adobe Stock – sales of photos from Adobe (the creators of Photoshop).
– ShutterStock – the largest online store for selling photos, audio and video tracks.
– DepositPhotos – sales of photos, video.
– Apple iTunes – an online store featuring audio and video sales.
– Apple AppStore – the only online store for sales of apps for iOS (iPhone, iPad).
– Android Marketplace – an online store for sales of apps for Android.
– Windows Marketplace – an online store for sales of apps for Windows.
- Digital products are the products that exist in digital form and manufacturing and distribution costs to create another copy of it are close to zero, so can be sold (licensed) to indefinite number of customers.
How to find remote clients through a freelance marketplace
47% of all awarded projects on Freelancer.com are awarded to the median bidder or higher, therefore employers are looking for quality freelancers and not simply choosing the lowest bid.
Joe Griston. Director at Freelancer.com
If you sell your services via the Internet, freelance marketplaces are a way to reach customers in the U.S. and all around the world. To find customers through a freelance marketplace, follow this algorithm:
• Register and create a profile on the freelance marketplace.
• At first, stick to just one specialization. Which specialization is best for you? Take a couple of hours to scroll through the openings posted by customers and see which of the skills or services you can offer that are most in demand.
• Fill in the details on your marketplace profiles. Highlight your experience in the specialization you’ve selected. Have friends or acquaintances look over your profiles and weigh in on them.
• Add a photo to your profiles. Avoid made-up names (sooner or later the marketplace will block you for this) and do NOT use a photo of celebrities.
• Start checking the marketplace for new projects. To do this, make a list of phrases or keywords, and every day use it to conduct a search for new projects. Each time you apply for a project, try to come up with one or two leading questions (even if everything seems clear to you). The right question will immediately set you apart from everyone else.
• If you want to be competitive, you must have at least 2-3 good reviews on each profile. A fast way to get reviews is to find a small project in your specialization and offer to do it at a significant discount, explaining to the client that you are new and you need to gain experience and feedback from customers. Before completing the project, ask the client to write a positive review for you, or even better, offer to help him or her write the review. Many agree to this, because it’s less work for them to just take your text and tweak it a little than to write it from scratch. Repeat this strategy for 2-3 projects, and you’ll end up with a solid profile on the marketplace.
In my experience, if you spend just a few hours a month strategizing on how to update your profile, you’ll see an increase in new clients. If you find that this is difficult for you, just find a freelancer that specializes in profiles.
The Ideal Remote Client
Here’s how I got my first remote client: I found his email address on a package and used it to write to him. He immediately sent a response requesting a price quote for our services. We came up with a price and sent it off, but I decided to make a call – I felt uneasy and decided we should have an actual conversation. But when I dialed the number and introduced myself, he said: “We discussed everything by e-mail, so what's the point of going over it all again by phone?” I hung up and said to myself: “Way to go.” For 4.5 years now we’ve been doing great business with this client. And we have yet to actually meet.
Dmitriy Tsybin, Head of Printing House No. 1
In my experience, ideal remote clients looks like this:
- They prefer the written word to phone calls.
- They make it clear that they don’t expect to hear back right away when they write on the weekend unless it’s urgent.
- They are not afraid of paying via online services, and have experience with online payments.
- They don’t ask for the number of the top manager with the aim of calling at all hours of the day or night.
- They agree to use scanned documents or an electronic signature instead of paper documents.
- They can clearly express their thoughts in writing.
- They don’t flip out when, after several years of doing business with you they find out you don't have a brick-and-mortar office.
If you are using a freelance marketplace to find clients, then be sure to check the reviews posted by others who worked for or with him or her. Sometimes a potential client might write about how she is willing to pay well for a project, but reviews from other freelancers suggest she is less than honorable.
If the client is unable to clearly lay out the requirements for the project, offer to put together the requirements for a fee, and agree on what those requirements are before starting work on the project itself.
Briefly write down the content of any discussions with the client and send these notes to the client in order to be sure that you and she are on the same page. If you’re operating through a freelance marketplace, then forward these notes through their services, because when resolving conflicts, the marketplace can only use materials from communications that have passed through them.
Many customers ask you to sign non-disclosure agreements and an assignment of intellectual property, or other rights. This is a normal business practice, but do not forget to consult a lawyer about the contents of any contract before signing. You can find the lawyer you need online.
- A good remote clients is accustomed to remote communications, and his or her reputation is confirmed by others.
How to correspond with remote clients
Most communications with remote clients occur in writing, so if you don’t have much experience in communicating in writing you should follow these simple rules:
•Keep it positive. Try to avoid the word “no”. Instead of saying that you don't know how to help a client – again, don't say “no” – try to find out what else the client needs done for the project. This approach often leads to new, unexpected avenues of cooperation.
• When replying, rephrase the client's question. What the client puts in writing doesn't always correspond with what he or she really wants to know. And so it helps to paraphrase the original question, i.e. you repeat the question, but in your own words. Example: Do I understand correctly that you want me to specify which payment methods are available on our website?
• Even after you’ve resolved an issue, ask if anything else is needed. It never hurts to ask if further assistance is needed. Example: I’m so happy that we’ve found a solution for you. Is there anything else I can help with?
• Keep the client informed about what’s going on. Unlike the office, the client can’t see if you’ve received his or her question or not, or if you've started work on it or passed it on to someone else to deal with. If you’ve begun exploring a client’s request, but the process of formulating a response might take several days, it never hurts to simply tell the client, and give a rough estimate of how much time you need. Example: I passed your question on to my colleague; he’ll look into it today or tomorrow and get back to me.
The latest online services for managing customer support usually let you create a range of response templates.
•Don’t make the customer “jump through hoops”. In other words, you should arrange it so that it's not only profitable for the client to do business with you, it’s also easy for them to communicate with you. For example, if the client prefers to get in touch by email, make sure it’s easy for him or her to locate your email address on the site. Or if a client uses a less common method of payment, find a way to make it work. Another example: since many customers use mobile phones and tablets to view websites, make sure your site can be viewed on these devices. In my opinion, many new entrepreneurs with engineering backgrounds don’t always understand that customers don’t just require the performance of a service or creation of a product, even if they are happy with the end result. They also require customer support, and it certainly helps when the payment process is convenient and fast.
- It’s not just the products that matter when conducting business online, but also good customer support and convenient online payment.
- Even if what you have to offer isn’t anything new, good customer service and support will give you an edge when competing for clients.
The Pitfalls of Working with Remote Clients
If you work with your clients remotely then you should be aware of some common pitfalls.
Neglecting the importance of communicating. When operating remotely, communicating with the customer is of paramount importance. Even if you've come across problems with the project, if you've got problems of a personal nature, if your Internet isn't reliable – whatever it is, just keep the client informed. Nowadays, when you can send an e-mail from your phone, it's ridiculous to say that there was no way to get in touch. Since the client does not, in fact, have telepathic abilities, she'll immediately assume that you have simply dropped off the face of the earth, and might even start looking for a replacement.
When a freelancer and their employers have clear communications, this is the main basis for a good working relationship. Also, we track all interaction within our apps, therefore ensuring an easy solution for misunderstandings – should they arise.”
Joe Griston. Director, Freelancer.com
You don’t iron out all the details before the project begins. Often, clients are in a hurry, or you yourself might be in a hurry, so you start working on a project before discussing all of the details and conditions. But this haste might lead to conflicts and misunderstandings during the project.
Inexperienced contractors do not read the job specifications seriously enough. They don’t work out the important details when they’re at the beach. They’ll try to wriggle out of an tough situation as best they can, and this approach will not always be appreciated by the customer.
Peter Schekochikhin. founder of the freelance marketplace Work-Zilla
The desire to land a big project right away. Do you want to reel in a big client? Start with small projects. Note that many clients are also oriented to starting out with small projects. For example, one of my friends started with small projects creating one-page sites (it took a few hours to create each), and soon the client began to give him large projects. Meanwhile, another entrepreneur I knew rejected small projects – he was looking for a big project right from the start for which he would immediately assemble a large team. But a big project, especially one requiring a remote team, is not easy to get right away.
Excessively long stages for the project, or no stages at all. All large online marketplaces allow you to create milestones, where payment is made after each stage. The breakdown of the project into milestones not only lets you receive payment after each stage, it also means both sides are on the same page throughout the project.
If the client is in the wrong, it’s not your job to set him or her straight. Try not to get carried away and don’t make it personal. When there are disagreements, instead of escalating the conflict, try to draw up and propose a list of steps for resolving the situation, and provide a time frame. And don't forget to agree on specific milestones for assessing success. Make sure you secure confirmation from the customer that he or she agrees with all of these steps. A satisfied client will say “thank you” and get back to his affairs, and a dissatisfied client will share her negative experience all over the Internet simply out of principle. More than once it took just one dissatisfied customer to destroy a company’s online reputation.
Disregarding the importance of customer feedback. Inexperienced entrepreneurs might forget to ask the client for a review, especially if the project was successful and the earnings were good. However, it’s particularly when a project is successful that you want detailed feedback from grateful customers. Most customers will be more comfortable if you prepare the review in advance so that all they have to do is edit it and post it.
A lack of specialization and focus. Stick to a couple of major specializations and see how it goes in these niches. Indeed, when competing with other remote teams, customers take first notice of those who specialize in the right field. A narrow specialization is a major competitive advantage in the global market. And the narrower your specialization, the more you can charge for your services.
Don't try to look like what you’re not. If you have a small team, don't worry about it! And don't pretend to be a big corporation. Customers immediately sense the truth, or else they’ll want to come by your office. If you are embarrassed that your company is small or you are still working alone, then just say that you run a “boutique” operation.
- When you work with remote clients or customers be transparent, honest and accessible
Naming your website
When building a digital business with global ambitions, naming your website is no small matter. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook was asked in an interview at YC Startup School what he would do differently. His response: “I’d get the right domain name.” Initially, Facebook used the domain name TheFacebook.com and in 2005 the domain Facebook.com cost the company $200,000.
And this isn't the only such story. In the same vein, in 2011 the domain FB.com was purchased from the American Farm Bureau Federation for $8.5 million. In 2013, TeamWork.com was purchased for $675,000. In 2015, Buffer bought the Web domain Buffer.com, paying, according to outside estimates, $600,000. The domain Sumo.com was purchased for $ 1,500,000. The domain Mint.com was even acquired by Mint company (provider of free financial management software) in exchange for a share in equity, which was later valued at several million dollars.
Aaron Patzer, the founder of Mint.com said the following about the importance of a good domain name in an interview with Entrepreneur magazine:
Trust is a complex thing. There are some people you will never convince, and who to this day won’t buy anything online. A few things really help. One is the domain name. Mint.com is quality, it’s a place where money is made, it’s short and spelled unambiguously.
A good website name has the following attributes:
- It consists of one word that really says it all
- It is written exactly the same as it is pronounced. If you dictate it by phone, then whoever you’re talking to will type the address of the site on his phone or computer correctly the first time
- It ends with .com
- It coincides with the name of your company
- It reflects what your business is about
Jack Ma, cofounder and CEO of the global marketplace Alibaba related in an interview at the Davos World Economic Forum how he arrived at the name of both his company and website:
When I started I thought to myself the Internet is global. We should have a global name. And the name should be interesting. For many days I thought about it, and Alibaba seemed to be a good name. I happened to be in San Francisco that day. I went to lunch and the waitress came by and I asked: “Do you know what Alibaba is?” She said: “Yes!” I asked: “What is Alibaba?” She said: “Open sesame?” I said: “Good!” So I went outside and asked 10-20 people and they all knew about Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves and Open sesame. And I thought this is a good name and it starts with A so whatever you are talking about – Alibaba is always on top.
To conduct a search for a name, use services for generating and verifying domain names, for example Domainr or PickyDomains . Of course, if you aren’t able to purchase the domain name you want (because the right domain name is too expensive), then don't spend too much time and go with a name you can afford to purchase. You’re better off looking for clients who will bring you more business so someday you will be able to purchase the perfect domain name later (which is just what Buffer and Sumo did).
When you buy a domain name from another company, be sure to check its history and the previous use. I know of a few cases when entrepreneurs bought a great sounding domain name to run a new website on it but then struggled to achieve a high rankings in Google search results. Once, a new owner of the domain name was later surprised to discover that the domain name she bought was previously used for an adult website, and moreover, links to this website were placed on a lot of other adult websites. So be sure to check if the domain name was previously used for good purposes and if not, be prepared to invest in restoring its reputation. Use www.Archive.org to see what kind of content was on this domain in the past, and the paid tool AHrefs.com to see which sites have links to the domain.
- The name of your site is very important, especially if your customers find you via the Internet.
Thank you very much for reading Goodbye Office. I hope you enjoyed it.
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Your feedback about this book is very welcome; you may contact me via website: www.mironichev.com.
Goodbye Office: How to Make the Most out of Hiring and Working Remotely. Run your Business from Anywhere in the World! by Eugene Mironichev
Copyright © 2017 Evgenii Mironichev / Eugene Mironichev. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, except for brief quotations, without written permission from the author.
All product names, logos, and brands are property of their respective owners. All company, product and service names used in this book are for identification purposes only. Use of these names, logos, and brands does not imply endorsement.
Although the author and publisher have made every effort to ensure that the information in this book was correct at press time, the author and publisher do not assume and hereby disclaim any liability to any party for any loss, damage, or disruption caused by errors or omissions, whether such errors or omissions result from negligence, accident, or any other cause. Use this information at your own risk. The author reserves the right to make any changes he deems necessary to future versions of the publication to ensure its accuracy.
All product names, logos, and brands are property of their respective owners. All company, product and service names used in this book are for identification purposes only. Use of these names, logos, and brands does not imply endorsement.
Thanks to Pavel Annenkov for the idea for this book. Thanks to my editor, Olga Solomatina, who was there helping me from the very beginning of the book. It was a pleasure working with Jennifer Sunseri, who helped with the translation, proofreading and creation of the English version of this book. Many thanks to my family for their support and understanding during my work on the book.
Many thanks to all who gave interviews and provided comments for this book: Alexey Pavlenko, Dmitry Ivchenko, Joe Griston, Ksenia Zinovieva, Dmitry Tsybin, Pavel Annenkov, Polina Kachurina, Christina Schultz, Igor Motsnyi, Olga Katina, Olga Vysotskaya, Pavel Shashkevich, Pyotr Shchekochikhin, Anna Lusheva, Mikhail Filipenko, Rais Garifulline, Dmitry Semiryazhko, Igor Shoifot, Julian Zegelman, Roman Aleksandrenko.
Thanks to Denis Vasyliev for his valuable help in selecting books. Thanks to all who shared their opinion, comments, advices, participated in the discussion during the work on the book and its topics: Andrei Pogorely, Mike Karsyan, Igor Sheludko, Alexei Martynov, Dmitry Kharchenko, Dmitry Surkov, Marina Arefieva, Sergey Chekhuta, Dzmitry Kukharau, Alina Shah, Irina Erkan, Irina Boudaeva, Tasha Sulima, Anna Kochetova, Lily Zinurova, Marina Duncan, Irina Gatsuts, Nina Vanchugova, Tatyana Volkova, Larisa Garamova, Larissa Shafarenko, Sergey Surpunov, Lyubov Kaminskaya, Sergey Yankovich, Alina Beloshapkova , Alina Shah, Dmitry Kvadromaniya, Larisa Salimova, Lyudmila Saloid, Olga Visser, Zhanna Zhukova, Roman Mironichev, Eva Bragger, Alla Nasonova, Elvira Lekkhova, Pavel Shishmarev, Lydia Seryogina, Anna Shatalova, Anna Savoch, Maxim Brozinsky, Natalia Is, Maryana Serpinina, Svetlana Ratner, Elena Lysenkova, Tanya Chudak, Alexandra Kabatova, Kseniya Kazantseva, Stanislav Logunov, Andrey Golovko, Tatyana Ponomarenko, Julia Bychkova, Julia Nurmagambetova, Anton Luzhkovsky, Vladimir Gorshkov, Denis Vinogradov, Vladislav Gavrilyuk, Larissa Shafarenko, Anna Sharlay, Tikhomir Druzhinin, Lukerya Ya, Vladimir Romanov, Alexei Ivanov, Leonid S. Knyshov, Vadim Shakun, Alexander Kazantsev, Alex Sokolov, Oksana Havrylyuk, Dmitry Troshenkov, Artem Mordvinkin, Igor Shekalev, Sergey Kuzmich, Laisan Shafikova, Yulia Platonkina, Ellada Gorina, Andrew Vasiluk, Elena Arseneva, Sergey Vershin, Galina Rakkosa, Cathrine Protsyuk, Elena Stepantsova, Stepan Andreenko, Coney Yulia, Artem Arbatsky and many many other readers.
Last update: 12 September 2017.