It might seem daunting, but it’s possible.
And we’re here to help you understand how you can, too.
Given that many businesses are in the process of transitioning their teams from in-office workers to temporary remote employees, we thought we’d share what has worked for us as we’ve developed Formada into an efficient and profitable 100% remote digital agency. We hope you find these tips helpful as you navigate the many changes life and business are bringing all of us.
Since Formada’s inception 18 months ago, we have focused on building an operational structure for scaling and sustaining a completely remote agency. To date, we are currently billing $42K+ in monthly revenue with $0 debt and a 30% profit margin. Our goal is to continue to grow our book of business, provide more businesses with great marketing services and advice, and do it all efficiently in an entirely remote capacity. Here’s how we did it, and why we think it works.
Trust Your Team
It goes without saying, but trusting your people — having them trust you— is so important. When you set clear expectations for good people, they will rise to the occasion.
Although Garrett and I are the only full-time employees at Formada (for now!) we work with a variety of technical contractors across a spectrum of digital marketing specialties. Because of their expertise in their specialties:
- We trust this team to communicate directly with clients
- We trust them to report their hours worked to us accurately
- We trust them to follow-through
- We trust them to use discretion
And they over-deliver. Every. Single. Time.
How? By finding the right people for the right projects and setting clear expectations before the work starts.
Sometimes, especially when businesses are just getting off the ground, they feel it’s necessary to tell their teams exactly how to do their jobs. This doesn’t make professionals feel supported, so we take a different approach.
At Formada, we communicate what the result should look like and provide a support structure, but we don’t micromanage the “how.” The benefit of this approach is two-fold, the team feels that their talent is respected and we can focus our time on driving the business forward.
Before anyone on our team starts a new project, we agree and sign off on a project plan. This includes budgeted hours, timelines, communication preferences, and how supporting materials will be delivered.
It also outlines what should be done if a project begins to fall outside of the agreed-upon scope.
It’s also important to make clear how and when you will jump in to support your team with difficult client conversations, situations, or questions. We have a system in place for our team to quickly escalate any issue to me or Garrett. This system creates total transparency between everyone involved in the project so that we can focus on delivering for our clients, and it really works.
Be an Available Resource
Just because you aren’t sitting in the same room with your team doesn’t mean that you can’t be easily accessible.
That said, it is important to recognize that a lot of the communication that allows a business to function takes place in conversations surrounding the office coffee pot or lunchroom.
Trust is built in those face-to-face interpersonal conversations.
It’s important to recognize that building trust and community in a remote environment is absolutely possible, but it means that you’re going to have to kill it at the communication game.
As the owner of the company, it’s incredibly important to be available to your team. They’re going to have questions that require your input. Make it a priority to respond quickly and fully to any inquiries that they send your way.
Team communication is important, but so is that individual 1-on-1 communication that makes employees feel valued, heard, and supported. We have individual Slack channels with each of our team members for this very purpose.
Invest in Communication Tools
We wouldn’t be able to be successful without the right software and tools. We knew that the key to being successful as a remote business would entirely depend on the way we communicate.
Early on, we knew that our internal communication structure needed to be based on Slack. Having used Slack as a team prior, we recognized how well it streamlines conversations, reduces endless email threads, and allows the team to move through their work faster without waiting on a meeting or delaying to ask a question.
Slack also allows for great culture-building if you give your team the freedom to joke, share, and create channels based on their own interests. Our recommendation is to let the communication be open, free, and non-restricted. Too many companies will apply Slack to the business and then try to control how the team uses Slack. We outright reject this practice.
We couldn’t just stop there. We needed a better way to communicate with our clients. We’ve worked in jobs back and forth with clients that persist for months. We’ve seen how email can build-up for the client and become overwhelming.
We’ve also seen how easy it is for a conversation for one employee to be lost if that person leaves the organization. That’s why we use Zendesk as a ticketing system for all client requests. This organizes our internal and external requests and provides transparency. All projects are contained within a ticket and all conversation is pulled into that single request. We can also see all our team’s interaction with the client in case they are out-of-office or we need to step in to handle a difficult question or request. All new requests are quickly assigned to a team member as well, so our response time is much faster than an email sent to a specific person.
One last tool we absolutely rely on is InVision. Because so much of our work requires client feedback, we needed a faster way to collect, organize, and speed up the client’s comments and direction. InVision lets our clients comment directly on the artwork or design we’ve sent over. They can click anywhere and tell us what needs to be corrected. We are able to design at a much faster pace than we would without this platform.
Create Standard Operating Procedures
It can be very difficult to train a remote team. We rely on two practices to make sure that our team can be quickly trained and consistent with their client communication.
The first is our knowledge base. We use a knowledge base to store all the steps, guidelines, instructions, and policies for all our services. If someone is building a paid search campaign for the first time, they can go to our knowledge base and see a step-by-step guide on how to get the campaign launched. For some of these guides/articles, we have videos that also help guide the users through the process.
The second practice is creating standard communication blocks that can be used. We call these our “macros.” For every step of one of our services, clients receive the same communication. Instead of asking our team to rewrite this content over and over, they are able to click and select the appropriate communication block which gives them all the text they need. They always customize it to their particular conversation, but in this way, we prepare ourselves and the clients for the same process every time.
By being consistent with these two practices, over time we create standard operating procedures for every aspect of our business. Training becomes less of sitting down with someone and walking them through, but we instead can share our knowledge base, training videos, and macros to get them up to speed quickly.
Celebrate In Person
Clearly right now it is necessary to strictly limit in-person communication, but under normal circumstances, we recommend that remote employees meet as a team once a month.
We prefer casual lunches where there is no agenda and the sole purpose is to enjoy each other’s company. You’d be surprised at how quickly these normally “virtual” relationships are just as personable and enjoyable when we’re face-to-face, and it’s because we’ve placed an emphasis on the relationship (vs. the physical proximity) from the get-go.
Don’t Undervalue Remote Workers
A completely remote business is great for the bottom line in many ways. There is not the expense of a building and it’s utilities. There is no cost for office furniture. There is no commute or parking fees.
One area that we do not recommend that you try to save money is the compensation you pay your team. We researched the going rate for the type of contract work that we need and we pay 20% more than that. It shows our teams that we value them and I like to think that it encourages the contractors to prioritize our projects.
When we started Formada nearly two years ago, we knew that we wanted it to be a completely remote operation. Spending our entire careers in the corporate world, Garrett and I craved freedom and flexibility, both for ourselves and for our teams. And we’re realizing that with the partnership of the right workers and the right clients.
We also understood that not everyone’s best contributions are made between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm, Monday through Friday. We were also starting to feel that rigid schedules didn’t appeal to some of the most creative, dedicated, and driven marketers, so appreciating this reality has helped us find a great team of professionals to collaborate with. We’re so grateful.
Listen, business as we know it has changed for the foreseeable future. So has the way we typically live our lives. And while that uncertainty quite understandably causes discomfort, we can’t stop looking for ways to support each other and to improve each others’ lives, experiences, and businesses.
We built Formada Social to create great marketing services that help people and their businesses, services that connect our clients with the people they want to serve, no matter what that product or service might be, and there’s no time more like the present for finding ways in which we can follow through on achieving that goal.
Our commitment to each other and our communication with one another has the potential to create so much good in these trying times, because we are truly better together, virtually or in-person. We’re honored to be doing what we’re doing and to have the opportunity to share our experiences with you. If you have questions about building remote teams, marketing services in times of uncertainty, or just general questions about how Formada can help your business, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re for you. (Literally! We can’t leave the house for a while.) Be safe, take care, and we wish you all health and wellness!