5 Strategies for Building a Virtual Team to Include Some Benefits of a Traditional Office — Without the Overhead

In 2008, I plunged into the “virtual assistant” world by hiring my first virtual assistant.  She was in Detroit, and I barely knew what I needed.

This wasn’t my first time hiring a contractor to help me take care of my clients … for the previous four years, I’d worked with local talent and offshore talent to build graphics and design websites for me.

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I have learned a TON about building a virtual time over the last ten years.  I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I’ve done a lot of things right.  Today, I’ve got a great team of about 15 different contractors who work really hard taking care of our clients.  They are all rock stars in their own right, and I’ve been able to build this team in large part because we follow the Law of Win-Win: I mindful to creating opportunities and engaging with clients only when we both win.

This is my favorite Marketect Law.  I am passionate about win-win relationships—when I see my clients or colleagues struggling with their clients or team members, I can often see subtle strands of violations of this law permeating the chaos.

It is impossible to nail this 100% of the time.  When you’re plunging into something new, or venturing into unknown territory, you often don’t have the foresight to be able to set win-win conditions.  Let’s face it:  sometimes we learn our lessons by getting drug behind a truck.  We’re human.  If you’re like me, you beat yourself up after the truck is done with you (I’m working on that).

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When it comes to hiring our team members, I’ve learned what the conditions are that make working for me and our clients a “win” for contractors 80% of the time.  And I’ve also learned what our clients need to feel comfortable working with our team.

Here are a few things we do to “hedge our bets” on setting up a win-win environment that honors the interests of SMS, our clients and our contractors:

  1. Think through a great job description.  Before we hire someone, we map out what kind of skills and abilities we want them to have, the software / cloud programs we want them to be experienced in, and we try to be really clear in our expectations.  I want someone to read our job postings and think, “That is so not for me,” or, “OMG, they are looking for ME!”  We are as specific as we know to be.

    If I’m hiring in a brand new “green” area (one in which I don’t have a lot of first-hand experience), I will talk to colleagues and other team members to get some help so I can attract the right person.
  2. Set up good cloud-based processes and systems to streamline collaboration.  Our team is virtual, meaning that everyone works in their own work environment (home, coffee shop, etc). Initially, I worked with that first VA by assigning tasks via phone calls and emails.  It didn’t take long for the wheels to fall off the bus:  tasks were overlooked, deadlines slipped, details got confusing, steps were skipped … it was very frustrating for me AND for her.

    Most people care about doing a good job.  They don’t want to be sloppy.  They want their boss or client to be happy with their work. Our team is very accountable (more on that later) for completing work successfully, but when things don’t go right, I don’t stop at calling out a misstep.  I step back and examine our processes to see how we could have set things up to succeed from the outset. Yes, each person is responsible for their work, but if I can tweak our process so that they are able to succeed easier, WE BOTH WIN.

    We use Basecamp Classic for our project management … you can’t sign up for Basecamp Classic from the 37signals website any longer.  You actually have to email them and ask them to set you up in the classic version.  Basecamp Classic doesn’t have the slick interface of the newer Basecamp, but it has crucial functionality around templates that aren’t part of the new program.  I’ll teach you a bit more on Basecamp in a future blog post.
  3. Track time to the minute.  I have tried every-which-way of pricing out the work our contractors execute for our clients, and the only way that I’ve been able to land on a predictable win-win is to have our team members track time to the minute.  We will estimate all projects for our clients before they’re executed, but if our team members don’t use all the time, we bill only what was needed.  If we run into glitches or bumps that require more time than expected, we get approval for extra time in advance.

    This does a few things:

    a) our contractors don’t lose their shirt on project creep or scope changes because a client can’t make up their mind,

    b) our clients don’t deal with padded time where they’re paying more than they should to have work done,

    c) our clients are mindful of their demands and expectations…put another way:  changing your mind is expensive. If a contractor loses their shirt on one or more of your projects, they aren’t super motivated to keep working with you.  Trust is breeched.

    Estimating projects and tracking time to the minute is the best way I have found to balance the interests of all involved so that I could create continuity on our team.

  4. Projects must be completed to be billed.  There is nothing more frustrating to me, personally, when working with a contractor in a virtual environment than to have to pay for work that I’m not yet able to leverage, or to have deadlines creep on and on and on with work not being completed. I know enough about human behavior to know that properly placed carrots are a better motivator than me micromanaging details.

    But there’s another dimension to this, too:  people who work on a contract basis consider themselves to be business owners in their own right, and they value freedom and flexibility.  It is important to me to create a work environment that both gives them freedom and flexibility, and also has built-in accountability so the work is getting done.
  5. Enforce a strict communication policy.  Early on, when a client came to me with a question on one of our projects, I’d promise to find out and get right back to them before reaching out to the team member.  When it was crickets over the phone or email, I would get incredibly frustrated and even embarrassed because I didn’t want our clients to feel like we weren’t available when they needed us, or we didn’t care about their details. Sometimes, I wouldn’t be able to reach that team member for a day or two.

    Communication in a virtual environment is one of the biggest obstacles to developing a cohesive team.

    Over the years, our policy evolved to something like this:

    • Office hours are 9 to 5.
    • All team members should be logged on to Skype during office hours (either on your desktop or phone).
    • If we need to reach you, you commit to respond within an hour.
    • If you are going to be unavailable for any reason for two hours or more, send a calendar invite to me, your team lead and any relevant parties so that we know you’re out of pocket.  You are not asking for permission, you are simply communicating your availability.

    This shift was a breath of fresh air!  We had fewer fires, we were able to get fires under control quicker, deadlines across the board were being met more efficiently, timeline creep drastically lessened, our team members felt more connected to each other and to our work because they were accountable to each other … this was HUGE.

Our clients, overall, really enjoy working with our team, and our team members are invested in both SMS and our clients.

It is important to me that clients feel taken care of and trust that the work is being done well. When I first started offering support services to our clients, I dealt with some skepticism about whether or not this “virtual team thing” was really going to work out for them … there can be a lot of uncertainty around trusting people you can’t see or you haven’t hired yourself to take care of your “baby.” This policy has gone a long way in helping us to get over the hump and add real value to our clients on a budget!

What are some of your biggest frustrations in hiring or working with virtual team members?  Or what are some great “tricks” you’ve learned for leveraging virtual assistants or team members?  Let’s talk about them in the comments!

The Secret to Building Your Platform and Selling More

When I was a kid, my sisters and I LOVED Super Mario Brothers. I had the prestigious honor of being the first one in the family to conquer the last world (8-4) to win the entire game. In this dungeon, you had to jump over bad guys, squat down pipes and eat coins, all in a very specific order in order to keep progressing to the ultimate challenge: the biggest fire-breathing dragon yet.  Your charge:  slay him and save the princess.

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If you didn’t squat down the pipe, the level would repeat and it’s like you’d be stuck in this Groundhog Day of about 10 seconds’ worth of the maze, repeating ad nauseum.  A bummer when time would run out and, welp, you were still basically at the start.  And remember, you have a limited number of lives:  you’re too dense to make progress?  Then … game over.

I ended up conquering level 8-4 through sheer repetition:  copious hours of tedious jumping and squatting and coin-consuming.  I played the game over and over and over, each time eeking a little further into the dungeon.

I showed my sisters exactly what I did and they were able to conquer the level, save the princess and win the game much faster because someone showed them the key sequence. Ironically, I didn’t realize at first that there was a pattern.  It just seemed odd that the game would sometimes let you move deeper and sometimes start you over.  What’s going on?!  I remember thinking initially.  And if one of us got farther than the other, “Hey!  That’s not fair!”

One day, there was an “Ah-ha!!!” moment: there was a cryptic “order” to progressing through this level.  I had to figure out the exact steps if I was going to save the princess.

Last fall, I had my designer help me create what would end up being an infographic to show our clients the MarketectU framework we followed to help them build a solid, scalable marketing plan and business. I wanted our clients to visually “see” how our process worked … the strategic context for why-we-do-what-we-do-WHEN-WE-DO-IT matters.  There are a lot of different strategies you can implement to grow your business.  And they’re all potentially good–if you do them at the right time.  But if you execute them at the wrong time, oh man.  The frustration of losing time, money, energy, opportunity …it can really suck.

No one likes to feel like they’ve failed, especially when they’ve invested SO MUCH.

Over the years, I’ve developed what has turned into a set of Marketect Laws: principles that provide an anchor for how to make solid business decisions. As my foray back into the blogosphere, I’m going to start breaking down the framework, the context, for how to assess and build your own business development strategy.  This exercise isn’t just about marketing … and Marketecting (our unique approach to mapping out and implementing your business strategy) isn’t just about marketing, either.  This philosophy, if you will, represents the convergence of marketing, leadership, team development and execution. There is a bit of an art to how you pull things together.

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Marketect Law: Law of Sequencing

The law of sequencing has at its core a few fundamental principles:

  1. Sequencing matters.  A lot.  Dialing a phone number’s digits in the wrong order will result in your call not going through to the right person.  Switching the words around in a sentence interferes with its meaning (“Jim bit the dog.” “The dog bit Jim.”)  Understanding the progression of events or activities required so that your efforts are sustainable  matters.  It’s not fun to excrete every ounce of energy out of ourselves to execute on a strategy or initiative, only to have to walk away from it because we don’t have the resources (time, energy, leverage) to keep it going.
  2. Our anxiety or fears can often get in the way of us doing things in the right order. We’re impatient, or we’re avoiding, or we’re ignorant and asking for help makes us uncomfortable.  I am just as guilty of this as anyone.
  3. Executing on strategy requires discipline.  Sometimes, the hardest thing for independent professionals to come by is discipline … we don’t have someone standing over us or holding us accountable.  I’m jotting this down and a topic for a future blog post, because we need to tune in here and start executing some really solid strategies for harnessing ourselves to anchors that provide discipline so we can get over this hump!

Stay tuned … more on sequencing coming right up!

Where do you see the Law of Sequencing showing up in your business?  Do you have some what’s-the-right-order questions about growing your business for us to grok?  Leave a comment!

 

This Wednesday! June 27, See Misty LIVE in Nashville at Spark & Hustle

On Wednesday, June 27, 2012, Tory Johnson brings Spark & Hustle to take over Nashville for one jam-packed, high-energy day featuring an all-star line-up of experts who are running successful businesses including marketing pro Misty Williams who will share her expertise on online tools for small businesses.

If you’re in the Nashville area, we’d love you to come on out! You’ll experience big breakthroughs in your business and yourself. Learn, laugh, and leave with a ton of value.

 


Women attend Spark & Hustle for two main reasons: content and connections.

  • Learn fresh ways to build your business and boost your bottom line
  • Meet prospective clients, customers, collaborators and champions

Come join Misty and the other experts, and let’s make it happen together!

To learn more about the events—and of course to join us—visit http://www.sparkandhustle.com.

TODAY 1PM CST: Listen LIVE to Misty on Small Business Radio with Caz Taylor

Listen to Misty’s interview on Small Business Radio with Caz Taylor.

Today at 1PM Central, join me live for my interview with Caz Taylor on his show, SBA Radio. Caz is a professional broadcaster dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.

Together, we’ll be talking about marketing solutions for small business owners. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on how independent professionals can create marketing plans that encourage business growth.

You can check out Caz’s show and tune in for our interview here.

If you are tuning in now — or after the show, I’m so excited you’re here! If this is your first time to my site, you might want to check out my welcome page to help show you around and let you know how you can leverage all the content I’ve been developing to support your business. If you’ve got questions that we weren’t able to get to on the show, please leave a comment. I will personally respond to any comments from listeners so everyone can benefit as we continue the conversation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Misty’s core How Should I Market Myself? Program is designed to educate independent professionals (speakers, authors, coaches, consultants) on the given processes and strategies that create effective Marketing Gameplans that successfully grow businesses. Click below to download your free copy of her How Should I Market Myself? Workbook now.

Helpful (Free!) Resources

Emotional Triggers & Pleasure States

Download Manipulation-free Marketing White Paper

Library of Articles

Ready to take your business to the next level? Schedule a free strategy session with Misty.
If you’d like me to come speak to your group, conduct a webinar or teleseminar, or facilitate a workshop or breakout session about marketing, check out my Meeting Planners page or contact Diana: Diana@MyStrategicMarketer.com for more information.  I love, love, LOVE sharing with groups and would be honored to receive your invitation. icon smile How to Find Marketing Support on my Blog

TODAY (Monday, May 14) Noon Central: Listen LIVE to Misty’s Interview on Accelerate Your Business Growth with Diane Helbig

Listen to Misty’s interview here:

Listen to internet radio with Diane Helbig on Blog Talk Radio

Today at 12 noon central, join me live for my interview with Diane Helbig on her show, Accelerate Your Business Growth. Together, we’ll be talking about leveraging the top two strategies for creating an ongoing pipeline of leads.

Diane is a speaker and workshop facilitator who helps clients see that having clarity in business and sales is the key to having a successful, thriving business. Her radio show, Accelerate Your Business Growth, brings valuable, actionable information to listeners and each episode provides a

Tune in for our LIVE call at 12 CT today to learn how to structure your marketing campaign to create business today and in the future.

If you happen to be here after our live show, I’m very happy you’ve dropped by! Feel free to check out my welcome page where you can learn how to find marketing support on my blog and start to leverage all of the content I’ve been developing to help with your business.

If you want to know something that Diane and I weren’t able to get to during the show, please leave a comment and I’ll personally answer all of your questions. I look forward to sharing the benefit we’ll all receive from continuing this conversation.

Helpful (Free!) Resources

Ready to take your business to the next level? Schedule a free strategy session with Misty.

If you’d like me to come speak to your group, conduct a webinar or teleseminar, or facilitate a workshop or breakout session about marketing, check out my Meeting Planners page or contact Diana: Diana@MyStrategicMarketer.com for more information.  I love, love, LOVE sharing with groups and would be honored to receive your invitation.