How To Run A Remote Based Agency
by Gary Spagnoli | May 31, 2019
In May of 2018, I had a critical decision to make for Zen Anchor. I had to determine whether to continue paying rent for our office or cutting back expenses, which would mean letting go of part-time staff.
We had moved into MAKE Offices in River North, Chicago in January of that year. It was exciting. We had our logo up on the door, our own private space and we finally felt like a REAL digital agency.
There was an expectation (from me, at least) that once we had an office, everything would come together.
The office would help us…
- have a deeper focus on work
- build stronger camaraderie with our team
- improve communication on objectives for internal and external initiatives
- make us more disciplined with a set schedule
- increase creativity + collaboration
- have more team outings for coffee + drinks + shenanigans
I was also motivated to set up an office for when prospects or existing clients flew into Chicago. I thought it would impress them and help us up-sell them to other services. “Look at how professional we are! Look at us grow!”
I was wrong.
By April 2018, when reviewing the sales stats of the quarter, I realized that we had only 7 prospect meetings in person, and only 4 on-site client meetings. In comparison, we were in the office for about 62 business days during that time. So if we measure just on sales, only 17% of the days were used to help us generate new business. And with that, only 1 client closed that I can even partially attribute to having the physical space (and it was a relatively small project – under $5k).
Okay, so the sales didn’t work out? But how about productivity? During this period we lost one client due to poor performance on one campaign that can at least partially be attached to decrease in effectiveness thanks to the turmoil that relocating to a physical location produced.
The decision was easy. It was time to go fully remote. No office required.
Since then, here’s what working remote has helped us do…
- Save money on rents that can be used for other team perks
- Recruit better talent that isn’t tied to one location
- Show off more unique productivity tools for prospective clients (embrace the “cool + cutting-edge factor”)
- Save time from commuting
- Work whenever we’re most productive
We’ve been fully remote since June 2018 now, and we won’t turn back anytime soon.
How do we do it? Lots of practice.
But I put together a list of the tools we utilize that help our company stay effective while working fully remote.
Our entire business operations would not be possible if it weren’t for Google Apps. GMail, Google Calendar, and Google Drive are no brainers, but I think the docs applications with commenting features are underutilized by other organizations we’ve worked with. Prior to our meetings we often line out the agenda and will the document for comments. This method has been endorsed by folks like Jack Dorsey of Twitter (and has been criticized).
We use this for feedback on strategy docs, creative, meeting agendas and way more. Pinging people via Google Doc comments is a necessity for us to hit our due dates and to make our days as productive as possible.
Templates, templates, templates. I see lots of debates on the benefits of various project management apps. We’ve always preferred Basecamp, not just because the design is pretty and the core functionality is intuitive, but because we’ve templated out our services within it. When a new business is brought on, it’s a few clicks away from having our first 3 months of standard tasks lined out and assigned to the appropriate team.
I also just enjoy the “Boosting” features, and the general happiness the UX produces.
I don’t know much about the background of this company, nor do I ever see it mentioned by the major marketing + tech + VC thought leaders I love to read. It doesn’t matter though – this service provides slick private-labeled reporting and dashboards for your agency. It’s not the most intuitive in terms of set up, but the end reporting that can be scheduled out and delivered to the client is well polished. This benefits us for reporting on the key metrics to all of our team members so they have a sense as to which accounts are performing well, versus ones that need some more support.
Video conferencing with one tap to conference line links. That one tap alone is reason enough to use this product. It has completely replaced Google Hangouts for us and is in the process of replacing UberConference.com for us. Besides the video + audio quality being consistently strong, the integration within Google Calendar as a conferencing option makes this the default chat tool we use for all meetings.
Our team is based all over the world, and because of that, sometimes we don’t have time to have a meeting, but we require visual walkthroughs to provide feedback. Loom lets you record short videos and share them with others so they can leave comments directly on them. I’ve had this for about a year now and had tested using it with clients – turns out clients don’t want long reports OR 5-minute videos. They were rarely watching. Clients prefer short + concise emails. But the benefits for internal communications are extraordinary. Designers should definitely be utilizing this.
Beyond the productivity tools that I’ve mentioned, I think it’s important to build a community via online tools outside of our internal team. Between conversations on twitter, feedback on indie hackers and in-person meet up groups, all 3 combine to provide deeper community and support for remote-based workers. You don’t want to be isolated to yourself OR just with your company. It’s important to stretch out to new networks to know what’s happening in the industry… and to have these in-person meetings to stay sane.
If you have any favorite remote-based tools, share them with us on Twitter.