Running a remote business part 2: Growing a team of Wildhearts
By Guy Anderson
In the second of our mini-series about running a remote business, Wildheart’s founder Guy Anderson looks at the importance of finding good people, collaboration and using great online tools
A great business is made up of a combination of good people, knowledge and processes that can be repeated consistently.
But business is mainly about relationships – good relationships are profitable in many ways, and bad ones aren’t.
We spend so much of our lives working that it makes sense to surround yourself with people you love and respect. I can’t imagine spending 50 years of my life surrounded by people I could hardly tolerate or who I find downright annoying. But this is not conventional wisdom. And I notice a strong tendency for people to live different lives: a work life and a private life. Personally, I have a much more integrated approach and I’ve built Wildheart around my own interests with people I admire and respect.
This isn’t for everyone of course – many people do only want a transactional relationship, but they simply aren’t going to be working with or for Wildheart. This also means that growth is slow because finding clients who are a good fit takes time. What takes even longer is finding good people to work with who share our integrated approach and also value their freedom and accountability.
Finding good people
Over the years I’ve noticed that the best workers are doing it for themselves. The paycheck is important, sure, but that’s not the main reason why we do what we do here at Wildheart. By agency standards we charge very competitive rates and when you take into account that we’re experts in our niche of yoga and wellbeing, it makes for a very powerful combination.
In my experience good people need three things:
- Challenge – they need to be stretched to their limits, be faced with challenges outside their comfort zone and be always open to learning.
- Respect – they need the freedom to choose their own hours and working location.
- Reward – those who put money first won;t be working at Wildheart. But of course everyone needs enough money to live a good life.
The paradox of employment
Companies need loyalty and they buy this loyalty by employing staff. Often employees are then treated as if they are owned by the company and have to do whatever the company needs, regardless of their skills.
People, on the other hand, need a stable income and they get this by selling most of their time to companies. But it’s an uncomfortable deal and it never lasts. If it does it’s often the individual that pays a heavy price in terms of health and wellbeing.
Employees gain more power by acquiring more knowledge and experience and small companies can really suffer when an experienced team member moves on. Most small consulting firms are built around the skills of the principle.
In the case of Wildheart that’s me, Guy the founder, with over 20 years’ experience learning and growing, making mistakes and having some successes along the way.
Freelancers: feast vs. famine
Historically, freelance consultants are normally those who have acquired enough skill, knowledge and confidence to break out on their own and offer their services to companies at a premium rate. This can suit both parties because there are much lower costs to the business to do this. But if you’re building a knowledge business then it can be tempting to use freelancers and never build the knowledge in-house, which puts the company at unacceptable risk.
The big challenge for freelancers of course is to find enough regular work. I’ve been a freelancer myself before running two agencies, so I’ve experienced both feast and famine. It can be hard not belonging or being part of a team, and can also feel quite isolating, although the rise of co-working spaces in recent years has helped in this area.
The other big problem that companies face using freelancers, besides not retaining knowledge, is the lack of loyalty. Freelancers are normally good at delivering a project, but then they move on. It’s the nature of the work. But companies are built on being able to deliver high quality work consistently.
Finding people who are a good fit both as clients and as part of the team is the most important task. Finding the right tools to get the work done and share information follows. Tools should never take priority over people. The wrong person using the right tools is never the right person for the job.
Never has remote working been easier! And there are so many choices when it comes to collaborative tools – which can also be a bit overwhelming. We’re always experimenting with new tools and here’s what we’ve settled on for the moment.
At the front-end, or sales side, of the business we designed a simple but effective process when people book a free consultation with us. This is an email automation sequence and a short questionnaire that allows us to get all the information we need to assess the suitability of the application. We discuss each application internally before responding with an invite to a free video consultation over Skype, Zoom or Google Hangout.
Each free consultation has a standard format and lasts around 45 minutes. The majority of our customers are located in other cities or countries so this meet-and-greet is a very important step in building our relationship. Video is the next best thing to meeting in person because it allows us to get cues of body language, facial expressions and tone of voice.
One of the neat features of Zoom is that you can record video calls so that team members who aren’t on the call can review – we use this feature in conjunction with shared Google Docs to capture notes.
Our favourite tools
We often send new customers handy guides like our Guide to Yoga Photography after a free consultation. To send large files we use the free WeTransfer service.
If a customer signs up to one or more of our packages they also get an invoice and we always recommend they use Transferwise to make bank payments. It’s fast and offers better exchange rates than standard bank transfers.
We don’t follow the ‘always on’ model internally when we work, so we don’t use any chat tools like Slack or WhatsApp. At Wildheart we don’t like checking and replying to instant chat messages all day long.
Instead we have lots of collaborative work sessions where we’ll often work together on projects whilst on a video call. We even work like this with some of our customers. But this only works if the customer is very comfortable with the collaboration tools.
It can be an intense but powerful way of working because there’s no need to send emails and wait for responses. You can also stay on a single project longer, rather than hopping from project to project, kicking the can along doing superficial tasks.
This kind of close collaboration takes 100% focus and energy but it’s really satisfying and productive. Of course, we don’t do this all the time but balance it with periods of uninterrupted solo deep work where we don’t check our emails.
What tools are you using?
Don’t miss the final post in this series, How to productize your business. We’ll be diving into how we transformed Wildheart by switching our services into standard packages with fixed prices – yes, our prices are listed on our packages page.
We did this in order to move away from the consultancy model, which relies on the knowledge and skill of the principle. Offering packages allows us to train the team and standardise the delivery of our services. But the results are anything but standard, as you’ll see from our new case studies section.
In the next post, How to productize your business, I unpack how we’ve organised our services into packages so that they can be delivered to a high standard of quality with minimal training.
Go back to Blog series: Running a remote business.
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