Part 1 – The 50k Foot View

Introduction

I decided to write this book for several reasons. First, it’s my passion… Online business has been my life for over 10 years now. I’ve built several businesses to several million annually, and in order to do that, you simply can’t do it all yourself. So I realized very quickly that I needed help if I was going to remain sane.

But there are several problems that arise once you get “help”, and in many cases it’s actually the beginning of the downfall of the business. This book is going to help you avoid that.

I’ll never have an office again and I am proud of it. I can absolutely do everything virtually that a company can do in an office, run a leaner business that is more profitable, and enjoy my life more without an “office”.

I’ve developed a ton of systems and processes for managing teams online and increasing productivity. This book is going to share them with you and the theories behind them. I’m going to lay a step by step process in front of you that will not always be easy to follow, but it will save your business from many tough situations.

There are several times in this book, that you will probably disagree with me. There are several times where I’ll probably sound too harsh or uncaring, but what you are getting is my raw uncut experiences. Welcome to the world of outsourcing and virtual teams. Prepare to toughen up… This is not an easy gig. No excuses. That goes for everyone on the team…

Your “Why”

Why are you in business? Why are you doing it and what drives you? Why are you really in business? Why are you spending every day of your life sitting in front of a computer screen? Are you living your passion? You only live once after all…

Is your “why” the money? If yes, then prepare to fail…

Business is about much more than money, and these days customers will see right through your BS if all you can think about is profit.

You’re business has got to have depth to survive more than a few years, and more importantly, you need a “why” in order to create a product or service that people even care to buy.

The idea of “Why” first hit me during an Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) retreat that I was a part of. EO is a group of over 7,000 Entrepreneurs across the globe, and the keynote speaker was Simon Sinek, who talks about this very topic of “why” and explains it very elegantly. You can watch his TED talk on the subject here – Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.

Have you ever been to a retail chain that it’s severely obvious that the employees couldn’t care less? It’s the same thing…

Now, what’s the point of all this and how the hell is it related to building a successful virtual team and business?

Because… Your “why” lays a foundation for decisions across your organization. And your team makes decisions every second of every day they are working for you. We want to make those decisions focused and correct.

The logic revolves around building a team that has like-minded goals. It’ll lower your stress, it will help your team work towards goals so much faster, and you’ll totally avoid the scenario mentioned above with the employee that could care less. It’s best to demonstrate this point from the employee perspective.

Your “Why” from an Employee Perspective

Setting the Scene: You run a website that sells dog lifejackets and slides for boats that is currently doing $400,000 in sales annually (if that seems like a lot, consider that $400,000/$79 average sales price = 5,063 cages sold per year and 5,063 / 352 days per year = 14 units a day = very doable). Now, back to the scenario at hand… You sell cool things that allow dogs to have fun in the water, and you’ve got a staff of 3 people. Two customer support reps, and a designer / developer.

Now, let’s look at 2 different possibilities here:

Scenario One – You started the business 4 years ago because you did some light keyword research and decided that “dogs” and “dog lifejackets” were in demand online. You don’t own a dog and you really don’t even like online business.

When you hire an employee you are looking for the best rate possible and someone that responds quickly. In general the work that you get back from your developer is fairly error prone (think B-), but it’s all for a decent rate so you chalk it up to a “cost of doing business”. Of your two support reps, neither actually owns a dog. One lives in Birmingham, AL and works the day shift and the other lives in the Philippines.

You’ve never really communicated your actual goals of the business to your people. They assume that you are just trying to make a living and feed your family, etc…

Scenario Two – You started the business 4 years ago because you love dogs and you saw that “dogs” and ” dog lifejackets ” were in demand online in your keyword research phase. You’ve got two dogs, and you’ve built entire personalities online around these dogs. They are in a sense the “face” of your brand.

When you hire an employee of course you are looking for someone that has the skills to get the job done, but your first prerequisite is to make sure that they are also a “dog lover”. In general the work that you get back from your developer is fairly error prone (think B-), but because he loves dogs, he’s always thinking of other items to move the business forward. This includes taking pictures of dogs with lifejackets on and playing a pool, creating content for your blog, and writing emails to previous customers.

Because you only hire do lovers your two support naturally have dogs. One lives in Birmingham, AL and works the day shift and the other lives in the Philippines. Because of their experience it allows them to speak in the first person to your clients, and create a bond with them. The support reps seem to generally care about the well being of the customer’s pet, and it shows through in the communication.

Are you seeing the differences between these two situations?

In scenario one your business is foundationally screwed. It’s only a matter of time before someone else figures out that they can make a decent profit selling dog water gear online and they build it better and completely run you out of business. Your people are completely transaction related. There is no loyalty and to these employees it’s just a job.

How do you motivate these people? How do you make sure that they aren’t trying to lie to you? How do you train them on all the questions that the customers will ask?

Conversely in scenario two, your people are actually excited to get out of bed in the morning because part of their job description is directly related to their passion… and that’s the key right there… Because they are dog lovers, it’s easy for them to adapt and provide better answers to clients. When it comes to making decisions in the organization, they generally make the right decision because they ARE the customer. They KNOW the market. This is huge when it comes to lowering your stress levels.

In addition, you’ve clearly spelled out your “why” to them and they agree with it. Your why is “We help dogs have fun and stay safe in the water”. Now your employees get out of bed in the morning with a purpose that provides a non-monetary reward.

There are so many benefits to this, and hopefully you can see the relation to virtual teams here. While this point applies to all businesses, it’s especially important to virtual businesses.

Virtual businesses are inherently hard to run because you have less touch points with your team. Developing a deeply rooted reason for existence and hiring employees that agree with that “why” is the very first step to building a successful virtual team. You simply have to be on the same page without speaking and this will get you 50% of the way there. You need your team to make the same decisions you would make, not on your next strategic move, but in the trenches of your business. That’s where they operate. They are the foundation.

The Challenges of Managing a Remote Team

Remote teams are awesome for speed and running a lean business, and I fully believe that they are the “future” of work. Things will continue moving more and more in the direction of virtual teams in the coming years because of advances in technology, increased access to skilled workers, and more “technology” type businesses. However, with this fairly new idea of a “virtual team” there are new challenges presented.

The most obvious problem is that you have less touch points, and less control over what is actually happening with them on an hour to hour basis. This includes everything from driving projects forward to making sure that they are not trying to pull one over on you by reporting more hours than are actually worked to communication issues.

But for every problem, there is a solution. Here’s a very brief list, and I am providing this list in the beginning to make it clear that YOU CAN DO IT. THERE IS A SOLUTION. So don’t be afraid of it, instead, embrace it.

Problem – It’s harder to communicate with a virtual team.

Solution – Get Basecamp going and actually improve communication (even with a team that is physically right next to you) with the added benefit of documentation on the cloud.

Problem – It’s hard to keep track of the time that an employee has worked in a given week and pay them on an hourly / contractor.

Solution – Get Hubstaff which will allow you to see screenshots, track activity levels, pay employees and more. Again, this is massively beneficial even if the employee is sitting right next to you. While Basecamp helps improve the quality of your communication, Hubstaff actually works in a different direction. It reduces the time you spend following up with employees, and hassling with figuring out exactly what your people are doing. This app tracks the time your team is working for you down to the exact minute so you pay only for what you get.

Problem – It’s harder to meet and discuss individual projects

Solution – Skype and Gotomeeting both allow you to see video of the other person and communicate directly with them. You can even share screens and “look over their shoulder”. Google hangouts are now equipped with “remote desktop” which you can use for customer support.

You probably picked up on the trend here. For every problem, there is a technology solution popping up that can make your team even more productive. It’s now possible where you can almost do everything “in the cloud” that you can do in person. Not every individual is willing to accept this, but the world is changing and it’s changing quickly.

The “Push”

If you are going to create a virtual team, be prepared to develop some thick skin. Firing someone over email isn’t quite as hard as firing them in person, but it’s still not easy, especially if they are trying hard and you’ve gotten to know them personally.

You’ve got to develop a mindset of “No Excuses” (the title of the book came from this mindset). The people that can help you make your business a success are out there, you just have to find them… No excuses. The right models are in existence that can lower your stress and reduce your management time. You just have to implement them.

What does “No Excuses” mean? It means that you have proactively created a situation where everyone on your team is in agreement on what a finished product looks like and the deadlines are clear. In addition, it’s clear that upper management is always available, and will answer very quickly, if questions exist.

Your job as a manager / owner of an organization is to leave absolutely no room for excuses from your people. There’s a super quick 5-step process that I use in my business to make sure that I am leaving no room for excuses…

  1. Describe the project to your team, making sure that they understand what the finished project looks like
  2. Get their “sign-off” that they understand exactly what needs to be done
  3. Set a deadline for project completion
  4. Get their “sign-off” on project completion date
  5. Make it abundantly clear that you make yourself available for questions, and live up to it.

Can you see the way this simple process pushes everything back on the contractor / employee. It leaves no room for excuses.

In short what you are doing is setting expectations up front, getting their agreement up front that the dates are realistic and that the project is fully understood. Then you are backing this up in case questions come up (which they always do) with your support and clarification. The end result is that the project should be tested and ready to hand off on or before the due date.

If the project is not done, and you received no questions, then you have a problem with an employee. See the way that works? You simply leave no room for excuses and force full accountability. You do your work up front so you can move on to other areas of your business.

If you find that an employee is consistently not meeting deadlines, then you have a decision to make. You can take corrective action and try to train further, but it’s important to realize that at this point, if the work is not done, it’s not your fault. You’ve set the system up for success, but you have a person in your team who is ok with NOT being accountable. This is unacceptable, and you need to cut ties, and find an employee who produces does what they say they are going to do.

If this is a consistent pattern, there is a chance that this could be your fault due to hiring someone who is under-qualified, setting unrealistic deadlines (maybe the contractor doesn’t feel comfortable speaking up), or lack of experience on your part. You need to be aware of these factors, but don’t be afraid of them. Your job is to push the organization forward. There’s not a successful CEO in the history of business that hasn’t needed push hard in order to accomplish goals.

 

How to Virtually Guarantee Success

Let me be extremely clear here… I’ve been on both sides of this. I’ve been a part of unsuccessful teams and a part of successful teams. I’ve led unsuccessful teams and I’ve led successful teams. After starting 7 businesses over 10 years, I can say with 100% certainty, that there is nothing more important to your business than your team.

As any businessperson progresses in their career it seems they tend to lean more and more towards working only with “A Players”. It’s not essential when starting out, but over time, you start to realize that if you’re going to attack something it’s best to attack it full force, and in order to do that it’s best to have a great team.

Check out this quote:

” I don’t pay good wages because I have a lot of money; I have a lot of money because I pay good wages.” Robert Bosch

Think about that quote for a minute. Now I fully realize that not every business can afford the best players. But, I also know for a fact that smart people will totally revolutionize any business. The way they think is different. They can tackle larger problems, they can move faster, and they are more accurate.

I would challenge you to search out the very best and at least talk to them about getting involved with your business. If you can find a way to make it happen, you should consider it very closely. This is especially true of programmers and marketers.

Even if you cannot get the best of the best, then you should seek out the best of the rest. You do this by constantly building a better team. It should be a never ending cycle. That’s next…

Always Be Building a Better Team

As I lead my companies forward, one of the most important things that I do on a daily basis is test new potential team members. If they are good, then I usually find work for them, and if they are not so good, then I simply don’t hire them. This serves so many important roles and is possibly the most important thing that I do as a leader and manager.

The basic idea is that you want to continue moving towards a more productive, agile, broad and smarter team of resources that you have at your disposal to tackle tasks as needed.

I have designers, developers, writers, video producers, PPC specialists, on-site SEO people, link builders, managers, and accountants on contract constantly. They are my team of trusted contractors. I pay them only when they are doing work for me and I treat them well. I give bonuses, great recommendations and other things in order to get preferential treatment when it comes time to start another project.

I always keep an eye out for new talent, until I find that one person that does work that I just love for the rate that I can justify. Don’t fall into the trap of being satisfied with what you have, and believing that there is not someone better out there who would love to work on your team.

Here are some specifics on how I manage this process:

  • Hire for evaluation periods – I am constantly looking for smaller type tasks that are not totally intertwined with my code base that I can use as a test task. I’ll post this task on a job site and interview the people. I’ll usually give the same task to 2-3 people. I will generally know within 2-3 hours whether or not this person is someone that can help my organization move forward or not. You’ll be amazed at how telling this process can be. You are paying between $12-$50 per hour usually. So for $36 – $150 you can find someone that can be with your organization in a very specialized manner for years to come. This is very powerful.
  • Let the most talented rise to the top and the least talented fall off. Most people fold under pressure. They see competition and shy away. Let them know that you have others working on similar tasks and just see what they do and how they perform. Many will not even show up to collect the check. Guaranteed.

When you find someone you like, add them to your team. Give them work, introduce them to your code base, your designs, etc… and get them started. The world has changed. You no longer need to commit to someone for a full time work schedule. Many great people enjoy working from home, working on their own time, and there is technology in place to make this all possible.

Here’s a quick challenge: Find two people this week that might be able to help your company get something done that it’s been struggling with for a while (could be as simple as migrating your site to a new host or getting a good blog post out). Give them a small test task to see how they perform and how they communicate. You may just find that person that is going to make your team better for years to come, and allow you to work on your strengths instead of continually being spread too thin.

Here is a flowchart that I have developed to show the process of how to constantly add new and better players to your team:

 

Do What You Love and Outsource the Rest

Let’s say you are a great marketer. You know how to drive traffic, write copy, generate content, and convert web visitors into buyers.

If that’s the case, then why in the world do you have an HTML manual in your hand trying to figure out how to code your own site? Outsource it! You will get a better result without the stress.

I have personally managed developers for ten years now, and I have never written a line of code from scratch in my life. I wish I could develop and that it came naturally to me, but I have learned that some things are just not worth learning because of opportunity cost. Focus on what you do well, and spend almost all your time there. This process will drive more results to your business.

Answering these three important questions will provide a lot of insight:

  • What are you doing on a day to day basis that you flat out are not good at?
  • What are you doing on a day to day basis that you despise doing?
  • What are you NOT doing that you know you SHOULD be doing because other tasks constantly get in the way?

I challenge you to make a list of the answers right now. This list will be a very large indicator of the areas where A players could move your organization forward. You can use this list to start developing your test tasks.

You should only be performing tasks that you really enjoy doing because the chances are that those are the same tasks that you are actually good at and your love for the work will show and attract customers. Continually performing tasks that are not in your skill set adds stress, lowers profits and wastes time for your organization.

Specialists

We live in a world where you have easy access to top-notch talent all over the globe. The really cool thing is that most of these people are freelancers and they are willing to do small tasks for you at an hourly rate. When you encounter tasks that need to be done on a one-time basis, my opinion is that it’s best to get a specialist to do these jobs instead of employing a “jack of all trades” who really doesn’t specialize in any one particular area.

It’s very rare that a good designer is a great developer. They are two really different skill sets. It’s rare that a good communicator and marketing person is a great accountant. It’s just the way that it works. When you realize and accept this, it’s like a weight lifted off your shoulders.

Here are some example scenarios:

  • You want to start advertising on Adwords, but really don’t know where to start. Adwords alone is a challenge to learn, and when you throw Bing, and all the other PPC engines into the mix it even gets more confusing. But there are people that are trained to set these accounts up. You can find someone that has worked at an agency setting campaigns up every day all day. Get them to come in and set up your account the right way. A general cost for this could be $50 an hour for 6 hours. So for $300, they will do keyword research, build adgroups, set up tracking, and possibly design some image ads.
  • You want to have a logo designed but you don’t know Photoshop or Illustrator. Again, these programs have a learning curve, so find a contractor that can look at your brand, and redesign a logo. You have to have an eye for this stuff, it’s not only the technical side that is an issue. For about $150 you could have a logo created, and delivered in Photoshop format so you could then hand it off to one of your “jack of all trades” people for editing and replication across your website, business cards, and more.

The main point here is that you’ve allowed your business to get top-notch work at low rates. These people are specialists at what they do. They’ve spent years learning their trade, and now your business can benefit. Don’t half-ass these things. There are countless other examples. Sites like odesk, elance and freelancer allow you to see previous work from these people in an matter of minutes, and highly recommend that when it comes to highly specialized items like this, you find specialists that can set your business up the right way.

Interchangeable Work

The two-week notice “rule” is B.S. In reality, you cannot replace someone in two weeks, and there is a great chance that if you are outsourcing you’ll get more like zero notice. What if the employee or contractor that you are most reliant on tells you tomorrow that they are leaving?

I want you to pretend right now for a few minutes that you just got email from the employee that you most rely on stating that they are leaving for another job, and that you didn’t see this coming. In most cases this turns into a mad scramble, the next 2-3 months are spent trying to find, train and hire the replacement (you’ve probably got to go through two or three people). In the meantime, work is not getting done.

Here’s how to avoid the above scenario:

1. Document everything. All tasks, procedures, and job functions need to be documented in Google Drive, Dropbox, Basecamp or some other cloud-based system that accessible and editable by all members of your team. Your team members are responsible for documenting their own tasks.

2. Never have only one person trained to do any single task. Anything repetitive needs to have several people in your organization that can perform that process. Never have one person be the sole “owner” of that process. It absolutely sucks when that person leaves. The more people or teams that know your code base or processes the better. This makes it easy for you to fill gaps when someone on your team leaves.

3. Be open with your people. What I mean by this is simple. If you like a contractor and you find yourself reliant on them, send them an email with the below info or similar.

“Hey {insert name}. I just wanted to tell you that I really enjoy working with you. I want you to know that as long as things continue as they are currently are, there will always be work for you at {organization}. I am bringing this up because I am starting to rely on you and your skills more in this organization and if you ever needed to leave, it would be a big blow for us. We’d need a few months to recover and re-train. I understand that you will always have to do what’s best for you and your family, but if you were ever thinking about leaving, would you be so kind as to give me as much notice as possible?

I am not going to freak out and stop working with you if you tell me you are searching for another job opportunity. I understand, and I want what’s best for you. But it would really be appreciated if you could give me a lot of advance notice. We can even keep a contract open on a freelance basis if you ever move on if that would be ok with you. Let me know. Dave”

Doing these three things really will help your business thrive and lower your stress levels. Your business is so much more secure after you have these things out in the open and everyone is on the same page.

Why “Accountability” is the Most Important Word in Business

When you make a request of someone, take a little extra time to explain why you are making it. Put it in context and explain why it’s important to the goals of the business. Then the person can provide a more robust solution because she understands the purpose of the task and how the information will be used. Ask what the person needs to complete the task. This approach removes excuses, reduces rework, and is a great way to build relationships. It’s also a great way to develop future leaders by increasing responsibility and encouraging decision-making and creativity. By holding others accountable, you are teaching them to accept responsibility.

– Bob Prosen.

If you’ve not read Bob Prosen’s book, “Kiss Theory Goodbye,” I highly recommend doing so. It’s changed the way I think about managing employees.

The basic idea of accountability is that there are no excuses. Not from employees, not from managers. It’s the ability and willingness to accept responsibility.

Your job as a manager of a business is not to shove things down the throats of our employees or bully people around. That doesn’t work. What DOES work is encouraging accountability in your organization. Hold people to what they commit to, and most importantly, establish a culture where there are no excuses.

How do we make sure that there are no excuses? It’s a simple multi-step process:

  1. Blueprint the project. Explain the project very clearly.
  2. Explain why the project exists. This gives the employee a deeper sense of understanding about the project, and let’s their creative side come alive, which will possibly give an even better solution than was originally intended.
  3. Make sure that the employee has at their disposal everything they need in order to complete the project. We get their buy-in and commitment up front. This step removes any possible excuses.
  4. Hold the employees accountable.

It’s our job as a manager to set up our employees for success. It’s our job to make sure that they have everything they need in order to complete projects successfully. If you can do this, you’ll see a total transformation in your projects getting done.

When Your Employees Become Accountable – What to Expect

So now that we know what accountability is, it’s importance in business, and the “basics” of how to achieve it, I’d like to give you a quick synopsis of what to expect when employees become accountable in your organization. There are a few high-level changes that take place.

First, I think it’s important to realize that in general, your employees DO want to help the business succeed. They just need structure in order to make that happen. It’s your job to give them that structure. What you will find is that as soon as you provide the right “structure” a light switch will flip on and you’ll hear things like “that’s all you wanted, well that’s easy” and “I wish we had this a long time ago.” You’ll hear these things because there is an automatic structure in place. It’s fast, easy and effective for the employees. Everyone realizes that, especially the employees.

Second , the employees start actually putting their time into the right priorities and tasks. They do this because they now understand the “why” behind what’s driving the project, and they understand their role within the larger picture. Define the project.

Third, you will get fewer emails. The communication is done up front. You don’t have to rely on email or be held back by the corresponding lags email creates. You also don’t have to monitor your inbox 24/7 anymore.

Finally, you get to work on projects that move the company forward instead of spending time “managing.”

These are all benefits of developing a culture of accountability in your organization. I truly believe that it’s the most important aspect of running a business assuming that the over-arching idea of your business is sound, there is a market, etc… After that it comes down to execution, and execution comes down to having a team that is accountable.

You Can’t Change People

People are either driven to achieve success or they are not. Neither type of person is better than the other on a personal level, but in my experience they are mutually exclusive. It’s an either / or scenario.

Now, does this mean that everyone who is driven will be successful? Absolutely not.

But it does mean that you’ll have an extremely hard time relying on people that are not driven by their own means. See, not everyone is afraid of their boss or losing their job. Not everyone responds to email when they receive it, and almost no one other than you cares about the success of your business. This is the reality that you’ll have to accept before you expect to take the next step in your business.

So what do you do about it? Well, luckily there is a simple solution.

You simply search all candidates until you find someone who is driven, and you hire that person. You can train someone, you can give them the SKILLS it takes to improve, but you will never be able to teach DRIVE. It’s God given. Accept it and only add people to your team from now on who have this gift.

Your life, Your Business, Your Terms

I’ve got bad news: if you are successful, you are ALWAYS going to be pulled in 100 directions. There are always going to be time suckers out there, and they are looking to benefit from your knowledge and success. You have to learn to shut this off and say no.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I am all for giving back. I’ve had so many successes come because in general I give first. But I give on MY terms.

The people looking to get your time are not looking to “waste” your time but they are also not thinking of conserving it. Accomplishing your goals for the day, is not at the top of their priority list right? Everyone has their own agenda.

The point of this is to keep you on track with YOUR agenda. Not someone else’s. Avoid distractions and distracting people like the plague. These are tough choices to make, but as we move to a world where even more people and things can compete for your time and attention you need “filters.”

You need filters for your email. Social media and your phone need to be inaccessible at times. You need to be focused.

Here’s how you decide what you should do and what you shouldn’t (in very simplified terms). Determine what you want to accomplish and what has the highest potential payoff (payoff can be money, time, freedom, happiness, or a number of other things). Then, if you are being distracted by items that are not related to your most important goals (the things that YOU want to accomplish), simply make those items inaccessible during working “blocks” of time.

Need examples?

  • The phone. I am working on ad copy for a business and the phone rings. That phone call was not on my agenda right? Just because the phone rings doesn’t mean that I answer it. Is this rude? Some people think so, but I stayed true to my agenda. I don’t need to speak to a sales person for GoDaddy or even my best friend. I need to write my ad copy (my phone is ALWAYS on silent and I miss calls by default).
  • Social media. Sure it can be used for business, but it can also waste several hours a day. By nature, it makes everyone else’s schedule more important than yours.
  • The news. For the most part, the news is so distracting from your own schedule. Ask yourself this: If you live in New York, what does a wildfire in Colorado really have to do with you? Unless you are going to volunteer or do something to stop the fire, what does knowing about it really accomplish? The news exists because NBC and CBS make money from advertising. The more people that watch the news, the more attention NBC and CBS have. The more money they make, and the less your goals get accomplished.

You need to make your life about YOU and the things that matter to YOU. I have three or four people that will get my attention on the phone and that’s it. I have Google voice set up and get an email immediately if someone leaves a message on my phone. This allows me to simply ignore all calls unless they are pre-scheduled of course.

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