How to Run a Remote Business


Maybe you have a remote business, and are looking for tips on how to run it more effectively.  You might also be looking to move your business from brick-and-mortar to remote.  Either way, there are some things you will want to keep in mind when running a remote business.

The four pillars of a remote business are preparation, personnel, technology, and customers.  The success of your remote business will hinge on these four factors.

We’ll start off by going into detail about how to prepare for a transition to a remote company.  If your company is already remote, you can still use some of these tips, so read on!

Preparation

Before you continue to later steps involving personnel, technology, or customers, you need to prepare for remote business.  Perhaps most important is your reason for going remote.  You need to have a strong motivation, and make sure employees are on board.

You should set milestones for how and when you want to work remotely.  You also want to establish systems that can be followed and perfected over time.  Prepare for any emergencies, and then go through a test run to see what unexpected issues come up.

For certain businesses, you might need a physical location or shipping and fulfillment services, which are also discussed below.

Why Go Remote?

You shouldn’t just go remote because it is trending, or because you want to work from home.  Make sure that the benefits outweigh the costs, as you would for any business decision.  If you want to consider this more carefully (and you should!), check out my article on the benefits of remote work for employers.

Think about the implications of going remote in terms of personnel, technology, and customers.  How will fully remote work help your employees to work better?  How can technology improve the efficiency and profitability of your company?  Will a remote company be able to provide the same level of service that your customers expect?

Goals and Timelines

Think about what you want to accomplish before you make the transition to remote.  Also, decide when you want to achieve these goals.

Setting goals helps you to organize your big goals into smaller steps.  Then, you can adapt the steps to your timeline to achieve your goal.  For instance, let’s say you want to hire two remote employees within three months.

You can break the goal into several steps.  You will need to write a job description, post the job, look through applications, respond to candidates, interview finalists, and hire your top choice.  You can assign these 6 tasks for periods of 2 weeks each, and you will be done within three months.

Setting goals will also help you to use concrete steps to explain your ideas to employees.  If an employee understands the role of a task in terms of the big picture, then he will be more motivated to complete his part of the project.

Processes and Systems

As you transition to a fully remote company, some of your business systems will need to make the transition as well.

Example

One good example is accounting, bookkeeping, and taxes.  Ordinarily, you would visit your accountant once in a while to drop off your huge, overflowing folder of receipts and bank statements.  (This, by the way, is not totally annoying for your accountant to deal with, so don’t worry about it at all).

However, you cannot necessarily do that when you and your team are working remotely.  You might need to scan and email those physical receipts.  You could also keep them in a DropBox or Google Drive.

If you receive electronic or emailed receipts for purchases, you can keep them in a folder labelled “Accountant”.  Then, forward everything in the folder to your accountant every month (or quarter, or year).

Once you set up a system that works for you, it will be easy to continue the habit.  Good habits lead to good performance, day in and day out.  Besides, your accountant will love the new, organized you!  You can even train a virtual assistant or another employee to do this work for you – remotely!

Other systems and processes to think about include payroll, customer service, sales, and IT/information security.

Emergency Preparation

Another way to be completely prepared for a remote company is to anticipate any emergency.

Outages

One thing that can cause problems for a remote business is an outage.  This includes internet, electricity, website, SaaS (Software as a Service), and other outages.

If the internet goes out unexpectedly, it could keep you or an employee from communicating with the rest of the team.  If you work at home, you might be able to rush to a bookstore or cafe with Wi-Fi.

However, security is an issue in that case.  If you work at a coworking space, make sure that they have backup internet in place.  You don’t want to lose sales or customers because of an outage!  If your employees opt for a coworking space, make sure that they know what to ask about before deciding on one.  For more information, check out my article about what to look for in a coworking space.

To guard against losing electricity, make sure that your phone and laptop batteries are always fully charged.  You could even take the step of keeping extra charged batteries lying around, although make sure that you are being safe if you do this!

When choosing a host for your website, make sure that their downtime is less than 1% (less than 15 minutes per day – ideally better than that!).  If your website is down, you are going to have trouble making sales and converting leads into customers.

You might also permanently lose potential customers if they click a link that seems to be broken.  If your site starts to get too many visitors, make sure to upgrade your hosting plan to account for this.  Don’t be cheap, because downtime and speed matter!

Speaking of which, make sure that your website is optimized for speed, so that people don’t bounce after waiting 5 seconds for the page to load.

Loss of Key Personnel

You should also have plans in case you lose any key personnel, temporarily or permanently.  This could happen by unexpected early retirement, death or extended illness, poaching by other employers, maternity, or many other reasons.

You should have a plan in place to hire a replacement on a temporary or permanent basis.  This is why it is a good idea to try to make one or two remote hires before you go fully remote.  That way, you aren’t doing it for the first time while you try to figure out all of the other aspects of your remote business.

Also, make sure that some of your other employees can pick up the slack while you try to hire.  Cross training can be helpful for this.

Remote Test Run

After anticipating and preparing for all possible problems, it is time to find more.  No matter how much you prepare, it is likely that you forgot something.  This is where the remote test run comes in.  Before you go fully remote for good, have everyone try remote for a week or two.  This remote test run serves two purposes.

First, the remote test run allows you to test the remote systems you need, and to test emergency preparedness.  You can pretend that Jane doesn’t have internet today, or that the site is down for two hours – what do you do?

Second, the remote test run reveals any gaps in your preparedness, either for emergencies or day-to-day operations.  Once you identify these gaps, you can work with your team to make changes, update processes and systems, and try another remote test run.

Once you can operate for a month fully remote without problems (or, without problems that you cannot solve), then you can think about going remote for good.

Physical Location

In some cases, you might need a physical location.  It could be something as simple as a PO Box for mail and other quaint paper correspondence.

It could also be an office address where mail is delivered and forwarded, to keep up the appearance of a professional business.

Fulfillment/Logistics

If you ship out physical products, then you will still need to handle shipping, whether you do it yourself or hire someone else to do so.  If you are far away from the action, then you will need someone you can trust.  Don’t forget to plan for this aspect of your business if it applies to you!  Fulfillment by Amazon is one option you have in this area.

Personnel

Making the shift from in-person to remote work will affect your employees.  It is best to plan ahead for all of the changes that will need to be made in terms of hiring, training, and communicating.

Hire & Train Employees

As mentioned earlier, you will likely need to hire employees at some point.  You will either need more employees to expand, or new employees to replace those who leave.

As mentioned earlier, it is a good idea to have a system in place for hiring remote employees.  You should also make sure that workflows and processes are documented, so that new employees can learn quickly.  This also makes it easier for you or other employees to pick up the slack while you find and train a new hire.

For training, you could use private videos on YouTube or other platforms.  You could also share your screen on a Skype call as you go through training.  That way, you can show the new hire how you do the work in real time.  Then, he can try to follow what you did and you can give feedback right away.

If you run a larger company, it may be worth training some of your managers on how to train new employees.  This will free up your time to make the important decisions for your business.

Managing Remotely

Speaking of managers, if you have some on your team, then you will want to make sure they can manage remotely.  This involves setting expectations for remote workers, checking in, and tracking progress on projects.

This could be daily or weekly or some other frequency, depending on your management style.  However, offering remote work as an option and then micromanaging employees every hour seems contradictory.

Your managers should ask for a daily or weekly summary from each employee.  Then, they can condense this into a report for each team, and you can condense the reports into one company-wide snapshot of what is done, what is happening now, and where the roadblocks are.

Continuing Education

To stay sharp, you should encourage each member of your team to continue his education.

This could involve local classes near an employee.  It could also mean traveling to seminars and conferences, perhaps for a sales or marketing team.

You should also consider online courses, which makes the most sense for a totally remote company.  You can find online courses on just about any topic, including sales, marketing, information technology, security, web design, human resources, and many others.

If you go this route, another idea is to ask every employee take the same “core” classes, and then offer to pay for a certain number of “electives”.  As long as these electives are reasonably close to what your business does, they will likely help to improve morale.  They might even help your employees to come up with the next big idea in your industry!

Tax Implications

I am not a CPA, tax attorney, or financial advisor.  However, there will be some situations where your remote business might need one.

Do you sell products or services across state lines?  Are you technically engaged in manufacturing?  Do you have employees in multiple states, or countries?  The answers to these questions can have tax implications for you or your employees.

It’s probably best to ask an expert in this field.  A few hundred dollars for an afternoon’s consultation will more than pay for a headache with payroll or local, state, and even federal tax authorities.

Company Culture

Any company should have a few things that bind employees together as a group.  This is even more important for a fully remote company.

One idea, mentioned earlier, is to invest in continuing education for your workers.  Asking them to take “core” online classes, and then discussing the material, can bring your team closer together.  You can also see how others in your group think about learning and problem solving.

Another related idea is to ask employees to read a book each month.  It could be related to the business in some way.  However, don’t make the reading so dry that it is unpleasant!  It is your job as the boss to read the books first and choose which ones to assign.

Some good topics would be sales, customer relationships, confidence in giving presentations, work-life balance, and relationships.  You win bonus points if you can find books that give employees ideas about how to contribute to the company outside of their defined roles.

There are other ways to keep the team connected, aside from courses and books.  The main goal is to get to know each other.  As an added benefit, you can discuss important ideas that might end up helping your business someday.

Technology

Technology plays an important role for any business, but it is essential for a completely remote company.

For one thing, you need to ensure strong communication and organized project management.  You should also keep your company website updated, and use this in conjunction with email software for customer contact.

In addition, think about your plan for data storage, sharing, backup, and security.  Finally, remember to make it easy for customers to pay you by finding a payment processing system!

Communication

This includes communication within your team, but also with your customers, suppliers/vendors, and anyone else you need to stay in touch with.  For video conferences, you can use Skype or Slack.

This can be useful for one-on-one meetings to check in with employees.  It can also be helpful for important meetings with other companies, to ensure a greater level of trust.

You might your employees to use a company phone line, not their personal cell phones.  They might prefer it this way as well!  In that case, you should pay some type of stipend or allowance for a phone and data plan.

You can also ask for email check-ins from employees every day or two.  Make sure to adjust the frequency so that it makes sense.  You don’t want to waste time with progress reports every day that say the same thing

Another method of communication is keeping a Google Doc that anyone can edit.  If you have a question, write it in the document, followed by name of the person it is addressed to.  If it is a question for anyone who knows the answer, write “All”.

When people have a few minutes of downtime during the day, they can check the Q&A sheet and provide an answer, if possible.  You can organize this sheet into answered and unanswered questions to stay organized.  Then, you can copy and paste questions into the “answered” section each afternoon.

This keeps a log of Q&A’s so that new employees can find answers as they ramp up.  You can also go back and edit old answers if processes or systems change.  You can learn more about Google Docs here.

Project Management

For project management, you can use software tools like Asana or Monday.com.  Even if you choose not to use tools like these, you should still have a plan in place.

Another idea is to use Google Sheets (similar to Microsoft Excel) to keep track of projects and tasks.  Again, you can allow access to anyone on the team, just like a Google Doc.  You could have one sheet per project, and then have all of these sheets flow into one “master” sheet for the business.  You can learn more about Google Sheets here.

There are a few benefits to this approach.  First, all of your team members know what to work on, and are aware of how it fits into the larger picture.  Second, it allows you to see delays and step in to help clear things up, if necessary.  Finally, you can plan for long-term projects more easily with this method.

Website

Your website is important for many reasons.  First, this is the primary way that potential new customers will find you, either through a search engine or a paid ad from another site.  Second, referrals from current customers will want to check out your company website before working with you.  Finally, your website gives you the chance to market directly to your target audience.

When a potential new customer lands on your website, you want the visitor to stay!  If he bounces off the page because of slow loading time or unattractive design, then you might lose a sale.  So, you should either improve these aspects of your site, or hire a professional to do it for you.  Once you can bring website visitors and make them stay longer than a few seconds, you need to provide value.

This could include helpful information related to what the company is looking for.  It could be a quick overview of what your company does, and how you can help the customer with his problem.  You could even include videos or downloadable content (e-books, reports, etc.) on your site.  As long as the content is good, all of this will build trust with website visitors.

Once you have built up trust, it is up to you to convert visitors to customers!  Have a clear call to action: ask them to send an email or call your company for more information.  You can also collect an email address in exchange for access to your downloadable content.  Even if they never visit your site again, you can still contact these prospects to win their business!

Email Automation Software

Once you have a customer list, you can start marketing to these prospects via email.  This list should include email addresses from visitors to your site, as well as current customers who might become repeat customers.  If you collect more data from prospects, you can tailor your messages more closely.  However, some people will find this intrusive, so don’t ask for too much info!

A few email marketing software solutions to consider include MailChimp, Infusionsoft, and AWeber.

Storage, Backup, Sharing

Google has good solutions for sharing files and information. As mentioned before, you can use Google Docs and Google Sheets.  There is also a way to share presentations – you can check out Google Slides here.

You can also back up and share your data with Google Cloud Storage.  Other options include DropBox and Carbonite.

It is always a good idea to have your data in more than one place, just in case you ever have an emergency.  Don’t rely on any one person’s computer, including your own, to store every important business file!

Security

As far as information security goes, there are a few measures you can take to protect the information of your business and your customers.

First, make sure that employees use VPN to connect securely to one another.  This is especially important if they are working on public Wi-Fi, such as in a cafe, bookstore, library, or coworking space.  It is also important if they are working with sensitive information, such as customer data or proprietary company secrets.

You should also make sure that your employees change passwords frequently.  Also, ask that they not share passwords with family or friends.  Any computer that they use for work should not be used by family or friends for personal reasons.

Finally, protect your customers by using a secure ecommerce solution.  This includes using a service like PayPal for processing payments.  You should also ensure that your website is https (secure, or encrypted).

You will also want to make sure that any technology issues are either anticipated and prevented, or resolved quickly.  For more information, check out my post on technical support for remote workers.

Customers

Last but not least, you need to consider your customers when moving to a fully remote business.  You need to make sure that you can still provide them with the service they expect.  Once you provide that level of service, have a way to show off the results on your website.  You should also have a way to encourage referrals from existing customers, creating a win-win situation!

Customer Service

Providing good customer service doesn’t just mean dealing with problems.  Even when things go well, you want to show customers that you appreciate them.  Send an email thanking a customer for a purchase, and include information on how to contact you with any issues or questions.

If there are problems, respond promptly to any concerns.  Follow up later to make sure the issue was resolved.  Some people will not call or email to complain if an issue goes unresolved.  Instead, they will no longer be your customer, and they will tell others to avoid your company!  So, make the extra effort to make things go smoothly.

Finally, ask your new customer to leave a review, or write a testimonial if the experience was really top-notch.  You can display these on your website as proof that your company is in business, and that your customers like what you are doing.

Referrals & Rewards

You can also ask customers to make referrals to your company.  If they have a good experience, they are more likely to do so.  If they are on the fence, you can offer an extra incentive, like a referral bonus.  This could mean a cash reward or a discount on future purchases.

The latter is probably the better long-term business strategy, because it makes the customer more likely to buy from you than from a competitor.

Conclusion

Many companies are deciding to make the leap from in-person to fully remote.  There are many aspects to consider, from preparation and personnel to technology and customers.  However, if you plan ahead for any problems, you can make the transition smoother for you, your team, and your customers.

If you have any questions, or any ideas of your own for the transition to a remote company, please leave them in the comments below.

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