Behind The Scenes - Growing a Remote Business Successfully
As more and more agencies are moving towards a remote based set-up, we wanted to share how we organize internally and shed some light and tips if you are just starting your own design business or if you have an existing business you would like to shift to a working remotely. No longer are the days like Mad Men where people would gather and schmooze in a boardroom, wasting time, money and booze, we are a generation of efficiency, and technology has enabled us to grow this way.
First, a quick little history on where we were and how we came to be:
2 years ago, Studio Linear had a brick and mortar location, a cool studio that housed some creatives and was a great spot to have after-hours networking functions and events. Owner Andrea Beaulieu was expecting their second child which expedited an idea that had already been in the back of her mind, can you run a design agency remotely? What would that look like? How would we hold meetings, stay organized and set schedules? She had read the book Company Of One by Paul Jarvis and that book is what helped shed some light on the real possibility that it could be an option. In a world where we are told scaling up and becoming bigger means a business is successfully growing, it is hard to consider stepping back and downsizing especially when the business is the sole source of income for Andrea’s family. It was a decision not taken lightly with many things to consider yet would mean Andrea could be at home with her family, not missing those amazing milestones reached by their new daughter, London. It meant not missing an afternoon baseball game that her son it his first double. Making the decision to work remotely not only has helped Studio Linear to grow beyond what the company was earning in the brick and mortar location, it has allowed for a better quality of life and a happier team that works at our agency.
At the time that Studio Linear was closing it’s doors to the physical location, Andrea’s sister Sara had just joined forces and became co-owner of the company. This was perfect timing and was the beginning of a remotely run business. Sara is based in Minneapolis, Andrea is based in Maine. The rest of our team is spread out over the US and also in Serbia and India. Does this pose any challenges in communication and business development, not at all. See, we are a generation of all sorts of cool gadgets from apps to help us exercise better, apps to help us keep track of how much we sleep to apps to buy and sell cryptocurrency, so as you can imagine, we turned to apps to become more efficient behind the scenes, even if we are all in different time zones.
So what do we use to organize our team? We use a combination of apps and tools. First, we use Wrike to track our projects. We have set up a color coded way of visually seeing what stage all projects are in along with being assigned tasks such as sending off contracts or scheduling a training video. Our Wrike dashboard is a quick and efficient way for us to visually see all of our “In Progress” projects along with ones we have finished up.
In addition to Wrike, we use Slack as our main communication app for internal conversations and notes. We have channels set up for our incoming leads, quarterly goals and general messaging that we need a quick answer to. We also use Google Chat though Slack is our preferred way of messaging.
Google Suite is the backbone of our business. We use Google Drive for our quotes, contracts, pitch decks, Sheets for bookkeeping and cloud storage. We use Google hangouts for video conferencing and screenshares. We use Google Adwords for advertising and Analytics to track our SEO. We use Google Calendar to book our meetings with clients and To-Do list along with Keep to layout our daily tasks.
Speaking of screenshares, this is a great way to connect your team where we all work remotely but also, this is how we connect with our clients. We have a lot of clients around the US, having a screenshare is a great way to show a project and all provide feedback in realtime. For our international clients, we use WhatsApp as our preferred chat and messaging platform. We have tried out a few different video conferencing platforms from Uberconferrence to Zoom but we prefer Google as it is connected to our calendars.
Here are a few other apps we use from day to day at Studio Linear:
Spotify for music, Alexa to set timers and reminders, Adobe Apps for designing such as Photoshop and Illustrator, Quickbooks App for bookkeeping, and we use Instagram and Behance to post our portfolio to gain more clients.
Tools we use to work remotely:
Because we do a lot of video conferencing, we invested in a decent webcam, the Logi Tech HD Pro. Having great audio for recording website tutorial videos was important as well, we use the this clip on mic. Fo video conferencing and recording podcasts, we use this headset by Logi Tech. For sketching, we use this tablet by Wacom and we use this backlit pad by AGPTEX.
Knowing When To Delegate
Working remotely means you need to organize your team more efficiently. Because you are not all in an office where you can monitor projects and your team, you have to rely on other ways to stay on track. For us, we realized as we were growing that it was essential for us to hire a virtual assistant. Sarah helps us with inquiries, project management, SEO and our Adwords Campaigns. We were juggling all of these things in addition to our work load and realized quickly, it was time to hire. Since hiring, we have streamlined our process and are able to work more efficiently without having to take breaks to check on new leads etc.
The team behind Studio Linear are all freelancers. We do not have employees and we like it that way. As our business grows and evolves, so does our work and we need designers who can fill roles as they come in. Have a team of talented freelancers means we can work our own hours and work from project to project as opposed to having employees that we need to make sure we have work for, we do not want that stress.
Working remotely has some challenges though but not the same stressful ones as having an office, employees and that overhead. The biggest challenge we have found is separating home life from work. When you are in the middle of designing a website and you can hear your baby crying in the other room, that is tough to block out. It takes time to learn how to condition yourself and your family to understand that during the day, you are in work mode. At night, you will most likely continue to get many emails and notifications, it is hard to shut those off and focus your time somewhere else after hours. It is so easy to check an email here or hop on your laptop late at night to update something quickly for a client but it is crucial to learn how to shut it off and tune it out to avoid burnout.
The Digital Nomad
A great perk of running a business remotely is that you can travel, move and explore, all while your business continues to function and operate just as it was. Personally for me and my family, we move often and do like to travel. When we look at places to explore, the one thing we inquire about is the internet. We obviously need great internet to be able to run the business. We do have mobile hotspots that work very well and work in a bind. Having laptops and portable tablets like a Wacom tablet make designing on the fly an piece of cake. When Studio Linear first started out, we were living in Maryland. Then we moved to a town in Maine and then, moved again and plan on moving this summer. All these moves meant one great thing, no interruption in the flow of work. Because we are not confined to an office, taking your work with you is a real possibility and has its advantages, you are constantly inspired by new surrounds and you also need to be self disciplined and adapt to new situations constantly. Running a business this way isn’t for everyone but we love that the world is our office and love that freedom!
As you can see, running a business remotely is not as challenging as it may seem and can make your quality of life that much more rewarding. There are days that working from home are a challenge, most cities now have co-working spaces. This is a great way to get out, mingle and meet clients if you do not have an attached office at your home. Co-Working spaces have daily passes and monthly memberships and often have many perks to take advantage of.
One last note about the benefits of running a design agency remotely, bartering. Yes, it is something we offer and has allowed us to take advantage of some incredible opportunities we wouldn’t normally have had the option to do. Have a destination in mind and their branding and website could use a complete overhaul, reach out to them! Let them know your skill set and that you would love to barter with them for services. It is a fun way to provide a business with your talent and also, being able to explore their business and enjoy what they have to offer!