5 Foundational Tips for Remote Startups

By Laura Lopez on September 20, 2018 

Founders and entrepreneurs leading a remote company face a unique set of challenges when it comes to employee engagement, business operations, and team communication. You’re creating company culture virtually, without the luxury of in-person management. With your team’s increased mobility it becomes more important to centralize and standardize your business practices and keep everyone in sync. 

Thankfully, there are many options to choose from when it comes to affordable cloud-based tools that make it easier for your remote team to collaborate, as well as a wealth of information from companies that have paved the way. If you are about to launch a remote startup or are looking for ways to improve yours now, we’ve got a few core practices that will keep you organized and your team optimized. 

  1. Don’t underestimate (virtual) face time. We’ve written about the importance of remote communication before, but it’s worth mentioning again. A simple way to strengthen rapport with your team is to replace conference calls with video conferences. It’s a great way to connect with colleagues who would prefer to put a face to a name. Start with free, easy to use tools like Zoom, Google Meet, or even Slack Calls
  2. Use the cloud. Storing data in the cloud allows you to access and analyze important information quickly, allowing you to make informed decisions more readily. Instead of creating an Excel spreadsheet that can’t be shared in real-time, leverage free cloud-based apps until you need a heftier tool, like a cloud-based Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution. Avoid the trap of investing in software that your employees don’t end up using by testing a free tool and implementing norms around use first, and by being strategic about how the tools you’ve put in place interact with one another. 
  3. Put yourself in your client’s shoes. Running a remote company has its benefits as well as its tradeoffs when it comes to your client base. I recently spoke with a customer that was turning down clients that were only able to send payment via mail (paper-based billing is still more prevalent than you think). Since relocating from the US to Europe, receiving and processing payments from abroad was taking too long, checks were occasionally lost in transit, and they were risking not making payroll. A virtual mailbox gives you access to important correspondence, such as contracts or checks, all via an online platform. You’ll have continuity in your mailing address even if you want to travel the world or set up shop in another state. Some solutions, like Earth Class Mail, even offer remote check depositing solutions, allowing you to keep clients whose billing practices might not be as cloud-friendly as yours. 
  4. Start with data. And don’t stop. Without a doubt, centralizing customer and prospect data is a must from the start of your remote-based company. Even if you’re a solopreneur, or work on a small team, begin with something as simple as a Google Sheet, a live document that’s accessible from anywhere. As you add employees, give them access to the Google Sheet and review the data you require them to capture and enter. At a minimum, start tracking your business prospects and customers. Collect relevant contact information and lead source, the product of interest or product purchased, and other data such as the time it took to close a deal, or reason why you lost a deal, to inform future decisions. When the time comes that there are too many data points to manage, move to an affordable cloud-based CRM to centralize customer and prospect data. 
  5. Standardize processes. As you add employees to your team, be sure to communicate and train each employee on the tools you have in place and your expectations on how the team will use them to collaborate. Otherwise, you can end up with disparate data and inefficient processes. Create an onboarding document or training so that you minimize the time you spend bringing new employees up to speed. And don’t think of standardization as infringing on your employee’s autonomy. You’re building consistency into your virtual workplace the way it might be more organically built if you were working in the same office. 

Remember, if you’re just getting started, use free cloud-based tools to build out your core business processes and make it a practice to have all your information living in a central repository. If you and your employees have conquered your business workflows with free cloud-based tools and feel like you’ve outgrown them, it’s time to begin looking for a more specialized solution. 

Connecting Tools for Efficiency: 3 Things You Need to Do Now

Guest post by Tara Witterholt, Chief of Staff at Elevation Solutions.  

Email, chats, video conferences, document sharing, CRMs, phone bridges—we have no shortage of tools to power our businesses. We have unlimited options for tracking work, collaborating on documents, and managing our workload. The difficulty starts when all these items are kept in disparate places, usually the place most convenient for the person who started the communications, document, or activity. The risk is people giving up on broken systems, starting yet another system for tracking or collaborating, and the time-sucking cycle repeating all over.

Our management and technology consulting firm is engaged regularly to implement software that solves productivity problems. It’s our bread and butter. However, we prefer to come in before you implement the next great productivity tool. We work to understand operational pain points and the humans around the table before we move into the cloud.

Below are some key steps you can take to figure out what productivity tools you actually need and how to maximize the ones you keep. 

1. Inventory all the tools you’re using now, including anything used for document creation and storage, workflow and project management, scheduling and invoicing, etc. Then, get real… 

Organizations large and small are lured in by tools that look fun, shiny and new. They promise to increase our productivity, make us more effective, do our laundry, and cook us dinner. And they rarely deliver. You need to examine the tools you are using and ask yourself if they’re solving the problem that drove you to adoption.

I once had a client ask me to implement a productivity tool that had a Google Drive connector, a calendar (separate from their Outlook or Google calendar), and a task assignment feature. It could be branded to their company, shared easily with their teams, and adopted at a low cost. They were beaming at the possibility of having more time for strategic work. 

They wanted to tackle the fact that projects weren’t getting done on time and they didn’t have visibility into what work people were doing. It turns out they didn’t have standard expectations for project delivery and relatively few consequences when deadlines came and went with no results. The cloud-based solution had rave reviews, but it didn’t solve their root problem: accountability. In the end, I helped them create a better system of accountability rather than throwing new software at the problem. This included agreements on deadlines, progress updates, and what happens when people don’t get their work done. The executives were happy with the increased insight and their teams were more willing to communicate progress with the new, clearer expectations.  

2. Agree as a team what you will use for project management, internal and client-facing communications, and document creation and storage, then get rid of everything else.

And stick to it! No going rogue. Agree that you won’t suggest a new or replacement tool until you all have had a chance to talk about these key things: who will use it, what the benefits are, and what problem you are trying to solve.

We recently did this with our project management tools. We had 3 different ways to track projects and what we used differed by the client. At a strategy session (in the mountains, because, hey, it’s Colorado) we committed to using Trello to track progress on our implementation projects. We can assign tasks and provide access to internal and external users. Clients can see exactly what work is happening in real-time, as well as where we need their input.  Now, when we have questions about status and progress, we have one source of truth. It’s been a game-changer.

3. When you figure out which tools to keep, make sure they talk to each other.

Just like you encourage your team to collaborate, ensure your productivity tools are talking to each other! Our team has recently implemented an email connector that works with our Salesforce instance. We can set up meetings easily by sending suggested appointment times from our Google calendar, and the recipient can choose what works for them. We have also connected our project management tool to Google Drive, Slack, and our billing and project time-tracking software. When needed, our productivity tools enter information automatically into Salesforce. No more searching and wondering—it’s all in one place.

The above suggestions take time to work through. You have to get the team together, ask tough questions, and find out what people are really using and how it’s working, including what’s most effective for your clients. But rest assured, the amount of time you will get back when you finish these steps is worth it. And if you do decide to try something new, we can help you implement what you truly need with style!

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Tara Witterholt is Chief of Staff with Elevation Solutions, a rapidly growing management and IT consulting firm with clients and employees in every time zone. With over 15 years of project management experience, Tara works tirelessly to streamline processes and help people focus and be productive. She lives in Denver, Colorado, has a college-aged daughter, a cyclist husband and a very lazy but adorable cat. 

Check out their Business Impact Story to learn how Elevation Solutions leverages Earth Class Mail to streamline their back office.