BizSugar Community Roundtable: Virtual Teams Key to Long-term Business Success


One of the key findings of the recent survey undertaken by the BizSugar mastermind community was that many small businesses focus heavily on DIY for things that have to get done outside of their area of expertise.

Not only does that cost you precious time, a lack of expertise may cost you even in more in the long run.

That’s why the BizSugar advisory board, along with a few members experienced in building virtual teams, recently got together for a LinkedIn Live discussion to share tips, tricks and hacks for putting together successful virtual teams to get things done for your business. Participating in the discussion are:

  • Anita Campbell, Small Business Trends
  • David Elkins, Zoho
  • Ivana Taylor, DIYMarketers
  • Monique Johnson, Live Video Labs
  • Gail Gardner, GrowMap
  • Martin Lindeskog, EGO Netcast Podcast host
  • John Lawson, ColderIce Media


BizSugar Roundtable – Virtual Teams and Business Success

We covered a lot of ground in the hour long group conversation, from how to decide when to bring on virtual help, to tips for hiring virtual assistants, to what apps and sites to use to manage virtual workers. Below is an edited transcript from a portion of the conversation. Click on the embedded SoundCloud player below to hear the full conversation.

Determining the Right Time to DIY, Automate and/or Bring on Virtual Assistants

Anita Campbell: I’m a big believer in doing everything. I’m a big believer in automating where you can, first of all, because it’s almost always going to be cheaper and you’re going to get more what I would call data that you can use. If you automate, use software for as much as you can.

However, there are things that you just can’t automate and you shouldn’t automate, definitely should not. I mean, we were just talking in our team meeting earlier about the need to have personality, to bring personality into your business, and I think that’s important for any small business. You’ve got to give people something to remember your business by. And personality, whether it’s the people involved with personality or your brand or whatever it is, that all matters. And that all comes from people. And today, you can get so much of that by people working remotely and virtually.

One of the things that I’ve done is I’ve assembled a team really by people self-selecting, and what I mean by that is people who became interested in us and then they became on the team. You know, it’s not necessarily that I went out and I recruited someone, but if I look at all the people on this call today, these are all people who just somehow became interested in us. I’ve known Martin since I started online, and that’s because Martin came and visited my site, and he started commenting and I got to know him. And it’s been 17 years now, all the way from Stockholm, Sweden. I’m sorry, Gothenburg, not Stockholm. Gothenburg. I’ve never met him in person, but I feel like I know him. So I do feel it’s really important to use every advantage that you can and that’s a combination of things.

Ivana Taylor: If you’ve read the book, The E-Myth… If you have it, pick it up and read it again, because Michael Gerber gives some excellent tips on outsourcing. So the first tip is that you’ve got to document your processes. Do you know what I did? I just sat down, and for about 30 days, I used the tool, and I kept a time log to keep track of what I did and how long it took to do this thing.

Then, once you’ve done that, you’re starting to notice patterns, you’ll see that there are financial things that you’re doing like invoicing and stuff like that. Then there were physical things I was doing such as writing an article, so there was research involved. There are all these different steps of things that you’re doing. You’re not going to know what you’re doing until you document it and get a real picture of what’s happening.

This is the best tip ever from The E-Myth, once you’ve got your long list of tasks already done, pick out the ones that only you can do. This kind of hearkens back to what Anita said, which is the personality. I can outsource a lot of things. And I know, don’t be fooled, DIY Marketers. There are things you absolutely do need to outsource, and then there are things you absolutely cannot outsource.

Then if you’ve done those tasks, now you can start grouping them. These are financial things, these are marketing things, these are social media things. You know what I’m saying? And so, people always wonder how I do so much with so little, and that is the secret. Pick up The E-Myth.

David Elkins: Yeah, Ivana made me think a little bit about the early stages of my team. I run a team of at this point 12 editors who work with our product teams in Chennai, India. That’s where all of Zoho’s products are built and all of our marketers are located. And so my team is sort of a localized team for the US helping to support those marketing efforts.

And I was thinking about in the beginning, when we were first starting to set up this process, of how we have 45 different products, each product has between three and 15 marketers, that’s hundreds of people involved in these sorts of things. And I remembered an early struggle that we had, which was the amount of mental bandwidth that was taken up by not having things automated, by trying to manage everything in our own heads, by trying to make sure that every T got crossed, every I got dotted. That really ate up a ton of bandwidth.

And I think that’s something that’s true for any managerial position, but when you shift to remote, it means that you have to do so much of that stuff internal to your own mind instead of being able to say,” Hey, can you take care of this? Can you take a look at this?”

So what we did is we built a custom app to help manage that process, depending on the complexity of what you’re doing. I mean, in some cases, you can find solutions and tools that will work out of the box. In some cases, depending on how complex your systems are, how complex your processes are. Sometimes putting together something that’s fully tailored to exactly what you’re doing can be a huge lifesaver.

My team, probably we’ve edited, I think the last count was about 5 million words of content. And if I were trying to do that how we did it in the beginning, which was someone would send me an email and then I’d write down on a yellow, legal pad, “Oh, remember to edit this document,” I would have lost my mind.

So I think that that’s a big, sort of building off of what Ivana was saying, that idea of take a look at the things that are eating up a lot of your time, and also eating up a lot of your mental energy. Because sometimes these little things, like keeping track of all of the requests that come in, that’s not going to take a ton of time, but it will take a ton of energy. And I think energy is also an important resource to conserve on your team.

Monique Johnson: I would like to also jump in here real quick, Brent. I love that book, Ivana, so I’m so glad you brought that up. And even just building off of what you said and David said, because there are some people out there who might be listening to this or watching us and saying, “Oh man, I’ve got to do a lot of typing and a lot of writing.”

Well, you guys know I’m the video person, and in today’s world with the tools and everything, don’t make it so hard on yourself to document your process. There’s different tools out there from Loom to Up! Free to Paid where you can just screen share what are the things that you’re doing and creating what Ivana was saying, SOPs, standard operating procedures. So that when it’s time for you to hire or outsource to build this virtual team, it’s not like you bring someone on and it’s like, “Oh, what do I tell them?” Or, “Go read this document.”

A lot of times video, especially if they’re small and succinct, and people are very much visual learners as well, have the written documentation like David said, but I would also say take the video and even have it transcribed. And if you have to update a new video for any updates, you re-transcribe it. But having both helps with tackling different modalities that we have. I think that helps a lot when it comes to building a virtual team.

Finding the Right Virtual Assistants for How You Work

John Lawson: Okay, so most of my virtuals, I hired from the Philippines, and I used OnlineJobs.ph. All right? OnlineJobs.ph versus any of the other ones. I’ve tried other ones, but when it came to actually adding full team members, I found that one to be the best.

One of the things that I do, and I’d suggest everybody do, is that I hide codes inside of my text for the ad for the worker. So what I mean by that is that if I’m looking for a worker, I’ll say, “This is Job #75124,” but I’ll put that at the very end. You have to say job #75124 in your response, and that way I’ll know if they read it or not. Because so many workers like that, whether they’re in five or any other place, they’ll bid on your job, but they’re bidding on everybody’s job and they won’t read the description at all. So if you hide little things like that in, that’s one of the key things that I do.

The other one, this is a big key thing, because like I said, I’m hiring people for my team. These are people I want to depend on. And so I ask one question during the interview, I say, “Where do you see yourself in the next three to five years?” And I ask that question. If they answer to that question, “Well, I see myself being a doctor or a dentist after I finish my school,” I’m not hiring your ass. That’s not who I want. If you answer to me, “I can see me being a team lead and helping you grow your business,” that’s the person I want. So I will see little things like that to really see the intention of the people.

And another thing is if you’re hiring these workers, I just think it’s better to hire a full-time worker than a part-time worker, especially when you’re talking about the Philippines where you’re paying them literally 20%, even 10% of what you would pay a US worker, why not? If you’ve got them, if you’re paying 10% of them, why put them on part time? Put them on full time so they have your… I don’t want people moonlighting. I don’t want people working for two and three clients. You work for me, you work with me. I need your full attention.

Brent Leary: I’ll give you one. I do a lot of transcriptions and Rev is great for me. They can turn around a 15-minute transcription in two hours or less, and it’s really well done. And that’s part of being virtual too. I don’t know the person who’s doing it, I just put my request in and they do the matching of the person who would be the best fit for doing this job, and they handle all of that stuff. So that’s part of, I consider Rev be a virtual team, even if it’s not an individual person. It helps me to get my stuff done.

David Elkins: Honestly, for me, one thing about building a virtual team is if it’s going to be a full-time team where you’re really expecting it to be a very cohesive environment of people, this may not a very satisfying answer, but I find personal recommendation to be really important when building a virtual team. If I’m hiring somebody locally, I know I’m going to be able to sit down with that person, we’re going to build a rapport. There’s going to be trust that’ll build over time.

But when you’re switching to a fully virtual process, especially one that isn’t easy to set clear metrics and benchmarks where it’s like, “I need you to transcribe 5,000 words a day.” That’s easy to measure. Things that are harder to measure, I really feel that that personal connection is important because having a little bit of that rapport, having a little bit of sort of social consequence if that person ends up being flaky or not really stepping up to the job.

I do think that for those permanent teams that you’re building, pulling from social networks, your personal social networks, is really helpful for me. The most successful remote hires that I’ve done have come in through that source.

Anita Campbell: You know, we use our website, so we’ve recruited a lot of freelance writers just by having a link in the footer. It says, “Looking for writers.” You attach it to a form and then have people fill out the form, just ask them a few bits of information, and you can screen people that way. That has worked out really well for us.

Another thing then that we’ve done is we’ve tapped into our existing freelancers also, so if you get one person working with you, you can tap into them. For example, we had someone from Ethiopia who wrote for us for a number of years, and we talked with him and he said, “Yeah, I know several people and I’d love to get them involved.” And he actually recruited other people locally for us to help write, and to do some SEO work and so on. So that worked out really, really well.

Managing Virtual Team Members with Project Management Software

Gail Gardner: Yeah, well, I’ve been working online entirely for over 20 years, and I do work with people in a dozen countries or so, and I’ve had VAs in the Philippines and in India. And the best way I find people is I find one good one, and then they get me other people. Because in those two countries, there are big companies who hire a bunch of people, train them up on a particular skill, and then when their contract with whomever is up, let them all go at the same time. And so it’s pretty easy for you to get one and then have them let you know, “Oh, their contract is going to be up at X time. How many do you want?” And pick them up that way.

And so that’s how I find the people, but the best way for me is they have to communicate the way I communicate. So in my case, I don’t like email. I have so much email it makes my head explode. So they have to use Skype. All my people that I work with, all my collaborators and all of my clients even, and all my VAs, they all use Skype so that I can message them and expect a live response within a reasonable amount of time. Whereas I feel like you email somebody, it drops into a bucket somewhere, and who knows if they’ll ever see it.

So that’s for me, and I also use project management systems. I use Trello, I use Zoho Connect, I use Wrike for different things. Different people and different groups are in different project management systems. And I love project management systems. If you’ve never done one, pick Trello first. It’s free. It’s very visual. You can get your processes very structured and you can make checklists. Like when I get a new person, I have a very detailed checklist. And everything they do, I’ll say, “Okay, start this one. Here’s your checklist. I want you to check it off as you do it.” Then go to the next one. Same checklist is in there, check that off as you do it.

So I know that they are really doing what I’m asking them to do, because if they check it off and I go check and they didn’t really do it, then I know that we’re going to have a come-to-Jesus moment, and they’re going to either learn to do it the way I ask. That’s a problem you’ll run into. They will just decide to stop doing it the way you’ve asked and do it some other way, so you can’t really just delegate and forget.

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This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.






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