In this episode:
01:31 – A peek inside SuperFastBusiness
01:45 – Should you have full or part-time contractors?
08:26 – The structure of the SEO division
10:12 – Communication setup and tools
14:12 – The hiring process
16:00 – Thinking about hiring in the Philippines?
19:06 – Team management challenges and solutions
20:14 – Start with THIS to build your team
21:39 – When you have natural attrition
23:25 – Salary talk
24:31 – Some management tips
31:05 – How to be a great employer
34:15 – 3 T’s for ineffective employees
35:01 – Employment as apprenticeship
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James Schramko here, welcome back to SuperFastBusiness.com. This episode is going into how to build an effective remote workforce. I have a lot of conversations both in SuperFastBusiness and in SilverCircle, my two membership communities where I help business owners with their business. And one of the things that inevitably comes up as you scale from a solopreneur, where it’s just you, into a real business is to build a team.
I know there’s a lot of talk about personal branding and being a solopreneur, but really, let’s face it. The goal should be to build a business, and that business should to some extent, work without you. You only have 180 hours per month, or a few hundred hours per month to dedicate to your business. So at some point, if you want to grow, you’re going to need a team.
Now that team might be in-house or it might be from contractors. So I’m going to give you a little bit of an overview of how SuperFastBusiness is structured, and I’m going to give you some of the tips that I’ve picked up along that way that might help you in the process of building your team. I encourage comments regarding this particular episode, both at the blog, SuperFastBusiness.com, and also inside SuperFastBusiness membership.
An overview of SuperFastBusiness
So SuperFastBusiness has currently around 43 full-time Filipino members and about four part-time contractors. Let’s start with the part-time contractors first, and I’ll explain why I chose to go outside for that.
One of the contractors is a Facebook advertising expert. I have very, very minor needs for Facebook advertising, so I get the help from a guy called Lenny. He’s really good. He helps me set up some remarketing campaigns when I run a live event and some specific campaigns from time to time for me and some of my family members. So it’s the kind of skill set that we don’t have in-house, but I want to find a specialist.
Something like Facebook or Google Adwords, you really should not be trying to do it yourself because unless you are a worldwide expert, you are going to pay too much, and you’re going to set things up incorrectly, you might even have your account shut down. So I do suggest you get a specialist.
For technology, I do have a contractor, Dave Wooding, who is a real genius at APIs and integrating anything. He’s the guy who sets up my forums and makes things talk to each other. Again, it’s not a skill set that we specialize in serving others with so it’s not something we have in-house. So when it comes to setting up an integration or updating forum software, etc., it’s easier to have Dave look after that, who has a team, and standard operating procedures, and I’ve worked with for almost my entire time online. You have to have someone you can trust when it comes to the high-level tech stuff, and Dave is that guy.
I also have help from a local guy, part-time, who helps me forum moderate. He compiles interesting topics for me to send in each week’s news update. He keeps an eye on things and makes sure that no one is out of control, or will give me a nudge if I need to be more participative or I need to put my attention somewhere. So it’s good to have a second pair of eyes looking after your community when you have such an invested part of your business, and that’s what Ken does. Ken also helps me with my live events each year. He’s a pretty tough guy so he’s there doing bouncing at the door and checking that people have the right to access the facility. He’s a good guy and great to have on board. He also facilitates local meetups. So I can’t have someone in the Philippines do that.
The fourth function is high-level design. I’ve always had help from high-level designers like James Dyson and lately, Greg Merrilees. These people are design gods, they really know their design. It’s something that is harder to hire for. We definitely have designers in our business, but I would say that they specialize more in their WordPress designs and infographics and illustrating cartoons. Really high-end designers are going to take a full brief, and they’re going to understand your entire brand. They’ll be able to work on any piece of collateral, whether it’s a T-shirt, a business card, or a merchandise gift or a PSD file for you to convert into a website.
So a lot of our SuperFastBusiness stuff is done in-house. Our own website’s designed in-house. But specialist stuff like SilverCircle, I’ll have a hand designing that. Guys like Greg are more than happy to do it because he’s a very happy customer of SilverCircle, and he really understands what it’s all about.
So back to the team, there’s 43 people in the Philippines. The team structure, some of the things I’ve learned; that it’s good to keep your groups down to a maximum of three people. We call them pods. So we have two members who are actively working in the team and one team lead who reports to a manager. The team lead is also able to do any of the roles in that little pod. The good thing about small groups of three is that if someone doesn’t show up or they’re not available for any period of time beyond a day or two, you really start to notice it.
It’s harder to build inefficiencies into small groups like that because everyone’s doing their share and they know what needs to be done. But also they’re cross-trained, and everyone in that pod can do every role. So that two people doing the work can interchange, the manager or the team lead can interchange with those people in the pod, and the people in the pod can take on team leadership, and that’s how you find your leaders over time.
The manager who handles the department will report directly to me, so there’s a department manager for each part of our group. So as it stands at the moment, we have a manager who’s in charge of bookkeeping, finance, payroll and HR stuff. There’s a manager who looks after the affiliate division, who updates reviews, does shopping cart, updates, and integrations, and membership add-ons and PDFs and looks after the membership side of things.
There’s a website development business division manager who looks after our team of coders. There’s a support manager who looks after all of our tickets in support @ superfastbusiness.com. There’s an SEO manager who looks after our biggest team, and I’ll break that down into smaller groups in a minute. There’s also a webmaster full-time just for SuperFastBusiness.com who looks after the website, all of the tagging, the analytics, the site speed optimization, the new themes that we put out for SuperFastBusiness are always being developed in advance. And a publishing manager who looks after the content, who actually listens to my podcast, curates information into bite-sized pieces for me to come along and make a show like this, and then we’ll manage it to be illustrated and published to our website.
There’s also a VA who is in charge of our content team who will actually coordinate our designer and our podcast editor, video editor. We have a little team of publishers I guess, in that side of the business. The VA will follow me up if I specifically ask her to chase me down for things like event follow-ups, etc. She’ll remind me to do things. She’s got full permission to be an extension of me with any of the other managers. She plays a role kind of like Switzerland where she has to be quite neutral and people understand when she’s asking for things that they’re pretty much dealing with me by default.
Our SEO division
So let’s break down the SEO division because it’s the largest one and just have a look at how that’s structured. There’s a research and development team in there because they always have to know what’s happening with links, and algorithms and updates because Google don’t publish their algorithm. We have to always understand what the impacts and implications are for search engine optimization.
There’s a content team of writers and editors who will research, write and edit fantastic content especially in the written form, which says a lot of with search engine optimization. But there’s also videos and there’s also infographics. So we have illustrators and video editors.
We have the content syndication team. Now in the old days, this team would have been called link builders. But these are people who specialize in knowing where to put the content, and how to structure the anchor text, how to write unique descriptions, which platforms require which layout, etc., and getting the optimized syndication of that good content.
And then there’s team leaders within there who are reporting back to the manager. That team has a couple of dozen people. So they almost take up half of our business, but it is also a substantial revenue generator, and it’s one of the longest term services we’ve had, and it’s highly successful.
You don’t often hear me talking about the SEO division, but it’s such a stable solid business. We pretty much provide search engine optimization services for a lot of agencies who are then selling it to end customers. So we’re a wholesale vendor in the marketplace. For that reason, we don’t really have salespeople. We can manage everything via our support tickets.
Let’s talk about how our team is setup for communication and what sort of tools were used because I get asked this one a lot. Of course, we’re using Slack in-house to manage our team. We split it up into some various channels and divisions. We’ve got a fun room where people can communicate and post fun links to things, memes and videos and stuff. It’s kind of like the water cooler discussion. There’s a support group where we can handle tickets between the support managers. If a customer asks for something that we haven’t seen before, that’s where it can be posted and then whoever knows the answer can answer it, and then it can be updated in our customer facing ticket system.
There’s a manager’s group of course, where we can coordinate weekly manager’s meetings, talk about things that implicate the entire business. So if I’m going to change something on the website, I’ll let everyone one the manager’s group know so that they can brief their teams.
There is a publishing group where we’ve got all of the updates. When we put a podcast like this out, I would post it into Dropbox and then let this publishing group know, and they’ll set about editing, adding an intro and outro, formatting it for iTunes, loading it to Amazon S3, putting it into our blog post, having it transcribed, having it illustrated, proofing it, editing it, and then publishing it. This will happen there.
There’s an approval group where they’ll post something before it goes live, and then I have a right to edit the information prior to it being published. If it gets published and I want to change something, I’ll still would just post it in the approval group. So you can have things going in there on a delay system. Kind of like a radio delay where they try and beep out swear words. This one is just to catch anything we don’t think is appropriate to publish or that we want to modify. And if there’s no amendments, it just gets published. This way, it’s vital because we’re removing the bottleneck of the business, which was me. Now it’s going to go out there regardless if I reply or not. It’s just that I do have the option to change it. So I highly recommend this system for anyone who is finding themselves the bottleneck in their own publishing situation.
Individual messages of course make up 70-something percent of our Slack communications. This is how younger generations and especially the Filipino team communicate via messages. Now using Slack means we don’t have to use Skype. It also means that we don’t have to use email to run the business. Slack is very powerful. I highly recommend it. We have done a review on it.
We also use Google docs or Google business apps for our business. That’s where we put all of the documents. So if I’m going to record a podcast like this, my publishing manager will actually put a document in Google docs and send me or share it with me and then tell me in Slack that it’s there. I’ll click on it and it will all be there. You can share documents in between people within the company, both individually and as groups. They also run spreadsheets where they can track search engine optimization jobs and they can also track website customers, all from Google docs. We no longer use anything like Podio, BaseCamp, Trello, TeamWork, any number of the other dozens of systems that people talk about. We don’t use any of those anymore. Just Google docs and Slack manage our business.
In terms of customer facing, we use Zendesk. There are more personalized solutions out there like HelpScout; however, what we found is with the type of business we have where customers have multiple tickets open at once because they’re wholesale buyers, we need something with an online portal. So Zendesk has been very good for that, and that’s our customer facing support desk. That is easy for our customers to use and it’s easy for us to manage virtually and from our device.
In terms of hiring, this is a question I get asked a lot. Where do we get people from? I’m sorry to say we don’t use job boards. We’ve never used Elance, or oDesk, or Craigslist or Jobstreet. What we have done is use word of mouth. I was very fortunate in the very beginning to have a friend who had a team in the Philippines. He actually arranged for two people to hop on Skype and for me to talk to them and I could pick one. From that first person, we built out the rest of the team via word of mouth. We simply brief down the type of person we’re looking for, and we put up a referral bonus, which is U.S.$100 payable after 30 days of someone starting with us.
We also hire based on attitude and then we’ll train them for the skill. We don’t necessarily need people who can already do the job that we need. We’d rather have someone with a good attitude and train them for a lot of the roles that we have. Now there are some exceptions. We’ve hired very good website developers from universities who had website development teachers. We’ve hired very good article writers from English teaching schools. We have hired fantastic graphic designers who already had the skill. You can’t really teach someone how to do that as easily. So we do hire skills from time to time. But in the beginning, we hire attitude and trained.
We are happy to invest time and energy into training people, which means that we have more loyalty. We can usually start people on a slightly low rate, and we can grow them into the role, and they stick around. The main requirements we have for hiring are that our employee will have a reliable internet connection, decent hardware and good English. If you can have those things, then there’s a lot that can be done.
Why hire from the Philippines?
For one thing, Filipinos are very family-oriented. They’re a very religious-based culture, very strong Catholic. There are also some Muslim sectors as well. But very traditional Catholic upbringing in many households, especially more up North. They’ve got a very strong pride. Some of that Asian face that we hear about. They’ll also sincerely recommend someone who’s good for the role. They’ll genuinely care if that person is good or not because of their pride. So they’re not just doing it for the hundred dollars. They’re doing it because they want someone to have an opportunity, and they want someone to go well.
So what we found, it’s actually been quite good to hire husband-and-wife teams, and sisters, and relatives, and brothers, and fathers, and uncles. The family network is very strong. They’re such a family-oriented culture. Many of them live in the same household. What you’ll find is if you have husband-and-wife team whose prime job is working for your business, they’re going to be so loyal. It’s also easier to communicate between them.
And here’s why the Filipinos are great choice for Australian employers, they really can do just about anything that can be done with a computer. You’ll find that big companies like Telstra in Australia are using Philippine workforce teams. So it really is quite accepted by your customers. The labor rate is substantially lower. You’re going to find that you’ll be able to hire people in the Philippines anywhere from $400 US per month up to around a thousand dollars US per month, depending if they’re more entry level or more managerial. These are just sort of guidelines. They’re going to have great English, it’s about the fourth or fifth most English-speaking country in the world. There’s a lot of English speaking Filipinos, far more than Australians, just quietly, and not far behind the U.K. itself.