Welcome to the Agency Management Institute Community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money and keep more of what you make. The Build to Better Agency podcast presented by White label IQ is packed with insights on how small to midsize agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McClellan.
Hey, everybody, Drew McClellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome back for another episode of Build a Better Agency. We are going to have a great conversation today about remote workers and how to make that work. How to find them, how to retain them, how to look at them a little differently than I think we have been doing in this new era of remote work and so, I’m looking forward to that.
Before we get into that conversation, before I tell you a little bit about our guest, I would like very much to remind you that we’ve got some amazing workshops coming up in January. So, in January, we have two back-to-back workshops. One is on a Thursday, Friday, and then the next one is the following week on a Tuesday, Wednesday. So, the Thursday, Friday is January 19th and 20th and the workshop is Build and Nurture Your Agency Sales Funnel. What I love about this workshop is it is based on the book that Stephen Woessner and I wrote, Sell With Authority.
We are going to walk you through how to and literally, walk you through and make you do the work of building out your agency’s sales and marketing plan. You are going to leave knowing exactly what you should do, when you’re going to do it, how you’re going to do it, who’s going to help from the agency if you have to hire folks to help. You’re going to have it all figured out because we know we could just teach you how to do it. But if we just taught you how to do it and then we sent you out back on your own to the office, you would never actually make the time to do it, so we’re actually going to do it in the workshop.
So, we’ve taught this for the last, I don’t know, three or four years and continues to get rave reviews and I will tell you the agencies that implement what they develop during this workshop are crushing it. They are absolutely crushing sales. They have more opportunities, more right fit clients, more profitable clients, so the ROI of this workshop is exponential. And so, we would love to invite you to join us.
And then the following week, we have a brand new workshop from our friends at Mercer Island Group. They, as you know, are the agency search firms, so they see hundreds of agencies pitch and present every year and they know what we do right and what we do wrong. And so, so many of you are struggling with, and you’re frustrated because you write proposals and you don’t move on to the next step or you don’t get the client to accept your proposal. And so, we’re going to spend two days with Mercer Island Group just focused on how to get the written proposal right. Whether it’s a more informal proposal like a referral just asked you for a proposal or it’s the very formal RFI, RFP where you’re following a certain formula, because it’s how it’s been prescribed to you. We’re going to talk about case studies. We’re going to talk about cover letters. We’re going to talk about all the elements that go into a written proposal and how you can get better at it. Increase your win rate. That one is January 24th and 25th.
Both of these workshops are in Orlando, on Disney property. We’re actually the contemporary this time. We’ve never held a workshop there, so I’m excited about that. For those of you that have been to Disney World before, you know that that’s one of the hotels that’s right on the Monorail, so you literally hop on a Monorail and ride right into the magic kingdom, so there’s nothing wrong with that. But anyway, both of these workshops are on the website. Head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com under the “How We Help” tab. Scroll down and you’ll find workshops and you will see both of them there. All right?
Okay, so let me tell you a little bit about our guests. So, Noel Andrews is from Great Britain and he has a company that helps agencies find remote workers, typically in other parts of the world. They do a lot of work at Eastern Europe and other places. I think because one of the reasons why Eastern Europe is such a big market for them is most of the folks that live there speak Great English. And also, because the time zones work, so that you can actually talk to each other in real time.
But we’re not going to talk about that specifically today. What we’re going to talk about is how do you build a remote workforce that is really sticky. How do you make people, whether they are halfway across the country or halfway across the world, feel like a part of the team. How do you approach that employment, even though they probably technically are not employees, but how do you approach that employment for the long term rather than the short term? One of the things I think that we do when we hire people, especially if we hire them from another part of the world is we think of them as somebody we hire to do a specific task and we think of it in the very short term.
And what Noel is going to talk about is again, whether that remote worker, which for many of you is the case today, is just four hours away by a plane ride, but they’re still in your same country or they are actually halfway across the globe. How do you create one integrated team that is effective and works well together? So, I’m super excited about this conversation because I think it’s super relevant for today’s reality that most of us are in. So, why don’t you settle in and let’s jump into it.
Noel, welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us.
Hey, Drew. Great to be here. Thanks, man.
So, talk to us a little bit about the work you do. Before I get into asking you all the questions, just tell everybody how you come to know all the things we’re about to talk about.
Yeah, sure. So, first of all, I spent 15 years in the corporate world, variety of tech roles, leading, hiring, building large teams. And then always pretty entrepreneurial by nature from a childhood spent washing cars, mowing lawns, even washed a few planes as well, small ones and it was always entrepreneurial. And so, I did spent a year or so trying to build an interview coaching business, so when candidates are applying for jobs, they’ve never actually been taught how to interview. So, there was a need there, but couldn’t quite scale that. And then had an opportunity to actually buy JobRack.
JobRack is a site that I now own that’s focused on helping agency owners and online business owners hire remote, really great remote team members from Eastern Europe. And so, jumped into that in 2018 and yeah, it’s been an exciting four years. So, it’s that corporate background and then coupled with lots and lots of time with entrepreneurs, with business owners. Small to medium size business owners where giving lots of help and guidance around the challenge that is hiring because hiring’s hard, right?
Yeah. Right, especially when you’re not looking at each other, you’re not in the same city. All right, so you’ve been doing this guiding people, agency folks in remote hiring for the last four or five years. What surprises you the most about all of that?
I think it surprised me probably the most is that it doesn’t matter, like what else is going on in the world. So, in the last four or five years, we’ve gone through a pandemic. We are going through some interesting economic times. There’s all kinds of things going on in the world, but actually, a lot of the things stay the same. And that for me, especially with agency owners, is they’re always under the same pressures. Right?
So, hiring good people, there’s always that big pressure and the surprise has been for me two things. One is how rarely agency owners have been able to get out of this cycle of having to wait until they’re at like 100% or 120% of capacity before hiring. And then the other one is what huge difference it makes when we are able to help them get out of that cycle. And just how much better it is for agency’s clients, for the teams when you can just get ahead and even to get into hiring at maybe like 80% of capacity, the difference is huge.
Well, and for you, part of the reason, so as you know the margins and agencies are what they are. So, a lot of agencies just don’t have the financial capacity to hire someone until they desperately need them. And then by the time they start looking, they desperately need them and they start looking, it takes them a while to especially right now, takes them a while to find them. And so, by the time they find a breathing candidate, they’re all over them because they’re way past the need. But if I understand it right, one of the reasons why you can help your clients hire before they get to that point of desperation is because your candidates are less expensive.
Exactly that. Yeah, so we’ve got a bit of a sweet spot where we can find really, really good people, so you’re not sacrificing on quality or skills, but just at dramatically lower rates. And that’s why I’ve made it a bit of a mission over certainly start at 2022 and heading into next year is I want to help hundreds and hundreds of agency owners to basically have a better life. There’s too many of us. And sometimes, I’m in that boat, very regularly in that boat, myself, working too many hours, not getting the profit margins we want. So, for me, that chance is going to help people. And yeah, one of the big things is that combination of skills and experience, but with that lower cost. That just, yeah, gives that little bit of leverage, which is so often lacking with agencies and agency owners.
So, the pre-pandemic, certainly there were some agencies that had remote employees. Employees that had already been on the team and wanted to move because a spouse had a new job or something like that or they just wanted to hire a skillset that they couldn’t find in their local market. So, we certainly, before the pandemic, saw some remote workers, without a doubt. And obviously in the pandemic for a while, everybody was a remote worker and some agencies have decided to stay in that model and other agencies are certainly back in the office and all of that. But I think hiring remotely is a whole different ballgame. It’s very different than being able to have somebody come in your office three or four times and sit around the conference room with your team. And so, what do I need to do as an agency owner to successfully hire remotely?
The first thing is recognize that yes, you want to hire, but what you really want is to have a successful team that’s remote or that’s maybe hybrid. And the first thing to recognize is you’ve done this. You have almost certainly done this through the pandemic. You made this work and the business didn’t die. Team members didn’t get super unhappy, not because of these reasons anyway. And you were able to keep morale going, have good team meetings, keep your clients happy. So, the thing that for many agency owners is quite scary, the idea of having remote team members, you’ve already done it and you’ve already proved that you can make it work.
So, then it’s just about, well, when you would normally hire or previously maybe higher face-to-face and you can see people’s body language a little bit better. Maybe you are having a coffee with them as part of the interview process that is less available to you. So, then it’s just about saying, “Well, okay, what can we do in the hiring process to really, how do we get to know people and how do we gain confidence that they are the one for us.”
And actually, hiring in general is hard, no matter whether you are face-to-face with people or not, because some people are really terrible at interviews, but they might be the perfect person for the job. Some people are really great at interviews, especially sales people, but they’re not the right person for the job. And so, actually it’s not that this is specific to remote or in-person. I think with remote, it’s just putting that little bit of extra effort, especially around the testing phase, for me, because that’s the thing that really lets you see how are they actually going to do the things that you want them to do.
Yeah. And honestly, even for agencies that are hiring locally, I think far too few agencies actually test and run people through some actual activity to assess whether or not they’re good at their job.
Yeah, absolutely. Interviews, it’s really, it’s frankly weird. Interviews are the standard way that we assess whether someone is right for the job, yet, talking about what they did in their past or what they would do in a hypothetical future situation, that’s not part of the job. And it’s still a little bit weird, frankly, that that is the universal way that we try and assess people and choose people. And so, this is where we can take like some tips from the likes of Google or Facebook or Apple who are renowned for 7-, 8-, even 9-stage interview and recruitment processes. Now, I’m not advocating that because I think that’s overkill, but as part of that, they include testing. And it’s just really simple ways that agency owners can build this into their recruitment process without causing themselves lots of extra time or energy or effort, but getting much better results and confidence that they’re making that right decision.
Well, I think that’s a golden rule, whether you’re hiring locally or remote.
Agreed. So, two golden rules for me is number one is test and number two is reference. Please, please, please, anyone listening, do not skip either of those steps. They are just the two key things like never hire someone without that referencing or that testing stage.
Well, and I think referencing is a great example of why hiring remotely is intimidating for a lot of agency owners, especially hiring remotely for someone from another country, because it’s like, okay, I wouldn’t even know how to get a hold of these people who are Bob’s references because they are in the Ukraine or wherever they are. So, I think that adds a challenge for most agency owners who are trying to do this by themselves.
Yeah and it can do. And certainly, I’ve heard that a lot and one of the things that we help with that, it’s part of what we do, but also, the world has got a lot smaller. And so, we find that English is generally very, very good, especially with all the people that we are hiring and that often extends therefore to their references. And we actually mandate that. All of our clients near enough are English speaking, so we say, “Hey, so the candidates, you need to provide English speaking references.”
And we find that actually people are previous bosses or previous colleagues, things like that, are always really, really keen to actually jump on a call and have a quick 5-, 10-minute call. And just, you can ask them specific questions and they tend to be what makes the world go round. They never know in the future when they might need a reference from someone, so we find people do that. And the one to resume these days or teams, there’s so many really quick and simple ways to do that, so you don’t need to think about, “Oh, how much is it going to cost me to call them or how am I going to get a hold of them?” And actually a lot of the times, we actually get the candidates to arrange that call, so they take on the onus of the diary management bit of it.
Right. So, it seems to me that in most cases, if somebody’s hiring remotely, meaning outside of their country of origin, they’re hiring for probably a specific skillset. When I think about agencies hiring somebody from another country, it’s almost always somebody who is good in some aspect of digital that they cannot find here in the states or wherever they are. How important is it to be able to really articulate? So, I think there are a lot of agency owners, for example, who want to hire a developer. They’re not a developer. They don’t know how to assess a developer’s skill. So, how important is it that I, as the owner understand exactly what I’m hiring for and can recognize good versus bad?
So, it’s ideal if you can, but these scenarios happen. So, especially for, let’s say, you are a marketing agency owner and you’ve been doing social media marketing, email marketing, maybe, and then someone comes to you and says, “Hey, can you do a website for me or can you do an app for me?” And actually, there might be a ton of good reasons why you want to say yes, you want to say yes to that. And maybe you don’t want to work with an agency. You want to bring in your first developer and you might not be technical and that happens a lot and that’s where it’s crucial to then get help, frankly.
I’m not a hugely technical person, I can talk to developers, I can read a little bit of code, but I couldn’t assess one. I have people in my team that can do that, including we have our own developers and so, we actually involve them in client recruitment processes where exactly that scenario. We had a business owner here in the UK and he was hiring his first internal developer. He was moving away from an agency and bringing it in-house. We’ve similarly, we’ve got some agencies out in the US that have gone into development or moved away from like white label type operations. And again, that’s where we can help them and that’s where there’s lots of other businesses as well.
And the key thing is get help, especially in that testing phase, because actually as an agency only you are perfectly well-suited to figuring out if they’re the right person for you talking through scenarios and what they’ve previously done and do they want to do, and can they do the work you want to do. So, it’s just really the technical assessment. And there’s lots of really great online platforms that can help with that. You may even know someone. So, do you know another agency owner that has developers that would be willing to do you a favor and then you can return in kind.
And that, I’m a big fan of that like just getting that peer support sometimes. But obviously, there’s companies like mine and others that can help you and that’s the big thing. As an agency owner, hopefully, you’re not doing your own bookkeeping and accounting. Recruitment is in that same bucket. It’s hard. And so, therefore, it’s good opportunity to get some help if it’s not something you want to learn how to be an expert in yourself.
Well, I think that when you say that, it seems so obvious. We pay people to do things that are outside of our expertise. And yet, probably one of the most important things we do is agency owners is hire and yet, we do that even though we’re mediocre. We do it ourselves, even though we’re mediocre at it or we don’t do it in the proper way because we’re in such a hurry or whatever it is. It doesn’t make a lot of sense when you think of it from that perspective.
It doesn’t. And for me, I think the reason is because it’s so often that we are told that one of the top two or three things, any business owner needs to do is hire great people. And then what we do is we misinterpret that and we go, “Oh, I need to hire great people. Therefore, I need to be great at hiring great people.” No, you need to hire great people. The thing for me is that I think an agency owner or the relevant person and agency should be doing the interviews. They should be getting to know their new team member, figuring out what makes them tick with guidance potentially, but that and the new candidate, they want to get to know you as well.
But should you be doing all the hard work, frankly, before that? Like the equivalent of bookkeeping, should you be writing job posts, should you be filtering and reviewing candidates and testing them and basically, doing all of the hard admin stuff of hiring? No, hell no. You’ve got way more important things to do. But the key thing is you are accountable for the result and as a business owner and agency owner, yes, we need to hire great people, but it’s really okay to delegate some of that and get help from people that do enjoy it or that really know how to do it.
It’s interesting how you’re talking about these remote hires, because I think particularly when agency owners think about hiring someone from another country, they don’t always think about them as team members. They think of them as task doers. And I think that’s one of the reasons why it doesn’t work is because that person has no loyalty to the agency other than that they’re getting a paycheck from them, but there’s no connective tissue between that remote worker and the rest of the agency. And oftentimes, unless somebody is directly involved with working in that genre of the business, there are a lot of people on your internal agency team that don’t even know the remote employee.
So, when you talk about it, you talk about it, you keep using the word team member, which I think is interesting, because I don’t think a lot of agencies think of their foreign remote, 1099s, if you’re in the US or somebody you’re paying on a contract. I don’t think they think of them or treat them like team members. So, talk a little bit about that because I know your philosophy is a little different.
Yeah, definitely. And I think, so the reason why that’s the case is because of the rise of platforms like Upwork, like Fiverr, very gig and freelance basis and that’s how we think about it. I use the word team member for two key reasons. So, one is because team members is what you want and it’s what you need. If you want to build a successful business, team members, people that are pulling together. A friend of mine recently used a phrase, he said, “You want people that are going to go to war with you, like alongside you and they’re with you.” And so, that for me is what makes a successful business because otherwise, it’s really lonely, frankly. It’s really lonely, being the one that’s you are doing all the decision making. So, that’s one reason.
And then secondly, because we can’t use the word employee because legally, they’re not an employee. If you’re hiring cross-border, as you said, from a US perspective, it’s a 1099 contractor, they are set generally. If you’re hiring remotely, they will be self-employed. They’re responsible for their own tax and social security and they’ll invoice you each month, so legally, they’re not an employee.
But to all intents and purposes, you want them to feel like one. And that’s where I come in with team member. It’s being a member of the team and what that means is they’re not just tasked to us. They’re involved in your team meetings. They’re involved in… it’s very big in Australian culture to do beer o’clock on a Friday. Whatever things you do-
US culture, too.
Yeah. US culture. Perfect. We do afternoon tea in the UK and that’s something I do with my team. And whatever you do to bring your team together and in an office it might be maybe you have lunch once a week or once a month where you have a team meeting. And actually, it’s really easy to do this stuff over Zoom and bring people together. That is why I use the word team member because actually you make an extra little bit of effort, but the results are like night and day. Literally, just exponentially better results because they do care about you and they’re in it for the long term. They’re in it for a career with you.
And that’s our exclusive focus. We don’t work on project roles or gig roles. Everything for us is about getting team members because that’s what I want as a business owner and an agency owner and I know that’s what makes agency successful. People come and go, that don’t really care, yeah, just don’t care. Whereas when you get people that really care, care about your clients, care about your mission and what you are looking to do, that’s where the magic happens. Sounds a bit cliché, but that is real, absolutely true.
Yeah. But it’s interesting because as you were talking, I was thinking that is not the common attitude. The common attitude is I’m hiring this person in a different time zone in a different country to do very specific tasks. And then your point is well taken, then they’re not invested, you’re not invested and I believe it’s one of the reasons why it does work.
And that’s definitely the case. It can be the case. I think, again, some of this comes from the Philippines, for instance, is known around the world, an amazing place. You can hire very task-driven, very common for virtual assistance, data entry, think very, very cheaply. A few years ago you could be getting someone for $3 or $4 US dollars an hour, which is staggering and you could get really good work done. And so, then that then perpetuated a bit of this feeling and thought about it being just task driven.
And one of the things that we focus on and we try and bring to life through case studies and bringing our clients that we work with. We’ve got lots and lots of agency owners across the world and getting them to talk about what it’s like having remote team members that are really committed for the long term and just the benefits they get, so it just changes that. So, yeah, one day at a time, I’m trying to let people know about these possibilities and the clients and agencies that we work with. Once they see that and get a taste of it, it’s really incredible.
Yeah. So, I want to talk a little more about how we manage and build a team with people scattered all over different time zones. Let’s take a quick break and then let’s pick it up there.
Hey, there just a quick interruption. I want to make sure that you are aware that you are cordially invited, not just invited, but cordially invited to join our Facebook group, our private Facebook group. All you have to do is go to Facebook and search for Build A Better Agency and you’ll find the Facebook group. You have to answer three quick questions. You have to put in the agency URL, you have to talk about what you want to learn from the group and you have to promise to behave yourself and that’s it. And then we’ll let you in. And you can jump into the conversation with over a thousand other agency owners and leaders.
And there’s a robust conversation happening every day. People are sharing resources and best practices and discussing everything from work from home policies to maternity and paternity policies to biz dev strategies. So, come join us and jump into the conversation. All right? Speaking of conversations, let’s head back.
All right. I am back with Noel Andrews and we’re talking about remote workers and how to make that work. And we were just talking before the break about this idea that I think is foreign, no pun intended. Foreign to a lot of agency owners in that you actually can make your remote employees, who are halfway across the globe from you, an actual team member, rather than somebody you just assigned tasks to that they’re doing it while you’re asleep and then when you wake up, it’s done. But you don’t really have a connection with each other and then you wonder why you’re not their first priority or they don’t stick around for a long time.
So, let’s talk a little bit about what are some best practices, because I think this applies to even agencies who are not hiring somebody from another country. But a lot of agencies are struggling with, they were brick and mortar before COVID, and now, they’ve either decided to be a hybrid or completely remote. And they’re really struggling to create a sense of culture around a team. And honestly, they’re just even before cultural, I want to talk about that, but they don’t know how to manage in this new environment. So, what are some best practices? What are you seeing successful agency owners do to manage a remote team that is spread out over multiple time zones and maybe multiple countries?
Yeah, so there’s two key things for me. So, one is if you can try and keep your team, so that it’s possible without someone being awake in the middle of the night to have a team meeting. Okay, so the ability to have a team meeting, even if it’s just once a month, that actually, it helps the culture side, but it really helps the management side. Because it means people are hearing one message at the same time and it brings people together. So, I think that’s really helpful.
So, when we are hiring, typically, we are looking to try and get three or four hours crossover. If it’s a US agency, let’s say and we’re hiring in Eastern Europe, which is our focus, then we are looking to try and get three or four hours crossover and you can do a lot with three or four hours. If it’s two hours, that’s fine. And a lot of times people will have a bit of flex into their evening, if needs be. If you don’t have any crossover, then it’s difficult, because one of the key things for me if you’re managing someone and you’re going to do it effectively is you’ve got to talk to them. And I’m a big fan of talking to them face-to-face, like on Zoom, on teams, whatever it might be.
Having interaction, getting to know them is super, super important, especially for the long term, because it’s important to understand, well, what what’s important to them. What do they want? What do they want for their career? What do they want for this year, few years’ time? Because then you can work with that and you can play with that and help them get there.
So, being able to get time with them and doing one-to-ones is super, super important. And then the icing on the cake of really good one-to-ones is a scorecard. So, like an employee scorecard, it can be super simple. We just use a Google sheet for ours here at JobRack and it has two tabs on it. And the first is about their KPIs. And so, for every role, we try and have between one and three KPIs that is key performance indicator. What’s the metric that they’re responsible for.
So, let’s say it’s a PPC person doing Google or Facebook Ads then there’s probably going to be something in there around return on out spend for instance. If it’s an SEO person that is focused on building back links, then it’s going to be focused on how many back links have they made or how many messages, outreach messages have they sent for instance. And there’s tons of examples across all kinds of roles.
So, having very clear metrics about what is the output and the outcome that they’re responsible for. So, if they know that, they’ve got half a chance and a good chance of actually pleasing you, ultimately at meeting it. Whereas what so often happens is we write a job description, which vaguely outlines the job they’re going to do, but then someone comes into the role and we don’t actually tell them what we want to do. And if we don’t set expectations-
Yeah, how we are literally and figuratively going to score their performance.
Exactly. And if we don’t tell them that, if we don’t set expectations, the only thing that can possibly happen is that we are going to get disappointed because they’re probably not psychic. So, having this in place, and this is again something that we do a lot of, we help people get this in place even before the candidate has actually started, because that is so powerful if you’ve got that when they start. Like to have one of our scorecard is their metrics and then we just track those each month. We make them as simple as possible to measure because, again, what gets measured gets managed and you don’t want it to take hours and hours each month to pull together.
And then the second thing that we do is in on the second tab is we have a series of questions and the employee, each of my team, answers these questions a couple of days before their one-to-one. And so, every two weeks, we have a one-to-one that’s like a casual catch up. And then once a month, we have a more formal one, where we’re reviewing KPIs and we are reviewing the answers to these questions.
And so, we’ll ask things like, “What are you most pleased about from the last month? What did you struggle with most in the last month? What do you think we could do more of or what should we start doing? What should we stop doing? And then what areas, where do you need most support from your manager or your team over the n