How to Build a Remote Digital Business [Video]

Theoretically, if you create a digital product like applications or websites, you could work from any location. But if that were true, why is development talent concentrated in areas such as Silicon Valley and San Francisco? It’s because location still matters, even with digital goods.

However, Dan James has proven that doesn’t have to be the case. James is founder of silverorange, an 11-member design shop based on Prince Edward Island, Canada. The company has produced logos and Web design work for such brand names as Firefox, Digg, Bebo and Ning.

At Future Insights Live, James talked about “Running and Growing a Successful Design Agency, Anywhere!” Here’s his model for building a successful digital business in a remote location, with a number of employees working virtually.

  • Do good work. Simple enough.
  • Build relationships with coworkers and clients. Relationships should be built on intentionality, honesty and open communications. You need to own your mistakes, but also spend fun time (not just work time) together.
  • Remote working has to be in your DNA. After three employees decided to travel thousands of miles away, they had no choice but to think like a virtual agency.
  • Need some face time. It is easier to work with someone remotely if you have worked with them in person. You need to consistently, and regularly, meet in person.
  • Over communicate. With remote work you don’t have the advantages of closeness and body language.
  • Just be in the room. When James is away, he calls in and is connected to an open conference phone so people can have casual impromptu conversations with him even though he’s not there.
  • Video calls are essential. Especially necessary when more than two people are communicating.
  • Write things down. You need to track things.
  • Eat together. This is where socialization happens.
  • Have regular get-togethers, for greater socialization.
  • Play together. Learn about each other.

How to Build Client Relationships

  • Go see them. Even if you lose a little money on the first project with the cost of the plane ticket and hotel room, it’ll be worth it to create a long-term relationship.
  • Meeting clients in-person will drastically increase the effectiveness of your communications online. There is just something positive about meeting the person that brings great value to the relationship when it goes virtual.
  • Over communicate. Always err on the side of too much communication. Have the client tell you to cool it.
  • Ensure that your client knows all the ways they can contact you in off hours. Don’t worry, clients don’t abuse that privilege.
  • Always respond in the same medium that they’ve chosen. If they email you, don’t pick up the phone and call… unless it’s an emergency.
  • “Got it” emails. You need to acknowledge the receipt of the email and that you’re working on it.
  • One issue per message. Don’t load up a single email with multiple tasks. Instead, have multiple short emails, each with a different task. This has been the most effective rule to increase productivity.
  • Schedule some time to think. We’re all in a creative business.
  • Tell them your thoughts. Share ideas that may spur more business.
  • Create “wow” moments. James told a story of sending baked goods to a prospective client.
  • Build your business. Negotiate your pay structure to include some type of revenue share based on the client’s success. While he hasn’t made much money this way (yet), it does create an emotional connection between his client and his work. They truly are partners. Ask for a reduced rate for equity in the company.

It’s All About the Relationships

Whether your company operates close to its clients or thousands of miles away, business success is all about relationships. Simply do good work, and never stop having fun.

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