When Tasha Mayberry co-founded Social Media 22, a web design, Internet marketing and PR firm, in early 2013 with her husband Pavel, the couple had initially planned to open an office. They both soon changed their minds when they realized that running their small business virtually was a great way to keep overhead costs low.
Having grown their business from $3,000 in monthly revenue at the start, to $10,000 each month, the couple now works with a staff of three, who like them, also work from home. Like other virtual small business owners, Mayberry feels their situation is ideal for their lifestyle needs. Not only does it reduce costs, but it also affords them flexibility when it comes to time and travel.
The latter is especially convenient during the couple’s visits to Pavel’s homeland, Russia.
“There we can stay with his family for a month and work remotely,” explains Mayberry. “With a virtual office you can work anywhere which is especially attractive for those who love to travel.
But she cautions, managing employees who work remotely can be challenging. For starters, it requires people who can both work independently and on a team. And, of course, having extensive broadband and operational computer technology are essential as well.
But when done correctly, managing virtual workers can be an effective way to build a business, attract quality employees, and keep overhead low. Courtesy of Mayberry and other virtual small business owners here are a few best practices on how to run a thriving virtual small business with staff.
Because there’s no common workplace, it is critical you make an extra effort to interact with your staff via email and phone to keep them apprised of what’s happening in the business. Employees should do the same with you. Mayberry, whose work experience includes time as a marketing vice president at an insurance brokerage house, subscribes regularly to this tip.
"I come from the corporate world and if we needed something quickly, we would buzz the office of the person we wanted," she relates. "Virtually we do the same thing by using Gmail chat. So if we have a quick question, or if something was just sent that is important, we alert each other. And just type right back. This has been instrumental in our success.”
Andrei Soroker, CEO of Kato.im, an Oakland, California-based business communication platform provider, swears by this best practice when it comes to managing a virtual business. But he also feels that staff should have a single communication platform rather than using a combination of phones, SMS, Facebook, Skype, Google Hangouts, and email. This not only makes it easier for workers to communication with each other online but it also significantly reduces the risk of cyber-attacks, he says.
“All your communication should be secure, searchable, and accessible from multiple devices,” advises Soroker, who currently has a staff of 13 employees spread across the U.S., Russia, the Ukraine, and Thailand. “If you lose your iPad, you shouldn't lose your company's data with it.”
To handle all documents, which include job offers, contracts, and manuals, Soroker suggests virtual small businesses use Google Docs or Office 360 so that the entire team will have access to any document.
Andy Abramson, CEO of Comunicano, a communications firm with a staff of 17, says every virtual small business owner needs an effective conferencing platform.
He uses three: Calliflower by iotum, GoToMeeting, and UberConference. “They each have their strengths and we know which to use in a particular situation,” he says. “We also make a lot of use out of Skype for video calling. And, with WebRTC on the rise, you'll see more services offering video.”
Look for self-starters
This might sound repetitive but it bears repeating: Working virtually is not for everyone.
Mayberry found this out the hard way. Although she is proud that she has three staffers who excel working virtually, she has also had three interns who did not. The experience has given her greater insight into the type of person who will perform well working virtually—and the type that will not.
“They must be independent but can work well with a team, have the ability to multi-task, prioritize, and have ambition to succeed, along with an excellent work ethic,” she says. “Virtual employees are like their own bosses although we give direction to them each day. The wrong type of person could come late to work, take extra-long lunch breaks, clock out early, and not care about the work.”
Be careful when selecting technology
Of course, working remotely necessitates that you have the best operational technology at your disposal. But an online tool that's the boon of one virtual office could be the bane of another. Be painstakingly thorough when looking for online technology that will be conducive to you and your staff's needs.
“Pick the right services that work best for your industry, and make sure they scale,” urges Abramson. “We use Google Apps after years of being on a hosted exchange server. It is night and day better for a virtual organization as the openness of the platform allows us to add all kinds of third-party services without lots of overhead for programming.”
For small business owners eager to reduce overhead costs and commuting, running a virtual business could be an excellent solution. If you hire smartly, communicate regularly with staff, and use technology that's well suited for your business, running a virtual business could be the best move you ever make.