Jeff Conlon
Author

My Letter to an Unqualified Client (or Five Ways to Grow a Small Business)

Digital Marketing

This is the playbook I recommend for small businesses that are just getting started or are still ramping up and have a limited marketing budget.

These 5 steps will help you focus on the things that actually move the needle for your business so you can scale, grow revenue and, most importantly, profit!

1. Focus on being a business owner and not an operator as soon as possible.

This means you’re not doing the actual work. You’re managing employees. This will help you scale.

How do you do this?

You need to build processes for everything. Everything. Pretend that you’re going on a three-month vacation with no wifi or cell coverage. How would the books get done? How would employee schedules get done? How would customer complaints be handled? Write down the process for all of these things and everything else that you do on a daily basis. You’re going to continue to do these things but, now that you’ve documented all of your processes, you can start to peel off some tasks and outsource them to an employee or contractor when you’re ready.

A key point about building processes. Perfection is the enemy of progress. Don’t worry about it being perfect. You’ll always be adjusting these anyway. Just document it somewhere that is easy to share. Google Sites are a great tool to do this and it’s free.

2. You need to build your company in your image. In other words, build your brand.

This way people will equate your company with you and vice versa. Your company will have it’s own values and reputation. This might sound like something only large corporations do but it is important at every level of business. It doesn’t matter if it’s just you or if you have 1,000 employees.

How do you build a brand? Stand for something. Have an opinion about your industry and express it in everything you do. Position yourself against a big competitor and tell the world why your approach is better for your customers. Define yourself clearly and express it in everything you do.

Finally, when you’re starting out or growing, a key way to grow your business is word of mouth. You are going to advertise too, but for now, delight your clients and be upfront about asking for referrals if they’re happy with your work.

What do I mean by delight?

Here’s one example. If you’re a home service company and you have an employee working on a job at a customers house, swing by and bring a box of cookies or cupcakes (store bought is ok!). Give the treats to your customers and ask them how your company is doing? Are they happy with your service? Get to know how they feel and address any concerns that they might have. Do that and people will start talking to their friends and referring you to new clients. I guarantee that your competitors are not doing that.

3. Take Yelp Seriously

Lots of people use Yelp. Do everything you can do to get your company rated in the top three of Yelp for your region. By everything, I mean do great work, communicate quickly with your customers and ask the happy ones to review you.

You might say, “Yelp’s not a player in my city” or “My industry isn’t reviewed on Yelp” and you might be right…today. If that’s the case, and then people in your city or industry starting using Yelp more frequently, well now you’re in pole position because you’re competition used to have the same negative outlook that you used to have. Now they’re playing catch up while you’re in the #1 position and getting all of the business.

There is another reason to focus on Yelp that is even more important. You can read about that here.

One last point. If Yelp never takes off where you are then you’ve still done great work and communicate well with your customers. That practice alone will pay dividends.

4. Get your MESSAGE right and shine a spotlight on it at all times.

If I ask you why a potential customer should use you versus your competition, what would you say? That you provide excellent service? Great prices? Years of experience?

The customer doesn’t care.

Your message needs to speak to the problem you solve for your customer. And it needs to say how you solve that problem better than anyone else.

Let’s say you own a bakery. Your customer has a problem. Their problem is that they need a cake for their child’s birthday party on Saturday.

Do you show that you can solve their problem by saying, “We have great cakes and the best prices in town. Proudly serving our community for 25 years”.

NO.

That doesn’t solve the problem. That’s all about you. Even worse, you’re competing on price meaning it’s easy to take your customers by simply charging less than you do.

Instead, you might say, “We are YOUR birthday cake solution! You choose from over 100 designs that kids love (like Black Panther and Wonder Woman), we’ll text you a photo of your design so you know it’s perfect and we’ll deliver it to your home on the big day for FREE!”

Which bakery would you choose for your child’s party?

The one with tons of designs so I know they’ll have something that my kid loves? The one that will text me a photo of the cake so I’m not nervous that Spider-Man looks more like Green Lantern when I go to pick it up. And, speaking of picking it up, I don’t have to do that because you’re going to deliver it for free which helps me immensely because I’m haggling with the bouncy house guy and trying to get my house clean for our guests.

Not only will that message attract customers in droves but those customers will pay a premium to use you.

Find your message. Put it everywhere. Repeat it constantly.

You don’t need a fancy website to do this. You just need to message on the website to be awesome.

5. Marketing and Advertising.

Finally, now that you have your processes done, you are taking a stand and building a brand, you’re taking Yelp seriously and your message is on point, you are ready to spend some money promoting yourself.

Do you have a website?

If the answer is yes, ask yourself this question: “Is my website awful?”. Be honest. If the answer is yes, then follow the “Get a Website” instructions below.

If the answer is no then, Get a Website. It’s 2019!

It doesn’t need to be fancy. Five or six simple pages is fine IF you clearly communicate your Message on those five or six pages. Don’t spend a lot of money on a custom website yet. There is time for that later. Use Squarespace or a WordPress theme and get it up and running. Remember, this website is there to relay your message and have some basic details about you and your offering. Also, don’t write in “marketing-speak”. When you write your text, just imagine you are writing an email to your favorite customer. If you don’t have any customers yet, then imagine writing to your mom.

Once you have your simple website set up and clearly stating your message then set up a Facebook business page and place the Facebook pixel on your site. Then, find a trustworthy contractor on Upwork for $25 an hour to set up a Retargeting campaign on Facebook. This will only show ads to people who have been to your website and will only cost you a couple hundred a month, at most.

If you want to accelerate your growth, take a weekend and write a five-page guide for your ideal customer that addresses their biggest concerns. This can be a How-To guide, an Ultimate Guide, or even a PowerPoint. Go back to Upwork and hire someone to take your words and turn them into a Lead Magnet. The final result will be a PDF. Set up a pop-up plugin like Sumo to offer your website visitors your Lead Magnet in exchange for their email addresses. Then, once a month or as often as you can, email these people something of value. This can be a tip, an offer, anything that conveys your Message and provides value. When the list gets too big to handle manually, sign up for an email service like MailChimp. Now you’re in the big leagues!

If you do those five things then you’ll be paving your path to success.

Total investment = 10 – 15 hours up front (and 5 hours per month) plus maybe $200 per month. You can afford that, right?

Good luck! Don’t forget to stay in touch.

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Google Ads Account Ownership – Why You (The Client) Need to Be in Charge

Digital Marketing

 

We need to talk about why you must own your Google Ads account, formerly known as AdWords, or you’re screwed. It’s pretty simple.

We recently on-boarded a new client here at IMA. During that process, we learned that the agency, who we won’t name/shame, refused, flat out refused, to grant the client any access to their Google Ads account and they wouldn’t transfer ownership or admin rights to us. They just said, “Sorry, we can’t do it”. This is awful for a number of reasons and I’m going to review them in this post. So let’s get into it.

In this post, we’re going to cover three things:

1.We’re going to blow up the excuses that agencies give as to why they can’t give you your account.

2. We are going to show you why it’s so important to have the account ownership and the negative effects that happen if you do not.

3. And we’re also going to cover what to do if you don’t have ownership of your account and what steps you need to take to get it.

Also, at the end, I’m going to share with you a secret that you may not know, or that your agency may not be telling you, that can save you if you get caught in this situation down the line.

So let’s blow up the excuses that agencies give for not giving you access to what’s rightfully yours, which is your account. So one thing that they will says it that it’s their proprietary information. It’s their I.P. The theory is that their approach to Google Ads management is so unique and brilliant that if they were to share that information their competitors would jump on their secrets and put them out of business. This is just patently false. It’s not true in any way shape or form. Now granted, yes, they may be doing something unique or interesting or whatever but if you look at the best agencies out there, they’re actively sharing how they manage accounts for their clients in their blogs, Facebook, Insta, etc. If you look at the leaders in this space, companies like WordStream or people like Neil Patel, they tell you exactly how they do things in their content. So the idea that there’s some secret sauce that this specific agency has that would ruin their business if it got out is just bullshit. It’s terrible. When it comes to account management, there are really specific things to do but everyone knows what they are and, at the end of the day, what makes a campaign sing is to have a proven strategy for the account structure, a laser-focused approach to keyword and bid management (preferably manual in most cases) and a lot of optimization at the account level and at the landing page level. In short, you need to be in the weeds actually doing the work on a consistent basis to improve the performance of the account.

There is no secret sauce here. There are no hidden secrets. There’s no patent on account management in Google Ads. That’s just patently false. It’s BS and I hate when I hear that kind of thing. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves.

The other thing they might say is, “We set it up from scratch and so it’s ours because we set it up and everything.” So listen, if your agency has to set up an account for you from scratch and they don’t charge you a setup fee for that time, which is a lot of work to do, then shame on them. They should have charged you a setup fee. If they did charge you a setup fee, and then you canceled their services after a few months that’s ok because they got their money, they covered their costs, all’s fair. So that is a nonsense excuse. Don’t fall for it. It’s kind of ridiculous to even bring up but it just happened with this agency that shall not be named. They actually said this to their, or rather, our client.

The next one is a complete lie. A 100% falsification. And it is, “We can’t uncouple or detangle or move your account off of our Google Ads Manager Account (formerly known as an MCC). This one is ridiculous. It really pisses me off. The whole concept of Google’s Ad Manager is to share accounts with third parties while retaining or transferring ownership. It’s baked into the DNA of Ads Manager. Be it different levels of permissions, admin rights, read-only rights, that’s what it is built to do. When they say, “We can’t uncouple or disconnect or…whatever” it’s a total lie. If anyone says that to you, run for the hills. Now.

Now let’s talk about why it’s important to own your account. For one thing, it’s really important because there’s a ton of data that’s accumulated over time in these accounts and, if you’re paying for that on your credit card, then that should be your data.

(Quick aside – If you are not paying for your account, if the agency has their own credit card on file with Google and they invoice you a set amount each month for media then you need to get detailed invoices breaking down what you’re spending with Google each month. In addition, you should also request the invoices that Google can generate for your account each month. If the agency doesn’t provide those to you then you should be very skeptical about their billing practices. There is zero reason for your agency to keep this from you. Zero. Unless they are hiding something. Think about it. If you don’t know how much of your $15,000 per month goes to Google and how much goes to your agency for management fees, what’s to keep them from pocketing 50% of that $15,000? If you’re not happy with your campaign performance, not a problem, the agency just drops their take to 40% and you see a bump in performance. Problem is, no one pays 40% for management! Bring them out of the dark. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. If you are in a situation like that right now change, you’re being cheated. Demand better and get your credit card on file and use those points from the card to take a trip to Maui.)

Ok, back to the data. There is a ton of data and you’re paying for it. You should own that data. A key part of that data accumulation is building negative keyword lists. Negative keyword lists allow you to trim off the fat in the account by removing closely related keywords that aren’t actually relevant. This allows you to decrease the amount of spending on Google. When you start from scratch, you don’t have those negative lists in place, you have to build them. You do that by reviewing the data from what people are actually searching for in the Search Terms report. This is invaluable and will save you countless dollars and will lower your Cost Per Lead or Cost Per Acquisition costs.

The third reason to have Google Ads Account Ownership is that these accounts get better over time. It’s kind of like a good cast iron skillet, right? It seasons over time. It gets better and better and more and more nonstick. (I love cast iron skillets, just for the record). So why do they get better? Well, one of the key things is Quality Score. Quality Score is graded on a 0 to 10 scale. If you’re going to dominate at the Local or National level, if you’re going to get your campaign performing like we at IMA like our campaigns to perform, then you’re going to need to have Quality Scores in the 8, 9, or 10 range. If you are starting from scratch, it takes a while to get to that range. However, if you have a well-seasoned account, if that account has been improving quality score over time, you want to own that account, right? It’s crucial and it’s going to set you back if you don’t own you Google Ads account and have to start from scratch.

So what should you do if you do not currently have access to your Google Ads account?

First, if you’re working with an agency or if you’re shopping for agencies, make sure that they are going to give you Read-only access to your account. If your current agency will not provide Read-only access, get rid of them. Find a reputable digital marketing agency that treats you like a partner, not a hostage. If you are in shopping mode and the prospective agency you’re thinking of working with denies you Read-only access, take them off the list, scratch out their name on your Rolodex, never give them your money.

You are 100% entitled to having Read-only access to your account. You have to and it’s in your best interest. Note that, Read-only is not Admin access but what it means, what is key, is that in the eyes of Google you have access to the account. If you should find yourself in a dispute with your agency, having this access will go a long way towards getting control. You might ask why shouldn’t you have Admin access. It’s a good question. Most good agencies, IMA included, prefer our clients to have Read-only access while we’re managing the account to avoid a client or their employees going in and clicking something they shouldn’t or inadvertently affecting our work. Our clients can always see everything we’re doing. If they decide to leave IMA then, boom, we switch them over to Admin access and they own the thing.

There is another key piece to this puzzle. Payment profiles. You want to make sure that you have a payment profile on your Google Ads account with your credit card on file. For this payment profile, you do want to make sure it has Admin access. Having your own payment profile means that you’re clearly paying for your ads and you can update credit cards and things like that on your own. This gives you full control and ownership over the financial aspect of your Google Ads account. This is crucial.

Alright, let’s talk about the little secret I teased at the top. It’s really simple.

You are 100% entitled to know your Google Ads account ID number according to Google’s terms and conditions. If you get into an ownership battle, this can be very important. The account ID number is the unique ID number associated with your account. Google’s terms and conditions clearly state that any third party, so any agency or PPC contractor or consultant, must provide you with your account ID. A lot of agencies won’t necessarily tell you this fact. They might not even know about it. But, if they’re acting in bad faith and doing the types of things we’re outlining in this post, it’s good to know that you have Google’s lawyers on your side. Do you know your account ID? No? Ask for it today.

You’re probably wondering why is this so important? I’ll tell you why. If you have your account ID and you have a payment profile and you have Read-only access to your account, you will be in a very solid position if your agency tries to withhold the account from you. If they try to withhold your account you can call Google directly and say, “I have my account ID, I have a payment profile with my credit card on file and I have Read-only access on the account.” If you have those three things the chances are very good that Google will give you account ownership in the event of a dispute. It’s not guaranteed but it’s pretty likely that they will do it. If you have those three things. If you don’t have account access, they won’t do it. If you don’t have an account ID you can’t even start the process. If your payment profile is not set up it’s going to be hard. So make sure you have those three things. That’s the crucial piece and that’s a little secret that some agencies, unfortunately, don’t want you to know.

So what do we learn today? We learned why it’s so important that you have ownership of your account. We learned how to see through any BS excuses that an agency will give you in regards to why they can’t give you your account. We learned how painful it can be if you need to start over building up those negative list and your quality scores, not to mention all the data that you’ve lost. You also learned a little secret about how you can get your account ID and have that is 100% your right to know it.

Most importantly, if you’re dealing with an agency that is pulling this on then run for the hills. Do not work with them. That’s just the start of the kind of bad practices that they’re likely doing. This is one of the most egregious things that I see and it really pisses me off. I want to make sure that it doesn’t happen to you. Demand better.

Good luck with your campaigns!

 

If you’re interested in working with an agency that sees you as a trusted partner and treats you accordingly, while delivering excellent results, schedule a 15-minute call with our CEO here.

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Top Three Digital Marketing Mistakes Home Service Companies Make Today

Digital Marketing

 

Today we’re going to talk about the three most common digital marketing mistakes that I see home service companies making. They’re really simple but really damaging.

#1 – The first mistake that I want to talk about is being too reliant on your PPC, paid search, Google Ads (formerly AdWords) campaigns (however you want to call it)

#2 – The second mistake that I see people making is not filling their funnel. We’ve all gone away from branding and it’s unfortunate. True, it’s not direct response, you’re not going to get a really low cost per lead, but you’ve got to fill that funnel from the top and not just stay at the very bottom at the conversion point where PPC lives.

#3 – The third thing is not taking Yelp seriously enough and, let’s be honest, even if you don’t think Yelp is a player in your market it is and there’s one reason and that’s Google. I’ll explain why later.

Okay, let’s dig into it.

Ten years ago, if you owned a Home Service company, you were probably doing things like local cable television advertising and maybe some radio advertising and direct mail and, of course, the Yellow Pages. Well, Google Ads came along and basically replaced the Yellow Pages and you were able to move those YP dollars straight into Google Ads. And that was great. Good riddance. But things have changed. Google Ads was incredibly cheap and incredibly effective back then but it’s gotten considerably more expensive over time. We’ve all become so reliant on the power and the performance of it that we’ve stopped doing those other things. TV is becoming less effective, which we’ll talk about in another post. But the most important thing to note is that we’ve started to filter out those other advertising and marketing opportunities that we used to do and so Google Ads is all that’s left and it’s holding this incredible burden. It’s now the most important part of your marketing and advertising campaigns. Or, in some cases, the only part. Occasionally, we have potential clients contact us and on our free strategy call, we discover that they’re only doing Google Ads. They’re saying, “Well, it’s really getting expensive” and “you know, we’re just not growing like I want to be able to grow” and I’m saying, “well, yeah, you have ONE CHANNEL that’s responsible for your entire business”. I tell them, “This isn’t going to happen but imagine if Google said, you know, Google Ads has been great, but we’re going to shut it down. What would you do? You’d be out of business.” Now that’s not going to happen. Google Ads is basically all of Google’s revenue. Don’t worry about that. But you have to worry about it getting more expensive and more competitive and it has never been more expensive or more competitive in the history of its 15-year reign than it is now and it’s unlikely to get better.

Look at your advertising and marketing budget. Look at your advertising and marketing plan overall. Look at it from a 10,000-foot view. Maybe all you need to do is just climb up on a chair and see the fact that almost all of what you’re doing is Google Ads.

Now obviously, the things that used to work like TV don’t work anymore. You need to brand in new ways.

And I’m not saying don’t do Google Ads. At IMA, we are certified Google Ads experts that have been doing this since 2006. We’re 12 years in doing Google Ads and were incredible at it for our Home Service clients. We have some that are getting leads as low as $10, maybe $9.50, at this point right.

But we have to be less reliant on that. That’s a key mistake. That’s number one.

Number two is not filling your funnel. What am I talking about with the funnel? Well, your marketing funnel looks like any other funnel. It starts at the top and it’s really wide. That’s where you engage your potential customers, at the top. Then you nurture them, through what is referred to as the User Journey, all the way down to the point where they’re right there at the bottom and they’re saying, “hey, I need your service right now!”.

This is crucial because in some industries, like plumbing or heating and air, customers don’t need you until they need you. You can’t fix a broken pipe if it doesn’t exist yet.

So what we need to do at the top is create a marketing funnel in order to create awareness. This where things like Facebook and Instagram campaigns and retargeting and what we call Advanced display campaigns come into play? All these different types of digital branding. These are the types of things you need to do so that your Google Ads campaign, which is running way down at the bottom of that funnel, is churning out all those leads for you. And now you can make it perform even better and combat the increasing costs because you’re nurturing people down the funnel.

This is crucial to understand. As I said, you cannot just rely on Google Ads. You need to feed that funnel. You have to start at the top and you’ve got to nurture that User Journey all the way down to the bottom.

And YouTube just announced that you’ll be able to start targeting television sets. Cool, right? So you can actually use a 30-second spot that you have and only show it to people watching YouTube on their TVs. So now you can get back in the TV advertising game at a significantly reduced price.

So mistake number one is to leveraged on Google Ads.

Mistake number two is not feeding that funnel.

Mistake number three is not taking Yelp seriously. A lot of business owners in smaller markets might say, “hey, you know what, Yelp’s not a player here.” Well, I’m going to tell you something that crushes that naive thought. What is it?

It is this. Google is going to rank Yelp for your service keywords. And not just rank but rank in position 1, 2 or 3. So what does that mean? Let’s say you own a large plumbing company. We have a lot of plumbing clients. Let me talk about that. So if I’m a plumber and somebody searches for “plumber” in their city or “plumber near me” or some other variant of that keyword or key phrase what’s going to happen is Google is going to show the Yelp results first.

In fact, a lot of times the three organic listings are Yelp. And, not only will they rank Yelp, they’re going to rank Angie’s List. They’re going to show HomeAdvisor. They’re going to show Thumbtack. We’ve seen certain markets where half of those organic listings, five out of ten, are not actual local businesses. Instead, they’re aggregators and Yelp is the most prominent among them.

So to the original objection of, “Hey, nobody uses Yelp in my market” doesn’t hold water. Sure, they might not post a lot of taco truck reviews on Yelp but people in your market do searches on Google. And if they’re doing searches on Google and they see Yelp in the first one two, or three positions, guess what? They’re clicking on Yelp. And if they get to Yelp and you’ve got six reviews and a 1.5-star rating, you’re not getting their business.

That’s why it’s incredibly important to take Yelp seriously. You have to get your reviews up, get your ratings up and then watch your business grow.

So let’s recap the three biggest mistakes:

1. Being too reliant on Google Ads. It’s great, but it is not the end-all be-all
You cannot only do Google Ads
2. Not fueling that funnel, not doing digital branding, not getting people aware of who you are in your marketplace and gaining market share. Before they get all the way down to that conversion point you have to start getting in front of them.
3. Not taking Yelp seriously. Your customers are going to Yelp. They may not check Yelp before they go out and get dinner. You may not be hearing about it from your neighbors all the time but, trust me, people are seeing reviews on Yelp because of how Google ranks them for your keywords.

The good news? Guess what? It’s really easy to address these three things. What we do at IMA is use something called the Digital Marketing Quadrant to address those three concerns specifically and it solves those problems and allows our clients to grow their businesses exponentially. One of our clients has grown from $4 million to $20 million since we’ve been working with them.

But all you have to do is start taking those three things seriously and start looking into how you can get less reliant on PPC, how you can start doing some top of funnel digital branding (I’d start with Facebook and retargeting) and then start getting those Yelp reviews and ratings up. If you do that, you’re going to grow your business immediately.

Have a great day, demand better, and good luck growing your business!

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Remote Work is Good for IMA. Is it Good for You?

Digital Marketing IMA Life Tech Tools

Remote work, or distributed teams, are nothing new. They have been around for decades. In 1979, IBM ran a small experiment at their Santa Teresa Laboratory, in Silicon Valley that launched laid the groundwork for remote working as we know it today. They had one mainframe computer in the office, and they wanted to reduce the logjam that inevitably happened when an office full of engineers was trying to access it. So they installed small-ish terminals in the homes of five employees, allowing them to work from home.

It worked. By 1983, IBM had 2,000 employees working remotely. By 2009, 40% of its 386,000 employees in 173 countries were working remotely (173 countries! I had to look up how many countries are currently recognized in the world today. It’s 195. IBM is in 88% of the countries in the world. Wow). That policy allowed IBM to sell off its office buildings at a gain of almost $2 billion. But eight years later, in 2017, IBM, brought their workers back under the fluorescent lights.

One Year In

IMA is not currently in 173 countries. While IBM was bringing its employees back into the office and firing those that didn’t want to return, IMA left our office in San Francisco (you can read more about that here ). We are almost one year into our move to remote work. We have two smaller offices. One of them is a private office at a WeWork location in SOMA. The other is a small office in a charming old building with a view of the ocean in the town where I live. Currently, most of our team lives in or around San Francisco and use the WeWork space. Our Project Manager and I work from the coastside office. Everyone else is spread out between Sacramento, Denver, Atlanta and beyond and work from home.

One of the reasons remote work has flourished in the recent past is that technology has solved for nearly all of the communications hurdles. At IMA, we use the following software stack for communication:
Slack for chat
Zoom for video conferencing (IMO, Zoom if head and shoulders above their competitors)
Teamwork for production work
Prosperworks for our CRM
RingCentral for client phone calls

One critique of remote working is that the more space you put between people, the less they communicate. The claim is that you can have all of the tools in the world, but employees are not inclined to adopt them. The historical thinking is that human nature throws a wrench in things. One study cited as proof of this idea was done back in 1977 by an MIT professor named Thomas J. Allen. Allen separated scientists and engineers by various distances and then tracked their communication patterns. He found that when people were 100 feet away from one another communication dropped to near zero.

Of course, Stewart Butterfield hadn’t attempted to build a video game company which failed which led his team to focus on the chat app they built to create the video game in one of the best reincarnations in recent memory, right up there with Odeo turning into Twitter (also a very similar story of internal communication tech replacing the product that it was built to build) in 1977.

In our experience, people use tools that make them more productive. It’s true that IMA didn’t regularly video conference until Zoom came along. We also didn’t use chat regularly until Slack came along (we tried with Campfire. It just didn’t take). The tech that actually works flawlessly allows for adoption. It’s not human beings that are the monkey wrench. It’s mediocre software. The good software opens the floodgates. In fact, it’s a problem we’re trying to now fix. Our team communicates to the point of distraction in Slack, and I don’t think we’re alone.

It’s Important to Physically Interact

Remote work certainly has its challenges. Physical interaction breeds a level of trust and familiarity that isn’t possible via Zoom. But that doesn’t mean you have to see each other every day. Or even every month. I would argue four times a year would be the minimum. At IMA, it’s closer to 16 times a year. We think that works best for us at the moment.

Every month, our strategic team meets in a conference room at WeWork. We’re currently able to do this because this team is all located in the Bay Area. It’s always great to see everyone in person. We drink coffee, catch up on with each other (there’s lots of baby talk currently) and then get to work on company news, priorities, client work, etc. We go to lunch together and bond a little more. Then we go home.

It’s always an enjoyable day, but I don’t think it’s needed all the time. When we first moved we would meet at We Work every Monday. We quickly discovered it was overkill.

Remote Work and Trust

I’m a firm believer in trusting employees and treating them like adults. Taking this approach has never let me down. Trust is a large part of remote working. If you are anxious and thinking your remote team is just loafing around watching Netflix all day, I encourage you to practice being more trusting. One famous founder who goes all in on trust is Richard Branson. I could summarize what he recently said on the Freakonomics podcast, but he is so committed and clear on this topic that I’ll just post the transcript.

BRANSON: …if people want to work from home, let them work from home. If people want to work from home on Fridays and Mondays, let them work from home Fridays and Mondays. If people want to take a month off and go around the world, let them take a month off and go around the world. I mean, people will give everything back if you give them the flexibility and treat them like adults.

DUBNER: I hear you, and I so want to believe that that’s the way to be. But the skeptic in me just thinks well, if every company let everybody work from home Fridays and Mondays and let them take a week off and go take balloon trips or climb a mountain that, you know, productivity would plummet and the economy would fall apart. Why do people not exploit that, at your firm, at least?

BRANSON: Because they feel trusted. And also, look — let’s just look at this business of forcing people to come to an office. First of all, you’ve got maybe an hour or an hour and a half of travel time in the morning, another hour and a half of travel time in the evening. And, you know, when you’re at the office, it’s important that you say hello to everybody and that you’re friendly with everybody, so you use up another hour or two, you know, socializing with people. Then, because you’re not at home, you need to communicate with your family. So you spend another bit of time communicating with your family. And so the day carries on, and you might get a couple hours of work done. If you’re at home, you know, you wake up. You can spend a bit of time with your family. And be a proper father, which is perhaps the most important — or mother — most important things that we can do in our life. But you can also find the time to get whatever your job is done because you’ve got another four or five hours free to do it. And you know, we’ve never been let down by people that we’ve given that trust to. I think treating people as adults, giving people trust, is so important.

Well said, Sir Richard.

P.S. If you are a company that is considering a move to remote work but would like some more insight into how to do it, contact me on LinkedIn, and we can set up a call. I’m happy to help.

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My Holiday Letter to our Agency Clients

IMA Life

 

Dear Clients of IMA,

The holiday season has arrived, and 2017 is winding down to a close. I want to thank all of you for choosing to partner with IMA. We don’t take your choice for granted.

2017 rocketed past. I’m sure many of you feel the same way. We made significant changes to the way we work, we welcomed new members to the IMA team, and we welcomed many of you as new clients.

But for me, two things stand out.

This past May, we moved out of the San Francisco office that was our home for six years. Our office was in Dogpatch, an up and coming neighborhood that is adjacent to Mission Bay (current home of the San Francisco Giants and soon to be home of the Golden State Warriors). Over six years we were able to witness the changes firsthand. What was known as a “maker” neighborhood when we arrived became a trendy neighborhood with old buildings razed and replaced with new condos. The benefit to our team was the arrival of better coffee (Philz opened their headquarters a block away from us and nearly bankrupted me with $4 coffees and $12 avocado toast), three craft breweries, and a dozen new restaurants serving everything from gourmet street tacos to Hawaiian brunches.

So why, with all of the coffee, beer, and tacos, did we move? It was simple. As our team grew, I knew we needed to broaden our horizons when it came to finding talent. The San Francisco Bay Area is an incredibly competitive job market, and salaries here carry a 35% premium over the national average. I decided to keep our current strategic team as local as possible and move to a more distributed structure for the rest of our employees and contractors. I also saw productivity boosts when our employees worked from home. Towards the end of 2016 more of our team was distributed and, on any given day, half of our local team would be working from home. It no longer made sense to have 3,000 square feet of office space.

Today we have an office at a WeWork location in downtown San Francisco, an office on the coast near my home and a “work from anywhere” culture. The strategic team still gets together in San Franciso a couple of times each month, but on a daily basis, we use video conferencing and Slack to communicate, and we’ve never been more productive. Not only that, but we also lead healthier, happier lives because of less commute time which allows more time to be spent with friends and family.

On a recent flight home from Los Angeles, I sat next to another agency owner. We got to talking, and one of the first questions he asked was, “Have you gone distributed yet?”. I told him we had and we shared notes and tips and how neither one of us could imagine going back to the old way. Our lives are more networked than ever, whether it be social networks or computer networks, and this is happening in the physical world as well. Networked teams, using the latest technology, are more efficient, productive and happier. The work world is changing fast. It’s been fun to take this leap and witness the future.

The second thing that stood out this year was all of the new babies born to our strategic team. Over the first decade of IMA’s existence, there had been three babies born. This year, within three months, there were three babies born. To make matters more interesting, all three were born to members of our strategic team. It has been quite a ride.

I have learned more about our healthcare system, maternity and paternity leave and California’s disability system than I ever imagined. It has been eye-opening. After watching this TED talk (http://bit.ly/2kGK2Mw), I was committed to providing the best maternity and paternity leave that the agency could afford. For IMA, that meant three months of paid maternity leave and one month of paid paternity leave. By law in California, I am only required to offer six weeks of non-paid leave. But here in Silicon Valley that’s unheard of and becomes a competitive disadvantage. Companies like Netflix offer an entire year of paid leave. Others like Google and Facebook have similar policies. It also did not seem right only to provide six weeks, paid or otherwise. I’m the father of two young boys, Jack and Finn, and I remember those first six weeks very well. Actually, what I remember is the haze of sleep deprivation. Asking one of my employees to come back in that state did not make sense to me.

Has it hurt our profit margin? Of course. But I believe we will more than make up for it this year because the new parents on my team feel respected and ready to return at full force. And baby Caroline, baby Stella, and baby James will have a little smoother entry into this world.

That’s what stood out for me in 2017. As business owners, entrepreneurs and employees, we are always making adjustments, looking for advantages and improving our processes. I hope you all had a great 2017 in that regard.

IMA has some exciting new programs we are working on over the holiday period that will encourage more collaboration and communication with our clients. We look forward to sharing them with you in 2018. Here’s to another great year together.

Thanks for reading and have a safe and happy holiday!

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