Interview: Define Media Group

Marshall Simmonds, the founder of Define Media Group has answered to all of our questions in our interview. He has worked remotely since 1999, and their company has always been remote-based workers right from the start in 2005. You can follow his Twitter, see his profile on their website and you can check what he offers in his company in his website.

1. Could you please introduce yourself? What’s the name of your company, what do you do, how many are you, from where do you work?

Marshall Simmonds, founder of Define Media Group. I, like the five other senior level consultants at Define, identify opportunities and guide institutional change for large, enterprise companies.
I work, mainly, from Boise, Idaho. We have people in Utah, New Jersey, Philadelphia, San Antonio and Barcelona, Spain.

Marshall Simmons2. How, when and why did you become a remote team or distributed company with employees working remotely?

I’ve worked remote since 1999. Mainly because About.com (where I was the Chief Search Strategist for many years) and subsequently all major blue-chip publishers were in New York City and I wanted to live in Bend, Oregon. If you’ve been to Bend, you understand why I wanted to stay.

Define Media Group started in 2005 as a part of and incubated by, the New York Times Company where I also headed up search. As to why we are remote? We’re a lifestyle company and because I never want location to be a barrier to working with the best industry talent. To that end, Define is incredibly successful.

3. Which have been the advantages to become a remote company or having a distributed team?

We all get to live and be with our immediate and extended families. Ain’t nothin more important than that! Personally, I require the outdoors for sanity. Oregon and now Idaho fill that necessary gap.

4. Have there been any disadvantages and obstacles? How have you overcome these challenges?

Sure. You miss the natural creativity, spontaneity, and energy of the office space. At the same time, we also cut out a lot of the overhead costs and occasional office nonsense. We’re hyper-communicative with clients and each other as a result. We continue to come up with some very colorful ways to entertain one another and make up for the lack of being at the same physical location.

5. How do you do to operate effectively as a remote or distributed team? Have you modified the processes, tools, organization and internal activities?

Slack.
GDocs/Sheets.
Attention to thorough documentation.
Dropbox.

Search Engine Optimization is incredibly cyclical. Just when we thought the META Keyword tag was dead? We get ver.2 the Google News Keyword tag. Easy information to re-purpose, test and educate clients on.

Adam, Brian, Shahzad and I are quickly approaching 20 years in Audience Development and SEO work. There are few scenarios we haven’t seen in our travels. If it is a new or unique challenge, there’s a good chance we’ve experienced something similar and can draw on that expertise.Finally, we document everything and are relentless at *not* recreating work.

Dave Sottimano is always trying something new in his lab to make our jobs easier and more efficient. JavaScript used to be verboten now it’s part of the game, and you get five seconds to render content you want Google to index (after the DOM loads). That took Dave 10 minutes to figure out.

Aaron keeps our proprietary tools; our industrial strength crawler, metrics dashboard, APIs, AWS account, up and running to support the day-to-day work.

6. How do you do to hiring remotely? What’s the process that you follow?

We’re looking for people who are reliable, responsible and competent. We have to be extremely selective as the right fit is essential to our small team. It’s also imperative the person is comfortable working independently. At the same time, we’re highly dependent on each other to convey findings, give input and feedback on specific challenges and maintain business relationships.

7. What would you say to companies that don’t believe to hire employees who work remotely?

Good, don’t. We’ll hire them. Seriously, though, if you can’t trust someone to work remote, why hire that person at all?

8. Which are the tools that you use or help you to work remotely?

The usual collaboration tools: Slack (minor Zaps usage), Skype, PipeDrive, GoogleDocs, and Dropbox. Nothing ground shaking there – but if anything this highlights the fact that it’s the people more than the tools. Sure they’re important for version control and communication, but Define was highly successful before these tools with just IM and a phone.

9. How do you manage the business, salaries and things like taxes as a remote company?

No different really. Again we’re senior level consultants and are paid accordingly and with significant profit sharing. Managing cross-state taxes absolutely sucks. Managing healthcare choices, which Define provides for everyone and their families, is limited and therefore frustrating as well. So in a way, the forces are working against us, but we (our bookkeeper) makes it work. The US system sure doesn’t make it easy, though.

10. What advice would you give to companies that are starting to work remotely or establishing a distributed team?

Always hire people that are smarter than you.
Find people you genuinely want to work with and can learn from. These guys teach me new things every week; from actual tactics to how to handle challenging situations or clients.
Find people with similar work ethics as yours with the understanding it may not be easy to train these principles into a new-hire.
Get a work sample – always. Being able to professionally and efficiently communicate an idea is critical to enterprise-level consultation. Any of us at DMG can (and often do) present to Executive Level teams to set strategy or dive deep into the trenches to diagnose problems.
No one at Define sits in the Ivory Tower; we’re all directly responsible for the company’s success and each other’s paycheck.

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