Sean Smith is the Co-founder of SimpleTiger, a distributed SEO and Content Marketing agency focused on simply effective tactics that drive quality results for their clients through search. You can find him in his own Twitter profile as well as the SimpleTiger twitter, and their Website: simpletiger.com
1. What do you do, how many are you, from where do you work?
We’re a fully remote team of about 6 full-time employees currently with 12+ contractors that we work with on a consistent basis to provide quality writing and content sourcing for our clients.
We’re spread out across the US, in California, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, all over the map. We work from coffee shops, our houses, and we also have an office based in Sarasota, FL where local employees can come and collaborate.
2. How, when and why did you become a remote team or distributed company with employees working remotely?
My Co-founder, Jeremiah (who is also my brother) and I really loved the idea of the remote work environment, and after reading The 4-Hour Workweek and Remote by Tim Ferriss and the team from 37signals (now Basecamp) respectively, we were addicted to the idea of having full autonomy over where, when, and how we worked.
We both come from agencies that, while lenient in their practices, were a bit old-fashioned in their belief of how we should work. We didn’t see the need to be in the physical office at all times when all communication, collaboration, and actionable work could be done from wherever we had internet access.
After we both went freelance a while back we decided to combine our clients and come together to create an agency built on a remote framework where we can employ people from all around the country, and eventually the world – giving them autonomy in their work and freedom in their lifestyle, so long as they get their work done well and on time.
3. Which have been the advantages to become a remote company or having a distributed team?
Having such a fantastic team spread out across the country. We would have never found such fantastic employees as quickly or as efficiently as we did in a remote environment if we were just trying to hire from the pool here in Sarasota. That’s not a jab at Sarasota, that’s just an honest representation of the rest of the population.
We all have diverse backgrounds in different areas which honestly lends a lot of perspective to the challenges we face, much like our multicultural melting pot of a country gives us a unique perspective over the rest of the world.
4. Have there been any disadvantages and obstacles? How have you overcome these challenges?
Sure, but I think each challenge opens its own opportunities as well.
For example, it would seem like at face value having employees in different time zones would make for a difficult working condition. While it can impede communication a little bit, it has its hidden benefits for clients based in different time zones, some are closer than others to the client, and thus can communicate faster to them when people in other time zones might already be asleep, or not yet awake.
The main challenge has been finding a way to effectively communicate and having the means in place to do so, now that those all have solutions, it’s very easy for us to move projects forward effectively without much interference.
5. How do you do to operate effectively as a remote or distributed team? Have you modified the processes, tools, organization and internal activities?
Yeah, so we have put in place a detailed training library in the backend of our site that we give to all contractors and employees to train up on all of the ongoings of our organization, from processes we use to the ways we communicate. This helps get everyone on the same page very quickly.
Then we use tools like Slack, Basecamp, and Skype to have consistent calls, text-message-based communication, and project-based communication to keep projects moving forward easily.
Since we built this from the ground up it wasn’t a matter of adjusting, it was more a matter of building the right system from the ground up how we think it should be done, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far!
6. How do you do to hiring remotely? What’s the process that you follow?
We tried to hire cold-turkey and it was really tough to be perfectly honest. We learned that if we hired people on as contractors first with the understanding that the positions we filled in a contract basis could become full-time positions once we have the bandwidth to account for it, it was a lot easier to deal with.
So now we just bring on contractors as we need to, then when we’re ready to hire full-time employees we hire from that pool of contractors that have already proven their work ethic, communication, and skillset. This has proven to be very effective.
7. What would you say to companies that don’t believe to hire employees who work remotely?
I genuinely understand the reluctance, it’s a scary thought that you aren’t going to be able to control someone fully, but I hate the idea of being controlled, so I hate the idea of controlling people.
I think when you take it from that mindset it’s easier to understand the value that you would be giving your employees that are hired in a remote work environment. They would have a different level of freedom than anyone in any other job. They would have the autonomy to make their own way, and have the entrepreneur’s mind while solving your problems, which leads to a surprising amount of serendipity.
When someone feels like they are just being controlled they feel a natural urge to rebel, and that can form up in many different ways. People ask if I worry if I will lose employees that are thinking about going out on their own because of the freedom of the remote environment, and I actually think the opposite. I left my job to pursue the remote environment because I wasn’t allowed the freedom I wanted. Some of our employees have been offered incredible jobs at some incredible companies and have flat out told us this. The reason they stayed? Because they felt happy where they were, they were well taken care of, and they have the freedom they want, without the drawbacks of a bad business to work for.
You don’t have to be Google to compete on talent, you just have to treat your employees right and care about what is best for them while trying to do what is best for your clients as well. It’s really a simple process.
8. Which are the tools that you use or help you to work remotely?
- Slack – for internal chat-based communication
- Basecamp – for project management and client communication
- Skype – for calls and video conferencing
- JustWorks – for billing, payroll, benefits, etc.
- Squarespace – for our website, blog, backend training library, etc.
- Vimeo Pro – for our training videos
- GatherContent – for our content collaboration with clients and internally for our blog and things of that nature
- Buffer – for social sharing and social media management
- Toggl – for time tracking and project management (allotting time to projects)
- Freshbooks – for invoicing and proposals
- Google Drive – for document sharing and collaboration
Those are the main ones, there are probably others too that I’m leaving out, but honestly those are the lion’s share of what gets the work done. Sure there are industry specific ones too, but those are less relevant to remote work and more relevant to SEO and content marketing.
9. How do you manage the business, salaries and things like taxes as a remote company?
We’ve had to be careful about salaries based on location. Buffer has a great way of handling this and tiering their salaries based on location, our’s is definitely less refined, but we compare salaries of locations on Glassdoor and sources like that to make sure we’re offering more than fair compensation for the area our employees live in.
We want our employees to live very comfortably, so we make sure they make above the normal rate for the job in the area.
We have a bookkeeper on staff who is remote, based out of North Georgia, and does great work to keep our books and taxes in order. We also have a CPA who handles many more intricate tax filings for all of our employees. JustWorks handles a lot of it on their own, but we have definitely done our due diligence to make sure we have the personnel in place to let Jeremiah and I not have to worry much about that side of things, as it can get very mentally exhausting very quick, but is also crucially important.
10. What advice would you give to companies that are starting to work remotely or establishing a distributed team?
Go with your gut, don’t be afraid to relinquish responsibilities, learn from your mistakes fast, observer everything and don’t be afraid to make changes on the fly. Things are going to come up, things are going to break, it’s going to be interesting but it’s a fun and rewarding ride.
I would say that because you won’t have a lot of physical overhead early on you will be spoiled by it, and you should make sure you’re absolutely ready before you take on fixed overhead like full-time salary-based employees. I would recommend having a lot in savings before ever attempting this.
Make sure the people you bring on are very communicative and can deliver well in a remote environment. Some people are subject to distraction more than others, make sure the people you bring on can hit deadlines, can communicate frustrations or shortcomings effectively, and can help you build rather than expect a perfect ship to sail on from the get-go.
Also, have fun with it, and don’t diminish what makes remote work great in the first place: freedom, autonomy, ownership, and effectiveness.