Interview with James Gurd

James GurdJames Gurd is an independent ecommerce and digital strategy consultant at his own consultancy called Digital Juggler. You can find him in twitter and LinkedIn.

1. How did you started working remotely? 

I worked as an ecommerce consultant in a digital agency for nearly 2 years but didn’t like the business model – focus was on maximising revenue in the short-term, not building long-term partnerships based on delivering value and quality.

I didn’t share the vision of the CEO/COO, so there was only 1 option – end my contract. A few of my clients told me to stay in touch, and I started canvassing around to see if anyone in my network needed freelance support.

I had no plan, no vision, no strategy! It was a case of ‘please sir/madam, can I have some work’!. It started slow, then a few more projects dropped, and then I realised I need to put a proper plan and structure in place to make it a long-term play.

2. What do you think are the main advantages of remote work?

  1. I spend more time with my kids. I’ve got a 3 yr old son and 5 yr old daughter; I get to do the school runs, go to school plays, take them to after school clubs. Not many parents get that opportunity and that is more important to me than anything else.
  2. I’m the boss and get to choose who i work with – hugely important, actually enjoying who you work with and not working for companies/industries you don’t believe in (personally or professionally) e.g. I won’t work with payday loans companies.
  3. I can control how I work. Of course, i’ve got to align with client needs, but as a consultant you’re afforded much more flexibility in terms of remote working vs. on-premise.
  4. I can choose how much to work and how to cut my day; if I want to take 2hrs out for the gym I can, then work in the evening. If I wake up early, i’ll crack on and then can take a break during the day if needed.
  5. I don’t have to commute! So many hours are lost stuck on packed trains/tubes/buses in discomfort. I save up to 1hr every morning and evening by avoiding this, and it saves £££.

3. Do you think there are disadvantages or that you’re missing something by working remotely?

Of course, nothing is perfect. I guess the key things are:

  1. I’m not contracted, so there’s no guarantee of income.
  2. I work solo, so don’t have the atmosphere of an office.
  3. You have less time to interact with other people, bounce ideas around and listen to what others are saying.
  4. You’ve got to be incredibly focused and disciplined; it’s easy to be distracted working from home but you need to screen out the noise e.g. don’t turn the TV on!
  5. It’s harder for me to attend events; evening events are a no-go most days as i’ve got to pick up the kids, feed them and get them ready for bed before my wife gets home. There are some great meetups like Take It Offline i’d love to get involved with.

That’s why remoters tend to be quite active via informal networks – social media, meetups etc. That’s one of the reasons I launched EcomChat with Dan Barker in 2013, to ensure I stayed connected with smart people who know things that I don’t, so I can learn from them and also help them based on my own experience.

4. From which cities or countries have you worked since you have become remote? 

Mainly UK, and just outside London as most of my clients are based there. When travelling I’ve worked from places like Thailand, Philippines, Laos and Cambodia – writing best practice reports to fund my travels!

My laptop is always with me as i’m the only person in the business, so when i’m on holiday I have it there to stay in the loop with client emails and conversations on Slack, Trello etc. So i’ve done bits and bobs from France, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Sweden.

5. From which type of place do you prefer to work? 

Home office is #1 always – I’m relaxed, it’s no extra cost and i’ve got it set-up how I like it. Sometimes i’ll work in a coffee shop for a change of place, or if i’m feeling lazy and don’t want to make breakfast!

When in London, it’s in cafes and restaurants mainly when i have breaks between meetings. I do also occasionally find a quiet place in a client’s office after a meeting, or sit in a meeting room at an agency i’m working with.

6. Which places would you like to travel to while working remotely?

For now as the kids are young, it will be short haul in Europe. As they get older, we’ll be doing more long haul trips in the school holidays to places we’d love them to see – Cuba, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines. And the list goes on.

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

You’ve just screened out a chunk of your potential audience. Unless you need someone in a specific location (e.g. hospitals need doctors and nurses on-site), then you should target finding the best people and create a flexible approach to working. It can save you money.

I’d also point out that there is research to suggest some people work more effectively and are more productive working remote vs. in an office. There are typically fewer distractions e.g. gossip!

Some skills and projects are better suited than others e.g. development had a long history of remote working.

My argument to companies who say it’s not in their policy, is why would you ignore something without testing if it could actually benefit your business? You might be losing smart people to competitors who are more open minded. It’s a cultural perspective and comes from the top down; if the Board are against remote working, very hard for senior management to support it.

8. Which tools do you use to work remotely?

  • Email
  • Social media – Twitter & LinkedIn
  • Google Docs
  • Trello
  • Slack
  • Basecamp
  • Dropbox
  • Skype for Business
  • GoTo Meeting/Join.me

9. How do you manage your business and taxes as a remote working professional?

I use an accountant with a custom online portal – I input all the data required, they process my personal and business returns including payroll, corporation tax, self-assessment, dividends, HMRC submissions. It’s £110 per month + VAT and saves me so much time. The company is In-touch Accounting and it’s a reliable service.

10. What advice would you give to people looking to work remotely and companies making the remote switch?

I can only speak from my experience as a consultant. The most important thing is to have a network related to your expertise, so that you can stay in touch with latest trends and good practice. It’s essential you stay relevant and don’t just disappear into the abyss.

Then it’s to ensure you know what work/life balance you’re trying to achieve, and plan to ensure you don’t lose focus. When you’re not in a formal working environment, only you can ensure you work effectively.

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