A couple of years ago my wife and I made a decision to uproot our family to make a move from Illinois to Nashville, Tennessee. People move to new states all the time, so what was the big deal about our move, and why should you be interested?
As you can probably imagine, uprooting your entire family – including four small children – is disruptive to the core. And so is starting a new job in the new location.
But that’s the twist on this story – I didn’t have a new job to transfer to. No, I’m self-employed, and I was leaving my business behind.
That’s because it’s a brick-and-mortar business, complete with employees. It wouldn’t fit in the moving truck, and none of my employees felt like coming along anyway. I was faced with the challenge of continuing to run a business without being there in person.
And an interesting, but perhaps not unexpected result was that I increased my productivity and decreased my stress level as a result of working remotely.
That’s one of the interesting outcomes of change. When you make one you can see the obstacles, but not the silver linings awaiting you on the other side. The move was a challenge for sure, but one that enabled me to move forward in my life in a way I couldn’t fully appreciate before the fact.
Spoiler Alert: I Was No Stranger to Managing from Afar
No, I’ve never run a brick-and-mortar business from afar. But I already had a lot of experience running two websites from home. That included my blog, Good Financial Cents and my insurance site, Life Insurance by Jeff. Websites, even complicated ones, easily lend themselves to remote operation, including and especially from home.
But my financial planning business, Alliance Wealth Management, wasn’t a blog or a website. It had a physical business location and a full staff of employees.
Running that kind of business from another state is entirely different from running a website. It was the kind of business where both my staff and clients were accustomed to a generous amount of face-to-face contact with me.
My experience running my two websites from home certainly helped, but it didn’t exactly translate directly into running a small company from afar. But one thing I did have in my favor was a dedication to make remote management of the business work.
And I’m not going to lie, there was a definite learning curve involved in the process. Fortunately, I learned some very valuable business lessons along the way. If you’re planning to run a business in one location, but would like to move to another, I have plenty of advice to offer that will make the transition smoother.
Below I offer five strategies that will help you to successfully transition to running your business remotely.
Strategy #1: Test the Waters Before Taking the Plunge for Real
This is a strategy I absolutely recommend for anyone who’s contemplating running their business remotely. Before making the move to Nashville, I concentrated on physically removing myself from the office. That meant working from home or even from a coffee shop, rather than going into the office.
This is an important step because it creates a weaning process. I was gradually acclimating both myself and my staff to my absence. But at the same time, I was still close by in case the test runs started breaking down.
This strategy was implemented gradually, which is critical. I started by being out of the office one day each week. That eventually turned into being out two or three days each week. And eventually, it reached a point where I was in the office only one day each week.
The gradual implementation of the test run helped me to see where there might be issues. But it also gave me an opportunity to fix those issues, while still being close enough to call off the whole experiment. Fortunately, that was never necessary, and the gradual nature of the change enabled me to make the geographic move with a lot more confidence.
I have to emphasize this strategy to anyone who is considering physically separating themselves from their business. Going the cold turkey route of making the move suddenly then trying to figure out how to make it work after the fact will create undue stress on both you and your employees. It’s even possible a clean and sudden break could lead to the failure of your business. Testing the waters gradually eliminated those negative outcomes.
Strategy #2: Use the Right Technology and Plenty of it
Fortunately, the Internet and all the tools available on it make running a business remotely easier than ever. Email alone enables you to interact with your staff and clients remotely, but that’s just the beginning. As a business owner running your business from afar, you’ll need to take advantage of all the technology available, and there’s plenty of it.
Examples of some of the technology I’ve successfully employed to run my business remotely include:
- Dropbox, which allows the sharing of client files and other documents, both with clients and with employees back at the office.
- DocuSign is a cloud-based app that enables you to deliver documents to clients for electronic signatures. It’s particularly important in any contract based business, like financial planning.
- BombBomb allows you to record video and sync it with company inboxes. It makes it much easier to deliver messages and instructions to employees.
Each of these apps do come with a fee, but each is a very small price to pay for the help it provides in making the remote management process easier. In effect, you’ll be using these apps to “be at the office” while you’re really somewhere else.
Strategy #3: Hire the Right People and Set the Right Expectations
This is another strategy that’s absolutely mission-critical. If you’re not going to be at the office on a regular basis, you need to hire people you can trust to make everything work in your absence. That’s not as easy as simply hiring people and expecting them to get the job done. And let’s face it, people who may be very reliable when the boss is around can be very different when he’s not.
How did I work around that issue?
With personality tests. Every new person I hire must take the Kolbe quiz. It measures creative instincts and best methods of operation. I assess the results of the quiz for each employee to determine if they’ll be a good fit for my company. Hiring the right people, with the right skills for my business, makes all the difference.
Strategy #4: Implement Training and Workable Processes
Apart from hiring the right people, it’s also important to create processes to instruct employees on how to handle your business. This is actually important even if you don’t plan to work remotely.
As an entrepreneur, you can easily become burned out by trying to handle every task in the company yourself. Finding ways to offload as many tasks as possible to your staff not only reduces your own stress level, but it also makes the whole operation work better.
But more important, if you plan to run your business remotely, the more tasks you can assign to your employees, the smoother the transition will be.
Here again, it was technology to the rescue for me. I use a program called SweetProcess which enables me to create specific processes and even videos that explain each aspect of my job. I’m able to use the program to teach my employees to do what I’m not there to do.
Strategy #5: Maintain Regular Contact and In-person Visits
Running a business remotely is sort of like cooking a big meal – you can never leave it completely alone. You’ve got to keep an eye on your business on a regular basis, even when you’re not there. And again, technology is a major advantage in this area.
I use a program called Slack, which is a cloud-based set of proprietary team collaboration software tools and online services. This enables me to maintain regular contact with my employees, and them with me. It also helps to keep track of all communications, including and especially major business directives. I don’t have to remember every conversation, because it’s all there recorded in Slack.
Another tool I found to be valuable is Zoom video conferencing. Video conferencing is really the next best thing to being physically present in your office. It allows me to have face time with my team, and also to share screens and important links, while communicating in real time. It’s invaluable for both company meetings and one-on-one interactions.
But even with all the technology that’s available to maintain contact with the office, it’s still important to have an actual visit from time to time. These can be both scheduled and surprise visits. It adds a physical presence to all the technology, and reminds your staff you can be there at any time.
The Payoffs of Running Your Business Remotely
It’s true the primary purpose of learning to run my business remotely was to allow me to relocate to another state, while still keeping my business up and running. I was certainly able to accomplish that, but there were some unexpected benefits along the way.
By transitioning to running my business remotely, I was free to not only live where I choose, but also to have greater control over my time. The transition has left me with more stress-free time to spend with my family, and to run my various business operations.
I’m actually less of a business owner and more of an entrepreneur at heart. That means I have numerous business ventures going at any given point in time. By setting up my business to run essentially on automatic pilot, with me in a remote location, I have both more freedom of movement and a clearer head to do whatever else it is I want to do.
If you’re a business owner, your goal should be to enable your business to run without you.
That will put you in a position to be an overseer, rather than a jack-of-all-trades. And that will create the mountaintop view of your business that will allow you to better direct your company, rather than being trapped in the details.
I can’t emphasize enough how running your business remotely increases your own personal productivity. You’ll have the ability to run multiple businesses, since you’re not tied down by any single business. I’m free to pursue any business interest I choose. It’s hard not to be in awe of the unlimited opportunities that arrangement creates, but it’s very real.
Even if you’re not planning on relocating, you can still reap the rewards of learning to run your business remotely.