Clear and frequent communication is the secret of success when it comes to working with a virtual team. Millions of small business owners rely on freelance talent based around the world. Talent sites such as Elance.com make it easy to find the perfect person to complete a project within your budget and schedule.
But, it takes effort to make sure your virtual team is working productively and moving in the same direction. Before moving to Brooklyn a few months ago, I lived in rural Vermont. Our biggest consulting and video production clients are located in Virginia and Washington State and most of the people I rely on are based elsewhere around the U.S., with two freelancers based in Europe.
My senior producer lives in New Jersey. Our writer/producer lives in Philadelphia and we have a field producer in Amsterdam. We work closely with three freelance directors of photography who also edit. One lives in Brooklyn, the other lives in New Jersey and the third, in Paris. Our marketing strategist lives on an island off the coast of Georgia and my partner in our newest venture, the Fabulous Female Network.com, lives in Vancouver.
It was a treat when we all met in New York last month to produce the 24-Hour Small Business Makeover contest at the New York Expo. We enjoyed working together in one place, even if it was just for a couple of days. Before everyone left, we had a brainstorming session and sorted out what had to be accomplished by the end of 2012.
Most days we stay in close touch via frequent emails, texts, Skype and scheduled phone calls. Almost everything we need to do can be done online. Although we travel with crews to conduct interviews, I write and review all the scripts via email. Even before I start writing, I’m reviewing interview transcripts sent to us via email by our Virginia-based transcriber. (The editors send her time-coded audio files).
I watch rough cuts of projects posted on YouTube and send my notes back to the editors via email. We post the final versions on our new http://www.theapplegatenetwork.com website via DropBox.com.
No matter what you do for a living, here are some quick tips for managing a virtual workforce:
- Communication is essential when it comes to working virtually. Start the week by sending out a ‘Sunday memo’ to provide an overall view of every project and a detailed review of who is doing what. Set firm deadlines and provide all the information people need to get the work done efficiently and effectively.
- Schedule phone calls with key team members to avoid playing phone tag. Before the call, think about what you need to discuss. Create an agenda, leaving enough time for questions and answers. Try not to cancel or reschedule these calls—work around them if at all possible.
- Use cloud-based platforms like Google Docs to share important documents, sales and marketing materials. Store the most recent company logos, photos and graphics online so everyone can access them easily. There are several free or low cost calendar-sharing platforms in addition to the popular Microsoft Outlook®.
- Set up a weekly team call using a free conference calling service. Ask people to submit topics for discussion and send out an agenda in advance.
- Use Skype to keep in closer touch with people at least once a month. Seeing someone is helpful, especially when you are discussing a challenging or sensitive matter.
Jane Applegate is the author of four books on small business success, including 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business (Bloomberg/Wiley). She’s a popular keynote speaker and executive producer of The Applegate Group and The Applegate Network – http://www.theapplegatenetwork.com. Applegate writes for OpenForum.com, BloombergBusinessweek.com and FabulousFemaleNetwork.com. Current clients include: Microsoft, Cox Business, American Express and Bloomberg LP.
This article is from the SmallBizLady special blog series: 31 Ways to Boost Your Small Business in 2013. #Boost2013
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