One objection I often bump up against, when talking with prospective clients, is that I’m based in New Hampshire while the prospect client is based somewhere else.
“We really want someone who is local,” I’ve often heard. At first, I used to despair when I heard this because it sometimes meant I’d lose a gig.
What I’ve come to learn over the years, however, is when people say “local,” what they really mean is:
- “We want an agency / consultant that’s responsive” (e.g. we want you to get back to us in hours not days)
- “We want to meet you face-to-face” (e.g. we want to be sure we can trust you)
- “We work 9 – 5” (e.g. we want someone who shares similar work hours)
I’ve also spent the last six years working with Rachel Cunliffe of Cre8d Design. Rachel and I are 9,000 miles apart, and as we like to joke, she’s always working in the future (NZ is 18 hours ahead).
Yet we constantly juggle multiple projects, clients-in-common, and deadlines — all the while remaining super responsive to our clients.
(In fact, one of our clients worked with us for months without realizing Rachel was in New Zealand. When she found out, she said, “OMG, she’s more responsive than the people we work with here in the U.S.!” Yep.)
It’s due to working with Rachel, and our far-flung clients-in-common, that I’ve learned distance means nothing.
It was while working on our latest project, a visually stunning website for a New Zealand-based business called Forgotten Arts, that I realized we had really good process in place — one that allows us to work closely with our clients while helping them create the very best websites and marketing pieces imaginable.
While we continually hone our process and improve our efficiencies, we’re also constantly testing new things. What follows are the applications and tools we use to improve our jobs and our customers’ experience with us.
Scheduling: Google Calendar / Calendly
When working virtually with people in multiple time zones, you have to have a good calendar, and the one I’ve relied on for forever is Google Calendar. One, it syncs with just about everything, and two, it allows you to create an event in your time zone — and then once you send out the invite, it schedules the event in the recipient’s time zone.
This means I can schedule an event with four people — with one person (Rachel) being clear across the world (and a day ahead to boot) and never miss a beat.
Calendly is another tool I can’t live without. With its simple interface, it’s easy for customers and others to schedule a call with me that suits their schedules and mine.
Calendly eliminates all the back and forth email and asking about availability and time zones, which makes it efficient, too. Calendly is free, but if you pay the $8 a month, you can allow people to book different types of calls — e.g. group conference calls, workshop or webinar calls, etc.
Best of all, Calendly syncs with Google Calendar — which means that people can’t book a call when I already have something on my calendar at a specific time. And, anytime someone schedules a call with me, it’s added to my calendar and we both receive a notification. Sweet!
Face-to-face meetings: Skype
For companies within driving range (up to 11 hours from where I am in NH – ha!), I’ll drive to the facility. I love meeting people and taking tours of manufacturing plants, so I’m always willing to get in the car for a nice road trip.
But, driving isn’t always an option, so Skype video is the next best thing to being there — and this is especially true when Rachel and I need to collaborate with clients.
We’ve held group video calls with clients when needed as well as our respective individual calls. For the Forgotten Arts project, for example, I spent a couple of calls with the client where he showed me his space (using his MacBook camera) and the types of items he wanted to make in his workshops. He even introduced me to his wife on one call.
Amazingly, Skype is still free for Skype-to-Skype calls although you can purchase Skype minutes for group conference, video calls and for calling land lines.
Rachel and I do a great deal of chatting about our projects, things we read, ideas we have, and all kinds of other stuff. To keep things simple and in one place, we use Slack.
Slack, which is a virtual workspace for small and mid-sized businesses, lets you create channels so you can group your chats by topic — and it keeps all this info in a nice searchable archive. Slack integrates with all sorts of applications, and it easily lets you upload photos, images, and other documents.
Because it’s so simple to use, Slack has become our private virtual office — a place where we can chat at any time and also accomplish a great deal of work.
What I love about Slack is that it works beautifully on a smartphone, which means Rachel and I can quickly touch base with each other if we or our clients have questions regarding a project.
Slack also puts you in control by letting you set your own notification times — meaning, you can work uninterrupted, or set it to hold all notifications while you’re asleep, or to not notify you on weekends.
Slack has free and paid plans.
Project management: Basecamp
While Slack is great, the foundation of our work together is Basecamp. It’s here that we create and manage all client projects, monitor work flows and tasks, and have discussions that are too long or too detailed for Slack.
Clients can see us interacting with each other, monitor the progress of projects, and add their own feedback and ideas.
When clients are first introduced to Basecamp, they have some hesitancy, which is understandable. It’s a new tool and new tools take time to learn. But once people use the interface, which is very easy to learn, they come to love it — generally because it saves so much time in the long run.
Basecamp is an archive of all previous communications and files. If a new team member is brought on, no old emails or files need to be forwarded – as the new member is given a login to access everything. Basecamp also eliminates the “I never received your email,” excuse as everything is right there.
Email: Gmail Priority Inbox
I’ve written about this app before, but it’s worth repeating. Gmail’s Priority Inbox is the absolute best tool on the planet, bar none.
Instead of all those distracting tabs in regular Gmail, with Priority Inbox you have two inboxes: Priority (which is at the top) and everything else.
Priority email is the stuff you want to see. For me, this includes: inquiries, Calendly, and Basecamp notifications; stuff from clients, Rachel, and colleagues; newsletters from people who are also friends; and anything else I’ve deemed important.
Everything else goes into the “bottom” inbox. I have a very bad habit of letting it all build up and then deleting it all with one fell swoop — which ends up making Priority Inbox super efficient.
To access Priority Inbox, go into your Gmail settings and click the Inbox tab. At the little drop down menu, choose Priority Inbox. The Inbox page also has a little video which shows how Priority Inbox works.
Collaboration: Google Docs
And last but not least, we use Google Docs for when we want each other’s feedback about something we’re working on. For example, we’ve made it a habit to share our blog posts and ideas about work with clients-in-common.
By creating this work in Google Docs, we’re able to collaborate in a way that we never could using Microsoft Word. Google Docs eliminates all the emailing back and forth and the waiting for edits to be done.
As an example, I wrote this piece before Rachel came online and then she added her comments while I was at spin class. Sometimes we end up working on the same doc at the same time. It’s this type of close collaboration that makes our work much better.
In conclusion . . .
As you can see, it’s actually pretty easy to be super responsive, collaborative, and manage projects efficiently no matter where in the world people on a team reside.
All it takes is the right tools, a willingness to learn how to use them, and most important, the understanding that with today’s technology, “local” can mean right next door or halfway around the world.