The advent of digital technology and the internet age has opened up some amazing possibilities for professionals around the world. One of the biggest pluses is that people no longer need to congregate in an office to do their jobs.
Professionals - myself included - from a variety of different backgrounds can prove to be just as effective working remotely. This has allowed me to travel the world and, even though I put in a 40+ hours of work every week, I can do it from the beach.
So long as internet is available, I can live a life of perpetual travel, live in different cultures, and experience different cities without having to give up my job.
Here's the thing: I'm not special. Almost anyone can do it. I grew a location-independent blogger outreach business from the ground into a six-figure agency in just eight months, and I'm going to tell you how I did it.
Get your business on the front page of Google
If you're going to run a successful business, you need to establish a presence online. The most difficult aspect of this is landing your site on the first page of a Google search for a handful of keywords that relates to your business.
Many businesses struggle for years to do this, and many fail to do so altogether. But not us. Within just a few months, with hard work, collaboration, and righteous teamwork, we managed to get it done.
Our strategy consisted of three main steps:
Step 1. Grow Your Inventory
As a blogging outreach company, the first thing we needed to do was prove ourselves. This meant that we spent a significant amount of time in the beginning creating some amazing blog content with SEO in mind.
Once we had proven ourselves, we began reaching out to other blogs. Anyone who runs a content-based site faces the challenge of keeping their posts fresh.
One way to do this is to create a network of guest posters who will continually add new perspectives and styles.
Step 2. Skyscraper Content
The skyscraper model for blogging is fairly simple. First, you have to determine what posts are generating the highest traffic in your given topic of interest. These are the people at the top of the skyscraper, and they effectively set the standards for the best content.
The next step is simple: exceed that standard. Do what they're doing, but better, faster, and produce more.
Once you feel confident in your blog, continue to reach out and establish a network of other blogs to which you link and they link in return.
Step 3: Transition into a primarily outreach-based business
Step 2 is tough, there's no doubt about it. But once you make it over the hump, your job gets easier.
Having established your blog as the home of excellent content, you will be able to work less on content creation and more as a middleman, a virtual intermediary that not only connects your blog with others, but other blogs with other blogs as well.
Establish a blogging presence
Identify the current top of the skyscraper and exceed it
Network and link as much as possible
There is no doubt that laying out these three steps to success is easy, and execution is very hard. But it's not impossible. We did it in eight months.
Before I relate the whole process in detail, there is one caveat. For one, some of the smartest people in digital media today are creating crazy intense SEO strategies based on complicated algorithms we don't understand.
We didn't bother with that. Instead, we based our SEO strategy on keyword rankings. It's not like we didn't pay attention to other data, such as traffic, but this was our main focus.
Ok, let's get into the eight-month journey
The first thing we did was build dozens of guest post links to our site. I'm talking over 50 here, and we did our best to ensure that each had a Domain Authority of over 40.
Immediately, we began to see results. We established relationships with sites like Uproxxx and Huffington Post.
We continued to produce some skyscraper content and grew our reputation.
As we did this, we were able to secure several backlinks to a wide selection of different domains. Our network was growing. This gave our blog a homegrown and unique feel.
There wasn't a big change in our strategy during this period. What changed was our results.
As we kept up the high quality content production and outreach to guest posters, we landed our first keyword on the front page of Google.
We were barely 100 days old and we had already passed a huge milestone. A few after work toasts were made over Skype, and the next day we got back to work.
This may seem incredible. You might not even believe me. Here's what worked.
During this initial period, we did our best to produce consistently stellar content. We hit each of our keywords super hard and paid less attention to outreach. Our material was about 97% original and 3% guest posted.
The intergalactic gods that control Google figuratively saw our work and smiled upon us.
Keep in mind, Google sifts through a huge amount of online material to determine it's front page. No, we weren't attracting the most traffic during this initial period, but we were keeping it consistent.
That proved to be enough.
At this point, we knew we were legit, and the digital universe knew as well. It was time for a makeover. At that point, our site didn't even have a proper landing page, and it was poorly organized as well.
We hired a web designer to give our site a completely new look and also shore up a couple inconsistencies in style and design that had cropped up over the past few weeks.
Also, we started shifting into step 2. We continued to produce amazing content, but we began trying to hookup some more guest posting as well.
Just before hitting 150 days, we hit 200 domains that were hosting our content. 80% of our keywords were up in the rankings. That's some groovy juice right there.
We continued to grow, prosper, and produce more outstanding content.
During month 3, we landed a target keyword on the first page of Google, but during month 6, it fell to a lower ranking than when we began.
My employees thought this was bad news, but I was actually giddy with excitement.
Here's the thing, if you're doing the tricky dance step of SEO for a living, you're going to be dancing to some strange music.
I have no idea why this happens or how the Google algorithm determines it, but I've realized over the years that every climbing keyword ranking will drop for a period of 1-2 months at some point in it's trajectory upward.
Following that drop, prepare for glory, because after that time, Google is going to shoot you right back up again.
During this time, even though a few employees were freaking out, I pointed them to the traffic stats. We had a good mix of organic, direct, social, and display. I sent out several soothing emails coupled with Enya music videos.
We didn't change our strategy at all during this period. Many of our keyword rankings were in decline, but we kept up our mixture of content production and outreach to other blogs. The list of sites hosting our content continued to grow.
And then it happened.
One morning, I woke up to find one of our keywords ranked at #4, and another at #2. I struggled to swallow my coffee and double checked a couple of times to make sure nobody was pranking me somehow.
It was real.
At this point, I was confident that what we were doing was working. Every dataset was point up, more and more other blogs were hosting our content, and, even though we had begun to incorporate a much bigger amount of guest posts, our traffic hadn't suffered.
The time had come to initiate step 3. We made a conscious shift to move away from content creation and began to focus much more on outreach.
The shift was rocky at first, but there's a reason I'm ending things at month 8—we've been doing roughly the same thing ever since.
At this point, we create about 50% of our material and take the rest from our large network of blogs.
Profits are up, everyone is happy, and we have our first ever retreat scheduled for the fall.
This brief recap makes growing our blogging outreach business look easy, but you could measure the blood, sweat, and tears we put into this project with gallons. I couldn't have done it at all without the help of my now-24-person, globally distributed team.
The question I get most often is: “How do you manage to lead your employees without being present and gathering everyone into the same room?”
I won't lie, it isn't easy. Besides eliminating face-to-face contact, there are several other challenges you need to navigate. You have to rely on technology, WiFi access, and different time zones to name a few.
If you can master not only working remotely but also managing a team of employees and running a business from anywhere in the world, you will be able to join the ranks of us digital nomads who live out of our backpacks and wander the globe.
There are some alternative approaches that have helped us reach this level of success, and I've included them here.
1. Forget Wage Labor and Focus on Results
It was the Industrial Revolution that ushered in the era of wage labor where employees were paid based on how long they worked. Their efficiency and quality of work played a part, but they were not directly rewarded or punished based on their effort.
This is not the way I do things. I pay my employees on a per-project basis. This has several advantages. For one, employees are encouraged to do the job quickly and with a high attention to detail. If one of my writers sends in a sloppy post, I'm going to send it right back.
Each of us knows that the best, fastest way to get the job done is to do it right the first time. This also allows my employees to be more flexible with their work. They know that I'm not expecting them to work a given amount of time, but instead produce a given amount of content.
By focusing on results, I have been able to harness the potential of my team.
2. Be Patient with Alternative Schedules
By employing a remote workforce, there are a few things you're going to have deal with. Your employees, like you, will likely spend some of their time traveling. Flights can be delayed, buses can be late.
If someone misses a deadline for a reason that is out of their control, show understanding, and your employees will respect you all the more.
You may also employ people of different cultures, customs, and religions. Some may rise at 6 AM every day and work for eight hours straight. Others might take a siesta in the afternoon. Some may be night owls and work until dawn.
Be flexible. There's a reason that many of the best employees in the world choose to work remotely: they are interesting people with varying interests who like to experience new things and travel. If you can accommodate them, they will do some great work for you.
This comes with a caveat: If people use their remote location as an excuse for missing deadlines or turning in sloppy work, you should not accommodate them, you should fire them.
3. Inspire your Employees
Nobody wants to slog through their professional lives just to get a paycheck. People, especially millennials, want to work hard doing something they love to achieve some kind of positive change in the world. This is not an obstacle; it's a potential.
Harness your diverse team's thirst for fulfillment and rally everyone behind your brand and vision.
It's true, you will never be able to make everyone's work day thoroughly engaging. Every job entails some kind of laborious, repetitive, or undesirable task.
But if you can unite your employees behind your vision, not only will you make your workforce more effective and productive, you will be doing your employees a solid, and they will respect you for it.
Try running competitions within your workforce. Set goals and reward individuals appropriately.
4. Make it a Priority to Create a Community
One of the biggest pitfalls of employing a remote workforce is that your interactions can become cold and impersonal.
There's no common space for you to hang out, no café down the street where you can have lunch together, no bar where you can grab a beer together after work.
At the end of the day you and your workforce are a group of humans using technology that was developed mere decades ago. Its effects have not been studied.
What we know is that humans are most effective when they feel that they're a part of a community.
Turn your employees into a digital community. Schedule regular, informal Skype calls where everyone can see each other and interact. Try to do your best to “work out loud” by interacting with everyone as if you were speaking in person.
5. Interact with Your Employees on an Individual Level
This directly relates to the previous point. If your workforce is a community, you are the tribe leader, and as such, you need to be a presence in your employees' lives.
Schedule regular one-on-one Skype meetings. Get to know them. Figure out what makes tick, what their hopes and dreams are, what their families are like. Trade travel tales.
If you can build a personal relationship with your workforce, you will greatly enhance your efficacy.
6. Work Digital Technology for All It's Worth
Digital technology can be a pain to navigate, but it can also help you face some of the unique challenges that come with employing a remote workforce.
One of the most important tools out there is a good project management platform. Sites like Trello or Asana allow you to organize everything into one place viewable by everyone who has access to it.
This will help you delegate work, keep deadlines straight, and understand what is going on where.
You will also need a way to communicate in a professional way. Social media is great for connecting people, but it comes with several distractions that are inappropriate for a professional setting.
Chat platforms like Slack are great because it allows you to have general group chats and send direct messages as well in an isolated setting.
As a digital marketing agency, SEO is one of our core services. And of course, tracking keywords is a large part of SEO. We’re huge fans of using the AWR' rank tracker for monitoring keywords for each website project, be it our own agency, our affiliate sites, our client sites.
7. Getting Outside
In recent years, employee wellness programs have grown in popularity, as modern workforces demand a healthy, vibrant environment to work in.
This wellness trend has seen large improvements in employees’ physical health and wellbeing, yet less attention has been given to mental health initiatives.
With remote staff, it’s not quite possible to have therapists on deck to help my team. However, I do show that I care by taking the lead on health.
Based on my own research and the work done by other “remote CEOs”, I’ve found that working out in nature has significant benefits for our physical and emotional well-being. So, I prefer to take my Skype calls on the go and do walking meetings.
I’m also quite adamant that my team find a cozy, comfortable place to work with plenty of sunshine. Now, this isn’t for everyone, but I regularly get emails from my staff showing their “office” for the day (usually, a beautiful cafe or co-working space in whichever city they call home).
8. Schedule Retreats and Meet Face to Face
While you will spend most of your time separated from everyone you employ, that doesn't mean you can't come together a couple times a year to interact with everyone in person.
Schedule retreats. Bring your team to the beach, or to the mountains, or to Bangkok.
Use your time together to reflect on the period since you all saw each other last. Take some time to chat about workplace efficiency and your vision for the future. And most importantly, have some fun together.
Yes, retreats like these can take a toll on your profit margins, but believe me, they'll pay dividends in the future.
Interacting exclusively online has its limits, and you have no idea if someone takes issue with your style of management or certain habits until you get together to hash it out.
9. Try Fasting
I know, it sounds crazy, but hear me out. To begin, our diet schedule is way off from how most humans used to eat. We work best if we have a big breakfast in the morning, a medium lunch, and then something light for dinner.
The way most of us live, we do the exact opposite of that. As a result, we disrupt the metabolic processes are prepared for and force them into our weird schedule. This translates into clouded minds.
Many workspaces have found success by undergoing periods of group fasting, where nobody eats for a set period.
These periods can last between several hours and several days. It's not for everyone, but for many, it's a unique experience. It's definitely worth a shot.
After hearing about “workplace fasts” being done elsewhere in Silicon Valley, I decided to give it a shot. Companies like HVMN and Neurohacker, who make popular nootropic stacks, have had success with "employee fasts". (Voluntary, of course.)
Now, a large part of my team fasts for a 24 hour period every Wednesday, and we use that time to do some of our most challenging work.
That is my final tip for managing a remote workforce. I've said it several times: creating and running a remote business is not easy. It requires you to change several habits you have acquired throughout your life and get into habits that you aren't necessarily used to.
Are some of these “methods” a bit strange? Absolutely. But so is the concept of communicating with people in different locations all around the world, almost instantaneously.
Already, company structures are changing rapidly. And the way we work is changing as well.
By keeping our minds open to new approaches, our team has been able to quickly grow and scale our agency business in ways I never could have expected.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.
Daniel Fries is an entrepreneur and writer. Dan’s diverse background includes positions as a research associate at OSI Pharmaceuticals, an associate scientist at Medtronic Cardiovascular, and research scientist at both the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology and the Meyerson Lab at Dana Farber of Harvard Medical School. Currently, Dan manages and operates a portfolio of internet companies, and has partnered with Wired Investors to help grow the company in the rapidly expanding micro-private equity space.
stay in the loop