We made the shift from having an office and local staff to going fully remote. Here's why it works for us.
At the start of this year, Eucalypt made a big transition: After 12 years in business, we relocated our headquarters from Portland, Maine to the Jacksonville, Florida area.
A 1,200-mile move is a big undertaking in any situation, and for most businesses, it could have been a major drama. Should we maintain our Maine office and open a second location here, or ask our employees to relocate with us? Where would we find the right office space? Would we risk losing or alienating our local clients?
In our situation, though, the transition was seamless for the business. That’s because, though we oversee a team of more than 20, my partner Jeff and I are the only full-time employees in our company. Our team is spread all over the country, from New York to Chicago to Silicon Valley, plus a few based internationally—just as our clients are. We manage the business entirely via email, phone calls, and web conferences, so, as long as we have internet access, our physical location is insignificant to our business operations.
While we employed staff in Maine for several years until early 2018, and loved our time working with them, we opted to stop recruiting and organically shift to a virtual workforce model. Many people would assume this was a cost-cutting measure, but in fact, the opposite is true: Our team of consultants command a much higher hourly rate than our in-office team did, due to the fact that they have a lot of specialized experience and are independent business owners themselves.
However, we’ve found some great benefits to running our agency remotely—for both us and for our clients:
A change of lifestyle was a big reason for our move to Florida. Now, I can plan out my days to meet with clients, write proposals, and edit work during the school day, reserving time for the chance to hang out at the playground with my kids on a sunny February afternoon. Having this flexibility to plan my days how I want makes me better at my work, and it’s want I want for our collaborators, too. Instead of scheduling employees for a 35-hour week and having to track each hour worked, I can break down our projects into discrete tasks that our team can perform on their terms and timetables. As long as the work is completed by deadline, they’re free to build their schedules however they like. I think this makes for a much happier, more motivated workforce, and our clients can see the difference in our attitude and our results.
An in-house writing team makes sense in theory—but when it comes down to it, the person you need for a project focused on electronics engineering is not the same person you need for a project focused on home-based health care. Specialized projects require specialized teams with experience in your industry, and most agencies can’t afford to keep these types of employees on the payroll (if they do, you’ll be subsidizing it with a much higher hourly rate). By managing a virtual team filled with specialist writers, editors, PR specialists, project managers, and graphic designers, I can listen to the client to learn exactly what they’re looking for to meet the project goals, then hand-select a team of professionals who have the specific expertise required for the project. We keep the team consistent for the duration of the project, so our clients receive the same consistency of quality as they would with a team of in-house employees—but instead of trying to find the people with the most relevant skills in our region, we’re able to hand-select the right team from a worldwide pool of talent. (And no, we’re not choosing freelancers off Elance—the vast majority of our consultants are people we’ve worked with consistently over the last five to 10 years.)
As anyone who’s ever run a business will tell you, one of the biggest stressors comes down to cashflow. For a period of time, we had 8 employees on our payroll. That was fine when we had big projects—but in the marketing world, churn is a constant, and my partner and I would find ourselves stressed and worried about our diminishing profit margins any time a big client project ended and wasn’t immediately replaced.
These days, we work with a team of consultants who we can call on to ramp up their workload or scale back down as needed, knowing they run their own businesses and can fill the gaps as necessary. Some months, we might have five projects going; others 15—we can easily accommodate the workload in either case, and when work slows down we’re happy to have the time to reflect on our own business strategy, rather than scrambling to take on clients who aren’t a good fit. Our expenses go up and down in line with our client commitments, ensuring our long-term sustainability as an agency and helping us keep our costs reasonable for our clients.
Because we’ve focused on building a remote agency, we’re just as confident engaging with clients based in London or Bangalore as we are here in the Jacksonville area. We’ve set up a comprehensive structure for managing projects, including web conferencing tools, a project management dashboard, and a consistent editorial review process. With writers based in many time zones, we can always have someone available to jump on a client or subject-matter expert call, even if that client happens to be in Australia (a 14 hour difference from the East Coast). Our office is always open.
While many agencies still focus on the prestige factor of a brick-and-mortar presence, we’d rather let our work and testimonials speak for themselves. Moving to a wholly remote model has enabled us to grow as an agile, flexible agency—our first post-employee year was the most profitable in our history, despite the higher rates of our remote workforce. Going remote may not be a fit for all companies, but for us, it’s been a recipe for business growth and helped us build the lifestyle we’ve always wanted.
Kathryn Hawkins is principal and chief content strategist of Eucalypt Media. She has worked as a freelance journalist for media publications and managed inbound marketing and content strategy for corporate and nonprofit clients for more than a decade.
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