The top affiliates aren’t single individuals working by themselves. They’re full-fledged companies – either with a team of virtual assistants or in-house media buyers.
One of the problems with growing a team is handling the complexity of the organizational structure and function. You have to assign tasks, stay on top of the employees, and manage your own duties. In order to tame the chaos, I’ve turned to the power of systems and tools.
These systems and tools allow me to cut down on the time required to deal with business operations. I’m not in the trenches anymore, and I have more time to think about strategies to grow my businesses.
How important are the proper tools? It’s like a hammer and a nail. Is it easier to push the nail in with your hands or to hit it with a hammer?
Here are my 5 favorite tools for managing a remote team.
1. Teamwork.com (Team Project Manager)
This is the heart and soul of your operation.
Your To-Do List on a sticky note is not going to cut it if you’re managing multiple employees. You need To-Do List software for the entire team.
I’ve explored almost every project management system out there, and Teamwork.com is my favorite by far.
I like it because it’s simple and it works. If I were to design my “dream” project manager, it would be this program.
Some other benefits:
- Strong integrations: Dropbox, Google documents/spreadsheets, etc. When I assign a task that involves a picture or a spreadsheet, I can directly link that file to the task.
- Notebooks. I have a project called Mobile Marketing. All my systems and notes on Mobile Marketing are easily available to my employees.
- Privacy. I can restrict access to different projects. Only my mobile media buyers have access to my mobile projects. I have blog assistants, and they only have access to the CharlesNgo.com Project.
- Tasks. Milestones, subtasks, repeating tasks, priorities, time tracking, etc. I love the setup for the tasks.
2. Kanbanery.com (Kanban Tool)
Kanban is a scheduling system designed by the guys at Toyota back in the 1940s. They were influenced by the process grocery stores used to stock inventory. This decade has seen a resurgence of this process to improve productivity.
I started using it 2 years ago, and it’s a game-changer.
I use this as a supplement to Teamwork.com. First, all the tasks go into Teamwork. Every Sunday night, I bring the weekly tasks into my Kanbanery.
Here are some benefits of using Kanbanery:
- Limits work in progress. Multitasking is bad. I have a rule of only doing one task at a time, and this tool helps me achieve it.
- Allows visualization. I don’t have to ask John what he’s working on. I can look at our Kanban to see what he’s working on and when he’s done with the task.
- Prevents analysis paralysis. When I have too many tasks to do, I get overwhelmed and end up doing nothing. For example, seeing the number of projects I have to do in Teamwork overwhelms me. By limiting myself to a kanban board of the day, I make it easier for myself to accomplish my tasks.
I’ve probably tested over 15 different kanban tools. My favorite is Kanbanery. It’s fast and simple, and I think I’m paying around $8 a month for it.
The 4 Principles of Kanban
- Visualize Work
- Limit Work in Progress
- Focus on Flow
- Continuously Improve
Here’s a simplified example of my personal kanban. I have a separate one that my team uses.
Pro tip: The traditional kanban system has 3 columns: To Do, Doing, and Done. I’ve expanded mine to 5: Weekly, Today, Doing, Delegated/Waiting, and Done.
Pro tip: Notice I have MIT in front of some tasks. That means MOST IMPORTANT TASKS. When I look at my list of items, I do my MIT tasks first.
Pro tip: Do you have an office? Get a big-screen TV with Chromecast. Put the kanban board on the big screen so everyone can see what’s going on.
3. HipChat.com (Team communications)
Skype is a productivity killer.
My team and I started communicating through Skype. We set up various groups and would message each other throughout the day. I found that Skype kept distracting me. A quick hi from a Skype friend could easily turn into a 30-minute conversation.
I needed to search for a communication program that was dedicated to my team only. By far, the most recommended app was HipChat. After using it for half a year, I don’t see a single reason why any team should be using Skype to chat.
Here are a few reasons why I like HipChat:
- I can paste a link to a picture, and it’ll automatically show the picture.
- All links and files are automatically saved and easy to access.
- You can create multiple chat rooms and control who has access to what. We have a general chat room. I have another room just for my team members who are working on mobile campaigns. I also have another room for one-on-one chats with virtual assistants (they don’t get access to the main room).
- Notifications. I’m not checking my HipChat every second. But if someone sends me a message @Charles, I get an email and phone notification.
- Integration. HipChat plays nicely with other programs. Here’s a list of its integrations.
4. Dropbox.com (Files)
Dropbox doesn’t need much of an introduction. It’s how I and the rest of the team share our files. Since there’s some sensitive information in this folder, I suggest you turn on 2-step verification to keep your files more secure.
Two-step verification is a way of providing extra security. If someone has your password, that person can access your Dropbox. But with 2-step verification turned on, the other party will need a text code. If an unknown device tries to access your Dropbox, your phone gets a text message with a unique code. I use this for Dropbox, Evernote, Gmail, and Bitcoin.
Here’s how I organize my Dropbox. Keep in mind these are made-up examples and not screenshots from my actual Dropbox.
- Level 1: Main Folder (call it the Name of your company)
- Level 2: Company folder (the generic business information), Traffic Source Type
- Level 3: Verticals
- Level 4: Countries
- Level 5: Competitor ads, competitor landing pages, the ads I’m using, and the landing pages we’re using.
You don’t need as many levels as shown here if you’re running fewer campaigns.
I find the more organized I am, the more I get things done.
Alternatives: Box (more business-oriented, but I’ve never used it); Google Drive.
5. Zapier.com (Automation)
I hate sharing this tool because it’s so good.
Zapier is a way to integrate different apps together. You set some “rules”, and when the conditions are met, an action is triggered.
Here are some examples to help you understand it better:
- If you have a blog, you can set Zapiers between the blog’s RSS and the blog’s social media page. Every time you finish a blog post, Zapier will automatically tweet it and post it on your Facebook page.
- I have a few Zaps set up between my Facebook and Dropbox. If someone tags me in a photo, Zapier will automatically download that photo into a folder on my Dropbox.
- I have Zaps set up between my Gmail and my Evernote.
I started using Zapier because I wanted to simplify the workflow of assigning tasks. Before Zapier, I would create a task in Kanban and notify my employees using HipChat.
Here is what happens now, with Kanbanery and Zapier integrated. When I set a task for employee A, it automatically notifies her via HipChat. When she moves the task to “done” in Kanbanery, I get a notification telling me that it’s complete.
The best part is you don’t need to be a programmer to utilize the program. Just pick two apps you want to integrate, and Zapier will show you the most popular pre-made Zaps.
Here’s what my typical project workflow looks like:
- I start by using mindmaps to visualize my campaigns and tasks.
- I then turn these campaigns into tasks in Teamwork.
- Every Sunday night, I’ll take the weekly tasks and load them into my Kanban tool.
- The daily campaigns and tasks are managed through Kanban.
Managing a Remote Team vs Managing a Local Team
The tools above are for managing a remote team that has employees working in different locations.
How would I manage things differently if I had a team working in the same office? Even if the team was local, I would still design the system as if it were remote.
I travel a lot, and my system still works even if I’m across the world, in a different time zone. I can assign the task whenever I want, and my team members will complete it when they want to. I don’t have to wait until they’re online to Skype them.
What if you have a high quality employee who has to move to a different city? You already have systems in place so that person can work remotely without missing a beat.
Having everything written down helps with the execution. If you swing by someone’s desk and tell them what to do, they might forget.
Have you ever assigned someone a task, which was misinterpreted? You remember the instructions one way, but your employee says your instructions were different. With my system, we have a record of all communications so we can see what went wrong. If instructions weren’t clear, then I work on phrasing them better in the future.
Don’t let this article intimidate you if you’re new. Consider this a gift because I’ve wasted a lot of time and money before I figured it out.
Start small and simple, and you’ll naturally grow overtime.
Everyone has to start somewhere. When I started a few years ago, I communicated only through Skype and emails. Since then, I’ve been working on my systems, continually evolving them. I’m sure in a year, I’ll have a much better system that’ll make my current one look outdated. The point is to develop something good enough and to improve it over time.
One final note: don’t be obsessed with finding the perfect tool. You’re not going to magically become a better golfer because you’re using Tiger Wood’s clubs. Don’t waste your time trying to find the perfect tool at the expense of practicing your golf swings. I find many people distract themselves by chasing such tools instead of doing real work.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]