Jill McKenna:
Hello everyone. I am Jill McKenna. I am the Marketing Campaign Manager here at Ruby, and I’m so delighted today to be speaking with Jehan Noon, CEO and founder of Noon Dalton. Thank you so much for being here, Jehan.

Jehan Noon:
My pleasure.

Jill McKenna:
Do you mind expanding a little bit upon what NoonDalton does?

Jehan Noon:
Yeah. We provide really resources for local businesses to scale their company. And my background was, I worked for Deloitte Consulting for 10 years doing outsourcing for investment banks, started a few companies, needed some back-office support. And I figured if I could do this for banks, I could do this for my company.

Jill McKenna:
Another thing you said that is probably one of the most exciting realizations to come out of all this for me is just for small businesses is the fact that the talent pool now opens up. If we’re all working remotely, we can now look at other markets for talent and really expand the experiences that we’re having on our teams.

Jehan Noon:
There’s different models. So you can go out directly and find someone and hire them, or you can use a third party where they manage in that culture. So that would be where we employ them, they’re full-time employees. Payroll, benefits, all that stuff is taken care of by us. And there’s some advantages and disadvantages. Obviously there’s additional costs, but there’s more service around there where you have your manager, you have places to escalate. Whereas sometimes we’ve heard kind of horror stories of people hiring directly in those where the company sends the computer and then they never hear from them again. So there’s risks and rewards and, and you kind of get what you pay for. It’s definitely going to be cheaper. Our clients are usually 40 to 60% savings than hiring here.

Jehan Noon:
But at the same time, you can knock it out of the park. You can find someone and go direct and they could be with your company. But I would say it’s more on the one-third you can get lucky, and two-thirds, you’re going to go through some trials and tribulations. So I think understanding how do you train virtually. So for ours process documentation is key, training and recording, and then having the person that’s learning that training create those process documents for them to prove to them, yes, the client, that A, I actually understand what was just taught to me, because when you learn by doing and then teaching someone else. That combination of that really advances the training.

Jehan Noon:
There’s going to be mistakes. It’s not a foolproof method, but at the same time, it gets you so much further down the road. =The other thing is having screen-sharing sessions. So Zoom, our best practice is you get on Zoom. The client walks you through step-by-step on their screen. Everything’s being recorded. Then they hand the control over back to us. We go through it because you learn by doing, making those mistakes, clarifying those, and then just incrementally building up. So getting on an eight hour Zoom training call to go through training, not the best use of anyone’s time, because by hour four through eight, the retention is gone. It really breaks it up into digestible chunks, make sure they’re able to do the activities, report back, review. It’s a very iterative approach, but you can spread it out throughout the day where you’re not just jam-packed as well, is kind of what our best practices are to really bring on and onboard virtual staff.

Jill McKenna:
We haven’t talked about this previously, but I’m curious when do you feel like people, what’s the tipping point of when people would want to start researching a company like NoonDalton to work with? When the right time for a business?

Jehan Noon:
I think the, just going through the scenarios of when people reach out, one is they need to scale a team quickly and they have certain budgets that they need to hit. So for instance, I need 10 customer service agents, or I have a big project coming in, we just take all the heavy lifting off of them, say, “No problem. Let’s start out with kind of a trial. Here is one or two staff.” Make sure the proof of concept works and then boom, we’re off to the races. So once we have one or two of them solidified we know what we’re doing, the scaling effort is like clockwork.

Jehan Noon:
The other things are when a client is struggling with, or when they have new job recs. So I always challenged them, “Do you need to have a person you’re paying a hundred to a $150,000 doing activities that maybe can be done for nine or $10 an hour. There’s a lot of overpaid people. They’re not overpaid people. They’re people that are very highly paid to do work that they should not be paid to do. They should be really focused on their core activities, and core activities we define as anything you can train someone else to do in less than a week, isn’t your core activity. You should not be wasting your time on that. So in the quadrant of quick to train and takes up a lot of time, to elevate your local staff, those are things you can push off to draw either local, offshore. The cost savings of offshore is obviously there, but it’s applicable to any, any person in your organization, even within your own company.

Jehan Noon:
And one of the tricks we suggest is going through and saying, asking your staff to look through your outbox from the last two weeks, and then identify are these tasks things that someone else could have done for you if you were to train them in less than a week to do. And that way you’ll actually see some, because you’ll see reports that go out. Did you need to generate that report? Or could you have said, “Hey, due process, or do report one. Send this to so-and-so.” So now you’re more managing versus actually having to get in and doing those.

Jill McKenna:
I’m laughing because I was a small business owner and there are just no truer words then realizing that what you’re doing is not the most time and cost-effective. I’m thinking of small business owners who are so used to cleaning the bathrooms, doing absolutely everything, and they hit that five, six-year point where they’re established and they forget that they can stop doing that. It’s really important.

Jehan Noon:
Yeah. I mean, look at Ruby. We’ve been using you guys since I don’t know, almost since we started. And it is knowing that someone can do it better, focusing on that and just be done with it and know it’s going to be done the best it can be, is a huge relief. And now you can move on to the next task, next task, next task. If you’re busy trying to figure out who’s going to answer your phones or are we losing leads, those are really big, important things. And when you know you can trust someone and it allows you to move the ball forward. And that’s really when a new client comes into us, it’s not going to be perfect no matter what, but do we move the ball forward, and do we get faster and faster as time goes on. If there’s repetitive issues, if there’s exceptions all over the place, things that can be leveraged by other people, I say the easiest are the ones you figure out what’s easiest to train, but also processes that don’t work typically.

Jehan Noon:
I think we’ve talked earlier about what are the things that really don’t fit. And I would say the hardest would be junior salespeople, because there’s so much shadowing. There’s so much one-on-one time that you need to bring them up so much, and if you’re not physically there or they’re not next to you, it goes very slow and there’s a lot of burnout because the training just doesn’t come. If you have a very easy sales process, it’s not as bad, but if there’s anything part of that.

Jehan Noon:
And the other one is whenever there’s a lot of variability to the activity. So it’s not step one, two, three, four. It’s if step one happens, do these ABCD, and if step one A happens then do like. That’s where you need a lot of experience that it’s very hard to train someone else to do. And those are the things that can be done. They just take a lot longer. And that’s really not the best use to try to get someone up to speed because of the complicatedness of the activity.

Jill McKenna:
That makes a lot of sense. Thank you so much for all your insights. If people want to find out more about NoonDalton, where is your website online and where can they find you?

Jehan Noon:
Yeah, it’s pretty easy, www.noondalton.com and we’re working 24/7. So really, our approach is to understand what you’re looking to accomplish. And one of our keys are no. We like to say no a lot, because we don’t want to go through the hardship of stuff we’ve already done and know either doesn’t work or if you’re not ready for it, it isn’t. So for instance, we get a lot of inquiries about outbound sales. So, “Hey, can you call?” If you’re already doing it, and you already have a process, no problem. But if you’re setting things up for the first time, you’re going to know what’s a good sales call. Do you have recordings? Do you have leads? Do you have connection rates? Because people are like, “Oh, I want 300 dials a day.”

Jehan Noon:
“Okay, well, how many dials do you do?” “Oh, we haven’t done it.” “All right. Then are you are using a dialer? How many hangups?” There’s all these things that you have to hash out before you’re ready to even remotely think that this is going to be successful. And if you don’t have KPIs internally to compare, how are you going to compare someone else externally that doesn’t know your business as well? And that’s where I really push back business owners and people [inaudible 00:10:36] is they need to roll up their sleeves and do it, and then that way it’s a repeatable process to be able to scale and evaluate.

Jill McKenna:
Perfect. Thank you so much. Thank you for your time. Thank you for all your thoughts, advice, and insight. It’s truly helpful, I’m sure, for our community and our customers.

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Jill McKenna:
Thanks, everyone, for being here. I am Jill McKenna. I’m the Campaign Marketing Manager here at Ruby. And I’m so happy to be speaking today with Jehan Noon, CEO and founder of Noon Dalton. Founded in 2009, Noon Dalton is a leading provider of skilled remote teams for businesses and entrepreneurs throughout North America, Europe, and Australia. Noon Dalton offers outsourcing solutions that impact lowered overhead costs and increase productivity. Thank you so much for being here, Jehan.

Jehan Noon:
Thanks, Jill. Appreciate it.

Jill McKenna:
Can you speak a little bit more about what it is that you do at Noon Dalton for those who are only hearing the name for the first time?

Jehan Noon:
Yeah, we provide resources for local businesses to scale their company. And my background was I worked for Deloitte Consulting for 10 years doing outsourcing for investment banks, started a few companies, needed some back-office support. And I figured if I could do this for banks, I could do this for my company.

Jehan Noon:
We went through and found out it worked and it worked so well where some of my friends were asking, “Hey, can my company use it? How can my company use it?” Shifted focus and this was 10 years ago. And now we have almost 400 staff split between India and the Philippines. And we started the company really working virtually. Back then, Blackberries were prevalent. That’s how old we are. And I figured if I can’t work from my Blackberry, how am I supposed to tell someone else how to work remotely, how to really leverage the resources, the skill set of a global workforce. And we were able to really integrate into a lot of small, medium, and now large size companies, helping companies understand how can they right source their team when looking globally. How do you compliment your current staff to be as profitable and productive as possible?

Jill McKenna:
So obviously I’m hearing so many words that are so popular right now, right? Remote teams, remote work, I’m sure you all are experiencing a change in your own business just due to what’s happening in the world in light of COVID. For a team and a company that’s located in several cities and on multiple continents, when we spoke before, you identified that communication is key of course. What are some of the communication best practices, tools, and values that Noon Dalton has adopted?

Jehan Noon:
Yeah, well, we were lucky enough to where all of our clients were remote anyway. So there wasn’t really a big change in we’ve already adapted all our processes and communication styles. So the key difference when we moved 400 staff to work from home in India and the Philippines, that was a challenge, but really the challenge was more around physically getting them into the seats, getting everything operational. Once that was up and running, there’s a few things management style that all the other companies are going to be dealing with as well, but it’s down to communications and how you structure it and really the frequency. And the frequency, we have start-of-day communication, like sign-in reports or in-person huddles. We have end-of-day reports reporting the tasks that you did. Did you struggle with anything? And then we have also weekly summaries and then goal setting for the week, too.

Jehan Noon:
So there’s a layer of reporting that really needs to be there for… You need to over-communicate. And without that, people can feel lost. They can feel like, “Oh, am I doing what I should be doing?” And it’s a new… Well, it’s not new anymore, but it’s a way of life now for people. And they can feel very isolated very quickly. And the other thing is it’s not just work topics. So a lot of people are just like, “Oh, this, this, this, this.” We really try to structure in social time where that’s extracted. Your social time is now your kids bugging you, or trying to figure out when things are open or there’s not that social interaction that people naturally had. So we really try to do fun, interactive things.

Jehan Noon:
And the tools we use is Tickspot, which is a user-generated end-of-day report where they can track your time, where you’re spending your time. That way your manager can go in and say, for instance, our HR was spending too much time on payroll correction. It’s like, oh, well, let’s figure out. And I’m not seeing her do that. I’m not physically there. There’s not as much communication. So without those reporting, things don’t get escalated as easy as they used to. And the one-off conversations, because you physically have to schedule a meeting, you have to find out if they’re available, there’s not just those drop-ins anymore. So it is definitely a different way of doing it. But with the right tools and the right structure, it’s definitely doable. And it’s sometimes actually even more productive because you don’t have people pinging you all the time and you can actually get work done.

Jehan Noon:
And I’ve talked to a lot of our clients, probably talked about 100 over the last two months trying to see what they’re struggling with because not only do we provide them staff, but we provide a strategy on how to have effectively manage their team because we’re on the same team and we’re trying to do the same things they are.

Jill McKenna:
And let me… Oh, sorry, go ahead.

Jehan Noon:
Yeah. Getting back to just some of the tools. So we use Tickspot as one of them. And then we also use Zoom obviously, but that’s more for video conferencing and recording of the trainings. And then Skype or Slack for the chats. And the chats are, we try to have the company-wide and then we try to have kind of social ones where people can have their own kind of little pods or kind of personal ones where it’s not as work-related.

Jill McKenna:
Yeah. And for us, for a company who was not in any way remote before, that’s exactly one of the things that we found, what you had mentioned about there are no more drive-bys, right? People aren’t zooming by my desk. I’m not being pulled into three or four different conversations. And when I am working now as a remote worker, I am able to get way more done in a short amount of time than I was before. It’s pretty amazing.

Jehan Noon:
Yeah. We’ve kind of known that where some of the feedback we would always get is our clients would say, “Hey, when we give the work to you, it just gets done. It gets done on time, et cetera.” Because we don’t have as many distractions as people getting pulled in all different directions.

Jill McKenna:
And I’m just curious, when we had spoken earlier, you mentioned that you yourself and your partners are always on three different continents I think. It’s three different countries, at least. So in that partnership, I think you’ve only been together, is it what, one time in how many years?

Jehan Noon:
Yeah. So if I accumulate all the time myself and my business partner, Edward Dalton, we’ve been probably together for a year out of the over 10 years we’ve been in business. So he’s in London right now, I’m in Denver, our head of operations in the Philippines and we have a head of operations in India. Yeah. So it can be done. It can be done successfully. It’s just a matter of the structure and the execution and just having a great team to be able to fulfill and trust and deliver on the things you need done.

Jill McKenna:
You touched on it before, but I’m wondering if you can speak a little bit more about y’all’s experience about moving to a totally remote workforce due to COVID-19 because you do have this logistic piece that’s very real, what you learned from it and what valuable takeaways you had since this was already, remote work was already a system in place for you all. But this is kind of gilding the lily I’m sure for you all.

Jehan Noon:
Yeah. This has really opened up a lot of other people’s eyes into our world on how we’ve been operating for a very long time. So our biggest challenge was, as we got word of things potentially going awry, is the government shutting everything down. And we’re like, “Oh, could it happen? Maybe.” And then we’re like, you know what? Let’s just plan for it. Let’s get the computers ready, let’s get everything. Let’s test. We have mobile routers. We had all this sort of stuff. We’d send them home with our staff just to test out. Does it work? Does your internet speed work? All this sort of stuff. And then within I think nine hours in India, everyone needed to go home. So it happened like that. And if we hadn’t done that, we would have had 300 people scrambling trying to… It would have extremely affected our ability to deliver for clients.

Jehan Noon:
Luckily we moved everybody in India and the Philippines within two days and zero downtime. And if we hadn’t planned for that, just buying… So desktops, we had desktops, just getting the little wifi adapters to then be able to connect to the router. You couldn’t buy them. They were all sold out at any store. You couldn’t get new laptops, you couldn’t get anything. So luckily we were at the forefront of that and we weren’t in so big of a scale where you couldn’t even get… I know we tried to ship things into the Philippines. It was taking a month, month and a half. So there’s not a lot of options, but that was probably the… Luckily we had a great team to be able to plan for that.

Jehan Noon:
The other thing is work can be done anywhere if the right tech and the staff and the right staff in place. So obviously packing of physical goods, but a lot of the services based activities, it’s just proof that if you have the right training, the right management structure, the right staff, you can do a lot of things. And not necessarily, you can pay for the right type of work to be done because it’s now a really global workforce.

Jehan Noon:
And then the other one is hiring problem solvers, our ops manager in the Philippines was just a rockstar. We had a client that needed high secure phones and a lot of data. The individual that’s been working with him wasn’t within the city limits. So he wasn’t going to be able to go past tanks and borders and all that. So it was intense. He found an apartment downstairs beneath him, rented it out and he had the staff living underneath him to be able to deliver. So there’s just, when you have this kind of scrambling just to get things done, having the right team members is key and being very creative on finding solutions.

Jill McKenna:
Do you have any advice for small business owners or business owners who are really on the fence about kind of leaving their brick and mortar locations or their offices and going virtual and they just maybe don’t feel like they have a good grip on it, or they’re just not sure if that’s the right decision for their team?

Jehan Noon:
It’s really case by case because some people are very old school. They’re like, “Oh, we need to be in here. There’s so much that you miss.” Which sometimes there is, but at the same time, it’s risk versus reward. When you can be virtual and you can hire the top talent and they can still deliver it’s how much has your… And this is running before you’re walking almost where everybody just threw you in and said, “See if you can swim.” And if you see the business maintaining or growing still, then that should be a pretty good indication that there’s a lot more opportunity to restructure and become a lot more, I would say, efficient with your funds because that’s the key right now is your burn rate, your ability to be as profitable as possible to bring back more employees to scale. Cash is king. And when the PPP runs out, there’s a lot of things that slow back down, then how well you can be positioned because as a lot of your competitors go out of business, there’s going to be more opportunity to kind of survival of the fittest.

Jehan Noon:
And I think evaluating if you’re already operating virtually and you’re successfully doing it, challenge yourself and say, “Do I really, really need one of my biggest expenses on my books?” And maybe eventually once you hit certain financial goals, maybe eventually bring it back or bring a portion of it back. But I sway towards the “be as efficient as possible”. Yes, culture will take a little bit of a hit, but the money you save by not having an office, you can throw some pretty cool things. So for instance, you can do Grubhub and order dinner for everybody and they can get on Zoom where you can do events when we can have events again. Just because the office of the old is not going to be the same for at least this year. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Jill McKenna:
Yeah. It’s funny, building, we’re a culture-heavy business. And I feel like I actually get more cultural, company cultural activities now than I did before because we’re very mindful about it. And so we’ve built-in trivia nights and just gabbing sessions were especially for us as a creative team to get together and just generate ideas. So it’s actually been pretty great. And that is a question I had about what are the company culture pitfalls that can easily manifest when teams go remote and how do they avoid those?

Jehan Noon:
Yeah. So kind of like the trivia that’s… One of my favorites is a weekly competition in all our staff chat groups that we… I kind of have games because one of them was the best Zoom background. And then another one is to submit your top TikTok dance. Or I’m trying to think of… And then we also do team trivia. So it’s not just an individual one. We’ll team up in the chat groups and then there’ll be different things where then they’re tracking over time. So it’s about maybe five minutes a day. And then the winners typically get a pizza delivered for their family to their home. We’ve done a virtual wine tasting session, and then also management happy hours. So 15, 20 minutes before the end of the day, everybody has a beer or something like that just to decompress because you’re used to going out with some coworkers or whatever. So there’s a lot of coordination that goes into it, but there’s a lot of creativity that comes out of it as well.

Jill McKenna:
I love it.

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Freelancers are a lot like jellyfish. We live solitary lives, swimming blindly through the choppy waters of our careers. Many people find us strange or mysterious, but our day-to-day existence is pretty uninteresting. We’re content to mostly just float around and do our thing.

That said, if you ever come into contact with us, you need to handle us carefully.

No, I’m not going to sting you. What’s more likely to happen if you mistreat me is that I’ll collapse into a pile of goo in your hands.

I’ll explain in a moment. Let’s back up before we dive in. Maybe put on some sunscreen first.

The ocean is full of freelancers.

I’ve been a jellyfish—er, freelancer—for about a decade. I’ve worked for dozens of clients, from big businesses to individual entrepreneurs; from tech companies to law firms to authors, coaches, and psychologists. I run my own business, make my own schedule, and pay my own income taxes.

It used to be I was the only person I knew who lived and worked like this. But these days, everyone seems to be growing tentacles.

With millions of people unemployed right now, and countless businesses looking to cut down on labor costs, more and more people are becoming freelancers, and more and more organizations are contracting work out to them.

Indeed, hiring one or more freelancers can be a smart move for your business, particularly in this economy. By outsourcing certain tasks and projects, you’ll save significant overhead while maintaining quality—or, in many cases, improving it. I mean, you’re engaging with an already-skilled professional rather than training and developing someone in-house, and you only need to pay for their productive time. Did I mention the tax savings?

Freelancing can be good for workers, too, in terms of greater independence, flexibility, and autonomy. Plenty of people who work for themselves also cite “increased earning potential” as a reason for freelancing, but I’d rather not comment on that one personally.

For these reasons, it’s no surprise that many employers are switching from employees to freelancers, or converting some or all of their workforces into independent contractors. A September 2020 Upwork survey found that over a third (36%) of American workers now freelancetwo million more than in 2019—and market analysts expect that number to continue growing.

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Why do freelancer relationships go wrong?

But it’s not all dollar signs and freedom and BMWs. There are gooey, messy realities to hiring freelancers:

  • How do you make sure they do the work?
  • How do you avoid getting overcharged?
  • Do you need to sign written contracts with them?
  • How do you keep them happy and motivated?
  • What does it mean to be a good client?

Too many businesses overlook these sorts of questions and assume the freelancing arrangement will simply work out. They soon discover they’re not getting what they hoped for as quickly, reliably, or cost-effectively. 

Other times, companies squeeze their freelancers too hard, and things fall apart. Pop—there goes the jellyfish.

Here are a few tips from a freelancer for treating your freelancers well, getting the most out of them, and keeping them aligned with your business goals:

Know what you’re getting.

Know who you intend to work with before you hire them. I realize this sounds obvious, but you may be surprised how many people decide to engage with freelancers on the strength of a referral—or even a gut feeling—alone. Someone might have a glowing recommendation from a friend or colleague, but that doesn’t mean they’re automatically the perfect fit for your business.

Ask a freelancer the following questions before you hire them:

  • What’s your rate? (Or: How much do you charge?)
  • What does your current availability look like? Do you expect your availability to change soon?
  • What’s your turnaround time?
  • How long have you been freelancing?
  • Have you worked with companies like ours before?
  • What information do you need from us before we get started?

It never hurts to ask for work samples or a link to the freelancer’s website. This is especially important when you’re hiring someone to do creative work, such as graphic design, writing, or video production, where subjective taste and tone make a huge difference. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for an estimate, proposal, or scope of work before delving into the first project. Get a sense of the person’s skills, style, time, and costs—and set your expectations accordingly—and you’ll avoid potentially painful conflicts later on. 

You may also want to draft a contract that covers matters such as payment terms, ownership of the work, noncompetition, and other issues you’d rather not engage in legal disputes over later. Any freelancer worth their salt will be happy to sign a contract, so long as it’s drafted fairly, but may want to negotiate details first. (If someone refuses to sign any agreement with you, consider it a red flag.)

Trust freelancers to do their best work.

You hired the freelancer you hired for a reason. Maybe you liked their portfolio, or believed in their proposal, or thoroughly enjoyed your connection with them over the phone. Whatever the case, trust in your decision, and have faith that your freelancer is doing their best to turn in the work you requested on time and under budget.

In other words, don’t micromanage. Try not to check in constantly, or ask to see work before it’s ready. Be patient and remain calm. Keep in mind that freelancers value their time and space. Hopefully, assuming you vetted the person thoroughly, you’ve hired a pro.

If a freelancer isn’t quite delivering or meeting your expectations, that’s when it’s time to start a conversation. But keep your feedback constructive and specific—and check your assumptions. Ask open-ended questions rather than leveling accusations. For instance, instead of saying “this isn’t what I wanted,” ask if the assignment was unclear, or if they could use more information or resources from you, or what their intentions and goals were in doing something a certain way.

Lackluster work, overcharging, and missed deadlines do happen. But they’re more often the result of poor communication rather than willful negligence on the part of the freelancer. Assume that the person you hired is working in good faith, and use that initial disappointment as an opportunity to learn and improve the relationship. If it turns into a regular pattern, however, know when to end things.

Keep the lines of communication open.

There’s a difference between respecting your freelancer’s autonomy and leaving them entirely in the dark. Everyone, no matter how busy or self-reliant, can use the occasional check-in.

I like to talk to each of my clients over the phone or video at least once a month. In an ideal world, we would meet more frequently, but work and schedules tend to get in the way. These conversations are essential—not just for aligning people on projects and priorities, but for maintaining camaraderie. Hearing from the people I work for helps me feel valued and connected to the work.

Communication also serves to help freelancers manage their time and money. I can get urgent projects done faster and better if I know about them in advance. If a client is reducing their freelance budget, having that information allows me to shift things around and hopefully pick up additional work to make ends meet. 

I can’t tell you how many times a client has ghosted me and then returned several months later with a new project I don’t have room for. If they’d sent just one email before disappearing to acknowledge the situation, I would have at least been able to anticipate that the work might come back.

Understand the differences between freelancers and employees.

There are important legal and practical distinctions between freelancers and employees. While both may work for your company, the two differ significantly in terms of how you’re allowed to manage and pay them.

This is a topic that deserves its own article (or several), but here’s a quick overview of the differences between freelancers (AKA independent contractors) and employees:

A freelancer…

  • is self-employed
  • pays their own taxes and benefits
  • controls when they work
  • controls where they work
  • controls how they work
  • uses their own tools
  • may work for several different clients

An employee…

  • is employed by an organization
  • has their taxes and benefits withheld by the employer
  • works on the employer’s schedule (e.g. 9am–5pm)
  • works where the employer decides (e.g. on-site or in a virtual office)
  • adheres to the employer’s rules and training
  • uses tools owned and paid for by the employer
  • usually works for just one company (or two, maybe three, on a part-time basis)

(If you’re not sure what your workers classify as, read this IRS article.)

Perhaps the most important distinction here is control. Freelancers control their schedules and working arrangements—you can’t decide for them. Essentially, freelancers give up stability in exchange for independence. If you can’t provide someone with reliable employment, you can’t expect them to be available whenever you want. 

But that also means freelancer payment terms are a bit more flexible than employee wages or salaries. Work with your freelancers to determine how and when they’d like to get paid, and come to an agreement that works for you both. No matter what, be sure to pay them on time. After all, they can walk away whenever they want.

Remember that freelancers are human.

Above all, when working with a freelancer, honor the person’s humanity. We all make mistakes. We all have bad days, emergencies, and mental health struggles now and then. Recognize that sometimes, life can get in the way of work, and that’s okay. A freelancer should never be responsible for a mission-critical process, anyway—that’s a job for an in-house team.

Be kind to your freelancers when they’re having a hard time. Better yet, be kind all the time.

Respect, warmth, and a little humor go a long way. Professionalism matters, too. I’ve received a fair share of emails that are nothing more than blunt requests (“please turn in by EOD”) or curt acknowledgments (“received”), or where the entire message is in the subject line (“can you check out this website and send me your thoughts ASAP”). I much prefer working with someone who addresses me by name and asks how I’m doing.

I understand why clients forget this part sometimes. I work with some people I’ve never met in-person. And we’re all accustomed to getting certain things done through online software and bots. But I’m not like your bank or your Amazon shopping cart. I’m not an app. 

I’m a jellyfish. 

I mean, human. Definitely a human.

Author Bio

Matt Lurie is a writer, editor, and designer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more about his work or hire him for your next project, visit mattlurie.com.

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The story of a lead: Casey.

Reading time:

Meet Casey. 

Casey is… Well, Casey is a person, and they live in… a place. Everyone has to live somewhere, right? Casey has certain identifying characteristics—an age, a background, a personal history—you know, the common traits any human being would possess. And they probably have preferences, a personality, specific likes and dislikes… Probably. They definitely have a name, and that name is—you guessed it—Casey.

All right, the truth is we hardly know anything about Casey other than their name and their Twitter handle: Casey47474. The only reason we’re thinking about Casey is because they followed your business on Twitter the other day. And based on website traffic, we can guess that they also visited a few pages on your site around the same time.

Could Casey become your next customer or client? Sure, maybe. It’s hard to say. Like our last two leads, Amy and Bryan, Casey has shown some interest in your business, but they’re much higher up in the sales funnel. We don’t know what product or service they’re interested in, or if they’re really interested in anything at all right now. 

So, does Casey even count as a lead? Let’s break it down.

When is a lead a lead?

In the first part of this series, we defined a lead as a person or organization who might one day purchase a product or service from your business

We left that definition broad on purpose. Identifying, categorizing, and converting leads is far from an exact science. How you approach it is totally up to you.

Maybe you consider someone a lead once they’ve taken a predefined action—e.g. after they’ve emailed your business or engaged in a chat on your website, or after you’ve gotten them on the phone.

Or maybe you’re very particular about your leads because relatively few people or organizations who contact your business ultimately become buyers. This is often the case for a business with a small niche, a big brand, or both. Perhaps your organization has a wide reach, a massive audience, and/or a major presence in your market or region—but a comparatively tiny base of customers, clients, patients, or subscribers who actually pay for your products or services.

Or maybe you think of anyone and everyone as a lead. After all, isn’t a stranger just a buyer you haven’t converted yet?

The point is that a lead is a lead when you decide they’re a lead. It’s a matter of weighing your customer acquisition costs with your ROI, and taking initiative when it’s financially viable. You can—and if you want to build your customer base, you should—treat every interaction as an opportunity to build a relationship with someone who might one day support your business.

What’s your value proposition?

Now, we’re not suggesting that you reach out to every one of your contacts and social media followers and give them a hard sell. Doing so would likely waste your time and repel people, like Casey, who might otherwise be interested in your business if they didn’t feel so pressured at the outset.

However, there’s plenty you can do to attract Casey’s interest before that first sales conversation. Strategic, thoughtful marketing will draw Casey in and help them decide whether they might want to make a purchasing decision.

As with Amy and Bryan, it’s all about value. Consider what makes your solution valuable to different kinds of customers. In other words, think about your value propositions:

  • Do people need your product or service? 
  • Does your product or service save money?
  • Does it save time?
  • Does it improve business?
  • Does it keep people safe?
  • Does it make people happy?
  • Does it make the world a better place?

At this point, your goal is to get the answers to questions like these in front of Casey. If something resonates, pursue that campaign or line of messaging further. If something doesn’t land, try a different approach. 

The same goes for how you communicate with Casey. Consider using a multipronged approach—for instance, a mix of emails, ads, LinkedIn messages, and perhaps even a phone call if it makes sense for your business—but do it one piece at a time, so as not to overwhelm them, and switch it up if you’re not getting through.

Ideally, your approach will come through a channel relevant to Casey, center on one of Casey’s needs, and use that need (often called a pain point) to create awareness of your business.

Whoever Casey is, they’re a human being.

Always respect your leads. Respect their time and their autonomy. Remember: every sale is a relationship. You can’t start the relationship by bragging about how great you are and trying to force them to do what you want them to do. 

You need to nurture the relationship. First, get their attention so you can engage them. Then learn about them, listen to them, and then use what you learn to help them see how great you are, and why it makes the most sense to work with you. 

Finally, know when to move on. If it’s clear that Casey isn’t interested, stop messaging them. Spam is never an effective marketing or sales tactic. But, don’t just move on when you get tired of chasing Casey.  Instead, set a rule or deadline for yourself before you even start and build your process around that end-point. For instance, if Casey doesn’t take action after five emails, or five weeks, take them off your list. Reference previous messages with each new attempt, introducing a new value proposition each time.  When you reach the end of the process, let them know it is your last attempt.  A lead that has interest, but expects you to keep trying, might not prioritize responding to you.  However, if they know they have to call you or risk losing out on the value of working with you, they’re a lot more likely to take action!

Attracting leads: dos and don’ts.

Do:

  • Take initiative
  • Demonstrate value
  • Keep messages short and relevant
  • Test different messages
  • Use a multi-pronged approach
  • Focus on their needs
  • Listen, learn, and respect the individual
  • Have a process…  with a definitive end…  and communicate the end

Don’t:

  • Spam people
  • Pressure people into buying
  • Rush people through the process
  • Talk about everything at once
  • Use only one strategy
  • Focus only on your needs
  • Treat people like numbers

Your lead story is just beginning.

And there you have it—three leads, three stories, countless ways to engage, persuade, and embed value throughout the sales process. Amy, Bryan, and Casey are just a few examples of the kinds of prospective customers your business may encounter. 

In reality, every sales lead is unique—because every person is unique. Everyone is the main character in their own story. 

But everyone who interacts with your business, no matter who they are or where they are in the customer journey, deserves consistently excellent service. That means getting to know and understand them, one unique case at a time. It means building connections.

At Ruby, connections are what we do best. Thousands of small businesses across the United States trust Ruby to build connections with their customers and prospects, create positive first impressions, provide unforgettable experiences, and generate word-of-mouth. 

Discover how easy it is to grow your business with Ruby.

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Working from home right now is not without its challenges. The line between home life and work-life has become blurry. Roughly 46 percent of American businesses have implemented remote-work policies as of mid-February. This is a huge jump from 2017, when just 3.4 percent of Americans worked remotely, half of the time. In other words, working at home for many of us feels foreign. Many of us have children at home and have had to transform ourselves into teachers overnight. And those of us with spouses, well, they’re also our new coworkers. 

Here’s the silver lining: Despite all of the distractions at home, having employees work remotely may be beneficial for companies and employees. Small experiments have found that combining work and home life can boost morale in certain situations. And today, we have the technology to get work done, create and move forward, virtually. Virtual offices are a thing. We’re sure many of you have used video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Skype, to meet with your team which helps to stay connected. Here are a few other tips to boost your team’s creativity and productivity during quarantine. 

Get Dressed

This might seem obvious, but if we’re being honest, how many of us are in our pajamas right now? Pre-quarantine, we got up and changed into our work clothes, right? It’s no secret that how you dress influences your mood. Wearing something suitable makes you feel human and the act of changing your clothes is a signal to your brain that it’s time to get things done — even if it’s remotely.  

Have a Workspace

The separation of work and home life is critical. The more a person’s workspace bleeds into their home life, the less productive they’ll be. Encourage your team to design their own workspace, whether it’s a corner in their bedroom, a spare room, or a kitchen nook. The point is, it should feel separate from the rest of the living space. When work is over, the space should be packed up. It’s this physical act of leaving work that helps us recharge and reset. 

Keep Work Hours

Some evidence indicates that people working remotely are actually working longer days. Those employees who are also homeschooling might be catching up on the weekends or after hours so they seem to always be available. So it’s important to encourage employees to log off at the end of the workday. 

Stay Connected 

We mentioned tools like Zoom and Skype that help with communication and connection, but really staying connected takes more than just the technology to do so (though, at the moment, that technology is critically important).

Make time for small talk. Carve it into your day. Working from home means that the opportunity for spontaneous conversation on your way to eat lunch or refill your coffee cup isn’t quite there like it used to be. It is important to remember that we are not machines, and that to do our best work, we need to be ourselves. Staying connected with your coworkers starts with making intentional time to do so!

For more tips, tricks, and insight into what it means to be a part of the small business community, check out our Small Business Resource Hub.

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The story of a lead: Bryan.

Reading time:

Meet Bryan. 

Bryan is a 36-year-old single dad who recently relocated from Hong Kong to the United States. Bryan would describe himself as a nerd and a homebody. He loves cooking, painting, musical theater, and learning new languages. Although Bryan doesn’t open up to new people immediately, he has several close friends who love him for his kind heart and his sometimes-dark sense of humor.

Right now, we don’t actually know any of that. 

What we do know is that Bryan is a sales lead. He’s shown interest in your business and your products or services. We know this because he’s filled a contact form on your website, and yesterday, he sent an email asking about an offering. 

Many businesses would consider Bryan a marketing-qualified lead (MQL). Compare and contrast him with our last persona, Amy, who falls under the category of sales-qualified lead (SQL). Amy and Bryan are both interested in a potential sale, but while Amy has had exchanges with business representatives, Bryan has only just initiated the conversation.

Welcome to a world of possibilities.

Bryan is at an exciting and uncertain stage in the customer acquisition process. There are so many possibilities ahead.

Maybe he’ll turn into a new customer—perhaps a loyal, high-paying customer who spreads positive word of mouth about your business.

Or maybe he’ll benefit your company in a different way—as a key contact, for instance, or even a future employee. Maybe he has connections, knowledge, or skills you can harness to grow your business.

Then again, Bryan might find out he’s not interested in what you have to offer. 

Or worse, what if he has a negative interaction with you or your team and decides to leave a critical review online?

It’s a lot like a first date. Things could go wonderfully, or terribly, or just sort of “meh.” But no matter what, you have an opportunity to stand out, create an unforgettable experience, and hopefully forge a real connection with someone.

What does Bryan need?

As with dating, the secret to nurturing a lead like Bryan is to center the other person’s needs. Throughout the customer acquisition process, but particularly at this point, sales should look more like service. Ask not what Bryan can do your business, but what you can do for Bryan. 

What kind of product or service does Bryan need? 

What information is he looking for? How much research has he done? 

What drew him to your business? What will he do if he doesn’t use your product or service? 

What are his hopes, concerns, and frustrations at this point?

Consider how you can address these subjects within a sales call, as well as through secondary channels. For example, if you have marketing content such as blog posts, downloads, and videos that Bryan might find relevant, maybe those materials are worth sending his way. Or, if he’s already reviewed your content, you could ask him targeted follow-up questions.

The goal is to engage him and get him interested. Don’t be afraid to talk about your business—that’s what he’s here to find out about—but try to frame the conversation around his needs. 

It’s all about value.

Believe it or not, leads like Bryan can be easier to convert than the Amys of the world. That’s because they have fewer assumptions. They’re open and receptive to information about the business. 

Perhaps more importantly, they are open to learning because they don’t know how to make the decision.  This is where the salesperson should become more of a consultant.  Consider questions like these:

What criteria will Bryan use to decide if the product/service is a fit?

How will Bryan measure whether or not he’s getting an ROI out of working with you?

Other than price, what else will he consider before making a decision?

Skilled salespeople can use this moment to embed value. In other words, you can overcome objections and roadblocks in advance by priming leads during the consideration phase. 

Again, it’s both a science and an art. 

The science is giving Bryan all the information he needs, and educating him on what else he might need to consider, in order to start getting ready to make his decision.

The art is knowing when and how to dole out the information—anticipating Bryan’s needs, tailoring your approach to his personality and preferences, and getting the prospect to open their mind to what they don’t already know, which will keep the business fresh in his mind for days, weeks, or months.

Give him a reason to love you, and make the decision to choose you as easy and obvious as possible, and—when the time is right—converting him into a customer will be a cinch.

In the final article in this series, we’ll look at our third lead, Casey. We may not know much about them, but there are definitely steps we can take to nurture them into a customer or client.

For more free tips, tricks, and tools for growing your business, check out Ruby’s Small Business Resource Hub.

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The story of a lead: Amy.

Reading time:

Meet Amy. 

Amy’s a 55-year-old political consultant with a Texas accent and a big, boisterous laugh. She loves hiking, kickboxing, and her dog Bruce. She’s outgoing and sharp-witted, with a firm yet friendly demeanor that indicates she’ll happily engage in conversation, but you better not waste her time.

Right now, however, the most important thing to know about Amy is that she seems poised to buy something from your business.

Amy is a lead—and a highly qualified lead at that. Your sales team has already had several exchanges with her. We know what she’s interested in and we have a good sense of her budget. 

All that’s left to do is close the deal.

Should be easy, right?

Not so fast.

This is one of the most common customer acquisition challenges business owners run into—closing a sale that looks like it should be a sure thing. 

Be careful not to mistake a lead’s enthusiasm or friendly personality for readiness to make a purchase. And don’t assume their decision-making process aligns perfectly with your sales process. Just because Amy is where she is in our funnel doesn’t mean that she’s ultimately made the decision to move forward.

In fact, depending on Amy’s mindset at this point and experiences with the company thus far, she may be more challenging to convert than someone coming in with fewer expectations. Let’s break down why.

Does Amy understand her ROI?

Sales-qualified leads like Amy typically know what they need and who’s offering it. If you run an HVAC company, for example, someone like Amy may contact you because she needs a new furnace and is aware that your business can fulfill that need. 

The reason Amy hasn’t become a customer is that she doesn’t fully understand her return on investment. She knows what she needs and knows you’re selling it. But she doesn’t know why your product or service is her best, most reliable, and most cost-effective option.

This is what trips up so many business owners. Because Amy has expressed interest in the product or service offered, she feels like an easy sale. She seems excited over the phone. She’s asking a lot of questions. But then she says, “let me think about it,” and you’re chasing her for the next six months. 

You could say you’re… Chasing Amy. 

How do we turn Amy into a customer?

To convert Amy, we need to demonstrate value. 

Countless business owners take this part for granted. They assume the value of their products or services is obvious, or they struggle to articulate it in terms that resonate with leads. After all, their skill is providing those products or services—not necessarily selling them.

Which is why, for someone like Amy, it’s often important to back up and demonstrate why you are the most valuable option. Amy might not be ready to buy just yet, but she’s ready to be convinced. 

In general, there are three questions every lead needs an answer to before they make a purchase:

  1. “Do I need this?”
  2. “If so, what’s the best way to get it? Can I do it myself?”
  3. “If I can’t do it myself, who’s the best vendor?”

Convincing Amy comes down to answering question 3. But we might have to return to questions 1 and 2 to make the company’s value as obvious as possible. Maybe it’s worth reminding Amy that she needs a furnace and that expert installation is her easiest, fastest, cheapest option. We have to ensure she sees everything she has to gain—and then make the case for our business.

Remember: sales is both a science and an art

The science is checking those three boxes. 

The art is getting Amy to be open to the conversation, and getting her to open up about what she needs. This is where conversational skills and personalities come into play. We know Amy appreciates when people are candid and honest, so we can be pretty direct with her. If she were shier or more evasive, we’d need to take a different approach.

There’s another factor to keep in mind here. Amy might not be the sole decision-maker. In a lot of cases, particularly B2B sales, there are other people to convince. Amy may be on board, but perhaps her CFO (or spouse) is the one who ultimately makes the purchasing decision. In that instance, Amy could be a “gatekeeper” , meaning we would need to convince her to give us access to the person who’s really in charge, or a decision influencer, who might need help in how to convince someone else to move forward. In either situation, it’s best if you ask some questions to make sure you fully understand the full scope of the decision-making process.

All of this is to say that every lead, no matter how warm or how far along they are in the process, has their own needs, realities, and expectations—which may or may not be obvious. Converting that lead into a customer means first identifying when they’re ready for the sale, and then—when they are ready—keeping an open mind, listening carefully, and centering value throughout the conversation.

In the next article in this series, we’ll look at a lead who’s not quite as far along as Amy, but whom we can start nurturing to eventually become a customer.

For more free tips, tricks, and tools for growing your business, check out Ruby’s Small Business Resource Hub.

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