This month Cantactix celebrated its 10th anniversary without ever opening a brick and mortar office. Here are the top 10 lessons we’ve learned over the last decade as a virtual business.
1. Streamline your Organization
For eight of the last ten years, Cantactix was a partnership that allowed sharing of knowledge and the early burden of bootstrapping. However, this also meant that two people had to be aligned on almost every decision. This was time-consuming and led to stress between the leaders. Remember Research In Motion (RIM) and their Co-CEO’s – how did that work out? An organization under singular control has the benefit of saying “No” to some opportunities while enabling it to focus on those it can do well.
2. Be a Coach, not a Leader
Many of us spent time in the corporate world being great doer’s and were not given the opportunity to lead. A leader influences teams towards a common vision, while a coach finds the genius within each of us and allows that genius to contribute to the team. The experience of raising four children taught me to be a coach first, and I adopted this mentality at work. I’ve learned that a new employee, once coached well, becomes a dedicated teammate – no experience necessary. Everyone has a coach within them.
3. Embrace Skype, or another collaborative tool
Our company has used Skype for years and is monitoring the evolution of similar tools to ensure we are progressive. We mastered PlaceWare (anyone remember them?) for web sharing and have evolved to use other screen-sharing technologies. We also use a broad range of screen-sharing tools for both presentations and client support.
4. Institute a Sharing/Learning Culture
Some have expressed the concern that working from home hinders rapid learning and sharing. I suggest that teammates in a 30-person company can learn from all other employees every single day. Curious? Open Skype and see your colleagues at their desk and ask for help. Open a screen-sharing program and work through a problem together. Our team is respected for sharing while other companies have employees who shelter information so they alone have the skillset to be assigned to the next job. Hoarding information is a selfish mindset that is detrimental to the employee, the company, and the clients. Share – you learned this in kindergarten.
5. Give Back
Encouraging employees to give back in their communities is in line with sharing/learning; everyone has something to offer either as a coach, teammate, or donor. Cantactix encourages teammates to be active in their community, providing resources and allowing our team members to be in a leadership role. Giving back is about much more than the donation.
6. Do you really need IT?
As a ten-year-old I was presented with a riddle: Around the world, and into space, all can be seen from in one place. The answer at that time was television. Today the power of the world is in your hand. When we started, Mac’s helped us prevent wasting time on IT issues. Now, however, most issues are solved by a quick Google search. If all else fails, hire an expert short term and then retain them for future work. The owner (that’s me) will sleep better at night knowing that someone else is watching the IT infrastructure stuff.
7. Do The Right Thing
Do unto others as they would have you do unto them. Expect your team to take time during their workday to do errands, go to the gym, and accompany their children on school trips. Their lack of commute time will pay you back in days, and their commitment to the team will increase exponentially. Doing the right thing for clients sometimes means the best decision for them is for you to walk away when they aren’t ready to adopt the technology needed.
8. Find your 2IC – Second in Command
Once there is singular control, find a second-in-command. If you are a Visionary, find a 2IC who is an Integrator, and vice versa. Every leader requires someone they can trust to implement ideas. That person needs to have a different viewpoint and the ability to get stuff done. My 2IC has the balls to call “Bull!” on my more outlandish ideas. (I just come up with another crazy idea and run with it, but don’t tell him!)
9. Do not Typecast Talent
Don’t accept what people define themselves as. Some people may say they are a Business Consultant, Project Manager or Technical Architect. Everyone has brilliance. Once you get the right people “on the bus”, challenge them to learn new skills and reward them for stepping out of their comfort zone. Think about both breadth and depth. Celebrate their growth. See point 4 if you don’t know how to get this going remotely – we do this across 2 countries, 6 time zones and 15 states/provinces.
10. Get Your House in Order
Getting a 2IC in place meant we had someone who made meetings happen, ensured decisions got made, created action lists, assigned owners, and followed-up to make sure we accomplished what we aspired to do. That’s scary stuff in some organizations, but I’ve learned it shouldn’t be. Cantactix has grown to more than 30 people, who contribute to seven streams of revenue and manage two sets of QuickBooks (not that kind – one for USA and one for Canada). We’ve outgrown some amazing Excel spreadsheets and have moved to SaaS offerings to manage our projects and team plans, making it easier to continue enjoying our virtual lifestyle while we grow, surprise, and delight our clients.
It’s come full circle after ten years. I started as an entrepreneur and went to the corporate world for over 15 years. I thrive on the coaching moments of an entrepreneurial organization and having the ability to affect positive change with our teammates each and every day. Go coach someone. You’ll be able to hear their smiles in this new virtual world.