3 Tips to a Successful “Long-Distance” Business Relationship
Isn’t it ironic that we are so hopeful and accommodating when it comes to long- distance relationships in our personal lives, but not so in our professional lives? Wonder why?
I have been running my business remotely for the last 8 years and have successfully mastered the art of a well-oiled “long-distance” business relationship with my partners and clients alike. Over the years, my company has learnt the tricks of doing this well and also making it a differentiation at times. We even built an award winning app (game) without meeting, speaking to or messaging the developer even once! He was an introvert who lived in another city and didn’t communicate any other way but mails. We managed to build the entire game through gmail and google drive. The app went on to get featured by Apple in 12 countries under best new games!
Long-distance work also enhances the possibility of increasing revenues simply because you save a lot of time and are able to do a lot more in 24hours. Besides, it also allows you to have a work-life balance in many ways and reduces overheads.
Considering the world-wide lock-down and what the #COVID19 pandemic has forced many businesses to do, I thought it is perhaps the right time for me to share my “tricks of the trade” to help fellow entrepreneurs accept this new normal of long-distance business relationships.
I read the above as “We are so far, yet so close”…
So, why are we so averse to this idea when it comes to our work? Both as clients and as client partners?
I think it is simply a mental block and a lot of inertia…
Some common reasons for us hesitating to work remotely with partners and clients are:
- We think we are emotional about people we love but practical about our work. So we are more accommodating of long-distance in our personal lives.
- We think we are understood better by our better halves but misunderstood by clients when we communicate remotely with the two parties respectively.
- Plus there is a commercial exchange that demands a face to face interaction when it comes to the professional equation. Clients often view it as a sign of commitment. Where as in our personal lives, there is only an emotional and a physical exchange which one is willing to wait for till circumstances permit us.
- Finally, we think we make a bigger impact and are able to meet deadlines and targets better when there is face to face human interactions. Plus monitoring of quality and supervision also demands the same.
Well, I am here to tell you that all of the above are just traditional ways of working that we are conditioned for. Truth is, we as entrepreneurs are as emotional about our work as we are about our families. And that we are as close to our partners and clients as our better halves. And wish to go beyond the commercial exchange to build a lifetime of value. So, if this is true, I think long-distance business relationship surely deserves a shot!
In many ways, distant professional relationships take out a lot of biases, and prejudices from the equation that we tend to have normally (like body language, physical appearance, gender etc). Businesses start to appreciate the true worth of creating real value and having real expertise, despite the constraints.
It is a bit like “American Idol” auditions versus “The Voice” auditions 🙂
This format truly filters out the good from the great. The mediocre from the legendary! The ones with substance from the superficial.
But like in the “Voice”, it takes two to tango – the ability of the singer to sing without the judges facing him/her and the ability of judges to spot potential just by listening and not seeing; In business it takes an honest, committed partner and a trusting and flexible client.
The 3 TRICKS to master the art of remote controlling work are:
1.Be open to the GIG ECONOMY
Being nimble and flexible is key to succeeding in this format. I have seen the benefits of doing that by keeping my workforce overheads low and reap the benefits of the gig economy. I have followed the outsourcing model all these years even for the most skilled resources. It allows you to be very flexible, varied and fresh. Gone are the days when you have to have people on your payrolls to showcase capability. Trust and loyalty can be built even among freelancers if you allow them to make a few mistakes, and keep their payments timely. Their loyalty lies in the flexible hours you give them, and the regular business you bring. All you need to ensure is that the client has you as the point of contact and sees your firm as the place where the buck stops. There is also a sharp focus on delivery and response time when you work remotely. I have noticed that clients can be a little impatient when they can’t see people around working hard for them. So you need to be very responsive to their queries and be prompt with solutions or clarifications. Managing anxiety becomes are big focus in this format. One way to truly delight is to pre-empt their questions and address it before they bring it up. Therefore, having multiple freelancers work on various projects and be committed to them creates that responsiveness and ownership. Without the burden of hiring full-time.
TIP1– Have a core team on your payrolls who will monitor the freelancers. Have minimum interaction of clients with freelancers. Trust me both don’t wish to deal with each other.
TIP 2– Have weekly review reports sent to clients pro-actively and over deliver on various counts to win the trust and confidence of the client. Be on self-critical mode and make the client believe that you are auditing your own work more than they need to. Eg: When Carl Zeiss gave us a mystery shopping research project for 8 cities, we outsourced the field work. But we voluntarily suggested submitting visiting cards of every shopkeeper visited and pictures of the mystery shopper as proof for better quality checks.
2. Self- Discipline and communication
Being meticulous and structured is a pre-requisite for managing clients and partners remotely. As a business owner, you need to be on the ball with everything you are juggling with and be very disciplined about each aspect of the work- be it payments, delivery, salaries etc. You need to be doing a lot of mental mapping and be the conductor on zoom, with your distant orchestra. The more structured you are, the more business you can take on. Because all the time you save from being in traffic, you can actually use for handling more work. So managing long-distance business relationships truly starts with the owner! Written and verbal skills are both important in most roles but to work remotely, one needs to build trust and rapport with words as much as with action. We know that a smile can be seen in your voice by the one who receives your call. Also, psychology plays a huge role in the way we write and communicate in long-distance relationships, therefore our choice of words is critical. So, it is not enough to send formal mails that are grammatically correct. There is often a need to make a call before sending out the mail or vice versa. Humour is a good way to build trust as well because they can hear it in your voice and begin to picture you each time you communicate.
TIP 1– Hire people with a lot of personality and ability to communicate with emotions and voice modulations. You also need those who are patient and meticulous! So the way you hire must evaluate these traits. Encourage personality tests with no right answers.
TIP 2– Make your website self-explanatory and showcase your brand personality very strongly. Nobody likes to see a website which only answers the “what” and not the “who, why and how”. Eg: Our Barefoot website has FAQs which are answered with a lot of personality. It is not the usual FAQ page with boring formal answers.
3. Encourage referrals and aim for excellence
This is probably one of the biggest reasons for my success as an entrepreneur. We have always aimed for excellence and exceeding client expectations. What that results in is a good testimonials and referrals. Once that happens, the long-distance relationship becomes much easier. There is always that in-built trust and faith that the client shows us which allows us to work to the best of our ability as their brand partners. Like I said, this format is not for the mediocre or the good. It demands excellence, true value creation and going beyond the brief. Only then do you start seeing the benefits in the long run. Majority (95%) of our business has come through referrals and we have been able to manage and deliver complex projects from across the world, sitting right here in Bangalore (Many times in our homes).
TIP 1– Show that you are thinking for the client and not only about your business. Do that with ideas about how to solve problems with your expertise. Eg: We have often had inquiries for app development when in fact the client could just do with a responsive website to solve the business challenge. In such cases we have honestly advised them to not spend time and money on app development and go for a cheaper and more efficient solutions. This instantly tells them we are not in it for the money. We are in it to solve problems with the most optimal solutions.
TIP 2– Go beyond the brief and do things for free that will add value to the client. This will help gain client patience when you mess up. And you will mess up. Eg: When we started work for a large MNC- Retailing laptops, we sent the team for store visits (To client’s stores and its competitors) before the work began. This was done pro-actively and a report was submitted to the client to assure them that we have done our homework and that we were geared up for the creative load.
Let me end by saying that, there will always be clients with whom this format will NOT WORK. And you need to decide if they are worth investing in for your business or not.
I hope this helped you be more open to the new way of working. Although for us it has been the way of life for nearly a decade. Please share your experiences and challenges with me so that I can also learn and we can have a fruitful debate 🙂