This month marks the birthday of a very important five-year-old: my all-virtual PR agency.
Back in 2015, a longtime colleague and I decided to launch a boutique agency with a national footprint. The way to do this, we decided, was for the business to be entirely virtual. This format had some obvious benefits. Untethered to an office or city, we were free to hire the best people, wherever they were. It meant we (and our employees) could spend more time with our families, enjoy better work-life balance, and retain employees through big life changes and cross-country relocations.
It also came with some challenges. How would we foster a strong company culture? Or get our people to work as a cohesive team even if they’d never met in person?
Five years later, our company is 30+ people strong with a footprint across 15 U.S. cities and around the world. PRWeek named us their outstanding boutique agency for 2018 and 2019. In honor of our fifth birthday, here are five tips for growing a successful all-virtual company of your own.
Don’t Try to Do Everything at Once
When you decide to launch your company, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself. There are a thousand things that need to be done, and everything will take longer than you think it will.
There are employees to hire, clients to court, and contracts to draw up. You must design and launch a website, establish and manage social networking accounts, and print business cards. But not all of this needs to happen on day one. Try to focus on one or two things at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Your new business will also take some time.
A follow-up to this point is that, once your business is up and running, don’t try to do everything yourself. Delegate what you can to other experts so that you can focus on the things your business is really good at.
Spend on Great Hires
Your business will only be as successful as the people you hire. Going all-virtual means that your overhead will be drastically lower than that of your competitors with brick-and-mortar establishments. Roll some—or even all—of this money back into the compensation and benefits packages you put together so that you can attract the best people.
“When Bospar started as an all-virtual firm five years ago, we heard, ‘You can’t grow a firm of any size on that model,’” said Chris Boehlke, a fellow Bospar co-founder and principal. “We now have a staff of over 30 people with almost zero turnover in those five years, proving that we’ve created a working environment that people overwhelmingly prefer.”
Invest in Team Building
This is a big one. If your employees are going to become a team, they’ll need to spend time in person. If you can, fly your employees to the same city once a year. Talk about what’s been going well and what could be improved in the coming year, and plan at least one activity (a dinner or night out) for everyone to relax and get to know each other over a glass (or three) of wine.
In the early days of our agency, we flew everyone to San Francisco. Now that the company is bigger and we’re celebrating a milestone anniversary, we are holding our next all-hands at a beach resort in Mexico. Needless to say, our employees don’t mind the change.
In addition to our yearly all-hands, we encourage employees to have a night out on our dime any time they’re in the same town as each other. This is a great way to facilitate smaller-scale team bonding.
Get Your People on Video
Another way that we keep our employees engaged with each other and with our clients is by making video meetings mandatory. Having everyone on camera encourages active listening and participation, puts a face to the names behind the emails (for each other and clients), and keeps people accountable.
Of course, this means getting a host of technological tools in order, including a video conferencing tool like Google Hangouts or Zoom.
Commit to Diversity
This is a tip for any business, all-virtual or otherwise. Your team will be stronger, more motivated and more creative with more perspectives at the table.
Our agency has made diversity a priority from the outset, and we continue to double-down on this commitment. Our staff includes people with Hispanic, African American, Indian and Asian backgrounds, as well as individuals from the LGBTQ community. We see the pay-off in the quality of our work, the stickiness of our clients, and the growing number of industry accolades we receive each year.
Curtis Sparrer is the principal of Bospar PR. He has represented brands like PayPal, Tetris and the alien hunters of the SETI Institute. He is a member of the Forbes Communications Council and has written for Adweek, Forbes, the Dallas Morning News, and PRWeek. He is an active member of the National Lesbian Gay Journalist Association. Business Insider has twice listed him as one of the Top Fifty in Tech PR.