Technology makes it possible to run many kinds of businesses remotely – but planning is key.
We’ve all seen the pictures: the surfer sitting under the palm leaves at a beach bar on his laptop, clinching a deal in New York – or Joburg. This kind of scenario does seem a little far-fetched (what beach bar has good WiFi, for starters?) but the concept is becoming increasingly practical. For most people, the real benefits of this approach would be the opportunity to run a business from home or, for a limited period, from a holiday destination.
Examine the business model. It’s very important to think through the business model carefully, and decide whether remote management is indeed possible. Part of the decision will rest on where in the business life cycle you are. For example, a start-up manufacturer would probably need to be in the factory every day to get the right production and quality systems in place, and to visit key clients personally. Once the business is established and good managers are in place, overseeing it remotely becomes more possible.
Build an ecosystem. This ecosystem concept is coming to define modern business models, in contrast to the closed system. Put simply, an increasing number of businesses are learning that there are advantages in using partners rather than trying to do everything themselves. Even conventionally run businesses are using this model, but it has particular relevance for the remote model.
Thus, for example, a manufacturer does not need to own or run its own logistics operation any more than it needs to pay the salary of a legal advisor or a digital marketing specialist. Rather, these non-core services should be contracted in from expert suppliers. In this way, even a start-up or small company can access the same calibre of specialist skills that a massive corporate can, but without having to tie up capital or management focus.
A lot of time should thus be spent finding the right partners and building the right kind of relationships with them. If one is going to rely on a business partner to deliver on your behalf while you are in Greyton, or The Philippines, the relationship has to be more than simply transactional. Fulfilment is one crucial but non-core activity that most businesses could hand over to a third party.
Leverage the power of virtual assistants. High-quality assistance can be obtained virtually from other remote workers. Again, the key is finding the right ones. Sites like Bizserv, VA Connect and Recruit My Mom offer ways of accessing freelancers and virtual assistant spanning mobile software development through to accountants and personal assistants. Remember to always ask for references and check on them. Virtual assistants can take care of administrative or regular tasks on a contract basis, with specialists such as digital marketers or analytics experts called in as needed.
Use software to set parameters. All businesses these days, remotely run ones pre-eminently, are reliant on software platforms. Make sure that you set them up so that you are alerted when significant activity takes place; for example, when an order is dispatched, a payment is made or a product over a certain value is ordered.
Move onto the cloud. The advent of cloud computing is a godsend for anyone wanting to start or run a business remotely. Not only does it allow one to access skills and services virtually, it also provides a platform that facilitates remote working and collaboration. For example, using cloud storage services like Dropbox, means that all documents can be accessed from anywhere securely. The result of this, of course, is that the business must be paperless, with any paper documentation scanned as soon as possible.
Learn how to communicate virtually. Any business owner knows that staying in touch with employees, business partners and clients is critical. However, this does not need to be in person all the time. The Internet offers a multiplicity of ways to keep in touch with key role-players in your business, supplementing the alerts you have set up on the various software platforms used by the business. Again, it is worth spending time familiarising yourself with what is available, and working out which works best for you and your extended team. Some channels are better suited for specific functions. For example, a webinar platform might be better for presenting a new product or sales idea, whereas a Skype teleconference is sufficient to deal with a specific issue, and so on. Suit the channel to the type of communication you are planning.
South Africans in particular are addicted to face-to-face meetings, but this is changing. Videoconferencing and virtual meetings have come a long way and thanks to abundant bandwidth, now work well. Such technologies allow one to establish eye contact and read facial expressions.
Providing a regular e-newsletter can also be an effective way to keep everybody in touch.
Manage your risk. Every business owner needs to assess regularly what the risks facing the business are and how best to mitigate them. As the business gets bigger, it is probably a good idea to enlist the help of a specialist business continuity consultant, but at the beginning it will likely live on the owner’s to-do list.
One important element is IT disaster recovery which can now be purchased as a service from a specialist provider. Many businesses assume that their cloud providers act as a de facto disaster recovery capability, but this may not be the case – establish with your cloud provider what its backup plans for its own systems are, and what its obligations are in the event that your data or applications are unavailable.
When it comes to risk, the small business owner’s secret weapon is a close relationship with an insurer or broker. The right kind of insurance will provide not only for compensation in the event of a disaster, but also offer access to service providers to put things back on track. Insurers are experts at risk profiling and are invaluable business partners.
Running a business from home – or from anywhere for that matter – is not that different from running it in person, but it does require more planning. Technology is what makes it all possible, so the non-negotiable is excellent and reliable connectivity – but that still leaves one with many desirable options.
*By: Morné Stoltz, MiWay Head of Business Insurance