I set up my business as a 100% remote, virtual business.
I did this for efficiency reasons, for a lifestyle choice. I wanted to work from home. Have flexibility. Be able to go where I wanted to go and not be bound by an office.
Also, I don’t really work well in an office (I discovered). I worked as an auditor when I was just out of university – the typical, tiny cubicles with no natural light or fresh air. Like being in prison basically. When I moved to Scotland, I had to contend with office working combined with the shockingly depressing six hours of daylight in winter.
At first it was just me, so I worked from home. Me, and my little MacBook Air, and the second bedroom of my little flat, looking out to a car park. (And trying to ignore the postman when he could see I was in and wanting me to come pick up a parcel, but I was running a webinar for a bunch of accountants..!!!) Just me, and a few outsourcers and freelancers.
As the business grew, I began to replace the outsourcers and freelancers with full time employees. Then a few more, then a few more.
Fast forward to today when my company has 14 employees, and clients all over the world. Everything still initiates virtually – and our clients come to us via our website and content, and we deliver the work online. Video calls and messaging, Slack conversations, online payment forms, Google docs.
And whilst I’m really grateful for what all that technology enables me to do, over the last year or so I’ve started to fall in love again with the impact of getting together with my clients live and in person.
It’s happened quite naturally, from sending PF team members to events and conferences, or from going myself (or being a speaker). I would start using my travel opportunities to meet up with clients who were in the area.
And I discovered something. I realised when I (or my team) meet with clients in person, there’s a whole different level we get to.
- We talk about more personal things. Being productive and efficient is excellent and is needed when you’re on a video call and everyone wants to use the time well. But when just two of you are chatting, the sense of time changes and the topics change too. It’s more relaxed, more personal, and it feels a little more private (since the ‘record’ button isn’t flashing so ostentatiously in the top left hand corner!).
- We see their offices – and we notice things. We see a comic book art display book and discover they’ve got comic book canvas prints sitting in a back room, and we laughingly pull out the hammer and nail and get those things up on the wall.
- We meet their families. One time I had near-constant events before the weekend and after the weekend in London, so instead of rushing back to Scotland and back again, I stayed with a client who lives nearby. I got to meet all her children and step children and dogs. We had dinner together and went round to their local pub. I sat at her dining room table on Saturday morning and sketchnoted things while looking out at her garden.
When these things happen, a different level of relationship happens.
It’s stronger, less clinical.
PF is not merely a company they’ve hired: it’s full of people they can talk to about anything in their life. Health issues. Family problems. Concerns about clients. Financial issues. Problems with a kitchen remodel or what new house to buy.
And victories, too. Achievements they or their children have had – awards, medals, qualifications. Weight they’ve lost. Relationships restored.
The business side improves too, but only because of all that. We end up talking about what else their accounting business needs – not in an overly formal or salesy way, but naturally, based on what they actually need. I’m beginning to lose count of the times a client says, “Oh, I didn’t know you did that!” And that opens up a whole new conversation.
Rather like me and Emma, represented in my sketchnote today. (I admit my sketch feels like a rather horrible attempt at a beautiful image, and our eyes look all squinty and it looks like I have no legs, but hey, I did it.)
She’s a client who lives near London and I got to meet up with her in person this week. I took the train to her town…her son brought his camera equipment and took video for us…we wandered a gift shop and beautiful gardens…we talked about life and business and employees and family. Even after three years of having her as a client, I got to know her just that little bit better today.
I know these posts are sent out to everyone on an email list, and on the blog: but I assure you I personally read any reply you send to them. Because I like getting to know you as a person, a human being.
What I’d love for you to reply with today is:
What’s the hardest thing going on in your life right now?
After all, I’m a safe place to talk to. I may not have all the answers, but I’ll listen. And next time I’m in your area, we might even be able to meet in person!