Growth Machine has been in business for a bit over a year now.
In that time, we’ve gone from one person working alone in Starbucks making a few thousand a month, to five full-time people with 50+ contractors bringing in over $100,000 per month.
Since day one, we’ve had the goal of creating an amazing place to work while being a fully remote team. As of this article, our core team is spread out between Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Lake Tahoe, with a couple of us also being around Europe and in NYC for much of the last year.
Having a successful fully remote company is getting more common, but it’s still largely uncharted territory. There are a few standout companies in the space (Zapier, Basecamp, Automattic, Buffer) who have written extensively about how they operate as a remote company, and their lessons have been extremely useful for us designing our own team systems.
Now that we’re at the one year mark, I thought it’d be helpful to document how we currently operate at Growth Machine for anyone considering working with us, for any other company trying to work better remotely, and for our own record keeping to look back in the future.
Our team is primarily split between two focuses: growing the agency, and growing our owned properties.
Any client project has three essential parts to it: the strategy and topics we’re using to grow their site, the writing, editing, and publishing of those articles, and the promotion of those articles to give them the initial bump they need to start ranking.
On the agency side, Nora leads all of our client strategy and relationships, Brian leads all of the content promotion, and Heather leads all of the article editing and publishing. Each of them owns an entire part of the content production process for each client.
We’re able to do this because the strategy side to each project stays the same, regardless of the client’s topic area. How you research keywords, write a good article and promote it, doesn’t change very much whether you’re writing about travel, health, or finance. What does change is the writers we work with for each project, which is why we work with a huge number of writers.
Then the other big part of our business is growing our owned properties, which right now are Cup & Leaf and The Writer Finder. Erika is in charge of most of this, leading all the content production for both, as well as the writer finding for The Writer Finder.
I (Nat) have the least well-defined role, since I balance managing the team, doing sales and marketing for Growth Machine, as well as working on some growth, logistics, and miscellaneous work for Cup & Leaf and The Writer Finder. But, I like that, so it’s fine.
Having these clear roles is essential to being able to work well together remotely. Since everyone knows exactly what they’re responsible for on each client or project, it’s rare that something will get dropped or that we’ll get into issues of diffusion of responsibility. When a client asks for something, or a problem comes up, it’s clear whose responsibility it is to do or fix it.
It also makes it easier to know how we need to hire to scale. If Nora knows she can manage X number of clients with her current responsibilities, then we know that to reach Y number of clients we’ll need to either remove some of those responsibilities or hire someone to support her.
But the team structure is only part of it. How we manage tasks and projects carries a significant part of the load.
Unlike most agencies, we’re not doing something custom for each client. We have a standard process that we’ve seen work, and the only ways we’ll modify it are to either increase the pace (more articles per week) or add in more aggressive social media promotion (usually Pinterest).
Since our service is so systematized, we can use the same sort of structure on each project. We know how long it will take to put together the content plan for a client, to find the writers, to get the first articles up, and to prepare the content each week.
So for each client, we have two boards in Asana. One is the “client board” where they can see our high-level progress and we can assign things to them that we need:
The other is our internal “editorial board” where we manage all of the articles going up on their blog:
Within these projects, we capture everything that needs to get done for each part of a client engagement, with much of it templated out into reusable tasks and boards. We also have a few rules for Asana that make it easier to manage and track everything:
Not being late is the biggest one. The only way we’re able to put out 40+ articles every week across a dozen different sites is if we can rely on each other to be on time. If tasks start running late, they’ll quickly cascade into hurting all of our other projects, so we need to stay constantly on top of getting things done in a reasonable time frame.
And since we’re not sitting next to each other, we can’t just poke our head up and say “Hey how’s that thing going? Is it done yet? How about now? Well, can you just do it now?” (thankfully) which means we have to trust the system and get our stuff done on time.
Communication is going to be a natural challenge for any remote company. It’s nice that you can’t constantly interrupt each other, but it can be a problem when you need something from someone quickly and you can’t tell if they’re around or not.
We address this a few ways. First, we’re strict about working in Asana and knowing what we need to deliver on a day to day basis. As long as there aren’t any fires, we should rarely need something “ASAP” from someone that they don’t already know about. We might have other questions, but those can usually wait.
Second, we do a mix of online and offline hours. We expect everyone to be responsive, except during lunch, from 1-5pm EST. We don’t expect everyone to be hyper-responsive for the entire normal workday since that’s counterproductive, we know we’ll get more done if we have at least three to four hours of “deep work” time each day, when we can just focus on getting our work done without feeling the need to constantly jump into Slack and respond to things.
Third, we only use email when we’re communicating externally. We do all of our internal communication through Slack, and we try to keep information relevant to certain tasks within its relevant Asana task. We talk with clients primarily through Asana if we can convince them to use it so that we have a record of all the work and requests within one Asana board instead of a bunch of emails.
And, of course, we try to do a decent amount of goofing off in our Slack too so that it’s not all business talk.
It's been fun figuring all of this out over the next year, and now that we're hitting the capacity of our team again, we're going to have a whole new "way of working" to figure out this year as we continue to grow. Interested in joining our team and being part of that? We’re currently hiring! Check out our roles here.