Great Business Ideas: Consider Hiring Remote Workers

Great Ideas for your Small Business: Consider Hiring Remote Workers

Lioyd henry, founder and president of Biotech Marketing Inc., which buys and sells used and refurbished hospital equipment, prefers to hire salespeople without meeting them. “The important thing to me is that the person relates well on a personal basis over the phone,” said Henry. “Often I’m more convinced by what I hear than what I see. After five or six phone conversations, you can tell what people are made of.”

That’s good, because Henry rarely ever sees his employees, except for his wife, Anita, who handles marketing and customer service from their company headquarters based in their Margate, Florida, home. The company relies on independent sales reps in Atlanta, Denver, Indianapolis, and Los Angeles.

Henry has grown his business despite the lack of in-per- son contact with his colleagues. “Many of our customers are rural hospitals, so the bulk of sales work is done over the phone, anyway,” says Henry. “One customer is located eighty miles from the nearest McDonald’s.” Managing remote employees is fast becoming one of the true business art forms. And it will continue as skilled workers demand flexibility and mobility.

Finding responsible and motivated remote workers is easier than you think. Corporate downsizing has left hundreds of thousands of middle-aged, tech-savvy professionals looking for new ways to work and live. Many of them are reluctant to relocate for family reasons and are looking for high- level, home-based job opportunities.

“After the many years of corporate layoffs, a lot of people are finding the best way to excel is to work on their own terms,” said Tom Miller, vice president of research at the Emerging Technologies Research Group in Ithaca, New York, which studies the impact of technology and work on culture. “Many of these people are tempted by the ease of computer networking to break out of the corporate rat race and consult. From a management perspective, the key is to find people who are good self-starters,” Miller said.

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Entrepreneurs like Lloyd Henry are hungry to hire mature and independent self-starters. But putting together a virtual team is not as easy as it sounds. “We’ve had a few personnel changes,” said Henry, who started the business after burning out as a financial consultant who spent months on the road. “Some of our people just couldn’t keep up with the learning curve and didn’t pan out. All were laid off by larger organizations and didn’t realize that working remotely takes a tremendous amount of discipline.”

More difficult than managing remote employees is man- aging some of his hospital customers’ expectations. “They’re used to salespeople coming around to take them out to lunch,” said Henry. “We don’t do that, but we do provide a much higher level of service. We can have an engineer on the phone in a minute.” For all the media coverage on sophisticated technology, the plain old telephone—with its host of services—is the backbone of Biotech Marketing’s infrastructure.

A toll-free 800 number is answered at the Margate headquarters. Conference calls between the field representative, customer, or vendor, and the headquarters are common. All his people can forward calls to one another; they can also patch another rep into a call when needed. The company’s monthly phone bill averages $3,000 to $4,000.

Henry generates price quotes and faxes or e-mails them to field reps. The reps all have personal computers and color printers to create sales presentations. It’s a plain-vanilla setup with the advantages of a quick start-up, a short learning curve for employees, and no need for a high-tech network manager or Internet guru.

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Still, Henry admits his remote workers miss “the water-cooler interaction.” But his secret of success is “hiring professional, mature people.” “We’re all forty-five years old or older. We’ve been through the rat race. Now we’re at a point in our lives where we want to look at the quality of life. Our associate in Denver, for instance, loves to ski. There’s no reason he can’t work thousands of miles from our main office here in Florida.”

How to find remote workers

FINDING GOOD PEOPLE at a distance isn’t easy, but it can be done. You’ll have to set up a system to interview and screen candidates online and on the telephone. Consider placing help wanted ads in the newspapers serving the cities where you want to do business, as well as placing ads online.

Below are some other ideas on getting started:

  • Create a simple application form that you can email to candidates. Be sure to leave space for references and ask for full contact information.
  • Send the candidate detailed information about your company’s products and services. Ask them to prepare a sample sales letter or pitch for your review.
  • If the candidate appears qualified, set up a half-hour tele- phone interview. Look for people with good telephone skills and a pleasant speaking voice; keep in mind that they will represent your company.
  • Set up a probationary period before you make any long- term commitments. Clarify in writing the terms of their contract, sales commissions, return of unsold merchandise, and any other issues.
  • If you want to leave the screening process to professionals, consider retaining a national employment agency that can find workers anywhere in the country.
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