How To Start And Operate A Successful Online Business, Fully Remote
Updated: Apr 18
Remote work is on the rise, today more than it has ever been. More businesses are adopting a remote model, allowing their employees to work from wherever they wish to and from anywhere in the world.
It is easy to argue that building remote businesses is the way forward thanks to technology advancements, and more business leaders recognising the power and value of running their businesses in a non-traditional way. And of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has massively contributed to this already ongoing movement, as well.
Remote businesses usually do not have physical headquarters and are not geographically restricted in terms of employees and clients. A few examples of companies that have been built and operate entirely remotely that you are likely going to recognise are Zapier, InVision, Articulate, Hubstaff, FlexJobs, Aha, Clevertech, Gitlab, Time Doctor (and more).
If you’ve been following us for a while, you may know that humanplus was founded as a fully remote new business — this was a cautious choice as we believe that it is possible to build a great company, strong relationships, and deep connections online.
Despite humanplus being in its very early stages, we have already accumulated a wealth of information and learnings on things that work well (and don’t work at all) when operating in “work from home” mode every day.
In this article, we will share several actionable tips on how to start and run a client-based service business fully remotely with a money-making business idea, little to no investment, and a global pool of talents and opportunities.
Remote businesses are the way forward
The remote model has been gaining popularity for a little while now, and who wouldn’t find it tempting? Flexible location, family-friendly hours, hybrid working modes. This process already started before the global pandemic that accelerated this shift and somehow even made it a matter of survival for many companies when lockdowns were announced.
Source: IWG Global Workplace Survey - March 2019 - Survey Participants: Over 15,000 businesses across 80 nations are considering or have already implemented flexible workplace policies.
Remote working is no longer a matter of preference. With the coronavirus pandemic, it has suddenly become a matter of business survival.
A recent study by Merchand Savvy showed that 70% of the surveyed population considered flexible working location a key factor in choosing a career opportunity, 50 % of them prioritised this factor over the company’s name, 80% reported increased productivity when working remotely, and 77% stated their health and wellbeing improved.
Fair to say, these are compelling statistics already. So let’s look at some of the key benefits of building a remote business that does not operate under the 9 am - 5 pm office regime — and may instead unlock many new possibilities to gain:
Access to bigger, highly diverse talent pools, as you can truly operate on a global level instead of thinking within national borders (a lot of companies used to say that they operated globally but ended up restricting themselves by hiring only within their national talent pool)
Improved problem-solving ability, due to diversity of expertise and backgrounds of a global team
Flexibility to work when most productive
Eliminated or reduced overhead office costs (just think about all the rent and mortgage costs from occupying real estate, security deposits, utilities and furniture)
Reduced commuting and therefore more time to invest in things that make you happy (such as having breakfast with your family in the morning)
Reduced stress and improved employee satisfaction
Reduced unscheduled absences
Opportunities to expand faster and on an international level, as you might end up serving customers in countries you never thought you’d do any business in!
A study conducted in 2017 highlighted answers on what employees (55% managers and above) considered to be the biggest advantage of flexible working. Results are highlighted below:
Source: Polycom - 2017 - 25,234 people across 12 countries (US, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Germany, UK, India, Singapore, Russia, France, Australia and China).
So what if the remote model was the way forward, yielding benefits for businesses long-term and not just as a temporary fix in the times of COVID?
Working remotely seems to be the most adequate setting for any geographically independent startup or new business. It is not for everyone, and we appreciate that many traditional businesses have to facilitate a lot of internal transformation and change first, but chances are if you can’t go fully remote, you at least have a few roles in your company that can.
A guide to building a successful remote business
What you should bear in mind when building your remote business:
1. Educate yourself on remote working laws, guidelines and policies
Before you jump into talent acquisition and client prospecting, do make sure that you have outlined every legal aspect of your organisation, but also that you clearly defined your business policies, regulations and operating standards.
It is crucial to know which rules apply to your case, how your contracts should be issued, how you will be paying your remote workers, etc. Despite being a global location-independent company with a fully remote network of talents, you are still subject to legislation.
2. Set clear goals and accountabilities
Set goals for your business, set goals for yourself and set goals for each of your remote talents. Not only should your goals steer business growth, but also serve you and your employee’s professional objectives. A good mixture of both will help to boost employee engagement while helping you to retain your top talents.
Tip: Be crystal clear about business goals, review and adapt them regularly, and establish an accountability system to make sure they are followed up.
3. Create remote talent acquisition strategies and onboarding processes
Being a remote business means you have wider access to talents from all over the world, so the best candidate might end up being someone from a completely different cultural background. You should therefore take ample time and effort in onboarding new joiners, explaining the essence of the business, objectives, processes and tools but more importantly making sure that they understand what is expected and have the channels to ask questions.
Here it is incredibly important to create a safe environment for employees to communicate, and appreciate that working with different cultures means embracing their differences and ways of communicating, too.
The team at humanplus is also location independent. We've never met in person, we’ve fully adopted the remote work model from day one and work is going as effectively and smoothly as one could imagine.
Tip: Establish an open communications culture within your team and address cultural differences right on. State openly if you don’t know much about their way of doing things and ask them to tell you how they’d like to be communicated with. Also make sure that you provide ways and channels for people to reach you, via WhatsApp or any other medium.
4. Create a communications plan
In-person meetings are not the way to go in remote working. But you won’t be missing them if your communication plan is comprehensive and exhaustive. It should cover everything from what’s to be communicated, how often and through which channel.
Share this information during the onboarding process, and prepare a communication plan that is accessible to everyone and people can refer to if in doubt regarding which medium to choose. The key is to create visibility on what is required when and how so everyone is on the same page and you don’t end up unorganised because of a lack of clarity.
What you should continuously work on while operating your remote business:
5. Put even more effort into building a great company culture
What is your company about? What bonds all your team members and yourself? You don’t need face-to-face when you’re connecting on a deeper level, so try finding common interests in and outside of work, something that bonds everyone together: a growth mindset, a drive for learning new things, fitness and well being, Try to get to know your employees beyond their skills sets!
To do this:
Remember, your team members working from across the globe need to connect over something. It is much easier when you make the vision, purpose and values of your company clear and inclusive of everyone
Encourage an environment of open and honest communication and feedback so people feel truly heard, seen and understood
Take time to learn and get to know everyone on your team (call, WhatsApp, Zoom, there’s no excuse not to do this)
Conduct virtual team bonding sessions and establish unique traditions
Connection has nothing to do with time and space. Rather, it is created from shared interests, priorities and attitudes.
6. Make sure you have the right tech stack in place for remote working
What software solutions allow your business to function remotely? Your set of tools should include a platform for communication, scheduling and collaborating at the very least.
To guide your choice of tools, keep in mind these 3 things your team members need:
Easy access to all important files they need to complete their work
A clear overview of what they need to get done that day, week and month
A means of smooth communication that allows all of you to collaborate and share
Tip: At humanplus, we have our own “winning combination” of tools. While every business should find what works best for their teams, we can suggest a few very useful resources to build a solid, ‘remote-proof’ tech stack: G-suite, Slack, Notion, Calendly, Asana, Loom, Otter, Typeform, and Grammarly.
7. Keep work organised: team calendar and regular team meetings
Regular meetings are important to ensure that everyone is aligned and on the same page but they shouldn't become an overkill. Instead, you may want to introduce making regular updates (in written or verbal form) a habit within your team.
Because you don’t have the luxury of catching your colleagues over coffee or lunch in person, make sure that you do have regular virtual catch-ups in the diary as well.
Tip: If your remote business is made of a large team, make sure communication is organised in a way that it travels as necessary throughout management levels.
8. Train your team members for remote work
While this doesn’t seem like a priority, your new joiners, as well as old team members, could probably benefit from training sessions on workplace organisation, time management, work and life balance.
See it this way: in the long term, remote businesses are building the workforce for the future of business and preparing talents, equipping them with a set of skills they might need in the future when working remotely becomes fully normal.
Building a successful remote business means acquiring the right talents, utilising the right technology stack and making extra efforts to set a clear plan and goal for everyone to adhere to.
The future of remote work is now, and it is here to stay.
If you need help setting up your remote business, get in touch with our founder Katharina Kugler.
Many thanks to Manal Belghali for the research and invaluable contribution to this article.
About the company: humanplus is a business growth consultancy focussed on creating purpose-driven business & growth strategies with a spiritual twist to create impact and freedom through scalable online businesses for profitable, heart-lead and purposeful ventures that outperform the market without the usual grind and hustle.