It's September, 2020, and it's been an entire year since I took my company, Ramblin Jackson, entirely virtual. Yes, we work entirely remotely. My entire staff works from home. I had a lot of fears like, will I still have clients? Will people want to work for me? And I said that I would do a blog post about those fears six months after I did it, but then COVID happened and everything got weird.
Anyways, here we are a whole year later. And I want to share with you some things that are working, because I believe that remote work is here to stay in our workforce. And I have some tips that might help you either manage a remote team or a partially hybrid remote team. Maybe some of your family is doing school remotely. And I want to share with you an inspiring story about a construction company. Yes. A construction company, a high-end remodeling company whose general manager is over a thousand miles away. And how do they do it? It's through using some of the systems that I use at Ramblin Jackson.
In this video, I'm going to share with you some of the technology that we're using, some of the things that have been hard. I'm going to share, are we going to open an office again, and when? And where is it going to be? And I'm going to share some interview clips with the people who actually work here, the Ramblers, about what's great about working remotely, what's hard and what are some of their tips for doing remote work. So even though Ramblin Jackson is a digital agency, this episode, I promise will have a ton of value for you if you are open to thinking about the way that you do things with your landscape company.
My name's Jack Jostes, and welcome to The Landscaper's Guide to Modern Sales and Marketing. This show is all about helping lawn and landscapers increase their profit by attracting the right customers through sales and marketing. While I am going to share a few sales and marketing tips today, like how I see remote sales impacting things, this episode is absolutely about increasing your profit. So I hope you enjoy today's episode.
About Ramblin Jackson
For those of you who are new to the show, or don't know a lot about me, Ramblin Jackson is a digital marketing agency serving the landscape industry. We help lawn and landscape contractors with their website design, branding and search engine optimization. We dig into your sales process and ultimately help you attract more of the right customers. I started the company in August of 2009. And for the first several years, we were a... Well, I guess I started it in my attic now that I think of it.
From Humble Beginnings In An Attic With A $25 Kids Desk From Good Will
I had this little house in the mountains that I rented with another guy and I got a table for $20 from Goodwill. And I had a laptop that my mom bought me. And that was how I got started. Now, I started selling more and more, and I gradually started hiring freelancers to work with me. I had a business partner officially for a few years, and while that was growing, I guess, technically everyone worked from home, but eventually I did get an office where I would go and work. And over time I rented a bigger office where I had a few staff working with me while my business partner primarily worked from home. So it was always kind of this hybrid of I was in the office and there were people working some of their time in the office with me.
The Virtual Office Hybrid Years Into The Full Expensive Office
And as Ramblin Jackson grew and grew, we then rented a couple offices from a virtual office place that had the conference rooms and actual full-time offices. And man, that was great. And then it kept growing. And then I rented half of a 1,500-square-foot building because there's just not a lot available. And the person I was renting from went out of business. And here I was, I thought I had an office and suddenly I was like, well, I guess I better take over the whole 1,500 square feet and maybe I'll find somebody to rent some of it. And I don't know what happened, but I couldn't find anyone to rent that out. And I had this huge overhead and meanwhile, no one wanted to commute into Boulder.
And while I had envisioned growing a local team of people in Boulder, in Denver, what I realized was no one wanted to drive from Denver into Boulder. And the traffic and congestion got really crazy. And I started hiring people that were out of state. I hired a lot of freelance, independent contractors. And some of them ended up becoming full-time employees. And I had this kind of hybrid model going. And ultimately that office was just a big overhead. It was a big distraction because the sound was terrible there. And we tried doing all this insulation and the vents and things so I could record videos and have a meeting going on and all of this stuff.
Luckily last September, I was able to get out of that lease and we went fully remote. And I was really worried when we did that. I was worried that my clients wouldn't think we were legitimate or that my employees wouldn't be productive or that no one would want to work for me. I had all these weird fears and things.
How Has Running A Remote Company Impacted The Employees, Clients, & Products At Ramblin Jackson?
And a year later, I can tell you that basically everything I could measure in the business and my life is significantly better than it was when we had that office. So, I really think in business there are three key things that you need to always be measuring and improving and growing and keeping your eye on. And they are the people who work with you, your employees. I don't think the word happiness is right, but people need to be engaged in the work and the exchange needs to be mutual. You need to be investing in them and they need to be giving it to the company. And we measure that informally with employee net promoter score, essentially how likely are you to recommend working here to a friend? That's one of the scores we look at. And I can share that a year ago, that score was way lower. And in particular, certain department people, I asked it and holy cow, people were like giving me three, fours and fives. Wow, that's pretty bad.
And so it's not because we went remote, but part of going remote, we're able to improve that, hire some more of the right people who are out of state. I have some great people all around the country who are the fit for working here. One of them is someone who used to do marketing at a landscaping company that wanted a career change and like, wow, what an asset I have. So that's one of them is the people here are ultimately enjoying working here and more likely to recommend working here.
The other one of those big numbers that I believe you need to look at in business is your customers, I have several ways of measuring that. Our retention has increased, it's 97% even during COVID. How weird is that? Why? Because we were ready to work remotely and serve. It was like really weird time. How can we help? We were, I feel really blessed that we were able to be working and that we were able to provide a service that was relevant during that time. When there were record searches on the internet for everything, we were able to help keep our clients up-to-date.
So the other thing is money of course, and really profit. And our profit is way up, our sales are up. I feel really fortunate. Even when the months, there've been a lot of months that have been really hard here with the whole COVID pandemic, businesses closing and things absolutely impacted us. And the relief of not having that big overhead of the office was, I mean, just psychologically, it's been amazing for me. So, those three things, the people work here, our clients, and the money are all way better.
How Has Running A Remote Company Impacted Me And My Family Personally?
And that has impacted me personally, in a way that I never expected. One is I'm able to exercise way more. I've actually lost 15 pounds from this period last year. I just put on a sport coat today, and my wife's like, "Dude, that thing's huge." I actually haven't worn it since about this time last year, because I would go into these conferences and obviously those aren't happening this year, which is kind of a bummer, but I'm able to focus, I'm able to start work way faster.
So those are some of the things that I personally like having no commute and being able to just come out here. I have a shed office where I have this cool wood wall. I have some LED lights and my camera is just set up at any time I can come out here. I can literally be recording video within seconds. I'm ready. Whereas at the other place I needed to be quiet and there's somebody else in a meeting and like, Oh, where am I going to set this up? And, Oh, this lighting is weird. It was a huge productivity killer. The other thing is it allowed me to take up a hobby of bow hunting. Yeah. And all the personal training that goes into being prepared to do elk hunting wouldn't be possible if I still had that commute and then all of the distraction of it.
So those are some of the good things. Let's talk about what has been hard about going fully remote. The fact is from a social standpoint, nothing is quite like being in person with another person in the same room as them. Going to these conferences or seeing people, the small conversations that build rapport. I had employees who would bring their dog and I love dogs. I miss my dog. So those types of things don't happen. And for certain personality types and you'll hear one of our staff talk about this, especially people who are extroverted and outgoing and really into people, working remotely can be really hard because if you don't plan on taking care of that need, right, it's not the same as doing video.
Would The Tools & Methodologies To Run A Remote Company Would Improve An In-Person Company?
Some of the other things that are hard would be... Honestly, that's kind of it in my opinion, because the way that I run the company is the same way I was running it, but now it's even clearer. We have our project management systems, we have our CRMs for keeping track of clients. And we've developed a system of meetings and scorecards and things, partly from implementing Traction, the Entrepreneurial Operating System. If you haven't read that book by Gino Wickman, I'll recommend it a hundred times. That book has changed everything. And what I'll say about having these scorecards and all this transparency is that you don't need to be in person to look at this scorecard or look at the CRM where the work really is getting done to know if someone's doing their job well or not. And in fact, I think that in some ways, the in person, the interpersonal aspect of management can be distracting.
Remote Management Tip: Learn To Have The Tough Conversations With Employees Over The Phone or Zoom Faster
Yeah, I think you need to learn how to manage people remotely and just have those tough conversations sooner. And I found that the best way to do it is by keeping the focus on these scorecards, these systems. And now we're talking about those and it's less confrontational, but it was a learning curve to learn to have some of those tougher conversations that I used to think needed to have to happen in person too, just having it on the phone or having a Zoom meeting with someone.
Remote Management Tip: Create An Online Training Program For Your Team
On the topic of managing people, one of the really great things that came about of going remote was it added a lot of urgency for us to complete our online training, Ramblin Jackson university. We use a program called Lessonly that has at this point almost a thousand different training modules for how we do things here. And what's been amazing about that was it created a lot of urgency. And our operations director, Leah Leaves, before she graduated from the company, she helped us get a lot of that done. Our senior project manager, Jessica Winkler, helped get a lot of that done. My wife, Kara, and I worked a lot on that, but it created a lot of urgency to do that because you wouldn't be able to have the in person sit-down meeting with people.
And I'd say that our onboarding is actually better than ever, because we now have all of these systems online learning where now I can put people through the online learning and spend more time coaching them, building relationships with them, working on the soft skills, like how to plan your week or whatever. And the technical work of how we do things is online. And it's in a format that they can watch again. Or you can assign a lesson to somebody to watch it again. So that was a major benefit of going remote again, if I had an in-person office that would be really powerful and I might let it slide longer, had I not had the urgency created by going fully remote.
The other huge benefit of going remote and I touched on this a little bit earlier, is being able to hire people from anywhere in the country. I'm able to create a culture here. I'm able to create a way of doing things that appeals to the right people. And it's not that I can't find them locally, but being able to expand my talent pool nationally, I'm able to find people who might be really looking for what we do in the way that we do it. And by the way, if you know somebody who might like working with Ramblin Jackson, tell them to check out our careers page ramblinjackson.com/careers.
Will Ramblin Jackson Go Back To Having A Big Expensive Office (In Boulder) Anytime Soon?
So obviously, there's a lot of amazing things. And at this point I don't see us ever opening an office again. I mean, it allows us all to work full time with no commute and spend ultimately more time with our families. We're more productive and we do cool things. Like we did our retreat virtually this year. Would it have been great? Did we all say at the end of it yes, this was awesome and yes, we'd like to do it in person someday? Yeah, we did. And we will do it in person in some way again, in the future. But overall, I love running my company from my home. It's really advantageous.
Right now, frankly, what time is it? It's 8:26 PM on a Monday. And I'm grateful that my wife is letting me work right now. We had kind of a family trip over the weekend. I took off most of the day today on Monday, and now I'm getting all this work done right now. And when I'm done, I'm going to go back into my house and I don't have any commute. If I had a 30, 35-minute commute that would make these the times when I do need to push it later into the night, that much harder.
Now, obviously there are a lot of great things about working remotely. And so there are also a lot of challenges. So I recorded some interview clips with the Ramblers, the people who work here, and they're going to share with you what's going well about working remotely, what are they like about it, and also what is hard and how do they manage doing it. So this might be helpful for you if you work remotely, if you have people working remotely or your kids are doing school remotely.
Remote Work Tip #1 from Ana Holland, Account Coordinator
Sign out of social media accounts while working! This will help you focus on work and not get distracted by notifications on your phone.
Remote Work Tip #2 from Robert Felton, Landscape Marketing Strategist
Some people think: work from home = work from anywhere. Be smart about where you choose to work. If you’re traveling, be prepared for wifi not to work, you may not have a quiet space… Prepare in advance to avoid issues like these.
Remote Work Tip #3 from Jeni Mitchell, Marketing Coordinator
Use an online timer or Pomodoro Timer like pomofocus.io to set specific amounts of time that you will dedicate to a certain task. This can help you focus on the task at hand without letting distractions get in the way. Once the timer goes off you can set another shorter timer for a break.
Remote Work Tip #4 from Kevin Kawa, Local SEO Strategist
Inform your family members that you are working between the hours of 8 and 5pm (or whatever your hours are). Some family members can have a hard time grasping the concept that you are busy at work even though you technically are home. Let them know you are not available.
Remote Work Tip #5 from Maya Johnson, Account Manager
If possible, have different spots throughout your home where you can work. Some of these may be areas where you can stand rather than sitting all day long. A dual monitor can also really help anyone working from home - you don’t want to strain your eyes looking at a small laptop screen all day!
How One Home Remodeling Company Has a General Manager That Works Remotely over 1000 Miles Away From Their Office
Also, I know you might be thinking, Jack, this is all gravy. You run a digital company that builds digital things. This would never work for my business. And I want to give a shout out to my client, InSite Builders & Remodeling from Bethesda, Maryland. They are a high-end remodeling company in the Washington, DC area. And they've been in business for over 20 years. And their general manager works remotely from Boulder, Colorado. Now, how do they do that? They do the same things I'm telling you about here. They have all these systems, they have a CRM, they use Buildertrend.
And because of the systems that they have in place and the communication through Buildertrend, it has afforded their owners, Steven Gordon, I don't know, probably Steven, I don't know, maybe years of your life back. Steven used to have to go to every job site personally and review it, all these things. And I know that he still maintains a high level of quality control at the company, but he's not required to go do those things because of the technology. And because of the systems, someone like Chris Katkish, their general manager is able to manage remotely.
So I hope that this episode inspires you to think about what's possible for your landscape company and what's possible, and if you haven't, you should check out the interview with Cheri Stringer on this show who is selling virtually. I think that we're going to shift back into doing things in person very soon. I really believe that we need to, and there's going to be a certain level of things. I don't know when the pandemic is over, right, but there's going to be a lot of things that people realize they can do more efficiently, remotely. And some of those things are selling. You can sell remotely more efficiently. You can qualify harder over the phone. You can do a lot over Zoom. So you're not spending your entire life driving around, meeting with everyone who calls in, that's interested in landscaping. So yes, everything I'm sharing with you, I believe you can apply in some way to your brick and mortar or in-person service company.
All right. Well, thanks so much for checking out this episode. You know, one of the really cool things about working remotely is that we are able to serve clients all over the United States. In fact, it is our 10-year vision to be a $10 million marketing agency with wild frontier landscape clients in every American city. Now, we have an exclusive program, which means that we don't take on more than one wild frontier client in those cities. And we actually have a wait list. I just got a call today from somebody who's been on our wait list for three years asking, Hey, can you work with me? I'm not making this up.
So if you are watching, if you're still here, and if you know a landscape company who would like to enjoy a better balance in their company. Maybe they're doing too much work, they are overworked. We can help landscapers attract more of the right customers so they turn away the smaller projects that they don't want, and they sell more efficiently because their website is dialed in and they're qualifying people online. Yes, your website can actually qualify customers so they know how to buy from you. Believe it or not. We would love to talk with you. So, reach out to us at ramblinjackson.com and tune into the next episode of The Landscapers Guide to Modern Sales and Marketing. Thanks so much for checking this out and I'll see you next Friday from my house or somewhere, I don't know, check it out, ramblinjackson.com/podcast.