199 FS Remote Consulting Tools and Techniques

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02:37 - On Remote Consulting

06:29 - Meeting with Remote Clients

10:43 - Communication Tools

17:21 - Filesharing

22:39 - Commodification

28:27 - Language/Communication: Remote vs Local

34:14 - Finding Remote Clients

38:55 - Project Management Tools and Techniques

44:44 - Whiteboard Solutions

48:05 - Which software tools can you expect customers to be familiar with/have installed?

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Zoom (Philip)We Work Remotely (Philip)Desktastic (Philip)ZenHub (Reuven)The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It . . . Every Time by Maria Konnikova (Reuven)Kindle (Reuven)Trumpcast (Reuven)


[This episode is sponsored by Hired.com. Hired.com is offering a new freelancing and contracting offering. They have multiple companies that will provide you with contract opportunities. They cover all the tracking, reporting and billing for you, they handle all the collections and prefund your paycheck, they offer legal and accounting and tax support, and they’ll give you $1,000 when you’ve been on a contract for 90 days. But with this link, they’ll double it to $2,000 instead. Go sign up at Hired.com/freelancersshow.]**[If you're someone who runs your own service-based business, then spending less time on pesky admin tasks means having more time to focus on your clients’ work, which is why you need to give FreshBooks a try. FreshBooks is the invoicing solution that makes it incredibly simple to create and send invoices, track your time and manage your expenses. It allows you to quickly see and track the status of your invoice expenses and projects, and allows you to keep track of your expense receipts in FreshBooks. For your free 30-day trial, go to Freshbooks.com/freelancers and enter the Freelancers’ Show in the ‘How did you hear about us’ section when signing up.]**[This episode is sponsored by Nird.us. Do you wish that somebody else would handle all of those operation details when it comes to hosting your client’s web applications? Nird.us is a Ruby on Rails managed hosting designed to make your life easy. They migrate everything for you, and new sign ups referrals come with a $100 discount or referral fee. To sign up, go to freelancersshow.com/nird, and enter ‘freelancer’ into the contact form for a discount.]**[This week’s episode of the Freelancers’ Show is brought to you by Earth Class Mail. Earth Class Mail moves your snail mail into the cloud giving you instant access 24/7 and integrates with the tools and services you use everyday. It’s crazy that we’ve moved everything we do for the business over to the digital world but still need to pick up, sort and manage physical mail. With Earth Class Mail, you can get all of your mails scanned and accessible online 24/7. You can search your mail, send invoices over to your accounting software, sync important documents into cloud storage, deposit checks and really just make running your business a whole lot easier. You also get real professional address to share publicly with customers, business partners and investors, and you’ll never need to worry about someone showing up at your door if you run your business from home. Visit freelancersshow.com/mail and you’ll get your first month of service free when you sign up.] **REUVEN:  Hi everyone and welcome to episode 199 of The Freelancers’ Show. With me today is Philip Morgan. PHILIP: Hello, hello. REUVEN: And I am Reuven Lerner. And this week we are going to talk about remote consulting tools and techniques. A lot of people who do consulting, especially people that I know, tend to do it not necessarily physically going to their clients, but working remotely part or in full. And we got a question on our GitHub Issues list – and by the way if you have ideas for future shows, please please please submit suggestions. So luca-ing – that’s his username – said he wanted to know what episode [inaudible] an episode on purely remote consulting, perhaps never meeting the costumer face to face. So, communications technologies and communications techniques, and then fundamentals there if it’s not tangible, and so on and so forth. So Philip, we started talking just before recording here, you do a fair bit of remote work, yeah? PHILIP: Just a little bit, yeah. Exactly 100% of my clients are remote. Since I rebooted my consulting practice about 2 years ago, I’ve had a few clients – well shoot, maybe – actually I’ve had one client local ever since that reboot, but prior to that, I did work with local clients. But now, yeah, I work a hundred percent remotely with clients. And I’ve had a few interesting exemptions like I had a client in San Francisco. They were technically remote because I live about an hour and a half drive away from San Francisco, but I happened to be in the city and we happened to have a meeting scheduled and so we did an in-person meeting. But yeah, I consider myself competent at working with people remotely, which I think is a super valuable skill for freelancers to have because of how it expands their potential market to the entire planet or the entire part of the planet that they have a language in common with. REUVEN: It’s kind of funny, I would think since you live relatively close – so much closer than most people to San Francisco Silicon Valley that clearly most of your work would be in person. PHILIP: Right. Sorry to interrupt – but especially because my focus is on custom software development shops. There’s tons of those in San Francisco. That ecosystem has a very strong presence there. You would think I’d just be focusing on that geography, but I’ve made, to be honest, other than one or two half-hearted marketing attempts to reach to that market, I’ve made zero effort to try to reach that plump juicy San Francisco market. And I’m perfectly happy continuing that way. I think it’s working just fine treating my market as the entire English speaking world. REUVEN: Right. I’ve been doing a little consulting now for more than 20 years. And my story as I’ve told a few times in the podcast – is that I was working for Time Warner and was planning to move to Israel and try consulting. And my bosses there said “well, when you move to Israel, why don’t you just – we’ll be your first client?” So I more or less got off the plane and had a client – and this was is 1995 when international phone rates especially from Israel were crazy high. And it was like more than a dollar a minute to call on the phone. And I was actually in a local newspaper as this guy who works from home for people in America. Oh my god, how can that be possible? And so I’ve had this mix of remote and in-person clients. I was never been a hundred percent one way or the other. Nowadays, my training is mostly in-person, although I do some online training here and there. I’m hoping to ramp that up in the next year or so. But in a given week, lets’ say out of five working days, I’m probably 3-4 days on site and then dealing with one or two remote clients as well. But I’m definitely – [inaudible] I've had no small number of clients who I’ve either never met in person or met in person just because I happened to be in their city and was convenient for us meet rather than us having to meet in person. PHILIP: That’s interesting. Do you perceive any difference between a local and a remote client? Do you run those engagements differently? REUVEN: Interesting. Yeah, I guess I do. I guess with the – you know what, no, I’m going to take that back. I don’t think I actually do. I think that feeling is different. You get more bandwidth in an in-person conversation than you’ll ever get with Skype or Hangouts or anything like that, even with the most amazing technology. Meeting someone face to face definitely gives you more of a feel for them, but I always have an introductory conversation. It’s certainly more convenient if it’s remote than if I have to go out to their office and meet with them for an hour and we talk about the same things. I think I try to keep it roughly the same. Although if I’m on site, I’m both personally curious, and I think it’s also good politics, and I get a tour of the company and find out more about them and see what they’re like, which is not really possible remotely. PHILIP: Yeah. I suppose it becomes a bit of a logistical challenge to get more than one person in front of a Skype. I don’t know – have you noticed whether it’s more difficult to schedule meetings with remote clients or is it easier to get people to agree to come into a conference room if you’re local? [Inaudible] REUVEN: I don’t think there’s much of a difference. People are hard to schedule no matter what. And in fact, online it means that you can – you have a little more flexibility because people can be in different places. I got this one client I’ve been with for years in Chicago where we have a weekly phone meeting, and it’s a brutal hour for everyone because I’m in Israel and my employee is also and they’re in Chicago. So we do it at 10PM their time and 6AM at our time. So everyone is equally unhappy. But it means, basically, everyone is at home. No one is at the office at that hour. And so we can be at home or travelling and we can still dial in to the call, whereas if it had to be on site, it’d be an extra thing we would have to figure out – whose around and where. PHILIP: Right, right. I think the biggest time zone difference – I think Spain and Germany are in the same time zone; or if they’re not, they’re maybe one hour apart. So that’s about as far east as I think that I’ve gone with a client where I’m doing frequent video calls to check in. And again I’m in California so that gives you a sense of how far I can go east. And then I had someone from Singapore approach me – that’s the farthest west and that was – or farther east [chuckles] I guess depending on how you think about it. Actually, no – I have a client who is I think in Vietnam. Yeah. So that’s like the farthest the other direction because my calls with him tend to be – when he wakes up the next day, it’s around 5 or 6:00 my time. That’s pretty substantial coverage. I’m not the greatest with world geography so I don’t know what time zones would be out of reach. I guess the reason I say that is I’m just blown away with how much flexibility being able to work remotely gives me. And there’s just very few times when I have encountered a situation with the kind of work that I do, which is marketing consulting work, where I feel hampered or hindered by the inability to meet with a client face toface one-on-one, because I pretty much refuse to get on an airplane for a client [inaudible] at a price point I’m working. It just doesn’t make sense economically. I could see that with much larger projects. Sorry I keep on interrupting you. Go ahead. [Chuckles] REUVEN: No, no. It’s fine, it’s fine. I [inaudible] up to you. So there. I had a client actually in California and I’m trying to remember what it’s called – just outside of San Francisco also; starts with an A. Anyway, so I worked with him for probably 4 or 5 years. And he was doing better and better and he said “tell you what, it would be great to meet you in person and show you around. I’ll fly you out here for a few days”. So we met in person literally after years of working together and talking in the phone probably every day for an hour. It was fun. It was fun for us to get to know each other in greater depth, and probably did help to cement the relationship more. But if we had never done that – I certainly have clients where I’ve met them in person – we also had good relationships and things worked. I still think there’s line an advantage to meeting in person, but I don’t think it’s a deal breaker not to in the slightest. PHILIP: Yeah. I think that’s a very interesting question, the question being: is there some kind of project or some kind or client services work that just would not work remotely. And I’m sure there is. I’d love for it to define for our listeners maybe what that might be. But honestly, I just can’t think of what would just not work. You do training and you do that largely in person, and I do think that that kind of training that you’re doing benefits from a full resolution environment where you’re there and you can look people in the eye and look at their body language and all that stuff really helps, I think. REUVEN: Right, so I actually – I've done a bunch of online trainings using WebEx. And what typically happens is you can tell that half to two-thirds of the people have you in a corner of their screen while they’re checking email or Facebook or whatever. And so I think the last two times I’ve done courses with WebEx, I’ve – I want to say demanded, but I wasn’t very successful at it – I begged them to turn on their own cameras because there’s one course where I did it where literally no one turned on their camera. It was me talking to my computer for 2 days straight, and it was just bizarre for me. And the moment that they turned on their cameras, then I didn’t get that feedback. And you’re right; it’s not the same resolution bandwidth that you get in a classroom face to face, but it was so much better where I could see the puzzled looks in their faces, I could see their – the smile when they got the exercises right. And just it felt like closer to a real classroom environment. Even in just software development today, everyone – you’re in the same office as other people and what are you using? You're using Slack, you’re using GitHub, you’re using all these tools that are – as the kids like to say, “in the cloud”, meaning who cares if you’re in the office or at home, you’re still using the same darn tools. PHILIP: That’s a good point. I suppose that’s one of the things that has really facilitated – when I think about what makes my entire way of making a living possible, it’s high bandwidth internet, like the wide availability and penetration of high bandwidth broadband internet good enough for like a – doesn’t have to be an HD quality video chat, but it has to be good enough that there's not lags or delays and so forth. That’s, to me, the prerequisite. And I actually lived in a place in rural Oregon for a couple of years that did not have that and it was incredibly limiting. So I've been on both sides of that. So there's that, and then there's things like – it just constantly blows my mind Reuven that the main tool I use for communicating with clients is Skype video chat, and I pay like $3 a month, and that’s not even – I don’t even pay that for the video chat; I pay that so I can call landlines from Skype. REUVEN: Me too. Right, right. [Crosstalk] PHILIP: Three dollar a month tool is like my mission critical business-enabler thing. That’s what blows my mind about Skype. REUVEN: You’ve probably not this way, but a huge number of Americans, dialling internationally for them is like dialling the moon, more or less, like “what? Where do I even start?” PHILIP: Right, right. REUVEN: So the fact that I have – I [inaudible] had Skype and use it all the time, but I have a US phone number. And this, I’d like to think, at least, calms my US clients down and tells them I can be anywhere in the world. In fact, even when I’m travelling when I’m in Europe and in China, if I’m connected to Skype, that number will ring on my computer. So they have a US number they can reach me at. They don’t need to worry about international dialling codes or fees. It’s probably free for them to call me. And I think I’m paying like $5 a month because it includes the phone number, but again, it’s just like a laughably small expense for a major technology cornerstone of what I do. PHILIP: Yes. Some of the tools that are available for – let’s say your budget for these kind of tools is like 50 bucks a month, that gives you access to tools that 10, 15 years ago, Fortune 500 companies would’ve had to pay 10, $50,000 a month to operate, if not more. It’s phenomenal. We should probably touch on project management in a moment. I think we’ll both have something interesting to offer there. But just the communication tools alone are –. REUVEN: The categories of things. PHILIP: And it’s not like there's just one good one. I have always have a backup so if Skype’s not behaving well, which is rare but it does happen, I use Zoom. That’s a tool that’s a video conferencing tool that I ironically I pay $15 a month for that just to have a backup to Skype. So I pay more for that. I pay more for my backup than I do for the primary thing. But there's just dozens of decent, if not very good, if not great, communication tools that are available that anybody can sign up on a month-by-month basis to use. REUVEN: Right, absolutely. We have when I – I guess this was like 2 years ago or 3 years ago already, I had to get my elder daughter a cellphone plan. And this was when there was a huge revolution of cellphone prices in Israel. So I was at the booth and I signed up for her phone or for her plan. As I’m walking away, they said “oh right, we forgot to mention to you, it’s free to call 90 countries”. I was like “is that a ‘by the way’ sort of thing to sell?” [Chuckles] But it’s true, and so it’s really been amazing that basically, if Skype was down for me, well I’ll just call from my cellphone and it’s free. And it’s shocking, but it makes life so much easier for me – that “oh, I have a client in such and such place, usually the US or Canada, fine, I’ll just give them a call”. I don’t even have to think about it anymore, whereas it usually go it was a crazy expense or you just didn’t have access to it. The fact that I can be – I can get off the train somewhere wherever it is in the world and reach a client, talk to them. There were times, 10 or 15 years ago, when I needed that and didn’t have it. PHILIP: Yeah. There's this idea of the network effect. The more – the classic example is fax machine just like if you're the only person in the world who has a fax machine, the value of that fax machine is very low because you can’t do anything useful with it. But the more people you can fax, the more valuable it becomes to have a fax machine. That’s the network effect. And same sort of thing; to me, the internet is the ultimate example of that. And the more devices that are connected to the internet, the more valuable it becomes. I think that – I’m not really sure where I was going with that except to say that it’s really interesting because I think we've gotten to the point where when I think about remote work 10 years ago, it would be – ok, you’d have to have a funky login for some funky project management system that was hosted either by you or your client, and it just was a real pain compared to what it is now where you could use Basecamp, and chances are that your clients are working with other vendors who use Basecamp, or other people who use Basecamp. And so they’re not – there's a low network effect that Basecamp is built up around itself where it’s not weird or off-putting or a showstopper to tell your client “ok, I’d like to – we’re going to run this project on Basecamp, and that’s where – what we’re going to use for our project management system”. And I think there are certain tools that have built up that network effect. That’s really where I was going with this. So tools like Dropbox, I think, are no longer weird and scary unless you’re working with a client who has some pretty tight compliance or legal restrictions that they have to adhere to, then there could be an issue with them using a tool like that and maybe they’re going to make you use their corporate Box.net account, for example. REUVEN: Oh God. [Chuckles] PHILIP: So you’ve been there, sounds like. I had a client like that. REUVEN: I have a very very short experience with Box when Northwestern decided to move to that and not Dropbox. And after that short horrific experience, everyone in a research group basically begged my adviser to protest. And he said “We are not going to use this, we want to use Dropbox”. And somehow, probably because he’s good at bullying people into things, my adviser managed to beat them up and got them to cave in. PHILIP: Wow. Got the IT department to back down. That’s a pretty big achievement. REUVEN: I’m guessing he had to use research funds to pay for it then. They basically allowed him to spend money on it, more or less. That’s my guess. PHILIP: Yeah. Things like Dropbox or Google Drive seemed to be pretty safe bets for sharing files with clients. And again, I can just remember not that long ago when there – when these tools weren’t around, it was like “how am I going to hand off deliverables to clients without emailing them as attachments”, which could be an option for small stuff, but if you’re handing off a DVD image or something, that’s not – that’s just not an option. Now it’s like your problem is narrowing down the dozens of options rather than – you have dozens of solution so you’re – the difficulty is choosing the right one rather than not having that thing you need to get the job done remotely. This is really interesting how much more flexible remote work has become. REUVEN: Right, although I still – and maybe this just demonstrates age or stubbornness, many time for large files, I [inaudible] using Dropbox or something, I’ll just load it up to my web server and put it under a URL that no one else could guess. And I’ll email that and then say to people “here, download this”. But that’s becoming increasingly tiresome and primitive when there are many other options available. PHILIP: So have you ever gotten pushed back to working remotely where a client wants to hire you but is – but the fact that you're remote is a deal breaker? REUVEN: Sort of. I got a lot of pushback from people in the US worried that I'm not in the US and so I can’t work with them. Parts of it were time is an issue, there are parts of it were “well, we need to meet with you on a regular basis” issues. And so they figured, well, if I’m in the US, then it’ll be easier for me to do that. But the irony is this place would be – let’s say it’s in New York, and they wouldn’t have any problem hiring someone in California even though what are the odds of someone jumping on a flight from California to New York. Yes, it’s easier; there are more frequent flights, but it’s not that different. PHILIP: Well, if you're in New York and hiring somebody in California, good luck getting them on the phone before 10 or 11 AM your time anyway, right? [Chuckles] REUVEN: Oh yeah. Right, that’s true. That’s very true. So I've gotten pushed back on that. And so for a long time, I would say to people “yes, but I’m a US citizen, and I keep crazy hours and I work with people for years”, and I still sometimes say that, but it’s rarer nowadays. Now, in part because I’m mostly doing training, and part because I've got enough of a flow of clients of various sorts that I feel like I don’t need to beat them up over it. But yeah, it’s definitely happened. Some people just aren’t into the remote working thing. PHILIP: I’m trying to think if I've ever gotten pushed back on that, and I cannot remember someone saying “Philip, we’d like to work with you, but you're not local”. I think they just don’t approach me if that’s the case. I don’t think I've ever had a deal not go through or a client not hire me for that reason, which I find really interesting. Maybe I’m doing a good job of [inaudible] clients or maybe I’m doing something wrong. I don’t know, but –. REUVEN: I keep seeing – I get your newsletter and I read it, and it would be hard for me to imagine contacting you or hiring you and saying “oh, and by the way, you got to fly to my office once a week to have our coaching session”. I might be able to get away with that if I were in Silicon Valley or something. I might think I can get away with that. But I can’t get over the fact that you're so close to Silicon Valley and yet you do everything remotely. And the other example I can think of someone who’s very successful remotely is, of course, Patrick McKenzie who points out that for many years, he was in the middle of nowhere-sville Japan and had clients all over the world. So we've got two extremes demonstrating it doesn’t really matter where you are physically; you can still have clients around the world and still have a successful practice and people will still want to work with you. PHILIP: I think this is where I need to deliver my sermon about commoditization because I feel like people who have relied – freelancers, self-employed people – and by the way, I should say that I’m not speaking to people who require physical proximity, like if you're going to hire a self-employed person to prepare meals for you, they need to be – it just doesn’t work so well for them to be like FedEx overnighting your lunch for tomorrow today. So there's obviously situations where physical proximity does matter. So I’m not really speaking to that type of work. You're not going to hire a dog walker from New York if you live in California. But I think the ever increasing number of situations where the proximity is not critical, people who are in a high cost of living areas, like myself, who have relied on physical proximity as their competitive advantage, I think, are going to face increasing pressure from low cost of living areas either in the same country or across nation state boarders. You're going to face increasing pressure because those people have a cost advantage and when they can build trust remotely when they learn how to do that and when they have the necessary skills to deliver the results, the reason for hiring somebody local goes away. So I think that makes a very bright future for people in lower cost of living areas who can embrace the tools that the internet provides them. The reason I even went on that sermon is because I’m curious, Reuven, is there any kind of cost of living advantage to living in Israel? I have to profess ignorance. I don’t know. REUVEN: No. PHILIP: I’m just curious. Ok. REUVEN: Typically, Israeli salaries are lower than European and American one, and the cost of most things is higher. So I guess in that sense, it’s like – it’s closer to Europe in that sense, say that people aren’t earning quite as much, and [inaudible] salaries are now, I’m guessing, around two-thirds to three-quarters what they are in the US, at least for most people. So it’s not bad, but cost of – housing cost or other stuff is very high. It used to be that hiring Israeli engineers was a big advantage for these multinationals because they were getting high quality talent for a low price. And now they see it as like hiring someone in Chicago, San Francisco and New York – “ok, this is just part of the cost of doing business, but if we can offload it to our people in India or in China or in Russia, then we will do that”, which reinforces your point about how a lot of these engineers – if you have been doing Java for 15 years and you are the greatest Java engineer ever, you're in trouble because people who are half your age and half your price or less –. I had some conversations with people in China, and despite the fact that Shanghai is crazy expensive, people there are earning half of what they do in Israel or third of what they do in Israel. How they survive, truth be told, is beyond me. Companies are just lapping this up because they can hire people for way way less than in the US. And so making it clear that you're not just the world’s greatest Java programmer, but you're the greatest Java programmer who knows how to solve these sorts of problems, will make all the difference because then you just can’t go and train your replacement. They will keep you around and other people like you and the people working under you or with you will be the commodity folks working abroad. PHILIP: Right. Yeah, the physical proximity is becoming less and less of a competitive advantage, which means that you have to find other ways to stand apart. REUVEN: Although there is a place where physical proximity helps, and I’m not just talking about government and defense sort of work; it’s language. If you are dealing with stuff that’s just like – if you're working for big multinational corporation and you're just doing internal programming, that doesn’t really matter. But if you work in a country like Israel where the language is spoken by small number of people, then you might have an advantage there. Although, much to my surprise, the Polish women who are in charge of Cisco’s accounting have extremely fluent Hebrew. I cannot figure out for the life of me [chuckles] how this happened, but they said “oh yes, please continue to email us in Hebrew so we can practice”. So even then, some of these seemingly border reinforcing things are not nearly as reinforcing as you might have expected. PHILIP: Yeah. From a larger perspective, I think there's a lot of things that people perceive as a fatal weakness in their business that they can grow around or they can compensate for. Language skills is one of those things. Obviously, it’s much easier if you're a 7-year old kid to acquire a second language; that’s just a hard-wired advantage. But even if you're a 40-year old dude, I think you could – if it was giving you access to some lucrative market, it might be worth taking some language classes and becoming conversant or fluent in a language that maybe that’s the one thing you're lacking from a remote work perspective is language skills. Because that is huge to trust building is being able to communicate effectively. REUVEN: Yeah, for sure. I can tell you from last week when I was in Shanghai, opening my course in Chinese, despite my terrible accent and grammar, boy oh boy, that went a long way toward building trust, not to mention knocking the socks off of them. PHILIP: Yeah. You're in. You say a couple of sentences in Chinese and they're like “this guy is our new bestfriend” [chuckles]. REUVEN: Also, being able to communicate means you're not – again, you're not that – the world’s best Java programmer; now you're someone who has the skills of interpersonal international intercultural communication who can really help them out. PHILIP: Yeah. I think that raises a couple of interesting questions. One, when you're working remote, do you communicate differently than if you're physically proximate to your client? And second, should you market yourself in your primary language or some other language? I guess that second question is kind of no-brainer. You should market yourself in the language of the market you're trying to reach. But what about that first question? Do you do anything Reuven – do you do anything differently when you're working local versus remote in terms of your communication frequency or style or anything like that? REUVEN: It’s probably much more frequent when I’m on site just because I’m there and I’m talking to them as opposed to “oh yeah, they're in that Slack window. I should really get back to that”, or “oh yeah, they sent me email”. But it’s easier to forget the person who’s not sitting in front of you and you're talking to them when you're in a computer together or in front of a whiteboard. PHILIP: Ok, so you're talking about asynchronous remote communication which is different, I think, than synchronous remote communication like getting on a video call for instance. That’s synchronous remote. REUVEN: So if it’s synchronous like if I’m in a meeting remotely as opposed to in a meeting in person, I think the only major disadvantage for my perspective is the lack of a whiteboard. I love using whiteboards to draw things out even though my drawing skills are terrible. It looks ugly, but people get it. It’s like Pictionary with chicken scratch. So that, I think, has been missing. But otherwise, I think my communication is pretty similar. How about you? PHILIP: I don’t have anything to compare it to [chuckles] because it’s not so long since I've had local clients. I think what I realize is even with local clients, I wasn’t working on site at their office. And I resented the travel time even with local clients to go into a big meeting in the office. I was like “why aren’t we having this remotely?” So I always have a strong predisposition in favor or remote work even if the client is in the same town as me or same city. But here's the thing I have found with any kind of client is the more regular the communication, like video brief daily video calls is my preference is the better. It just makes everything go better. It reduces miscommunications. It reduces like “oh, I thought you're supposed to be doing this” kind of stuff, misunderstandings; it just fixes a multitude of ills. That’s my one recommendation and global takeaway for people who are working remotely is more synchronous communication. And I’m not talking about having 2-hour meetings. I’m just like frequently everyday if you can, have a brief check in. Of course there are certain things where that would not make sense, like for project goes idle for a couple of weeks for some reason. There's no point in getting on the phone everyday or getting on a video chat everyday to say “well, nothing’s changed since yesterday”. But when things are happening, I think that frequent communication is just amazing. It’s a good trust builder and I think it reduces the number of problems you have dramatically. So that’s what I found with respect to communication; granular, frequent, synchronous communication. And then if there's something that needs to be recorded for future reference, then that’s when I like to use something asynchronous like project management tool or email or whatever; the Slack, InstaMessage type stuff is also great for the kind of quick asynchronous stuff. It’s weird; I don’t know if that’s an age thing. I used to hate it when someone was like “hey, let’s just get on a call”. But now I find myself saying “hey, let’s just get on a call and figure this out that way” [chuckles]. REUVEN: [Inaudible] Sometimes, there's a limit as to how much you can type before – it’s just easier and [inaudible] and then you're interpreting and you're typing back. It’s easier to just get on a call and it’s often resolved within a few minutes. PHILIP: I think I might have passed some kind of threshold of my lifetime counter of regrettable misunderstandings happening via asynchronous written communication – must have passed some kind of magic threshold and it made me into an old man who’s just like “let’s just get on the phone. It’ll be quicker and we won’t misunderstand each other”. REUVEN: Yeah. We just had in the last 48 hours, 24 hours, this project – this company where I’m the part-time CTO where there's been this whole discussion about what’s on which branch in Git. And we had so much email going back and forth, especially – I went to bed last night, and my employee and the other developer are [inaudible] had some harsh words for each other. I wake up, and I see [inaudible] nice and things are resolved, but I think if they just talked to each other or if I've been there and talked to them with them like 10 minutes, everyone would’ve been much happier. And I wished I had realized that a little earlier. PHILIP: And I think about the mindset that kept me avoiding the phone and I was just like “urgh” – I don’t know – I looked at it as an inferior way I look at written communication as more clear. And then again, something happened and I just reversed my viewpoint on that and I really don’t know what it was. I had a couple of memorable terrible miscommunications that could’ve been avoided by getting on the phone, so it’s interesting. I guess that’s one thing to keep in mind when you're selecting remote clients is is it possible under any circumstances to get on the phone, like are you sleeping during the hours when they're awake and at work or – I guess that rules out certain remote work scenarios. [Crosstalk] REUVEN: [Inaudible] in a regular one also. If you can say – even if it’s like twice a week, on these days – even once a week, this day, this hour, we’re going to talk. It makes you much more of a tangible asset to their company and makes you a much closer part of the team, I think. PHILIP: Here's a question: how do you find remote clients? I have some ideas, of course, but I think that’s a question people will be asking if they're like “ok, maybe I don’t have to work just locally. Maybe I can try working for a remote client”. How do you start, how do you find that first remote client, especially if the remote client’s in a higher cost of living area used to paying higher rates, that can actually be very attractive and a question of how people break into that market. I think you got to find some way to build trust and get in front of them, but I’m curious about your thoughts on that Reuven. REUVEN: I've been bad at it, to tell you the truth. The two longest term best clients I've ever had remote, I found them both on Elance, now Upwork, and they were amazing clients. I've nothing bad to say about them. I’m really enjoying working with them, but they were flukes. The amount of time that I actually invested in pitching to people on Elance – I guess it’s worked out if I've had a decade or so of work between them, [inaudible] between them, but boy oh boy, I must – that was like the 1%, the .5% that actually came back to help me. And I tried all sorts of things – job boards and whatever – and I think if I had to do it all over again, because now people – every so often, people come to me with remote work. These people just this week – I was talking to you about before we started recording – they come to me so it’s easier for me. I think if I was starting all over again, I would blog more and have the sorts of things that you talked about a lot, which is a lot of content marketing, a lot of specific – these all sorts of problems that I solved, even some initial information like “hey, you have this sort of problem. Let me help you out a little bit here”. So build that trust. And the other thing I do is – something I haven’t done to my mailing list ever, which is to say “hey, you need some help? I actually have some free time in another 2 months”. And if you have a big enough mailing list, and big enough is probably even like a few hundred people, you don’t need much more than that for someone somewhere to say “oh, [inaudible]”. PHILIP: Yeah. I think starting out – there's a couple of ways starting out. I have a number of mentoring students who are non-US markets and sometimes they have access to the kind of work they are looking for in their local market. But as they start to narrow down their focus, they need to look at a more global or regional market rather than just if I’m in Germany I’m just going to find German clients, or if I’m in Israel I’m just going to find Israeli clients. So that’s one way is to narrow your market vertical and become a specialist in working for that market vertical, and you can start to market specifically. You can maybe go to a couple conferences that are for that market vertical or you can start submitting guest posts for publications that are for that vertical. And you can take the position or the narrow position content market driven approach to break outside of your local geographical area. That’s one way. And job boards are another way. Things like Upwork and there's one called weworkremotely.com which was started by the 37signals folks. So that’s another option, is you go to a marketplace where people are advertising work and do everything you can to make your remoteness not a factor in their decision and make your expertise and your dedication to customer service and all of that stuff make that the factor that they decide on. And then the other way is to focus on a problem domain so that you're – you become – you build up some expertise in solving a particular kind of problem. And that can be an easy way to become sought out no matter where you live, is become the expert on whatever problem. I’m working with a guy now who specializes in computer vision. That’s a very deep and complex and interesting problem domain that you become a specialist in that and you can start to work pretty much anywhere in the world that you’ve got a language overlap with. So those are some ways – that’s kind of a little bit on the abstract level. I guess referrals would be the other way that I would try to point out to people that they can get remote work, is get that first anchor client in a remote market and then really try to encourage that client to refer you to other people assuming you do good work. That’s another way to start getting more and more remote clients. REUVEN: Right. And they might be remote to you, but they're local to many other people and they probably know other business owners where they are – might be interested in having your work. I've had that a few times where people who refer me to other folks in their neck of the woods. PHILIP: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. REUVEN: You mentioned before we started about project management. I agree. What sort of project management tools or techniques have you used that seemed to work well with your remote clients? PHILIP: I've circled on Trello because, again, I’m working with a lot of primarily with custom software development shops or individual developers, and more and more, they're used to a kanban style Trello/whatever Pivotal Tracker style way of tracking tasks. And so I've just adopted that and Trello is universal enough that even if my client uses something like Pivotal Tracker, they don’t – they're not like “urgh, Trello”. They can work with it, and so it’s that nice sweet spot goldilocks type solution for the clients that I work with. I have in the past used Basecamp, and I know this is going to come across as like “what's wrong with this guy”, but I cannot stand Basecamp. I don’t know why [chuckles]. REUVEN: [Laughter] It’s funny you mentioned Basecamp earlier. I was thinking to myself “I’m not such a big Basecamp fan, but I guess I’m just in a small minority”. PHILIP: I feel like I just – I don’t get how they conceived of the product and I just feel like they have a certain viewpoint that works marvelous. The success of the product is undisputable and the fact that it works so well for so many people is – I’m not saying those people alone; I’m saying I don’t know why it doesn’t work for me. But it doesn’t – I guess I’m more visual process oriented, things moving through different stages of completion, type of approach. And so Trello works great for me. There's another one that’s called Asana that I’d loved for a while because it lets you get just way into a granular breakdown of tasks and it had an amazing keyboard shortcut system that made it very fast to navigate through. It’s a super solid tool. I just adopted it briefly and then it fell into disuse because – here's a thing: if a tool lets me make things too complicated, it is guaranteed to not work for me. So I need something with some kind of built-in limitations. Again, that should make Basecamp a great choice for me, but for some reason it didn’t stick. So that’s how I do it. How about you? REUVEN: First of all, I am doing something now. I hired someone to help me with marketing with my RegEx book. And so he’s using – he’s in Basecamp. So I've had a chance – I guess I've used it with some other clients in the past year or two, but maybe they’ve changed their styling. Actually, it’s better, but I still don’t see it as like “wow, amazing! I really got to use this”. The things that are going for Basecamp are it’s really easy to use. So for non-technical clients, it’s great. And it does some simple things like messaging and To Do lists. But I couldn’t put my finger on what I didn’t like about it until you just said it now, which is I like the idea of moving things to a process. I've got a backlog of things, the Agile sort of thing. I've got a backlog, I've got things I’m doing now, and then the things that have been checked off. And I wish Basecamp had that. So for one-on-one, this guy doing my marketing with me, it’s actually been pretty good. For larger groups, it’s ok. I've used a whole bunch of things in the past, and nothing really grabs [inaudible] to say. Trello, I guess, is ok. I've used it a tiny bit. I guess it’s like too free form in some ways for my liking where I just haven’t had the chance to – I don’t have the time to invest in making it do exactly what I want. My guess is if I were to invest in that or think about how I would use it, it would be really good. I just was introduced literally this week from one of my clients – we are using GitHub for the software development, and GitHub Issues – I was against using that actually to track of our issues because it’s a bit of a mess. I guess it’s always like Basecamp in that sense. And we've been using for a long time Redmine, which is really simple; it’s really plain and it totally did the job. So I saw how moving into GitHub Issues is a bit of a step back. So somebody introduced me to something called a ZenHub. And ZenHub is this browser plugin that gives you a kanban Redmine, whatever you want, Agile view of your GitHub Issues. It talks to GitHub and then has its own meta data. So you basically get to pretend that GitHub has the interface that they should have created if only they had the money to do so. [Laughter] I just can’t [inaudible]. So that is actually starting to make me feel like there might be some hope for the GitHub Issues thing. But a task tracker of any sort, any sort I found is just invaluable partly because of the social pressure it creates. You have pressure to do the things that have been assigned to you, and when you're done with it, you're then putting pressure on someone to approve it. And I had a situation probably 15 years ago already where I had a client and they insisted they had done all sorts of things and my people insisted “no, they have not”. And this created some really bad blood. And the moment we installed the task tracker, poof, those problems disappeared because it was very obvious. It was, well, it was tracking the task. It was saying who’s doing what and when. So anything is better than nothing, I’d say. And I actually – that really helps to increase the communication. So if you're not talking everyday, the fact that you're getting these notes from whatever tracking system it is saying “this is done, this is ready for approval, this is rejected; it needs to be done in a new time” would be good. I used Pivotal Tracker back in the days when it was free and I was a cheapskate. Well, that hasn’t changed; I’m still a cheapskate. But even the interface that they had a few years ago was really quite amazing. So if it’s anything close to that and you can afford it, it’s probably worth looking into. PHILIP: That’s great. What have we missed? What's a critical issue for remote work that we've not touched on? REUVEN: Oh, here's a question that luca had in his original issue. Which software tools can you expect customers to be familiar with or have installed? And he also asked about communication techniques like leading discussions and he even says sharing drawings and sketches like in a whiteboard. Do you have any sort of whiteboard solution? I ask selfishly. PHILIP: I do not. I remember there was a Mac app – I should try to dig this up – that would let you use your entire computer display as a whiteboard. So if you imagine it, you just put a transparent overlay on your entire desktop and it will let you write on it. So of course, if you're sharing your desktop during a video call of some sort, you could use this tool to annotate stuff or draw squiggly lines or what-have-you. But it wasn’t a persistent whiteboard. I know that Google Docs, I think, may have something like that that’s one of the add-ins that you can add in to a shared Google Doc and work on collaboratively. REUVEN: I think you're right. PHILIP: And I know that Dropbox has started to add some collaborative document editing functionality. This is the biggest surprise to me because I've got plenty of problems with how Google does things, but Google Drive and Google Docs has slowly started to take over for me. It was never something [inaudible] and said “ok, I must decide today between using Google Docs and Google Drive”. I use them both, but I have found just Google Docs slowly taking over for some reason. I appreciate the functionality and it just has [inaudible] into various crevices of my business in ways that I never really planned for or expected. So to that question about whiteboarding, I don’t have a great answer, but I think Google Docs may have part of an answer and just anything that lets you share your screen and then draw on it could be potentially a useful tool. I remember some sort of a – I can’t think of it right now – there was a collaborative drawing app that I was exposed to a couple of years ago that seems to still be around. That might be a partial solution. I don’t have a great solution, and it sounds like you don’t either, Reuven? REUVEN: Yeah. It’s [inaudible] all the time, but what I needed – I feel like I really needed – and especially teaching online. I think I found that in WebEx, there was some sort of whiteboard. It took me a while to find it under the [inaudible]. And once I found that, I used it quite a bit. I can’t remember if it was good or if it was just built-in so I knew I could use it. In terms of other software like join.me, I've used quite a few times with clients for screen sharing or controlling their computer; most recently with my nephew who needs some help with his computer, and I was like “well, [inaudible] join.me. I’ll take over your computer”. And he was amazed that this was possible, but it was great. It was really really great. PHILIP: Yeah. On the max side of things – and look at this app; it’s called Highlight, just like you would think it’s spelled, and it lets you draw on the screen on top of whatever is underneath it. So if you got a web browser window up, you can annotate that and that’s an option. REUVEN: What other tools where we expect people to be familiar with? I think increasingly, Slack is probably one of those where even my non-technical clients seem to use it. PHILIP: That is interesting. Yeah, I think some kind of – to me the categories of tools email, something like Skype or some kind of TCP/IP-based video chat software. To me, not necessarily project management software; to me, that’s almost in the optional, not mandatory. And then some kind of way to hand off files, at least for the kind of work that I do, those would be the bare minimum that I would expect a client to be familiar with. I would not necessarily expect them to be – some of my clients use Skype instant messaging instead of Slack, for example, and that’s a situation where I’m not going to go in and be the Slack of angelus to try to sell them on the superiority of Slack. That’s not what I’m there for. I’m there to deliver a result that’s worth, hopefully, a lot more than I’m getting paid to build it. And so I don’t have any patience for stuff like “oh, you really need to adopt the tool that I’m using”. I don’t even try to do that. REUVEN: I would say I've been using Skype more or less since it came out. And I even – I tried to do a startup a number of years ago, and we almost got funding from the Skype founders in Estonia. So I learned a ton of cool Skype tricks from them which have become now [inaudible]; I was one of the first people who knew that you could go back and edit things, for example. People are like “what did you do? How did you do that?” So I've used Skype for a long time and it took me a while, probably in the last year, I've become convinced that “you know, Slack is really better for instant messaging” if only because the interface works well for my computer and on my phone where Skype does not. And it’s funny that I didn’t expect that a simple IM system like who the heck cares what you use, but I can do things that there's something superior there. That said, going to a client and saying “if you want to work with me, you’ve got to use the following software” is not a good way to go. PHILIP: And just to be clear, I used to try to do that. I’d be like “no no, we need to use this”. And I would – not argue, but I would make my case for why this tool was better than that. And I don’t think it added any value in the end. This was just a big distraction. REUVEN: Mm-hm. I’m trying to think what else – I’m just looking through luca’s issue here before we start to wrap up. Common miscommunication pitfalls to stop or avoid. PHILIP: Not communicating enough. [Chuckles REUVEN: Yeah. PHILIP: Communicating in the written word when you should maybe use a synchronous spoken form of communication. To me, that’s the root cause of all miscommunication. That maybe an overly simplistic way to look at it, but I think if – you eliminate at least 80% of miscommunication if you know when to use asynchronous written versus synchronous spoken. What about you Reuven, what do you think? REUVEN: I agree completely. I've never had a client complain that I communicate too much. But I’ve definitely had clients complain, either explicitly or implicitly, that they haven’t heard from me and what the heck is going on. PHILIP: Mm-hm. Yup. And that’s just a great example of not communicating enough. REUVEN: Right. And that’s why with some of my clients, I even say to them – the development clients, consulting clients, I say “if we’re going to be working together for a long time, I want to make sure we have an ironclad weekly meeting”. And I have this client in Chicago now where we didn’t do a weekly meeting for a few months because we were in a lull, and boy, was that a mistake. PHILIP: [Chuckles] Yeah. REUVEN: When development started out again, and it wasn’t a huge priority, we start the meetings. And just in the last few weeks we've had some tension over what's going on and where do we stand. And so now we've got, not only restart that communication as weekly meetings, but restart to some degree the trust, which is really fortunate because we love working together. PHILIP: That’s rough. That is definitely rough. It looks like Panic Software has also a tool for drawing on your screen. Maybe that will be one of my picks. Sorry, non sequitur. [Chuckles] REUVEN: Oh, that’s fine. Any other suggestions, ideas? PHILIP: I will try to speak to the fear like if you have fear around doing this, start small, don’t have your first remote consultation be your biggest project ever [chuckles], but also I guess where my mind goes for the person who’s maybe never done this before is “how could it make things better? Maybe not at all”. That’s certainly an option, but I think – a lot of folks maybe it would reduce the amount of time you spend travelling or maybe it would give you access to higher rates because you're getting toe-hold into a market that can afford higher rates than your local market. So those are all the strategic level of running your own business. These are things that I think that are very worth considering. And then if you decide you want to do it, like “what's the first small step you could take to get there? How could you get your first remote client?” A way of conclusion of this – that’s where my head is at. Try it, but start small, and communicate a lot. The tools will take care of themselves. That’s not the problem anymore. There's more tools than you will know what to do with once you start figuring out what you really need. REUVEN: Right. And I’d say also stealing a page or more from your book, if you move into some sort of specialty, then they will be almost by definition fewer people doing that near where you live, but there will be people around the world who are really interested in what you do. And so you're opening the door to those people seeking you out, and you'll be able to have a pretty compelling case to work with you. But those communication skills, it’s always the case – always always someone would rather work with a so-so consultant with great communication skills, or so-so developer, let’s say, with great communication skills, than a great developer with terrible communication skills. So you really have to think about who you're going to talk to, how you're going to talk to them, how to make sure that they are so ecstatic with working with you that they’ll want to continue doing it and tell their friends and turn your theoretically short initial foray into remote consulting into a nice long-term lucrative relationship for everyone. PHILIP: Nice. REUVEN: Alright, let’s do some picks then. PHILIP: Let’s do it. REUVEN: What do you got? PHILIP: Ok. I've got to couple of picks. We've talked a lot about Skype and it’s ubiquitous and super inexpensive. I wanted to pick an alternative tool to that that I have recently started using; it’s called Zoom. The website is zoom – that’s with a Z – zoom.us. And there's a free tier which has some limitations, and there's the – the lowest tier I think is $15 – the lowest paid tier is 15 bucks a month. And I got turned on to Zoom because I noticed that my clients who were in overseas locations with less than ideal bandwidth seemed to be using it. So I experimented with it as an alternative to Google Hangouts which I use for my mentoring calls, and found that in some cases, Zoom does really do better when the bandwidth is not great. And it’s more of a traditional kind of teleconference thing design, so it’s a little bit more like – what's the other one – join.me or – it just like you install an app on your computer and you can have a meeting room that’s like “your meeting room” and it’s like a persistent meeting room thing. So it’s got some interesting differences and I, again, think that for some scenarios, it could be a little bit more robust than Skype in that it’s suitable to a low-bandwidth situation et cetera. And it’s got built-in stuff, like it can record calls for you, server aside, et cetera, et cetera. So it’s worth knowing about if you don’t love Skype for some reason; it’s a nice alternative I've found. So that’s my first pick. My next pick is a website called weworkremotely.com. I think it’s a little bit more oriented towards full-time jobs than freelancing, but it’s a jobsite that I think is worth knowing about. It’s a little bit on the smaller side, but it also seems to be much higher quality than a lot of other job sites I've seen. And then my last pick is – I know Panic Software has a tremendous reputation for making high quality stuff. Later in the show, I ran across Desktastic – all one word – Desktastic, which lets you draw on your screen. I've not tried it, but that could an interesting screen annotation tool for those doing remote work. That’s it. Those are my picks for this week. REUVEN: Excellent. I’m going to also trim one of the things I mentioned into a pick, not that I’m a huge amount of experience with it, but it looks really great so far, which is ZenHub. ZenHub is that kanban style overlay onto GitHub Issues. If you and your clients or your company are using GitHub Issues, this might help you to make some sense of them. My next pick is this new book called The Confidence Game by – oh, I never remember how to pronounce her name – Maria Konnikova, is I think her last name. She’s a New Yorker writer and frequent guest on The Gist podcast, and she always looks at psychology. And in the Confidence Game, she talked – looks at [inaudible] and cons and how are people swindled so easily. And not only is it a fun read; I've only a little bit through it. I’m not 20%, 30% through at this point, but she’s a fantastic storyteller. But she’s trying to get to the idea of how are people so easily swindled. What is it that makes people gullible, and what is it that allows people to take advantage of them. How do these things work? And perhaps it’s the cynic in me looking at this as I read these stories, but I’m also thinking “ok, how does this overlap with marketing? What can I, should I say to make my clients more at ease so that – not because I want to con them or swindle them, but because I could attack – we’re always looking for pain points and how to fix those pain points. And I think that there's definitely some overlap between the evil use and non-evil use, but understanding where they are can definitely help in marketing yourself. And I've been reading it on – I know I’m probably the last person in the world to get one, but on a Kindle, where after my elder daughter and younger daughter and my wife all have Kindles, and I took them with me when I’m abroad. I was like “wow, this is a great piece of technology”. So I got a Kindle also and I am quite enjoying it. And the last pick is a fun one, probably mostly for the [inaudible] out there. It’s called Trumpcast. It’s a podcast from a Slate magazine, and it basically is looking at the Donald Trump phenomenon in American politics from all sorts of different angles: people who love him, people who hate him, people who are analysing him and his policies or lack thereof, and it’s a fun way to look at a fascinating political phenomenon no matter how you – what you think about it. Anyway, those are my picks for this week. And Philip, great as usual to talk to you. I think we might actually be joined by one of our fellow panellists at some point in the near future [chuckles]. So listeners, if you hate listening only to us, good news. If you’ve loved listening only to us, just keep playing this episode again and again. PHILIP: Yeah. Just mute the other parts where other panellists speak up [chuckles]. REUVEN: [Chuckles] Excellent. Thanks everyone for joining us and we’ll be back next week on the Freelancers’ Show.[Hosting and bandwidth is provided by the Blue Box Group. Check them out at BlueBox.net.]**[Bandwidth for this segment is provided by CacheFly, the world’s fastest CDN.  Deliver your content fast with CacheFly. Visit cachefly.com to learn more.]**

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