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The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. —
I wish I could claim innovation, genius and exquisite vision for our firm’s leadership in agency virtualization. But I’m more of a chump than a champ. The reason we started leading in virtualization was much more practical.
During my third year of business I started getting pounded with tons of great work. But I was starting to drop the ball in administrative areas — bookkeeping, accounts payable/receivable, systems, travel arrangements, answering the phone, etc.
The days, and especially nights, when I could complete creative work were not long enough. I needed an assistant – but I couldn’t afford one.
Then I stumbled on an article in Esquire, “My Outsourced Life,” by A.J. Jacobs, Sept. 1, 2005, (link to article here: http://bit.ly/myoutsourcedlife). This article changed my entire perspective on business. No other article made me laugh then immediately experiment with its subject matter: outsourcing busy work.
By October 2005 I had a reliable assistant named Preetha from Bangalore, India. She stayed with me for three years before moving on in her own career as a human resources specialist. I never had Preetha interact with clients or vendors because I felt the accent barrier was too much to overcome, but she did absolutely everything else related to administrative duties. She was, and still is, wonderful.
A few months later I expanded my comfort zone from administrative outsourcing to practitioner engagement. Surely I could “homesource” marketing and PR specialists. Train them on our virtual systems and create a real firm, albeit virtual. And I wasn’t limited to the Cleveland talent pool, as good as it is. The world, as they say, was my oyster.
Up until 2008 we didn’t have an official “office” … yet we were servicing big-name clients. And did the clients care? Not one bit. Besides, we always traveled to them.
A receptionist in Portland, Ore. answered our phones. Our clients thought we were all in one office. And you know what, we were. We were just in different locations. But we always worked Eastern Standard Time.
Today, videoconferencing is as normal to us as a phone call. In fact, because of the seamlessness, we have more of a singular office than other traditional office settings I had worked in. Indeed, I would go weeks not seeing colleagues who were cooped-up in their offices in the “old world”.
Today we have a central office in Cleveland. Yet we service locations across North America. I travel to Chicago and New York at least twice a month to visit staff and clients in that area. And I’m developing business in California to open a depot in San Diego. But regardless of the expansion in those areas, I will be hard pressed to spend money on expensive and elaborate physical offices. Because I know, from experience, it doesn’t matter. It’s better to invest the money in talent and technology.
Right now our specialists are located in Edinborough, Scotland; Manila, Philipines; Toronto; Philadelphia; Chicago; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Boulder, Colo.; Canton, Ohio; Boise, Idaho; San Diego; and Berkley, Calif. Tomorrow, a specialist could be located in Sri Lanka. There are no borders.
A couple staff members and I have permanent offices in Cleveland. The Cleveland office also has work areas dedicated for staff, vendors or clients dropping in for a couple days or the week. (FYI, we still travel to our clients 95% of the time.)
We even have fun. We have a virtual lounge for office gossip. We also have a “bring your emoticon to work” day on Fridays. It’s complete hysteria and creates that belly-laugh fun that is so important to maintain sanity in this fast-paced business.
Every moment our firm becomes more virtual. And, strangely, it has become more of our reality … it’s our norm. And it hasn’t affected our client servicing. Quite the opposite, our virtualization has allowed for better real-time communication streams, less unnecessary meetings and more efficient workflow.
Mr. Jacobs, thank you for writing “My Outsourced Life” … whether you meant to or not you changed my life and the lives of our staff members.
Ron Watt Jr. is founder + president of Watt + Company LLC (WATT), a full-service, non-traditional PR and marketing firm based in Cleveland. For more information please visit: www.watt-co.com
“Then I stumbled on an article in Esquire, ‘My Outsourced Life,’ by A.J. Jacobs, Sept. 1, 2005, (link to article here: http://bit.ly/myoutsourcedlife). This article changed my entire perspective on business. No other article made me laugh then immediately experiment with its subject matter: outsourcing busy work.”
This is the cover of Esquire that helped build WATT.