This blog was updated October 2017.
At Express Writers, my full-time staff and team of more than 50 work on a completely remote basis.
Yet, we manage to be so effective that our support turnaround times average within the hour, if not minutes after the 50–100 client requests we get daily (that’s across emails, chat, and phone support), and our writer, editorial, and management team work seamlessly together getting our client’s content through the queue on or before deadlines.
Our client happiness rate is 99.9%, and we handle hundreds of pages in any given week and have served over 5,000 clients to date.
Some have asked me, “Have you ever considered opening a local office?”
The truth is, I have! I moved to Austin thinking I’d set up an office space and hire more local staff, two years ago. I thought it would be an interesting and profitable switch after running Express Writers as a remotely staffed company since 2011. But I was wrong. (Ever heard “#brickandmurder” – coined by the GirlBoss founder, Sophia Amoruso? 100% true.) The overhead was tremendously pricey – it would add on an estimated $2,000-3,000/monthly to our expenses, and that was at a “cheap” location in Austin. Downtown, prices ran around $8,000. Our profit level at the time didn’t make that an option. With a self-funded business and a family, I had to watch expenses closely.
[Keep reading for the full story, and to see a “day in the life” from each of our management staff members.]
A Day in the Life of a Remote Team: Express Writers is Run 100% Remotely (& Why We Succeed at It)
Late last year (2016), I started finding the most amazing team members I’ve ever put into place in the staff.
I realized that space and location means nothing when you have the right people – and if I was limited to one city and one office location, I would never have been able to hire these amazing people. After a difficult year where it was extremely hard to find the right people, I spent more time to find experts who had our clients’ best interests and each other’s support at heart.
It took months, but I found them all. When I found the right people for management – everything changed. Drastically. In a move to recreate the team mindset 100% and improve our client support last year, I let our commissioned sales rep go and found a content marketing expert to consult our clients on purchasing from us. Within the first week of our expert in the sales role, I heard from a client that the level of support he now experienced was a hundred times better in quality, from the sales rep. It was music to my ears, and confirmed that we were on the right path.
By the end of that year, I’d assembled a group of incredible women in the management staff that I’m proud to say have nothing but the success and growth of our company as a whole at heart.
We all, also, happen to be women. And our best successes started happening after this management team of amazing ladies was put in place.
It often feels like this to be a woman leading a staff of amazing women. (CBS: Supergirl)
Restructuring Internal Roles that Didn’t Work – and How That Worked Out For Us
In August of 2017, after more than five years of low retention rates and issues with quality in our editor roles, I stood back and restructured our editorial staff, came up with a new role, and hired three new candidates.
Those ladies are in our team today: Maricel, Kate and Kristel, and today, our clients couldn’t be happier with their quality and work output! We’re thrilled to see the attention to detail and content marketing qualities that these new candidates in our new, restructured role at Express Writers are upholding.
The story behind the new role is simple. The editor role just wasn’t working: issues got straight through to the client, time after time, and editors never seemed to stick around for long. After some business research and development conversations, I came up with a “Quality Assistant” role. My goal was to integrate location-specific (Asia region) candidates into our team, that had a firm, unbending stance on content quality, as well as some content marketing knowledge and expertise. Requiring knowledge in content marketing was completely new. Prior to August, our editors were quality-focused, and looked for typos, bad grammar, etc. In this new role, I wanted to find candidates that knew the benefit good content could bring to a client – and content marketing knowledge really does get that across best. (For example: if you know content marketing, you know that one blog, oriented to serve the client’s audience and address sales questions around the client’s product or services, can generate thousands of dollars in sales! But you have to know the elements of creating a worthwhile blog for the marketing return to be there.)
So, our new QAs went from looking for “typos only” to asking: “does this content serve the client’s purpose?” Or, “is the CTA overly promotional?” The change in success rate with our clients has been drastic.
Overall, we’ve seen about a 9-9.5% success increase–which is drastic when you consider the thousands of clients we serve in a given month, and where we were prior (already at 89-90% happiness).
Now that you have some of the backstory of why we do so well as a remote team…
Let’s talk about a “day in the life.”
A Day in the Life at Express Writers’ Remote Staff
Tamila, Sales Manager: A Day in My Life
Tamila is based in Newnan, Georgia.
My day starts around 4:15 a.m. with a cup of coffee and reading a few articles about content marketing to sharpen my skills. By 5:30 a.m., I’m answering emails from clients and checking orders. One of my goals is hitting up 10 cold leads from various sources each day which takes quite a bit of time.
I also have a huge list of leads that I send emails to. The rest of my time is spent chatting, calling and working with our staff to ensure our clients are happy. Lunch is whenever I remember to take it, normally 12:00-1:30 p.m.
I am constantly thinking of better ways to help our clients and to offer them amazing content. At the end of the day (5:00 p.m.), I close out ensuring that everyone that contacted me that day has been given the best customer service available.
Hannah, Content Director: A Day in My Life
Hannah is based in Albany, Oregon.
I live on the west coast, so I usually start my day around 6am PST with a big cup of coffee while I get ready for work. I don’t believe that working from home should be an excuse to stay in pajamas all day, and I’m not nearly as productive when I don’t start the day by getting ready as if I was working outside of my home.
I usually check email and Skype right away to see if anything new came up over night. Once I finish responding to emails, I check on our editing queue to see which projects need to be prioritized and I let our QAs know if there are any urgent needs. Next, I check on any new orders that have come in and review which writer would be best for each one. I also check on existing clients to make sure that they aren’t due to renew an ongoing project. Over the course of a day I am answering any questions that QAs or writers have about specific projects as they come up as well as questions that clients have about their orders. I also track any revisions that we are doing and take phone calls from clients about new or existing orders.
Our team communicates all day via Skype which makes it seem as if we’re all in one place most of the time!
Julia, CEO: A Day in My Life
Julia is based in Austin, Texas.
My day starts around 7:30 a.m. with an audiobook, hugs and kisses from my toddler, a daily tonic (a simple combination of warm water, apple cider vinegar, and honey), and making a pot of coffee for the day ahead.
After I drop my daughter off at daycare, around 9:00 a.m., I start plunging into work and all the activities lined up for my day. I schedule most of my meetings on Mondays and Fridays, and I record podcast calls biweekly. If I don’t have meetings, I buckle down with a couple major focuses for the day: a long-term growth goal (right now, that’s my course and a new book I’m writing), content marketing at Express Writers (our blogs, infographics, and guest blog presence), and promotion/meetings around my new course. My day breaks around 1:30 or 2:00 for lunch and a short activity – hike, walk, or chiropractor appointment.
I plunge back in and work till 5:00 p.m. 5:30 – 9:00 is family time, and I’ll end the day by keeping up in my field of expertise, content marketing: reading news and blogs, or a recently published book, or learning about a new tool on the market, and working on our blogs for the next week.
Behind the scenes: here’s a peek of me at my desk. I love the Gaiam Balance Ball chair – seriously so comfortable!
I’m lucky: my home office faces a quiet acre. I get a lot of work done in this spacious room. I like to transition between desk + chair and couch for different tasks.
For some reason, I find that I can think more creatively when sitting on a couch, so I write most of my blogs sitting on that corner couch.
#JuliaFact: I keep my desk super clean. It’s actually like that every day.
Rachel, Social Media Specialist: A Day in My Life
Rachel is based in Prince Frederick, Maryland.
My day starts at 6:30 AM. Before I sit down at my desk, I like to get in a morning yoga session and have breakfast. You can usually find me listening to podcasts while I eat because they serve as a great boost of motivation.
Once it’s time to get started with work, which is usually around 8:30 AM, I begin by making a to-do list. Then, I block off time in my schedule to ensure those things get done promptly. Any tasks I have are always scheduled around one of the main things I do for Express Writers, which is participating in Twitter chats and managing our own #ContentWritingChat.
I join about 13 Twitter chats each week because it’s a large part of growing our Twitter presence and building a community online. These chats are scheduled throughout the day, with them taking place morning, afternoon, and night. In between those chats, I’m usually scheduling social media content or creating the #ContentWritingChat recap. So, it’s safe to say I don’t really work your typical hours! My day ends when the last Twitter chat does!
Kristel, Quality Assistant: A Day in My Life
Kristel is based in Detroit, Michigan.
My day starts at 6:00 AM with making coffee as the first in my to-do list. I usually talk to my friends and family in the Philippines before my shift just to catch up with them and see how they’re doing. This happens simultaneously when I prepare food for the cats.
I start my shift after all the morning preparations have been at 9:00 AM. My tasks involve checking for plagiarism, grammar errors, and content optimization of articles due to our clients. Although I do the same tasks everyday, I like the aspect where I learn about the industries that our clients our in. Deep diving into the flow and information in the article gives me a better view if the article we’ll submit will be helpful to their customers. This goes on until 12:00 PM when I end my shift.
My husband and I have our lunch after my shift just before he goes to work. For the rest of the afternoon, I clean the house and read my favorite blogs on content marketing and personal finance. It’s great that there is no wasted time since I don’t have to commute to and from work everyday.
Maricel, Quality Assistant: A Day in My Life
Maricel is based in the Philippines.
My day with Express Writers starts at 9:00 PM PHT, which is equivalent to 8:00 AM CST.
Maricel’s workstation. She doesn’t like to be in the photo, so you’ll have to settle for this. 😉
(Yes, I work nights – in case you’re wondering.) My shift starts at 9:00 AM CST, so I have exactly an hour to have supper, prepare some coffee, check if the kids are all in bed, and do a little stretching.
My work involves editing submitted assignments: catching grammar errors and typos, simplifying complex sentences if needed, and giving writers feedback to help them strengthen their writing. I also make sure the submissions follow client specifications and adhere to prevailing content marketing best practices. Client satisfaction, after all, is a top priority for Express Writers.
Aside from editing, I help our Content Director, Hannah, in assigning assignments to writers and delivering completed projects to clients.
My shift usually ends at 3:00 PM CST, which is 4:00 AM local time. By then, I’m ready to head to bed and call it a day.
Kate, Quality Assistant: A Day in My Life
Kate is based in the Philippines.
My day starts at 6:00 AM (Philippine Time) with a “me time” where I say out my daily affirmations, a great way to gear me up for the long day. I also write down all the things I’m grateful for during the day in my gratitude journal.
Then I’d prepare breakfast and drive my 11-year-old son to school. We’d play some upbeat music and dance to it like how James Corden does it on his Carpool Karaoke.
Next stop: I’d drive straight away to my favorite coffee shop (or rush back home) and set everything up as I get started with my 8-11 AM shift at Express Writers.
I typically break down these three hours into editing submitted articles, sending some back for revision, answering questions from writers, collaborating with our editor, Hannah, and my co-QA’s, posting stuff on WordPress, and other related work. I like how I can easily connect with Julia and Hannah on Skype whenever I have some questions and clarifications that need to be answered.
Right after shift, I alternate my days either teaching yoga and hitting the gym for some weights. Then I’d go back to doing mommy duties, picking up my kid at school. and preparing dinner.
Tools We Use to Work Remotely
We have several main apps to help us manage conversations, activities and the things we do on a daily basis. Here are a few:
1. Custom Developed Solutions: Our teamroom and Content Shop are custom built platforms, led by our CTO, Josh McCoy. We’re in the middle of redeveloping it (happening as we speak). Development is a beast, and funding is completely bootstrapped – but progress is happening!
2. Skype: This is the “virtual office” of our entire management staff. We keep each other updated on breaks, ask for support, and even have multiple Skype threads that address the different communications we need to have internally every day.
3. Zoho: Email, internal client-focused communications (the streams function and “comment-on/share-emails” functionality is amazing), and collaborative documents.
4. Drift: This is our live chat on-site, where we handle client and new prospect questions. The Live View feature, where you can start chats with anyone on your site, is awesome:
Here’s a look at the home screen of Drift.
5. MeetEdgar: We’re about to switch to this program from Buffer to get more traction out of all the social media content we create.
6. Nextiva: This is our client and staff phone system of choice. We love the capabilities that Nextiva has, including custom extensions, phone recordings we can grab anytime – this is hugely helpful to client accounts where writers need to hear additional information. The Nextiva app makes it easy for remote team members to be available on phone anytime, but not have to worry about it interfering with their personal cell number or client numbers getting lost in their own private number lists.
A Day in the Life: Summed Up
There you go…
A #dayinthelife of our remote team!
We’re always progressing, working hard to stay on top of the industry, and rock out at what we do – full service content creation. We all love what we do, and one of our best competitive edges is the ability we have to grow and progress together in creating great content!
Questions about our daily workflow? Leave a note in the comments!