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Summary:

It’s interesting to talk with brick-and-mortar business owners who haven’t yet considered the possibilities of working remotely. The conversation quickly moves to ways to streamline work, increase the talent pool available to the company, and unique and exciting ways to promote the business online.

blendtec

As someone who works exclusively via the web, it’s interesting to talk with brick-and-mortar business owners who haven’t yet considered the possibilities of working remotely. The conversation quickly moves to ways to streamline work, increase the talent pool available to the company, and — most fun of all — unique and exciting ways to promote the business online.

Going Virtual With Products

Especially if you’re dealing with a physical product, there will always be a need for manufacturing facilities, but unless you’re creating a custom- or hand-made product for each and every customer, it’s likely your company already outsources, or in some way remotely manages, production.

The key then becomes creating a virtual setup to replace the traditional brick-and-mortar model, such as needing a physical storefront for customer experience or to showcase products and allow browsing. There are many examples, however, that prove it’s perfectly possible to create an amazing customer experience that’s also completely virtual.

Heartbreaker Fashion

This is one site that demonstrates how the virtual experience may even trump the in-person one. Heartbreaker Fashion offers vintage-inspired clothing, and as with many online clothing retailers, the way it beats the brick-and-mortar shopping experience is by displaying every single outfit on a live model so that customers know, at a glance, whether outfits will work for them or not.

What makes Heartbreaker Fashion stand out is in its branding. Their website provides a boutique experience that makes the customer feel special, beautiful and feminine, and like they are getting to treat themselves to something out of the ordinary — all with simple, unified website branding!

Amazon

Amazon is great example of a company that has been a purely virtual business right from the very start. As the website explains, Amazon “strives to [be] Earth’s most customer-centric company,” and in my experience, it’s achieving just that.

While Amazon’s headquarters are physically-based, their products have always been sold exclusively online, and in fact, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, was named as Time magazine’s person of the year for his “vision of the online retailing universe [that] was so complete, his Amazon.com site so elegant and appealing, that it became from Day One the point of reference for anyone who had anything to sell online.”

Going Virtual With Employees

As even Amazon has seen, setting up remote employees can be the most challenging part of creating a completely virtual business, but for many businesses, it’s highly possible to set up a distributed team for managing the work of the company. Here, it’s not so much a matter of examples as of logistics.

Collaboration

Although you may be able to forgo a physical location, it’s still important to have a centralized place (even if virtual) where employees can gather to communicate, collaborate and even socialize. Here are just a few of the options for online communication and collaboration for your team:

Unified Communications

It’s important to maintain a unified front with communications (email addresses, phone numbers, etc.), especially when working with independent contractors and freelancers, who generally have separate business-branded emails and may be dispersed around the world.

Services like Google Apps, Google Voice, and RingCentral can easily and seamlessly tie communications together for all employees and remote workers, without costing a lot in money or setup time.

Going Virtual with Marketing

Marketing is perhaps the most interesting and fun part of taking a company virtual. The possibilities for creating unique and memorable promotional campaigns online are truly endless and can actually be a great way to interact with customers to strengthen brand loyalty and recognition.

Honda

According to Dachis Group, Honda is one company successfully integrating online social media for business. Through their “Friending Honda” efforts, they reportedly “increased fans from 15k to 422k, generating over 3,500 dealer quote requests.”

Blendtec

Blendtec became a YouTube sensation with its “Will It Blend?” series, which generated millions of views of Blendtec “lab technicians” blending everything from iPods to glow sticks.

Smaller companies need not be afraid of big name power when it comes to online marketing, since it’s possible for almost any company to create successful strategies and campaigns around their products to help grow their customer base.

These days, with rapidly developing technology that’s available to businesses, as well as the Internet becoming the go-to method for staying connected as individuals, going virtual is not only possible, but in fact, quite necessary.

How much of your company operates virtually?

Photo courtesy Flickr user Meanest Indian

  1. Now that I’m based in San Francisco and the rest of the team is in Helsinki, we really need to focus on how we communicate online.

    None of the tools you listed are really suitable for intense teamwork, because they’re not real-time. They might be ok if you’re trying to follow projects from distance, but you’re not directly involved with them.

    We built http://www.flowdock.com/ to present all the required information in real time. We can actually use it as our only communication channel. Can you say the same about the alternatives listed in the article?

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  2. Going virtual has become a necessity as today most people will check out a company online before going to “brick and mortar”. Although my company, Kappix (http://www.kappix.com), has a physical location, it just seems that working virtually seems works best for my team.

    Going virtual with marketing is a different ball game these days with big corporate players (you cited Honda for one) who can afford savvy marketers to outdo the small guys. Very few make break the viral marketing glass ceiling on their own (i.e. Blendtec).

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  3. Nice post! Working virtual by using different tools (Products) organize your work well. It helps you to be always at the top of your work. There is another tool which we use to collaborate with our team is DeskAway.

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  4. We have 65 people working for us all over the world. About half in the US where I hire retired CPA’s and Software Engineers and work at home bookkeepers. We use India and the Philippians for SEO and IT stuff. Best of all we found a service called Delegation Magic that took us paperless (we outsourced all documents to them at 15 cents a page) and they read, organize, assign tasks, create work flow on all documents and track all tasks time online. If we did not have the paperless solution we’d not be able to work from our beach house or Wyoming ranch. Of course we use a lot of on line collaboration tools as well like GoToMeeting so were in constant contact with my top 5 managers – but everything else is outsourced. If you want to check them out its http://www.delegationmagic.com. Oh and we outsourced our bookkeeping too. Found a great local USA guy at http://www.qbexpress.

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