Galen Low is joined by Natasha Golinsky—Founder and Lead Technical Project Manager at On Purpose Projects—to talk about how you can build a loyal, high-performing team from an otherwise disparate, rag-tag group of remote contractors.
- Natasha’s background [1:49]
- Runs a web development agency: On Purpose Projects.
- Her entire team is full stack developers. Everything they do is custom. They specialize in custom complex tech fixes.
- 90% of what they do is working on someone else’s stuff.
- As someone who has never designed or developed a website, Natasha had no idea how to hire skilled people and most of her team didn’t know what to do either but, in a past life she was a recruiter, so she understood that you hire for attitude/character and develop the skills.
- They researched, took courses, and learned together. No one on her team was pre-trained before they worked together. They followed the plan-do-review approach. She helped by paying for training where necessary as an investment in their skills.
- Natasha had the same team of remote contractors for over 7 years: how did she build that kind of loyalty with that kind of team configuration? [11:35]
- She makes sure she knows what her team’s goals are and focuses on helping them achieve them through working at OPP.
- As best as she can, she tries to assign them to projects that she knows they prefer.
- She creates a safe place where they can make a mistake and not risk losing their job.
I’m very conscious of making sure that I know what my team’s goals are and that through working with me, they are achieving their own goals.Natasha Golinsky
- Natasha’s vetting process [21:09]
- The first thing she looks for is communication.
- In the web development world, the number one complaint is bad communication.
- She gives everybody a trial job. They come in and see how they communicate.
- Natasha’s relationship with her team is 90% work, 10% personal. They all have the same passion for excellent client work and helping their clients with their tech issues so their values align.
- For engagement, she has created a community where they work together on projects without her needing to be involved. Her designer talks to the developer, her bookkeeper talks to everyone, developers talk to QA etc. Like in Agile, they self-manage. They get to know each other and create their own relationships.
- They help each other. If someone is busy, the other person pitches in. Everyone works on everyone’s stuff as needed.
- Some of the biggest challenges Natasha faced nurturing a remote team all these years, and how she overcome them [30:38]
- During the pandemic, they had three really difficult clients they worked with. One client was threatening to sue them.
- When you have a remote team, no one is under contract or an employee tied to a benefits plan so the loyalty is created in other ways. As the team leader, she has made an effort to lead with kindness, wisdom and compassion at all times.
- Her goal is to make coming to work the best part of their day but sometimes when a mistake is made or something is running late and she starts getting anxious, she has to check herself and remember that the relationship is more important than the project.
- She had to grow a lot in how to handle project glitches with gentleness, wisdom and grace.
- Natasha’s advice for someone looking to start a digital agency in 2023 [41:55]
- Really love what you do. Being an agency is very competitive and you have to want to be doing it because you love the work and are committed to becoming better and better at it. It can’t be a job or a business idea, it would be too difficult unless your heart is in it.
Don’t do it because you think it’s going to be a great business idea. Do it because it’s what you really enjoy, the work itself and building the teams.Natasha Golinsky
Meet Our Guest
Natasha is a website redesign specialist and the Founder and Lead Technical Project Manager at On Purpose Projects—a web design/development agency based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She has held non-profit and private sector management roles and has a wide range of experience with system development, operations management, data management, recruitment and training processes, staff supervision, sales, and strategy implementation. Natasha also is a mom of three, an athlete, an aspiring polylinguist, and she loves sharing ideas for greater efficiency and profit with other web professionals.
When you’re building a team, skills are a part of it, but you’re hiring for character and attitude training, and you can develop a skill set.Natasha Golinsky
Resources from this episode:
- Join DPM Membership
- Subscribe to the newsletter to get our latest articles and podcasts
- Connect with Natasha on LinkedIn
- Check out On Purpose Projects
Related articles and podcasts:
- About the podcast
- 3 Simple Ways To Create Psychological Safety As A Project Leader
- How To Talk About Risk And Have Everyone Listen
- Stop Scope Creep from Creeping: What It Is & How To Manage
- 5 Techniques For Building Strong Relationships In Virtual Teams
- How To Create A Psychologically Safe Team Environment And Why It Matters
Read The Transcript:
We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.
Galen Low: The gig economy. On paper, it's a project-based organization's dream: just pull in remote contractors whenever you need them, and carry on your merry way. But for a lot of project managers, a revolving door of remote contractors can look like more of a headache than a benefit.
First, there's the issue of commitment: how can I be sure that this person won't disappear halfway through the project? Then there's the issue of skill: how will I evaluate whether the quality of their work is up to scratch before it impacts the project? And more than anything else, there's a question of consistency: what happens when we start the next phase of the project and the same contractor isn't available anymore?
But what if it wasn't a revolving door at all? What if you could use today's gig economy to build a stable team of remote contractors that sticks around for years? If you've been struggling to find the balance between the convenience of remote contractors and the commitment of full-time employees, keep listening.
We're going to be exploring how you can build a loyal, high-performing team from an otherwise disparate, rag-tag group of remote contractors.
Hey folks, thanks for tuning in. My name is Galen Low with The Digital Project Manager. We are a community of digital professionals on a mission to help each other get skilled, get confident, and get connected so that we can amplify the value of project management in a digital world. If you want to hear more about that, head over to thedigitalprojectmanager.com.
Okay, today we're talking about how you can build long-term loyalty with a team of remote contractors to create consistency across your projects and maybe even build a business around it. With me today is Natasha Golinksy, someone who's done exactly that as the Founder and Lead Technical Project Manager of On Purpose Projects.
Natasha, thanks so much for joining us today.
Natasha Golinksy: Hey, thanks so much for letting me on the call.
Galen Low: I'm so fascinated to get some of your stories out because you and I, we've been jamming, we've been talking. Your story is amazing. There's at least four episodes there that I wanted to talk through. But the one thing that really baffled me, and not to give away the punchline, but the thing that baffled me was that you were able to build, essentially a small digital agency around a team of loyal and consistent remote contractors.
So that's what I wanted to dig into today. But I wonder, could you just share a bit of the backstory that you told me. As I understand it, you're a bit of an accidental entrepreneur. And you're not someone who necessarily considers themselves like a digital expert. So I wondered, could you tell our listeners just a bit about how you started On Purpose Projects, the kinds of people that you help, the kinds of projects you take on?
Natasha Golinksy: For sure. I run a web development agency. I've been Vancouver, Canada, and I've run the agency for about eight years. And I have never built a website in my life, like never once. And I don't even know how anyone on my team actually does what they do. And I was a management consultant, like my background is all in management consulting, project management.
And I remember I had a client and I was working in the non-profit sector and I had a client and he said to me, he's Hey, we need to update our website. Can you find someone to help me do the website? And I was like, yeah, sure. So went to Upwork, didn't really think much of it. Hired a guy from Bangladesh.
I didn't know what I was doing, right? Like I was just like, cheapest guy. I don't know. I think that's what everybody does, right? And luckily it worked out and we ended up doing the site and then the guy was like, well, I have a partner and he's looking to just make some changes. Could your guy help with this one?
I'm like, sure. And then literally within six months I was like out of the management game and into the website world and so I've had a team, like since day one, like literally have never, like if I was on Survivor for websites, I'd be like the first one off the island. Like maybe I wouldn't even know where to start, honestly.
I, so I'm just so blessed, like I've had a great team and yeah, they are the ones that make it happen for sure, so.
Galen Low: I love that. And you know what I appreciate about the story is this sort of boldness, but this kind of like accidental boldness, this shrug of oh, whatever, let's give it a go.
But I, there's so many people in our community who are project managers who feel so self-conscious about the fact that, they may have a great grasp of how the sausage is made in terms of building a website or an app, or a digital marketing campaign, but they're hitting this barrier of I don't know exactly what's involved in this person's job, and therefore I feel like I'm at a disadvantage.
Or as, the way the story goes for you is almost like the opposite. It's actually, you know what? I need to build a team because I don't know how to make the sausage. And it's like I rely on them.
Natasha Golinksy: And the irony is my team, we are not like a template website team.
We are like custom deaf, if you have a website and you need to integrate with some sort of artificial intelligence or make your thing do this thing, like we're not basic drag and drop Elementor website. We are like dream it, build it, do it team. So incredibly technical. My entire team is like full stack developers.
Everything we do is custom. We like specialize in custom complex tech fixes, work with stuff all the time that I literally do sales calls and I'm like, they'll ask me like, so how? And I'm like, I don't know. Like I got a team. There's, they're the brains of the operation and yeah. So it's even to this day and as tech changes, our deliverables become more and more technical.
So I just gave up trying to figure it out like years ago cuz I'm like, I'm never gonna, my job is I have a lane, I know what my lane is and I let them stay in their lane and it works. It creates a really good team dynamic.
Galen Low: I wanted to swing back on the two things you said. One, you said tech fixes and actually your origin story started with, Hey, I need someone to just fix this thing, fix this website.
That might not strike a lot of people as being the difficult part, but in my background, that is a difficult part. Because you're going into something, a), we're in our lane as project managers, as business owners. We're trusting our team to do a thing that involves looking at other developers code, other technical architecture that they're not familiar with, getting familiar with it and then making changes that are stable actually is a very difficult thing.
Do you do a lot of project fixes?
Natasha Golinksy: I would say 90% of the stuff we do is working on someone else's stuff. Because the nature of the agency world, it's, there's a lot of competition in that page builder, visual editor. Again, I know the jargon, but I don't know what, how, what it, how it works. I can talk the talk, right?
But it's like there's a lot of competition in that $40 to $50 an hour range. There's a lot of people who say they're a web developer, but they just know how to use a make a Divi site or an Elementor site or like they're not actually, they don't code. So for example, like everyone on my team can code. We can work with anything from Shopify to React to Laravel, to custom CMS, to they do it all.
Like we have software people, we have everything. So we have a little bit of everything on the team, and so my team really loves tricky, challenging work. So we've just created this niche for ourselves where we are like the fix it, finish it specialists. Where we pick up websites all the time that are like at 90% something's wrong, someone got fired.
The technical skill level required is like now out of range for their in-house team or whatever. And we get brought in and it's so risky, and so dangerous and so problematic. And I'm like, how did I get here? Like how did this happen? Exactly. Like we're working in like the trickiest dev in the trickiest circumstances with you have to require so much emotional intelligence as well, because your client at that point is like skeptical and terrified, right?
So you're coming in after the breakup and you're the next person and it's incredibly difficult. And people, I was on a call actually a couple months ago and they're like, like you, you're pin yourself into like probably the most challenging corner of web development. And I'm like, never thought about it.
I just would like close work that my team likes to do. And I was like, okay guys, here we go. If you wanna do this today, okay, let me find something. I'll go hunt it down, I'll close it for them and sell it. And they do it and just try to keep my team happy, really so.
Galen Low: One of those shows where they're like either Dirty Jobs or like whatever lobster fishermen that have very dangerous jobs. They're jobs that nobody else wants to do.
Natasha Golinksy: Exactly, totally.
Galen Low: It makes the market a little less competitive, but it is very high octane, very intense stuff. That sounds like the business you've built, but in websites.
Natasha Golinksy: I know I had a call the other day with this guy and he called me and he's and he had two different websites built by two different teams and there were these Laravel sites or whatever, and they were like really tricky.
Laravel is you gotta know what you're doing to work with a Laravel site. It's not just like WordPress where you can figure it out as you go. Anyway, and so he's so what do you do? And I'm like, we're kinda like disaster response. Like kinda yeah, but no, it's just ironic because it's like the sales process will be like, let's imagine, you and I are talking, you're telling me about your website issue, and you're like, so how do you do that?
And I'm like, you know what? That's a great question. I'm not a developer myself, but I run a full stack team. What I'm gonna do is take all your questions back to my crew, we're gonna figure it out for you, and I'm gonna get back to you. And they're like, okay. Like I am like totally upfront, like no, like I am not the brands.
I am the project manager. I'm the team leader. I am the support, I'm the scrum master, I'm the facilitator, but I am not the talent here. I've never pretended to actually know what anybody does.
Galen Low: Honestly, that is part of it. I feel like so many project managers or anyone who's client facing, especially accounts teams I've been in sales and business development, so you feel this pressure to have the answer. And yet the worst thing you can do is make something up.
Natasha Golinksy: Oh, you just, I think I stopped doing that cuz I tried and I ended up like just foot in mouth all the time. They're like, oh yeah, we can do that. No problem. And now I'm like, I don't see that anymore. I'm like, no. I'm like, tell you what, this is a great question.
Let me take you to my crew and I'll get back to you in a couple hours. And then they're like, yeah, great. Because what I found as well is like the client just wants the job done. They don't care who's doing it. And it's I've been doing this for eight years. I'm a ACP, PMP, scrum master, like I'm, I know how to project manage.
Like I know how to lead a team. I know how to organize, I know how to facilitate. I know how to get stuff done. Like I know how to keep the plates spinning and everybody happy. That's my lane, right? But it's just like in terms of, and sometimes clients are honestly relieved. They're like, I'm not pretending that, cuz I think especially in tech, I don't know how it is with other agencies, but especially in web development, like so many people blow smoke, right?
Yeah, we can fix it. And then next thing you know, my team is in trying to unfix it, and it's it's so common. And they'll try to like blow smoke. They know what they're doing and I just don't, I'm like, look, like that's not my job on this team. And they're like, great. So, and we're high ticket too. We're not like low level, like we're, and people get it. They appreciate the honesty, honestly. So...
Galen Low: You know what I really like about that is that you didn't say, my job is to whatever lead the business vision, manage the accounts or anything like that. You said, my job is to keep people happy. And I know that from a certain extent yes, the client, but also I'm gathering that also means keeping your team happy.
Natasha Golinksy: My team is first. Yeah. Team before client, every time.
Galen Low: There you go. Which I think actually takes us right into our punchline, which is that, as I understand it, you've now had the same team of remote contractors for about eight years. And that is just not common where I come from, like in the world that I like the circles that I travel in, usually it's like this revolving door.
Even agencies that are trying to retain full-time staff can't keep that door from revolving. And yet you're doing the thing that most people, right in a gig economy, would be built around a revolving door of okay, yeah, just go onto Upwork. Just, try and find, a person to do a thing for a few days and then off they go.
And just having this like revolving door of gig workers, whereas you actually did the opposite. And I'm just wondering, when you think back on it, how did you build that kind of loyalty with that kind of team configuration?
Natasha Golinksy: No, that's a great question. Like the guy who designed my logo on day one, still is my lead web designer. So it's amazing, and I've never had anybody quit.
I've fired people, but I've never had anybody quit. I've, yeah, had the same crew. I've had the same assistant VA for five years. Yeah. I'm so, so, so blessed. So grateful. Like that first guy that I was talking about that I hired, he still works with us and it's like my core team of five people who only work for me.
Where we've been through crazy economies together. If you have a bad client, that can destroy a team morale. Like we have been through it in five years, right? Like together and the one thing I think I'm always very conscious of is they're not my employees, right? I don't have a co-located team.
We're all remote. I have to earn that loyalty. Like I do not expect it. Like every day they could go work somewhere else. And I'm very aware, like they're not under contract. They're freelancers. They're not Canadian, so I can't give them a job. Like none of them are Canadian. So I'm just very conscious of making sure that I know what their goals are and that through working with me, they are achieving their own goals.
So it's like I want them working with me to be the best part of their day. Let's say barring their partners, but like they're professional. Let's say they're professional. Like I want them to want to work here, to be happy to work here, to be empowered working with me, to be getting theirs, to be like, I have this one guy on my team right now and he really wants to learn about how AI integrates with website stuff, like that's really hot right now, right?
AI and we had a little bit of a slow week last week and I was like, Hey, do you wanna find a class? And I'll pay half. And he's yeah, sure. So, and it's me working with them is like the joy of my life too. I love them.
Like I, I'm so grateful that I get to be their leader, and I'm, I do not take it lightly. Like I do not take it for granted that they could walk like any day. And I just, so, I don't know, every day to me, I'm very conscious of that, of coming to them with love and respect and professionalism and gratitude and kindness and emotional intelligence.
Like when something does go wrong, like making sure that I'm on their side and, so I don't know, there's, I guess the answer is I'm just moment to moment conscious of every interaction with them to make them want to be there. Knowing each person, like knowing which drives each person.
Some people are very driven by whatever, like knowing what their motivators are. And then, so some people I have who they like, like lots of communication and they like check-ins and daily Scrum and they wanna talk. And then some guys are like, I don't wanna talk to you, just leave me alone. Let me just do my thing, Slack check in once a day.
It's good. Cool. I'm like, cool. Alright. You're happy. I'm happy. Everybody's happy. Okay, good. And then when you have a team that is happy cuz we, we work very scrum style where we all talk to the client, like where it's not just me, like we're all talking to the client. So not only does my tech team need to have incredible tech skills, they also need to have really good people skills, which is rare, right?
If you've worked for tech people, like that's not always a big strength. But I watch how they interact with the client and their like kindness and patience and compassion. And I just look at how they talk to our clients too. And it's I understand where that comes from, right? Like I treat them with patience and graciousness and love.
Then that's gonna spill out, right? So I just have to know like what you're gonna put in, what you're gonna get out, right? And so I'm just, I don't, I'm just so grateful, like honestly, so grateful to work with them as well, so.
Galen Low: I love that. There's so much I wanna unpack there because I think one of the big things that you said earlier on was, you're earning their loyalty.
You're not taking it for granted. And actually I would think that a lot of people myself may be included, right? Would come at it the other way. I'd be like, okay, here I am on Upwork. Listen, like this could be almost like a full-time gig for you. You're gonna be, I'm gonna treat you like a staffer.
You're gonna be like part of the family and try and incent that way. But actually you've done the opposite where you've said, listen, I know that you could leave any day. That's part of the freedom of what you're doing. So every day, I'm going to earn your loyalty by being respectful of the goals that you're trying to achieve and helping you achieve them. Versus you helping me achieve my goals, which is like the more anyone who's is looking for, I find this a lot in sort of part-time remote work in a gig or contractor situation where it's okay, yeah, come in and do the thing.
And you're helping me and then go away. Whereas actually, you've created this loyalty. So in other words, there isn't a pretense when you're seeking these people out, there is no pretense of, oh, I'd like you to stay and be my person for this thing for a decade.
Natasha Golinksy: No, I just I look at it like literally, it's a moment-to-moment thing. Like it's like we talk on Slack all day, we're very, yeah, we're not like a meetings team. Like we're very Slack driven. I've never met any of them in person. Well, one of them I have one time, he's worked for me five years and he was in Vancouver and we met up for coffee, but literally he's in Brazil and we've never met in person.
But it's for example, like my assistant, she sometimes gets migraines and so she'll text me. She's I'm really sorry, my head hurts. And I'm like, Go I'll talk to you on Wednesday. Nothing urgent. Go take your day. And I dunno, I think it's just speaking to that personal side, right?
Or it's like one of my tech lead, he and I have worked together all day, every day for five years, right? And he's incredible. Like he, like I feel like just honored to even know this guy, right? And the fact that, but when I met him, he was a backend developer. Like he was, but now he's like full stack, full stack.
But like when I met him, he was just, he'd never really built a website before. He'd never built the front end of a website. And I remember we, I closed this really big project, this big I don't know, like $60,000 e-commerce redesign project. And he'd never really done it, but I was like, I'm like, what do you think?
And he's I think I could do it. I'm like, all right, let's go, man. Okay. And he killed it, but it was like, I think it's like really, like everyone who works for me didn't do what they do. Like my web designer. He was, he's an engineer and he just had a gig, and then now he's a full-time UI/UX guy.
But eight years ago he was a mechanical engineer, and I liked him. I thought his work was good. And so he with me has developed his skills. And then same thing, like no one really did what they do. But I think the thing, when you're team building, it's like skills are a part of it, but it's like you're hiring for character and attitude training and you can develop a skillset.
Like you can't make a non-tech person, a tech person. Like you can't, that's too much. But if you meet someone and they're kind, and they're smart and they're hardworking and attention to detail and excellence and good communication, and you can, and they're a backend developer. Okay, you can make that person a, you could make that person a full stack developer.
But I needed a full stack guy that he was back and I'm like, close enough. All right, let's do this, together, right? If you can build the backend, you can build the front end. Come on. That's the easy part. But anyway, so I just think it's I've always looked at my team as like, how can I help them grow in their careers?
Like again, I have no guarantee they're gonna stay. I don't know, but it doesn't matter. It's like I figure if I give them so much value of being on this team, they're not gonna wanna leave. And I pay them all like more than most developers make where they live. Like I pay North American wages to Brazilian developers and they're all probably, I don't know, like I don't know what that equivalent is.
I have a friend in Brazil, he's oh my God. He's you pay what? And I was like, it's market rate for a full stack developer. He's yeah, not in Brazil. And I'm like, doesn't matter. Like I'm paying for just cuz they're in Brazil doesn't mean I'm gonna pay them 25% like of what I'm paying them.
That's not fair. So I don't know. So that might not be the best business model possibly, but it's part of the loyalty, right? Like I pay what the job would pay.
Galen Low: It says a lot, right? When I look at, I worked in a lot of organizations where offshoring and nearshoring, it's a complicated balance.
Where it seems like the strategy is more exploitative than it is about a partnership that's just oh, lower cost resources. Who knows what the quality's gonna be? We'll need to put some, guardrails around it versus, I think you're coming at it from a much different place, which is well, this is the value that they're delivering to me.
Like margins aside, it's less about getting cheap labor and more about finding good people wherever they are in the world. People that you can grow. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And then growing that talent and everything I've read about building high performance teams is about the sort of aligning to their motivations, their goals, their mastery of their craft, where they want to be able to take their skillset and maybe not do the same thing that they're hired to do and just aligning those.
I think that's really cool. I wanted to ask a little bit about your vetting process. You're looking for new people and to your point, you're like, I'm looking for friendly, kind people who are smarts and yes, I can't, turn somebody who is not technical into a technical person. But what are your fence posts when you're looking for people and what jumps out at you?
Natasha Golinksy: For sure. So the first thing I look for is communication. Because for me, I've been self-employed for 20 years, so I've always had, not never a team, like now, but I've always had an assistant or something. And and I know for me, I know me as me, I need a lot of communication. Like I cannot work blind.
Like I, I will not work blind. And I know working in the web development world, like when I take get on a new client, I'm like, the number one complaint is bad communication. And I get it. I get it because it's, but it in fairness to the team, when you're coding, I'm speaking just from a web developer world, but I'm assuming it's like anything. When you're designing, when you're developing you, you don't wanna check Slack every hour.
You just wanna do your job. You're just like, leave me alone. Oh my God, let me finish this. Stop pinging me on Slack. Oh my God, right? But, I get it. I totally get it. But at the same time, I know for me, my number one factor when I'm hiring is I need to know what is going on. And I don't need, if I have a client who's emailing me for an update, I need you to like, set a notification on your phone that every 90 minutes you're gonna head up, check Slack, get back to me.
Like I need communication. Like I will not work dark for two days. Like I will not. And so things like that. So like I had a guy, on my team and he is worked with me for a long time, probably five years as well. And he wanted a raise and I'm like, Hey, I'm happy to give you a raise. But I'm like this communication, the way he was just getting lazy, like sloppy with like his response times to me. And again, he's a very introverted guy. He doesn't like the chit chat like I get it. I respect that, that's fine. But I'm like, it was really throwing off my rhythm as the project manager, like cuz I couldn't spin the plates if I didn't know where we were.
So I was like, look, I'm like, if you change the communication, I will give you the raise. Let's do it for let's give it 90 days or not, what did I say? It was like 60 days, 90 days or something. And I'm like, if you can fix it, I will give you the raise. And he's done. And he fixed it, but it's like for me, my number one criteria is you have to be a responsive, on point, patient communicator. Like I had one guy who was working with me one time, such a great guy. Smart guy. Smart guy. But he was like, he had a lot of ego. So if I asked for edits, he'd get really upset. And I was just like, I think you're fantastic.
Like your code is beautiful. But I'm like, this communication is not working. So I fired him and a year later he came back and then I worked with him again. Cause I really liked him and I fired him again as I fired him twice. But it's like I would rather have an excellent communicator, weaker coding.
Because you can fix the coding, right? So, but to me as a project manager, like it's really important to me that they respect and understand my role on this team, right? Like for example, on Upwork we have a 100% success score. I have 105 star reviews. Like we are killer of what we do. But I am the face of this.
And so my team knows like I take the fall if this goes sideways, not them. They're invisible, right? Like in some, most cases. So it's like they're very like, they've got my back. You know what I mean? Which I really appreciate, and it's like, they QA all their own work. If they're not sure, we have someone who can do design review.
If they have questions, they talk to each other. They do their best to deliver as good quality as possible so that I don't get egg on my face, right? But in return, I back them, right? Because if I have a client who's mad, I will lose the client and stand by my man, right? The, by the expression I will never throw my team under the bus, like under zero circumstances.
Like we could lose a huge project, doesn't matter. I'm gonna stand by my team. Like I, I don't know. So I think they know that I would do that, right? So that they reciprocate by bringing their best work to the table. So, to answer your question, that was a long, drawn way, but communication number one.
Communication number one, I vet by, I give everybody a trial job. They come in and I see how they talk to me. And are they organized? Do they communicate well with me? If it's nine hours and you have not sent me an update and I asked for an update like eight hours ago, you're done. There's no accident.
We have a hundred percent successor. It's not an accident. I know what I'm doing. But for that to happen, my team has to meet me halfway. I really go by personality as well. Like I have to really like them as a person. Cuz you're together a lot and you're talking a lot and you're, if I don't like them as a person, skills aside, I'm not gonna go for it.
Honestly, code and skill is like the bottom on honestly. Cause you can fix that. Like you can fix that. I remember whenever I hired somebody new, now I've got a stronger team like they can, so if I hire a new developer, the other developers will check their work, right?
And review their code. But in the beginning I would hire QA people to check, cause I don't know how to check their code. I don't know. Like I know nothing about code. So I would have people to come in and check. And now we've gotta do that more organically. But, I assume if someone's been a web developer for five years, they know what they're doing. So I don't worry about that part.
Like I more about are they the right fit for this team and this dynamic with me and my crazy? And can they, it's like the Deadpool, right? It's you know that I'm sure everybody knows that expression, right? It's like, why do we get along so well? It's well, you're crazy matches my crazy. And it's okay. So it's like someone's just gotta work with my crazy and I gotta work with they're crazy. And if it works, work okay, we're good.
Galen Low: I really like that. I really like the sort of trial. The sort of it's a working trial because I know a lot of folks are like, oh, well you have to assess communication skills in an interview.
And I'm like, an interview is basically everyone's gonna be the perfect version of themselves and try and play the interview game versus actually let's do a little trial project. And to your point, okay, red flag here, red flag there. They're not communicating the way that I ask them to, or that I, they're not jiving with me.
Personality-wise, that's gonna create conflict down the road and then making a decision based on that. I really do like that. And the other thing actually, the other thing I wanna jump back to, because I know a lot of folks listening are probably like, okay, yeah, Natasha in the middle, contractors around her, but everyone's communicating with her.
But you said something, you said they'll ask one another questions and I would just, you said, they're all remote. You've met one of them in person. They're not full-time employees, but I get the sense that they very much feel like a team. Is that true?
Natasha Golinksy: Yeah, exactly. And I think I've created that kind of by default because they know I don't know.
So it's actually worked in my favor. Like I remember the first five years of the agency, like I was always felt really shamed and like to go to an agency meetup or like a mastermind because I'm because most agency owners are like evolved to agency level designers or developers, right?
I am never, I'm like sales and management, like that's my background consult in sales and management. Cause my team literally, they know I do not know. So they do not bring me questions about tech or hosting or DNS configuration issues or Cpanel login problems. And so on Slack, I see them talking to each other and they problem solve.
And then if and when they need me to talk to the client about something like, okay, hey, like we've tried, it's not working like whatever, or then they'll bring me in. Most of my team is actually Brazilian. I didn't plan it that way at all. I didn't, it just evolved like that. And so they speak Portuguese, right?
So my bookkeeper lives in Venezuela and she doesn't speak English and I speak Spanish so I can work with her no problem. And so she does all the books and she does all the payroll and she does all the everything. And they talk to each other using Google Translate. I don't know. It's beautiful. It's like a beautiful thing.
Like they've created this culture among themselves. If someone's busy, like we're very much like the Agile-Scrum-Kanban, where it's like kind of that like cross-functional team where if someone is busy, someone else can jump in. And so they all work on each other's stuff like very interchangeably.
So if you have someone who is sick, we can move someone in and there's no ego about That's my job right there. It's no, because you know what? You were out last week and he did your thing. And so I've never had any ego, like any machismo, any kind of like drama because they know that there's been a time when they were gone and someone covered them, and it just frees me up.
I personally love Scrum philosophy of let the team do their thing, let them self organize, let them handle it. And then if and when it hits a point, okay, then they can come to you. But it works really well in, in agency life, like having a bottleneck doesn't help and it doesn't like stresses me out. It creates like weakness.
And it's no one, no adult wants to be treated like a 10 year old, right? Like we all wanna make our own decisions and creatively come up with solutions. And I just give them the space. I hold that space for them to do that, right? And sometimes they make mistakes and they make a bad call, and that sometimes is like, Ugh. But that's part of it, right? That's part of it, so.
Galen Low: I love that trust and I like the psychological safety that it creates knowing that, you can raise your hand and say, yeah I'm feeling sick. Or you can get supported by your teammates and mistakes are gonna happen and we'll work through it.
And, Natasha comes from a place of not knowing either. So it is just like this more level playing field. I wonder though, it sounds like it works really well. But I imagine that you've come into some challenges along the way. Well, what are some of the big ones that you've faced just nurturing this remote team for all these years, and how do you address 'em? How do you overcome them?
Natasha Golinksy: Well, for whatever reason, back in, during Covid, for whatever reason, we had three really, I'm gonna say difficult clients back to back and we all know what that feels like when you have a client who's just, they will not let you quit. They will not let you close. Like they just like and we had this one client, he was really mean like name calling and threatening to sue us and just crazy.
Like it was like over the top. It's never happened like that before and it's never happened again. So I'm so grateful. But I question whether there was some sort of other thing going on in his life. Who knows? But anyway. So my tech lead, the same guy who he I was talking about, he was doing his best cuz he's a very calm guy and he was doing his absolute best to mediate the situation.
He wasn't getting paid, the client had refused to pay us. Until we had fixed this thing and he couldn't fix it, like it wasn't fixable based on how the site was set up and whatever. And so we'd made us a recommendation like, okay, no, we need to take this away. We need to do it like this. He wasn't willing to do that, so he was just not participating.
But he was like holding the money until we had fixed it. And I said to my guy, I'm like, what do you think? And he's it can't be done the way he's wants it done. Like it has to be taken down. It's not working. It has to be rebuilt. And then the guy was like threatening to sue me and I'm getting all these messages and I was like, oh my God.
And it was awful, right? It was just this season of the developers freaking out. He thinks I'm gonna get sued because he can't fix it. But the client, it's not fixed. It was just this trifecta of crazy. I think at the time the client owed me like $5,000 or something. So I went to the client, I'm like, look, this is the situation.
Keep your money. We can't fix this under the circumstances. Please let us know if you wanna bring in a new team, we're happy to onboard the new team for you. Like just trying to not get sued, right? And we walked from the money and I said to my guy, I am like, let me pay you for your time.
Like you work your ass off. And he's no. He's you don't get paid. I don't get paid. Like none of us are getting paid. I don't wanna get paid. But we were like, the damage control on that job was like, we both went to therapy. We just had to rally like together. Cuz I could have been like mad at him.
I'm getting these texts on a Sunday night, I'm gonna sue you, see you in court, blah, blah, blah. And I knew he had no grounds. There was no contract, like there was nothing he could have done to actually sue me. So I knew it wasn't true, but it was like, no, protecting him is my priority here. That connection, his emotional health, like this is what's important.
And it took the fall with the client. And it's happened before where like I have a guy, they'll make a mistake, like sometimes they're not perfect. They'll make a mistake and or we miss a deadline or whatever and the client's upset, right? And it's like that emotional intelligence to, for me to not take that anger from the client to my team.
And maybe it's just that mom in me. I have three kids, but it's like I need to protect them and their health and their sanity. Like we have a rule on the team. No one works for free. I'm obsessed about scope creep management. Like no one works for free. And like even yesterday, like I had one of my guys quoting a project and he's I got a bad feeling.
He's like the client's scoping document. Cuz a lot of times I don't even read the scoping documents cause I don't even know what it's gonna say. So they'll review and they estimate all their own work and stuff. I don't write the estimate. They do. And and he's I got a bad vibe. Like I don't think this client is, what he is looking for is realistic.
He's I got a really bad vibe. And I replied to the client and I'm like, I really appreciate the invitation to the project, but we're gonna pass. Cuz I'm like, I said to my, I'm like, I trust you. Like I trust your instincts on this. You do this way more often than I do and I'm gonna you say no.
Done. And again, I wouldn't do that unless I had the grounds cause I knew him and I trust his judgment and I know he's looking out for us. But yeah, no, sometimes it feels like you're in hell. It's they say in relationship books it's right. It's like it's you and him against the problem.
That's really what it's like. It's not me against you, it's you and me as a team against the issue of crazy insane client. So I think it's just being very clear that my loyalty is to my people. But they've also earned it. It's not like I'm blindly like, I hired another guy last year, like two years ago. Cuz during Covid we were busy and we were like, I had to hire a lot of people very quickly and it was a mistake.
I hired way too fast. But I had one guy who just kept dropping the ball, and I had three clients fire me because of this guy's bad work quality. And again, I was trying to, my loyalty was to this guy. And then after three times of three clients being like, you know what, no, I had to tell him.
I'm like, I can't. You're not fixing it, like I would after the first time, I was like, we need to fix this the next time I didn't, and we have a three strike policy on the team. If you don't do your job, like this is a work relationship, you are not my buddy, right? I will give you three chances.
If you don't listen to me and you don't fix it, you're done. So sometimes that happens. Firing people to me is not difficult. Cause I do have a three strike system and I tell them when I hire them how it's gonna go. It's not like a surprise. So I think that's part of the reason we've been able to keep really high work quality.
Cuz I will fire people who do a bad job. I'm just like, you're out. No, that's not on brand for us. Like what we do requires incredible attention to detail. You can't do it? Too bad. Sorry. So it's like you said, it's that culture of safety. I will not throw them under the bus under any circumstances.
Galen Low: You know what I find interesting is actually there's two things there. One on either side of the coin, and yes, absolutely the psychological safety and the trust that you've built. But one mechanical thing, being that they are contractors that expect to be paid. It's not like payroll. It's not that you've budgeted for, and they're just gonna get their paycheck whenever job has to be done. Therefore, they have to have a say in it. You can't say, oh, well that's okay. Well, I can still recoup, or I'll still pay you, or whatever. The client's not gonna pay us, but let's still, address this scope creep and entertain their unreasonableness.
You don't really have that choice. The other side of the coin is that the mistakes that slip through the QA process hit you directly because it goes to client, and client comes back to you. All of these things make them more immediate decisions, right? It's an immediate decision to be like, we can't fix this problem.
We have to walk away. Let's walk away. And we make that decision together. And the other side of it being, like work keeps coming back with, the client's complaining, there's mistakes in this. We need to make a rapid decision. And that might be firing somebody because you can't really afford to be carrying any dead weight or to perpetuate something that really isn't working the way that you need it to.
So it's almost an immediacy that happens that creates a bit of like I think it creates trust and loyalty too, cuz you're making game time decisions with your team instead of abstracting that away from them because you know that they do have a say in it. It's not like they're just, you make the decision but to, have them work late and fix something and they'll get their paycheck anyways.
There's all these mechanical bits where you actually need to have accounted for it and you need to involve them in the process.
Natasha Golinksy: Well, one thing that I do that I think makes it really fair is I don't like they do all the estimation. So it's like my job on the team is money management and marketing. So my job is to make sure they have a job.
So that is very clear to everyone on the team. So my background is I've worked in direct sales for 20 years, so it's like I love that front end, like the discovery and like the helping. I love that. But when I actually get a scope, I don't even look at it. Like I'm embarrassed to say, but I've closed, started and finished projects I've never even seen.
And so I get the scope doc, like I make sure that I check it to make sure they have what they need. I know that, I know what they need to price something, right? So I know they need, they're gonna need the hosting login, they're gonna need the WordPress website login. Like I know what they need but I don't estimate it.
I send it to them. Hey, do you guys have any questions before you can estimate? And then they get back to with any questions, I send the questions to the client. Hey, okay, my team is asking about this and this, whatever it is, right? And then, okay guys, any other questions?
No. Okay. Then they estimate and then I tell them, okay okay, mark it up. So I give 'em a chance to mark it up 10% for margin, right? Because there's always be client stuff that's like, protecting against scope creep, right? So they mark it up and I'm like, this is what I'm running with. So are you sure?
Because if I close this is what you're sticking with. And then they write the timeline, they write the price, or not the price, but like the hours. They send me all their price. I then do all my admin stuff on it, send it. If it closes, they are now on the hook for that. Do you know what I mean?
Like I did not set the time. So if you estimated eight hours and you told me you could do this fixed price and it took 15, too bad dude. Like you told me eight. So if there was anything, but again, I make it to you clear to the client, like if anything unforeseen tech problems. And we have margins for like change of scope and stuff like that.
But if literally, if they est, if the person estimated wrong, that's not on me, that's on you. Cuz you wrote the estimate,
Galen Low: well, it's interesting. It creates that's almost what creates the ownership and accountability to drive and motivate a self-managing team. Because they do own it. They didn't just inherit a thing and have to execute it as part of their nine to five. This is their thing. It is their, their baby, so to speak.
Natasha Golinksy: Like again, but I think I did that only for the first year where I would guess, and then I'd be wrong and then I realized how wrong I was and I would then pay out of pocket for the extra time. Cause I didn't know how to estimate work.
So I would think, oh yeah, that would take 10 hours. I'd close it at 10 hours. The developer's no, that's 22 hours of labor. And then I would feel like an idiot, and then I can't not pay them. So I honestly bank almost bankrupted myself like, you're 1, 2, 3, and but now it's you know this better than me, and then I give them this window, right?
If there's anything else you need, it's like speak now or forever hold your piece. I'm sell, I'm close, I'm sending it. Done. And they all know that now, but it's and then we know about fixed price versus hourly. We have a system to determine which one makes sense and, risk versus rewards, stuff like that.
But no, I mean they, if they tell me eight and I close eight, they're gonna stick to eight. And because they could have told me 15. And I could have tried to sell 15, you know so they know that, they know they can't just come back to me like, oh, hey, sorry, it took longer. It's sorry guys.
Like no, like borrowing something like really wrong that there was no way you could have foreseen that I can go back and say, Hey, we had no way to know that this was gonna da, because I managed like sales, right? So I have to handle all those conversations around money and stuff. But unless there's a very valid reason for that price to change, they know how it affects me, right?
Like they know it makes me look bad. And the review, like we're all aware of I think I really appreciate the interdependencies of okay, their ability to do their job hugely affects my ability to close more work to keep them working. So it's like this cycle right, where they all really appreciate and they respect, like my role on the team, even though I don't, as it relates to deliverables, I do like almost, it's 10% maybe.
Galen Low: I love that ecosystem because it is, it's symbiotic. Everyone's depending on one another to achieve a goal and then that combined with, great communication, like a very deliberate approach to building loyalty both ways seems to work.
Natasha Golinksy: Yeah, I'm very grateful. I just, I'm just honored, like honestly, I get to be their leader. I just feel very fortunate, so.
Galen Low: Let me close with one question. You started this eight years ago, but if somebody today is I'd like to start, a little digital agency, maybe doing exactly what you do, right? Website builds, custom integrations, fixes, what advice would you have for them? Would you tell them to model what you have done?
Natasha Golinksy: I would say it's a very competitive field. It's very competitive. You have to love it. Like you have to love what you do because it is complicated. It, the technology changes all the time. It's a moving target. You're, you have to be the kind of person who's willing to like change literally like week to week, like what's happening.
You have to be very nimble, very adaptable. It's very problematic, so you have to love what you're actually doing. I've thought a million times about making career changes and stuff, but it's I fundamentally love helping people remove the burden of tech problems. I just I love the relief that a client's oh my God, you're my fifth person who's tried to fix this.
And we fixed it in an hour when it took six months. And, like I love that feeling of cuz I know how awful it feels to be like, tech stress is so annoying, right? And it's expensive and it's so annoying to my clients. So I fundamentally love what we do. And then I fundamentally love working with who I work with.
And so, but if you don't like it, it's too hard. Like it's too hard. So it's gotta be something that you wanna do because you actually really love the work itself, not just because you think it's trendy or you think, Hey, you know what, yeah, I built a Facebook page. I could be a marketing agency.
It's no, like everybody's good. Everybody's good at this. Like it's very rare. Like you can figure out who the newbies are very quickly. But at a certain level, people are good. And so you have to do it cuz you want to, if that makes sense. And so that's the advice I would give is don't do it because you think it's gonna be a great business idea.
Do it because it's what you really enjoy the work itself and building the teams. Cuz you can't do it by yourself. You can't I'm a part of a number, I'm like a part of a women in business like agency mastermind team and I'm the only one who doesn't do the thing. And so I have a very different view, but all of them are social media marketers or content, whatever they do.
And they all do it. And I'm the only one who's like kind of standing outside the wall like, Hey guys, how's it going? And so I have a very different view. But it's, I don't know, it's just interesting. Like you have to, yeah, you have to really enjoy the work that you're doing cuz it's, it's competitive as hell. So I don't know if that gives you the answer, but I, that's the advice I would give after eight years and multiple economies and multiple, so.
Galen Low: What about the remote configuration? If someone's starting out but they're like, no, I can't do this remote. I don't have enough visibility. Don't trust it enough, I'm gonna hire local people. What advice would you give to that person?
Natasha Golinksy: Well see, I don't know. I've always worked remote, like I was working remote like when Covid hit, I was like, COVID, what? Like I've lived in quarantine for 20 years. What are you talking about? It's so to me, working remote, cause again, I had three kids.
To me, I was always like very conscious of only working when my kids were at school and I didn't wanna have to drive somewhere. So to me I've always only worked or not only for the last 10 years I've worked remotely. Personally, I can't imagine working with a co-located team. To me, that would be really annoying, like having people around me, like I would never want to work with a co-located team like that is no interest to me.
So I just feel in the world of technology with Slack and Zoom, like, I mean, I have a client, one contractor who worked with me for a while and she had a baby, so she's not working with me anymore, but she lived like 20 minutes away. We worked together for three years and I never even met her.
I don't think it matters. I really think it makes no difference. It's just, you have to know as the leader, it just creates, it forces you to be a better communicator, right? Because you're not phy, you don't have body language, you don't have there's no implied communication. You're typing on Slack so personally I think a co-located team would waste a lot more time than a remote team, cuz you got so much chit chat.
But I don't know. I, no I see no downside. You have zero overhead. Everyone's working from home, it is people work in their own time zone on their own schedule. As long as you're all on the same page of what those schedules are, it doesn't matter, right? Like I have some people who start at like my 5:00 AM and I have some people who start at my 1:00 PM. Like we're all in different seasons and different time zones, and as long as we have enough time overlap, done. Doesn't matter.
Galen Low: I wonder if it actually comes back to what you said before, right? You have to love what you do in terms of delivering the work, but you also have to love what you do in terms of your work configuration and how you communicate with your team and what you're comfortable with. If you're somebody who works best and wants to lead a team that's all co-located in person as probably then maybe don't go and try and build a remote team of contractors.
But if it's your default gear to be remote, if it's your preference, then yeah. All bets are off and the economy is supporting it right now. It can be done. Why don't we leave it there?
Natasha, thank you so much for your insights today. Thank you for sharing your stories. It was a great pleasure having you on the show. I hope our listeners have learned a lot. Would love to have you back as well.
Natasha Golinksy: Thank you. Oh, my pleasure. Yeah, if there's anything I can do to help anyone has any questions, just send 'em over. I'd be happy to answer, so.
Galen Low: Yeah, how can people get in touch with you?
Natasha Golinksy: Actually today I set up, cause I get asked this a lot, so I finally decided, I'm like, you know what, I'm gonna set up the LinkedIn page about virtual teams cuz I'm speaking on another event next week about it.
And so I realized, I'm like, I think I need to talk about this a little more. So if you go to LinkedIn, you can find my name on LinkedIn. LinkedIn I would say is the best bet. But yeah and then definitely gonna be I think creating some content about this cuz I do get asked about this a lot and I can't code. But I can do this, so.
Galen Low: Well, I'll include your LinkedIn profile in the show notes below for anyone who is interested in reaching out to Natasha. And there you have it.
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