My name is Jason Barnard, and I am a serial entrepreneur and CEO. Over the last 3 decades, I have built three robust, lean, and successful teams for the companies I owned across three industries.
At Kalicube, my digital marketing agency, I’ve built an amazing, remote team of 24 people. I built the team in just two and a half years, and it is the best team I’ve created so far.
I created this productive and happy team to allow me to scale Kalicube by applying what I’ve learned from the other business teams I’ve established.
The critical success factors for building a productive team and scaling your agency require you to do the things below.
Understand the power of remote work.
Automate everything possible.
Create robust systems.
Hire talented people and pay them appropriately.
Foster a positive team culture.
Three Successful Businesses Built on Teams
WTPL Music (1991-1999)
At WTPL Music, I built a team of sound engineers, roadies, producers, and tour managers around my band, The Barking Dogs. We recorded and released four albums and toured for 10 years (660 concerts) with a fantastic team of just eight people (including the musicians).
UpTo Ten (2000-2011)
At UpToTen, I built a 100% remote team of web developers, screenwriters, customer service agents, voice actors, and animators from a tropical island in the Indian Ocean. From 2000 to 2011, our team of seven people built a website offering over 100 games, songs, and activities to children aged up to ten.
We competed head to head with PBS, Disney, and the BBC, delivering a billion pageviews in a single year (2007).
At Kalicube, I have a 100% remote team working to transform the online reputation management, digital marketing, and SEO industries. Team Kalicube is home to 24 brilliant people, including statisticians, marketers, copywriters, developers, social media aficionados, outreach specialists, data quality analysts, Entity SEO specialists, and more.
How to build a team and scale your agency
Scaling is impossible if you don’t have a team that shares the following qualities.
Smart enough to work on challenging but achievable goals.
Courageous enough to leap, try something different, and learn something new.
Takes a “fun” approach to work, making the work environment enjoyable and as stress-free as possible.
1. Recruiting goes beyond filling vacancies
Recruiting the ideal people means choosing candidates who align with the core principles of your agency from a professional and cultural perspective. Recruitment involves using various sourcing avenues, effective pre-selection methods, a well-thought-out selection process, and the ability to ensure cultural fit.
Building the core team
Creating the foundation team is critical for scaling your agency.
Finding candidates can be done through job boards, ads, job postings on Google, referrals, or personal outreach. My approach to the core team of four or five people is through my network and job boards. Job boards give you a vast pool of talent but takes time to sift through the interview, hire, drop off, or fire. Establishing the core is hard work but once it’s done, and you have the right people, it gets easier.
Once the core team is thriving, I rely on their recommendations of connections, friends, and ex-colleagues for new hires. Recommendations from the core team have always produced the best people since the candidates are preselected and probably have a good idea of your brand’s voice and approach. Team referrals reduce turnover and onboarding is easier, but cliques can result. Educate your team on the pitfalls and professionalism required when working with ex-colleagues or referrals.
At Kalicube, if we need to use a job board, we preselect candidates by including a link to a video that explains a different application process from the one on the job board. Following an alternative application approach ensures that only candidates who are genuinely motivated and interested in working with your agency will apply. Bibi Raven gave us this great idea.
When sifting through the resumes, I look for anything slightly out of the ordinary - a switch in career or educational path or an unusual hobby. I favor people who follow up with an email, especially when they emphasize something a little out of the ordinary about themselves.
William Attaway suggested "5 Cs" for preselection and interviews.
Chemistry with the team
Prioritizing a candidate's fit with your team culture and the “personality” of your brand is super important regardless of the role. A similar mindset across the entire organization contributes to a harmonious and supportive working environment and promotes productivity.
Cultural harmony is the bedrock of the team and the company at WTPL Music, UpToTen Ltd, and Kalicube.
2. Onboarding New Team Members
Integrating new team members seamlessly into your team goes beyond hiring the right people; it involves a comprehensive and mindful onboarding process. Creating an onboarding Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that consists of detailed documentation and personal meetings with seasoned team members is essential.
The SOP and the meetings outline what to expect, outline the rules in a friendly way, explain the attitude required, and who to speak to get answers to questions. The SOP includes clear expectations about work value, productivity, and relationship dynamics with team leads and the CEO. Our onboarding vastly improves our retention rate because the new hire is welcomed and inducted meaningfully and is empowered to get straight to their responsibilities.
The primary goal for a new team member should be to consistently bring value to the company, either by improving existing standard procedures or introducing new beneficial practices. This requires them to be adaptive - they need to focus as much on the other people in the team as the tasks they are entrusted with. They must understand the need for personal growth, flexibility, and the potential necessity to move between roles as they evolve within the company.
Conceptually, we discuss this within the Kalicube Team using a bus analogy - it's not just about getting the right people on the bus but ensuring they are in the right seats. There are multiple reasons someone might switch seats. Here are three:
They have outgrown their current role and another role where the skills and abilities they have acquired within the company are more appropriate.
We put them in the “wrong” seat when they get on the bus and another role will suit their natural skills and personal preferences better.
The agency's needs have changed as the company evolves and adapts to its market and clients.
Recruiting the most suitable people and providing comprehensive onboarding ensures the agency runs smoothly and we deliver real value to every client.
3. Creating Trust, Autonomy and Delegation
Trust, autonomy, and delegation are the pillars of a sustainable team model. At Kalicube, we've learned to prioritize these principles to facilitate a thriving work environment.
A task-driven structure is able to work well when well-structured and regimentally implemented. Many agencies function this way and make millions. Task-driven structures have never worked for me because unless they are perfectly designed and implemented, they cause bottlenecks, boredom, and (ironically) reduced efficiency. Turnover increases when people are part of a rigid production line.
Task-driven agencies get stuck in a system and are unable evolve as the digital landscape evolves. The emergence of AI means a rigid system is no longer viable because every agency will need a certain level of agility to survive.
Mads Singers gave me an excellent and practical approach to shifting from a task-based system during a Kalicube podcast.
Kalicube’s project-based framework is an approach we refer to as 'Kalicube Babies.' Every team member is responsible for nurturing their “baby,” whether they are tackling a small task or a significant project. They're expected to contribute their effort, ideas, and creative thinking to help the project grow, evolve, and, ultimately, contribute to the company's overall success.
Everyone on the team must resist the temptation to encroach on issues that aren’t their “baby.” I’m the biggest offender here 🙂 Encouraging each team member to follow this example facilitates autonomy, enables skill development, and autonomy and cultivates a more profound sense of responsibility within the team.
Instilling the ethos of systematic transference of work and questions to the accountable individual promotes a culture of collaborative productivity. This strategy fosters trust, autonomy, and delegation — the perfect triad for a positive and highly effective work environment.
Regular Team Meetings
Regular team meetings (Kalicube has them weekly) provide a platform to celebrate wins, share achievements, communicate problem-solving strategies, and openly discuss shortcomings and proposed resolutions. Transparency in communication helps stimulate a collaborative and supportive team culture.
4. Systems, SOPs and Promotability
Kalicube is a project-based framework, but we use systems and SOPs. Each team member compiles comprehensive SOP documents for their specific projects (Kalicube Babies). Over time, they continuously adapt and improve the SOP and ensure the SOPs remain current, meaning another team member can seamlessly step into their shoes if they are absent.
More importantly, creating the perfect process and ensuring the Kalicube Baby can be passed on to someone else without losing continuity and efficiency makes the team member promotable. If a team member is not replaceable, they are not promotable. We encourage team members to create an SOP that will make them promotable :)
This is a huge motivation for people to nurture their Kalicube Baby, create the best possible SOP, and deliver value to the company. Work is enjoyable, and people look forward to growing with the agency.
Automation and tools
Implementing effective automation and choosing the suitable software oils the team's wheels. Consult with the team on what they need to increase productivity. Tools that minimize repetitive non-revenue generating tasks make work more enjoyable because the team is freed up to focus on strategy and creativity. Some examples of software solutions we use daily are Castmagic, Instatext, ChatGPT, and Zapier. We are increasingly integrating AI tools into our Google Workspace.
The biggest timesaver is Kalicube Pro SaaS. Because I am a statistician, I built our cloud-based software tool to maximize efficiency, improve effectiveness, reduce mundane analysis work, and automate the majority of the work needed to trigger Knowledge Panels for our clients. This is my Kalicube Baby (a delightful time-saving tool for every digital agency or SEO aiming to trigger Knowledge Panels or manage brand reputation online). I am creating an SOP for Kalicube Pro and the Kalicube database so that I will be replaceable one day and pass it on to someone else.
5. How to Build a Remote Team Successfully
Building a remote team successfully relies heavily on communication, software, regular meetings (and emotional intelligence).
Remote working has challenges, but 25 years of working with remote teams has proven the advantages vastly outweigh the challenges.
Advantages of Remote Teams
Remote teams allow flexibility in work and work-life balance. Team members spend more time with family because they aren’t commuting to the office. At Kalicube, we allow employees the flexibility to organize their time to maximize these benefits. We insist that everyone is available during a daily 3-hour universal overlap for all team members regardless of their geographic location. The result for Kalicube is increased productivity.
Disadvantages of Remote Teams
Remote working presents several complications. Isolation is challenging for people. The lack of daily interaction leads to disconnection and demotivation. Time management is another disadvantage when a team member works from home. Trust is essential with remote teams. Agency owners worry if employees are doing the work. Employees may fear that they will not be recognized for their work or won’t get paid.
Solutions for Remote Teams
Communication solves most issues with remote teams. Effective communication is challenge in every workplace - not remote teams or agencies. As humans, communication is a learned skill.
We've found that a virtual company office (we use Ro.am) is a huge help. Each team member gets their dedicated office space for ad-hoc meetings or discussions. This enhances the feeling of unity and belongingness, something crucial for remote teams. A remote office reduces feelings of isolation or loneliness.
Communication within teams is vital, whether in the office, face-to-face, or remote. Knowing the other people on the team and understanding a little about their work and their approach to life is a huge benefit to team unity. Our weekly meetings allow us time to have fun, reflect on wins and losses, and get to know each other on a personal level.
Individual meetings are essential for discussing job-related matters and sharing tips, tricks, and personal experiences of remote working. Using Ro.am as a virtual office has reduced the average one-on-one meeting time at Kalicube to six minutes, compared to 15 minutes on Google Meet and Google Calendar.
Software and Automation
Automation software like Zapier can bridge the gap between various tools, easing work processes and improving efficiency. For instance, a team member triggers a process, and Zapier runs the automation and automatically notifies the next team member when it's their turn to perform their part.
A calendar add-on such as Calendly helps enormously with scheduling meetings, avoiding the typical back-and-forths in finding a suitable date and time for everyone involved.
Finally, automatic note-takers such as Fathom or Otter.ai are crucial. They summarise meetings, extract questions, and compile action lists, ensuring nothing crucial falls through the cracks.
6. It’s All About People - Without Fun, You Fail
"It's All About People - Without Fun, You Fail" is a mantra underpinning our approach at Kalicube, where we believe in creating a workplace that fosters productivity, camaraderie, and creativity.
We understand that team meetings are vital platforms where our diverse group can connect, sharing professional insights and personal anecdotes. For instance, on our virtual platform Ro.am, we each take turns guiding the team through our virtual offices, providing a unique glimpse into our creative spaces.
Equally critical is making meeting discussions inclusive. Ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to voice their thoughts creates an open exchange of ideas. Everyone must contribute something, but they can choose to contribute as much or as little as they are comfortable, ensuring nobody is isolated or left out.
We foster a culture that values thinking and experimenting as paid work time. Creative thinking and experimenting time have the following benefits.
Takes some pressure off the team members.
Improves employee engagement both in the company and each other.
Encourages a constant flow of new ideas that improve workflows, SOP, and our offers.
We adopt traditions, mottos, and events to engender team spirit. For example:
The team hashtags #Courageous, #Smart, and #Fun, a phrase coined by Katrina.
Maria sings, “A quick hello, and we’re good to go, welcome to Kalicube,” to each new team member.
We talk about "passing the baton within a workflow involving multiple people."
We ensure that every person who has been with Kalicube for three months joins our team page on the website. So you’ll find Mary Ann, Joan, Maria, Katrina, Jean Marie, Bernadeth, Véro, Moderick, Amity, Allyssa, Nell and Leanne if you look at the Team Kalicube page.
At Kalicube, we embrace the belief that being human means being connected, creative, and playful.
The success of any agency significantly hinges on its team - the collective engine that drives it forward. Building a productive, happy team isn't accidental; rather it's a conscious investment of time, energy, and thought. A cardinal rule is to cultivate cohesiveness and supportiveness amongst team members. Cohesion and support create a harmonious work environment, boosting morale, enjoyability, and productivity.
Job satisfaction plays a pivotal role in a team's happiness. Leaders must strive to shape roles so that each team member enjoys at least 50% of what they do (but let’s aim for 80% :), ensuring personal satisfaction with work, leading to improved commitment and output.
The best teams embody smartness, courage, and a sense of fun. Smartness sparks innovation, courage fosters resilience, and fun adds the much-needed flair that makes work enjoyable and fulfilling. A team that enjoys working together stays together.
As a leader, your role is integral. I know how tough it is, but you must embrace trust and delegation. Overseeing doesn't mean micromanaging; it means nailing the delicate balance of guidance and freedom. When you 'let go,' you empower your team members to take ownership, unlock their full potential, and surprise you with their capabilities.
By implementing the steps above, you'll forge a team that doesn't just work for you but thrives with you, allowing your agency to scale and grow in harmony.