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6 Tips for Working Remotely That I Wish I Knew When I Started

It has been almost a year since I started working remotely. I started out as a freelancer and currently work at Screenleap, which has a mostly distributed team.

Before I jumped into remote work, I had no idea what it would be like. I just dove in and started doing it full time. Unfortunately, reality hit me in less than a month: the transition from working in an office to working remotely wasn’t as smooth as I expected. Some aspects of remote working that I was really excited about (like not having to commute to the office and being able to choose when I worked) made me feel good, but the unexpected negatives were wearing on me.

I found that I was less productive working remotely than when I was in the office. This is despite the fact that I was saving time from not having to commute. I’d often procrastinate and get distracted. When a deadline approached, I would rush to get the work done. Not only did the quantity of work that I produced decrease, but the quality suffered as well.

I wasn’t going in the right direction, and I was frustrated. I took a break from my work and tried to figure out if there were things that I could be doing to be more productive working remotely. I went through how successful remote workers from companies like Buffer, Automattic, GitHub, and Basecamp work. I noticed common practices that successful remote workers shared and I started working them into my own practice.

Below are six tips about remote working that I learned and wished that I had known when I was getting started. Maybe you can relate to some of them?

Test the waters and build up the necessary skills before committing full time

When you’re working remotely, you’re your own boss.

Even though you’ll still have someone that you report to, you are ultimately responsible for getting the work done and in a timely manner. There is no one around to make sure that you are working or to check that you are on track.

If you need someone to watch over you or to push you to get your work done, you should probably test the waters with a few projects before committing to it full time. Starting with a few projects will also allow you time to learn how to pick up the necessary skills to work effectively remotely and to adapt to your new work environment.

As our CEO Tuyen aptly puts it:

“Working remotely is a skill that, like every other skill, takes practice and time to learn to do effectively.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Create a dedicated workspace

I used to work from everywhere around the house. This went well for first couple of weeks. But soon I noticed its disadvantages:

  • I often write notes and other important things either in my notebook, on stickies, and on whatever I find lying around the house. As a result, I frequently lost track of important notes as they were distributed all over the place.
  • I had hard time handling the distractions that came from other people in the house. It wasn’t their fault though. I didn’t specifically set boundaries and let them know when I was working and when I wasn’t.

I learned that it is really important to create a dedicated space to be used exclusively for your work. The aim is to

  1. keep your work and personal stuff separate
  2. let others (spouse, kids, parents, pets…) know that you’re working so that you aren’t disturbed.

Stick to a schedule

Belle Beth Cooper, a longtime remote worker, explains neatly about creating schedules for remote work. She writes:

What time do you work best?

Depending on your natural body clock, you may work well at 2am, 6pm, or 9am. You might have a natural dip in energy in the early afternoon (many of us do), or you might find your energy tanks after dinner (mine does).

Everyone’s body clock is different, but most of us fall into one of three categories, known as chronotypes:

Morning larks: Also known as early birds, these people prefer to get up early and go to bed early. New Scientist reports about 10% of people fit into this category.

Night owls: At the other extreme, these people like to sleep in and go to bed late, usually after midnight. Around 20% of us are night owls.

In-between: The rest of us (the vast majority) fit somewhere in-between these two ends of the spectrum.

I’ve found that when I work in 2 hours slots (i.e. 11am-1pm, 2pm-4pm, 6pm-8pm, and 9pm-11pm), I can manage my energy better and I’m more productive. I do my creative work during the slots when I have the most energy.

Experiment and choose the time of the day when you tend to have the most energy (according to your body clock) to maximise your productivity. This might not be feasible depending upon the type of remote work that you are doing, but it has a lot of advantages if your work allows for it.

Take regular breaks

Breaks are really important. By working continuously without any breaks, you’ll start to lose focus and become unproductive. This is especially true when you’re working alone—scheduling breaks in advance can help you a lot.

Decide on lunch time. Take breaks for coffee or for any other small activity like walking the dog. It’s important to step out of the work once in a while.

Design your schedule in such a way that you can work when you’re most energetic and take breaks during your low energy periods.

Learn to communicate effectively using written communication

Since most communication in a remote team happens via text (emails, chat, etc.), it is important to learn how to communicate effectively using written communication. There’s a balance between saying too much and not saying enough.

I used to write things that weren’t necessary because I thought that the extra info might help my clients or coworkers to understand things better. I also used to write things in an ambiguously clever way in failed attempts to make conversations more interesting. But when I started getting replies like “From what I understand, I think you’re trying to say ….” and “Oh, you meant to say… Is that so?” more often, I understood that it wasn’t a good practice. I started applying what I learned about writing content (which by the way, I’m still learning) to my communication with my team:

  • Be clear: Clarity is essential and key to effective communication. Leave no room for ambiguity in your writing. Reiterate what others ask you to do to you to make sure that you understand correctly. Ask clearly what you need from others.
  • Use numbered lists when you are discussing more than one thing at a time. It will be less cluttered, easier to understand, and easier for the other person to reference when responding.

For example, here is a small conversation we recently had on Slack:

Written Communication at Screenleap

Works well, right?

  • Sometimes it’s not easy to explain something using text. It can be helpful to elaborate using screenshots. Or better yet, jump on a quick screen share when you need to explain something. We use Screenleap a lot for this.

Find social outlets to prevent loneliness

Isolation is inevitable part of working remotely. Feeling isolated is not.

Even people who aren’t social need to be around others every so often. To combat loneliness, you can:

  • Join a coworking space.
  • Work from coffee shops.
  • Chat with your coworkers more often. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about work. Most of the remote companies have rooms in Slack or HipChat for water cooler/general conversations. Use them.

Over to you

What advice do you wish you had heard when you first started working remotely?

I’d love to hear your experience and what you’ve found helpful along the way. Please share them in the comments. :)

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5 Powerful Questions to Ask During Sales Calls

As a salesperson, you are expected to deliver revenue for your company. In order to do this, you need to focus your limited time on the prospects that are the most likely to buy what you are selling.

The sales call is your best opportunity to figure out which of your prospects are the most likely to buy. Before you spend a lot of time showing your prospects how great your solution is, you need to figure out 4 things about them:

  • Do your prospects have a need for what you are selling?
  • Can they afford to buy it?
  • Are you speaking to the right person?
  • When do they plan to buy?

Below are 5 powerful questions you should ask during your sales calls to get the answers to the above questions, so you can focus your limited time on the ones that are most likely to convert.

1. What specific problems are you trying to solve using our product?

The purpose of this question to help you understand your prospect’s pain points so you can figure out how closely they align with the pain points addressed by your solution. The key to this question is to listen carefully and allow your prospects to do most of the talking.

You will also want to ask follow-up questions to try to determine how important a problem is for your prospects. If you are launching a new solution, you will want to focus your initial sales effort on prospects that view the problems addressed by your solution as critical to their success. These are the prospects that are more likely to take a risk and buy from less-established companies.

2. This problem that we talking about solving for you: how are you doing it today?

Once you know your prospect’s pain points, you will want to know if there are any steps that your prospects have already taken to try to solve the problem.

Are they trying to address the problem with an internal solution? Are they currently using a solution from another company? Why aren’t their current solutions working for them?

Understanding how they are trying to solve their problems today will allow you to see what you are up against and help you to position your solution.

After you’ve uncovered your prospect’s needs and pain points, AND established that your solution is a good fit, you can ask the next question, which will help you to further determine how likely they are to buy.

3. Do you have a budget?

Asking this question is a quick way to figure out how ready your prospect is to make a purchase. It will also help you to determine whether your prospects will be a good fit for your solution. If you are selling an expensive solution and your prospects are not able to afford the solution or are not willing to pay the amount you are charging, then it is pointless to further engage with the prospect at this time. Your time is better spent on prospects that are more ready to make a purchase.

If your prospects don’t know what their budget is yet, it could mean that their pain points are not enough of a problem for them to be seriously looking for a solution. You can share your pricing with them to gauge their interest and to see if it’s something they are willing to pay.

4. Besides yourself, who else is involved in the purchasing decision?

Who are the key influencers you need to get in touch with and involve in the sales process? Are they the CEO, the CFO, the CMO, the VP Sales, or the IT department? Is the prospect one of them?

If you are not selling to the decision makers, it won’t matter how much the people you are talking to like your solution—it will be very difficult to close the sale.

You will need to eventually involve the decision makers so you might as well figure out who they are and get them involved in the discussions as early in the process as possible. This will not only help you to sell more, but it will also help to shorten your sales cycle.

5. Can you tell me the process you have previously used to bring aboard a vendor like us?

Even after you have determined that your prospects have a need for your solution and are ready to buy, you may not be done yet. You may still need to navigate the purchasing process in order to complete the sale.

An important part of the sales process is figuring out who the stakeholders are and what steps are needed to complete the purchase. This is especially true for larger companies where multiple stakeholders may need to sign off on a deal before a purchase can be made. Your prospects can guide you through the purchasing process if you allow them.

By asking this question, you can figure out whether your prospect has successfully navigated the purchasing process before and what the actual process is. Are there people that can block a deal that you need to identify early on and manage? You will be able to use their answers to create a roadmap that will maximise your chances of completing the purchase.

Asking the right questions will help you sell more by allowing you to focus your most limited resource (your time) on the prospects that have the greatest need for your solution, have a budget to buy what you are selling, have the authority to make the purchase decision, and have a timeframe for making the purchase.

Over To You

We would love to learn from you: what effective sales questions do you use during your sales calls? Let us know in comments. :)

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5 Practical Tips For Giving Better Online Sales Demos

Be it online or offline, the demo is a crucial part of the sales process. It is your big opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of your product to your prospects. You’ve already spent a lot of time and effort on getting a meeting scheduled with your prospect, so you want to be sure to make the most of it.

Below are 5 practical tips for giving better online sales demos that will get you one step closer to closing the deal.

1. Pick the right tools

Giving a great online sales demo starts with having the right tools. To get started, you will need:

  • A scheduling tool for scheduling your demos
  • An audio solution so that you can speak to your prospects
  • A good headset so you can keep your hands free to give the demo
  • A screen sharing tool so you can show your prospects your product or presentation
  • A CRM tool for managing your prospects and ensuring that you don’t miss following up with any of them

Quick Tip:
Unless you have a really fast Internet connection, avoid using VoIP for your audio solution if you are going to be screen sharing at the same time. Since both use a lot of bandwidth, using VoIP and screen sharing at the same time could reduce the quality of both.

2. Figure out the goal of your demo

After you have selected your tools, you will next need to figure out what you want to accomplish with your demo. What action do you want your prospect to take after your demo? Keeping your goal in mind will help you to focus your demo on what matters most.

Let’s give it a try:

Write what you want to achieve from your demo in the space below.

After my demo, I want the prospect to __________________.

(e.g. purchase the product, sign up for a trial, schedule a meeting with other stakeholders)

3. Highlight benefits, not features

Highlight benefits, not features

Your product is awesome and has a ton of features. Great! It’s natural to want to talk about everything that your product does. But wait…you may be overwhelming your prospects with too much information!

Your prospects are only interested in one thing: how you are going to solve their problems. Before you start demoing your product, you need to understand what your prospects’ problems are (their pain points). You can research this information before the demo or (even better) ask them about them at the beginning of your demo. Once you understand their pain points, you can better talk about the benefits of your product and how it will address their pain points. This will be much more effective than blindly going through a laundry list of features.

Remember:

Understand what your prospects need so that you can demonstrate how they can get it through your product.

4. Give your prospects time to speak

Effective sales is all about asking the right questions and then shutting up and listening.

Do not spend the entire time showing your demo. Keep some time at the beginning to learn more about the prospects and their needs so you can tweak the demo if necessary to better touch upon their pain points. You want to also leave time at the end for answering any questions that your prospects have.

If you go into a demo with the idea that you are just going to do all the talking and achieve what you want, it’s going to be a struggle. But if you go in with the idea that you are going to listen and try to understand your prospect, you’ll have a much better success rate.

5. Practice, practice, practice

All great demos take lots and lots of practice. Practicing not only means rehearsing what you’re going to say. It also means getting feedback from others on the content, delivery, and structure of the demo so that you can make it better.

It is also important that you simulate the demo as closely as possible: if you will be giving online demos, make sure that you’re not giving the demo in the same room as your practice audience and that you are using the tools that you will be using for your actual demos.

Your practice audience can be anyone: a colleague, a friend, or an acquaintance. Present the pitch as if you’re presenting it to the prospect and encourage your audience to be critical. The more feedback you get, the more opportunities you will have to make your demo better.

We’d love to help!

We at Screenleap know how important practice is. If you don’t have someone readily available to practice with, you can present to us! To schedule a practice session, just tweet us at @screenleap and let us know about your demo and what you would like feedback on.

Over to you

Put these tips into practice and you’ll be able to craft and deliver an excellent online sales demo. And, of course, if you need any help, just give us a shout. :)

Finally, we would love to learn from you. Share with us your favorite tips for giving better online sales demos in the comments.

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