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Building Efficient Processes to Scale your Remote Business with Chris Ronzio

Chris Ronzio is the founder and CEO of Trainual, a leading SaaS company that helps businesses automate their onboarding and training by documenting every process, policy, and procedure in one simple system. Chris is also the host of the “Process Makes Perfect” podcast, author of “100 Hacks To Improve Your Business,” and Inc. Magazine contributor with a column called “The Process Playbook.” With Trainual, Chris is on a mission to make small business easier by helping business leaders find the time to do more of what they love and providing a way to document and delegate what they do.

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Luis:

Ladies and gentlemen, to another episode of the distant job podcast, this is a podcast that’s all about building and leading awesome remote teams. And today on the podcast, I have a guest that’s developing a business that helps you do just that. Chris Ronzio is the founder and CEO of Trainual. The host of the process makes perfect podcast and other of the book, 100 Hacks to improve your business. Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris Ronzio:

Hey, thank you so much for having me.

Luis:

It’s my pleasure. It’s great to have you here. Talk a bit about remote work. I know that’s a big part there is on that Trainual. Well, let’s get right into that. Tell me a bit about your business. How does remote make it possible or make it better?

Chris Ronzio:

Yeah, sure. So, first a little bit about Trainual. I’ve been an entrepreneur for 20 years now and in my experience building my own companies, I knew that I always wanted a business that was turnkey. And what that meant to me was that we had really clear roles and responsibilities and really clear processes for how to do each thing in the business. So Trainual was an initially an idea for my own company. And then for my consulting clients, when I started a consulting business and eventually it made its way into being a real software that anyone can purchase. So now we have thousands of businesses in 120 or so countries using the tool. And it’s really just a simple software where you can document all the policies and the processes and the how tos of your business. So Trainual, both enables remote teams to document what they do and to share their best practices. And then we’ve also become a remote company. So it’s helped us continue to operate. We can be our own best customer.

Luis:

Right. Okay. So, that’s awesome. Tell me the story of when you felt that this was needed, I’m sure that there was some moment where you thought this is what I need, so I’m going to build it because there’s nothing, there’s not a solution that fits me anywhere else. Tell me about that moment, tell me about that story.

Chris Ronzio:

Yeah. So I was running my consulting business after I sold my first company and a couple of my clients had problems. One of them was a retail company that was hiring students that worked at the local university. And after every semester the students would go home and they would have to hire a new batch of students to work in the retail store. And so training and onboarding was such an important part of what they did, but their best solution, their best way to do it was a Google doc and a PDF that was 60 pages long. And they would send these things to the students and say, please read this before you show up. And so at the same time, a friend of mine was starting an outsourced graphic design company. And he was trying to find a way that he could train and onboard people that he had never met, that lived across the world.

Chris Ronzio:

And so these things were kind of happening at the same time. And I thought, wow, there should be a simple tool that you could put all of the knowledge for your business in. At the time I had used WordPress sites, password protected things we’d hacked together. Wiki’s, but the problem I saw with those are you can’t track that anyone’s seeing the latest thing or that they’ve, they’ve read through it. And so Trainual was the idea, was this hybrid solution, or be easy to write things down, easy to record videos, but then you could assign them to someone and track that they’ve actually seen the latest version. And so the initial build of Trainual was just for my consulting clients. And that’s where the idea came from.

Luis:

Okay, well, so this is something that’s obviously really important for remote teams, for remote work, for people, for companies that need a quick and easy way to transmit that knowledge that builds up in a team or in a business. And that, sometimes it’s documented directly, even on physical companies, but a lot of the times it just spreads organically, just because people are in the same space. Now we are living in a different reality and in 2020, right. Where people were forced even, I mean, a lot of us were, were already doing remote, but a lot of people were forced into remote. Yeah. So obviously everything changed in the past six, eight months. But how long have you, sorry maybe I missed it, how long have you been, how long has Trainual existed?

Chris Ronzio:

As its own standalone software business, it’s been almost three years. As a software tool. company, it was about six years.

Luis:

Okay. Perfectly. So let’s go with tree years because, using the tool and building the company, are very different things. Obviously everything changed in the last year or so, but tell me something that you, that changed your mind the most about in the last two to three years. What was the thing that you thought with happen when, when you started that actually wasn’t true. When, what was the opposite? What was the thing that you weren’t expecting that actually caught you off guard?

Chris Ronzio:

I actually thought it would be easier to get people to sign up for Trianual than it was to sell my consulting services. Because as a consultant, you’re selling, thousands and thousands of dollars, like these 10, $20000 packages and people were saying, “yes”. But I was delivering a service that was checking a box for someone, and they were confident in the result that they were purchasing. Whereas when you sell a software that’s $49 or $99 a month, the greatest fear is that the customer needs to do the work themselves, and they’re not going to actually do it. And so when you bring in a consultant, you’re hiring someone, you’re paying someone to do the work. When you’re buying a tool, you’re hoping that you can do the work. And it was actually harder to sell a $99 software than it was to sell a $10,000 consulting package.

Chris Ronzio:

So that, that was a surprise for me. You mentioned 2020 and this new world. So we actually began as a predominantly, in office headquartered business. So almost all of our employees, except for two were located in Arizona at our office. And we’ve now we have nine remote employees and it’s trending more in that direction. The world’s changed a lot. And it was my belief that having people in the same room, having everyone around there would just be more energy, more excitement, and you get to know people better, but what we’ve found since being remote is everyone’s still just as productive. It just, you have to be a little more intentional about sharing the culture and describing what it means to be part of the company. So, documentation, I think for a remote business is even more important.

Luis:

So how do you go about documenting the culture? What, how do you make sure, because culture is not easy to pin down, right? So, how do you feel one should go about doing that?

Chris Ronzio:

Culture, isn’t words. It’s not just a bulleted list of values and adjectives, but culture is stories. You know, your culture is your history. It’s why the company exists. It’s how you’ve handled certain decisions in the past. And so for us documenting the culture is more of a narrative. It’s not something that you just kind of concretely define. It’s like a collection of photos from our team events and a video that our teams put together. It’s, facts or interesting, funny stories about different employees. It’s the type of thing that you would learn from being in a business over the years. But you try to encompass that or encapsulate it into something that someone can read or go through on their own time.

Luis:

Nice. All right. So, let’s talk a bit about this shift in reality for you, you have now nine remote employees. Do you still work with someone in location or is that complete? I don’t know what kind of procedures you are taking there? Are there still some people working in location or is it completely distributed?

Chris Ronzio:

So we’ve been completely remote since March. We’re recording this in August, but we’re kind of taking a hybrid approach. We have 43 employees, nine are remote and moving forward, because we do have a concentration of employees in Arizona, we’re going to have our own sort of coworking space in Arizona. So there’s no requirement to go in the office. There’s Oh, hours that you have to be there. But when people do want to meet in person, we want them to have a space that they can meet at that’s safe. That’s just for our company, it’s flexible. So it’s not the type of office where everyone has a desk and there’s clocking in clocking out, but it is a space that any of our people can go.

Joe Watkins:

Nice. So you mentioned that people were still excited. They still have the same degree of energy when they went remote, but certainly something in your management approach had to change. What was the biggest change? What do you feel you have to change the most?

Chris Ronzio:

The biggest thing was over-communicating because I think when you’re remote you, when you’re in the same office, you communicate just by the vibe in the office. You know, you walk through the hallways, you say hi to people, but if you’re all remote, you don’t have those passing interactions. And so we had to get more intentional about how we communicate. So it started with like this state of the union, all hands meeting, or we went through all of the, everything that we were uncertain about and the business, all of our financials are our PNL we were very transparent with the team to say, here’s what might happen over the next few months. Here’s what we’re thinking about. Here’s the problems we’re trying to solve. Here’s the thing that the tailwinds that we think we’ll, we’ll end up being good for us. And then we tried to keep that cadence by giving everybody weekly updates on how everything’s changing.

Chris Ronzio:

And then, yeah. So it’s communication. And then it’s also just kind of trying to surprise people. So we have random pairings every week where you get matched by someone in the business, do a little virtual coffee, learn about them, post a selfie in our Slack channel. And then we also started doing these ding dong ditch type things. I don’t know if you have that in, in Portugal, but where you ring someone’s doorbell and run away. So our people team started delivering packages. It’s like little care packages of someone’s favorite snacks and their favorite drinks, to their front door. And that’s been kind of a…

Luis:

So that at first I just thought, what, they’re just ringing doors and running away? That doesn’t sound nice. But then if the people got the presents out of it, I guess that’s great. So that’s cool. So let’s go a bit more into the management part. So tell me about how you managed your remote slash hybrid team. Let’s say, take me through your typical day and then your typical week.

Chris Ronzio:

Sure. So typical week we cluster, most of our meetings are one. My one-to-one meetings are on Monday, and we also have a all hands meeting every Monday where people join from, different countries, different States all over. And I try to cluster all the direct report meetings I have that day so that everybody has their questions answered at the beginning of the week, and they can get whatever they want to get done in the week. So we have a cadence where we do an annual team leadership team meetings. We do quarterly team leadership meetings. We do monthly leadership meetings, and we do weekly leadership meetings. And then all of those team leaders communicate with their direct reports through one-to-one throughout the week. And so everyone is getting this weekly cadence of, here’s what we accomplished last week. Here’s what we’re focused on this week, so that we can all hold each other accountable. And so that happens through our department leaders.

Luis:

So where do you document the tasks and the deadlines and all of that? Do you have some favorite tools, something that some method that you use?

Chris Ronzio:

We use a project management system, Asana where we keep all of our projects. So pretty simple, but in the past, we’ve used Trello. We’ve used Teamwork, we’ve used Basecamp. So I think what’s important is, it’s less so about the tool. It’s more that you are getting in a culture of accountability that you, you populate a list of what everyone’s going to work on. And then you revisit that knit list. Next time you meet, you check things off and you add new things. And as long as you do that, you can make them progress.

Luis:

Right? So let’s revisit your Monday off of one-on-ones. So what’s the biggest difference on with one-on-ones that you’re doing virtually versus the ones that you do in presence?

Chris Ronzio:

Really, there’s no difference. We in-person versus remote. We use the same project and our project management system, we cover the same agenda, which is just looking at everybody’s numbers and then discussing any hot topics that they need assistance with. You know, those are a chance for me to really just coach the leaders and help them strategically think through the problems on their teams. So it hasn’t really changed since it’s been remote.

Luis:

Oh, right. Nice. So let’s talk a bit about skills and hiring. Now, what I found out is that you can find a lot of very talented people that are great at their job, but they’re not great at remote work. So it does seem to me that there’s a certain skillset that’s independent of the skillset required for your particular position that you also need to do, to have remote. I would like to know, if you agree with that, and if so, when you’re hiring specifically for a remote position, what kind of things do you look for in that person?

Chris Ronzio:

This is very new. So I’ll have to report back. If we’ve adjusted our hiring process, we have a head of people and a people ops coordinator that do a lot of our interviewing. I do know though that we’ve looked for a history of working remotely, you know if someone has successfully worked remote in the past, they’re not figuring it out for the first time. Whereas if they’ve been in office their whole life and just always wanted to work remote, that’s not a guarantee that they’re going to do it successfully. So I know we have looked for a history of working remote, but beyond that, I’m not sure what specific skillsets we’re interviewing for.

Luis:

Nice. Okay. Well, can you get back to me then, I’m looking forward to seeing your opinion once you’ve had a bit more remote hiring done. So let’s talk a bit about processes. Now. I do think, that I’m not mistaken in saying that you are a process guy, right. That you enjoy establishing and improving processes. What were the processes that you felt required the most change and what specific changes when it comes to working remotely?

Chris Ronzio:

Hmm, good question. So the way I feel about process in general, is that you shouldn’t document process just for the sake of it. So processes, it doesn’t do you any good to document a process until you’re trying to delegate that process. If you haven’t quite figured it out yet, then creating a process is an experiment. And so I believe in not creating process to create red tape or to create bureaucracy, but you create process to be able to hand off a clear expectation for someone else to get some work done. And so when it comes to remote, I think the biggest processes we’ve had to have dialed in are, how to facilitate all of our remote meetings. So, like I mentioned the structure of them hasn’t changed, but coaching my team leads in how to do those remotely, is something we needed to have processes for.

Chris Ronzio:

We had to have processes for how to use remote tools that we weren’t, you know, not everyone had Zoom accounts. We had to document some training around that. And we had to document just best practices when you’re dialing in to a remote call from home, what kind of background do you have set up? What is your lighting look like? How is your computer, your camera elevated properly? So there are things like that just to set people up for success. Otherwise, all of our employees were using cloud-based tools and there wasn’t too much in terms of the business that changed.

Luis:

You know, I find it fascinating, it seems like you went to a very granular level. You know, when defining process, I personally never thought of, I mean, obviously I’ve taught off some recommendations, right? You know, say people, I try to be in a well-lit room, don’t look like that. Don’t look like the outline of a video game character, hidden in the darkness, right. Stuff like that. But actually going specifically at having a documentation on how people should set up their computer, the height, et cetera. I never thought about that. That’s a good point.

Chris Ronzio:

Yeah, the only way you can have and hold someone accountable for an expectation, is if you’ve given them proper documentation. So if you feel, if you are on a group call with someone and you’re critiquing things that they haven’t done, then I would ask, did you give them the right instructions? And so anything that we have clear instructions, we have a best practice for, we document inside our own system. We assign it to everyone and then the system will remind them until they’ve completed it, so that we have some accountability. We know that they’ve been through that. And now if somebody logs in and they’ve got a window behind them and it looks unprofessional and you can’t, there’d be outline, like you said, then we can have a conversation and say, look, you went through the training, so what’s wrong here.

Luis:

Right. So what does the capturing process looks like? I mean, what’s the process for writing the processes? Is it just a matter of discipline? Do you have a blanket rule that when someone comes up, when someone establishes a new way of doing things and it works, as you said, it’s an experiment and it’s worked, you put it down immediately in this way, or how does it work or is it just a matter of discipline?

Chris Ronzio:

The mantra we have is, explain it once. So if you’re explaining to someone how to do something, you’re trying to pass off a skill, it’s something you know, and you’re trying to explain to someone else how to do it. So that’s the perfect opportunity to write out the process, instead of running it, writing it out in a Slack message or an email that you’re going to have to repeat over and over again, you put the instructions into a video or into Trainual, so it’s shareable, and you can use it again in the future. So that’s kind of the mantra, and it’s in the system, it reminds people to update processes when they’ve gotten stale, I guess when they haven’t been updated in a while. So that, just gets it on your radar again to make sure it’s current.

Luis:

Nice. All right. So I want to move on to some rapid fire questions. The questions are rapid fire, but the answers don’t need to be, feel free to expand as much as you’d like, what is that like? So let’s start talking about your work environment, your virtual office. What browser tabs you have opened right now? What browser types we have open when you start working in the morning or apps?

Chris Ronzio:

Let’s see Slack, Zoom, QuickTime, Spotify, IMS messages, Keynote. I do presentations, my tabs. I use Chrome for everything. And I’ve got Gmail open for G suite. I’ve got those Zoom, post attendees, Zoom, I think, which is the worst web page on the internet. It’s so useless. I’ve got a page for a strategic coach, which is an entrepreneurship program that I just joined. And then I’ve got the purchase receipt from the RR rating. If you’ve heard of that.

Luis:

Oh yeah.

Chris Ronzio:

That backs your activity. I just bought that this morning.

Luis:

I have one in my shopping cart for like three months now, waiting to pull the trigger.

Chris Ronzio:

So I was on a Zoom call this morning. It’s like the 100th person mentioned it. And I was like, forget it. I’m just buying this thing finally.

Luis:

Okay. Well, let me know how well it works. Maybe you’ll push me over the edge. I’ll give you a reference and maybe they’ll send you a voucher or something. Okay. So if you had $100 US dollars to spend with each person working for you, what would you give them? And the rule is you can’t give them a gift card or the money, you need to actually pick something in bulk to give to everyone.

Chris Ronzio:

Something in bulk to give to everyone. Yeah, yeah.

Luis:

Can be software or an experience. It doesn’t have to be actually an item.

Chris Ronzio:

Interesting. So, we have a $500 a year per person, experience budget for them to buy anything they want, to improve their experience. And so pretty much, what they want, I’m hoping they would purchase. So my initial thought went to, how could I get them something that’s, just nice, like buy them lunch or, over a zoom call. I think, the more valuable thing that I wish I could give everyone is time. And as a CEO, when you’re growing and you have more employees, it’s hard to spend one-on-one time with each individual person. So I’d probably try to put it into some, some personal gift that showed that I cared.

Luis:

Okay. What about you? What purchase has made your work life easier or more productive in the past?

Chris Ronzio:

Wow, good question. Yeah,

Luis:

Shame. I asked that before your ordering is delivered, otherwise you can get with that.

Chris Ronzio:

I know. So, so this is a ridiculous purchase, but I bought one of those Segway nine bots. It’s like the self hovering board thing, because I would always pace around the street in front of my house or my backyard on phone calls. And I, and now with that, I can, I can go 20 kilometers per hour when I’m on the phone and it gets my mind going.

Luis:

Nice. Sounds great. And you know, it’s not that strange. I mean, of the questions I asked. This is the one that I’ve got the widest range of questions of answers. There’s the answers have ranged from a house to a dog, so you’re not the strangest one.

Chris Ronzio:

All right, cool.

Luis:

But that’s a pretty good one haver board. It’s cool. So what about books? What book or books have you gifted the most? And obviously you can’t say yours, sorry.

Chris Ronzio:

The recently that the E-Myth revisited, which was one of the first books I ever read. And, and we’ve been working with Michael Gerber, the author of that book. And so I’ve been giving that to everyone on the team to just kind of catch them up on the history of some of the ideas, behind why Trainual exists.

Luis:

I have that one on top of my dinner room table. Right. It’s like, it’s where I put books that I’ve been put to, that I’ve been putting for a while in an attempt to, just internalize just the concept of picking them up, just it’s like having my shame in front of me. So that’s one day, I’ll just say, okay, this is it. I’m picking the book and I’m reading it.

Chris Ronzio:

I highly recommend it so that, should be your next book.

Luis:

Okay. It’s very possible that it will be it’s in my dinner table after all. So, okay. So, cool. So final question. This one has a bit more of a longer setup. So let’s say that you are hosting a dinner where the decision makers, that the leaders, the CEO CTOs hiring managers off tech companies worldwide, the top tech companies are as well are coming too. And there’s going to be around table about, around the topics of remote work and working from home. Now, the twist is that this dinner happens in a Chinese restaurant. So you, as the host, get to pick what goes written inside the Chinese fortune cookie. So what is the message?

Chris Ronzio:

The message inside the fortune cookie? Hmm. I would say so, and this is it’s about remote work?

Joe Watkins:

Yeah. Remote work, the future of work, work from home.

Chris Ronzio:

I would say, try it, see what breaks, that’s what would be in the fortune cookie. And my own hesitation to go remote with our business was because I was not sure what would happen and COVID, everything that’s changed this year has thrown us into this remote world. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how productive everyone is and how we’ve maintained the culture. So I would encourage, try it out, see what breaks.

Luis:

Awesome. Great, great advice. Great. Fortunate cookie, thank you so much. So, when people want to continue the conversation with you or learn more about your business. It could be your software business or your coaching business. People want to have a dialogue with you. You are, I was looking into you earlier today, and you are a very brave man, because in the website you have your phone number for people to text you. So this is… I respect that. I think you’re crazy, but I respect that. So how can people reach out to you and learn more about your business?

Chris Ronzio:

Since you mentioned it I’ll share the number. If anyone’s in the US or doesn’t mind texting internationally, the number is 1480 531-8411. Please feel free to text. You know, I spend most social media time on Instagram or on LinkedIn. So feel free to message me on either of those platforms, just at Chris Ronzio and then all the video content, all of these great conversations go out on our daily podcast Process Makes Perfect on our YouTube channel. So I would love to connect with anyone. And then if you’re interested in the business, Trainual to build the playbook for your company, all your policies and processes online, one place, just go to trainual.com and you can learn more there.

Luis:

All right. That was great. All of these links, by the way, will be on the show notes. So don’t worry about catching it all. Just go to the show notes, go to distantjob.com/podcast. And the interview will be there among, many others. And, or you can also look them up on the show notes in your podcast, listening application of choice. So, Chris, thank you so much for being here. It was an absolute pleasure and, yeah.

Chris Ronzio:

Thank you for having me. This was great. And I’ll get back to you on those couple answers, enjoy the evening and enjoy the RR rating.

 

Luis:

I certainly, I certainly expect to. So thank you so much, ladies and gentlemen, this was the distant job podcast, your podcast about building and leading awesome remote themes. And so we close another episode of the distant job podcast. And if you enjoyed the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That will be great. It’s how we reach more listeners. And the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me. And I hope they’re a joy for you listen to as well. You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice, reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast guests to have more listeners.

Luis:

Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to distantjob.com/blog/podcast. Click on your favorite episode, any episode really, and subscribe by subscribing. You will get a notification whenever a new episode is up and whenever we get the transcripts of the episodes up. So you can actually peruse the conversations in text form. And of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country. Look around the whole world because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help you with that again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who we need, and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate, 40% faster than the industry standard. And with that I bid you, Adieu. See you next week on the next episode.

More ways to listen:

Remote work is a reality for many teams nowadays. However, despite its exponential growth, some leaders still struggle when trying to manage their employees. They are put to the test regarding their leading skills, and often they need to rethink their approach.

In this podcast episode, we have a guest, Chris Ronzio, an expert in leading and guiding remote teams. He shares his experience founding Trainual and the lessons he has learned over the past years. He also reveals the importance of documentation and how to build efficient processes to keep your remote team organized and productive.

''The only way you can have and hold someone accountable for an expectation, is if you've given them proper documentation.'' Click To Tweet

Highlights:

  • Insights about Trainual and how it helps remote businesses
  • Aspects that all remote businesses should take care of
  • How to build the right processes for your virtual team
  • Why overcommunication is important
  • In-person vs. remote management
  • How to build a healthy/fun culture

 

Book Recommendations:

 

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