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How Internet Entrepreneurs Build Teams They Rely On – Scaling and Delegation with Doug Cunnington

EF Staff Updated on February 29, 2020

build teams

Hey everyone, Greg here, and today I want to introduce someone who might already be familiar to you: Doug Cunnington. Doug has been in the trenches for years now, building successful niche sites using organic Google traffic. In a past life, back when he was still clocking in at his nine to five, Doug also ran entire projects as a project manager. Those skills have since transferred into how he builds and runs his online businesses today.

This is such a huge and important skill to master. Becoming a master of delegation, and being able to hire and build out teams, will ultimately allow you to do things that you would never become good at it or simply don’t have the time to become good at (developing software, writing sales letters, running Facebook PPC ads, etc.).

Learning how to delegate and how to run a team smoothly allows you to take advantage of so many more opportunities out there, regardless if you’re building an app or an Amazon affiliate niche site, or running an ecommerce store.

I will let Doug take it away to share with you his journey so far, as well as how he went about building his own teams using simple processes (and the ROI that came from doing so).

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”

—Harrington Emerson

I finished a Skype call with a team member working on outreach for me.

The outreach wasn’t going well at all. He was frustrated and overwhelmed.

After a stellar start, my team had stopped making progress. The first three weeks had been exceptional, but then team members started getting stressed out.

It was a small disaster that was growing into a large one. This lack of progress wasn’t supposed to happen, since I technically knew how to run complex projects.

It took several weeks before I could change the course of the team. The recovery period took longer than it should have, since I didn’t have the delegation system in place or an agile mindset when I needed it most.

With an agile mindset, it’s possible that the lack of progress could have been avoided altogether.

I’m going to tell you how to avoid making the same mistakes by using Agile Project Management to build a content expansion team and an outreach team. Agile is an iterative, flexible way to do activities and execute projects.

It won’t be a theoretical exercise, either, because I’ll be able to back it up with examples from Amazon Affiliate Niche Sites.

I’m going to give you principles that you can use immediately. My methods are what I find to be effective for me, however, they are not the only way to get things done. So take the principles and you can find your own methods.

I’ll give you access to all the templates I use, including content templates, guest posting templates, Upwork job listing templates, 15,000 profitable keywords, and more.

My Background as a Project Manager (and Why You Should Listen to Me)

Imagine a chimp playing in the dirt with a stick. There are three differences between that chimp and me:

  • I use systems and templates.
  • I’m not good at climbing trees.
  • The chimp has way more hair than me.

—Doug Cunnington (pictured on the left)

I have four years under my belt as an internet marketer specializing in Amazon Affiliate Websites. Before that, I never even heard the term “niche site,” and WordPress and keyword research were brand new concepts for me, too.

In four years of internet marketing, I’ve experienced ups and downs. It’s a rite of passage for internet marketers to have a major SEO catastrophe. It’s part of the experience.

This story is common for niche site and ecommerce owners alike:

“I was making five figures a month, and things were great! Then, my site got hit with a penalty from Google, and my income dropped like a rock.”

—Fictitious Internet Marketer Stereotype

This timeline paints a picture of the roller coaster ride:

I’m a Project Management Professional (PMP), so that means I have a certain level of experience working on actual projects, and I took a test given by the Project Management Institute (PMI). Some people may not give much credit to organizations like PMI, but the requirements to sit for the PMP exam are:

  • 4,500 hours leading and directing projects
  • 35 hours of project management education

So even if you don’t appreciate the certification, a PMP has relevant time in the driver’s seat leading projects. (If you are a PM or in software development, be sure to let me know in the comments. I would love to hear from you.)

I earned my PMP certification in 2008. In my corporate days, I worked as a PM on software projects. In one role, I was able to grow a team from approximately 45 to 100 people in 18 months and as part of that process interviewed literally dozens of people.

I’ve spent time in the internet marketing trenches; I know how to run a project and build teams. Let’s look at two examples of teams I built: A content team and an outreach team.

Both website traffic and profits increased as a result of the two teams’ efforts. I’ll explain the details and process about each team and the lessons I learned along the way.

Example 1: Content Team

Using a content team, I published over 200 articles in five months and didn’t write any of the content myself. More impressive is the huge 10X ROI from the effort. A positive ROI is the ultimate goal whenever you invest time and money in your business.

The content costs were around $4,000, including the content, editing, and formatting within WordPress. The content was the bulk of the cost, about $3,200, and the editing and formatting covered the remainder. On average, each piece of content was 800 words long.

I started publishing the content in June 2016 and finished in October. Let’s look at the revenue since that reveals the ROI:

You can see that the site made about $28,500 since adding the content in June 2016. The investment in content more than paid for itself, and when you consider the site valuation, adding content was a great investment.

In fact, the ROI is very high, essentially 10X. (Note these are rough, back-of-the-napkin figures.)

Consider the total valuation from January to June 2016 compared to September 2016 to January 2017. I used a conservative six-month average for the valuation and assumed a 25x monthly multiple.

Next, let’s look at the traffic:

The revenue is the best proof, but it’s nice to see that traffic also increased over time. You can apply the same content strategies to any website to successfully increase the traffic.

Let’s look at how I created the team.

What’s the Team Look Like? The Org Chart

Eventually, the team looked like the image below, where I’m represented by the smiley face.

This type of team is totally modular — a major advantage. I can scale the capacity of the team by creating another module. Some companies and organizations call these “pods.”

For this content team, I found that four writers working with one editor/content manager worked best.

The amount of content written by the writers each week was the right amount of content for the editor/content manager to process each week.

I took it slow at first. Let’s look at the growth of the team:

  1. I hired one writer.
  2. I served as the editor/content manager for about two weeks.
  3. I hired two more writers the next week.
  4. I promoted the best writer to be an editor/content manager.
  5. I hired two more writers the following week.
  6. I created another pod in the same way by promoting another strong writer to the editor/content manager role.
  7. I hired four more writers the next week.
  8. Finally, I had two pods, up to eight writers, and two editor/content managers.

It’s incremental growth, and it takes longer than some other options, such as hiring a content service or immediately hiring four writers and a content manager. However, my method offers three major benefits:

  1. You have the ability to refine the process on a small scale as the team works out the kinks.
  2. The content manager role rate is less if you promote a writer versus hiring a person with the title of “Content Manager” on Upwork.
  3. If you just hire a content service, it will be more expensive.

The other great thing about this modular approach is that I can grow and scale the team rapidly. After the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were complete and used by the team, I was able to create another stand-alone team quickly.

It’s key for the SOPs to be very clear and accurate; the way to do that is through continuous improvement.

I encouraged the team to ask questions and leave comments in the shared Google Doc containing the SOPs. If something wasn’t clear, I wanted the team to point it out. Then, I would make changes so the document was clear.

You might think you have a well documented process in your SOPs; however, you have the curse of knowledge. You can’t review your own set of procedures with a critical eye that captures what an inexperienced Virtual Assistant (VA) will see. You can try, and may do a good job, but nothing can replace actual feedback from actual VAs.

People get frustrated with virtual assistants. It’s silly because the culprit is usually bad instruction from the manager, but the manager just blames the VA. After making that mistake myself, I realized that instructions and clear and accurate SOPs made a huge difference in the quality of the VA’s work.

After a few weeks, the team gelled. Content was overflowing from the writers, and the content managers were churning out edited drafts ready to publish. It was running smoothly and took no more than two hours a week from me.

What about the Publishing Schedule?

I had more content than ever so a new, better problem arose: publishing. Some people say that you should publish on a regular basis. Others say it doesn’t matter.

I published content in batches as they were ready, so that means about 5 to 20 posts were published at one time.

I’ve never tested posting on a regular schedule, such as one post per day, but I have yet to see any ill effects arise as a result of publishing content in bulk batches.

The other reason to post the content right away is because the majority of the posts ranked in the top 10 in the Google search results and started getting traffic within a couple days without backlinks, thanks to a keyword strategy I know. (Let me know in the comments if you’re interested in more details on increasing traffic without backlinks.)

It seems crazy, but using a certain keyword research strategy called the Keyword Golden Ratio enables you to find long-tail keywords that have ultra low competition.

Check out the image below with one example of Keyword Golden Ratio compliant content. That’s just one example from my dashboard, and a large majority of the other 199 posts also ranked in the top 10.

Click here to learn about the Keyword Golden Ratio on YouTube. As you can see, for this project it was a no-brainer to publish the content as fast as possible.

The content team worked out well from the start because it was similar to teams that I’ve built and managed in the past. The white-hat outreach team didn’t fare as well, at least not at the start.

Example 2: Outreach Team

The outreach team was more challenging to build and get results from than the content team. There are two main contributing factors that made the outreach process harder than the content process:

  1. There are more steps that take longer to execute than writing and publishing content.
  2. Some of the steps involve external parties (people outside your team), who have no clear incentive to respond to you in a timely manner.

First, let’s look at how I initially failed at building an outreach team before we look at the new, improved version.

Don’t Do This: The Unsuccessful Outreach Team

I can laugh about this now, but I actually failed the same way twice. I adjusted once I realized the process and system was the issue, not the specific outreach manager.

Here is what happened:

  1. I hired an outreach manager.
  2. The outreach manager learned the process and system.
  3. The outreach manager started working on an outreach campaign, where the campaign sought to build links to one specific page on one specific site.
  4. I added two more campaigns to the outreach manager’s responsibilities.
  5. The outreach manager became overwhelmed.
  6. The pace of the process slowed to a crawl, to the point that no guest posts were published in several weeks.
  7. The outreach manager was frozen by the various steps in the different campaigns.

The first time might have been the individual. When it happened the second time, I knew that I needed to adjust the process.

The process should be simple enough, so the average person could perform the work and get results without having an emotional meltdown. I don’t want to have a role on my team where it’s so complicated and stressful that I have a hard time finding a qualified person.

Before I could figure out a better process, I had to find the reason why the team was having so much trouble with outreach.

Root Cause Analysis (RCA)

I learned about the RCA process in my project management days. When something goes wrong, management wants to know why.

As a solopreneur, your gut reaction might be to take action fast. Just do something.

But if you react without thinking about it, then you’re more likely to make the mistake again or maybe forget how you ended up in a bad spot to begin with.

It’s similar to the concept of deliberate practice, coined by Anders Ericsson in his book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. Look at what happened and find the root cause of the failure, so we will know where to adjust in the future.

I talked to the outreach managers to find out what happened and where in the process they were stressed out. Specifically, I wanted to know which tasks and steps made them sweat.

Running more than one guest posting campaign is multitasking. I hate multitasking. Multitasking makes you feel like you get more done, but the time spent switching tasks and refocusing is where it costs you brain-cycles. Let me explain exactly how this plays out for guest posting.

One guest posting campaign might look like this:

  • Search for blogs in the niche to comment on using Google.
  • Comment on the blogs.
  • Email some bloggers to pitch your idea for a guest post.
  • Write, or hire a writer to write, the guest post.
  • Edit the guest post and be sure to insert links to your target site.
  • Follow up and make sure the blogger publishes your post.
  • If a guest post is published, thank the blogger, and reply to all the comments.

I outlined seven of the core steps in a sequential way, but the problem with the set of tasks is that they can all be happening at the same time. If the campaign is going well, you’ll be commenting on blogs, sending emails, receiving emails, writing, and so on… all at the same time.

If you work on one campaign, your day probably looks like this:

It’s a lot to juggle and you’re probably thinking, “Hey, that does look like a lot, but it’s manageable… What’s the problem, Doug??

One campaign is manageable, but when you layer on one or two more campaigns, you have trouble on the horizon.

Here is what happens when you layer campaigns:

You can see how it gets stressful and confusing. You may have trouble following the arrows. Well, that’s exactly what happens when you are working on three outreach campaigns at the same time.

The root cause of my process problem appeared to be related to the number of campaigns that an outreach manager works on.

That’s easy to adjust and test, so that’s what I did.

Successful Outreach Team

I’m right in the middle of testing the outreach team with the new process, so I don’t have a great deal of the results in. However, the team is running more smoothly, people are less stressed out than was the case in my other attempts, and a few guest posts have been accepted.

After making the same mistake twice, I knew I needed to adjust something. The RCA process brought out the most likely issue.

Luckily, I am working on a big, very important project called “Project Go White Hat” where the primary goal is to publish a lot of guest posts, more guest posts than any campaign I’ve ever worked on—the target is 80+ guest posts. I’ll have a project to test the hypothesis of assigning each outreach manager a single outreach campaign in the hopes that he or she will be more effective and less stressed out.

The plan for Project Go White Hat is to use the same, core white hat guest posting process that’s proven to be effective again and again. The adjustment to my original process is to have multiple outreach managers working on the same campaign.

Each outreach manager has a single campaign to work on. That simple adjustment makes a huge difference in the number of tasks the outreach manager has to think about or do each day.

The added benefit is that each outreach manager can spend a bit more time on relationship-building with bloggers, which includes tasks like:

  • Commenting on more than one blog post
  • Sharing content on social media
  • Emailing the blogger
  • Signing up for the email list

This process involves more touch points with each blogger, and that means there is a better chance said blogger will like you and establish a relationship. If someone likes you, then your pitch to guest post has a better chance of being accepted.

Here is the white hat outreach process that I use, made easier to manage with a tool like Ninja Outreach:

  1. Find potential blogs for guest posting.
  2. Develop guest post topic ideas.
  3. Email the bloggers.
  4. Write the guest post.
  5. Follow up.

I don’t have a large amount of data to share on the results of the new approach where each outreach VA is working on one campaign at a time, but I can share that nine guest post pitches have been accepted in about 21 days. That’s a good sign from my standpoint, and once the team works through the issues that will come up, we’ll improve the process further.

So far I’ve explained a couple examples of building teams and the results, successful and unsuccessful. Let’s look at how you can build teams using project management principles.

Using Agile Project Management Principles to Build Teams

Here are the key points to apply to your team:

1. If something goes wrong, or if a team member makes a mistake, it’s your fault.

When I coach people about expanding their business or scaling a process, I tell them three things:

  1. Some things will go wrong.
  2. You need to provide far more explicit instructions for your team members than you think.
  3. It will be worse before it gets better — everything will take longer than expected — because you have to teach someone how to do something new.

Your expectations must be realistic. If you think you can hire a writer or any other kind of virtual assistant, assign a “simple task” (or what you perceive to be “simple”), provide a few instructions, and achieve immediate success… you will be disappointed.

The point is, if something goes wrong in the process, you need to look at why it happened and take action to prevent it from happening in the future.

Yes, it could be that a certain VA literally makes a mistake. It’s still worth seeing if something can be changed to prevent the issue. Maybe adding a checklist to the process will ensure that steps aren’t missed, or maybe removing an unnecessary step of the process will have a positive impact.

If you don’t adopt this mentality, you’ll have an uphill battle to fight because your team won’t be able to rely on the process.

2. Start small

When you start with the fact that you’re expecting issues, it makes a whole lot of sense to begin with a small team. That’s exactly what I did, and you can model my approach using the org chart.

build teams

Even if you have the budget to hire a big team right away, you’ll become overwhelmed if you do not have your systems, processes, and handoff points working well.

Though you may be tempted to implement a slick process management app, I say keep it simple.

3. Use simple systems, like Google Sheets & Docs

As a technophile and PMP, I like to geek out about the tools and apps out there to simplify managing projects. The key concept is to simplify.

The tools and apps should stay out of the way and improve the process. The tools and apps should not dictate the process. If you’ve ever worked in the corporate world, you’ve probably seen the problems that arise when management force processes to fit technology rather than the other way around.

One issue with using an app like Asana or Trello is that you have to train your team in using the tool. Even simple apps require training, and when you consider that you may be hiring someone who isn’t tech savvy, it makes sense to use the simplest solution you can find.

For me, that’s Google Sheets and Docs. They provide all the functionality I need for simple project management, and a Google account is basically ubiquitous.

4. Grow slowly

Once you have the budding team and systems in place, continue to grow slowly. Things should be running smoothly and without any major problems. You may notice that tasks are getting completed faster than before — the team is firing on all cylinders.

You’ll be able to hire people faster now that you’ve refined the process and the SOPs.

If you’re not running in a predictably smooth way yet, then you’ll have issues. When you add more people to your team, that creates more opportunities for misunderstandings and mistakes. Inefficiency increases all by itself, even if you have good systems in place.

I want to underscore the importance of scaling slowly, and only scaling once you’re confident in your systems.

5. Documentation: Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and roles and responsibilities

Documenting processes is boring. People neglect this type of activity because it doesn’t feel glamorous. If it’s a process that you know how to do well, then it’s especially boring since you can probably do it on autopilot.

If you’re a person who likes to document things, then you’re a lucky soul. You can use that skill to get a leg up on the competition.

Dan Andrews of Tropical MBA says, “Our most powerful points of leverage will come from building SOPs from scratch,” and SOPs for a process like creating content are essential. The SOPs make processes more predictable and repeatable. Most importantly, detailed SOPs can remove a great deal of decision-making throughout the process, yielding more consistent results.

Going back to my earlier point, if a VA makes a mistake, it’s probably your fault. The root of the issue is most likely in the SOPs. It’s your job as the manager to figure out how to improve the SOPs so that any qualified person can do the job.

Take the feedback from the mistake, and do something to make the process better.

Roles and responsibilities become critical when you have a team. There are two main problems that can happen:

  1. A task is skipped. This happens when more than one team member expects another team member to do a task, and no one ends up doing that task.
  2. A task is done more than once. This happens when more than one team member believes he or she is responsible for a task.

Both situations are frustrating and annoying, but for different reasons. In fact, it’s likely that both situations will happen because both are a symptom of a poorly defined set of roles and responsibilities for a team.

Download your free report

Build Your Team

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

— Bill Gates

These ideas about building a team are 100 percent transferable to any type of team that you want to create. If you need a team of social media outreach experts, you’ll benefit from using templates and systems, and encouraging the team to contribute ideas to improve the SOPs. It’ll be great to have a clear org chart and an understanding of who is doing what through roles and responsibilities.

Remember these core principles when you build or expand your team:

  • Building teams is the way to scale.
  • Creating teams is challenging and is a skill that needs to be learned.
  • Starting small with realistic expectations will help you progress without being disappointed.
  • Reference the outreach team failure and success examples for how to deal with mistakes, issues, and other things that can go wrong.

Now, you can take the core principles and develop your own methods that are tailor-made for your business.

Once you get started, you’ll find that setting up systems, using SOPs, and refining your processes gets easier and easier.

To jumpstart your teams, feel free to use my templates as a starting point.

Here is where you can find the system I use and implement it for yourself; you can get all my templates here. You’ll need to enter your name and email address, and then you’ll have access to content templates, guest posting templates, Upwork job listing templates, 15,000 profitable keywords, and more, for free.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons: Tambako the Jaguar, gpointstudio

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  • S Chauhan says:

    Thanks for sharing this post.
    its really helpfull

  • Russell Lobo says:

    Super post Doug,
    I will be sharing this post on my 8,000+ member “Grow your niche site” FB closed group soon so my members can benefit from it too. About “nine guest post pitches have been accepted in about 21 days” – What was your approx cost for the outreach?

    • Russell, thank you sir! I appreciate the share.

      The cost for the outreach of that portion of the guest posts is a little fuzzy.

      BUT 23 guest posts total cost me about $1,186. So compared to a high quality service, it was a great value.

      Now, we just have to cross our fingers and hope the rankings hold up.

  • Sia Mohajer says:

    Doug! This is awesome stuff man! Totally agree with you on a lot of your points.

  • Thank you so much, Doug, for the invaluable and rare insights into not trading time for money as an entrepreneur. Not enough people talk about getting out of your own way the way you have here. Thank you.

    I started a business at the beginning of March WRITING SOPs for entrepreneurs. I have a small budding team of 1 content writer, 1 procedure writer, 1 editor, and 1 whiteboard video animator. I am new to this business, in the interest of honesty, but have validated its need for all of us.

    Two questions:

    1. I’m currently developing a system/process for outreach involving the telephone, but wonder should I do it myself to begin with or delegate this entirely? (I DO have a background in telesales & customer support)

    2. I don’t want to use long-tail keywords such as “how to write a procedure” because I want to serve the entrepreneurs who DON’T WANT to write their procedures, but know they need them. Keyword suggestions?

    • Kris, Looks like a great business idea!

      Do it yourself until you know the market.
      You’ll have to figure that out by working with customers & prospects. No clue!
      Really, I think you’ll have to do free work for influencers and move up the food chain…Then, people that are making money will hire you after hearing about you from influencers. And I expect it’d take 1-2 years at a minimum to make that happen.

      I can tell you first hand that growth is SLOW!

  • sreenivas says:

    Excellent info Doug.Damn helpful.

    But the real problem seems to be the consistency. Some writers work well initial days and with regular work,I could see the quality is coming down and some times you have to continue because ,there is not much time to look out for another good writer.

    • Doug says:

      Hi Sreenivas, thanks!

      So, that’s a fair assumption about writing quality going down. You need to make sure you’re paying a fair rate to prevent it.

      Then, you need to look at your hiring practices if you keep getting VAs that flake out.

      Lastly, you bet it takes time to find writers or any VAs. If it was easy, everyone would do it, right? 🙂

      To soften the time investment, I’ll usually hire VAs in parallel so if one person leaves or disappears 1 or 2 or 3 people are there to replace them already. Does that make sense?

  • Oliver says:

    Hi Doug,

    thanks for sharing this great information. It really helps me and push me a little bit more in a specific direction (refine the process/increasing team slowly), because I am building teams right now.

    Yes, I am very intersted in your approach on how to increase traffic without backlinks. I guess it’s the basically about the keyword golden ration method?

    Within the next days I am working to optimize my Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) , I think it’s well worth the time.

    Thanks again for sharing,


    • Oliver, thanks for reading!

      Slow growth is fine for teams…what’s the rush anyway. 🙂 You can make different decisions if your timeline is longer.

      Yes about the content…it’s all about the Keyword Golden Ratio (KGR). If you’re curious on the exact implementation, go to my YouTube channel and you should be able to find the webinar on the topic.

      It’s all data driven, no guessing, and I have a dozen examples of people telling me they tested it and it works. So, when you test it, Oliver, please send me the results! 🙂

      • Oliver says:

        Will do that Doug! Right now I am working on a project “people over 50”.

        I have noticed that you are using the keyword phrase you are searching for intitle NOT in quotes, means: For example when I am making a search it looks like this:
        allintitle:jobs over 50 (results 2.790)
        allintitle:”jobs over 50″ (results 164) <<< keyword phrase in quotes

        You are refering to the method searching without "" in your training, right? It's not the exact keword phrase in the title, but all words have to be included in the title.


  • Ricky Magana says:

    Really awesome article Doug.

    Are you managing the outreach pretty closely with preapproved scripts for emails and comments?

    Also is the outreach manager who blogcomments and emails, the same person who does the initial research of blog list-building?

    Is this an hourly gig and/or are there paid incentives?

    • Ricky, thanks!
      So, awesome questions! I didn’t think about how I changed things up in the last few weeks (as this post was going through edits).

      I told the Outreach VAs to watch the training in my course (Five Figure Niche Site) for the unit covering outreach. It’s less than an hr for that unit, and after watching it, the VAs knew the process and most important the spirit of what we’re trying to do.

      SO, I didn’t give them a script for emails or comments. I told them to be nice and try to get people to like them. Crazy concept, right?

      Also, in the few weeks of editing on this post, the team finished the campaign, like last week. Rankings and traffic are improving as a result!

      Are you managing the outreach pretty closely with preapproved scripts for emails and comments?
      No, they have free reign to be real. It never seems like a marketer if they use their own words. Look, when I start getting emails to guest post with my own templates, I know I need to change up my methods.

      Also is the outreach manager who blogcomments and emails, the same person who does the initial research of blog list-building?
      I do the blog list research. It takes me about 10 mins to find a few hundred prospects. Watch the video here:

      Is this an hourly gig and/or are there paid incentives?
      It’s hourly at $9/hr. BUT the key is to high non SEO people. As an SEO myself (some people would call me an SEO), I can tell you that we’re the worst! So if you hire a writer or admin or general assistant, you can help ensure they’ll be following your directions not second guessing your SOPs. No, incentives on delivery but that could be interesting.

  • Vladimir says:

    Great post Doug, you’ve opened my eyes with few of your points like “You need to provide far more explicit instructions for your team members than you think”.

    • Hey Vladimir,
      thanks for checking out the post. Explicit details are best, and your VAs should be detail orient (for most work in what I outlined) or they’ll get frustrated.

      The other good part about encouraging and getting feedback is that you’ll be able to hear about and react to the areas in the process that are unclear.


  • Doug,

    OUTSTANDING information, as usual! In my experience, your point about Continuous Improvement can’t be overemphasized. I like to set up periodic reviews with the teams focused specifically on improvement suggestions. This forces everyone to take just a few minutes of scheduled time to communicate on making your processes better. I find, by combining scheduled time with ad-hoc feedback from your team, it allows you to really fine-tune your work structure. It also “automatically” allows your processes to adjust to external changes in your environment.

    Something else I’ve learned about processes is the old idiom “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Every SOP I write now starts off with a workflow diagram of the process. Each step of the process is numbered and the text within the SOP is numbered in the same way and explains in detail what is to take place in that step. I’ve found that most people won’t read the whole process, but they will look at the picture of it. Then, it’s easy for them to find the text associated with any steps they want to review.

    As a Project Manager and process improvement expert myself, I really appreciate the way you run your business. Moreover, I’m thrilled that you share your concepts with the rest of us. Thank you, Doug!

    • Bill, Thank you! Really kind of you to say.

      I need to do MORE of the process diagrams to help explain the overview of the flow. And if you really want to geek out, you can add the swimlanes, too. You know what I’m talking about, Bill. 🙂

  • Shu Ying says:

    Hi Doug! Thank you for sharing how you built your teams and all these useful templates. I think you definitely took the right approach with the Agile method.

    I have a couple of questions:

    – Aside from Google Sheets and Google Docs, what do you use to communicate with your team?

    – Also related to communication, what do you do to encourage feedback? Is it matter of just having a couple of lines that ask for feedback/comments in your Google Docs, or do you also solicit feedback in other ways?

    – At what point do you decide that a VA does not meet expectations (rather than your instructions / SOPs being unclear)?

    • Hey Shu, Thanks for reading! Excellent Questions!

      – Aside from Google Sheets and Google Docs, what do you use to communicate with your team?
      Email is the only other way…but most of the time (95%) it’s through comments on the Sheet or Doc. The comments can be assigned to a person as needed.

      – Also related to communication, what do you do to encourage feedback? Is it matter of just having a couple of lines that ask for feedback/comments in your Google Docs, or do you also solicit feedback in other ways?
      I tell people I want feedback and expect it. I say that I know some things aren’t clear so they should feel comfortable asking questions or telling me something is confusing

      – At what point do you decide that a VA does not meet expectations (rather than your instructions / SOPs being unclear)?
      It’s a tough question…Generally, I normally allow for 1-2 mistakes and zero lame excuses. Real excuses are okay, but I would have to know someone a little bit before I’d trust them.

      So, basically, I’m strict and expect professional results from professionals that are getting paid a fair rate. That’s part of the luxury of working with freelancers.

  • Ken says:


    I couldn’t agree more with your comment about documentation.I avoided doing it (at first) and the result was a complete mess with missed timelines, confusion on who was to do what etc. Exactly as you have described.

    I know that this step is boring and frustrating but a detailed SOP is going to save many headaches down the road.

    Now I document everything in Slack for other team members to read if they have a problem or aren’t sure what needs to be or how a task is to be done and live is 1000% better.

    Thanks for a great (as always) article.

    • Hey Ken, thanks for reading the post!

      SOPs are definitely the less glamorous part of anything…But they make all the difference.

      And I’ll mention I really like the written word over videos 90% of the time…It’s much easier to make a small update to a Google Doc…A small update on a video means you reshoot or re-edit the whole thing.

  • Simon says:

    Great Stuff Doug! I love it. Hoping to implement it soon.


  • Ilya says:

    Thanks for the post Doug! It comes at a perfect time for me as my VA is just finishing up with creating Web 2.0s and publishing more content on the website and I was going to move on to guest posts and outreach once I was done with that.

    Your tips on not overwhelming your outreach manager with too many projects came at the perfect time as I was just thinking about the best way to plan out the campaigns.

    Thank you!

    • Hey Ilya, Thanks for checking it out. Nothing works out well with overwhelm.

      So, I really like the “small win” approach with VAs to get them moving in the right direction.

      It’s like learning an instrument…You can’t show someone how to play “Stairway to Heaven” start to finish and expect them to get it. You’d have to layer on the skills slowly – playing chords, arpeggios, the solo, and so on.

      And, I’ve seen lots of people frustrated after dealing with a VA that “didn’t get it.”

      Good Luck!

  • Marcus Johansson says:

    Awesome post Doug. Been following you for a while now and I really like your style. I’m a project leader myself in my regular job and I think a lot can be applied to a business like this. This make me want to start making niche sites more seriously.

    • Greg Elfrink says:

      Niche sites can be quite the career with enough focus and planning 🙂

    • Marcus, thanks for checking out the post!

      As a biased PM, I’ll say that you can apply project management framework to just about EVERYTHING and be better off. You know, you have to leave out some parts that actually create more work, but Agile gives you huge flexibility.

      And, I agree with Greg, Niche Sites can be a legit business if one puts in the time.

  • Thanks to everyone on the Empire Flippers Team! It’s an honor to work with y’all.

    I’m happy to answer any questions and hear comments on the post.

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