TOM SCHWAB is a Navy veteran (with experience in running nuclear power plants) and an expert on inbound marketing. He is the owner of InterviewValet.com and his entire team works remotely. In this interview, Tom shares his views on hiring remote employees, characteristics of a good leader, how to deal with conflict, and advise for those who are just starting to build their businesses.
His tips for managing a remote team:
- Be thankful for the roadblocks that come along and use them as opportunities to learn.
- Work is what you do, not where you go.
- Make the information you need accessible from anywhere.
- Set up regular times to touch base (weekly calls, private Facebook groups, etc.) with your team.
- Don’t treat people like robots. Infuse personal connection into the work day. If people like your work culture they will give you their best. If they don’t, then they’re just trading dollars for time.
- Use video – for meetings and for sending messages (InterviewValet uses Zoom and Loom). Email is a great way to share information, but not always the best way to communicate.
- Bring people together in person once per year.
- When hiring remote employees, make sure that they have experience working remotely.
- Interview remote candidates using video, and have multiple people do the interviews.
- When onboarding someone, assign them a partner or mentor for the first 60 to 90 days.
- When there’s conflict on a team, assume that everyone’s heart is in the right place. And give each other the benefit of the doubt.
- Don’t let things fester too long.
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lissette: Welcome to the Collaboration Superpowers Podcast. My name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people in companies doing great things remotely. Hello everybody and welcome to episode number two hundred and ten. Today I’m speaking with Tom Schwab all the way from Kalamazoo Michigan and Tom is the owner and founder of a company called Interview Valet but before we get to his interview as usual I want to give you guys this week’s one minute tip. So one of the things that Tom said in his interview that really struck a chord with me this time was to be thankful for the road blocks, and so that’s what I’m giving is this week’s one minute tip. Be thankful for the roadblocks that come along in your life and use them as opportunities to learn. Now it really struck a chord with me because I recently had to move out of my beloved apartment where I’ve been recording these podcasts for years and years and was really sad to lose my home office, but instead of seeing it as a road block I’m seeing it as a learning opportunity. So I’m going out and about in my new neighborhood and I’m finding all kinds of new places to work and in fact today I am recording from a friend’s office and it’s luxurious here, there’s an electric sit stand desk, there’s air conditioning, there’s a thunderbolt monitor everything that I need except the kitty cat my neighbor’s cat used to come and visit me every day and man I miss that, that’s kind of one of those irreplaceable things. So instead of seeing things as roadblocks this week’s tip is see things as opportunities to learn, easier said than done I know. Okay let’s get on with the interview today I’m speaking with Tom Schwab, he is the owner and founder of a company called Interview Valet which sets up interviews with people on various podcast and does all of the legwork for you so that all you have to do is come on and be a guest, a very valuable service if you’ve ever tried to be a speaker on many podcasts. Tom is also a Navy veteran who used to run nuclear power plants and he’s an expert on inbound marketing. So he has plenty of great tips to share about communication, about leadership, resolving conflict on teams and just how to be a good team player. So sit back relax and enjoy this very fun conversation with Tom Schwab. So let’s start of the first question which is what does your virtual office look like? What do you need to get your work done?
Tom Schwab: It varies, right my work is what you do not where you go so my virtual office looks a lot like my teams of fourteen people on the team. So as long as I have an internet connection, a laptop and a USB microphone that I can plug in I can pretty much do anything from anywhere. I try to keep everything in the cloud and while I love being at home because I have dual monitors, I find when I go away and I’m working from a hotel room it actually makes me more remote. So all of a sudden I’ll realize something that’s like ‘oh yeah that note was on my desk, I need to put that on the cloud.’ So I travel about one week out of every month cell, that’s the time it really proves to me whether or not I am totally remote.
Lissette: Right when the when you’re missing that one note you know exactly where it is but you can’t remember what it says, yeah. Let’s start with what is Interview Valet and what do you guys do and then I’d like to move into why you set it up the way you did?
Tom Schwab: Sure so Interview Valet is a podcast interview marketing service. So it’s basically the idea of using content to attract, engage and delight customers and the content is podcast interviews. So getting in front of your ideal audiences, get them to know, like and trust you. You know it was Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz that said the best way to sell something today is not to sell anything but earn the awareness respect and trust of those you might serve. So we work with authors, speakers, coaches, emerging brands to get them on the podcast that their ideal customers are listening to so they can take people from being just passive listeners to active visitors to their site and ultimately engage customers and our business model is our clients are Sinatra right, they’re the guest, they’re the performers and we’re the roadies that take care of everything else.
Lissette: Yeah I think what people don’t realize about podcasts, is there’s a lot of behind the scenes work. Just getting it set up and getting it right and getting the marketing and all the stuff around it, so it sounds like you guys take care of all of that and the podcasts can just, the guests can just be guests.
Tom Schwab: It’s like anything, you know there’s a system to everything and if you leave a couple pieces out of the engine the engine doesn’t run as well if you’re making a recipe and you leave a couple ingredients out it doesn’t turn out nearly as well. So what we do is not magic it’s really just a system that we find, it is really our zone of genius and it frees up our clients the podcast guests to work in their zone of genius.
Lissette: Right, right you don’t want to be a pod-like for instance I outsource everything. I’ve got a producer who does everything because I didn’t want to be a podcast expert, I wanted to be a remote working expert. So if I’m here I’ll pay you to be your expert and I’ll do my things. It sounds like you guys have a perfect way to do that. Now your team works remotely, so do you have a team of fourteen people and everyone works remote is that right?
Tom Schwab: Exactly, so I’ve had brick and mortar businesses before and I saw the limitations of them and I’ve just looked at this and said ‘I want to build this then find the best people,’ and amazingly not all the best people lived in Kalamazoo Michigan nor did I want everybody to come into an office and work from nine to five. You know we’ve got customers throughout the world and I don’t think its right to tell a customer in the United Arab Emirates that ‘sorry that’s not a time that we’re awake or our business is shut down for a couple hours because we got snowed in Kalamazoo.’ So I love the flexibility that it gives our team and also the access to talent.
Lissette: So that the main reason that you decided to hire people from different places? Was the access to talent or?
Tom Schwab: I could say that but I think it’s for my own thing to right, I’m fifty two years old, I’ve run brick and mortar businesses before and I didn’t like going into an office every day. You know that commute back and forth and I didn’t fair feel fair that other people are in there and I’m not in there and I just looked at it and thought ‘we don’t have to rent this office space, we don’t have to commute back and forth. Work is really what you do not where you go.’ So as I looked at it and I said, when I built this business intentionally what do I want it to look like? What do I want to look like going forward not you know what did a business look like twenty or thirty years ago and you know there’s challenges to each but I would never go back to the old style. Just with the personal freedom I have, you know my commute to go to work is great I love that and in the same way like this morning I couldn’t sleep, I was up at 3 AM and by 03:05 I had a cup of coffee and was working and productive and I could have done that if I had to drive all the way into work. So with that it gives me a lot more flexibility, it gives my team a lot more flexibility and we would have lost some great people had they had not had that flexibility.
Lissette: Yeah indeed and I can I don’t know anybody who would miss the commute, pretty much everybody I interviewed loves not being, not having to commute. I mean making the choice to commute every once in a while to go someplace it’s a different story. So what are the challenges that you faced when you set up your business like this or maybe that you’re struggling with now?
Tom Schwab: To me its communication right, because it’s one thing to build a relationship and have the communication when you’re all in the same office. You know when you’re having lunch together, when you’re running into people and I think that’s still needed in a remote team, so it’s like how do you foster that and so that’s been very intentional. We’ve got weekly calls where we get together for a half hour the entire team and just a quick zoom call, you know same platform we’re using now, we’ve got a private Facebook group where we put you know fun pictures of you know the first day of school and different things that are going on in people’s lives because you know work I believe should still be fun, it should be a place where you can engage with people. I don’t want to treat people like robots, you know where ‘here’s your assignment,’ and you’re just another nameless faceless cog. That when you hire a person you’re hiring them for their mind, when you hire an animal you know a mule you’re hiring them for their back. So I think having that personal connection has really made the difference and we’ve had a lot of people that had worked remotely before that said they like our culture and to me that’s probably one of the strengths of our team because if somebody likes the culture and if they feel bought into the vision and the mission they’ll give you their best, you know if they don’t then they’re just trading dollars for time.
Lissette: Yeah indeed and that is a hard thing to build, sounds really easy to say, building a good culture especially remotely is a particular challenge for many different teams. So you have a private Facebook groups for…is it for just communicating, is it communication in general or is it more for you know posting pictures and how do you communicate with each other?
Tom Schwab: So it’s more that, it’s more for the fun stuff you know the things that would come up over lunch, or pictures you would see on somebodies desk, just celebrating little wins outside and there are certain things that we want to keep the email for business related and so we do some you know instant messaging through Google Instant Message but those are typically… and emails those are typically business related. If you want to do something fun go to the Facebook page and do that and the other thing that we do is a lot of videos. So either use you know quick Zoom video or we use Loom which is a great platform and because my emails are filled with typos and grammatical errors, so for me it’s just easier to hit record do a quick little Loom video, share a win with the team and connect with them because I think I’ve heard this attributed to Bill Gates that he said that ‘email us a great way to share information but not always the best way to communicate.’ So we’re always trying to make sure that we use email to share information but we use other things to communicate and you know we’re getting to a big enough team now that one of our goals for 2019 is to actually bring people together once a year into in a location for a meeting, we haven’t done that yet but that’s one of our big goals.
Lissette: I love it, I’ve worked on a team that hadn’t met for five years and we worked together and we finally decided that we needed to get together and meet and men we had a great time together. I highly recommend it especially if you get along online you’re going to really get along in person, so highly recommend that.
Tom Schwab: And you’re just shocked by how tall people are.
Tom Schwab: Because you’ve got no standard of reference on people’s height then you meet them and it feel like they’ve been friends forever but then it’s like ‘wow I didn’t realize that you were that tall.’
Lissette: Totally true, the height of people is always a surprise especially if you’re coming from the Netherlands people in the Netherlands are very tall I’ve noticed. So yeah it’s a very different. So I’m curious about your hiring process, for hiring for remote people it can be very challenging because you really need to know what you’re looking for, is there any special methodology that you use or your interview process or something like that?
Tom Schwab: That’s a great question and it’s one of those evolving things that you learn as you go on. One of our requirements now is that people have done remote work before. We hired some great, talented, energetic people but they never worked remote before and so they had a lot of challenges. It’s just that they wanted the office interaction and it just seemed like it never worked out if they had never worked remotely. They liked the idea of it but they had a hard time in the execution of it. We also go through and have multiple people look at them. We always do our interviews over video. So we’ll typically use Zoom because there are so many nonverbal that you pick up as you’re talking with somebody and just the feel that you get from them and will always have three people look at them before we actually make a job offer to them. So I’ll look at them more from the company culture, the vision mission do they buy into that? We’ll have one of the other team members talk with them on the team that they’re going to, just to say ‘hey is this somebody that really fits in,’ and that team member will explain to him what the job and the role is and then will also have the team leader talk with them, to say ‘hey is this a person that I think will add to the team, is this is somebody that I could manage well,’ because it doesn’t necessarily mean that that candidate is good or bad, you know they could be great but do they fit in with what we have and what we need right now. We also use, I know you can’t legally say this is a hiring tool. So we use it as a development tool but the disk profile, just a something to look at and say an outsider’s view of what are their strengths. We also use once they’re on board with us, we use the strength finders test from Gallup. I’m a big proponent of that I think… when I was in the navy a chief told me if his mom couldn’t change him in eighteen years you’re not going to change and now. I know I was in an all-male navy in the nuclear power back in those days and I think it’s just that it just shows that people are wired a certain way and I don’t want to fix anybody because you’re not broken, you know God made you a certain way and if you don’t fit what we need we should open you up to go someplace else. So we’re looking for somebody strengths that fit into us, so that’s a tool we look at also.
Lissette: Oh that sounds really interesting, there’s a number of tools that people use, different personality profiles Myers Briggs all these, so yeah it can really give some great insight into how people work and yeah what their strengths are, what they’re going to be good at. For onboarding is there a particular process that you use? Once you’ve decided to hire somebody do you have a certain onboarding process or?
Tom Schwab: We do and I think especially you want to set people up to when, you want them to be successful even with policies and procedures you just can’t give somebody ‘here’s your log in to it,’ we really try building a team culture here. So when somebody comes on board we assign them a partner, a mentor for their first period of time. Typically that’s sixty to ninety days and it’s somebody just that can look out for them, it’s one of the more senior people that they can connect with because the other thing too is that we don’t want to take somebody that’s totally new to our organization and put them in front of one of our clients or put them in front of a podcaster right we want to vet them and make sure. So it’s sort of a training partnership process so that they can get up to speed and get little wins along the path and then at a certain point their mentor goes ‘man they are just rocking it, you know they don’t need to be under my wing anymore,’ but it also builds on camaraderie in the team too.
Lissette: Oh sure and it’s nice to have somebody to go to when you have questions or when you’re not sure, you’re afraid to ask in public like ‘I have this question but I’m afraid to ask,’ it’s nice to have sort of the buddy system there to have somebody to go to. So okay great I love that setting people up to when and assigning a mentor that sounds like the right way to go. So I’m very curious, I’ve got somewhere remote working questions but I’m really curious how did you go from running nuclear power plants to running Interviews Valet? What’s the story there?
Tom Schwab: Well there’s… you could tell from my grey hair there’s quite a few years between that but I was blessed enough to go to the US Naval Academy. So all to all the US taxpayers thanks for paying for my education, but I ran nuclear power plants and I always look back on that and say that was an amazing time because the average person running a power plant is twenty one years old with a high school education. Now they’re highly trained, highly motivated but I think it really shows that there’s a system, there’s a system that people are taught, that there’s a culture that is taught. So with that that it can be used and I always look back at that and even in my business and when other people say ‘well you don’t understand my business, it’s complicated, it’s too complicated to teach,’ and even what I tell myself that it’s like ‘no if I can’t teach my business that means I don’t understand,’ if they can figure out a way to teach how to run a nuclear power plant I can figure out a way to systematize my business and often when there’s a failure it’s not a failure in the people, it’s either a failure in the system or the management. So that’s where I started and then I went into corporate America, worked in engineering then in operations sales and marketing and then I started my own business and that business was the e-commerce business that was built using the principles of using content exposure to grow your business and at that time content was blogs and one of the hacks we used was getting your blog on somebody else’s site, you know guest hosting so instead of me posting a blog on my site and having it seen by three people one of them being my mom we put it on a bigger sites and get to know like and trust. So after we’ve built that company up from a regional player to a national leader I started to look at it and said ‘could you use guest appearances on podcast the same way,’ and so about four and a half years ago we started to tests that on a handful of people, it worked amazingly and at first my engineer in me said ‘no this is too good to be true,’ so we kept testing it, refining it, proving it said no it really is a system that is reproducible and that really came out to be podcast interview marketing and at the end of 2015 we had quite a few people said ‘hey you’ve been teaching me how to do this but you know I don’t want to learn how to make the recipe, I don’t want to learn how to build the engine, I just want to be the guest and let you take care of all the rest. So we started a beta test that the end of 2015, took it out of beta in 2016 with three remote workers. So it was myself and two other people, took it out of beta and both of those people were part time and so we started with that and grew it and now we’re up to fourteen people on the team ten full time equivalents but it’s grown to where we serve over a hundred clients, we work with authors, coaches, speakers and it’s been fun because hub spot which really helped me grow my business, my first business with inbound marketing they taught me inbound marketing has now become a clients of ours.
Tom Schwab: So it’s sort of come full scale on that and I’m always amazed at the people I get to meet.
Lissette: Yeah indeed I love podcasts absolutely, I was a big fan of radio back in the day even though radio still exists but you know I was still a big fan of radio programs and when podcast came along awe just changed everything because now I no longer had set my alarm clock to wake up at a certain time to make sure I caught the radio program that I wanted to hear. So yeah now you just stream it to whatever device you’re on, it’s amazing, totally amazing.
Tom Schwab: And I’m an audible learner, so if I read a book a lot of times I’ll have to read it a couple of times because my mind will ponder and what I realized is that I learned best in college by going and listening to the professor or going to a study group and listening to what other people say. I’m an audible learner and so now I just love listening to podcasts and a lot of times it’s weird to talk to you Lissette because I’m used to hearing you at one and a half time speed because I’ll always speed up the podcast, I say I listen at one and a half time speed as I ran at half x speed but I just know myself that I’m easily distracted, a little ADHD so that if I speeded it up I’ve got to focus on it and in the same way with audible books if I speed them up I have to focus on it and I’ll comprehend more. I’ll also drive my wife crazy if she’s in the car while I’m listening to a book 2X.
Lissette: That’s funny I’ve heard that people use that trick a lot, my husband does it for videos online if he’s watching a tutorial, it’s always that one and a half feet or something in a first and what is these chipmunk that he’s listening to but it’s a totally works, it totally works it’s a great tip actually for people who are up there. What happens when there’s a misunderstanding or when there’s conflict on the team and you know it happens to the best teams it’s just inevitable.
Tom Schwab: To me I’d say it’s worse on a remote team because you can make so many assumptions. So if I’m busy and my caps are on an email and I just respond to you, was he yelling at me? What did he mean by that? And we’ve had a lot of those where all of a sudden people made assumptions and there was conflict on there and so part of that is that I’ve learned to run toward the fire. If there is a conflict let’s get everybody that’s involved on a zoom call and let’s talk this through and the ground rules that we start with is that we’ve got to make the assumption that everybody’s heart is in the right place, we’re all trying to do the best for the company and I’m probably the worst at this because I can send up a quick email that could be viewed as turs, cold rude, well it’s because I’m running onto an airplane and I’ve got you know thirty seconds to get this email out or it’s not in the in the next two hours. So we always try to get each other the benefit of the doubt and then also from the standpoint of trying to make sure that things don’t fester too long and there’s a great book out there called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and one of his famous of the Four Agreements is never make assumptions. So if you don’t know something don’t just assume that you know since Tom had the caps and he was yelling at me, just ask on that and I think that’s important and especially with a remote team that misunderstandings are going to happen but to addressing them quickly.
Lissette: Yeah I like the ‘don’t letting things fester,’ and like small things can really blow into bigger things if we let them go too long just because of the… and it is so hard not to make assumptions. I mean as people we’re assuming, we assume things that’s just how we work. So I once had a boyfriend once who was really… who said assume nothing, yet a bumper sticker that said ‘assume nothing,’ and he was so good at it in a really made me realize how many assumptions I was making on a day to day basis, its astounding actually and especially with multicultural teams assumptions can really they can really get in the way. Do you work with people who are mainly in the US or are there PR’s that are a global team?
Tom Schwab: Right now we’re just a US based team, I’ve got one personal assistant that works with me that’s based out of the Philippines but we’re looking at that is how we can expand and a big part is different time zones because right now we go from the East Coast time zone to Pacific Time Zone which covers a lot of the world but there still be beneficial to cover it twenty four seven and especially like we’re looking now for some customer service sort of sales on boarding somebody in Australia because now we can cover things twenty four hours a day because it’s not right to tell a customer you need to do a meeting at six AM or six PM just to coordinate with the US time zones.
Lissette: Right, right it is becoming a more global world and it’s the podcast world, so you have a global audience and in a global guests I can imagine. We’re coming to the end of the time which is crazy it went so fast and I have so many more questions but I’ve got to cut it off but I have two more things left which is advice for people who are starting out. So somebody maybe who wants to start their own company and hire remote employees, what do you wish you knew when you were first starting?
Tom Schwab: I would say what’s ordinary to you is amazing to others and the flip side of that right what you don’t know other people do, and they just think it’s ordinary. So I think that asking questions, we talked to before about not making assumptions I read a book recently it’s all Eyes Wide Open, I think it was Isaac Lidsky was the author of it but he said you should ask questions like a five year old, I’m sorry ask questions like a lawyer and answer them like a five year old, right don’t make assumptions just keep asking questions and what you need to know somebody already knows out there and it’s never been easier to find that person and ask those questions and people are open you know they want to help each other. So don’t feel like you’ve got to reinvent the wheel, that problem that you’re having right now there’s a thousand other people on line that have had that problem and if you just have the courage to ask it and then keep asking the question so that you understand it, your life will be much better and just we all start out somewhere and somebody told me this very early on and it helped me. He like ‘every time you hit a roadblock just thank God,’ and I’m like ‘why?’ He says ‘because that’s the pump right now, that’s something that you need to learn and while it seems big right now if you don’t figure that out you can come back and hit it again and when you go in a hundred miles an hour that speed bump could be deadly.’ So with that you hit a road block, you hit a speed bump just say ‘thanks I’m glad that I learned that right now how can I learn this so I don’t repeat it,’ and go on from there. It makes things look less formidable.
Lissette: I like that that perspective indeed, be thankful for the roadblocks and learn first before you go fast, learn first. So last question is if people want to learn more about you and they want to learn more about Interview Valet where should they go?
Tom Schwab: Sure and you know what I’ll just make a page back on the website just for your listeners and so they go to interviewvalet.com/collaboration, I’ll put all my contact information there and so if you’ve got any questions Lissette mentioned the book that I wrote Podcast Guest Profits, how to grow your business as a podcast guest. You can buy it on Google or Amazon, I actually give away more copies than anything, so if you go there to interviewvalet.com/collaborationsuperpowers I’ll put the free book there that you can download, there is the checklist that I use for all of my interviews, there’s also a PDF that’s How to get booked you know. The six secrets to get a booked on your first podcast interview. What you know it’s ordinary to you but amazing to other people and if I can help you in any way please just reach out to me there at interviewvalet.com/collaborationsuperpowers.
Lissette: Awesome thanks for the special page on the website, I’ll be sure to put that in the show notes and to promote that as well. Thank you so much Tom for your help I hope lots of people reach out to you because you don’t have to learn podcasting yourself let the experts take care of it and let yourself just be the guest, it’s way better that way so thank you again for your time today Tom I appreciate it.
Tom Schwab: Thank you.
Lissette: Thank you for listening everyone I hope you found that information useful. If you like what you hear and if this podcast was useful for you then please leave us a review. We’re on both ITunes and Stitcher. If you want to get this information delivered straight to the inbox of wherever you are well then sign up on our newsletter. We send out great tips, tricks, best practices and tools every other week. That’s collaborationsuperpowers.com/newsletter and if you want to get all the information all in one place well then get the work together anywhere handbook, its four hundred pages packed with all the best information on how to make remote working successful for you, whether you’re an individual, a manager or a team member, that’s collaborationsuperpowers.com/book and if you want something a little hands on well then try work together anywhere workshop offered online, in person or a hybrid version of a little bit of in person and a little bit online, that’s collaborationsuperpowers.com/anywhereworkshop. A huge thanks to our amazing podcast producer Nick Jaworski, he’s the reason we sound so pro, you can hire him to make you a star at podcastmonster.com and another big thanks to our dazzling designer Alfred Boland, and he’s the one that makes us shine so bright. You can hire him to make you look cool at bolandan.nl. Alright everybody until next time be powerful.