My name is Jason Barnard, and I am a serial entrepreneur and CEO. Over the last 3 decades, I have built three robust, lean, and successful teams for the companies I owned across three industries. 

At Kalicube, my digital marketing agency, I’ve built an amazing, remote team of 24 people. I built the team in just two and a half years, and it is the best team I’ve created so far.

I created this productive and happy team to allow me to scale Kalicube by applying what I’ve learned from the other business teams I’ve established.

The critical success factors for building a productive team and scaling your agency require you to do the things below.

  • Understand the power of remote work.
  • Delegate effectively.
  • Automate everything possible.
  • Create robust systems.
  • Hire talented people and pay them appropriately.
  • Communicate clearly.
  • Foster a positive team culture.

Three Successful Businesses Built on Teams

WTPL Music (1991-1999)

At WTPL Music, I built a team of sound engineers, roadies, producers, and tour managers around my band, The Barking Dogs. We recorded and released four albums and toured for 10 years (660 concerts) with a fantastic team of just eight people (including the musicians).

UpTo Ten (2000-2011)

At UpToTen, I built a 100% remote team of web developers, screenwriters, customer service agents, voice actors, and animators from a tropical island in the Indian Ocean. From 2000 to 2011, our team of seven people built a website offering over 100 games, songs, and activities to children aged up to ten.

 We competed head to head with PBS, Disney, and the BBC, delivering a billion pageviews in a single year (2007). 

Kalicube (2015-present)

At Kalicube, I have a 100% remote team working to transform the online reputation management, digital marketing, and SEO industries. Team Kalicube is home to 24 brilliant people, including statisticians, marketers, copywriters, developers, social media aficionados, outreach specialists, data quality analysts, Entity SEO specialists, and more.

How to build a team and scale your agency

Scaling is impossible if you don’t have a team that shares the following qualities.

  1. Smart enough to work on challenging but achievable goals.
  2. Courageous enough to leap, try something different, and learn something new.
  3. Takes a “fun” approach to work, making the work environment enjoyable and as stress-free as possible.

1. Recruiting goes beyond filling vacancies

Recruiting the ideal people means choosing candidates who align with the core principles of your agency from a professional and cultural perspective. Recruitment involves using various sourcing avenues, effective pre-selection methods, a well-thought-out selection process, and the ability to ensure cultural fit.

Building the core team

Creating the foundation team is critical for scaling your agency.

Finding candidates can be done through job boards, ads, job postings on Google, referrals, or personal outreach. My approach to the core team of four or five people is through my network and job boards. Job boards give you a vast pool of talent but takes time to sift through the interview, hire, drop off, or fire. Establishing the core is hard work but once it’s done, and you have the right people, it gets easier. 

Once the core team is thriving, I rely on their recommendations of connections, friends, and ex-colleagues for new hires. Recommendations from the core team have always produced the best people since the candidates are preselected and probably have a good idea of your brand’s voice and approach.  Team referrals reduce turnover and onboarding is easier, but cliques can result. Educate your team on the pitfalls and professionalism required when working with ex-colleagues or referrals.

At Kalicube, if we need to use a job board, we preselect candidates by including a link to a video that explains a different application process from the one on the job board. Following an alternative application approach ensures that only candidates who are genuinely motivated and interested in working with your agency will apply.  Bibi Raven gave us this great idea.

Resume tips

When sifting through the resumes, I look for anything slightly out of the ordinary – a switch in career or educational path or an unusual hobby. I favor people who follow up with an email, especially when they emphasize something a little out of the ordinary about themselves.

William Attaway suggested “5 Cs” for preselection and interviews.

  • Commitment
  • Chemistry with the team
  • Culture fit
  • Character
  • Competency. 

Prioritizing a candidate’s fit with your team culture and the “personality” of your brand is super important regardless of the role. A similar mindset across the entire organization contributes to a harmonious and supportive working environment and promotes productivity.

Cultural harmony is the bedrock of the team and the company at WTPL Music, UpToTen Ltd, and Kalicube.

2. Onboarding New Team Members

Integrating new team members seamlessly into your team goes beyond hiring the right people; it involves a comprehensive and mindful onboarding process. Creating an onboarding Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that consists of detailed documentation and personal meetings with seasoned team members is essential. 

The SOP and the meetings outline what to expect, outline the rules in a friendly way, explain the attitude required, and who to speak to get answers to questions. The SOP includes clear expectations about work value, productivity, and relationship dynamics with team leads and the CEO.  Our onboarding vastly improves our retention rate because the new hire is welcomed and inducted meaningfully and is empowered to get straight to their responsibilities. 

The primary goal for a new team member should be to consistently bring value to the company, either by improving existing standard procedures or introducing new beneficial practices. This requires them to be adaptive – they need to focus as much on the other people in the team as the tasks they are entrusted with. They must understand the need for personal growth, flexibility, and the potential necessity to move between roles as they evolve within the company.

Conceptually, we discuss this within the Kalicube Team using a bus analogy – it’s not just about getting the right people on the bus but ensuring they are in the right seats. There are multiple reasons someone might switch seats. Here are three:

  1. They have outgrown their current role and another role where the skills and abilities they have acquired within the company are more appropriate.
  2. We put them in the “wrong” seat when they get on the bus and another role will suit their natural skills and personal preferences better.
  3. The agency’s needs have changed as the company evolves and adapts to its market and clients.

Recruiting the most suitable people and providing comprehensive onboarding ensures the agency runs smoothly and we deliver real value to every client.

3. Creating Trust, Autonomy and Delegation

Trust, autonomy, and delegation are the pillars of a sustainable team model. At Kalicube, we’ve learned to prioritize these principles to facilitate a thriving work environment. 

Task-driven structures

A task-driven structure is able to work well when well-structured and regimentally implemented. Many agencies function this way and make millions. Task-driven structures have never worked for me because unless they are perfectly designed and implemented, they cause bottlenecks, boredom, and (ironically) reduced efficiency. Turnover increases when people are part of a rigid production line.

Task-driven agencies get stuck in a system and are unable evolve as the digital landscape evolves. The emergence of AI means a rigid system is no longer viable because every agency will need a certain level of agility to survive.

Mads Singers gave me an excellent and practical approach to shifting from a task-based system during a Kalicube podcast.

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