The Home Office Goes Global
I've always been fascinated by how digital tools can make us more productive without making us seem remote. There's Work From Home, then there's what can only be described as Work the Globe.
Graeme Newell is a master of the latter. After years as a TV news producer, ad researcher and public speaker, he moved his company to Portland two years ago and set up in a four-bedroom house in Montavilla.
His upstairs den/office looks like a day trader or YouTuber's dream. One desk has four screens, three keyboards, three microphones, a teleprompter and front and rear cameras.
The other, his non-broadcasting desk, has five screens facing him and six more behind him. A rack of PCs sits behind that chair, and off to the side on some metal shelving are three back-up devices. For added security he keeps another one at a friend's house. They back up each other's data.
Listen to Newell on our podcast:
Newell has taken outsourcing and delegating to the limit. He has a personal assistant in Cebu, a remote island in the Philippines. The island has fast Internet and Amazon delivery, but his assistant, Theodemae, lives a two-hour drive from the big city. Theodemae works from home mainly doing video editing and research. Newell can send her a script and she'll find the video to go with it and edit it in. She also does research and writes up notes, as well as handling his schedule. Her husband, Noel also does video editing for Newell, but he is managed by Newell's guy in Cary, North Carolina, called Cory Richardson.
Newell calls Theodemae up to three times per day by Zoom, which he says is the most reliable of the affordable videoconferencing packages out there. (For years he tried Skype and Adobe Connect but the calls were too often dropped.)
His customer relationship software sends her a list of tasks, and she checks them off as she goes.
He also has a proofreader in London, and a video editor in the Kiev, Ukraine, and a copy writer in Malawi. They are all 1099 people, contractors. He finds them through Upwork, an online employment service, like Monster for international work, and also Fiver for one-off tasks.
It's all about the work
Newell's bread and butter is delivering speeches to conferences, for which he is paid between $8,000 and $12,000 a pop. He realized three years ago, when the video links became stable enough that he could afford his own high-end consumer gear. He bought much of it used.
He rarely has to travel to deliver his speeches. Instead of wasting days on planes and hotels for a one-hour speech, he can tailor the message,
deliver it live from his desk, and follow up weeks later to see if recipients have absorbed his message. He gives them an assignment
and they have to reconvene online to talk about it.
"The speeches are actually the easy part of it. The hard part is getting the speech," he told the Business Tribune.
He usually targets meeting planners in companies. Much of his work comes by customer referral. He doesn't advertise.
Out of Africa
He recently delivered a speech to a conference in Nairobi, Kenya. The organizer found Newell online but didn't have the budget to fly him out, and Newell didn't really want to. But they were happy to take the speech by video link.
"I gave them a screaming rate on it because it was only an hour of my time. I think I did it for $1,000."
He spoke about decision making and neuroscience, or behavioral finance (a branch of behavioral economics) to a group of marketing people.
"What was really amazing was I did a speech in Nairobi, went downstairs, had some lunch and then took a nap."
He does Malcolm Gladwell-type speeches that snag the reader with narratives and contrarian fact.
"Typically, I speak to financial services people about behavioral finance. I'm a neuroscience researcher. We throw people inside of MRIs and we show them different things and we can tell whether they're making bad decisions or not," he said.
"Most of our decision-making prowess was honed on the African savannah and it was about survival, not about spreadsheets and good rational decisions," he said. "It was about not getting eaten by a tiger."
He explains that investors tend to get over-confident and start trusting their gut. Big mistake. "You want to have defined procedures because you'll have the tendency to sabotage yourself."
Even talking to Newell on a simple video call, he can switch up the visuals in real time. Using a box called a web presenter, made by Black Magic (which also makes cameras) he can throw up graphics, news zippers, background video and animations. He can pull in a PowerPoint and pop his face into picture-in-picture. Rare in video calling, he can look the listener right in the eye because he uses a teleprompter.
There's a pleasant tidiness about the space. The walls are lined with plastic drawers marked with a label maker: night lights, wrenches, tape measures, label maker, screwdrivers, box cutters, etc. His ugly cable management can be forgiven since his tech is an ever-evolving ecosystem. Newell is proud to buy his equipment used, from the six, square, Dell monitors behind his back to the lights, microphones and backup drives.
He estimates the net cost of all his gear at $10,000. "You can get the basics for probably $2,000, one computer and a little switcher and then a camera, microphone and you're ready to go."
He also works with brain scientists to test things such as web content, viral videos and social posts, to see if they are working. In one case, they mounted eye-tracking glasses on a shopper to see where the person looked when walking through a supermarket.
"What's really exciting is that you get an opportunity to see right inside their brain as they're making a decision, as opposed to saying, 'Did you like that?' Because we have no idea whether you like it," he said. "There's a saying in my business that if you want to know how somebody really feels about something, one of the worst things you can do is ask them, because people consciously change their answers."
He adds that he, himself, is not a brain scientist. He's a marketer. "But I have people on my team who are big-brained."
He says he found them thanks to working in advertising and marketing for most of his career, where he did studies.
"I help people that sell things, to sell them more effectively by appealing to people's emotional brain."
He gives another example, this one of the Economist magazine. "They have three offers. You can get the magazine only and that'll cost you 10 bucks a year. You can get just a digital online and that'll cost you 10 bucks a year. And they have a third one in the center. You can get the digital and the online for $10. So, you look at that and kind of go, 'they must have made a mistake.'" Naturally they sell most of the print and digital packages.
"They just want to sell the middle. So, the other two are decoys."
OK Gen Z
"For businesses right now, it's just not acceptable for you not to be on video," Newell said. "Everybody's got to have a YouTube channel and their social posts. When you think about it, the ability to influence somebody in writing is really hard to do. Send me an email? They're just clutter in the inbox. And even a call, it's really tough to get. Whereas this, you can actually see and experience the other person and it's almost like being there. I form great relationships with people all over the world because they can experience me firsthand."
Asked if there is a limit on how many great relationships you can have without meeting in person, he laughs and says he's doing pretty well. He has 10,000 people in his database.
"For anybody that wants to have deeper relationships with their customers they've got to see you and experience you, as opposed to just hearing you or reading you," he said.
"It tends to be generational. Young people who are tremendously comfortable with this stuff, they've spent their whole lives on video. Who's driving this technology is gamers. That switcher that I was
talking about, that was designed for people who want to do a live online game blog,"
"Everybody on my team lives all over the world. They can live wherever they want to live, and there's no problem."
He does a lot of video blogging. That's where the Filipinos come in handy.
Live from the Philippines
He dials up Theodemae Gillamac. It's a Saturday morning there. She apologizes for her messy living room, although it looks tidy. The Christmas tree is decorated. Theodemai was doing transcription work when Newell discovered her. "I just threw new stuff at her and she kept hitting it out of the park," he said. Otter transcription software has taken that part of her job away but she's busy.
Carrying on a three-way conversation, he explains, "This is a job that wasn't available where she is. She lives on an island where commuting is horrible, it's a two-hour commute each way."
Theodemae and many of her friends are trained as nurses, but they all have side jobs: real estate, printing, online teaching — offering English to Chinese and Japanese kids — and serving as a virtual assistant.
Newell praises their family values and their work ethic, as well as the fast internet and good language skills.
He pays Theodemai by PayPal, and the work is better paid than nursing. She graduated in 2016 but hasn't applied for a job because she doesn't like the commute. The family has moved to an apartment and got their first car. Her neighbors are curious about their work but know the tasks are too hard for them.
So she could work more in this job, she hired a live-in "house helper" for $100, U.S., per month. The family upgraded its internet to the fastest possible.
She collates marketing interviews for Newell to analyze. For example, they surveyed 5,000 Alaskans online for a TV station in Alaska that wanted to understand their audience better.
Over two months she picked out keywords and tagged the comments, and Newell built the presentation and gave it to the TV station, KTVA.
"The communication is seamless," Newell added. "Typically, I'm on the exercise bike with my laptop. I work out, we talk and go over projects and we write videos."
"I was trying to find an exercise bike myself," Theodemae added. She has 6-year old twin boys who keep out of the way when she's working.
The technology works for Newell, not the other way around.
"The outsourcing is done for things that I don't know how to do. I am not a master of video content writing, but I have people who are amazing at that," he said. "I'm not nearly as good at SEO, and things like that, but I've got specialists that I can refer the business to. For YouTube, you get five seconds to impress, man, you're gone after that. And there are experts who really know exactly how to get those first five seconds to hang."
He subcontracts to a woman in St. Louis who teaches TV journalists best practices writing for YouTube and Facebook.
"We sell consulting services to basically say I can help you up your YouTube
video hits by 50%...I'll go to her and go I need an example of somebody that uses music really skillfully in the first eight seconds, and then transition to a person talking quickly."
Newell says what he does would work for any home-based business. "Particularly if you're a one-man band or an entrepreneur. It's something where you can take all of those repetitive tasks and have somebody do an amazing job for you. Particularly now, because you're expected to be on social media and doing videos and writing blogs and stuff like that. You have people that can help you do that."
As I am leaving, Newell stops to pay off another of his contractors, the young guy who cleans his immaculate Montavilla house. Job done.
Owner: Graeme Newell
Phone: 503 719-7794
"602 Communications is a research, training and consulting company that specializes in emotional marketing. We show businesses how to use emotional persuasion to supercharge customer loyalty and build revenue."
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