Inspired by Founder Chats: Justin Cooke from Empire Flippers. 

This article shares key insights from our interview with Justin Cooke on January 6th, 2022. Listen to the full conversation here

Justin is the Founder and CMO of Empire Flippers, host of the Empire Flippers podcast, and brand ambassador of the company. From content to paid traffic, he keeps the sales staff busy and the lead funnels full. He lives on the road with his wife and is regularly traveling through SE Asia, Europe, and the US. Would love to catch a beer (or two) the next time he’s in your city.

It’s 2022, or for most of the world, year three of the remote-work era.

In the SaaS industry, many of us haven’t stepped into an office, donned a full suit (dress shirt and sweatpants in Zoom meetings, anyone?), nor spoken to our teams in person for years now.

That kind of distance can create a strong sense of disconnect, which is why for companies, implementing strategies to keep staff motivated is more important than ever.

As a founder, keeping your team happy isn’t just about maintaining a pleasant work environment. High employee retention and good team morale underpin productivity, boost business growth, and even improve the experiences of your customers. Many tech moguls such as Google or Apple invest heavily into employee satisfaction for exactly this reason.

But how do you build team cohesion when most of your staff aren’t in the same city, let alone the same continent or timezone?

Last week we spoke to Justin Cooke, Founder and COO of Empire Flippers, who shared invaluable insights into successfully managing an international, fully remote team.


Tip 1: Allocate roles holistically based on your team’s interests

A good manager values the different skill sets and interests of each employee, and understands how to best put these to use in a team setting. Treating employees not just as tools for your company, but as real people with their own career development goals, goes a long way towards earning your team’s trust, respect, and loyalty.

This begins with hiring.

1. Onboard team players

If you have a specific role to fill, you might be tempted to simply hire the person with the most relevant experience on their CV. In a smaller company, however, it’s important to onboard staff who will both work well with your existing team, as well as bring new skills and perspectives to the table.

Working remotely doesn’t eliminate friction in communication; in many ways, it can actually amplify it. Justin mentions that for this reason, he prefers to hire people with some experience working face-to-face in an office, as those teamwork skills translate to an all-remote workspace, too.

2. Delegate tasks

As a founder, knowledge of your team must also include a strong awareness of self, notably your own strengths and limitations.

Being able to delegate tasks to trusted team members is critical to the long-term health of both yourself and your company. With regards to sharing tasks, Justin says,

‘’I think it's fun to work out projects, test projects, see if they fail, see if they stick, but the long-term improvement of them, and tweaking of them, making them better… it's just, it's not fun for me.

I'm much more on the creative side of things. And so I like to work on projects that are fun for me. I know it sounds silly, but that's how I operate best. And so when it comes to tweaking them, or getting 20% improvements like that, I'm not terribly interested. That’s an area where my business partner is really strong.’’


Tip 2: Offer your employees structural support rather than short-term incentives

What can you give your employees to increase their job satisfaction?

More money? Sure, bonuses and commissions are a great short-term boost of morale. But longer term, what employees actually need to be successful long-term is good support structures. Here’s what Justin had to say:

‘’What we realized over time is that giving away the farm to people wasn't actually helping. It would have been better for us to give them a more supportive structure, and take more of the [  ] fees for ourselves, meaning giving them leads, giving them support, giving them a team that they can work with and then giving them much smaller commissions.  That's a better model for a business than to just give away a whole bunch and hope. You're going to draw people over to do business with you, but we didn’t know that [at first].’’

Paying employees well above market rate has two additional drawbacks. Firstly, this strategy is rarely sustainable for most SaaS companies, and those resources could be re-invested in the company to fast-track growth instead. Secondly, high individual bonuses can actually cause rifts within teams, as well as incentivize short-sighted sales strategies in order to hit those quarterly targets.

The best way to provide for your employees isn’t handing out cash - it’s making sure that they have the resources they need to perform well, notably manpower, budget, and communication channels.


Tip 3: Encourage teamwork through team sales bonuses

In many SaaS companies, the sales team competes for bonuses. While this ‘healthy competition’ strategy can boost sales, those sales often come at the price of a collaborative work environment.

That isn’t to say that bonuses on the whole are bad! Justin found that offering team-wide commissions based on total revenue yielded the best results:

‘’We decided to build a collaborative team that could work together [...] People would look to list their business with us, and the whole team would be working on it. Didn't matter whether you had one salesperson, let's say that salesperson got sick for a week. Another person would be happy to step in. And the reason is, they weren't making a commission on an individual deal. It was a company-wide bonus [...] And so that made a much more collaborative sales team rather than a individual competitive team.’’


Tip 4: Be aware of the long-term effects of offering incentives

Incentives create priorities. If you incentivize one action, other tasks will inevitably become deprioritized.

Most incentive structures created around sales bonuses result in staff focusing almost exclusively on the short-term, notably closing deals this month or this quarter. Those regular sales are important for growth, but if they come at the expense of creating infrastructure for the future, your business can shoot itself in the foot in the longer term.

So how do you create incentives for employees to invest their time into a more distant future?

One solution is offering partial ownership over the business’ long-term success.


Tip 5: Give out equity to employees

Should you offer equity to your key employees? This is a widely debated question in SaaS spaces.

Let’s take a look at the ‘pros’.

Owning equity is an extremely strong incentive for employees to act in the company’s best interest. This includes working on long-term improvements in infrastructure, growth strategies that take years to fully pay off, and minimizing expenses.

Justin says that in his experience,

‘’If they [employees] have some equity stake in it, long-term, that's where they're going to get more aligned with the founders, because they're going to see the 2, 3, 4, 5-year horizon that you do. And they're going to get some compensation based on that [...]. They're also not going to totally sell out for short-term profits because they have that long-term equity incentive.’’

Of course, there are drawbacks to using equity as a tool for promoting employee retention, notably the dilution of ownership, loss of financial privacy, and an increased pressure to sell from employees who will want to see their cut one day.

 

Tip 6: Host regular strategy meetings

Another means of boosting employee retention and maintaining engagement is to create an open dialogue surrounding the company’s goals.

If your company is small enough, consider hosting quarterly strategy meetings for all departments to come together and discuss their developments. Each team should have a broad idea of what other teams are working towards and why. Some of the biggest demotivators for employees are being kept in the dark about key company decisions, sensing a lack of direction, and feeling undervalued.

Sharing goals in open strategy meetings is a great step towards avoiding these pitfalls.

Justin also emphasizes the importance of adapting company targets to your team’s capacity and resources:

‘’We've always done a top-down approach to sales saying, okay, here's what we want to hit, and here's what it will take to get to that number. Here's what we think we need to get to. And we're taking more of a bottoms-up approach to goal setting now, where we're looking at, okay, our salespeople can deliver this much per person. We can add this many salespeople this year, we're going to get to this dollar amount.’’

Strategy meetings are also an invaluable platform for establishing what goals are achievable for your team, and what can be done to increase those targets over time.


Tip 7: Invest in team cohesion

Promoting employee retention is absolutely a two-way street; building team cohesion requires companies to invest both their time and money.

Bringing the team together for company meetups is even more important when your staff works remotely. According to Justin, SaaS industries tend to cultivate high-stress environments; organizing some fun activities together is ‘’really great for when you're apart and you're in those stressful situations to remember who you're working with and who's on the other side of the zoom call.’’

A big thank you to Justin Cooke from Empire Flippers for sharing these 7 tips on how to promote employee retention in a remote-work SaaS company. If you’d like to add some tips of your own, come join the conversation over on the Baremetrics Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.