In the 20 years I’ve spent in the creative industry, I’ve worked with hundreds of contractors, freelancers and remote workers. Through it all, the most important attribute I’ve found has not been eagerness, intelligence or even technical skills. It’s trustworthiness.
All those other attributes are important, of course, but the ability to trust grants me certain freedom: I can focus on other aspects of my work without worrying about theirs. When trusted coworkers give me advice, I know it’s worth listening to. For entrepreneurs like myself in charge of a remote workforce, trust conquers all.
In my career, the benchmark for trustworthiness has been my accountant. Back in high school, one of my schoolmates’ father, John, joined my economics class for a day to discuss his career. I was surprised to notice the subject matter of his talk visibly bored my classmates, who apparently weren’t intrigued by the legal differences between an LLC and a corporation. But for me, it wasn’t boring at all. On the contrary — in an odd way, it was inspirational. John’s lecture got me thinking for the first time, at age 18, about how I could formalize my creative passion into a career.
John left such an impression on me that when I started my own video production company a few years later after I graduated from college, I called him up to ask if he’d be my CPA. It still surprises me today that he said yes.
In those early days, when I knew nothing about running a business, he was more than a CPA. He was a business advisor, sounding board and friend. Like most creative entrepreneurs, I had no idea about the business side of things; I was in my early 20s then, and all I knew was that I wanted to work for myself and do what I loved. John showed me what financial models should look like, how much of my income to save, how to build an IRS-compliant business and where to put my savings. During a time when other so-called professionals didn’t take me seriously as a young entrepreneur, John’s guidance was critical in helping me grow my company as quickly as I did.
About a year ago, John told me he’s retiring. I wish him all the best, but a part of me is sad to be losing a mentor who’s been with me since the beginning. It’s hard to imagine replacing him with some generic accountant who will simply keep my books in order or try to create a new relationship from scratch. Software is a viable alternative, but I personally prefer a more human connection. With accounting software that simply crunches numbers, you’re missing the benefits of a savvy human behind the computer.
Trust Is A Building Block For Any Remote Business
John set the standard for how I’d interact with all other employees over the next two decades. In that time, I built a successful creative agency, tore it down and restructured it to focus on agility, based largely on a remote workforce. This spring, I’m launching a new suite of companies that emphasizes these qualities over all else: Our goal is to empower brands, agencies and professional freelancers to break down the outdated barriers inherent to the production industry. Among the foundational tenets of our platform are trust and transparency.
I’ve written before about the benefits of a remote workforce. My own business relies heavily on remote talent, which means finding the most qualified people for any given job, regardless of where they live. In that world — when you don’t see people face-to-face every day — trust and reliability become central to your business strategy; it’s easily as important as work ethic and creativity.
This philosophy extends beyond remote workers. According to a 2016 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, based on more than 500 members, “dependability and reliability” ranked indisputably as the No. 1 sought-after trait when hiring new people, with 97% of respondents citing it as a priority. The next two traits were integrity and respect, which are likewise closely aligned with trust.
This data speaks to what many of us instinctively understand: Hiring someone whose experience matches your goals is great, but if you don’t fully trust them, you’re taking on a big risk.
Finding A New CPA
Running an agile company means reducing overhead wherever possible. Years ago, I deliberately rejected what I saw as a bloated, outdated business model still propped up by many large creative agencies. When you have hundreds of people working for you, not only are they almost certainly working less efficiently, but you also can’t form real relationships with many of them.
One significant benefit to running an agile, remote company is the freedom to work with a select group of people you know and trust. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your lawyer, programmer or accountant. It’s a mentality that modern business leaders should always be conscious of.
To that end, I was not prepared to shift to automated tax-prep software when John retired. Coincidentally, another high school acquaintance of mine recommended a potential accountant I’m now meeting with. He’s stepping into a large shadow, but I am hopeful that we can build a fruitful relationship that continues for years to come.