Long Distance Business Relationship

Long Distance Business Relationship

When we started working together, there was a serious limit to our internal trust. We were never going to shoot each other, but we needed to prove our work ethic and integrity to each other.

It's no secret that the world is a global village. Start a fire in Africa and someone in India will hear about it. Do something good in Brazil and North America will give you an applause. How can you do business from 15,000 kilometers (9,000 miles) away and still maintain a high level of trust?

Here are 5 ways…

  1. Clear, direct communication, keeping the other person's interests in mind. When we communicate, we hit the most important points first. We're careful to not waste any time whether it's via message or phone conversation, we make sure we understand one another. If not, then we try to seek clarification as soon as possible.
  2. Set relationship parameters, guidelines, and in our case vision. We've spent the last few years hashing out details to what it is that we're trying to accomplish and build. That said, we push hard to stay on the same page.
  3. Willingness to mix business and personal—this has been so important for us. If it's all business, then the distance begins to take a toll because you lose sight of the daily friendship interactions. By being intentional to check-in on each other, share funny stories throughout the week, and be a little vulnerable, it strengthens the relationship and makes communication that much easier.
  4. Set deadlines and hit them. There is rarely a deadline that we don't hit as a team. When we agree to a timeframe on a project, article, or whatever, we hit it. And we pride ourselves on hitting that deadline. We never have to worry about the other team member—we're committed to that goal.
  5. Prove your integrity without being asked. Scan bills, invoices and receipts—and jot down what you've willingly contributed with no expectation of payback.

A Few Connectivity Thoughts

A few technological advices to communicating in third world Africa. With a smartphone, the app WhatsApp changed our communication. It acts like a messenger application on a phone, but it only pushes to the device when on WiFi or network, so it doesn't charge you tons of cash. With SMS messages costing $0.25-0.75 per message in the USA and phone calls at $2.79 per minute to Zimbabwe, that adds up fast.

With the USA carrier AT&T, you can get rates down to $0.79/minute with their $3.99 monthly World Connect plan. The connection is good, once you get on the line, sometimes we have to call half a dozen times before connecting.

We've tried the app Viber and it is a good app, but unfortunately it is extremely patchy in Zimbabwe. Google Voice only charges $0.39/minute, but because the call is routed through a couple different networks, there is almost always feedback and a long delay on the calls.

Regarding Skype, it's patchy too unless you're on a really strong internet connection and with us always being on the go, it's virtually impossible to hold a conversation while on a smartphone moving from location to location throughout Southern Africa.

We recently purchased a VOiP phone system from 8x8. It is a monthly fee, but gets the rate down to $0.25/minute. So far this system has been working well, with a slight delay on the call.

As internet and broadband speeds stabilize in Zimbabwe, we will look at implementing a USA VoIP phone for Tommy in Zimbabwe. Then for a small monthly line cost, he can call the USA and 6 other nations unlimited as long as he has power and internet—both of which are sometimes hard to come by.

When phones fail, and messages are delayed in delivery. We turn to lengthy emails with details that list out thoughts, feedback, and humor throughout. It's not ideal, but what we're doing is not conventional either.

Doing Business in Africa. It's normal. But it might be crazy in the first world. It can be frustrating, but swings back to rewarding. It can be devastating. It can be fun. We would have it no other way. Trust is getting easier to prove and the worry about "will people screw me" is dying down.


Thanks for reading! We've got some project updates for the end of Quarter 2 coming soon. We're seeing quite a bit of movement on several of our initiatives. Also, we're going to be bringing over a few business people from Southern Africa for the 95% Share Marketing Conference in Chicago at the end of June—where some of our USA startup friends will also be.

Then stay tuned for our CMedia Production Tour to the USA in July. Lots of great stuff coming along. As always, if you'd like some help with an idea or just want to say hello, drop us a note in the comments section.

Tommy & Tim

(photo via abaporu)