Damon Burton of SEO National: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Fotis Georgiadis
Oct 27 · 11 min read
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Don’t make exceptions to your hiring loopholes. By creating silly requests, you can proactively eliminate half of the job candidates immediately. I like to ask candidates to contact me through a specific channel with a specific message. For example, if I post a job on a website, I’ll ask the candidates not to message me in that portal’s messaging system. I’ll send them elsewhere, like Skype. I’ll also ask them to copy and paste a bizarre intro message, like “When you message on Skype, please say, “T-rex is bodacious!”

Why? You’re passively finding candidates that: read thoroughly & can follow directions. In the past, I made the mistake of making exceptions. I’d see a shiny resume in my inbox on the hiring website. The candidate looked perfect, so I replied. I’ve also responded to candidates that Skyped me but didn’t tell me how bodacious T-rex was. Save yourself. It. Never. Works. Out. Don’t make exceptions to your hiring loopholes.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Damon Burton.

This search engine marketing expert has beat billion dollar companies at their own game and has proven strategies to grow your business.

Over a decade ago he beat a billion dollar company by outranking their website on Google. Since then, he knew he was onto something and has gone on to build an international search engine marketing company that’s worked with NBA teams, and Inc 5000 & Shark Tank featured businesses.

Having started his business right before the 2008 recession, Damon is familiar navigating and growing a business through times like today. Never before has there been so many people needing something to focus their attention on… AND the time to do it.

Since founding his company SEO National in 2007, he has been featured in publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, BuzzFeed and USA Weekly, and has helped high-profile clients make more in a month than they used to in a year.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

In my twenties, I started a car enthusiast website in 2001, EliteRides.com. Little did I know that it was the first step towards launching a multi-million dollar business over the upcoming years.

I still own the domain, but the content is archived, and there is nothing to see. How did this site launch my career?

The purpose of the site was to showcase aftermarket cars. I’d build profiles and feature local cars that had modifications done. As the website’s popularity grew, I asked myself how to make the website better for users. That threw me into the rabbit hole of improving my web design skills.

After improving the site design, I became curious about how to monetize the ever-growing traffic. Voilà. That’s how I got started in internet marketing.

For a while, I did design on the side. Once I built up enough clients where I could take a calculated risk of cutting my income in half, but freeing up 80% of my time… I jumped.

That was in 2007. Fast forward nearly 14 years later, and I have a team of twenty. We’ve optimized websites with NBA teams, billion-dollar international real estate agencies, businesses featured on Shark Tank, INC 5000 companies, and so many other cool companies and people.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I’d guess it was about 28 years ago that I went to my first Utah Jazz game.

They played the Denver Nuggets.

Never would have guessed two decades later I’d build an internationally respected SEO company, and one more decade later that the Utah Jazz’s Team Store would be one of its clients.

As I’ve thought about the exciting news leading up to announcing working with this client, I realized that there’s something special about welcoming them.

Sounds funny to say that I’ve had bigger clients than the Utah Jazz’s Team Store. A freakin’ NBA team. But I have.

However, welcoming the Jazz has an excitement about it that no other company, no matter their size, can beat. Bigger contracts can’t bring bigger emotional ties.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In 2007, I had I woke up early to work on one of my first significant SEO client’s site. When I uploaded a new file, little did I know that file already existed on their server, but it was set to hidden.

When I loaded the “new” file that “didn’t exist” from my program’s view, it really overwrote the hidden file that DID exist.

  • Crashed the site

Luckily, they were cool. They granted access to correct the file — instant restoration.

That client went on to increase tjeor median monthly organic sales by 226% that year. As the years past and our relationship and marketing efforts grew, that percentage of growth increase substantially. Their online sales grew so much through my team’s SEO efforts that they sold for millions. They snowballed their earnings into building and selling five more businesses in ten years, and has become a good friend.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

I’ve gone over a decade, having never met my team of 20 in person. And I’d put their loyalty up against anyone else’s team. The key is to be human. Be vulnerable. Check-in with them more than on projects. Ask how things are going outside of work.

By asking genuine questions from a place of sincerity, you earn trust and build relationships. This is even more valuable of an approach due to COVID.

In a recent Skype chat meeting with my whole team, I asked them, “Has anyone picked up new hobbies, or how are you staying mentally sane?”

I asked them because I’d like to invest in their sanity. Maybe I could purchase something of benefit to them online and have it delivered directly to them, or forward a little extra cash to help them buy something locally that would make life easier.

I know that:

1 — Mental health can be intimidating to talk about.

2 — Some people are quiet to being with, so talking about mental health is even more intimidating of a subject.

I wanted to be transparent with my team to encourage them not to hesitate to contact me if I can help. If I can contribute to helping them find a reasonably priced guitar because they want to learn, let’’s explore that option. Or maybe they want to learn a new skill on Udemy, unrelated to work, count me in.

Proactively emphasizing that a channel of honest, vulnerable communication was available can mean the world.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

Since day one, which was nearly 14 years ago. I have a team of 20 that I’ve never met in real life. How crazy is that?!

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

  1. Frontload your hiring efforts to find the right candidate

Better to take more time finding the right person than to “save time” finding the wrong person and have to clean up the mess later and start the search all over again.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” — Abraham Lincoln

2. Experience over resume — ask to see their work

Anyone can say anything on a resume. Understandably, people need a job. Unfortunately, that means skills are exaggerated.

When available, depending on the industry, ask to see some real-life examples of their work. Seeing tangible results is infinitely more insightful than a resume.

3. Pay for a test

I pay candidates to do a test all of the time. Offer a paid test and set realistic expectations that you want to make sure their skills are a match. That way, you establish trust (if you do continue engaging) by valuing their time. They’ll also appreciate time not lost as unpaid if the opportunity didn’t work out.

4. Trust your heart

Maintaining positivity within the organization is a must. If you have a candidate with an amazing resume and skillset, but they come across as an emotional vampire… NOPE!

5. Trust your gut

If something feels wrong, something is wrong.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

Don’t make exceptions to your hiring loopholes. By creating silly requests, you can proactively eliminate half of the job candidates immediately.

I like to ask candidates to contact me through a specific channel with a specific message. For example, if I post a job on a website, I’ll ask the candidates not to message me in that portal’s messaging system. I’ll send them elsewhere, like Skype. I’ll also ask them to copy and paste a bizarre intro message, like “When you message on Skype, please say, “T-rex is bodacious!”

Why? You’re passively finding candidates that:

  1. read thoroughly

In the past, I made the mistake of making exceptions. I’d see a shiny resume in my inbox on the hiring website. The candidate looked perfect, so I replied. I’ve also responded to candidates that Skyped me but didn’t tell me how bodacious T-rex was. Save yourself. It. Never. Works. Out. Don’t make exceptions to your hiring loopholes.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

Proactively communicate that you’d rather someone be honest with their question, fear, or mistake so you can help them proactively, versus you finding out on your own and have to correct course reactively after the damage is already done.

Beyond just mitigating awkward feedback sessions, I don’t want to micromanage. For that reason, I’d way rather spend weeks finding the right candidate than hiring quickly. Sure, not filling a role can be painful as the workload builds up, but having a poor performer or someone that brings a gray cloud to company culture is a lot more painful to try and cleanse later.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Compliment sandwich:

  • top bread = compliment

Be sincere. Compliment them with something that is truly one of their good characteristics. Otherwise, you’ll make the whole situation worse with fake schmoozing.

  • “meat” of the compliment sandwich = the feedback

Be direct. Don’t give a huge backstory, don’t justify what you’re about to say. Say what needs to be said and how it impacts you all. Don’t make it come across that only one side or the other suffers. Communicate that you’re a team, and by correcting course, it’s not only a win for you but also for them and their colleagues.

  • bottom bread = compliment

Thank them for their time and willingness to be open-minded to creating a winning solution for the whole team.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

Different reality = different people.

Stay humble and be graceful as you’re given a unique opportunity to virtually join people in their homes that are otherwise private.

We’re all human and bring that awareness of humanity to the discussion. Everyone’s homes will be different; some bigger, some smaller, some perfectly polished, some homes a FEMA kid tornado zone.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

Just because you’re not physically close, doesn’t mean you can’t be emotionally close. Do virtual team bonding activities or offer one-on-one growth opportunities. Find out what activities are near the team members’ locations, figure out their interests or if they’re a parent, and offer unique activities that they can do within groups that they can socialize with.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I’d like to encourage confidence in more people. That’s really something I’ve taken to lately, is encouraging others — especially good-hearted people.

It has been really interesting being more introspective the last year or two and seeing how most people have insecurities. Often, they’re so simple to the outsiders but so huge to the person. Sometimes all it takes is a little nudging at the right time from the right source of caring, and amazing things happen.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Pay the price today so you can pay any price tomorrow.” — Grant Cardone

I’m not a huge guru-follower, but this quote often stands out to me.

When I was younger, my family moved a lot. A lot, a lot. From one family friend’s basement to another, sometimes 2–3 times a year.

As I hit late teens, early twenties, I knew that I’d be a family man one day. That encouraged me to put in the work in my youth (“pay the price”) so that I could be financially secure, residentially secure, everything secure (“pay any price tomorrow”) so that I could provide my future wife and kids roots.

By the time I was thirty, I had accomplished what many would consider lifetime accomplishments. That afforded me, my wife, and our kids to grow into our beautiful house. We’re fortunate for my wife to be able to stay home with our kids, I work from home and can be with the kids as well, and things look brighter and brighter each day from the seeds I planted ten years ago.

How can our readers follow you online?

Personal blog: https://www.damonburton.com

Business website: https://www.seonational.com

Free Copy of SEO Book: https://www.freeseobook.com

https://www.facebook.com/damon.burton

https://www.linkedin.com/in/damonburton/

https://www.instagram.com/entrepreneurdamon/

Thank you for these great insights!

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Fotis Georgiadis

Written by

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Fotis Georgiadis

Written by

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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