Our guest started working when SARS-1 was around. Little did he know that it was going to turn into SARS-2, and his business model would be perfect for that. Jamie Read from BriteBirch.com worked in agencies and loves to travel the world. He believes and supports change, having moved around quite a bit. He then decided to be a freelancer where he saw a gap that made him want to be at the forefront of the future of work. Now, he’s created a community of 150 specialists or freelancers. Today, he joins Paul Higgins in a conversation about the future of work and how he’s bringing these powerful specialists together to help solve problems in marketing.
At The Forefront Of The Future Of Work With Jamie Read
Build Live Give. Mentoring With Paul Higgins.
Our guest started working when SARS-1 was around. Little did he know that it was going to turn into SARS-2 and his business model would be perfect for that. He worked in agencies and love to travel the world. He believes and supports change, which comes through in this. He moved around quite a bit. He then decided to leave and be a freelancer. That got lonely and he saw a gap. He’s like, “This is going to be the future of work and what I want to do is be at the forefront of that.” That’s what he’s doing. He’s created an amazing community of 150 specialists. Freelancers, but I call them specialists. He goes into how the future of work will be and how he’s bringing these powerful individuals together to help solve problems in marketing. What I’ll do now is hand you over to Jamie Read from BriteBirch.com.
Welcome, Jamie Read from BriteBirch to the show. It’s great to have you here, Jamie.
It’s great to be here. Thanks, Paul.
We’ve had some wonderful conversations in the past so I can’t wait for you to share your experience. Why don’t we start with something that your family or friends know about you that we may not?
I’m one of the weird people that love change. It comes from me moving around a lot as a kid but I seem to not be able to stay put for more than five years at the time. I love traveling the world and changing my environment. It helps me stay creative, stay on my toes, and roll with the punches. When this COVID-19 situation happened, I see it more as an opportunity sometimes than a lot of people who dwell on the negative side of things, which helps a lot in the way that I approach business and life in general.
How long have you been in your current place?
It’s been a few years. I don’t know if I can count 2020.
You had a fantastic career in agency world. Why don’t you quickly sum up what that was like and why you move into running your own business?
I started my career when SARS happened. I wasn’t able to go into the career path that I wanted to, which was journalism. The only job I could get was as a SARS screener. This whole COVID situation is fairly familiar to me. I managed to weasel my way up in the hospital into the marketing department. From there, everybody was telling me that I would suit agency life pretty well. As I told you, I would quit my job, pick up and move. The second time I did that, I moved to the Middle East where I got a job with TBWA, in the advertising industry. I switched over to Ketchum in PR in the Middle East. I was there for seven years. I was then in Singapore for five. Agency life is great. It’s dynamic. It’s constantly changing. You get to learn a lot of different things and I’m very much of a generalist. I used to love the networks. I used to love the brainstorming.
When I left, I had gotten to an age where maybe that pace wasn’t quite suitable anymore. I had a family by then and we were heading back to Canada. I decided, “Let me try myself consulting.” I started a company called BriteBirch. It was essentially Jamie’s Consulting Business. It morphed quickly because as I was working for myself, I did find it lonely. I did find it satisfying in a lot of ways. I missed the interaction. I miss doing work that was bigger than myself. As I took on projects that were more integrated, I would bring on team members and those team members would often say, “Jamie, that was a great experience because we were doing something collectively that we weren’t able to do individually.”
That sparked in my mind, especially given that agencies were a little bit floundering, that they were letting go of senior people so they can maintain their margins. Because the gig economy and freelancing weren’t a dirty word anymore, all of those things came together at the right moment. I thought, “Maybe we can recreate the whole agency experience but without all of the stuff we hate in our agencies and create all the stuff that we love.” BriteBirch Collective came out of that. It started small. It was bringing in people that I had worked with or that I trusted. Eventually, we got to where we’re at, which is 150 people around the world.
When people ask you, “Jamie, what do you do?” How do you best describe that?
What do I do personally is I try to get through each day, one day at a time. In terms of the BriteBirch Collective, what we do is we curate ideal teams. We put the right skillsets and the right people around the problem as opposed to assuming a solution on a client. What I do is I manage teams. I try to get the most out of teams and try to bring a lot of perspective to the table for our clients.
Who are your clients? Who do you bring those teams together for?
We’re still trying to figure out our ideal client. I’ll be honest. We have some big global clients who we work with who tap us because we’re able to quickly flex into markets. We’re working with some big clients, technology and pharmaceutical. Some of that is going well. Where we’re finding a great sweet spot is more of the mid to larger size companies that are looking more for projects. Given the way that we work and the way that we work with freelancers only, projects allow us to be finite in the way that we approach problems, and that there’s a beginning and an end. You can see the fruits of your labor. Those are the type of work that we do. It can range anything from brand work, marketing, and all of that. We do everything that you can imagine in the marketing sphere. We also have change management consultants. We have technologists, futurists, coaches, and things like that. We’re able to curate the ideal team around the problem. I think clients love that custom approach.
You’ve been in the agency and the marketing world for quite some time. The specialization, has it been a slow build that is being more specialists in the field or has technology fast-tracked that in the last five years? Tell us a little bit about that specialization. To me, there are always two questions, “I’m a marketer,” and the next question is in what?
The world’s in an interesting spot. There’s so much change. I thrive in this environment. I’m a generalist. Part of the reason why I started BriteBirch was because when I came into the freelance world, I realized I wasn’t that specialist. This is a realm for specialists, especially when you’re a one-off consultant. Clients want you for a specific reason. There are definitely lots of stuff I can do but was I the best at that thing, and maybe not. What I realized was that people like me need to find a reason to be also.In order to be successful, you also have to be open to working with people from different cultures. Click To Tweet
Where I maybe am a specialist is in galvanizing teams and bringing people together. Because I am a generalist, I’m able to walk into a client’s office and say, “I can help you in these ten different ways.” I understand enough about everything to be able to say, “I know the right person you should talk to.” With technology, with the whole flattening of organizations, and with the fact that silos are breaking down the businesses, I’d believe that BriteBirch is representing a future of work. There’s a place for specialist standards. There’s a place for generalists. I think that it’s leveraging the best of both of those worlds where you can build team dynamics and solve complex problems.
Often, it’s called the conductor. In a way, I’m a bit the same where the client is on the stage. They’re the one performing and I’m the one that’s conducting the orchestra. You’re fitting people in the orchestra and you’re finding that talent. You got 150 people. I know that’s grown quite a bit since we last spoke. What’s your secret to picking great talent? Once you pick that, putting it into the right team dynamic.
I can’t say that I’m better than anyone at it. It’s always a challenge because humans are messy animals, I always say. The biggest factor is personality. You have to have the right mindset because you can hire people for skills, knowledge, background, and things like that. The one thing that you can’t train people on is their own being and their own way of looking at the world. In BriteBirch, there’s a certain expectation and trust that we place on people because they’re not employees. They have to trust the collective and that what we’re trying to do is for the benefit of everybody. We have to trust them too to be able to deliver on what they promise and be grown-ups ultimately.
In order to be successful, you also have to be open to working with people from different cultures. You have to be open to working with people of various backgrounds and all sorts of things. That open-mindedness, that collaborative spirit, that ability to get involved and work together with other people, I think is the number one factor that I look for. The skillsets, I can find ways to either help people build those skillsets. If you come in when you’re a harmonica player, I’ll find a place for you in the band. There’s always a place for a harmonica player. You don’t need to worry too much about people’s skillsets. At the end of the day, it’s about their personality and what they’re bringing to the table.
Are there any tools, any way that you help people better identify who they are, and then also how they work within the team?
We definitely want to get there. I’d say we’re a bit too early in our development at that point. I see the fact that we have 150 people who all have amazing different backgrounds and skillsets. I see BriteBirch eventually becoming almost also a platform where we can train each other, and share skillsets and best practices with each other in a much more formal way than we are. Everyone does at least have ten years’ experience. That’s one of the baseline for being in the BriteBirch Collective. It’s nothing against people coming out of college or being young in their careers. We want to be able to provide a much upstream service when it comes to strategy and things like that. We’re dealing with older people with more experience. They’re already set to understand where their strengths lie. I don’t try to assume that they need certain skills. If they are curious and they want to engage with other people in the collective to learn new things, our platform allows them to do that.
Are they working a hybrid within client and remote or is it all remote working?
Everybody’s got a different thing. We have some members who are building their business within BriteBirch. Most of their clients are separate coming through the collective. We have some people that have one foot in, one foot out, so they have their own little consultancies and their own clients. They get involved when they want to get into some bigger kinds of work. We have some people that joined the Collective but we haven’t quite found a way to engage them yet on any specific client work. That’s part of the reason why we’re being careful not to grow to 20,000 people. I don’t want to be Upwork. I want to be as big as we need to be to be able to solve the problems. The client volume allows us to be this size. Hopefully, we’ll need to bring more people. I think we’re the right size for the amount of client work that we’re doing.
That transition is everyone used to be in the same room. Now that they are in different rooms, any tips there or learning that you’ve got from how you have quite creative people that all got their individual specialty working as a team and they’re not physically together?
This is the challenge. The way that we’re trying to solve that, because we also are global by design. Time zones can be a huge problem. The sheer amount of meetings, Zoom calls, and all of that can be a problem. We’re trying to take advantage of more synchronous and asynchronous communications in terms of putting some rules around and at what points you’re expected to answer an email versus a WhatsApp message. We have this hierarchy that we’ve established where if you get a WhatsApp message, you need to be quick with it, but if you get an email, everybody gives each other a day to respond to that. If something is super urgent, then let’s get on a phone call. That’s something that I find a lot of organizations still aren’t doing. They’re still having way too many meetings. It’s definitely a tip that I would recommend that you find ways to build some hierarchy or a priority of needs when it comes to the channels that you’re using to communicate with your team members.
We use Voxer, which is similar to WhatsApp. I love asynchronous communication. Ari Meisel, who I follow, got a podcast called Less Doing. He’s a fantastic virtual mentor for me. He’s big on asynchronous. I think that’s fantastic because I’ve got people in Colombia, in the Philippines, in the Maldives and in Australia. It’s all different time zones. It’s great when an idea pops in your head and, “There you go.” I think that is the way of the future and as you said, you’re seeing it. What other ways of working that you are on the cutting edge of? What are you seeing that some of the agency world could even learn from?
For a completely virtual, global agency where I’m the only employee, we’re surprisingly low-tech. I don’t think technology necessarily has to be the solution to everything these days. Sometimes it’s about the human nature of getting back down to understanding what makes us all tick. We’re all humans at the end of the day. We all have our own issues, especially during these times. We don’t always know what everyone else is going through. Zoom calls are helpful but they’re still not in person. Sometimes to connect with people in a way that isn’t always around work. We’ll find ways to enjoy each other’s company and find ways to celebrate the human at the end of the day, the actual person, and not treat each other like we’re trying to always get something out of each other. It’s hard to sometimes do that because you can’t go to the pub and you can’t have a laugh the same way.
What are some examples of that? How have you done that?
Like any other agency, you’ll have a team member who will have a personal issue like a family member might pass away or something like that. In our model, it’s easy to switch that person out with another person, whereas in an agency or a corporation, that’s someone that you maybe worked with for the last years. Our model benefits a lot from the flexibility and from the plug-and-play nature of it, but that isn’t why people join. The reason people join and the benefit that we get comes from the fact that we’re a community at the end of the day. People are joining because they want to be part of something bigger than themselves and they want to be connected with human beings. It’s the human nature of things. That’s only going to get worse with AI and technology starting to bleed into everything that we do. It’s already happening. We have to remember who we are and that we’re people. We’re messy animals but we’re still people.
The last question in this section is around that community, a lot of people that I work with one-on-one consultants, then I look to go to group or some form of group, and then they try to find a membership or a community. You are helping and you’re giving to others but it’s also a great way of scaling you. What have been the three key lessons that you’ve learned on building these 150 person community?
The first I’d say is don’t be afraid to ask. There are a lot of people out there who are even in full-time jobs, who would be happy to step in and help out on things. Start with who you know. Start with who you’re already connected to. I wouldn’t have been able to start BriteBirch without having worked in the Middle East, in North America and Asia. My network was built already to be a global solution. That was a great place to start.You don't need to worry too much about people's skillsets. At the end of the day, it's about personality and what they bring to the table. Click To Tweet
The second thing I’d say is that it is not easy. The hardest part of my job is the community network side of things. Unfortunately, it’s the part of the job that gets neglected the most because it’s not bringing in the money. I’ve been making a conscious effort in 2021 to try to double down on all of the connections, the opportunities to share and network. We still have a lot further to go. The last thing I’d say is to that point, don’t try to do it yourself. Get a community manager. Get someone who’s good at that stuff. Microsoft had Steve Ballmer up on stage cheerleading for people. There are certain personality types in the world that are good at that stuff. Let those people be good at what they do. It’s a full-time job and it takes a lot of energy. Those would be my tips.
Before we go into the Live section, I would like to talk to you about whether you’d like a high or a low seven-figure business in 2021? I’ve got an assessment at PaulHigginsMentoring.com/assessment. It’s fifteen questions. It takes you about three minutes, but the most important thing is once you fill that out, there are some options around having a call with me. We’ll take through a benchmark. What your answers were versus what I believe is best practice to grow a service-based business in 2021. You get a specific plan on what you can do. It’s not a sales call. It’s an assessment. The next is the Live section, Jamie. What are some daily habits that help you be successful?
It didn’t happen last night but I’d say getting a good night’s sleep is always super important. You can’t function. You can’t make smart decisions on half a brain. It’s sleep and everything that comes with sleep. I’m not big into the holistic stuff but I do believe that you should eat well, you should exercise, and all of that. It all helps. The second thing I’d say that helps me is changed your environment. Not all of us but a lot of us are stuck in our homes. Changing your environment doesn’t have to necessarily be about going out to your office or finding a café. It can sometimes be like find another table in your house to go work from or change your chair so you’re looking at different wall. It’s that changing perspective that unlocks certain things in our brains and the way that we work. The last thing I say is that I have an Inbox Zero methodology where I cannot answer messages. Even if it’s just, “Great, thanks.” I need to acknowledge that I received it, that I got it, and I need to get it out of my inbox otherwise, it drives me nuts. Those are my key tips.
The next section is the Give section. I know you’ve got the community, which is BriteBirch that you support. Tell us about why you created this community and why you’re so passionate about it.
The traditional agency model is what is considered a zero-sum game in game theory. You have these huge pitches, these RFPs that clients give out and only one agency wins. In order to overcome that, these big holding companies have bought or created multiple agencies. They’re basically competing with each other. The client doesn’t win because they’re paying these higher overheads. The employees don’t win because they’re working to the bone. The only people that win in that whole situation are the shareholders. I believe in what we built BriteBirch around is called infinite sum. I don’t know if it’s an actual term but it’s what I consider. There’s a way that the world can work where everybody wins. There’s enough to go around. I believe in the values that allow us to live more harmoniously. There are definitely charities that believe in that. Anything that looks at humans and looks at the way that we can maximize our potential but together. Those are the things that I believe in. That’s what I built BriteBirch around.
I give to a charity or a service called PurpleHouse.org.au. They help indigenous Australians get access to dialysis. Having been on dialysis myself in the city, I know how hard it is to get into remote parts of Australia. All the proceeds of my book, which is Build Live Give go to this charity and also a percentage of my total income goes there. The last section is a rapid-fire section where I’ll ask you some questions and get some rapid fire answers. The first one is what are your top three personal effectiveness tips?
Those are what I gave already. Sleep well, change your environment, get up and move around, get a different perspective, and answer all your emails. Get them out of the way. Get them done and move on.
What’s a piece of technology that is essential for running your business? I know you said it’s not the core of the community but if you had to pick one, what is it?
Slack, I think. I didn’t like it at first but it’s grown on me. It’s become the lifeblood of our communications as a global network.
What’s the best source of new ideas for you?
It’s always about synergies, other people, and perspective. Unlocking the potential of the human mind is about engaging it in ways that it pushes its limits, puts it in an uncomfortable position. That’s what change brings. That’s what different personalities and perspectives get that challenged, and get people to challenge you is the best way.
The last question is the big one. That’s why I leave it to the end. What impact do you want to leave on the world?
I would consider myself successful in life. If people look back and said that I helped bring the world together in a way that was collaborative, open-minded, supportive, but understood how to get the most out of people, not as individuals but as teams, and how those synergies and complements unlocked the potential of people.
Thanks for sharing how you can work. If you look at the structure that I studied at university, most of us who are in corporate or have been in is different to the one you will bring in together. It’s the one that I’ve been doing since 2011. For a lot of you reading, it’s a one that does have a win-win situation where it doesn’t have to be one way or the other. You can find out more about Jamie and his fantastic community at BriteBirch.com. Jamie, thanks for coming on and sharing your wisdom.
Thank you, Paul. It’s my pleasure.
Thank you. Bye.
I enjoyed that interview with Jamie. I hope you did as well. I love the fact that he talked about the future of working and that it can be a win-win. Getting money or generating money for shareholders doesn’t have to be the case anymore. I think there is a great way. In a way, it also reminds me a bit of cryptocurrencies. I hope you enjoyed it. I’d love to know your takeaways. Why don’t you share and say what you’d learned from Jamie? I know Jamie would love that as well. You can find more about Jamie and his fantastic community at BriteBirch.com. If you’d like to know if you’re going to have a high or low seven-figure service-based business, go to the assessment. It’s at PaulHigginsMentoring.com/assessment. Please take action to build, live and give.
- Less Doing – Apple Podcasts
- Build Live Give
About Jamie Read
After 18 years of building award-winning integrated marketing teams and campaigns in Canada, the Middle East and Asia, Jamie founded the BriteBirch Collective, a new kind of global integrated network agency that curates bespoke teams of specialists to help solve modern brand and business challenges.
Jamie was Managing Director of Sector’s at Edelman in Singapore, responsible for integration and diversification in the agency’s three largest sector teams: Technology, Healthcare and Food & Beverage. Prior to this, he was Regional Healthcare lead for TBWA and Group Account Director at Ketchum in the Middle East and Africa. His experience in Canada includes communications and marketing roles at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and the Ontario March of Dimes.
Jamie is on the board of advisers for health tech and biotech start-ups in Asia and Canada. He’s also Communications Chair for the Canada-ASEAN Business Council, supporting Canada’s business community in South East Asia and promoting trade relationships between Canada and Asia.
Jamie’s career has always focused on creating integrated teams and solutions, whether in advertising, Public Relations or in-house roles, and this approach has resulted in numerous award-winning corporate and brand campaigns for some of the most recognized brands in the world.
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