31 Mar 2 Seas Virtual Office: An Innovative Way to Sell Foreign Rights (Already Pre-Pandemic)
A virtual office enables the 2 Seas team to continue to sell foreign rights and maintain business as usual during its frequent travels to international book fairs & major publishing cities. We have headquarters in California, an office in Cyprus, and team members that are based around the world.
By Marleen Seegers — Article first published in July 2013 (updated regularly)
One of the reasons behind our success as a foreign rights agency is the fact that we constantly build personal connections with publishing professionals from all four corners of the world and continue to nurture these relationships as years go by. We travel several times per year to international book fairs and publishing cities, including two long trips to Europe around the Frankfurt and London Book Fairs.
This means that I am not physically present at our headquarters in Ojai, California for over three months per year. Moreover, Senior Agent Chrysothemis – who joined our team in the summer of 2015 from Porto, Portugal – is now based in Nicosia, Cyprus. Our Foreign Rights Assistant Nikoleta works from Raleigh, North Carolina. We also frequently work with virtual interns who have been based in places as varied as Edinburgh, Denver, Milan, Paris, São Paulo and New York.
How do we manage this virtual office? We like to keep things simple and efficient. Besides being extremely well-organized and very meticulous – which we should be, as foreign rights sellers – all it takes are the below cloud-based tools and apps that we use 24/7, also when we aren’t traveling.
Virtual office tool #1: Xero (accounting & invoicing)
Thanks to Xero, we can create and send digital invoices from anywhere, keep track of our cash flow, overdue payments, etc. Our Xero-certified accounting company (which has its headquarters in Australia) has access to our account. This enables them to reconcile expenses (Xero is connected to our bank & credit card accounts), establish expense reports, and pull P&L statements, balance sheets, etc. when necessary. It also has a handy Payroll integration, in case you have employees.
Virtual office tool #2: Box.com (file sharing)
An extremely simple and secure file sharing tool, which prevents our email account from exceeding its space limit every other day because we send about a gazillion PDF files by email every week. You only have to upload the PDF (or Word, or Excel,…) file once, you can organize your files in folders, and share them by sending the specific link that is attached to each file by email.
Great feature: Box lets you upload newer versions of the same document without it having an impact on the initial link. For example: After we’ve sent the uncorrected proofs of a manuscript, we can upload the final, print-ready version of the same manuscript while keeping the same box.com link. People who received the link before we uploaded the latest version, will now automatically access the print-ready PDF when clicking on the link.
Virtual office tool #3: Highrise (a virtual rolodex)
We’re huge fans of Basecamp‘s Customer Relationship Management tool Highrise. Without it, our agency just wouldn’t be the same. Before launching 2 Seas, I had only used Excel spreadsheets to keep track of my contacts, submissions, etc. This is far from ideal, even though many rights sellers continue to rely on Excel these days. I truly felt enlightened when I discovered Highrise. It enables you to store your contacts, email history, deals, business expense reports, and whatever else you might want to keep track of. Check out their wonderful tagging system (yes, I am a tagging geek)! We used to rely on Highrise to keep track of our submissions as well, but after 6 years we felt it was time for an upgrade (see E3/The Rights Manager below). We do continue to use Highrise for anything and everything else related to our relationships.
Update: As of August 20, 2018, Highrise is no longer accepting new signups. However, if you already have a Highrise account, you can continue to use Highrise forever!
Virtual office tool #4: Basecamp (project management & team communication)
Basecamp, the mother company of Highrise (tool #3) is an easy-to-use project management software that we started using in early 2021, when our team had grown to 7 co-workers (not including Millie the office cat!).
Prior to using Basecamp, we’d been using Google Drive to keep track of specific to-do items and communication between our team members. With the growth of the company, these Google docs had outgrown their capacity (at least, for us) to provide a clear and straightforward way to communicate. It took us some time to get used to this new system, but its versatility and user-friendliness which we’d already grown accustomed to with Highrise quickly won everyone over!
We continue to use Google Drive for internal document-sharing (see tool #7 below).
Virtual office tool #5: Dropbox (cloud storage & file sharing)
Indispensable if you use more than one computer, which is very likely to be the case if you have a virtual office (I use a Mac desktop at the office and a MacBook Air while traveling). Dropbox enables you to create a backup of all your files on your local hard disk that, when you’re connected to the internet, constantly synchronizes with the Dropbox website, the other computer(s) you use, as well as your smart phone and tablet thanks to its app.
Virtual office tool #6: Evernote (virtual post-it notes)
If you are an organizational maniac like me, Evernote is the answer to your worries about those loose post-it notes lying around on your desk and random scribbles in your notebooks getting lost forever. Basically, Evernote is a digital post-it tool which allows you to also add website clippings and emails. It automatically synchronizes between your computers and devices. The free version lets you use two devices, the paid version has an unlimited number of devices per account. Two of my most used notes are 1) my checklist for things to pack on a business trip and 2) things to do before leaving on a long business trip
Virtual office tool #7: Google (no explanation necessary)
We’re also big fans of Gmail (used as a basis for our 2 Seas addresses), Google Drive (great for sharing documents, spreadsheets, etc. with collaborators), Google Hangouts, and Google Voice, which lets you choose a number that you can connect to your Gmail account and cell phone. When a caller leaves a message, Google Voice sends you a transcript by email and a link to play the voice message. The transcripts in English are surprisingly accurate, however when it comes to French, Dutch and other languages, the service still has a lot to improve (late 2019).
Virtual office tool #8: Mailchimp (monthly newsletter)
We use MailChimp, which provides a plethora of newsletter prototypes, stores previous newsletters which you can easily copy and paste, and enables you to upload images very easily. It syncs with Highrise, so it pulls our contacts directly from our database. Additionally it allows you to track the open and click-through rates.
Virtual office tool #9: E3 (rights management database)
As the agency grew in terms of sales, clients and staff it became clear that, while Highrise (see virtual tool #3) is an amazing tool to keep track of your relationships (and relationships are such a big part of our job), it is far from ideal to keep track of submissions, contracts, royalty statements and other more specific elements of foreign rights selling. In July 2017 we migrated to a new, cloud-based software called E3-The Rights Manager*. Read more about our impressions here: Rights Management Database: An Essential Tool.
Virtual office tool #10: Tiny Scanner (mobile scanner)
Thanks to the iOS/Android app Tiny Scanner, we can scan documents, photos, receipts, contracts, basically anything we might need and want when we’re traveling (and also at the virtual office).
Virtual office tool #11: Skype (one on one & conference calls, with or without video)
We use Skype to make nearly all of our international calls, and have a plan that gives us unlimited calls to European landlines. When managing a virtual team, it is important to set a recurring meeting with each team member for some one-on-one time, with video (very important detail).
Virtual office tool #12: Hootsuite (social media management dashboard)
Rather than posting publishing-related articles, pictures, and events separately on our Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts, we do it all in one gesture thanks to Hootsuite. It saves a lot of time, prevents us from falling down the rabbit hole of checking timelines and newsfeeds way too often, and also allows us to schedule posts ahead of time (which explains you’ll sometimes see a 2 Seas update when it’s 3 a.m. in California. We work a lot, but do appreciate a good night’s sleep).
Virtual office tool #13: DocuSign (electronic signatures)
This is also a great tool if you have a traditional office set-up. Have contracts signed by both signatory parties in three minutes! I am not kidding: recently a contract for the German rights in a French title was signed by both the French rights holder and the German publisher three minutes after Sr Agent Chrys sent out the invitation to sign via Docusign. Keep track of contract signatures, send automated reminders, and get a copy of the fully signed document in your inbox as it does not require any paper (read: a printer). Ideal if you travel a lot and/or have a virtual office! Even though not all international publishers and countries accept electronic signatures at the time of writing, they seem to become increasingly accepted around the world.
Virtual office tool #14: TransferWise (sending and receiving payments; online banking)
Send money with the real exchange rate from around the world with low banking fees. Even if you don’t have a virtual office, this is a must-have if you deal with payments to and from different currencies. Since 2018 TransferWise also proposes Borderless Banking, which allows us to have bank accounts in EUR and GBP currencies (which is -believe it or not- impossible in the US).
Postscriptum: the COVID-19 Pandemic
Our virtual office set-up is proving to be all the more efficient and essential during the Covid-19 pandemic. In an attempt to flatten the curve, most employees at publishing houses and other businesses had to get used to working from home virtually overnight. This was far from being a smooth transition for many companies. Hopefully the above list is helpful — we will update the list and add tools as often as possible.
*Disclosure: The above links to The Rights Manager and Transferwise are affiliate links.