Articles

Virtual Agencies: Create Recurring Revenue in Your Business Without Building a SaaS App

A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Get Started With This No-Brainer Business Model
Virtual agencies add recurring revenue without building a software as a service application
Corinn Pope

Table of Contents

What is a Virtual Agency?
What Service to Provide?
Branding Basics
Marketing Groundwork
Getting Your First Customers
Figuring Out The Actual Work
Systems, Processes, Tools, and Tips
Hiring and Training
Growth
Conclusion

WHAT IS A VIRTUAL AGENCY?

 

What is a virtual agency?

 

Definition

A virtual agency is a spin on the traditional agency model that offers subscription based marketing services over the Internet rather than to a local market.

Why are Virtual Agencies better than Traditional Agencies?

Traditional agencies come with a lot of challenges. If you’ve never run one of them before, here are some of the challenges you can come to expect on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis:

 

Managing Ever-Changing Client Expectations

The first challenge is managing clients with ever-changing and often unclear expectations. You’ll be expected to be the mind-reader on more than one occasion and work hard to coerce what your client is really looking for versus what they say they’re looking out of them. It can be an hours-long process. Oh, and by the way, the work to figure out and meet these expectations is often billed at an hourly rate – which introduces challenge number two…

 

Lack of Predictable Revenue (and Work Hours)

Billing at an hourly rate with clients who frequently change their minds makes revenue forecasting pretty dang difficult. Clients who frequently change their minds also tend to infrequently agree to schedule modifications — meaning your already overworked staff is going to be pulling another late night…for the fourth night in a row.

 

Inconsistent Use of Staff

If you’re like a traditional agency, you typically offer a variety of services – all requiring different talents and skills. If you’re creating a series of television ads for a client, your video editing person and copywriter may be plenty busy while your paid ads person is twiddling their fingers.

If you have a few consistent clients at a traditional agency, resource leveling can be a lot easier to do due to the more predictable workflow. However, this can also be a danger as well…

 

Danger of “A Few Big Clients”

While consistent clients are da bomb dot com, having only a few of them that make up the majority of your revenue can be catastrophic should one or two decide to leave at the same time.

 

Benefits

Virtual agencies offer some benefits that regular agencies just cannot match.

 

Opens up a larger potential customer base

If you’re a traditional agency based in Boise, you can bet your bottom dollar that most of your clients are going to come from the Boise area. You’ll probably focus your advertising dollars on the region, attend local events and conferences trying to drum up business and be limited to working with the brands that are in the area.

However, if you’re based on the World Wide Web, you can find clients who also hang out on the World Wide Web (so basically, everyone). Buh-bye, Boise! Hello Barcelona, Bangkok, and Boston! The world is your oyster (or your targeted Facebook audience) when you can market to businesses outside of your local market.

 

Offers the ability to collect recurring revenue

Digital agencies are unique from traditional agencies in that their service offerings are often subscription based. Your customers are already used to buying products in a subscription format over the internet, so why not take that same model and apply it to the services they already buy? This benefits not only you in the form of predictable, recurring revenue, but your client as well since they can easily forecast what they’ll be paying and know exactly what they’ll get for that money.

If you know your average churn rate, you’ll be able to easily see how much money you’ll likely collect that month and many months into the future with some simple formats. No more voodoo, cross-your-fingers, and hope for the best type of forecasting often found in a traditional agency model.

 

Manages expectations better through services with a clearly defined scope

Building on the point above, virtual agencies sell services in a subscription model. Each “service” that is sold should be clearly defined and scoped so the customer understands exactly what they’re getting before they sign up for your services.

When they know what is and what is NOT provided to them in their packages before they start working with you, you’ve already managed your expectations. When they come back to you and they say “but we need this extra content piece/video edited/graphic produced”, you can point to the details of their package and say “sorry! We don’t offer that” in your current package.

 

Takes away overhead costs (i.e an office)

What’s the biggest expense for most agencies behind salaries? Office costs! Those professionally interior decorated offices in a super trendy part of town don’t just build themselves.

Which is great for you and your low-ego, because you don’t need a fancy office to impress potential clients and woo fresh out of college grads working for you for peanuts in exchange for the “perks” of ping-pong tables and spaces decorated by the same people who designed Facebook’s offices.

You do great work, and all you need is a website to show it off.

 

Can be run from practically anywhere with an internet connection

Perhaps one of the most beautiful things about running a virtual agency is the ability to run it from practically anywhere you have a strong internet connection. Running a remote team is getting easier and easier. There are plenty of companies who openly share their tools and tips for managing remote teams that you can borrow and apply to your own workflow.

Another bonus is that it is much easier to attract talented employees to a remote position than find ones already existing in your geographical location.

So obviously, there are a lot of great advantages to running a virtual agency. In our opinion, it’s pretty much the best business model one can ask for (SaaS may be a bit better – but we’re all not software engineers nor want to be one).

Of course, if we were saying that this is going to still be easy and a piece of cake and anyone could do it, you should run away fast.

So now here come the drawbacks of running a virtual agency…

Drawbacks

 

Requires managing people

Since you’ll be managing both team members and clients that are located all over the country (if not the globe), then you’re going to have to be managing people at one point or another. Of course, you could outsource a lot of the people work to managers or contractors (like hiring a head of customer support), you’ll still have to handle the occasional escalated issue.

Since it is likely you’ll be running this business in a marketing field, you’ll often deal with creative types. We know how difficult it can be in managing creative types because we are creative types. We have an idea of what we’d like and hate to be limited by client demands and don’t particularly enjoy answering to authority. There are a few tips we have for this towards the end of the article, but just know that sometimes dealing with difficult people will come with the territory.

Customers can typically come and go on a monthly basis
Since you’re a subscription-based business, customers will likely come and go on a monthly basis. Oftentimes it will be of no fault of your own (due to them not needing your services that month or they decided to hire someone on FT).

While seeing a customer canceled can suck, you’ll find that marketing something that offers the client much more optionality actually increases the number of new customers who would appreciate and pay for the flexibility.

 

The ability to say “No” on occasion

Every once and a while, you’ll have a client who demands something outside of your scope of services. When that day comes, you’re going to have to lay down the law and say no to this client. It will be uncomfortable. They may decide to leave. Or they may respect your decision and stay. Whatever happens, you can’t just say yes to every client demand, otherwise, the promises of the virtual agency will be unkept.

 

Systems and Processes Focused

Finally, one of the drawbacks of creating a virtual agency is the need to put systems and processes in place practically everywhere in the business. From payment processes and customer support scripts to production processes and analytics reporting, there should be a system for it.

If you’re the creative, right-brained type, this may drive you mad. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

 

Who would do well running a Virtual Agency?

If we were to describe the ideal virtual agency owner, we would likely describe them as:

  • Assertive
  • Detail oriented
  • Freedom seeking
  • Process driven
  • Organized

Now, of course, these are not the only traits you need to have to be a successful virtual agency but they definitely do help.

Sound interesting? Read on to learn more about how you can start building your own virtual agency.

what service should your virtual agency provide?

What service to provide?

Now that you’re familiar with how awesome digital agencies can be, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “What kind of virtual agency can I start?”. Some of you may even say – “how can I do that? I have no skills!”

Unless you’re fresh out of college, we can say that you probably have marketable skills somewhere in you (and don’t worry if you are a fresh college grad, we’ll address that below as well). Someone has likely paid you to do something in the past. Plus, you’re obviously intellectually curious since you are reading this article on your own time in the hopes of bettering your career.

You have the skills and the curiosity needed. Now we just need to find you a service to offer.

Below are three logical ways to find a service for you to offer in your virtual agency and one non-logical, more emotion-focused way to make sure you choose the right offering.

 

What have you gotten paid to do in the past?

What you’ve gotten paid to do in the past is a great indicator that you can get other people to pay you to do the same thing. Think back through your past jobs and projects and pull out the hard skills that someone paid you to do. Maybe they’re things like:

  • Designing landing pages
  • Writing sales copy
  • Editing Video
  • Publishing posts and articles
  • Running A/B tests
  • Developing basic WordPress sites
  • Optimizing posts for search engines
  • And so on and so forth

Chances are that while you may need a little bit of a refresher, you’ll know how to do the actual work you were at one point paid to do. With that, you’ll be already 50% of the way there. The other 50% (i.e the actual running of an agency) can be learned, just like any other skill.

So take a couple of minutes to pull up a text editor and brainstorm every marketable skill you’ve acquired over how many years of your career.

 

What are other IRL agencies offering?

One other way to find ideas for virtual agencies that people will pay for is to check out agencies in your local area to see what kind of services they’re offering.

There are a bunch of different types of agencies offering different types of services, so be sure to check out multiple agencies. Some may do web and app development while others do marketing and others do strategy.

A quick search of “Austin Digital Agencies” brought up agencies offering everything from online review and Facebook management to video editing, leadership reviews and roadmap planning (check out https://agencylist.org). If an agency is focused on a particular service, has a decent number of reviews, and its website includes a fancy client list, then it probably has enough clients to sustain itself.

That’s great because if they’re successfully offering a service, then you know there is a market for it. And best of all, you wouldn’t have the overhead that a lot of these agencies do IRL. There’s no need for a beautiful, professionally interior decorated office in the trendy area of town. You get to start right away.

 

But I Have no Skills!

What can you learn how to do fast? What are you good at?

Say you’re a brand new grad with a fancy diploma and a sudden realization that working for someone else is something you’ve prepared your entire life to do, only to realize it’s not what you want to do.

Now what?

Well, a virtual agency is not out of the question, in fact, we’d argue it’s a great entry point into entrepreneurship and the working world.

There are plenty of topics you can spend a few months learning and get to the point where you know more than 90% of the people out there. Need some examples that get you there?

Is there anything here you feel like you have an aptitude to be good at?

If you need more ideas, take the same approach as above and find what services agencies are already offering and improve on them.

Do a little exploring of each of these and find what really interests you. YouTube is a great place to start. There’s also some great content on Udacity, Udemy, Creative Live, and a whole slew of other online course platforms out there.

 

Enjoyment: An important consideration

While the previous three questions have been logic based, this one is a little more woo-woo, but still super important.

You need to consider what you’d feel like if you’ve been working on this for 3+ years. If you’ll absolutely hate your life, don’t do it. If it’s OK, then your idea is definitely worth considering. If you love it, all the more power to you.

Let’s cover an example. Say you’ve been paid to do social media management in the past and are pretty good at it. You know people would pay you to do it but you hate social media with a burning passion. Should you start a virtual agency based around social media? Probably not. You’d burn out and/or land up hating your business. Don’t do it.

Of course, there are some gray areas here that will be totally up to you. If you feel indifferent about social media (it’s not a passionate hate or a passionate love) and are just kind of ‘meh’ about it, we wouldn’t rule it out. There are many arguments to be made against the ‘follow your passion’ concept — one of which is that it endangers the love.

If you love it, then you have the chance of fulfilling your “ikigai”. Ikigai is a Japanese concept of finding meaning through a job you can be paid for, the world needs, you love, and you’re good at.

  • We covered the “what you can be paid for” with what have you been paid for in the past.
  • We covered the “what the world needs” by seeing what other successful agencies are offering.
  • We covered “what you are good at” by asking what can you learn how to do fast? What are you good at?

What you love can only be answered by you.

 

Your Homework:

If you haven’t already, take out a sheet of paper or fire up your favorite text editor and make a list of the above four categories. Is there anything that matches all four? If you don’t have anything that matches all four, are there any that match at least 3?

If so, you’ve just found your initial service offering for your digital agency.

Do a little celebratory dance!

creating your virtual agency's brand

Branding Basics

Right now your idea is just an idea. In this section, we’re going to start building it into its own real thing. The first thing we’re going to do is create the framework for our little idea’s brand.

A little caveat before we start…your brand isn’t going to be done after this. It will continually evolve as time goes on and it will be up to you to shape it as you go along.

Think of your brand as the personality of your business. Over time you’ll start to understand what your brand really is and wants to become. This will take shape after figuring out how you’d like to interact with your customers, how you position your products, who you like to associate with, and what your general outlook on life is like.

Now, there are some branding element we can knock out of the way here relatively quickly. These are fun but daunting tasks such as building your website, choosing your name, and creating a logo.

Below we’ll skim the basics of what each of this entail. Before you start though, we’d recommend taking some time to sit down and write out what you want your brand to feel like. Do you want it to be playful and fun? Or serious and professional? Girly and cute? Or monochromatic and minimalist? Feel free to let your own personality reflect in your brand since it will be easier to stay “on brand” if you’re just being yourself. A visual inspiration board can go a long way here (yes men, you too can have fun on Pinterest).

Below are some of the basic branding elements you’ll want to knock out for this chapter’s homework.

  • Name
  • Logo
  • Website
  • Feel

 

Name

We have yet to come across a book that’s better than “Hello My Name is Awesome”: How to Create Brand Names That Stick” by Alexandra Watkins.

Read it. Make sure that your name passes the tests mentioned in the book (you can also find them on her website here: Eat My Words).

Then, go get yourself a domain based on that name (it doesn’t have to be a perfect .com match – you can add modifiers to find something acceptable and available). We like namecheap.com for affordable domain registration and web hosting.

 

Logo

Next up on the to-do list is getting yourself a logo. This logo doesn’t have to be perfect (unless part of your services include logo design – in which case you’re probably already pretty particular about logos). It can always change later.

If you’re creative, feel free to tackle this one on your own. If not, no worries. There are hundreds if not thousands of companies out there who would be happy to design a logo for you.

If you’re on a budget, check out Fiverr (just order a few from a few different sellers to have a better chance of finding one you like).

If you have a couple hundred bucks to spend, sites like 99designs or design crowd are a good option.

Decide on one you like and run with it. Do NOT spend days, weeks, or months agonizing over this decision. You have better things to be doing with your time.

 

Website

This is another thing you can spend entirely too much time on if you’re not careful. Yes, you want it to look good, but the goal is completion first, then perfection.

Similar to logos, there are many companies out there who would love to take your money and design you a beautiful custom site. But that’s not required.

If you’re semi-technical, you can set up an instance of WordPress on your hosting. Check out their five-minute install. Many hosting providers who offer cPanel also now offer one-click installs of WordPress. Check your hosting provider’s documentation to see how to use this option.

If you’re not technical, a site builder like Wix or Squarespace can be great to design and edit your website visually. Your website should include a quick description of what you do (we’ll dial this in in the next section), a way to contact you, and a list of your services at minimum. We’ll talk about how to accept payments over the interwebz later in this course.

 

Feel

Next up are the feel and personality of your brand. This one is a little more subjective. It includes:

  • What are your company’s values?
  • How will you embody those values?
  • How do you want your customers to feel when they interact with you?

How you’ll reflect your company’s personality can take shape through copy, graphics, colors, emails, your website, and more. Don’t worry too much about specifics, but do take care to make sure every customer touchpoint reflects what you’d like to convey.

If the idea of feel is confusing, you can think of it this way…if you were to take all your logos and company names off of any interactions with a customer, would they still know that it’s you they’re interacting with?

 

Homework

Before moving on to the next section, be sure to have the following completed:

  • A name and domain name
  • A basic logo
  • A basic website
  • An idea of what you’d like your brand to feel like

You can iterate on these as you go, so don’t worry about them being perfect.

In the next section, we’ll improve your website by nailing down your value proposition, pricing, product, and positioning so you can tweak your web and sales copy to find the customers you want to serve.

getting marketing right

Marketing Groundwork

Ok, so you’ve got your basic website, name, logo, and brand feel. Now’s the part where we better define what it is that you’re offering and who you’re offering it to. This part is so important to your long-term success.

You may not get it perfect the first time and may have to tweak some of these after you start figuring out how to find your best customers, and that is to be expected.

So let’s jump into it! We’re going to be tackling the following in this section:

  • Product (what you’re offering)
  • Positioning (who you’d like to be your customer)
  • Pricing (setting what customers will pay based on the value you provide)
  • Promotion (i.e what most people think of when they think of “marketing”)

 

Product

Your product is the solution to a pain your customer is having. Do they now know how to edit video? Are they spending too much time on content marketing? Do they have no idea how to design simple graphics in photoshop?

What is the pain that you’re providing relief for?

How do you plan on delivering relief for their problem?

Here are some questions to think about what exactly you’ll be offering to your clients:

  • What type of service are you offering?
  • What will be the final output of your work?
  • What do the deliverables include?
  • What do they not include?
  • When will they get their deliverables?
  • What will format/delivery method be used?
  • What level of support will be offered?
  • How long will their work take?
  • Will you offer priority anything?
  • What are the things you need to have before you can start their work?
  • How frequently will they get the output of your work?
  • Are there possible services you can offer as add-ons or upsells?
  • Are there levels or limits to who will be doing their work? (Junior vs senior position)
  • When can they submit work?

Another important question in defining your product is what are you NOT willing to do? Try to offer clients the world and you’ll start facing the same issues that traditional agencies face.

So if you haven’t already, fire up the text editor and write our what you’ll offer to your customers to relieve their pains (plus, won’t you WON’T offer). Then, fill in the blanks for these statements to define your product/offering in a nutshell:

  • What [thing/product/offering/ability] does your business provide?
  • What service or product are you providing to others? How would you describe the job that you’re doing for them?
  • What [outcome] does your business provide?
  • Your outcome is ideally what your clients will “leave” with. What will they get out of your service that will help them?
  • What [unique value] does your business provide?
  • What is different about the business that sets you apart from your competition?

Now, plug in your thing/outcome/value into the following statements:

I believe that people want to [ability] so that they can [outcome]. They would pay money for that because [value].

If you want to [value], you can [ability] with [business name], so you can [outcome].

Once you’ve gone through these exercises, you should have a better idea of what your product is and isn’t.

 

Positioning

Positioning is one of the most overlooked elements of marketing. It is the space your brand occupies in the mind of your target audience.

We covered a bit of this in the “feel” section of branding. However, we haven’t yet defined our target audience.

Our target audience is who we’d love to buy from us.

The more targeted your targeted audience is, the easier it is to take up space in their mind. Say “Car” and you may come up with wildly different answers than others. However, say “safe car” and Volvo will likely pop up in your head. Say “flashy car” and you may think of Lamborghini. “Electric car?” — Tesla.

It’s much easier to occupy space in your target audience’s mind if you pick a niche.

Here are some tips for picking a niche:

  • Choose an industry/vertical that you’ve worked in before
  • Choose a group of people you can relate to
  • Choose a trending industry

Make sure these are people you wouldn’t mind talking to day in and day out (because that’s what you’re going to be doing). If your target audience is teachers, you better be excited to talk to teachers every single day!

Once you’ve narrowed down your target market, you can now create an even more targeted persona. This is essentially a profile of an individual customer.

There are a number of great articles about writing a customer persona. Here’s one that we like:

Make My Persona

How to Build Buyer Personas for Better Marketing

Once you understand who you want to be your customer, writing copy directed at that particular individual will be so much easier and you’ll be awesomely positioned in their mind when it comes time for them to buy.

 

Pricing

Next up in the marketing tasks is to determine your pricing. We’re not going to base your prices on your customers, and we’re not going to guess.

Instead, we’ll price our product based on how much our target customers believe it is worth.

To do this we’re going to use our personas created in the previous section. Who are they? What work do they do? What size company do they work for? What industry are they in?

Create a list of 25 real people who match your criteria.

Then we’re going to create a simple survey. You’ll briefly introduce these people to your product, confirm they match your target audience through some simple demographic questions, and ask them the following questions…

Which aspect of your product do they value the MOST? And which do they value the LEAST?

We’ll also figure out how much they’re willing to pay by asking them the following questions:
1. At what price would you consider this service too expensive?
2. At what price would you question the quality of the service?
3. At what price is the service starting to get expensive, but isn’t out of the question?
4. At what price would you consider the service to be a great bargain?

Once you have a few answers from your survey, you’ll want to find the price that’s between where your customers find value, don’t consider it too cheap, and still feel like it’s a good deal.

This is a super brief summary so if you’re confused about this concept, Price Intelligently does a great job of explaining the process here:
Price Intelligently’s SaaS Pricing Strategy eBook

Yes, you may be tempted to skip this step and just guess, but just remember it’s a lot harder to change your pricing than it is to just get it right the first time.

 

Promotion

Promotion is the fun part of marketing. It’s getting out there and in front of your target audience.

Based on your understanding of your customer persona, you should have an idea of where your customers hang out online, what conferences they attend, and what their interests are. For virtual agencies, there are a number of outlets that work well for promoting your services. Some of these include:

  • Content marketing
  • Paid advertising (Facebook & Instagram ads, podcast sponsorship, etc.)
  • Community involvement (forums and such)
  • Social media

Once you have your business name, now would be a good time to snag your social media handles and start creating some accounts on different forums and community sites (like reddit or product hunt) to build up credibility.

We’re going to get into a little bit more of promotion in the next section – particularly applied to how to use it to get our very first few customers.

 

Homework

After completing this section you should have a defined product, a targeted customer persona, a price for your product, and your social media handles.

how to get your first customers in your virtual agency

 

Here comes the part that is both terrifying and exciting. Getting your first customers!

There are SO many marketing and promotion tactics out there you can use to find customers, it can make your head spin. From content marketing and influencer outreach to Facebook advertising and email newsletters, the sheer number of possibilities is enough to put even seasoned entrepreneurs into analysis paralysis. That’s why we’re going to ignore all the shiny objects that are out there for now. You can start doing all those fancy schmancy things until you have perfected your sales pitch and have your first couple of customers.

We’re going to keep it super simple and focus on one marketing tactic: email outreach.

We’ll be sending emails to people in our network (warm outreach) and people outside our network that may be a good fit (cold outreach).

**Quick Note: If you’re targeting people in the EU, you may want to lay off on the cold email. Trying something else like a small CPC campaign can be a good alternative**

The idea of cold outreach can be a little intimidating at first.

For some it may be so scary you’ll never actually do the exercises in this section. We’re not going to let you do that. We’re going to help you draft up a cold email that is likely to get some responses and hold your feet to the fire as you press that send button.

If you follow the steps below and are still afraid, email us. We’ll let you know that everything is going to be OK (and maybe lay on the peer pressure a bit ;-P ) so you can get those first clients on board and start growing your business.

Trust us. When you hit send on that first cold email, you’ll wonder what you were fretting about the entire time, anyway.

 

Doing Your Research

Now we’re not going to just spam people with emails they don’t want and have nothing to do with them. No one likes those emails. Heck, I’m sure that you get some of these emails yourself. Un-personalized. Poorly written. Inapplicable to your needs. They’re awful!

We’re going to do our research and make sure we write emails that go “hey, this person actually put some thought into this email — and how about that, their offering sounds like it could actually help me. This may be the one cold email I actually reply to”.

To do this, we’re going to start with a list of potential prospects that:

  • Understand what it is that you’re offering and the value it provides
  • Have the ability to buy what you’re offering
  • Align with our ideal customer persona we created in previous lessons

 

Exercise: Create a List of Potential Customers

In this exercise, we’re going to get a list of potential customers going. We’ll find them on the internet, collect some information on them, and determine if they’re a good fit for our productized service.

To get started, make a copy of this spreadsheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/e/2PACX-1vTDhcRERX8LwgrSaYu6uocVzvgRBQFjPiLRgDQ2_GHtUxppn8222VQVr7tRRU6pm4_dqE_Sm167k9ve/pubhtml

You’ll notice there are a whole bunch of fields – from name and email to a description of their business, their website, and a space for something unique about what they do (among others). If you can’t find out all of this information, don’t sweat it. The only required fields are their name and email address.

 

A quick note about email addresses

You’ll find a lot of people don’t publicly publish their email addresses. If you can’t find their email address on their website, you can use a tool like https://hunter.io to find email addresses. Sometimes this is accurate, sometimes it isn’t. If you want to go a step further, you can check to see if an email address is valid with a tool like https://email-checker.net.

To find contacts, there are a few places you can start looking:

  • A simple google search for companies who do X
  • Online forums
  • Searches of social media sites like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook (follow them too, if you come across them on social)
  • LinkedIn searches

Be forewarned…this is going to be time-consuming to find all of these contacts. It’s possible to outsource, but we’d definitely recommend doing it yourself because you’ll learn a lot more about your prospective clients if you’re the one doing the digging.

We’d recommend getting your spreadsheet to at least 50 contacts. If you’re having a hard time scraping up that many, there’s a chance your niche may be too small and may want to consider expanding it.

 

Drafting Your Emails

Have at least 50 prospects on your list? Sweet! Let’s move on! First up, warm emails.

Before we get into our cold emails, we’re going to do a little “warm-up”. That is, we’re going to send a few emails out to our warm leads (i.e friends, family, and people within our existing network). This will help you get comfortable with sending out an email about your new business to a group who is still likely to love you even if they don’t need the services your business is offering. If they’re not your ideal customer (and chances are most of your family and friends will not be), we’ll ask them to refer us to anyone who may be a good fit for our business.

  • Say hey
  • Let them know what you’re up to (i.e your new biz)
  • Tell them what you’re doing and who it’s for
  • Ask them if they have anyone in mind who they think could use something like that
  • Add a personal comment and say goodbye
  • Include your email signature with your new company’s contact details

This is just a rough guide of what to write about in this emails. Since you actually know these people, you’ll be able to personalize them a lot better.

This may be a little bit of a silly example, but shows what a warm email could look like:

Hey Jimmy,

It was nice to see you the other week at the bulldog owner’s meet up. Thanks for the recommendation about using that new dog food. Betsy really seems to like it so far!

I wanted to let you know that I’m starting up a new business that offers google analytics management services to e-commerce businesses. I was wondering if you had any contacts who run e-commerce businesses that you may be able to introduce me to. If not, no worries! Just figured I’d ask.

Hopefully see you at the next bulldog meetup?

Take Care,
James Takelle
[email protected]
www.analyticstoday.com
(555) 123-4567

You never know what contacts your contacts may have, and it doesn’t hurt to ask!

If you did receive some contacts, ask if you can be introduced!

 

Cold Emails

Now that we have our email muscles warmed up, it’s time to work on our cold email skills.

There are a few things we want you to keep in mind when writing out and sending 50+ cold emails. You’ll want to put yourself in the shoes of your recipient. Chances are they get bombarded with cold email — and very few of them relevant or personalized. Give yourself a chance by doing the following:

  • Keep it simple
  • Make it relevant to them
  • Show them you did your homework
  • Take a conversational tone, rather than a sales-y tone
  • Make sure you tell them what you’d like them to do next
  • Include some way to get in contact with you
  • If you don’t hear back within 3 days, follow-up

Here’s a quick template you can use.

Hi [recipient name],

I’m [your name]. I’m a huge fan of [something the recipient works on] and really loved [something specific about their work].

Is [recipient’s company] challenged with [SPECIFIC ISSUE]? We at [your company name] [what your company does and why it could help].
I know the [job title of recipient] life can be hectic but would you be up for a quick call later this week to see if this could be valuable for you?
Cheers,

[email signature (name, email address, website, phone)]

This template can obviously be modified to fit your own style and needs. There is no shortage of cold email templates out there, so if you feel like this format isn’t a good format for you, you’re more than welcome to change it.

 

The Only Thing More Important than Your Email Message

The only thing more important than your message is its subject line. Don’t overlook it. This will determine if it gets read or automatically discarded. Here are a few good examples of subject lines for cold emails:

  • {prospect_first_name}}, need help with [problem your business is solving]?
  • [problem your business is solving]
  • Read this post about [SPECIFIC SUBJECT]
  • Quick question
  • Saw your post on [insert recent blog article]

Feel free to try a bunch out and see which ones work best for you.

 

When to send

Send your emails during the business day and preferably in the morning.

 

CTAs and High Prices vs Low Prices

If you’re selling something that’s going to cost a business over $500/month, many of your prospects would rather jump on a call with you than plop down their credit card on your website. If that’s the case, make sure you offer this as an option to them.

 

To Track or Not to Track?

There is software out there that will tell you if people opened or didn’t open your email. There is also software out there that detects whether emails are being tracked or not. We’re not going to tell you whether you should or shouldn’t track here. We just want you to be aware that software like this exists and whether you choose to use it or not is totally up to you.

 

Follow-Up

People respond to follow-up emails 30% more often than your initial email. If you haven’t gotten a response three days after you sent your initial email, follow-up with that person.

 

Iterate

Let’s say you’ve contacted your entire list but haven’t gotten any responses, then it’s time to iterate on your message and try something different. If you would like some pointers or just someone to review your email if it doesn’t work, feel free to email it to us and we’ll provide some pointers where we can.

After reaching out to this many people, you should have a couple of leads who are interested in your service. What do you do next? Ask for the sale! Ask them to become your first customers! You can entice them with a discounted rate if you’d like. Just get them onboard!

figuring out the actual work part of a virtual agency

Figuring Out The Actual Work

S**t, s**t, s**t. OMG, I have a customer. Now what??!!

Now you have to deliver what it is they paid for.

For your first go-around, this is going to be a very manual process. We’ll take you through some considerations you may want to make while figuring this out.

 

Pre-work & Onboarding Users

It is usually a good idea to collect some information about the client before starting work with them. Since a lot of virtual agency work is creative, understanding more about your customer’s brand and how they’d like to be portrayed can help the working relationship get off to a good start.

Some information to collect can include:

  • Main Point of Contact Info
  • Business Name. Website
  • Logos, fonts, other brand materials
  • Any other useful information relevant to the service you’re offering

Exactly how you do this is up to you, but we’d recommend a Google Form hooked up to Google Sheets, and Airtable form or a Typeform to present a nice, user-friendly way to collect data. It’s also much more scalable than phone calls or video conferences.

Once you’ve collected this data, you’ll be more prepared to deliver your actual service.

You may want to think about taking payment at this point in the service lifecycle. If you’re running WordPress or built a site via Squarespace, there are plenty of plugins available to easily collect payment from your clients. We like the Gravity Forms + Stripe integration for customizable payment forms.

Collecting payment via PayPal or invoicing through Quickbooks are also two alternatives to Stripe.

 

Delivering the Service

Here comes time for work!

Even if you plan on outsourcing the actual work part in the future, we’d recommend that you do go through a whole iteration at least a few times on your own.

Since this part is so particular to what you have chosen to offer your clients, we can’t write a super-detailed description of how to do the work, but we’ll offer a few pointers…

  • Communication is key. So cliche, yet so true.
  • Organization is your friend. Tools like JarHQ can keep your communication and work organized automatically.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t go building out an entire automated system just yet. Use the tools you already have.
  • If you do need automation, use a tool like Zapier to hook up different apps.
  • Let your personality shine through. People like working with real people, not ones that sound like robots!

While you’re delivering the service, be sure to document the processes you’re taking. This will come in handy for the next section of this guide.

Once you’ve delivered what you said you would deliver, it’s now time to…..

 

Ask for Feedback

You’ve delivered what you said you would. Now you’ll probably want to know if the client was satisfied with the work you did, if it met their expectations, and if they have any suggestions for improvements.

Asking for feedback can be scary – but creating bad habits this early in the process by not fixing what may be broken because you don’t want to feel criticized is even scarier. Just please, ask for feedback.

For now, keep it simple by asking via email. You can get into all the fancy NPS score collecting tools later in the process.

Take that feedback and use it to improve!

What systems and processes do you need to create when running a virtual agency?

Systems, Processes, Tools, and Tips

This section is all about getting your customer experience right and thinking about the processes behind the work that will support your customer journey.

We’ll first talk a little about processes and why they’re so important. We’ll then create a very broad process defining what steps we want our customer to take throughout their time with us.

If you have a couple of clients already, this is a great time to start giving some thought into your next few months as a business and the experience you’d ideally like all your future customers to experience.

When you’re done with this lesson, you should have a general feeling about how you’ll be doing the work your customers want.

 

Processes

Processes are the DNA of a productized service business. They’re the backbone of how you do what you do.

They make most things easier. As your business grows, you’ll be creating processes for:

  • Support requests
  • New client onboarding
  • The actual work you do
  • How you deliver your work
  • IT Systems
  • Hiring
  • New employee onboarding
  • Training
  • Firing
  • And more

The most amazing thing about creating processes is that very well-defined ones allow your team to work without your input. Your team will be mostly autonomous, leaving you to spend your time growing the business.

Your processes will be your team’s roadmap for what they do on a daily basis. They’ll serve as a way to continually improve your service and offering.

Each process will have one primary purpose and include:

  • Who or what role is responsible for the overall process
  • Who/what role is responsible for individual steps
  • What the output is
  • Each process should be as specific as possible and answer “what-ifs” where needed.

 

Creating Your Processes

You’ll begin documenting your processes while you’re doing the actual process.

If you’re already working with clients, then you’ll have something to work with already here. If you’re new and haven’t started working with your clients yet, then that’s great too. Understanding how impactful processes can be to your business will give you a little more chutzpah to get your processes documented as soon as you start understanding what they may look like.

At Design Pickle, a lot of our processes are simple Google Docs or videos. To teach those processes to new employees, we use a tool called trainual to create modules that so that employees new to that particular process can get up to speed quickly.

You can choose to do something similar. There are also a bunch of process tools out there if you’d prefer something more refined. For just starting though, a simple text document with pictures and possibly flowcharts will be good enough.

As we mentioned earlier, when writing your processes it is important to know what the final output is, or what success looks like, and all the steps required to get there.

If a process is well-written, someone who is completely clueless about your business should be able to open your process, work through it, and successfully get to and complete the final step.

  • Your technically un-inclined grandma should be able to do it.
  • A drunk person should be able to do it.
  • A fifth-grader with just enough computer and language skills should be able to do.
  • I think you get the picture.

Make the process so clear, almost anyone can do it. When you’re doing the steps and writing things out, it’s easy to make assumptions or disregard steps because they’re obvious to you. Try your best not to make this mistake.

Once you have an initial draft complete, test it. Give it to someone who knows nothing about the process you just wrote and see if they can do it. What information is missing? What were they able to complete successfully? Where there any assumptions you made that they did not make?

If they can’t replicate it with perfect, go back and edit it until they can.

 

Build Your Customer Journey Map

Ok, that’s all good and well, but I’m just beginning, I don’t really have any processes yet!

That’s fine. In this step, we’re going to get into the habit of creating processes for almost everything we do. We’re going to start with a general process your customer will go through from their first interaction with the problem you’re solving for to when they decide to cancel. This will help you understand their viewpoint and expectations. 

So, what does their journey look like?

  • When will they realize they have a problem?
  • What will they do to try and remedy that issue?
  • How will they come across your service?
  • What will they do and want to know before they purchase?
  • What happens when they purchase?
  • What is your first interaction with them like?
  • What do they need to do next?
  • How do they get value from your offering?
  • When happens when their journey ends?

Go ahead and brainstorm yours now. Feel free to use the worksheet provided, or just work it out in your notebook. If you’re the creative type, feel free to add in some doodles here and there. Really try to view your offering from the perspective of your prospective customer.

Remember, this is a draft and of course will be changed. After all, no business plan survives first contact with the customer.

Other Processes You May Want to Build Out (once you need them)

  • Sales and marketing processes
  • Blog post development
  • Blog posting process
  • Social media posting processes
  • The customer experience
  • When to send out emails
  • Replying to customer support requests
  • Processes for good/bad reviews
  • Processes for collecting feedback
  • Retention
  • Cancellation
  • Internal
  • New hire onboarding
  • Training process
  • HR processes

Really, whenever you do something more than a handful of times, you should consider building a process around it. Also, be sure that once you start creating a collection of these processes that everyone in your company knows where they can go to find all of the ones they need. Trainual or Google Drive are solid options once you get to this point.

 

Hiring & Training

Once you have your processes and procedures done, are growing your client base, it’s time to start thinking about hiring. Hiring is hard. A poor hire early on in a business can be super detrimental to the company.

We’re going to discuss a very basic framework you can use for hiring your first employee. You may want to even consider doing this for your own role in the company so you understand how bringing on an extra set of hands will affect your workload.

Oh, and read the E-Myth Revisited.

 

When to Hire?

Not sure if you’re ready to hire? Here are some guidelines on when to hire and when not to hire:

  • Hire when you have enough predictable revenue to cover their salary every month.
  • Hire when you have enough work for them to do for at least 20 hours a week.
  • Hire when you’re prepared to spend the time onboarding and training someone new.
  • Hire when you find yourself spending too much time working in the business and not on it.
  • Do not hire out of desperation.
  • Do not hire if you’re not sure what they’d do (we’ll get to that shortly)

Another great thing to do is hire contractors to test them out before extending them a full-time offer.

 

Write out a position description

Your first order of business is to write out a position description for the employee you’re planning on bringing on.

  • Give a little background on the company
  • Describe what the responsibilities of the position will be
  • Briefly outline what success in this position would look like
  • Define the qualities and skills you’re looking for in an ideal candidate
  • Outline any benefits they may receive
  • Include a salary range
  • Make sure a reader would know how to apply for the position

Shop this position description around your network, your website, and post it on various job sites.

 

Ensure you’ll have enough work for them

This may seem silly – of course you have enough work for them! You’re working 70 hours a week, there are at least 30 hours of work you can hand off. Perhaps that’s true, but let’s just make sure that’s the case.

Create a list of every task they’ll be responsible for completing and about how long you expect each one to take. Remember they may have a ramp-up period where they’ll have to learn the processes and the way you’d like things done.
Filter, conduct interviews & find your candidate
Next step is to filter all the resumes and applications you’ve received. Reject obvious rejections, phone screen others to see if there’s a fit.

Bring your final candidates in for a final interview (or just do it over zoom/skype) and figure out which ones would be best for your business.

We’re not going too in-depth on hiring and interviewing, but if you’re interested, there are plenty of books on Amazon or your local library you can check out.

 

Test them out

Once you’ve selected your candidate, you can use a 90 day trial period and bring them on as a contractor and get a better idea of what working with them is really like.
You’ll want to set expectations in those first 90 days and let them go after 90 days if they don’t meet that expectation. Who knows, it may turn out they’re a different person than the person you thought you were hiring from their interviews! Or maybe they’re even better than you expected

The 90 day “try out” period is a great way to test a relationship with few hurt feelings if it doesn’t work out.

Speaking of 90-day plans, be sure you do have a plan for them during their first 90 days. If you just say “go” without giving any guidance – don’t be surprised when they aren’t sure which direction to go and head off in a way you never intended them to.

In your 90 day plan, you may want to include things like:

  • Goals and expectations
  • What success looks like
  • Skills they may want to start learning
  • Small tasks to get them familiar with the job
  • Larger projects to start conquering once they feel comfortable

If after 90 days they work out, then it’ll be time to start thinking about all the legal and compliance things you’ll need to do to officially bring them on as your first employee.

growing your virtual agency

Growth

You have customers, team member(s), and revenue. You can choose to stay at this level and have a nice little lifestyle business. There’s nothing wrong with that!

Find a marketing channel that works, processes that ensure a great client experience, and fantastic employees that make work fun and continue working on making it better.

However, if building the business BIGGER is the direction you want to go, there will be some additional challenges you’re going to face. You may bump up against the limits of your marketing channel and have to explore new ones. Your fast growth means having to find new people fast. You can’t move as fast as you could when it was just you. And you now have to manage a real business with finances, bookkeeping, accountants, lawyers, and more.

Going back to our virtual agency roots, systems and processes will help make growth less painful.

Systemized hiring and onboarding, content creation, marketing management, metrics tracking and more can help you stay the course.

Software is super helpful when scaling up the operations side of the company. If you’ve already implemented a payment processor like Stripe, you may have to do nothing on that front to process more transactions.

However, if you’ve been managing everything in email and Dropbox, it may be time to level up your system to something that will grow as your team grows. Check JarHQ out and see how you can use it to collect and manage all the requests your team is responsible for delivering.

let's wrap this post up

Conclusion

That’s about all we’ve got for you today. We’ve covered everything from what is a virtual agency and why you’d want to build one to getting customers and bringing your first team members on board to help you grow your business. If you found this guide helpful at all, we’d really appreciate a share on your favorite social network of choice.

 

Want to build your own virtual agency? We’ve put together a handy checklist to cover everything you need to complete when building a virtual agency. Sign up for our newsletter to be sent a PDF version instantly.

Corinn is the product manager for Jar. When she's not telling the world about Jar, you can find her out trail running or hunting down the best tex-mex and bbq in Austin.

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