It seems every man and his dog these days is talking about remote work. And for good reason. The digital landscape allows for an unsurpassed level of freedom in business, but is it all it’s cracked up to be?
At Finetune Digital we work with many businesses and agencies globally. We decided to get it straight from the horse’s mouth: what are the pros and cons of running a remote digital agency? We spoke with 26 remote digital business owners to find out the benefits and challenges they have faced whilst creating and scaling their online businesses.
The challenges of running a remote agency
The challenges of starting, maintaining and scaling any business are vast and varied, but those for a remote agency seem even more so. Though so much of the world is now run in the online space, not every system is designed to run as smoothly online as it does in a bricks and mortar, in-person agency.
One of the main issues our remote business owners seem to face is isolation and communication over different time zones. Though building a skilled remote team is becoming easier and easier, being location independent removes the same sense of community and team morale that thrives in-person.
One thing to consider is that there are probably co-working or digital nomad meetups available to you in the cities you’re in. As the community of online workers grows, so too do the number of people seeking that connection they may be missing from their traditional working lifestyles.
If you thrive around others keep in mind there are probably people out there feeling the same, you just have to seek them out.
When it comes to your own workers, the key is to establish good systems in the first place that focus on team building if of course, that is a priority to you. “Schedule bi-weekly or monthly all-hands meetings with your team to keep everyone in the loop on the happenings of your company.
When your team is scattered across the globe, it’s hard to make sure everyone knows what is going on behind the scenes,” says Ben of Today’s Local Media. Even if solidarity is more your style, communication needs to take priority for the benefit of your business and your clients. Systems on how and when you’ll communicate are vital to ensure smooth sailing.
These same system efficiencies can help you when it comes to another of the challenges remote agencies face- scaling. Unsurprisingly, starting any business is often most strenuous at the start, when everything is new.
Once a business is off the ground and running, keeping those wheels in motion and scaling is important to consider. No business owner wants to remain stagnant but garnering new leads and expanding a business can feel challenging when you’re used to traditional methods of making a business grow. So how can you tackle this?
Creating solid systems will assist your business in scaling, from your onboarding process, to lead generation, marketing, staff training, client liaising and of course, job execution.
If all these systems run like clockwork, expanding your marketing network wider and finding new clients can be run almost by a formula. Your formula won’t always be foolproof, but it operates from a system, as opposed to just winging.
The benefits of running a remote agency
The main words we saw time and time again throughout this survey when we asked our remote agency owners what they loved about remote work were ‘freedom’ and ‘flexibility’. “It allows me to live my dream lifestyle while building cool products that hugely benefit their lives,” says Laurits of Laurits Global. Plenty of our other agency owners share his sentiment.
There are many people to whom the normal 9-5 life just doesn’t work for. As the ability to choose remote work becomes easier the amount of people realising that a ‘normal’ job doesn’t fulfil them is expanding too. Ultimately, everyone is in search of some kind of freedom and remote work allows this in large part. Want to work from a resort in the Maldives? The top of a mountain in Asia? From your own couch in your pyjamas? Or perhaps you don’t feel like working Mondays at all. These are very real realities for many remote workers.
Having said this, it’s not always as free as people think, after all, it’s still ‘work’. But the enjoyment to be able to make your own working life work for you, and not the other way round is certainly one of the main advantages of running a remote agency.
Freedom goes just beyond location there’s “freedom of clients, time and location” states Rodrigo Flamenco of Frame Freak Studio. Running a remote agency means you can essentially work with any client in the world, it also means your pool for hiring can be much more diverse and you can find the exact right people to be on your team, regardless of location.
Top tips before you start your own remote agency
The advice from experienced digital business owners is certainly something to take heed of. They’ve trodden the paths you’re likely to travel down before and can shed some wisdom on where you’re likely to find bumps in the road.
See if the lifestyle is right for you
Kahl of Rise advises “building up a national client base as a freelancer before fully diving in will give you a (small) taste of what running a remote agency is like.” This is a smart approach and one many people take to make the decision to start a remote agency. A well run freelance business will often expand its client base to a stage where it’s too much to manage alone.
Create solid systems
As previously mentioned, all those surveyed spoke of the value of solid systems. “Systems are crucial, if you have good systems then management is easy.” says Henry of Smarcomms. The ‘systems’ they speak of, are the general processes and practices to operate your business from day to day. No matter how organised you are, you’ll never have considered every hiccup before you launch, so it’s important to continuously monitor and learn when to tweak your systems. Just because you thought something was a good idea when you were starting out, doesn’t mean it will turn out that way in the long run.
Don’t overthink it
“If you’re miserable in your current situation then you have nothing to lose. It’s time to make the jump.” says Jimmy of Snapback Media.
Find a unique angle, test the market, but once you’ve proven to yourself that there is a need for your service… get going. “If you’re serious about running a remote agency, dive in. It’s easier than you might think, but it does require you to do the work upfront of working in all the areas of your business and documenting everything as you go for others to follow. But the payoff is great in the end.” says Nate of Growth Media.
Reinvest in yourself
Businesses need time to grow effectively. At the beginning of your remote agency journey, it’s wise to reinvest your money back into your business, while you find your feet. As Robert Neckelius advises, “Don’t take out your profits from the business. Reinvest into marketing, systems, and great people to help take a load off your plate.”
Just because you’re used to remote work, doesn’t mean your clients are
“Prepare for the hot burn questions when telling your client you are remote-based,” says Nicholas of Virtual Spirit. Working in the digital space is the norm for many, but there are some clients who won’t meet your level of understanding about remote work, and that’s ok. You’ll need to keep in mind that for lots of people this style of client/agency relationship is new and it could take a little longer to build a level of trust. Luke Jamieson of Website Boss ensures he can demonstrate his expertise to new clients who may be unsure of not being able to meet someone face to face, “Make sure you have a lot of support and reference materials you can send clients to show your value between calls and proposals. When they can’t meet and get a feel for you in person you need to go a bit further with your credibility and proof.”
The best software to manage a remote team
Everyone’s system is different. But there are some solid software programs that can really help take the load off your shoulders. Here are just a few of the favourites our experts mentioned:
- Basecamp– a project management and team communication system
- Slack– an instant messaging platform which allows for document sharing and creating feeds
- Calendly– a scheduling system that allows clients and coworkers to automatically book in slots of time
- Zoom– video communication system that assists with remote conferencing
- Asana– a mobile and web app that helps organize and plan workflows, projects and tasks
- Google Suite (G Suite)– secure, cloud-based apps that allow for sharing such as Google Drive, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Calendar, Google Forms and more.
- Trello– a sophisticated ‘to-do’ list system
The majority of agency owners surveyed were using Google Suite, Asana and Trello, but bear in mind that all businesses operate differently. What works for one may not work for others so try out software and team management systems to see what fits for you.
How to create workplace culture within a remote team
Remember all those things you did like about 9-5 life? For some, there weren’t many but often we hear that it was the people that made showing up to the job more enjoyable. It takes some readjusting, but creating that culture in a digital space is still possible.
Creating open and honest ways of communicating with your agency coworkers is a great way to engage in further cultural. Having some kind of messaging system that isn’t necessarily work focussed fosters a comfortability among the team. If it is at all possible “make sure to get together with your team from time to time in fun and adventurous ways! Retreats, photoshoots, etc!”, this is the approach Erin from Forge Digital Marketing takes. When you have the ability to, traditional(ish) team building can really help with group drive.
Schedule regular virtual catch-ups with your team. As individuals and as a group. Keep these short, but ensure they’re visual as having sight of the people you’re chatting with adds a more personal level to the communication.
Both sides of the coin
As you can see, there are both great benefits and complicated challenges when it comes to running a remote digital agency. There are many questions to honestly ask yourself before you take the leap. The lifestyle alone takes discipline, that’s before you even begin adding in the difficulties of starting a business. Having said this, for those with the right frame of mind and drive, the rewards are immeasurable.
Remote Agency roundups
If you’ve decided to hire an expert remote agency to assist you in your own business, look no further.
Here are all the great remote agencies we spoke with who can certainly help you with all your digital needs. And of course, for further SEO expertise at Finetune Digital, we’re always happy to have a chat about your online strategies.
30 Second Explainer Videos– animated videos for businesses of all kinds.
Alliance Videos– making explainer videos for the B2B market.
Clare Herriot– Videography and media consultancy.
Forge Digital Marketing– A digital Marketing & Creative agency – serving small, medium and large-sized businesses across the USA.
Frame Freak Studio– An animated video studio.
Get Quirked– Local SEO and Website Design and management.
Growth Media– Visuals and Media for Real Estate Developers.
HC Funnels– digital marketing agency with a focus on helping businesses crate high converting funnels.
Influencer Press– We run a public relations agency and we serve elite entrepreneurs to become the #1 authority in their space in 90 days by using strategic media placement and leverage.
Innpulse Ventures – A Venture validation platform helping you test and learn based on market signal data, so you don’t waste millions in failed or floundering products and have a data-driven go to market practice with investor discipline.
Key PPC– A marketing agency that specializes in helping eCommerce (Shopify) stores grow.
Laurits Global– help digital design & marketing agencies get more leads and sales with cold email and training.
Magnetic Digital Media– Creating explainer videos, with a focus on the US and Australian markets.
McFly- A digital marketing agency serving small to medium businesses who need help with their website and online marketing.
Receiliart– A branding agency which helps startups and established companies generate and convert qualified customers at scale, through brand positioning.
Rise– a full-service digital agency with specialities in web and app development.
Animerad Reklamfilm – Animated video production. We serve the Swedish B2B market.
Sage Animation– an animation studio.
Smarcomms– Social Media Management – Aimed at startups and small businesses.
Snapback Media– providing Google Ad services for companies looking to scale.
Snappy Sales Video– Creating engaging online explainer videos.
Today’s Local Media– a digital marketing company that does web design, local SEO, and paid search serving local and national brands in the United States.
Uitleguil– Video production for small to medium-sized businesses on the Belgian market.
Virtual Spirit– Mobile and Web App Development. Mainly startup and corporate.
Website Boss– down to earth but experienced website design and SEO for businesses.