How to Build a Remote Agency That Runs Like a Machine

how_to_build_processes_for_your_remote_agency_that_runs_like_a_machine

This is a guest post written by Alexis Humphrey. Agency owner turned business coach, Alexis Humphrey is on a mission to help freelancers and agency owners maximize their potential by showing them how they can earn more and work less so they can create a life they love. Connect with her on Linkedin or join her private Facebook group.

Steve Jobs built his empire around one clear principle – simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

In his own words:

Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” – Steve Jobs, Apple’s Steve Jobs

And Warren Buffet agrees…

What does Buffet look for when he invests in a business?

The answer: Something that is simple and reproducible, like Coca Cola, McDonalds or Gillette. These businesses work like machines – the production process is repeatable, and the output is always the same.

In this Process Street article, you will learn how to fine-tune your service-based business into simple and reproducible processes, building a remote agency machine.

This transformation requires consistency and the consistency of processes. With Process Street, this consistency becomes easily attainable. Learn how to set up Process Street processes and establish a solid ground to build your remote agency machine. A remote agency that works on automation, documented processes and requires very little of your time. A remote agency that brings in money, whilst you lay back sipping pina colada’s on a Brazilian beach.

Sound appealing?

Of course it does.

Click on the relevant subheaders below to jump to that section. Alternatively, scroll down to read all we have to say.

Let’s get started!

Building a remote agency: Maintaining consistency and documenting recurring tasks

A remote agency will process calls and provide a service without having to be present at a given location. If you’re wanting to establish a work-life balance in your favor, setting up your agency as a remote one can help significantly. However, for this your need consistency, and for consistency, you need documented processes. One good place to start is through the documentation of your recurring tasks.

Recurring tasks: Case study, how McDonald’s became a fast-food giant

remote agency - McDonalds
Source

Recurring tasks are tasks that happen regularly. They are the repeated pattern of business operations that deliver the required result. Recurring tasks are vital for the set up of a scalable, successful remote agency that is predominantly self-running. To exemplify why we will have a look at how McDonald’s became the fast-food giant it is today.

No matter what your opinion of their food (or ethics for that matter), it’s undeniable that McDonald’s is an incredibly successful business. Granted, McDonald’s has to have a physical presence to deliver its service, but we can learn a lot from the giant’s fundamental business structure, to build your remote agency machine.

Let’s be brutal, McDonald’s success doesn’t come from the fact that they make better burgers than anyone else. They’re successful because they built their business like a machine, documenting recurring tasks and ensuring consistency.

From day one, McDonald’s focused on having systems and processes that mapped out the recurring tasks. This meant they could deliver consistently at scale. The menus, food preparation, and operations are all pretty much the same in every one of their 40,000 restaurants. To boot, every single employee and piece of equipment has a clearly defined, repeatable role…

As a customer, this means that whether you’re in Boston, Bangkok or Barcelona, you know exactly what you’re going to get.

For McDonald’s, it means making more money than their competitors because they’re able to deliver at scale.

Now, I’m not suggesting you want to be like McDonald’s in terms of quality or sophistication. You should aim to make the best burgers in town! 🍔

But this is a lesson about simplifying that you can apply to your service-based business.

Stick with me, and I will show you how treating your service as a product is the secret to earning more and working less as a freelancer or agency owner.

And how do I know?

Because I’ve done it.

Building a remote agency: Treating your service as a product

Five years ago, I was a struggling freelancer selling generalized marketing services to anyone who would pay me (full disclosure – no one was paying me very much). I was burnt out, struggling to earn enough to cover the basics and at the point of giving up and returning to the corporate world.

But the thought of stepping back into an office was unbearable. So, feeling like I had nothing to lose, I decided to re-write the script and completely overhauled my business model.

In less than a year, I turned my struggling freelance business into a 6-figure virtual agency with 30+ contractors. And today, I spend as little as 5-10 hours a week running my agency, which I do remotely whilst I travel with 🗺 WiFi Tribe 🗺 – a group of freelancers, business owners, and employees who can do their work from anywhere in the world.

Want to know how I did it? And more importantly, how you can do the same?

Well, if you stay with me to the end of this post, I’ll let you in on my secret.

However, this guide as a whole is going to give you all the tools you need to get started immediately.

Let’s begin by looking at the difference between where most of you are at present – customized chaos – and where you want to be – repeatable systems.

Building a remote agency: Customized chaos

Let me ask you a direct question.

If I gave you 10 new clients tomorrow, could you cope?

If your answer is no, then that is because, at this moment, your business is customized chaos.

From custom proposals to custom onboarding processes and service delivery – every single client gets something slightly different. Where instead your processes could be standardized. To see how, check out Process Street’s employee onboarding checklist below. Using this checklist to onboard a new employee ensures the process is the same every, single, time.

Click here to access the Employee Onboarding template for free!

Say goodbye to chasing your tail, jumping from one task to the next. By documenting each step of any business process in a Process Street checklist (such as the above ⬆), you create an organized, standardized system that saves. You. Time.

Most freelancers I speak to tell me that the first thing they need to fix is their sales pipeline, stating:

“It would all be okay if I could find more clients!”

Sound familiar?

But, in truth, very few are ready for real growth. Taking on two new clients would be carnage, let alone 10.

The problem with delivering a customized solution to every client is that it requires you to continually create new systems that you’ll never use again. You’re stuck in learning mode. And not only is that the least profitable time for any business, but it also keeps you as the business owner stuck in implementation.

You’re the underpaid technician rather than the expert consultant, continually trying to problem-solve whilst having to do most of the work yourself.

It’s a recipe for burn out and being overwhelmed – fast.

Building a remote agency: Repeatable systems

Instead, what if you built your business on a set of repeatable systems that anyone, with the right basic skill set, could implement?

Offering one solution for all your clients.

One documented and automated onboarding process (⬆ like the one we saw above ⬆).

One marketing strategy that attracts and converts leads consistently.

One sales solution that processes purchases quickly and effortlessly.

This isn’t about dumbing down your offering. It’s about packaging it into organized and efficient systems to get better results for your clients, whilst you work significantly less.

And when you document those systems into a series of processes and tasks, you can finally outsource fulfillment so you can focus on growing your business and enjoying more personal freedom.

Building a remote agency: Customized chaos vs repeatable systems

So, let’s compare the two different models…

Customized chaos 👿 Repeatable systems 👼
Serves many different customers Serves only one customer
Offers many different solutions Offers one main solution
Uses many different conversion tools Uses one main conversion tool
Has many different sources of traffic Has on the main source of traffic

Customized systems vs repeatable systems: Customers served

So, in the customized version – the version that you are probably more familiar with – you’ll often have an open door policy about the type of client you’ll work with.

I know when I started freelancing, I worked with the whole alphabet – Accountants through to Zumba Teachers.

It was the number one reason why I failed to deliver any sort of significant result – there’s no way that anyone can be enough of an expert in everything to deliver killer results for everyone!

And that is why I was stuck in the feast-to-famine cycle that so many freelancers struggle with.

On the other hand, the repeatable model focuses on serving one main customer or market. Preferably a market that you enjoy working with, a market with a real problem that you can solve, and a market that is willing to pay to have that problem solved.

Customized systems vs repeatable systems: Solutions offered

To make your say yes to anyone with a dime approach work, you’re likely offering a range of solutions – from web design, social media, photography, SEO, and who knows, maybe you’re also delivering their lunch and picking their kids up from school…

Whatever makes the client happy, right?

Wrong – no one wants a Jack-of-all-Trades doing lots but making no visible impact to the bottom line.

All your clients care about is results.

So I want you to consider – what is the single most impactful thing you can offer to your clients, and what is the single most impactful way you can deliver it?

That is, what one repeatable solution can you offer that you know will deliver results every single time.

Having one repeatable solution doesn’t mean you give precisely the same deliverables to every client. Your blog posts will still be unique. The websites you create will be unique. Your SEO recommendations will be unique. But the process you go through to create those deliverables will be systemized.

More on that later!

Customized systems vs repeatable systems: Conversion tools and main source of traffic

The next two are less critical when you’re starting to grow your business, but will become more important as you scale up, so they’re worth mentioning.

The customized model will tend to rely on several different conversion tools – email, sales calls, webinars, seminars, etc.

And the repeatable model focuses on one.

The customized model will have many different traffic sources – partnerships, paid ads, content, etc.

And the repeatable model will focus on – you guessed it – one.

On understanding how the systemized model looks compared to the customized model, let’s see how Process Street’s processes fit into the picture…

Building a remote agency: Business processes

Remote agency - Process Street processes

A business process is a set of organized tasks, that once completed in a specific sequence, will deliver the organization’s goal.

Whether documented or not, you already have tens or even hundreds of processes in your business. So, this is not about making more work for yourself. It’s about documenting the work you already do so someone else can do it for you.

Below are some examples of processes you probably already have in your business:

  • Sales 💰
  • Client Onboarding 🙋‍♀️
  • Client Management 💼
  • Employee Onboarding 👷‍♀️
  • Invoicing 🖇
  • Service Delivery 🚚

For instance, in all likelihood, you have some sort of sales process that takes someone from the point they make contact with you, to the point of achieving your goal of making a sale. To achieve this goal, you might have processes that go something like this:

Sales process 1: Qualifying sale leads. Process Street’s BANT (Budget, Authority, Needs, and Timeline) Qualification Call Process gives crucial information to ensure you have the right client in the pipeline. Running this checklist commences your sales process.

Click here to access the BANT Sales Qualification Call Process!

Sales process 2: Planning and job proposal. Once you have obtained interest, you would need to communicate the cost of your product and service to the client. The steps you carry out may look like those detailed below, in our Job Estimate Template.

Click here to access our Job Estimate Template!

Sales process 3: Sending an invoice. Having delivered your product or service, an invoice needs to be created and sent to your client. Steps such as those detailed in our Creating an Invoice checklist below need to be executed.

Click here to access our Creating an Invoice template!

And after the sales process, you’ll have a process for client onboarding – taking a new client through to the service delivery stage. That might involve sending a welcome pack, conducting a kick-off call, sending the onboarding questionnaire, collecting assets and project launch.

The steps may differ depending on the type of industry you operate in, but the basic layout of your onboarding processes will be the same. To exemplify this, take a look at Process Street’s client onboarding process, specific to accounting.

Click here to access our Client Onboarding Checklist for an Accounting Firm!

Other examples of processes might be client management, employee onboarding, and payment collections – you get the idea.

And, whether you believe it or not, it is possible to have a clearly defined process for your service delivery too.

Imagine that – a recipe for delivering one killer service that yields every time and is simple to sell. A service that you can charge significantly more for.

What kind of impact do you think that would make on your business?

More importantly, what kind of impact would that make on your life?

Building a remote agency: Why do business processes matter?

remote agency - why processes matter
Source

So, now you have an idea of which processes you should be documenting, let’s look at why processes will be game-changing for your business.

Why do business processes matter?: Reason #1 – Documented processes are more powerful than goals

I’m going to state this as a fact: documented processes are more powerful than documented goals.

Everyone is always telling us how important it is to set goals for our business, but in truth, how many times have you set a goal, and then failed to achieve it?

I’ll be the first to admit I failed to hit the majority of goals I set for myself or my business in the early years.

And the reason is that I didn’t make a solid plan for getting there.

In other words, I didn’t have a documented process.

Think about this…

It’s the New Year, and you promise yourself that you’re going to get fit. You have two choices – set a goal, or document the process.

A goal could be something like Lose 10lbs in 6 months – it’s clear and concise. But is it actionable?

On the other hand, a process would be more like: I’m going to workout each weekday morning for 20 minutes. In each workout, I will do 15 minutes of cardio and 5 minutes of ab exercises. If you then went on to write a list of exercises and the number of repetitions and you stuck it on your wall, put an alarm on your phone and laid out your workout clothes each evening, which do you think would be more effective– the goal, or the process?

To find out more about the difference between goals and processes, and why the latter is better for achieving your aims, read: Systems vs Goals: How I Lost 70lbs and Learned Piano

(Source)

When you create a process, you’re essentially taking a goal and breaking it into actionable steps. The goal is what you need to do, but the process is how you do it. Both are important, but I can’t stress enough that without a process, a goal is meaningless.

So, let’s say that your goal is to make $30,000 a month in your freelance or agency business whilst working less than 20 hours a week.

That’s a great goal!

But to achieve an ambitious target like that, you’re going to need a whole heap of systems and processes.

Why do business processes matter?: Reason #2 – Deliver better results

If you care about delivering results for your clients (and I’m going to assume you’re a decent person who does), then you need a process!

For a start, a documented process is, by its nature, something you’ll do over and over again – and as they say, practice makes perfect — no more learning curves.

And no more being directed by the client – you are the expert who can solve their problem. You will stay focused and on track from start to finish because you know what works, and what doesn’t.

And while your processes are something you’ll be continuously optimizing, even the most top-level, early-stage version is going to give you the ability to spot issues, plug gaps, and address inconsistencies. Like looking at the top of the box when you’re struggling to complete a puzzle, a documented process makes it easier to solve problems and challenges.

Why do business processes matter?: Reason #3 – Save time for yourself and the client

Processes will also save you and your business a ton of time.

Imagine, no more decision-fatigue – every choice you need to make is mapped out.

decision fatigue
(Source by Alinaderi158, image used under license CC BY-SA 4.0)

No more wasting time thinking up a new strategy – the plan is already there, ready and waiting for you to hit start.

And no more time-consuming learning curves – you rinse, optimize and repeat.

Why do business processes matter?: Reason #4 – Reduce mistakes and increase transparency

Processes will also help you significantly reduce the chance of human error.

A well-documented process hosted in a user-friendly process management system, like Process Street, captures each task required to complete a job, which significantly reduces the chance of mistakes happening.

On a macro scale, that means no more budget overruns, and no more missed deadlines.

But on a day-to-day level, it means no more waking up in the middle of the night thinking, Did I send that email?, Did I press publish on that blog post, Were we supposed to have a catch-up call today?!

The process captures every variable because one task can only start once the previous task is marked as completed. If something does slip through, then you update the process to ensure it never happens again!

Why do business processes matter?: Reason #5 – Processes keep you and your team on track

Processes help you and your team stay on track.

Take McDonald’s for instance, everyone has sight of every moving piece of the puzzle; everyone knows their role, everyone has accountability, everyone is clear about the job to be done, and the jobs that aren’t done can be identified.

A process helps you stay focused from the moment a client pops into your inbox asking for one quick favor

Say goodbye to your old friend, scope creep!

Why do business processes matter?: Reason #6 – Processes allow you to outsource or automate

process automation
(Source, image in the public domain)

This one’s important because it’s the key to working less in your business. Outsourcing and automating will free up your time to either focus on growing your business, or squeezing more joy out of life.

Most freelancers and agency owners I know say that they’ve tried to outsource with poor results. And the reason is simple – they didn’t have a clear instruction manual for the contractor or employee to follow.

But, when you document your processes, it allows you to outsource the work with significantly more confidence.

Documented processes become the instruction manual for your business, and they are the only way to build a business that can run without you.

When it comes to automating, it’s only possible when you can see all the steps required to complete a job. When you look at the process as a whole, you can quickly identify the tasks that could be carried out by a tool more efficiently than a human.

For more information about Business Process Automation read: The Ultimate Guide to Business Process Automation

If you want more freedom then processes are your new best friend.

Why do business processes matter?: Reason #7 – Processes help you close deals

Yes, we even use our processes to close deals.

A few years back, I was in a big pitch up against another, bigger agency. I was losing. They had all the bells and whistles – from a presentation packed with fancy graphics to a ton of case studies from happy clients.

At the last moment, I decided to take a risk to try and pull it back. I pulled up my Process Street account and gave them a glimpse inside the machine – the process we follow for delivering our service.

The client didn’t understand most of what they were looking at, but instantly the atmosphere in the room changed.

By demonstrating we had a clearly defined process, they could see that we had done this over and over again. The client asked the other agency if they could present something similar, and they confidently replied that they didn’t follow a specific process. I’m sure at that moment they thought they looked better because they were offering the client a bespoke service. But the truth is, business owners prefer proven systems to bespoke solutions because having a system means you’ve worked out the kinks and you know it works. And that’s all that they care about – getting results.

Our process proved we had a system to achieve their goals. And that client has been with us for two years and has been worth almost $200k to our business.

After that experience, we built a sample of our service delivery process into our pitch deck, so prospects can see that we have a proven system for success before we get on the discovery call. Almost every prospect mentions it, and our close rate improved instantly.

For more information on Process Documentation and the benefits it brings read: Business Process Documentation: 5 Benefits and Why You Should Use It.

Building a remote agency: How to get started

I hope that by this point you’re convinced that processes are the way forward. But no doubt you’re wondering how you’re going to make all this happen!

Well, I’m not going to lie to you, documenting processes can be a big job. So, how do you break the seemingly gargantuan task of documenting your whole business into manageable pieces?

Below are my 🔝 top tips 🔝 for getting started…

How to get started: Tip #1 – Set up your Process Street account

As a business process management tool, Process Street provides superpowered checklists. With our checklists, you can document your business processes, helping you to transform your service-based business into a remote agency.

With Process Street checklists, any process can be accessed anywhere, at any time, by users with authorized authority.

Once more, Process Street is free to sign up.

For more information about Process Street’s offering, check out the Monthly Webinar: An Introduction to Process Street:

Process Street checklists have been adapted and refined over the years, to contain the features business leaders such as yourself need to run smooth and efficient processes. These features include:

For more information on how you can document your business processes via a checklist in Process Street, watch the below video:

How to get started: Tip #2 – Prioritize

Next, you need to prioritize – what 20% of your processes can you document right now to get 80% of your business under control?

The processes I’d recommend prioritizing are:

  • Discovery call process
  • Closing process
  • Client onboarding process
  • Payment process
  • Service delivery process
  • Hiring process
  • Employee onboarding process

You’ll find hundreds of process templates in the Process Street library, which can be helpful for getting started. These templates are free and ready to use right away.

Alternatively, keep reading to the end of this post for that fast-track option I mentioned.

How to get started: Tip #3 – Start high level

Perfection is the enemy of progress.

The thing that stops people from making progress with their process documentation, is feeling like it needs to be perfect from the outset.

Forget that!

The way I always start is by writing out the process in a paragraph – describing all the steps I can think of at that time.

So, for my current sales process, I might write something like:

First, the prospect opts-in to get my lead magnet. After they’ve watched the free training, they’re offered a free strategy call with me. If they decide to book the call, they get a link to my calendar in ScheduleOnce, and they are added to my CRM in ActiveCampaign. That triggers an automated email sequence where they’re asked to complete an application form, which qualifies them as a good fit before I get on the call with them. The application information is put into ActiveCampaign, and if they are marked as qualified, they receive another email that includes my presentation deck designed to help build my authority – case studies, testimonials, links to podcasts and blogs, etc. This makes sure they show up to the call.

I take the 30-minute call and determine if I can help them reach their business goals. If I can, I mark the call as successful in ActiveCampaign, and that triggers a Zap in Zapier to send a standardized proposal from Proposify. If the client signs the proposal and pays the first invoice, another Zap sends the information to ActiveCampaign where the prospect status is changed to Client.

This triggers the next process – Client Onboarding.”

Okay, so that’s messy – it’s a stream of consciousness. But it’s a great way to get started with documenting – there’s nothing intimidating about writing a few messy paragraphs about your current process, right?

From there, the next step is to break the paragraph into its component steps. In Process Street, these are called tasks.

It doesn’t need to be perfect! Start messy, iterate and improve. This is something you can build out over time.

Which brings me onto my final point…

How to get started: Tip #4 – Have patience

Please don’t feel like you have to document all of your processes at once. The end goal is to have comprehensive systems built out for every area of your business, but, like the goal of losing weight, it’s something that you’ll work at every day to get there. The processes you build inside Process Street will be working documents for a long time to come.

Building a remote agency: Embedding processes in your business

To conclude this article, I have presented 3 tips on how to make sure your processes streamline your business.

  • Make your process engaging by utilizing all of the multimedia options inside Process Street – videos, screenshots, photos and audio
  • Start every task with a verb – forcing yourself to use action words will help ensure each task drives the process forward.
  • Conduct post-mortems periodically to ensure you’re continually improving your processes. Running a process-driven business is about starting strong, and from there getting better and better. This is the single biggest reason I only work 5-10hrs in my agency. It didn’t start that way, but by making small improvements every time we ran the process, I managed to optimize to a point where I don’t have to micromanage anything.

Building a remote agency: The secret sauce

At the beginning of this post, I said I would let you in on my secret. Well, here it is.

Wifi Tribe and Process Street.

WiFi Tribe is an invite-only community of 800+ remote professionals who slow travel the world in small groups of 12-25. Every month, we choose a different city to call home and we invite passionate, wild and ego-free remote professionals from all corners of the world to join us.

As the Educational Consultant for Wifi Tribe, I’ve seen first-hand how beneficial the changing scenery that remote work brings. We get to experience the excitement of world travel while maintaining a community of digital nomads who help each other support their businesses.

From inside knowledge to best practices, new techniques and killer processes, it’s truly a fantastic community to be a part of.

Mix that with our use of Process Street to help keep Wifi Tribe running and you have a truly killer combo. Process Street provides the backbone for structured work no matter where we are, while the community of the Tribe keeps our collective drive going.

Join our private Facebook group for freelancers and agency owners, where we talk shop on systems, processes, pricing, positioning and more!

For me, my remote agency relies on the systems and processes I have set up in Process Street. Start your remote agency and sign up for Process Street here for free.

What are the key processes in your remote business? We would love to hear from you, so please comment below with any questions. Who knows, you may get featured in an upcoming article!

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Jane Courtnell

Hi there, I am a Junior Content Writer at Process Street. I graduated in Biology, specializing in Environmental Science at Imperial College London. During my degree, I developed an enthusiasm for writing to communicate environmental issues. I continued my studies at Imperial College's Business School, and with this, my writing progressed looking at sustainability in a business sense. When I am not writing I enjoy being in the mountains, running and rock climbing.


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