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Going Virtual - Why Your Agency Doesn't Need to be in Your Neighborhood Anymore

Solid Digital Wall

Most of our clients find us by searching on search engines.  The most popular terms are phrases like “Chicago web design” or “Portland digital marketing agencies”.  The obvious intention was to find an agency that was nearby.  Since the pandemic, however, we have had the largest influx of clients from regions we were not physically in.  We wanted the work — so we adjusted.  We changed how we operated, enabling us to have engaging, strategic meetings with our clients even when we couldn’t all be in the same room.

The Pros of Hiring a Virtual Web Design Agency

Bigger Pool

    1. Selecting a local agency can be a huge limiting factor in the quality of the work you have access to.  If you are only setting your search to “[insert city here] web design”, you are going to be missing out on hundreds of potential agencies which could be a good fit.   Modern marketing leaders know this, and it is why we (Solid Digital) are seeing a lot more inbound opportunities from all over the US and the world.
    2. And, what you’ll probably end up finding is that even if you do hire locally, there will be agency team members who are not.  This brings me to my second point… talent.

Agency Talent

      1. When selecting an agency there should be some key factors that you’re considering, but the most important (in my opinion) is their ability to elevate your brand.  Whether it’s your website, advertising, or identity, they should make your brand look better.  To do that, the agency must be able to recruit and provide the best talent.
      2. In our new virtual hiring world, we are no longer constrained by offices or borders.  We previously would only hire locally, but now we look for the best of the best — no matter where they are.  This is passed through to the client.

Affordability

    1. Competition for clients is at an all-time high.  Agencies are spending 6-figure-a-month budgets on PPC (search engine marketing), aggregate sites (like Clutch.co), and even more traditional advertising like billboards, radio, and TV.
    2. This is a good thing for brands.  We know you’re doing your research.  We have to produce work that stands out.  There are great, young agencies that can compete nationally and globally.  If your headquarters are in New York, but you’re open to working with a Denver web design agency, you can save a lot of money going virtual.
Marla Aistrope
Solid Digital 15th year anniversary

The Cons of Not Going Local

Happy Hours

    1. When I was starting in the agency world, taking clients out for drinks after a long meeting seemed to be a key strategy for retaining them.  The rumors I heard of the money being spent on these events were staggering… so it must have been worth it.
    2. While I don’t believe this is as common as it was 20 years ago, it is still nice to be able to get together in person and build relationships between the agency and client teams.  In our new virtual world, this becomes less possible, and that’s why we believe it’s important to sprinkle some casual get-to-know-you elements into meetings during our projects.

Time Zones

    1. I believe we’ve done a great job adjusting to the new global workforce over the last 30 years, however, it is always much more convenient when a team you are working closely with is in the same relative time zone.  If you stay within +/- 2 time zones, it seems to be ok, but going beyond 3 or 4 seems to cause a lot of issues with scheduling.

Retention

    1. This may be more of a “con” for the agency than the brand, but I have noticed more of the clients that hire us outside their region are looking for an expert in one service and less inclined to sign on for additional, ongoing secondary services.  As an agency focused on web design and development, it means we tend to be more project-based.  While we offer ongoing consulting, many brands will choose to hire another agency that primarily focuses on digital marketing.  The agency-of-record methodology has basically gone extinct.  Brands are becoming more selective and working with more groups.  It means we (agencies) have to become even more specialized, promote and build our expertise.
dream team
Chicago web design agency employees high-fiving

The Future

More Competition

    1. In our new virtual world, there are fewer barriers to entry into the world of online marketing.  I have seen an influx of new agencies popping up.  Even some groups which used to sub-source for bigger agencies are making themselves available for direct work with clients.  I believe this will also mean bigger agencies are going to see a trend in leadership leaving to start their own firms.  You can assume that if you are good at designing websites and marketing them, you’ll be able to successfully promote yourself to a broader online audience.

More Specialization

    1. As I mentioned above, brands can find agencies that specialize in specific offerings (e.g. web design, SEO, PPC, PR, etc).  While managing multiple relationships may take some additional work, knowing that you have teams that are focused on a specific channel or capability will help your brand.

General Contractors

    1. Realizing the potential pain points of multiple vendors handling multiple aspects of your marketing strategy will open the door for individuals (or agencies) to become “general contractors”.  Clients can leverage their experience to help find the right combination of partners to meet their needs.

Conclusion

I like buying local, and I’ve been a big believer in the importance of working together, in the same physical space.  If I had it my way, I think I would prefer to keep working in an office and having clients that we are able to meet with in person, regularly.  However, the pandemic taught us that we were capable of evolving to support a virtual office with virtual clients.  I’m excited (and optimistic) about the opportunities it brings for both us and our clients.

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