How to grow a successful virtual business – 6 super insights

It’s just over five years since our niche expert team came together with a ‘not the norm approach’ to business. We are very focused in what we do with a nerd-like passion, we have an unintentional female bias to the team and, we are 100% virtual. Reflecting on our award success made me realise just how much we’ve learnt about running a virtual business. We are really slick as a team and that’s down to a few key learnings which I wanted to share for anyone else considering running a business this way.

First, let me tell you a little bit about our business. We are a specialist team of 10 full-time people dotted across the UK and the globe. Supported by a virtual team of 20+. We have team members in Yorkshire, Kent, the Cotswolds, Oxford, London, Australia, Paris and New York and work with global tech brands. We deliver value proposition and partner marketing – in fact over the last five years we have developed over 300 technology-based value propositions, and 120 go-to-market plans with 60+ global brands. In order to do this at scale we needed to be super slick and agile. What has this taught us that we can share with anyone wanting to grow a virtual business? Here are six insights as a starter:

1. Make the most of enterprise cloud software, it will transform how you work.
What we do would not have been possible 10 years ago as we rely on a range of software which has step by step digitally transformed how we work. We use HubSpot for CRM and marketing and ActiveCollab for project management and workflow, Huddle for secure storage, Xero for accounts and of course, Microsoft Office 365 and Skype for business. All this rich industrial software allows our virtual team to work collaboratively and professionally in a secure and complaint way regardless of where they are based. It saves time and money every day and stops us being reliant on individuals.

2. Digitalise your IP
Businesses like ours typically are full of ‘big brains’ but you need to scale and give customers consistency. So, it’s key to digitalise your IP (Intellectual Property) which goes beyond using off-the-shelf software. To achieve this our latest initiative is to build an end-to-end digital work flow for our methodology (Discover, Build, Activate, Measure) . This will ensure consistency regardless of location or marketing consultant delivering the proposition or go to market plan. We believe this is critical for any IP-based virtual business to truly scale.

3. Create a virtual version of a ‘real office’ structure to ensure best practice
We have a virtual CFO, virtual HR Director and a virtual accounts team. These ensure our physically disparate team get the same level of support as in an office, such as health and safety checks and meet the necessary GDPR compliance and working regulations. We run monthly 1:1 reviews, all have objectives and personal development plans; all the good stuff you’d expect. Just because you are physically dispersed doesn’t mean you should stop these best practices. Governance and tracking is also critical to keep any team, especially a virtual one, focused on business priorities.

4. Daily video ‘scrum’ with your team to stay emotionally connected
Even though there are hundreds of miles between us all (sometimes 1000’s) we all see each other pretty much every day (on video). We make sure we have time for social chat before getting down to the business priorities of the day and ensuring we deliver what our customers need. When this doesn’t happen, people lose that connection and aren’t as aligned. Seeing people is so important – so even if you are wearing your running kit or pyjamas, it’s video on!

5. Work extra hard to listen to your customers
We spend face-to-face time with all our customers but many work with us virtually – in the US, Australia South Africa and across Europe. For any business, but especially a virtual one, it’s important to listen. We are continually listening to our customers informally and formally. Last year we ran our first annual customer listening and have developed our business based on this. We are massive believers in continuous improvement and for any virtual business you have to work extra hard to keep your ear to the ground.

6. Prioritise face-to-face time
We spend time with our customers regularly in person and as a team every eight weeks. We love the flexibility of being virtual but we love it most as it means we can dedicate our face-to-face time with our clients, on their sites, understanding their businesses and stakeholders – be that in London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Stockholm or Mumbai. We also need to have fun and stay connected as a team.

Fresh thinking is one of our core business values and as we continue to grow, we continue to learn. I’m sure in another 5 years I can add to this list but for now I hope you take some insight from our journey so far and thank you all the people that have helped us get where we are.

Helen Curtis

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