µAgency

In my last post about building a business you love to work in and on,  I wrote about the idea of a µAgency, today I want to expand on that idea and explain just what this concept is and how it could possibly work for you.

Remember I operate a no-guru policy so I’m giving pointers only.

Definition

µ – Greek letter micro, which in our definition means very small.

A micro agency is you the principal consultant plus another person, so it’s a team based agency but a very very small one, as small as you can possibly be and still be considered an agency.

You will continue to deliver your existing services but you will add some additional complimentary ones that are not delivered by you.

Who Is It For

The µAgency is for freelancers who are ready to take their business to a new level but don’t want to work solely on their business, they still want to be in the business chipping away at their client’s coal face.

You are not looking to build something huge, just an amazing lifestyle business that delivers your income goals, is fun to run and creates massive personal freedom.

You’ve probably tried other leveraged income ideas, but they were not a great match with your services business (info products, affiliates selling), what I’m suggesting is a companion service that goes with your main “thing” but is not delivered by you.

You are not a manager, have no desire to be a manager, you want the smallest team possible while delivering an excellent µService.

You’ve Done Your 10,000 Hours

As a freelancer you have served your apprenticeship and have done your 10k hours of work to be called a master craftsman/woman of your thing.

You know how to do your thing, how to deliver excellent service.

It feels like you need to find another person with your skill sets to expand your business, and the costs and risk are very scary to you.

You have reach a plateau and are looking to develop your business but the idea of finding another you is very intimidating, what I’m suggesting with a µAgency is that you don’t need another you with all your skills and associated costs, build a small service your clients needs which can be delivered by a junior team member.

What It Solves

It solves a number of the issues we as /solo freelancers selling services suffer from.

Break the time = money limit – there is an upper limit on your income because of the finite number of available hours you have, the µAgency gives you leverage by using other people’s time, software tools and processes.

Flattens the feast famine cycle – much like the above point freelancers have a rollercoaster of income, sometimes there is a lot of work we need to take on because we know down the line there will be a famine time where work is scare and we have limited income, this idea helps to create a more level income stream.

Take time off and still earn – your agency will be bringing in money regardless of whether you are working or not.  This will  allow you holidays, sabbaticals and leisure time oh my!

Recurring Revenue – If you develop the product your agency delivers properly you can develop a recurring revenue from your  µAgency.

What The µAgency is Not

It’s not a get rich quick scheme, it needs to be carefully nurture and sold to existing clients.

It’s not 100% passive, you need to put lots of time in at the front end developing your agency, and a certain amount of time monitoring and managing your agency as it goes along (don’t panic it’s not going to be a huge time suck).

For everyone,  if you get a feeling of worth from a massive business, this is sooo not for you, if you want 100% passive income remember you are still the principal delivering your “thing” service.  If you want to sell your business again it’s going to be hard to sell a job.

µAgency Evolution

With all that being said are you ready to evolve from a freelancer / solopreneur into a  µAgency?

You may be happy where you are as solo freelancer but here are some key indicators you are ready to start your  µAgency.

  • Your income has plateaued and you are booked solid, you cannot earn any more
  • You struggle to take time off
  • If you do take time of there is a massive struggle before hand to get everything in a row and generate enough income to cover your costs.
  • You have had a couple of bad weeks with no income
  • You cannot do that thing because you are tied to your job
  • You want to level the income rollercoaster
  • You want a more passive income steam
  • You want recurring revenue so the start of each month is not dialled back to zero each 1st of the month

µRetainer

The first step in your evolution is to start selling  µRetainers.

One of the problems I wanted to solve was the up and down  of income as a freelancer, and the best way I saw to do this was selling retainers.  A retainer is a recurring revenue stream where services are delivered each month to your clients.

I call it a micro retainer because you will be selling lots of small pieces of work to many clients, not a big chunk of your time to a single client.

This has a number of benefits:

  1. It’s a small piece of work so it is usually cheaper than a normal engagement with you and easier to sell.
  2. It’s sold to lots and lots of clients so there is no single point of failure if a client decides to stop working with you, or you decide to stop working with them if they are a pain in the arse. Remember this is all about building a business you love to operate, not have painful clients dictate what you are doing.

The µRetainer is not an À la carte service where your client can call down you or your team’s time as they see fit, no it is a defined piece of work that is done on a recurring basis the same way to all clients, I call this a µProductized Service …

µProductized Service

Remember the goal is not to sell your time, you know how to do that already, that is your bread and butter, you are looking to sell a productise service that your client needs and can be sold as a retainer.

The anatomy of a productized service looks like this:

  • As a backend upsell, a complimentary service to your main “thing”
  • Very useful and important to your client
  • Can be driven by processes
  • Is teachable to team members
  • Is repeatable and standard for all clients
  • Does not need your 10,000 hours of experise
  • Needs to be done on a recurring basis
  • Easy to manage
  • Does not need lots of your time – you should be spending time serving your clients with your front end services, not your back end product
  • Leverage people. sofware tools and processes to make it almost hands off

I don’t know what you business is so I cannot say what your service should be but hopefully this points you in the right direction.

Selling µProductized Service

You might think I’m putting the cart before the horse here, there is no team to deliver the service yet, but  you should sell some µRetainers and deliver the service yourself before building your team.

You need to document and create processes for your service so it is delivered correctly by doing it yourself you can understand the service completly, create processes, find the pain points and solve any issues before delegating the work.  You also get to set the quality levels you require so the service is delivered to your standards and does not impact upon your reputation.

Pre-selling the service and delivering it yourself proves there is a need for the work, there is nothing worse than sacking people because you cannot cover their wage cost.

I suggest you sell your retainer as a back end service not a front end one. This give you a chance to evaluate a client in a one off project before you work with them for a prolonged period of time, no one wants to work with a douche for the long term.

It is far easier to sell a retainer to a happy client than it is to pitch an ongoing service to a new client.  I had a dream that I could sell a recurring maintenance plan to cold clients, it was very very hard, I now sell this service on the back end.

µTeam

Once you have your µService idea and have sold enough micro retainers to cover a team members salary it’s time to build your µTeam.

Let’s talk about the size of your team. I’m talking about part time or maximum of a single person full time making up your micro team. This keeps the agency tiny and limits the amount

What does this mean, you need to package your service so a single person can do it and still meet your income goals.  There will be an upper limit to what they can do too, so look at processes, software tools and automation plus a person to do the work.

I don’t recommend employing someone in the traditional sense that they become employees of your business.  Personally I run my business under a UK business structure of Sole Trader. If I take on a traditional employee I have to incorporate, pay additional taxes, national insurance, PAYE, pension plans, the list goes on.

Screw that I want as simple as business structure as possible so I choose to work with like minded entrepreneurs who have started their own business and work as contractors.

Recruitment is far beyond the scope of this article but I’ll cover my ideas of Nearsourcing in a future post.

No µManagement

The beauty of the µAgency is the is no µManagement, your job is not to be a manager of the agency, it’s to set it up, create processes and rules so the delivery of that service works without you.

Automate it as much as possible with software and tools. You can do this during the phase when you are delivering the process yourself.

Document how the service is done, down the to

Recruit a self starter who can deliver the service to your vision without a lot of hand holding.

So when you are bulding your productize service create processes that are repeatable and “checkable” so you can ensure the quality of the services being delivered by your team member are

Delegate don’t abdicate (hat tip to e-myth) make sure you are checking the work down regularly and it’s to your standards. That does not take a lot of your time.

Remember your job is still to deliver you high end, front end services, the µService is a back end add-on delivered by your team member.

Example My µAgency

My µAgency is based around my productized service offering WP Insure.

WP Insure is an ongoing maintenance plan where we look after the ongoing maintenance needs all WordPress sites.  It costs $29 per site per month, I have over 100 sites under maintenance. So I have lots of small payments from many sources on a recurring basis.

We do the following:

  • Fix on fail – if anything breaks we fix it
  • Backups
  • Updates
  • Monitoring
  • Reporting
  • Email Support

I use managewp software to control this work and I have my team member(s) monitoring the work fixing any exceptions and providing fix on fail services.

I have help desk software where alerts are sent if we spot an issue automatically and an email address support@wpdude.com, to which my WP Insure clients can sends their fix on fail requests that we did not spot.

I have two part time team members making up a single e-team member.  These are two contractors I worked with on a previous iteration when I was trying to build a maximal agency, but that is yet another story.

I’ve built processes around canned responses in the help desk (which I use for my front end services too ) so issues are handled in the same way each time.

We send weekly reports to my clients to update them on the work done.

Payments are via a recurring invoice sent automatically from my Freshbooks account, Freshbooks also sends out automated reminders to prompt people to pay their bill if they forget.

Inside the help desk is a knowledge base where I can distil my experience into solutions for fix on fail scenarios.  As time has gone on I need to create less and less of these articles.

I spend very little time delivering WP Insure services, my team does the work.  I spend very little time managing my team they are self starters and know how to get things done. We communicate via our help desk when they need my help./

I may sound cold about my team, but they know they can hit me up on Skype if they have an issues or need to chat.

Wrap Up – µAgency

None of this is new, the problems a µAgency solve are not new to freelancers.

I’ve distilled the advice from a number of books and courses into my own best fit agency model, one that solves client problems, solves my freelancer problems and matches my temperaments, little team management, under control for my control freak tendencies makes money for me on a recurring basis, flattened my feast famine cycle, it’s a great model for me and I hope it can be useful for you.

What do you think?  Is it a good fit for you.  What µRetainer could you offer your clients that could be outsourced?

Should I ® µAgency, this could be the bestseller I’ve always wanted to write and my path to Gurudom 🙂

For the geeks, you can use the html entity to show the micro sign µ

Photo Credit: artsci.salon Flickr via Compfight cc

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