What inspired you to start virtualROI?
In a nutshell, we felt we could offer the same great service as a big agency without all the unnecessary overheads that come with that. We’d worked together already and knew we operated efficiently and successfully as a team. Of course, the decision to start up on our own was made one night at the pub, because all the best decisions are… but it had been brewing for a while.
Who came up with the name?
We all chipped in. We wanted the name to connect the ethos of the company directly to the services we offer. So we brainstormed keywords that reflected the benefit of using us as a virtual extension to a marketing department, and hey presto! virtualROI was born.
What do each of you bring to the business?
Ah, well that’s why the decision we made in the pub ten years ago was actually a no-brainer! We work well together because we each bring a particular skill set that complements the other two. Chris is superb at picking up new things, particularly technical stuff, and can get up and running with new applications really quickly. Jeremy is brilliant at building relationships. He understands what a customer needs and can also explain complex information (like GDPR, for example) in an easily digestible way. And Tobi has a stunning talent for being creative whilst still being analytical. He’s how we ensure we offer innovative solutions AND still deliver against a customer’s time and budget expectations. So all in all, we make a strong combo.
How does your business look in comparison to the original start-up plan you wrote?
What… the one we wrote on the back of a cigarette packet that night in the pub? Joking aside and put simply, it’s grown and morphed every year. When we first started, B2B email marketing was hit and miss, particularly technically, and technical knowledge was our strength. But as our clients’ needs have evolved, we’ve evolved too. Now it’s not just about email, there are a whole raft of other digital channels we work with. It became very apparent early on that we are good at cracking client problems, hence our strapline, ‘Marketing challenges solved’. And we put our success down to ensuring that this is always our focus, for it keeps us agile.
How has the world of digital marketing changed since you started back in 2008?
Everything has changed. Literally everything. Not many companies had a focus on marketing just for B2B back then, for many didn’t understand the nuances of B2B digital marketing; we spotted this. Email platforms were just that; platforms to send emails. Marketing automation was in its infancy. And personalisation and dynamic messaging were incredibly hard to do… cost effectively. Now, though, so many channels are available to marketers. Technology really does make for a multi-touch approach these days. And we haven’t even mentioned GDPR here…
You must have seen some significant changes in technology, what is the biggest change?
Connectivity is probably one of the key changes. Hi-speed internet connections are available now and Wi-Fi is just about everywhere. It wasn’t like that ten years ago. But these significant leaps forward have brought smartphones to the fore. Back in 2008, Blackberrys were about as advanced as there was… and they were basically considered amazing because you could check your email on the go. A lot has changed. Content is now king. And marketing automation has meant that well-crafted content can reach a targeted audience at exactly the right time for their position in the buyer’s journey.
Social media was in its infancy ten years ago, has that changed the way you market your business?
Indeed it has. The advent of social media has meant we can be in touch with our clients and prospects all the time; and they can be in touch with theirs. Depending on the audience, there’s now a platform to engage for every type of business. It’s hard to imagine now what it was like with no Instagram, Facebook for business, or Twitter, though that had been going for a couple of years when we started. But for both us and the B2B market in general, the true revolution has been LinkedIn. That has totally changed the way in which B2B businesses market themselves; and we’re no different.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing instead?
Great question! We most definitely each have our own leanings here. Chris thinks he’d have gone into property development, probably with quite a hands-on approach, bearing in mind he’s pretty nifty at DIY. Jeremy is good with his hands too, and he’s wondered whether he’d have turned to plumbing, carpentry or building work. But Tobi breaks the mould, for if he hadn’t stayed in marketing he likes to think he’d have pursued a career in music as a drummer…
Time invested by founders in a business early on is significant. How do you manage your work/life balance now?
It’s true. When we started up we worked all the hours available. Each of us had full time jobs still, so we focused on virtualROI during evenings and weekends. Luckily, none of us had kids back then, so burning the midnight oil was not an issue. Nowadays, though, it’s more about prioritising work and managing customer expectations appropriately. We’re all keen to work hard, but also enjoy time off in a balanced way. There are still times work seeps into holidays or out of hours – that’s the nature of running your own business and being passionate about what you do – but the key is good time management and offering an excellent service that works for everyone.
If you had one piece of advice to give someone starting up, what would it be?
That’s easy. Don’t be scared to give it a go. Be disciplined and focused on ensuring you are good at what you do. Listen to feedback – good and bad. And don’t be afraid to change your plans. Always keep your client in mind. Remember people buy from people, so YOU as well as your expertise is what people connect with. And, finally, always give several valuable answers when asked for one piece of advice…