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How To Grow an Agency to $3M+ ARR in 2023: Step by Step Guide

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Nik Shevchenko is a Forbes 30u30 founder of welovenocode.com - a no-code talent marketplace based in Palo Alto that raised $3M.
As we work with hundreds of agencies at WeLoveNoCode, our number one asked question is, “How to get more clients in my agency?”

When WeLoveNoCode was started, it started as an agency and we were able to scale the revenue to $3M in less than a year before we pivoted to become a no-code talent marketplace

We had a very exciting journey, learning a lot and making mistakes. 

There is already a lot of information on the internet about where to get leads for your agency, but the problem is that there is no information on how to understand what channels are best suited for your stage and your agency type. Frequently, you may face frustration if you try to do everything at once.

That's why I decided to our step-by-step process of how we scaled sales to $3m/year.

But before we start, we need to agree on what we call an agency.

Types of agencies

There are several types of agencies, such as advertising agencies, public relations agencies, digital agencies, media buying agencies, and creative agencies.

  • Advertising agencies help businesses develop and create advertising campaigns to promote their products or services.
  • Public relations (PR) agencies help companies manage their reputation and relationships with the media and the public.
  • Digital agencies focus on design, website development, building digital products (apps/landing pages / automations and etc..)
  • Media buying agencies are responsible for planning, negotiating, and purchasing advertising space and airtime for their clients.
  • Creative agencies focus on the development and execution of creative campaigns across various mediums, such as brand identity, web design, and packaging design.

Why should you build a digital agency?
If done right, digital agencies tend to be the most profitable and high-revenue-generating agencies. Not only that but with the recent rise of no-code tools, building a digital agency requires the minimum time investment and the maximum return.

Therefore, in this guide, we will talk about how to get clients in a digital agency that specializes in building websites/landing pages/web apps/mobile apps/automation, and more!

Our Story

0 - $10k revenue/month


Back in 2020, I started with nothing. WeLoveNoCode didn’t exist yet, and I was just a failed entrepreneur with almost no knowledge of how to run an agency.

When you are just starting out, you must do everything possible to get your first two to three clients, as it will allow you to start hiring people and potentially invest in marketing and, thus, scale your agency.

How did I find the first clients?

Networking and referrals. This is the only way you can get your first customers.

  • I created a list of everyone I knew who potentially needed some work doing. There were about 20 people that fit the category.
  • I manually called and texted all of them and asked:
”Hey {Name}!
How have you been? {Some personal touch like “how is your company?”} I was curious to know if you needed any help? I could build an app/mobile/web app for you for free.”

It is important to mention that since I didn’t have a lot of experience, I proposed to build something for cheap in exchange for referrals if they were satisfied. Unfortunately, it is an essential step to start getting references and building your portfolio.

My first project was a medical mobile app which I launched on App Store and Play Market and my second was a marketplace. 

After I completed two projects, I asked those clients if they were happy with the result, and if they could refer me to their friends, family, and colleagues.

One of the clients referred me to his friend with a recommendation, and the second client was too excited by the result of my work that he proposed to continue working on a paid basis.

This is how I got my first two clients, which generated ±$8k/month. It was enough to cover my cost of living and start thinking about scaling.

Growing to $10-$100k monthly revenue

When I reached $10k/month, I asked myself, “How can I generate more clients?” After trying many channels, I ended up with the two most valuable ideas:

  • Cold outreach - direct outreach via email/Linkedin
  • Basic Marketing - build a site/social media/email campaigns/advertising

To start getting clients from your site, you need to have the following:

  • Site with a lead form
  • Social media accounts set up on Facebook/Linkedin/Twitter/Youtube/Instagram
  • Basic online showcase (demonstrating what you have built before)
  • Meeting scheduling software like calendly.com

Once this is done, you are ready for the outreach. You can do it in two ways:

  • Inbound
  • Outbound

Since I'd started generating profits, I decided to start with Inbound by investing $500 into performance ads on Facebook and Google. It didn’t produce tremendous results, but it allowed me to optimize the landing page and the flow and get initial feedback. I generated 10-20 leads and ±3 calls from those $500.

Next, I decided to try outbound, and I can say that this is the most crucial channel you need to leverage when transitioning from a $10k to a $100k agency.

I tried 15+ cold outreach channels but only found three successful ones. They are UpWork, LinkedIn, and E-mail.

A table that shows the comparison of Outbound channels to generate leads for an agency:
Summarizing, this is a list of top channels to get leads for your agency:

  1. Automated Linkedin
  2. Email campaigns
  3. Manual Linkedin outrach
  4. Direct warm emailing
  5. Upwork (manual)
  6. Upwork (automated)

Now, let’s dive deeper:

How to get leads from Linkedin?

Firstly, I had to ensure that we have a tool that allows us to reach out.


Stack I used:

  • Sales Navigator - just buy it. It is worth it. Allows to get more data about contacts
  • LinkedIn Helper - allows to automatically reach contacts
  • Ulinc - like LH but works on server-side (you don't need your browser)

Once you have set up the tools, you will need the proper segmentation and messaging.
In Linkedin Sales Navigator, there are multiple ways of segmentation, but I decided to target US-based startups since my English allowed me to talk to them and since the US is the hottest market that relies on geographical arbitrage.

If you are a non-native speaker or don’t feel comfortable reaching out to international customers, you should reach out to your local customers first. Once you get some traction there, move to US-based customers.

Setting up the Linkedin connections

On LinkedIn, you can either send short connection messages (<300 letters) or long inmails. The problem with inmails is that they are paid and limited. Therefore, you should prioritize connection messages.

Ulinc and Linkedin, which can be set up as a connection for a starter, help tremendously. Feel free to leave it empty or add a template (many people claim that blank connection requests are better these days).
Linkedin Connection Template you can use:
"Hello [Name],
I came across your profile and was impressed by your professional experience and achievements. I would like to connect with you on LinkedIn and see if there are any opportunities for us to collaborate or learn from one another.

Best Regards, [Your Name]"
I usually set a list of a thousand people and start my automation on them.
From a thousand people, you can expect at least 5-10 calls which is a ±0,5-1% conversion. If you don't receive at least five calls, then you may need to rethink your messaging or your cases on the site.

From 5-10 calls, at least one customer should be closed with a 10% conversion rate. If you didn't get at least one client closed, try improving your pitch.

When talking to customers, be prepared to send at least five proposals to convert one client. Numerous tools allow you to generate proposals, but I use Notion.

After the first customer has been closed, repeat the process with the next customer. If you didn't get at least one customer completed from 1,000 reaches, try working on your technique.

Email Campaigns

To send email campaigns, email extracting will be essential. LinkedIn is currently the most popular way to do this.
Benchmarks:
There are a few ways to extract bulk emails from LinkedIn, but it's important to note that doing so may be a violation of LinkedIn's terms of service. Make sure that you don’t break any laws before doing so.

If you still want to extract emails from LinkedIn, one way to do this is to use a tool that automates visiting LinkedIn profiles and scraping the information they contain, such as email addresses. These tools can typically be found by searching online for "LinkedIn scraping tool" or "LinkedIn email scraper."

The most accessible and popular scrapers are:

- Skrapp
- SalesQL
- Wiza

Once you get a database of more than 5,000 emails, you’ll need to craft an email and find the tool to send it.

I used Airtable + SendGrid, but there are many other tools.

An email template you can use:

Subject: Boost Your Business with ABC's Web and Mobile Development Services

Dear [Recipient],

Do you have a business idea that you would like to turn into a website or mobile app? Do you need to revamp your current online presence to drive more traffic and increase conversions? Look no further than ABC, a top-rated web and mobile development agency.

At ABC, we specialize in creating custom websites and mobile apps that are not only visually stunning but also user-friendly and optimized for search engines. Our team of experienced developers, designers, and project managers are equipped with the latest tools and technology to bring your ideas to life.

Here are some of the services we offer:

  • Website design and development
  • E-commerce website development
  • Mobile app development (iOS and Android)
  • Website and mobile app maintenance and updates
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)

Our goal is to help your business grow and succeed online. By working with us, you can expect:

  • A dedicated project manager to guide you through the development process
  • Regular updates and communication throughout the project
  • A visually appealing and user-friendly website or mobile app
  • A website or mobile app that is optimized for search engines
  • A website or mobile app that is responsive to different screen sizes

These are some of our cases [link to your showcase]

Is there anything that you might need help with? We're happy to jump on a call to discuss it [your scheduling link]

Best regards, [Your Name] ABC Web and Mobile Development Agency Email: [email protected] Phone: 555-555-5555 www.abc.com
Benchmarks:

Out of 5,000 cold emails, you should expect at least a 20% open rate and 0.1% CTR meaning that at least five calls should be received.

If five calls are not received, try changing the messaging, segment, or showcases on your site.

There are four more channels to cover; Manual Linkedin outreach, Direct warm emailing, Upwork (manual), Upwork (automated) however, there was not as much traction from them as there was when I used the first two.

Nonetheless, I did receive helpful feedback from other agencies that the following channels work efficiently as well. If this article interests you and you would like to learn more about the rest of the channels, please let me know and I will research and cover the rest of the channels.

Scaling your tech team

Once your sales process is established and you feel that you have found a method for how to close customers (by yourself), then it is time to ensure that you have enough team members to handle all customers and projects.

After reaching $10k/month, you need to have at least 2-3 tech team members who you can rely on to build projects. Those will be your first initial hires, and it is vital to select wisely because they will establish your culture.

Since this article is sales-oriented, I will not go too deeply into the topic of hiring tech talent; just the basics.

Main pieces of advice when hiring your tech team:

  • Always check references
  • Look at the person’s portfolio
  • Talk to people and screen their communication skills
  • Give them a test task

Read more about how to hire the right talent for your project here

Where to find developers?


We’ve hired hundreds of people in WeLoveNoCode, and based on my experience, the best channels are the following:

  • Community chats
  • Job boards
  • Referrals
  • Talent marketplaces

It's important to mention that we decided to focus on hiring no-code talent, rather than software engineers (coders). 
I believe it might be the key to our fast-growing success since it takes 5x LESS time to build a product like an app or a landing page in a no-code tool, compared to coding.

What is no-code?

When building a site, an app, automation or anything else, you have a choice to either build it from scratch using code or by using one of the no-code tools
By default, using no-code tools allows you to build product much faster. Therefore, it means that you can optimise your budgets better, win more customers and have better margins. 

Hiring our first no-code developers

In my case, I hired the first person in a Discord chat and the second through references.

Back then, I was unaware of standard hiring procedures and did not know how to screen people properly, which led to the first hire having poor communication and the second fabricating their experience. As a result, the clients were unhappy with the deliverables, and we had to part ways sooner than expected.
This was one of the reasons why WeLoveNoCode was created. When vetting no-code talent, we screen their portfolio, ask them to complete test projects, and check their personality and skills with 60+ tests. This allows us to filter the top-1% of no-code talent and match them with scaling companies and agencies.

When you get to ±$20-30k revenue, you should start thinking about scaling your sales.

Building your Sales Department

After you reach $20-30k in revenue per month, you should try hiring your first salesperson. My approach was to hire three salespeople because it creates competition, and usually, competition is one of the leading sales drivers.

If it is your first hiring experience, you should expect at least one person to leave immediately or within the first month due to being unable to hit the set quota or because of the culture mismatch.

Where to find a salesperson?

Usually, the easiest and fastest way to hire salespeople is to network, through referrals, and to post in relevant sales channels.

We hired our first salespeople by posting jobs in sales-related communities in Slack and Telegram.

Setting the quota

As an industry standard, you should expect at least a 1:5 ratio of how much revenue (GMV) salespeople will bring into the company.

At the start, the quota should be updated every month, and once the process is established, you can switch to once per 3 months.

Scaling to $100k+ revenue

At this stage, you should already have a sales and development team with at least 5-10 projects completed.

Your clients should be happy with the experience, and your economics should bring you at least a 10-20% margin.

Once you achieve that, you need to start working on your brand and reputation and sharing your expertise.

How to create case studies?

Creating a good case study involves several steps:

  1. Identify a specific problem or challenge which your product or service helped a customer to solve.
  2. Conduct research on the customer, including interviews and surveys, to gather detailed information about the problem and how your solution addressed it.
  3. Organize the information into a clear and compelling narrative that highlights the key takeaways and demonstrates the value of your solution.
  4. Use data, statistics, and other evidence to support your case and add credibility to your story.
  5. Include quotes and testimonials from satisfied customers to add personal touches to the story and make it more relatable.
  6. Use visuals such as images, graphs, and charts to make the case study more engaging and easy to understand.
  7. Proofread and edit the case study multiple times to ensure it is error-free and easy to understand.
  8. Make sure your case study is accessible in a format that is easy to read and share.
  9. Have a clear call to action for the reader, and make it easy for them to contact you if they want more information or to discuss their problem.

Take a look at one of our case studies as an example:

Creating a blog

Creating a blog is probably the most important thing you can do to demonstrate your experience and improve your brand.

To create a blog:

1. Choose a blogging platform such as WordPress, Blogger, or Squarespace.
2. Choose a domain name and hosting service.
3. Customize the design and layout of your blog.
4. Create content and publish it regularly.
5. Promote your blog using social media and other marketing strategies.
6. Use analytics tools to track your blog's performance and make data-driven decisions for improving it.
7. Engage with your readers through comments and social media.
8. Continuously evaluate and improve your content and blog strategy.

See WeLoveNoCode’s blog as an example

Testimonials and Reputation

After you help 10-15 customers, most of them should be happy with the provided result. If that is the case, it is time to ask them for references.

Feedback is of the utmost importance as it allows to improve the process, but also provides the opportunity for use as testimonials for new customers.

By default, new potential customers will have at least a 30% better chance of being closed if they can see positive reviews from your previous credible customers.



How to ask for testimonials?

Reach out to your clients via email/text/call. Feel free to use this template:
Subject: Can you give us some feedback?

Hey [Client Name],

We hope you're doing great! We're excited to hear about your experience with [Your Company/Product/Service]. We're always looking for ways to improve, and your feedback is essential.
Can you spare a few minutes to answer these questions?

1. How was your experience with [Your Company/Product/Service]?
2. What did you love about it?
3. Is there anything you think we could improve on?
4. Would you recommend us to others?
5. Can we use your feedback as a testimonial?

Thanks a ton for choosing [Your Company/Product/Service]. You're the best!

PS: If you prefer, you can also leave feedback on one of our customer review platforms like Google, Yelp, or Trustpilot. Let us know if you have any questions or if there is a better time to reach you.

Cheers,
[Your Name]
[Your Title]
[Your Company]

Where should your testimonials be displayed?

You should display the feedback you received on your site.

Since customers often search for “{agency name} reviews” before purchasing, it is crucial also to add further credibility to your agency through numerous platforms.

Most popular platforms to add reviews:

- Clutch
- G2
- Trustpilot

Example of WeLoveNoCode's testimonials:

SUGGESTIONS

If you’ve made it this far, you’re definetely the kind of person who wants to reach $3m in revenue. While doing so, don't forget to leverage the power of no-code tools - it can save you lots of time and money. 
When you start working on your marketing, read about How to Set up Marketing Automation using no-code tools
Next, while building your sales funnel, take a look at 3 Powerful Tactics to Scale Your Startup Sales with No-code Tools
If you are a marketing agency, I'd suggest reading No-Code for Marketing Agencies


Last but not least, there are , many Other Good Marketing GuidesNo-code Guides, Free Goodies that might be useful as well.