How I built a 20 employee agency at 20

Pavel Tseluyko
Remote work allows me to travel and explore new places

The beginning: selecting a specialization

The first piece of advice when opening your agency is to decide on a specialization. In the beginning, it can be broad, but over time, you will understand in which direction you want to develop your company. This way, you can focus on improving customer experience and quality of work while increasing your average paycheck.

My first office

Our first customer

Before starting my agency, I already had a good portfolio, three years of experience with UI/UX design, and several completed projects for different industries. Still, they had one thing in common — they were web applications. At that time, the SaaS market began to develop rapidly. The business model was becoming more understandable for entrepreneurs, and the demand for product development and design only grew over time (and continues to grow at an incredible pace).

Merge Development team
Sometimes we gather to discuss projects and have fun

Our first employee

Immediately after I got my first project, I began to work on it with my first employee Elisabeth. She was my friend and a junior UI/UX designer. We constantly worked in pairs, but I also was managing and mentoring her. Elisabeth is currently Head of Design at Merge and leads our design team.

Focus on customer satisfaction

Our first client introduced us to a company within the same industry. So we took on several more projects, expanded our team by hiring a front-end developer and another designer.

Noviscient
Our design philosophy from day one was simplicity and consistency

First winter crisis

Our young agency met the first winter crisis without preparation: a complete stillness, no new clients, projects were on pause. We sat with zero revenue, and it continued like that until March.

How we built lead generation and sales from scratch

The first revenue after the crisis we invested in finding new clients. In March, I decided to hire a lead generation specialist, and we started to look for new leads through LinkedIn.

  • Your LinkedIn profile (CEO or Growth Manager) should be top-notch;
  • Create an Ideal Customer Profile. It will help you to understand your potential clients and their pains better.
  • Do very narrow cold mailing, collect lists of potential leads yourself, do not buy it off the Internet.
  • Have a CRM with all leads in it. It will make your work much more manageable.
  • Prepare a pitch sales call plan: intro, talk about how you do projects, show a demo, explain the next steps. Have a list of frequently asked questions. Your demo should be as high quality as possible. Before a sales pitch call, always pick suitable and relatable business case studies and demos that resonate with your client’s industry.
  • High-quality proposal template
  • Templates of legal documents with quick access to them
  • Sales Navigator
  • Expandi — sending chain letters and connection requests. (We used LinkedHelper in the beginning)
  • Crunchbase — search companies by ICP
  • Calendly — the most convenient calendar booking for calls
  • PipeDrive — a CRM
  • LinkMatch — parsing data about a lead from LinkedIn to PipeDrive
  • Pandadoc — online document signing
  • Integromat — manual sales automation
  • Phuntombuster — prepared sales automation

Expanding the team and delegating your work to others

After hiring ten employees, of which six were designers, we formed a design department with two design leads, which focused on project management, quality control, and mentoring new employees. Since I didn’t need to worry about those things, I had more time for attracting new clients and hiring new employees.

Hiring

With the hiring process, I started to develop our values and benefits for new employees:

  • Exciting projects in which one can feel that he or she is important
  • Only loyal clients. We cut off toxic ones. Your employees and their mental health are ten times more valuable than clients who bring a lot of stress
  • Ability to work from anywhere in the world
  • Flexible work schedule
  • Good salary, constant incentives in the form of bonuses or promotions

COVID-19. Growth to 20 employees

The pandemic has changed our perception of remote work a lot. At first, all clients froze their plans and developments. Nobody understood how to proceed. But after some time, companies realized that the work should be done and started to look out for companies to do it. Since most people now work remotely, it helped us a lot to expand our market reach. In the end, it doesn’t matter if you are in the US or another country as long as the job gets done.

Before quarantine, we had five employees in our team. Now we have grown to twenty. All this time, we’ve been profitable.

Here are some final tips that might help you run your business

  • Establish processes within your team as soon as possible. You can’t lose money.
  • There are two ways to grow: You can either expand your team and get more projects or create additional value for the current clients.
  • Grow your team, share the experience with them. Then proceed with hiring the best talent.
  • Find your specialization and complete relevant case studies for your portfolio. Don’t be shy and demonstrate your expertise.
  • Customer-first is the most crucial thing in project management and value delivery. But if the client is toxic and gives you headaches, leave them.
  • You’ll make a lot of mistakes. Don’t be afraid as you’ll learn from them.

Further plans

This year, I plan to continue growing Merge Development in terms of team members count and making it an even better company to work at. Recently, we launched an educational program, which gives every employee at Merge a $1,000 grant for a course of their liking.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Pavel Tseluyko

Pavel Tseluyko

CEO and Founder @ Merge Development