Leading a Virtual Marketing Team? Collaboration Tools for Digital Agencies

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It’s no secret that the trend toward flexible work arrangements and hiring remote staff is on the rise. Even before COVID-19 necessitated working from home for non-essential employees, remote work was gaining popularity. According to a joint study by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics, “between 2005 to 2017, there was a 159% increase in remote work. In 2015, 3.9 million U.S. workers were working remotely. Today that number is at 4.7 million, or 3.4% of the population.”

 March 2020 Slack survey revealed that newly remote employees find communication, collaboration and coordination of information challenging, while experienced remote employees find they are more productive working from home. Nearly 47% of experienced remote employees also report having a better sense of belonging, whereas 45% of newly remote employees report that their sense of belonging has decreased.

This indicates that experienced remote employees have developed processes and have better access to tools that strengthen their productivity and sense of community. Newly remote employees simply lack access to these resources.

What was initially a short-term fix is now being evaluated as a potential permanent work option. In the wake of the coronavirus, it appears that many organizations are going to adopt more remote-friendly work policies. A March 30, 2020 Gartner survey of “317 CFOs and Finance leaders revealed that 74% will move at least 5% of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID 19… Nearly a quarter of respondents said they will move at least 20% of their on-site employees to permanent remote positions.”

The challenge is to implement the technology and processes to enable employees to be productive and accountable regardless of physical location. At SMA Marketing, we have been virtual for more than 4 years and have experienced the challenges and rewards of remote work firsthand.

Virtual Marketing Team Collaboration

Case in point: When you’ve got four team members in Florida, one in New York, one in Illinois, one in Louisiana, one in Canada, and three in the Philippines how are you supposed to build a strong team culture, collaborate on projects and get stuff done? (Add to this mix our ever-expanding talent pool of content writers who also work virtually.)

As a “virtual team,” we have found that using a few key tools allows us to span the distance and work together as well as we would if we were in the same office.

First a little about why we embrace the “virtual” model for our agency. Simply put, the virtual office is scalable. There is no need for a physical space, office equipment, and utilities. So, as our business grows, additional staff can be brought on without the additional facilities costs. In addition, not being constrained by physical location allows us to hire from a larger talent pool.

Beyond the benefits of cost savings and scalability, though, working remotely allows our staff to have a greater sense of work-life balance. With no commute and a more flexible schedule, work can be integrated into our lives in a more satisfying way. The benefits of working from home are very attractive, such as no travel time and costs of commuting, the ability to focus with few distractions, and a sense of autonomy and ownership of our work. Perhaps that’s why the 36% of employees would choose working from home over a raise.

None of this would be possible without the technology needed to make the “virtual office” work. The ability to share information with the click of a mouse, collaborate on projects online and meet through video chat has eliminated the need for a physical office. Yes, we don’t have impromptu meetings and water cooler chit-chat, but that hasn’t kept us from building trusting relationships with each other.

If you’re looking to grow your business and include remote staff, know that there are many applications you can use to build relationships with your staff and get everyone working toward your agency goals. Ask your staff about the tools they already use. There may be some you can adopt for your business. Do some research, try out the free options first, and narrow down the ones you want to use for yourself.

Collaboration Tools for Digital Marketing Agencies



Slack is a messaging app that allows you to set up channels for specific teams, projects, or personal messages. Think of it as group messaging with lots of features, including the ability to attach and share files for collaboration. The shared information is indexed and searchable, adding to the functionality of this app.

How we use it and why we can’t live without it:

We mostly use Slack as an instant messaging app within our team and with clients. It makes communication simple and efficient, without clogging up our inboxes with task-related messages. The notifications allow for quick response to team members’ needs. In a completely virtual work environment, this method of communication is crucial.

Google Meet

Prior to COVID-19 we used Zoom for video conferencing. Privacy issues made us evaluate other options. We decided on Google Meet since it is already integrated into our G Suite so scheduling calls from a Google Calendar invite is easy. The features include screen sharing, chat and view-only options, making it a powerful tool for remote teams to use for virtual meetings. Meeting recording is an Enterprise feature but is available for free to all G Suite customers through September 30, 2020.

How we use it and why we can’t live without it:

Our team and client video meetings are done with Google Meet. It’s a reliable tool that helps us build relationships and collaborate on projects. Communication and a strong relationship are what our team is built on. There’s nothing that can take the place of face-to-face interaction with other team members and clients. Since all of our team members work remotely, Google Meet gives us the ability to get to know each other, and discuss projects and the mission of our agency.

Project Management


Building and operating a growing inbound marketing agency is a team effort. Teamwork is a project management system we use to break our inbound marketing process into a series of projects, milestones, and tasks. These tasks are assigned to team members and due dates are set for each project deliverable.

How we use it and why we can’t live without it:

Teamwork allows us to assign tasks to team members following a series of repeatable steps in our inbound marketing process. The Google Drive integration enables us to link important project documents with their corresponding tasks. Integration with Gmail allows us to create tasks within email.

We are an agency on the move and need to be able to scale our processes for growth. We don’t have time to reinvent the wheel every time a new client comes on board. Teamwork makes this possible; scalability is its greatest asset. The system allows us to focus on the actions that bring results for our clients. It has streamlined our tasks and ensures that nothing slips through the cracks.

Document Sharing

Google Drive

Google Drive saves documents in one central Cloud-based location.

How we use it and why we can’t live without it:

Having one central document repository is essential for any agency. We store our agency and client documents in Drive which makes it easy to share them among our team and with our clients. Since we also use Gmail, downloading documents that are sent to us right into our Drive is efficient and saves time.

Markup Hero

Easily annotate screenshots.

How we use it and why we can’t live without it:

We share a lot of screenshots and images with suggested edits. Markup Hero is a great tool for marking up screenshots and organizing the images.



Trainual is a training management system. It allows organizations to document policies, procedures, and processes in one centralized platform. It guides users through training and tracks their progress on training subjects, ensuring organization-wide consistency in knowledge and processes.

How we use it and why we can’t live without it:

Trainual is a relatively new tool for our agency. After years of using Google docs, sheets, and video snippets to document processes, we realized we needed a more scalable approach for training our team. We use Trainual as a training system to guide our team members through the processes we use to carry out our client work and agency operations. It allows our agency owner to move marketing processes and tools from his head into repeatable, scalable strategies and processes the entire agency can use in our work with clients.

It was super easy to learn and to get started setting up our own trainings, complete with embedded videos and GIFs. Now that our training subjects are set up, we’re ready for the agency growth we anticipate in the coming months.


Loom is a screen capture video application that is great for recording tutorials. The Google Chrome extension enables recording from any Chrome browser screen. You can trim and share videos from within the app.

How we use it and why we can’t live without it:

We use it to train team members on new software and processes. These videos are then used in our training management system. We also use it to record project review videos to share with clients. Loom has been a lifesaver for sharing quick tutorials; it’s much easier to learn by viewing a video than reading instructions.



Canva is a graphic design application that even novices can use with professional-looking results. There are hundreds of templates, fonts, backgrounds and images to use to create everything from social media images and GIFs to eBooks and presentations.

How we use it and why we can’t live without it:

We use Canva for our blog and social media graphics. With our Canva for Work subscription, we can share editable images between team members. Canva is super easy to use and has a short learning curve. The fact that we can share images with team members that they can edit makes it a valuable resource to our agency.



SEMrush is an all-in-one SEO and content marketing toolkit that powers our digital marketing agency. It’s easy to use and connects all of the data we need to audit and evaluate our clients’ marketing performance.

How we use it and why we can’t live without it:

We use SEMrush for SEO audits, competitor analysis, keyword research, position tracking, backlink audits, and more. Using SEMrush has enabled our agency to eliminate several redundant tools and consolidate our SEO and content marketing analysis into one platform. Their training courses have been invaluable for teaching our team members to fully use the many tools inside SEMrush.

Data Dashboards


Databox pulls marketing performance data into one platform of custom dashboards. No coding is required to create data visualization that matters most to your agency or clients.

How we use it and why we can’t live without it:

Our clients rely on us to track their marketing performance.  We use Databox to consolidate our data dashboards into one platform to track our agency and clients’ marketing performance against several KPIs. We pull real-time data from multiple sources into dashboards, enabling us to measure performance against goals and make adjustments where necessary. We are able to report accurately to our clients based on real-time data and current trends. We give clients access to their dashboards so there is an added level of transparency on our marketing performance.

Content Curation and Research


Think of Evernote as your digital file cabinet. This cloud-based tool allows you to save web articles, information, documents, emails and photos in an organized way so that access to them in the future is just a few taps away. Using a system of Notes, Notebooks, Stacks, it has a built-in organizational system that is intuitive and easy to use. The option to add tags to notes makes locating information a breeze.

How we use it and why we can’t live without it:

We use Evernote in a couple of different ways, although the ways to use it are limitless. Some of our team members use it for research ~ as a virtual file folder for content aggregation and curation. Using the Web Clipper browser extension, we save articles and bookmark websites, tagging them and filing them in notebooks. We use Work Chat to share notes and notebooks with each other and it’s one of our favorite features when we are writing blog articles. We can edit each other’s notes and pass them back and forth. Edits are saved automatically so there’s no risk of sharing the wrong version of a document.

For more ways to use Evernote, check out Michael Hyatt’s podcast on Getting the Most Out of Evernote here.

Team Collaboration is Easier Than Ever

Collaboration among virtual marketing teams has never been easier. The technology that we have today to work in a cloud-based environment has eliminated the need for staff to be located within the same office. Take advantage of this for growing your own business. You’ll see that these tools will help you build a stronger team and a thriving agency.

There are tools for every part of managing and collaborating with virtual staff. What tools do you recommend? We’d love to read your suggestions.

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