How should agencies price their services? With Virtu Group Founder Tracey Shirtcliff

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All those starting out in the industry have had to face the issue of pricing their services sooner or later. Freelancers or agencies, there is really barely any difference – businesses need to understand how to rate their offerings just as much as self-employed professionals.

But having to work out pricings, especially if they are calculated by the hour, can lead to time constraints that, in turn, can force serious compromises upon creativity. The Founder and CEO of the Virtu GroupTracey Shirtcliff, is off to change just that.

A firm believer that prices should reflect the outcome, rather than the time spent on it, Tracey has a track record in successful software tools for the creative industry and approaches every challenge with the scientific rigour of a Zoology and Geology graduate – which she is.

Today we are Getting to Know a driven leader in the creative industry and one of the shortlisted influencers from this year's Annual 2020 awards. You can read her story below.


Tell us about your current role!

I’m the CEO and Founder of The Virtu Group. The Virtu Group was founded on the desire to produce clever tools to help creative businesses to be better at the money end, better at pricing for the work that they do. So that they can focus most on being creative, knowing that the business end is taken care of.

Our industry has been overwhelmed with the ‘how should we price’ challenge. And we saw that price pressure or the way agencies charge and price their work wasn’t working. Reinventing the wheel every time or working from a rate-based Excel sheet simply doesn’t support the work or the talent. Pricing was often left to last, and the most effort is spent on the creative not the pricing – so with Scope, the first and cornerstone tool from The Virtu Group, we set out to define a better way of working, putting the business first. Not selling people and time, but what was delivered – the value. That is the key driver behind Scope – oh and data – so that teams have confidence that they can get it right more often and that they have something to benchmark and compare themselves too. Something real, showing that they are not running blind or making it up every time.

How did you get to your current position? What was the biggest challenge?

Virtu is my second software play for creative agencies. I was lucky enough to create and exit an award winning software tool – Traffic LIVE. I wasn’t ready to hang up my boots, so when my exit happened, I looked and saw what I believed was a bigger issue than project management and resource planning – scoping for work, and the fair remuneration for the work that agencies deliver.

So I set to work with some smart people to come up with a tool, using data from the previous business, and the desire for a better, smarter way, that would / could help to revolutionise and shift our industry. I believe passionately that we should stop selling time and start selling what is being delivered. The outcomes, not the hours. Advertisers and brands are looking for this too in my view so it seems like a natural fit – to better collaborate on what is being done. I had the data from a previous business to bring to the party and a track record of success in creating tools that deliver better processes that are scalable and repeatable.

What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?

I’m a kiwi, and I think we come with a can-do attitude and don’t need to stay in our lanes. We multi-task, and crack-on with any challenge. I have a degree in Geology and Zoology – which have given me the process of testing assumptions as a scientist, to see what works, and the view that there is always more than one possible outcome.

I moved over to marketing in my early career – started Client side in household brands – working with lots of agencies – to working in agencies and even starting my own. I went through the dot com era – and that sets you up for challenging times and where things are going. Good ideas can often just be down to good timing. Most importantly I’m a firm believer in never giving up on an idea!

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

I’d be a putting my degree of zoology and geology to work – as a Palentologist. I’m delighted that I pivoted – I love building things – and there is no better industry in my view than the creative industry from the people, the work, the ideas, and the impact that can come from marketing on business and beyond. Rocks just don’t seem as fulfilling.

What’s your secret to keeping the team inspired and motivated?

Always bring positive energy and gratitude to the table -- and say thank you when things are working. I’m always at the sharp end on a challenge. It takes a village to land some of the work we do, but there is always a way.

How has COVID-19 affected you as a leader?

The first month was very challenging – we had no idea what was going to happen and it was happening on an unprecedented global level. I was in shock, we had lots of clients panicking - so we went back to basics and discussed as a team how we chart things, and where we focus. Belt and braces. I had to make some tough choices, but we focused on our core belief and our key positioning of value.

What is your one advice to aspiring creatives looking to be successful?

Creativity has no limits – I don’t think there is ever a solution that isn’t better with a creative approach. Have a positive, can do attitude, and always go the extra mile. Most importantly never give up on a good idea and making it better, and stay close to what fires your belly. Intuition is everything in creativity.Hoe 

How do you recharge away from the office?

I live for the weekends and adventures. I have two kids and we regularly travel and try new things. It feeds my soul to see their delight or how they navigate a challenge. I find energy in exercise and love to be in nature or on the water – all of those things – and spending time with creative friends gives me bounds of energy.

What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?

That agencies and advertisers can work more collaboratively and give each other the credit that they deserve, collectively. The industry thrives and everyone feels valued and well rewarded for the work they deliver.


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