If you wanted to start a marketing agency 25+ years ago, the barrier to entry was huge. Without a digital landscape, the overheads were daunting. Starting an agency then was almost impossible without a sizeable initial investment.
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On top of the startup costs, you were limited to physical and traditional media and therefore the headaches related to fabricating something that resembled ROI for your clients. Being “in the red” for a very long while was inevitable.
Times have changed.
Today, a freelancer or a small team can start a fully functional digital marketing agency from scratch within a matter of weeks. Indeed, an agency is one of the best industries to start a business in 2020.
A one-person agency can be just as successful. All you need is knowledge about how to start your own digital marketing agency.
Companies are spending more of their marketing budgets on digital advertising than ever before, and everybody wants a piece of the pie. In this article, I will walk you through the 7 steps on how to start a digital marketing agency.
- 1. Define your niche
- 2. Develop the required skills
- 3. Develop the right business model
- 4. Get your first clients and bring them results
- 5. Build an online presence
- 6. Drive traffic to get client leads
- 7. Scale your business
- Parting words
1. Define your niche
When you’re starting your digital agency, it’s easy to be seduced by the prospect of working with any business.
Especially when your livelihood is at stake. That being said, there are thousands of digital marketing agencies and consultants with whom you’re competing with. Some of them specialize, but many of them don’t.
There are many advantages of segmenting your market and focusing on a clearly defined niche. Here are some of them:
It makes onboarding easier
Before you accept a client, there are so many considerations to think about. But when your ideal client is clearly defined, this process becomes streamlined because you know the right questions to ask your prospects. Furthermore, you have a better knowledge of how much you can charge them.
It strengthens your skillset exponentially
When you’re skilled in digital marketing, you’ll be in demand for many businesses (just like freelance programming jobs). However, you would like to find out the target market and the way to formulate effective messaging. This will take tons of your time when the business is unfamiliar or abstract to what you’re wont to working with, which inevitably causes issues early if things aren’t going so well.
When you focus on a single niche, you’re building rich experiences working within the same niche. You’ll work more efficiently because you’ve seen the same issues again and again and you know how to handle them.
It gives you a competitive advantage
Due to many low-quality agencies out there, it provides the clients with peace of mind when your business caters to their specific needs.
Being the “insert niche here” agency gives you the social proof and expertise to confidently speak to your prospects’ requirements. It gives you another layer of trust and relatability that’s so often lost in this industry.
You’ve got to stand out and make a strong value proposition when meeting prospective clients. Being specialized in the exact niche your client is in is a great first step.
See also: List of niche markets
2. Develop the required skills
You need to be good at what you’re offering as “professional” services. Regardless of how slick your digital agency sales game is, a client will discover sooner or later that they’ve been sold snake oil. You have to be ready to drive results. I encourage you to start learning using a couple of small clients.
Starting a marketing business with no experience is not a recipe for success. You can’t sell yourself as a digital marketing expert without being a digital marketing expert.
That doesn’t mean you need to rack up decades of experience before you can start your own digital marketing agency. Just learn on the go, fail small so that you can win big.
For example, you can quickly learn how to start an online store step by step from scratch, then help traditional businesses launch their e-commerce channels online.
3. Develop the right business model
There are tons of various ways to line up a digital marketing agency. The services you provide and the way you bill for your work become a critical part of how efficiently your business is managed over time. They form the core of your digital marketing agency business plan.
The most common ways to bill your clients are as follows:
Many consultants will prefer to bill their clients on an hourly basis. this is often because tons of their time is one-on-one with the clients, whether over the phone or directly face to face. This billing model becomes muddy over longer and more complex service offerings.
Fluctuations in hours spent on digital marketing for a specific client are common; it’s getting to vary widely over time. There is a spread of things in play: fixing and launching entirely new campaigns or promotions, restructuring accounts, time spent on calls, and maintaining something that’s working well for them.
It becomes difficult to mention I spent “X” amount of hours on this per week so that’s how I will be able to bill you. It also might make the client wary if they begin to question how long certain actions take per week. Unless you’re offering one-on-one consulting as a neighborhood of your service offering, I might stand back from the hourly billing model.
The flat retainer is the simplest of all the pricing models. You assess what proportion the work and time for a selected client are worth and you both agree on a flat monthly fee.
Aside from simplicity, it allows you to scale back any friction when it comes time to send the invoice. The client knows exactly what proportion it’s getting to cost them and if you meet their expectations, they’re going to haven’t any problem paying it.
The downside is when you have a client who scales exponentially over time – this severely limits your upside and potentially gives you more work.
I suggest having an agreement in your contract that guarantees that price for a period of your time (every quarter, perhaps); then you’ll renegotiate once that point is up.
The most important upside of a retainer-based model is that it allows you to forecast your earnings and hypothetically see what proportion you’ll earn if your current clients stay for a full 12 months. This is often essential to growing the business because you’ll set goals and steel yourself against setbacks.
This also plays an enormous factor when hiring or outsourcing work becomes necessary.
Percentage of spend
This pricing model is extremely fashionable for agencies because it factors in the growth potential and scalability of the client. After agencies reach a particular maturity they’re getting to turn down clients with little or no pre-existing spend.
When you’re just starting this might not be the simplest option as you’ll want to grow your network, but over time you’ll realize that having larger clients is way more beneficial to you for a variety of reasons. The downside is that if you opt to conduct business fully on a percentage of spend model because there are many internal factors within businesses that are getting to dictate budget. a number of these factors are within your control (results) but many others aren’t (internal decisions, seasonality, other costs). You don’t want to urge into a situation where your client is spending a bit per month and you’re only getting 10% of that with the expectation of being on calls and putting the time into it.
My suggestion is to start with a flat retainer fee as mentioned above then, as your digital business agency grows, implement a percentage of spend model on top of the retainer. This makes it clear to the client that if they need to scale and spend more, it’s getting to require more work on your end to form it happen.
4. Get your first clients and bring them results
Most people will tell you to create your website and social media presence first – a mammoth task which most people never get started.
When you first start out, regardless of how beautiful your website looks, nobody will trust you unless they know you through someone or if you’ve got proof of success.
The best thanks to winning your first clients are through friends, family, and referrals. Because if someone has never worked with you, they’ll be risk-averse to hiring you.
Do a free evaluation of their website and social accounts employing a premade template. you’ll then confidently say, ‘Here’s what you’re doing and the way I’d improve you.’
Secure one or two clients and ask them for written or video testimonials. Success stories prove your credibility to other potential clients.
To find your first clients quickly, hop onto one of these freelance job websites, and get some solid testimonials to build your credibility.
5. Build an online presence
Once you’ve got a far better idea of what sort of agency you are, who you serve, and the way you serve them, it’s time to believe how you’re getting to present this information.
This means building your online presence through your website and social channels.
Setting up your website
You don’t need a huge website to start a digital marketing agency. But since you’re helping people get seen online, you should have at least some online presence!
I recommend starting with a simple website in less than a day and hosting it on Bluehost starting from $3.95/month.
If you love writing, you want to consider building a following for your agency by starting a blog in your niche.
Setting up focused (aka “landing”) pages
As I discussed above, a couple of high-quality focused pages on your website can get you an extended way. Additionally, to your Home page, About page, and Privacy page, you would like landing pages to deal with specific needs.
When I say “landing pages” – don’t consider anything too complex or anything that you simply would wish to A/B test. I’m simply about pages that visitors can land on from an inquiry engine or a billboard and find exactly what they’re trying to find. I prefer to call them Focused Pages instead of Landing pages.
Why? Here’s a pro tip that few website owners will admit to – nobody cares about or maybe sees your homepage.
Your homepage is for people that already know you who are. For businesses during a single specific service, you’ll use it to “rank” for your main industry term.
Landing pages transcend your homepage.
Landing pages are for brand spanking new (or returning) visitors to land on and convert. Before you build out all of your website pages, you ought to develop focused landing pages that sell to at least one or all of those buckets:
Service-specific – These pages should promote your services. But, they shouldn’t be generic. you ought to make them either focused on the matter that your service solves (ie, no website traffic) or focused on the appliance of your service. for instance, it’s one thing to supply “SEO” – it’s another to form websites more crawlable, more relevant, and more visible in search.
Geography / Demography specific – These pages are all about the situation service & logistics of obtaining your agency’s services. albeit your work could be global, your clients’ are likely not global. they’re going to buy someone who understands their local market. Additionally, if you’ve got a keen understanding of a demographic (ie, college students), then you’ll specialize in that also.
Industry-Specific – These pages should promote your expertise within specific industries. albeit marketing principles don’t differ much across industries, clients want someone who can understand their perspective. If you recognize quite somebody else about [X] industry, you ought to promote that. And if you’ll go deeper within a distinct segment, then do this.
Now – the magic here is combining buckets & going deeper within each bucket. Until you’re big & growing, going niche is your friend. Create combinations to form extremely focused pages.
“Digital Marketing for the Travel Industry” won’t usher in your first clients.
“Facebook Marketing for AirBNB Hosts in Atlanta, Georgia” absolutely will.
The goal here is to sell to people at the very bottom of the marketing funnel – the purchasers presumably to convert and presumably to succeed. These pages will both rank organically – and you’ll use them for paid ads.
Just want to test the market first and not spend too much time on the tech? You may want to read this: Starting a Blog on Facebook for Free to Make Money
6. Drive traffic to get client leads
There are several ways to get leads, but it is often difficult initially growing your client base so don’t get discouraged. Before generating leads, you’ll want to possess your target customer in mind.
Once you’ve got your target customer, one method you’ll use for lead generation is starting a Youtube channel.
Make sure to regularly publish video content on Youtube to get leads with helpful content. Some publishing ideas are case studies, hot marketing topics, how to’s, and reviews from clients.
Are you noticing some articles on your blog perform better than others? Take a glance at the title. Do A/B testing of various titles and see which performs better. you’ll always return and switch out articles for blog posts.
Another method is to try affiliate marketing. Once you partner with affiliates, you’ll then expand your network and find potential prospects. you’ll also do cold emails, but take care with this method so you don’t come off as spam.
Properly research each company before reaching out, and craft an email that speaks to their needs. this is often great when you’re first starting and your budget is restricted.
7. Scale your business
Building a digital marketing agency doesn’t mean you’ve got to become a big company doing Super Bowl commercials. As I discussed before, a digital marketing agency is often a workplace of one.
You should, however, think about how you wish to grow. Being a one-person company still doesn’t mean you’ve got to try everything yourself. Employees are great once you’ve got a solid book of recurring contracts, but freelancers can help you bridge any gap.
As you begin to grow, build the teams and systems that deliver results for your clients.
- Build a team to delegate your daily work as you scale. You can start off with freelancers, and then hire full-time staff as you get consistent recurring revenue. Your hires should eventually do the work better than you can.
- Document standard operating procedures (SOPs) for everything, e.g. onboarding new clients, fulfilling client work, managing clients, collecting feedback, etc.
Doing some advanced planning here will assist you to scale faster and easier than waiting to work it out when the workload becomes an excessive amount.
Hopefully, this article gives you a clearer idea of how to start your own marketing agency.
While it can seem overwhelming when starting out, you ought to have an honest idea of the way to start and run a digital marketing agency. Keep this guide in mind as you’re planning out each step of your agency.
If you’re reading this post, you’ve got probably already ventured out on your own or you’re brooding about it. My overarching advice is to form a choice and stick with it.
Managing your own business has many ups and downs thereto and you’ll need to be ready to weather the storm to enjoy the advantages. It’s a dramatic life event and you’ve got to treat it intrinsically.
If you are feeling early that you simply aren’t cut out for it, then don’t drag yourself along for any more than you’ve got to. If you create a choice but don’t believe it, you’re getting to fail. You’ve got to commit. Once you are doing that you simply may discover how extremely fulfilling running your digital marketing agency. It forces you to learn how to make money online for beginners.
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Sounds good. But what if I don’t have the skills for it?
Hi Bharat, I would recommend taking a couple of courses on Udemy, and immediately dive straight into helping friends or relatives’ businesses to gain some experience and testimonials. Let me know how it goes!