Starting a digital marketing agency from scratch without experience is difficult, but not impossible. There is a long process to go from coming out of nowhere to have an established digital marketing business with customers and employees.
It’s not easy, but there is nothing stopping you from making it happen and entering the exciting world of digital marketing as a service provider.
I wrote this guide to help you start your own digital marketing agency from scratch and possibly avoid the mistakes I made, minimize your risks, and maximize your chances of getting it right the first time.
How To Start A Digital Marketing Agency
These are the main steps to take when starting your own digital marketing agency.
1. Build Your Digital Marketing Skills And Self-confidence
The first step is to develop the skills and self-confidence necessary to run a digital marketing agency. This can be divided into three areas:
- Technical digital marketing skills
- Business management skills
- Self-confidence skills
Digital Marketing Skills
Obviously, if you want to open a digital marketing agency, you need to develop your digital marketing skills.
This means that you need to know what digital marketing is, how it works, and how to run campaigns to increase your customers’ traffic and sales using one or more digital marketing channels.
Digital marketing has many components, and while you don’t need to know everything from day one, you should have a good understanding of the following:
As your agency grows you can build your digital marketing team and hire experts, but if you are starting out now with no experience or money, it is important that you know how to perform these tasks yourself.
This is really a critical success factor. In the early stages of your business, you need to minimize your costs and also your dependency on others.
You should have hands-on experience with the various digital marketing processes so that eventually you can find out what works well (in terms of money and customers) and where you need help.
The best way to master a skill is to learn theory and best practices from established experts and practice a lot.
Digital marketing is a very practical discipline and it is not enough to know the basics, but it is necessary to acquire the necessary experience by practicing digital marketing.
Business Management Skills
Since your goal is to start an online business and not work as a freelancer, you must learn the basics of running a business.
It is not necessary to have a degree in Business Administration, but you should gradually develop some skills related to:
- Project Management
- Time management
- Billing and collection
- Human resources management
As an entrepreneur, you will have to do these things early on and probably over a long period of time until you reach a point where you can hire dedicated people.
You cannot run a business if you are not willing to take risks. To take risks, you have to be confident in yourself and gain self-confidence in the digital marketing industry, you have to have faith in your abilities.
If you start this business without knowing exactly what steps to take to improve a website’s ranking or how to use advertising to get more customers for your customers, you will fail.
Therefore, before you start serving clients (as a freelance or digital marketing agency), you must have work experience at an established agency or on your own websites.
When you get to the point where you can use digital marketing techniques to achieve real measurable results, you know that you are ready to become a service provider.
Don’t forget that there are thousands of digital marketing professionals and agencies on the market and clients are likely to receive multiple proposals and conduct multiple interviews before making a hiring decision.
Confidence will help you stand out from the crowd, so make sure you equip yourself with the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience before taking the big step.
2. Decide What Kind Of Services To Offer
The next step is to decide what type of digital marketing service to offer to your potential customers. A full-service digital marketing agency generally offers the following services:
- Web design and development
- SEO services
- PPC services (Google Ads, Bing Ads, Facebook Ads, etc.)
- Content marketing services (including content writing)
- Social media marketing services
- Email Marketing Services
- Conversion optimization services
As a startup, it will be very difficult to offer all these services upfront, so it is best to choose the ones that match your skills.
For example, if you are an SEO expert, you can start by providing only SEO services and as you grow your customer base and make more money, you can add more services to your offering.
Remember that your goal at this stage is to keep your costs down and rely on your skills. If you try to use the full service from day one, there is a great chance of getting lost in the process.
In my experience, the services that can generate the most income for you are those that provide real monetary value to clients and are SEO and PPC services.
3. Decide How You Plan To Operate Your Business
The next decision you need to make is how you plan to operate your business.
You have three options:
- As a virtual company at home and hiring remote teams
- Like a “traditional company” with an office and local employees
- A combination of both
All three options have their pros and cons and your decision must take into account the costs and location of your potential customers.
For example, if you plan to serve customers in a specific city, having a physical presence in the area will help you establish your brand and get more local customers.
If you plan to serve clients anywhere in the world, having a physical office will only increase your monthly costs.
In fact, one of the benefits of starting your own digital marketing agency is that you can operate your business from home with remote employees. Many online and SaaS companies follow this model and it is the future of business.
As your portfolio grows, you may consider hiring local employees, but they can also work from your home offices, so you don’t need to pay rent and other office expenses at this stage.
4. Establish Your Web Presence
The first viable step on the list is to establish your online presence starting with creating a website for your business.
The website is your agency’s “front door”, so you need to make sure that it accurately represents your brand.
Your website should look professional and provide potential clients with all the information they need to decide whether or not to hire your company.
In addition to explaining who you are and what you do, be sure to explain the benefits clients will get from hiring you. Don’t make your website about yourself, but about them.
Create dedicated landing pages for all of your services, and make sure it’s easy for potential customers to contact you without asking too many questions or having to fill out complex sign-up forms.
Your goal is to get as many leads as possible, filter them, and focus on those who are most likely to become customers.
Don’t skip this step because clients will review your Facebook page and do more research on your company before hiring, so you need to make sure everything looks good and professional.
Also, register your business with sites like Crunchbase and other organizations (local, government) that can help prove its legal existence.
5. Showcase Your Experience And Expertise
As we will see below, one of the most difficult aspects of running a digital marketing agency is finding new clients. But an equally important aspect is being in a position to convince potential clients to work with you.
The best way to do this is by demonstrating your experience and knowledge.
Practically this means:
- An ‘about us’ page that tells your story and achievements
- Success stories
- Case studies
- Academic credentials
- Known companies you’ve worked for
- Previous working experience
- Customer testimonials
- Partnership agreements
- Mentions from other websites
If you are just starting out with no experience, it is normal that some of the above items do not apply to you, but keep them on your to-do list and try to achieve them gradually.
For example, do a little work on a friend’s business website and ask him to send you an assessment or get some digital marketing certifications from reputable companies.
Use the results obtained by working on your own websites and present them as case studies on your company website.
Make some guest posts on trustworthy sites and mention it on your home page.
Be honest about your work experience and post only real-life case studies and analysis. Starting a business relationship with a customer based on fake reviews is not the way to establish a successful business.
6. Choose The Right Tools
To run your digital agency efficiently, you will eventually need a lot of tools. In fact, paying for tool licenses will be your second largest expense after paying wages.
You will need tools to help you optimize your digital marketing campaigns, create customer reports, billing, accounting, and more.
There are many tools on the market to choose from, but what you need to consider is selecting tools that offer features that you will actually use and not features that are good to have.
It is very common for companies to pay for software features that they will never use, so choose wisely.
Don’t forget that you have to sign up for tools that you can use on your own site, but also on your clients’ sites, so keep this in mind when comparing the license cost of each tool.
The first tool you will need is a digital marketing platform like SEMRUSH, ahrefs, Moz.
These platforms have tools that can help you with SEO, content marketing, social media marketing, and PPC campaign management.
7. Define Your Business Model
The next step in the process is to define your business model, that is, decide how you will charge for your services.
The most popular business models for digital marketing agencies are:
- Per hour
- By project
- Monthly fee
Hourly: Charges an hourly rate for your services. The rate ranges from $ 30 per hour to $ 120 per hour, depending on your experience, the client’s location, the type of business, the type of services you offer, and the complexity of the job.
Per project: you reach an agreement with the client on a fixed amount to complete the project. If your estimates are correct, you will make a profit, but if you make incorrect estimates, you could end up losing money.
Monthly fee: the client pays a monthly fee for the contracted services. This generally applies to monthly SEO services, PPC management, and social media management.
The most profitable model is the “monthly fee” and the least profitable is “per hour”.
8. Start A Digital Marketing Blog
As you work on your first client, you should find some time to start your own blog. A good blog with useful content is by far the BEST lead generation tool for a digital marketing agency.
It’s the most effective way to get new leads, and at the same time convince your leads that you know what you’re doing.
When customers find you on Google search, you don’t have to “sell” yourself, they already know that you can rank your sites on Google and this helps a lot in the signup process.
When creating content for your blog, try to target keywords that are related to the type of service you currently offer that potential customers can search for.
In fact, growing your blog should be your priority, because as your blog grows, so does your agency. Having no dependency on advertising will also help you turn your company into a profitable business faster.
9. Create Your Processes
As you expand your digital marketing agency and gain more clients, you will reach a point where you won’t be able to handle all the projects yourself.
This is the time to consider hiring people to help you, but before that, you’ll need to set up your processes.
By processes, we mean having a set of SOPs (standard operating procedures) to document all the steps that are taken to accomplish a specific task. This includes the client integration process and all the services it offers.
It is important to do this now, before onboarding new people, otherwise you will waste a lot of valuable time explaining to your team how you want them to handle the client’s work.
Use your current experience working with clients and spend time creating email templates, proposal templates, custom reports, and checklists that anyone can follow to accomplish a specific task.
Keep things simple and don’t complicate them. You can create your processes using Google and Gmail documents and organize them in folders.
A digital marketing agency is a great business to start. You can provide services from the comfort of your home, you can be your own boss and it is a business that can grow without needing much capital.
While it looks fantastic, there are a few things to consider before making the decision to become a digital marketing service provider.
The first thing is that you need to know what you are doing. If you’re new to digital marketing, before rushing to start a business, you need to first develop your skills and gain work experience.
Start by doing digital marketing on your own sites and experiment with different techniques until you have a clear idea of what works and what doesn’t.
Once you get to a point where you have some real results, you will also have the confidence to offer your services to others.
Start slow, don’t try to offer all services from day one, and don’t expand too fast. Create your portfolio step by step, one client at a time.
When it’s time to hire new people, make sure your processes are in place and build your team gradually. Hiring remote employees is not easy and you may have to experiment with multiple candidates until you find people who can work with you as a team.
Creating and developing a blog should always be your top priorities. The blog will help you get new customers without having to pay for advertising and this can generate huge benefits for your business.
Lastly, don’t forget the motto “the customer is always right”. Give your customers the attention they deserve and turn them into repeat customers. That way you will minimize the cost of acquiring new customers, increase your profits, and scale your business faster.