Do you dream of becoming your own boss? Is digital marketing your passion?
If both answers are yes, then starting a digital marketing agency could be one of the most rewarding achievements of your professional life. It won’t come easy, but with a little time, effort and dedication, it could be exactly the right path for you.
Digital marketing is an ever-evolving industry, so one of the most important things you can do is to ensure you’re always on your toes and are prepared to adapt to new and developing trends. On top of that, digital marketing is an incredibly competitive industry, so you must be prepared to demonstrate what sets you apart from the crowd.
If you have your sights on owning a start-up marketing agency, here are a few steps you may want to consider following in order to sustain growth and find success.
10 steps to start a digital marketing agency:
Hone your technical skills
Find your digital marketing specialism
Set clear goals for your agency
Develop an agency business plan
Set prices for your marketing services
Build your brand
Network with potential clients
Lead generation & conversion
Consider expanding the workforce
1) Hone your technical skills
To have authority in any industry, it’s a given that you need to have extensive knowledge and skills in the field. In the case of digital marketing, this would include areas such as paid advertising, SEO (search engine optimisation), content marketing and social media marketing. Without a background – or at least understanding – in these, you simply won’t have the expertise that clients are coming to you for.
Qualifications can arm you with a broad knowledge on paper, but how about in action? The lessons learnt from hands-on work experience are invaluable as you try to learn how to become a marketing consultant, . Client relationships and account management, for example, can be tricky areas to navigate and it can take years in the business to master these and gain valuable lessons in crisis control – because, let’s face it, things aren’t always plain sailing.
The field of digital marketing is always evolving, so there’s no room to get stuck in your ways. Techniques that worked one month may be completely out-dated by the next. Continue to learn and expand on your skillset by reading industry news and attending workshops and events.
2) Find your digital marketing specialism
Sometimes the most effective way to build a name for your business is to identify a specific area of focus and to perfect it. It may seem as though you’d get more potential customers by widening the scope of the business and offering a wide variety of different services, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Being highly qualified in one area can lend your business more authority than being moderately qualified in numerous areas.
Having a focus also means that you can dedicate your time to figuring out exactly what that specific market needs and wants, and, in turn, tailoring your services and solutions for them. For example, if SEO is your forte, why not dedicate your efforts to becoming a leading expert in the field? Or how about pay-per-click advertising or content marketing? Marketing is an incredibly competitive industry, so offering a specialist service could help you to set yourself apart from other agencies from the off.
Once you have a clearer idea of how to start a marketing agency and what services you want to offer, you can pin-point who your target market is. Will you be focusing on a certain industry? Can you take on international projects or does it make more sense to focus on your local area? Once this is decided, you can go about figuring out who exactly your market is, and what makes them tick.
3) Set clear goals for your agency
Now you have an idea of the type of business you want to start, it’s time to start setting yourself some goals. Make sure these are SMART goals: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-based.
Be clear about what you want to achieve, how you will know when you have achieved it, whether you’re being realistic and how your goals are relevant to the long-term direction of the business. For each goal, give yourself a realistic deadline for reaching it. Make sure you have bigger, company milestones as well as smaller monthly goals – but do follow the SMART formula for both of them.
By going through this process, you’ll have a clear purpose and direction to strive towards each day. They also give you something to review your progress against over time so you can assess successes or areas for improvement.
Some examples of goals you could set could be along the lines of ‘onboard ten new clients in the first year’, ‘attend one networking event a month’, ‘generate £50,000 in sales over the next quarter’, or ‘build a workforce of five skilled digital marketers by January’.
As time goes on, continue to update and set new goals according to changes in the business and where you want it to go next.
4) Develop an agency business plan
There are a few different ways of starting a digital marketing business plan. Before you begin your digital marketing start-up, you need to consider who your market is going to be, what services you are going to provide, how you are going to bill your clients for your work and how much you are going to charge. All this should go into an agency business plan.
When developing your business plan, research your competitors and find out what they’re doing –you can gather insights and learnings, including what is currently on offer in the market, where you can seek inspiration and where you can stand out.
Then, it’s time to start thinking about the numbers. How many clients do you plan on attracting? What kind of growth rate do you expect/aim for? Are you planning on taking out a business loan? How many employees do you plan on hiring and how will you retain them?
When it comes to billing clients, you’ll need to decide whether you will charge by the hour, via a flat retainer that is pre-agreed ahead of the work commencing, or via a commission-based agreement that involves the agency being paid when the client makes a profit from the work completed.
At this point, it could also be worth considering business insurance. is designed to cover industry-specific risks, including breach of contract, infringement of intellectual property and others.
5) Set prices for your marketing services
There are a few factors to consider when setting your prices. Obviously, you need your rates to be competitive with other agencies that are offering similar services or clients will look elsewhere. But this isn’t the be all and end all.
The baseline for deciding on prices is essentially the cost to your business for undertaking the work, including time, resource and required tools. From this figure, you can then mark it up based on a fixed hourly or project-based rate. You want to make sure you value your own time and skills while remaining affordable.
You may want to offer multi-service packages at a variety of pricing tiers, staggering the price based on what you’re willing to provide. While subsidising the cost of individual services when bought in conjunction with other services can work as an incentive to potential clients, be sure that you will still make a profit from doing so. Take into consideration software costs, staff time, and outsourcing costs when setting prices. As you go up in pricing tiers, you need to ensure that the services being offered increase in value too.
If you’re a one-man-band, you can get away with charging lower rates and still make a profit. However, as you take on employees, you may need to reassess your pricing structure to account for salary costs and management time.
6) Build your brand
Your business can’t grow if people aren’t aware that you exist. One of the biggest steps in launching a business is developing a brand identity and getting it out there. Decide on a company name and identify what your business values are and what you want to be known for. You can then create your brand image and messaging from there.
Online presence is crucial for a digital marketing agency – after all, if you can’t market yourself online, how can you help another business with their online marketing needs? Firstly, you’re going to need a sophisticated, well-designed website. This is where your top-notch SEO skills come into play. Not only should usability be taken into account, but the content should also be optimised for search engines. Boosting your SERP (search engine results page) rankings will increase visibility and lend your business more authority.
You can further expand your digital presence by dedicating some time to social media marketing. Identify which social media channels are worth using by finding out which ones your target market is using. This will vary by industry but Facebook and Twitter are generally the key ones, while Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and LinkedIn can also have their benefits (check out our digital marketing guides for tips). These channels can be used to share your industry knowledge, build brand awareness and connect with potential customers. Be active and share engaging content to get your business noticed by the right people. Paid ads may be worth considering too, as they will assist the reach of your posts and boost visibility of the brand.
Beyond the digital realm, attending networking events and speaking at conferences can get your business known within the industry.
7) Network with potential clients
Attend as many conferences and industry events as you can and speak to as many people as possible. Or, even better, secure presenting slots at conferences and share your expertise with wider audiences. You never know who could be in the market for your services, so get out there and let people know what you could do for them.
LinkedIn is also a fantastic networking tool, giving you access to hundreds of thousands of professionals around the world. Being active within LinkedIn groups and introducing yourself to other members there could put your business on the radar of potential customers, leading to future work with them or simply referrals. Check out our LinkedIn marketing guide for tips on how to get the most out of the platform.
8) Lead generation & conversion
Once you’ve got the business up and running, it’s time to consider how you are going to grow it. Every agency needs clients and that’s where lead generation comes in.
A lead is somebody who has demonstrated an interest in your business and the services you offer, whether it be by providing their contact details in person, signing up to your newsletter, downloading a guide from your website or some other positive action. By offering their details and expressing their interest, they enter your sales funnel, ready for you to convert them into customers.
Some simple lead generation techniques include distributing newsletters that offer industry news and advice, offering downloadable content through your website, and hosting webinars – each of which will require email addresses to sign up. You can then use these email addresses for more targeted conversion methods that, hopefully, will move your leads through your sales funnel.
9) Consider expanding the workforce
If business is going well, at some point you will outgrow the ability to do the work on your own. As business grows and you onboard more clients, you’ll require extra resource to deliver on your promises.
Expanding the company and hiring your first employees is a big step, and not one to take lightly. In an unpredictable business landscape it is essential that you’re confident your business is heading in the right direction before taking on the additional expense and responsibility of employees. Going it alone for a while also gives you the opportunity to refine your own skills and understand what traits and experience are required for you to do your job, and what potential employees might need in their arsenal.
When you feel the time is right to add to your team, it may be worth considering working with freelancers to begin with. While they may ask for a higher day rate than somebody on a permanent salary, freelancers don’t demand the same security and benefits that a permanent member of staff does. You can hire them on a project basis without needing to worry about a longer-term plan for them. If things are going well, however, it could be an indication that the time is right to scale up with a part-time or full-time employee. That said, working with freelancers offers the flexibility to scale back down more easily if things aren’t going to plan.
Of course, when you’re hiring, you want to make sure you’re hiring the right people, who not only have the correct skills but will also suit the culture of your agency and share the same goals. It’s also worth noting that it’s a legal requirement in the UK for every business with employees to have employers’ liability insurance. This protects the business and the employee if the employee were to become ill or get injured as a result of their work.
10) Keep innovating
The nature of the digital marketing industry is that it’s ever evolving. If you’re going to run a successful business within the sector, you need to stay ahead of the curve and be brave enough to try new things and challenge old processes. Sometimes the biggest risk you can take is to not take any risks at all.
Think outside of the box when it comes to pitching ideas to clients – existing and prospective. In the early days of business your goal will be client acquisition, however, later down the line your goal is likely to change to retaining clients in the long term. If you’re going to successfully do this, you’ll need to show them that you’re full of fresh ideas and knowledge on how to assist their business.
Something as small as reading a daily marketing blog over your breakfast each morning could help you to keep up to date with changing trends and re-think the way you are doing things to ensure you’re driving the best results.
At this point, you should have a better idea of the steps that you need to take to set up your very own digital marketing agency. By developing an effective business plan, building strong professional relationships and scaling at a sensible rate, hopefully you’ll reach your goals and find the success you deserve. You may want to consider business insurance, as it can protect your growing business from the risks associated with working with the public, employing staff, cyber security and more.
After all, no business – new or old – comes without its risks and starting a marketing business can be challenging. Keeping yourself aware of – and protected from – everything that can go wrong can help you make sure everything goes right, more often.