How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency

Starting a digital marketing agency is nerve-wracking. And everyone is looking for a way to ‘crack the code’. Furthermore, people who understand that owning their own business reclaim their identity, time, and freedom also understand that they have to seek out a business or business model that is lucrative.

Let’s look at some initial facts:

1. Digital advertising spend has outpaced traditional online marketing and advertising spends for the first time, here in 2019 (there’s never been a better time to get into this business).

2. The vast majority of Americans and people around the world are on a digital device from when they wake up until they go to bed (no shortage of potential customers for businesses).

3. Even Google knows how valuable local search is and how gigantic local searches for local businesses, products, and services really is – the point being, the supply of quality digital marketing agencies is much lower than the profitable demand for them.

So what exactly does a digital marketer do?

Let’s start by skimming the (impressive) surface that many have chosen to do before you – but remember, the demand for quality marketers is much, much higher than the supply – now is the perfect time to jump into this career that practically has job and business security built-in (it’s often recession-proof!).

First up, your digital marketing position might involve SEO (Search Engine Optimization), where your goal is to rank highly on search engine results — especially Google (they have 70%+ of search share and over a trillion searches per year).

And, since the data shows that the vast majority of searchers don’t go to page 2 of search results and beyond, it makes crystal clear sense that businesses that want to truly compete have to rank on that first page for many unbranded keyword searches. Don’t even get us started on voice search (Siri, Amazon Alexa, etc.).

Then there’s Social Media Marketing, where you literally can make a healthy profit helping businesses engage with their customers and by helping businesses acquire and retain customers, the end result is a win-win (the business grows and you get paid to help them do that).

And, without content, there’s nothing to do online – nothing to read, watch, share, etc. And people are savvy – quality content is king online and businesses pay top dollar for stellar content…why? Because stellar content drives positive brand awareness and revenue for businesses that capture the attention of potential customers who are suffocated by all of the choices online and off-.

Confusing? Scary? Maybe, but well worth it

Yes, starting any business is confusing and scary. And, Going out on your own to start a digital marketing agency can be intimidating without the proper help and information, especially if this is the first time you are starting a firm. On the other hand, it can also be very rewarding (personally and financially), and it may, in the end, turn out to be the most rewarding thing that you have ever done with your skills, expertise, and resources. Know that there’s no barrier to entry to this field (no college degree required).

The Basics

The first few steps you take are meant to help you set up a solid base as well plan for the future growth of your digital agency foundation. A lot of what you will need to know about starting a digital agency that will help you secure your future and your finances is detailed here.

1. Get Positive (yes, this is going to work!)

Although this may seem fluffy, the reality is, the road to building a six-figure (or more) digital marketing agency is not easy and it takes actual work (whether you are becoming a plumber, pizza maker, or digital marketer – true success is earned). It is important to understand from the onset that you won’t achieve overnight success. Here, there are no shortcuts (unless you compare to becoming a doctor; where you need to invest years of study), no hoping for the best, and no 100% automated way to be successful. To be truly successful, you will have to hit the ground running and not look back. All things worth doing take energy and effort – that goes for any business, not just careers in digital.

Nonetheless, you have to ensure that you get to maintain a positive attitude at all times. By starting an agency, it means that you already have a vision of what you would like to achieve. Therefore, you need to ensure that you maintain a positive mental image along the way.

Even on your worst days, don’t give up. Thomas Edison failed thousands of times before his most famous inventions came to life. Many well-known entrepreneurs failed along the way — even Steve Jobs from Apple.

2. Set Clear Goals (track and measure them)

For you to be successful, it will be important to start by setting very clear goals. This is because when you don’t have a clear goal, it becomes hard for you to score. The fact that you have already made up your mind to start an agency means that one of your primary goals will be to take control of your financial future and gain the time freedoms usually constrained by a desk job.

Regardless of how you choose to approach this, it will be wise to set your goals based on S.M.A.R.T., i.e.,

• Specific
• Measurable
• Aspirational
• Realistic
• Time Bound

Even though you may not be sure of what you want at the moment, it will be essential that you take your time to try and understand what you want. And that will change over time. Doing this helps give you direction and focus – it helps set a plan of action that can be analyzed and tweaked based on results. It also ensures that you will maintain your positive attitude even when you encounter tough times, which is bound to happen. The more you understand that now, the less disappointed you can be later.

3. Find Your Focus (and focus!)

Having a goal makes it easier to focus your efforts and your time. However, this level of focus pertains to who you intend to focus those efforts and time with. This is a step aimed at helping you identify your audience, i.e., who is your audience and what drives them. A great brand should be able to deliver a given set of ideas to a certain individual. It is, therefore, upon you to make a decision on who you intend to appeal to.

While starting out, it is always tempting to try and reach out to everyone. Instead, try and ask yourself these questions to help provide you with some clarity and focus on what you want to build, and who it will benefit:

I. What is your niche?
II. Who do you want to appeal to, e.g., nerds, wizards, or hardened professionals?
III. What is the one thing that makes you stand out from the others?

4. Start Building Relationships (marketing and sales is all about relationships)

In the world of digital marketing, you need to understand that your network and how you approach it will always be valuable and a definition of your successes. The relationships that you forge and nurture to full development before you start using them might prove to be the most important.

If you are really committed to starting a digital agency, then it will be important that you start reaching out to people to offer them the value you can provide and the help they need in solving their business problems. The solutions you offer to those who need it are how you start holding conversations that will eventually help build valuable leads.

Try to think about the industries that you would like to focus on, where your clients are likely to spend most of their time, and create a list. From here, start reaching out to all your potential leads/clients.

5. Come Up with a Clear Brand Identity

There are many reasons why your digital marketing agency needs to have a clear and well-developed brand identity. But one that stands out from all this is that your brand is ‘your promise’. It means that you are basically making an assurance to deliver services that can be trusted by other people.

It has to be a promise that they can easily associate with. When branding, make a decision on the following:

• What will be your promise?
• What will be your voice?

When you make a decision on all this, then you have basically set a foundation that you can use to start building your domain name, slogan, and logo.

6. Instead of Imitating, Start Innovating

The biggest risk you can ever take in your life is to fail to take a risk. This means that if your agency is going to be successful, you will need to start placing your neck on the line and take some risks. You should never be afraid to challenge, change, or overhaul anything that may be currently available in your niche.

You will come to find that there is a lot that can be said by running with ideas that you were initially afraid of. That idea (or that pitch that you really like), but are afraid that the client may not like, can often the one that ends up being successful. It is also one that can help you make an impact on the people that you are trying to reach online, for your clients.

Rather than try to blend in by seeing what other digital marketing agencies are doing, and then attempting to mimic their actions, you should attempt to innovate. This will require you to take what they have already built, and run with it using some of your own ideas.

An important lesson to learn is that the people who will fall in love with what you are attempting to achieve, as well as the ideas that you are coming up with, will be drawn to you because you’re different – not the average run-of-the-mill agency . As such, when you have the right goals and mental focus, the next challenge is to differentiate your agency from the herd (ex: being able to finance marketing campaigns, focusing on one service for a niche, or being able to scale your marketing services for business owners with hundreds or thousands of locations).

Getting Your Digital Marketing Agency off the Ground

When you finally nail the basics associated with starting a digital marketing agency, it will now be time for you to start turning your ideas into a tangible agency. Note that all these steps will take time, but when they are completed, they will help form the basis of your marketing agency.

7. Get Online (as if this was even a question)

Okay, you already know that you are in the internet marketing niche, which means that you need to have a website if you are to start making money – and credibility is huge. Today it’s an expectation that businesses have an online presence.

Often, many people start by thinking about how the website will look like and how the images will appear. And this is where the designers make their money. What you need to understand is that the function of your site should be centered around: trust, credibility, and authority in your niche.

Always start by ensuring that the essentials, e.g., branding and domain name have been truly locked down. From here, you can now start thinking about the design and messaging.

8. Create a Portfolio That Matters

Actions will always speak louder than words—this is a statement that has always proven to be true, and it is the reason why you need a results-driven portfolio if you are going to generate any new (meaningful) business.

When people realize that you have worked successfully with brands and have been able to deliver results, new clients will be more likely to work with you. If you do not have a portfolio at the moment, don’t worry as you can easily remedy this:

Start by doing some free work for other firms or compile a comprehensive list detailing all the projects that your staff have worked on in the past few years. Today, an agency needs to have a portfolio. Therefore, ensure that the portfolio has:

• Headlines including short snippets
• Results-based case studies
• Client testimonials
• Future goals for each client as well as their targets

9. Will I Need Employees?

A time may come when you will need (and/or want) to have employees. When you become committed to your business and to achieving your goals, then you will at some point outgrow your ability to handle all the work on your own; unless you’re using a white label team.

To ensure that your agency will survive the need for it to have employees, you will need to scale how and when you start hiring agency employees. Although this will vary from one agency to another, and to the type of services you offer, you can start to transition by following these steps:

• Start out alone
• Hire freelancers or start outsourcing certain aspects of each project
• Hire part-time employees
• Recruit a full-time employees (if needed)

10. Start Learning & Sharpening Your SEO Skills

First, know it is not a must for you to be a search engine optimization pro to start your own digital marketing agency.

Understanding that SEO is always evolving, growing, and changing. A single update from Google can easily turn a seasoned SEO marketer into a blubbering SEO beginner. Therefore, start by learning the basics, as well as understanding why implementing certain factors will help you deliver a good result.

11. Find Ways to Explain SEO to Your Clients

Within a few months after opening your agency, there is one thing that you will come to realize—many clients don’t care about SEO, don’t know what it is, or are intimidated by it! All they care about is your ability to deliver results. They also care about their ROI, having more customers, and having more traffic. Remember: You’re there to solve a problem, so focus on the solutions to problems than the intricacies of optimized code for Search Engine Optimization.

You must, therefore, be able to explain what it is that you will be doing and how it will benefit the clients.

12. Get Social (walk the walk, talk the talk)

Social media channels are a must-have for any digital marketing agency. The reason you need these channels is for:

  • Marketing
  • Increasing customer engagement
  • Generating leads
  • Branding
  • Credibility
  • Trust
  • Authority
  • Customer Service

Note that you will not need to open accounts on all the available social media channels. Instead, you only need to choose strategic platforms.

13. Everything You Create Will Need to Be Optimized (for search, speed, and messaging)

Anything you generate will need to be optimized so that it can be found online – but found quickly and found before your competition.

14. Put Some Reporting Tools in Place (if you can’t measure it, is it worth doing?)

Even though many clients will not be interested in how you run the agency (at a technical level), you still have an important duty of ensuring that you deliver reports of what you have done, and the results that have achieved.

The Bottom Line

The fourteen steps discussed above are the basics of what you will need to start your own digital marketing agency. You should note that there will be good times and hard times. You must, therefore, know when each is going to occur, and this means that you must manage your finances, team, and time in a manner that is cost-effective and efficient.