Starting a digital marketing agency is an ambitious undertaking.
Knowing exactly where to start can be quite difficult. Do you look for clients first, or do you set up a team beforehand? Do you need to specialize, or can you offer a broad range of services?
Our 12-step guide is here to walk you through the entire process. We’ve also provided examples of successful digital marketing agencies whose strategies and marketing efforts you can learn from.
What you will learn
How to start a marketing agency in 12 steps
Here are the 12 steps you need to take to build a digital marketing business. Some of them will require a lot of time and consideration. You may have already completed others.
Give each of them plenty of thought. The sounder the foundations you build on, the easier it will be to grow into a profitable business.
1. Pick a type of marketing agency
Before getting into the finer details of how to start a digital marketing agency, you need to choose its type. Here are the kinds of digital agencies you can consider:
SEO agencies offer various search engine optimization services, like keyword research, technical and on-page optimization and link building.
Offering SEO services can be highly profitable, as they are in high demand. Note that this is also a highly competitive industry. Victorious is, for example, a digital agency that specializes in SEO only.
Content marketing agencies offer content writing and promotion services. They can be responsible for the entire content research, management and creation process.
Alternatively, they can just write content, based on briefs provided by the client. For example, Omniscient is a digital marketing agency that specializes in content.
PPC agencies run paid advertising campaigns for clients. These can include both social media ads and Google ads, or one or the other. Some PPC agencies specialize in advertising on a single platform, like TikTok or YouTube.
Others offer a complete range of PPC services. Black Propeller for example does PPC on only four platforms.
Social media marketing agencies produce content for social media. They can create images, videos, written content, and they can also manage a client’s social media profile for them.
Some SMM agencies, like Socialistics, also offer paid social media advertising services.
Email marketing agencies create and run email marketing campaigns for their clients. They will handle everything from creating an email marketing strategy, designing and sending emails and monitoring the success of campaigns. Enflow Digital is one such digital marketing agency.
Influencer marketing agencies develop and manage influencer marketing campaigns. They connect brands with social media influencers and ensure the content created and shared is in line with the brand’s marketing goals and brand voice.
The Influencer Marketing Factory specializes in these services, for example.
General digital marketing agencies offer a combination of these services. Some will offer SEO and PPC services, others will be able to handle every aspect of a client’s digital presence. For example, KlientBoost is an agency that offers services ranging from SEO and PPC to conversion rate optimization.
Choose the type of digital marketing company you want to create based on your knowledge, marketing skills and experience.
Factor in market demand and your passions and interests.
You don’t want to be stuck managing a company whose work you don’t enjoy.
You also don’t want to start an agency whose services you know nothing about.
2. Choose a niche
The digital marketing landscape is already saturated with thousands of agencies. Narrowing down your focus and specializing in a specific industry or market segment can help you gain important traction at the very start.
It will also help you become more efficient, as you perfect your processes and learn more about a specific service or client type.
You can expand your services and target market as you grow.
In order to find a profitable niche, you should:
For example, Upgrow is a digital marketing agency that works with only ecommerce businesses. Community Boost specializes in SEO, PPC and email marketing for non-profits.
Quoleady offers content marketing services for SaaS companies.
3. Define your ideal client
Once you have settled on the type of digital marketing agency and its target industry or niche, you will need to identify 3-4 types of clients to target.
This will ensure that you don’t waste time trying to convert clients that are not a good fit for your business.
Take some time to create ideal client profiles. These are the things to focus on:
Do some market research and talk to business owners to gather data.
Don’t blindly assume there is an online store that sells pet supplies with 100+ employees that can spend $10.000+ a month on SEO services.
A digital marketing agency that has done a good job of identifying their ideal clients is Velocity Partners. They offer B2B tech marketing services.
Specifically, to ambitious, driven brands that want to move fast and are ready to pay top dollar for experience and expertise.
They are a no-BS team, and their communication style will not work in a too-tight corporate stranglehold.
4. Pick your services
Depending on the type of digital agency you are starting, you can offer a wide range of digital marketing services.
For example, you could sell:
For example, Link Builder is a digital marketing agency that only offers link building services and nothing else.
This allows them to perfect and scale their output, generate higher incomes and work with numerous clients at the same time.
Consider these factors when choosing the digital marketing services you want to offer:
Don’t forget you also need to integrate your ideal client profiles with the services you offer. Let’s say you decide to work with SaaS brands.
You may discover that they don’t need link building services. They may be looking for content writing services, or email marketing experts instead.
5. Choose a pricing model
Choosing a pricing model can be the most challenging part of starting a digital marketing business.
Before we get into that, let’s briefly explore some of the agency pricing models you can choose:
You can include your pricing (or preferably pricing tiers) on your landing pages.
WebFX does, so their clients instantly know whether or not they can work with them.
If you want to offer custom services and tailor your prices per project, you can list a “starting at” price.
When choosing your agency’s pricing model, make sure to consider:
If the service you provide is expected to generate a lot of profit for the client, it should come at a higher price.
If the service is a one-off, you can charge more than you would charge for the same service within a monthly retainer.
Always have a minimal price in mind for every service.
This is what you need to charge to cover everything that goes into delivering the service, and making a minimal profit. Also have a minimal profit in mind. It should cover all of your overheads and keep you afloat.
6. Invest in SEO
As a digital marketing business, you will also need to prove that you are capable of doing the things you claim to be good at.
If your online presence is shoddy, you won’t instill much confidence in the quality of your work.
Investing in SEO is a great way to generate more leads and build brand awareness.
Develop a content plan for your own website.
Consider the questions and concerns your potential clients have.
Educate them about the way your services work and what they can expect from them. Create SEO-optimized content targeting industry-specific topics too.
These are not necessarily going to be of interest to your clients. They will however be read by your competitors, and will establish you as an authority in the eyes of search engines.
Treat your website like you would a client’s.
It will mean less time for earning money, yes. But ticking all the important digital marketing boxes for yourself will help you grow and generate a higher profit in the future.
Ignite Visibility, for example, is one of the digital marketing agencies that does this well. They are getting around 20.000 visitors per month (according to Ahrefs), and they rank on the first page for hundreds of keywords.
7. Build a digital marketing team
You can establish your digital marketing company as a one-person show. Play to your strengths and offer the services you have the most experience with.
This will keep your overheads low, and allow you to add more services to your roster, or to take on more clients.
Only hire full-time staff when you are fairly certain there is enough work to go around. You can employ a fully remote team, which will save you the costs of an office space.
Here’s what you need to know about expanding, whether it’s hiring freelancers or full-time staff:
Here are the roles you will likely need to hire for an average digital marketing team:
Don’t forget to brag about your team.
Point Visible is a good example of a brand that uses their about page to tell their company’s story and to show the people that work on client projects.
The short employee bios are a good way to highlight expertise and make everyone more relatable. Great for E-E-A-T too.
8. Highlight your expertise
As the new kid on the block, you will need to demonstrate your expertise. You can do this by including case studies and testimonials on your website.
Write up a case study every time you achieve good results for a client.
You can anonymize them and focus on the process and the outcome.
Smash Digital for example write very detailed case studies.
They reassure you that their team knows exactly what they are doing. They also prove they can adopt a multi-pronged approach to digital marketing.
A similar rule applies for collecting testimonials. Ask every client to provide a short blurb about working with you once the project is completed. Ask long-term clients to provide a testimonial as soon as they start seeing results.
Publish the testimonials on your homepage and relevant service pages. List the name of the client, and the name of the person providing the testimonial.
If you are a freelancer-turned-owner, you can use your personal testimonials.
For example, you can grab them from Upwork of Freelancer, or you can use the LinkedIn recommendations clients have written for you.
9. Pursue lead generation
In order to grow your digital marketing company, you will need to generate leads.
Here are some lead generation strategies you can use:
Connect with prospective clients both online and in person.
When networking online, use LinkedIn to make a connection. Don’t just slide into someone’s DMs and try to sell your service immediately. Wait until they accept you as a contact. Send them a personalized, short message. Tailor your offer to their specific business and likely marketing needs. Ask questions and keep the conversation flowing.
Attend relevant local events, like fairs or award ceremonies. Bring a company brochure and some business cards to hand out. Add a QR code to both, so leads can easily access your website.
Send cold outreach emails:
Sending cold emails to leads who might be interested in your services casts a very wide net. You can buy SEO leads from reputable websites to get your started.
Since most of your prospects will get several of these emails a day, yours needs to stand out in some way.
Align your cold emails with your brand voice. Keep them short and to the point. Explain the benefits of working with your agency. Don’t send countless follow-ups. Provide a simple way to get in touch.
Host online events
Host a webinar or a podcast talking about your target audience’s pain points. Collect contact information from everyone who attends. This is a great way to sway undecided leads. It will also help you compile a list of prospects you can warm up with email marketing or via video call.
Pay for ads
You can use paid ads to target relevant keywords, as well as to retarget previous website visitors. They are a great way to broaden your reach and target specific groups of leads.
Make sure to check the ads that are currently appearing for your desired keywords. Write better ad copy, and do your best to capture a searcher’s attention.
Partner with another agency
You can also look into partnering with other agencies. Look for companies who offer services complementary to yours. For example, if you are an SEO agency, you can partner up with a web design agency.
Make sure to write a very clear partnership agreement. Define how profits are split and if there are any finder’s fees. Agree on who will manage a project, and how communication will be handled with new clients.
10. Create a client referral program
Setting up a referral program can be a cost-effective way to acquire new clients.
It involves paying current clients and connections when they recommend a new client.
Here’s how you can create a simple referral program:
To see what a well-designed referral program landing page looks like, check out Acute SEO.
11. Increase your average revenue
In order to increase your average revenue, you will need to earn more money from the clients you’ve already got.
Don’t try to do this as soon as a client signs up for your services.
You want them to get to know you first.
Once they get more familiar with the quality of your services, you can recommend ways to broaden or continue the collaboration.
For example, you may notice that a client is struggling with their off-page SEO.
If you have agreed to build guest post links for them, you can offer other types of link building services.
If you are running a social media campaign for them, you can suggest paid social media ads.
You can also recommend ways to keep working together when the client is about to leave. Thank them for their trust and provide a detailed plan of what else you can do for them.
List timeframes, expected outcomes and prices. If a client is happy with the results you’ve already achieved, they are likely to agree.
12. Gather the right resources to run your agency
In order for your digital marketing business to flourish, you need to have access to the right tools. Here’s what you are likely to need:
You should also take the time to build other assets and resources.
It should detail all your processes and the expertise you have acquired while working on client projects. Share it with your staff and collaborators. You can also use it to create blog posts, white papers and ebooks.
When you get to a point where you can invest in custom solutions, you can also consider creating bespoke time management or project tracking software.
You’ll have the benefit of designing a solution that addresses your needs quite specifically. In time, you can also sell these solutions to others, and branch out into SaaS.
Is starting a digital marketing agency worth it?
Yes, starting a digital marketing agency is worth it. While it will require a lot of work, you can turn your venture into a successful business. The potential earnings are high and scalable, the work is interesting and constantly keeps evolving. If you want to put your digital marketing skills to the test, there is no better way than running your own digital marketing agency.
How much does it cost to start up a digital marketing agency?
The costs of starting your own digital marketing agency will vary, depending on its size, location and your current state of knowledge. They can range anywhere from $1800 to $16000.
If you plan to work from home, already have the computer you will use and don’t need any further education, the costs will be lower. If you need to invest in equipment and training, or office space and personnel, they will be higher.
Can you start a digital marketing agency with no money or experience?
Yes, you can start a digital marketing business without any money or experience. There are plenty of free online digital marketing courses you can use to acquire the skills you need.
While there will be a steep learning curve involved, it’s far from impossible. You will also need to start by charging less for your services, but as you gain more experience, your digital marketing agency will grow too.
Now that you know how to start a successful digital marketing agency, it’s time to start answering the key questions. Which niche do you want to work in? Who do you want your clients to be? How much will you charge for your services?
Don’t forget: running your own profitable business is equal parts blessing and agony, so be prepared for plenty of bumps in the road and enjoy the ride. Let us know how it’s going!