Starting a digital marketing agency from the beginning with no experience is tricky but possible. Moving from nothing to a well-established digital marketing business with customers and employees is a long process.
It’s not easy, but there is nothing stopping you from bringing it to life and entering the exciting world of digital marketing as a service provider.
I started my digital marketing company in 2019, after ten years as an SEO freelancer. Moving from a part-time freelancer to a full-time business owner has created many challenges, but also opportunities.
I made a lot of mistakes in the process, but I also learned some valuable lessons that helped me improve my processes and offerings and build a healthy and successful internet marketing business.
I wrote this guide to help you build your own digital marketing agency from the ground up and potentially avoid the mistakes I made, minimize your risks, and maximize your chances of getting it right the first time.
Is Digital Marketing a Good Business to Start?
Before we get into the details, let me briefly explain why a digital marketing agency is a good business to start with.
There is a high demand for digital marketing services – the number of companies that are moving their operations online is growing day by day, as is the competition. Increased competition means more demand for digital marketing services.
You can manage your digital marketing agency from home using remote teams. One of the benefits of starting a digital marketing agency is that you don’t need to have a physical presence in the business.
All operations can be performed remotely via email and Skype. As a business owner, you can also minimize your costs by working from home and hiring remote teams to assist you.
You don’t need to have prior experience – while having previous experience in SEO and digital marketing is certainly an advantage, you can gradually develop your digital marketing skills using an online course and practice on your own websites before offering services to clients.
Be your own boss! If you are looking to get away from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM job and start your own business, becoming a digital marketing manager is a great choice.
It’s a scalable business: you can start a business by providing services yourself, and then when you have more clients, you can hire more people and grow your business.
This is an inexpensive business to start – you don’t need to make a big investment from the start. All you need is an internet connection, a subscription to several tools, and a website. Anything else (office space, employees, etc.) may come later as the business grows.
How to start a digital marketing agency?
These are the key steps to follow when starting your own digital marketing agency.
1.Develop your digital marketing skills and self-confidence
The first step is to develop the skills and confidence you need to run a digital marketing agency. This can be broken down into three parts:
- Digital Marketing Technical Skills
- Business management skills
- Self-confidence skills
Digital Marketing Skills
Obviously, if you want to start a digital marketing agency, you need to develop your digital marketing skills.
This means you need to know what digital marketing is, how it works, and how to run campaigns to increase your customer’s 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 need to know the following well:
- Google Ads
- Facebook marketing
- Media Marketing
- Content marketing
- Advertising mailing
As your agency grows, you can build your digital marketing team and hire experts, but if you’re starting now with no experience or money, it’s important to know how to complete these tasks yourself.
In fact, this is a critical success factor. In the early stages of your business, you need to minimize your costs as well as your dependence on other people.
You need to have hands-on experience with various digital marketing processes in order to ultimately understand 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 recognized experts and practice a lot.
Digital marketing is a very practical discipline and it is not enough to know the basics, but you need to gain the necessary experience by practicing digital marketing.
You can use the resources below to learn digital marketing and develop your skills.
Business management skills
Since your goal is to start an online business, not freelance, you need to learn the basics of running a business.
You do not need to have a degree in business management, but you do need to gradually acquire some skills related to:
- Project management
- Time management
- Billing and Billing
- Personnel Management
As a business owner, you will have to do this from the start, and probably over a long period of time, until you reach the point where you can hire dedicated people.
You can’t run a business if you don’t want to take risks. To take risks, you need confidence, and to gain confidence in the digital marketing industry, you need to believe in your skills.
If you start this business without knowing exactly what steps to take to improve your website’s rankings or how to use ads to attract more customers to your customers, you will fail.
So, before you start serving clients (as a freelancer or digital marketing agency), you need to have experience working with either a reputable agency or your own websites.
Once you understand that you can use digital marketing techniques to achieve real, measurable results, you know you are ready to become a service provider.
Don’t forget that there are thousands of digital marketing professionals and agencies in the market, and clients are likely to receive multiple offers and interviews before making a hiring decision.
Confidence will help you stand out from the crowd, so make sure you arm yourself with the right knowledge, skills, and experience before you take the big step.
2. Decide what services to offer
The next step is to decide what digital marketing services to offer your potential customers. A full-service digital marketing agency typically 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 for a startup to offer all of these services from the start, so it’s 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 then, as you grow your customer base and get more money, you can add more services to your offering.
Remember, your goal at this stage is to keep costs down and depend on your skills. If you try to go full-service from day one, chances are you will get lost in the process.
In my experience, the services that can bring you more income are the ones that provide real monetary value to customers, and that’s SEO and PPC services.
3. Decide how you plan to run your business
The next decision to make is how you plan to run your business.
You have three options:
- As a virtual company from home and hiring remote teams
- As a “traditional business” with an office and local employees
- 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 that area will help you strengthen your brand and attract more local customers.
If you plan to serve clients anywhere in the world, then having a physical office will only increase your monthly expenses.
In fact, one of the benefits of starting your own digital marketing agency is that you can run your business from home with remote employees. Many online and SaaS companies are following this model and this is the future of business.
As your portfolio grows, you may want to consider hiring local staff, but they can also work from their home office, so there is no need to pay rent and other office expenses at this stage.
What you need to do is find a place in your home and set up a home office. This can be a separate room or place in the house where you will work. In addition, since you will be surfing the Internet, you need to provide the best possible Internet connection.
4. Register your business
Before moving on to the next steps, it’s time to make it official. By this I mean:
- Decide on the name of your business
- Register your domain name
- Create your logo
- Register your legal entity with the relevant authorities
- Get a tool-free number
- Find an accountant and auditor
- Find a lawyer
- Create business cards
You need to do this now and put everything together, even if you are not going to use them all from the beginning.
5. Build your online presence
The first actionable step on the list is building your online presence, starting with building a website for your business.
The website is your agency’s front door, so you need to make sure 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 they should hire your company.
In addition to explaining who you are and what you do, make sure you explain the benefits that clients will get by hiring you. Make your site not about yourself, but about them.
Create dedicated landing pages for all of your services and make sure potential customers can reach you easily without asking too many questions or having them fill out complicated registration forms.
Your goal is to get as many leads as possible, filter them out, and focus on the ones that are more likely to become customers.
Apart from building a website, you also need to protect your brand across all major platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) and create business pages.
Don’t skip this step because customers will be checking your Facebook page and learning more about your company before hiring, so you need to make sure everything looks good and professional.
Also, register your business with websites like Crunchbase and other organizations (local, government) that can prove your legitimate existence.
6. Demonstrate your experience and knowledge.
As we will see below (step 9), one of the most difficult aspects of a digital marketing agency is finding new clients. But an equally important aspect is the ability to convince potential customers to work with you.
The best way to do this is to demonstrate your experience and knowledge.
In practice, this means:
- An “about us” page that tells about your history and accomplishments.
- Success stories
- Case studies
- Academic credentials
- Notable companies you’ve worked for
- Previous work experience
- Customer Reviews
- Partnership agreements
- References from other sites
If you are starting now with no experience, it is normal that some of the above points may not apply to you, but keep them on your to-do list and try to gradually implement them.
For example, work on a friend’s business website and ask them to send you feedback or get a couple of digital marketing certifications from established companies.
Leverage the results you’ve achieved on your own websites and showcase them as case studies on your company’s website.
Make some guest posts on reputable websites and mention it on your homepage.
Be honest about your work experience and only post real-life reviews and case studies. Starting a business relationship with a customer based on fake reviews is not the way to start a successful business.
7. Choose the right tools
To effectively run your digital agency, you will eventually need a variety of tools. In fact, tool licenses will be the second-largest expense after salaries.
You will need tools to help you optimize digital marketing campaigns, generate customer reports, issue invoices, keep records, and more.
There are many tools on the market to choose from, but what you need to keep in mind is to choose tools that offer features that you will actually use, rather than features that are nice to have.
Companies often pay for software features they will never use, so choose wisely.
Don’t forget that you should subscribe to tools that you can use on your own website as well as your client’s websites, so keep that in mind when comparing the licensing costs of each tool.
The first tool you will need is a digital marketing platform like SEMRUSH, ahrefs, Hubspot, Moz.
These platforms have tools that can help you with SEO, content marketing, social media marketing, and PPC campaign management.
I use SEMRUSH because it is an excellent all-in-one platform with great features and a reasonable price, but the other tools mentioned above are fine for the job.
Other paid tools you will need:
Lead Generation Software – I use Optinmonster to grow my email list and improve my conversion rates. It is very easy to use with many functions.
Email Marketing Solution – I use MailChimp for my website and many client websites, but there are other good solutions like Drip, Constant Contact, Klayvio, and many more.
Grammarly is an indispensable tool for any online business. This will help you avoid spelling and grammatical errors in everything you write on the Internet (including emails, sentences, etc.).
Canva – Sooner or later, you’ll need a tool to create beautiful graphics and presentations, and canva is a great choice.
Other free tools you will need:
- Google Analytics
- Google Tag Manager
- Google Search Console
- Google Data Studio
- Google Keyword Planner
- Google documents
- Google slides
- Google Forms
I recommend deciding which tools you will use and taking some time to learn how to use them and what features they offer. When you start working with clients, your time will be limited, so it’s best to familiarize yourself with these tools in advance.
8. Define your business model
The next step in this process is defining your business model, that is, deciding how you will charge for your services.
The most popular business models for digital marketing agencies are:
- Per hour
- Per project
- Monthly fee
Hourly Billing – You charge an hourly fee for your services. The rate ranges from $ 30 to $ 120 per hour depending on your experience, client location, type of business, type of service you provide, and complexity of the job.
For a project – you conclude an agreement with a client on a fixed amount to complete the project. If your estimates are correct, you make a profit, but if you make wrong estimates, you may end up suffering a loss.
Monthly Fee – The client pays a monthly advance for the agreed services. This is usually applicable for monthly SEO services, PPC management, and social media management.
The most profitable model is the “monthly fee” and the least profitable is the “hourly rate”.
For new agencies, I recommend starting with an hourly or per project model. This is not the most profitable model, but your goal at this stage is to attract new clients and build your portfolio quickly, and the hourly pay model allows you to adjust the hourly rate so that it is attractive to new clients.
9. Find your first client
So far, we’ve discussed how to set the stage for your startup agency but to become a real business, you need clients. A business without clients is just an idea, not a business.
So how do you get your first client? Here are some ideas that worked for me in the beginning.
Friends and family – It is very likely that your friends and family members have a business or work for a company that can use digital marketing services.
Reach out to them and offer assistance in their digital marketing efforts. Get familiar with their website and their marketing tactics ahead of time, and come up with a plan for how you can help them attract more customers, improve their search network presence, and increase sales in general.
Since this is your first “formal proposal“, try to make it as detailed as possible for specific purposes.
Explain to them why they need to invest in improving their website, why they need to have active social media pages, how they can benefit from Google ads, missed email opt-out opportunities, and whatever else it takes to convince you hire them as their digital marketing consultant.
Make sure your price at this stage appeals to them. Your goal is not to start making a profit, but to create your portfolio.
The lessons learned from working with your first client will be invaluable and will greatly help you when working with your first real client.
Online job forums – Another way to find your first client is to use sites like Upwork and PeoplePerHour. These websites have hundreds of digital marketing job postings and can be a good starting point.
A few tips to help you:
- Make sure that by answering a job request you are answering ALL the questions raised in the post. Read the job description carefully and explain your action plan.
- Answer quickly. A job posting on these websites gets a lot of responses in a matter of hours, and usually, the job is assigned to the first responder.
- Be honest and make realistic promises
- Keep prices low
10. Start a digital marketing blog
When working on your first client, you should take the time to start your own blog. A good blog with helpful content is by far the BEST lead generation tool for a digital marketing agency.
When customers find you on Google, you don’t need to “sell yourself,” they already know that you can improve the ranking of websites on Google and this helps a lot in the signup process.
When creating content for your blog, try to target keywords related to the type of service you currently offer that potential customers might be looking for.
To give you an idea of just how powerful this technique is, blogging has been the primary source of leads for my agency for the past 10 years. We managed to work with hundreds of clients around the world without paying a single dollar for advertising.
In fact, growing your blog should be your top priority, because as your blog grows, so does your agency. Not depending on ads will also help you turn your company into a profitable business faster.
11. Build your portfolio and customer testimonials.
Once you reach this point, your goal should be to continue building your portfolio and customer reviews.
To build your portfolio quickly, you still have to provide services at a low cost, but getting feedback and positive feedback from customers will help you attract more and more customers in the future.
The reason I insist on this is because while it is easy to get new clients with small marketing budgets, in order to provide clients with large budgets who can generate good profits, you need to have a decent portfolio and testimonials from past clients.
I know from experience that this will take time, so don’t be discouraged, but let’s go step by step, one client at a time.
12. Create your processes
As you grow your digital marketing agency and attract more clients, you get to the point where you can’t handle all of the projects on your own.
It’s time to consider hiring people to help you, but before you do, you need to set up your processes.
By processes, we mean a set of SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) for documenting all the steps you take to complete a specific task. This includes the customer onboarding process and all the services you offer.
It’s important to do this now, before new people join you, otherwise you will waste a lot of precious time explaining to your team how you want them to do client work.
Build on your current customer experience and spend some time creating email templates, offer templates, custom reports, and checklists that anyone can use to complete a specific task.
Keep things simple and don’t overcomplicate them. You can create your processes using Google docs and Gmail and organize them into folders.
13. Build your digital marketing team.
When you get to the point where you need to hire new people, it means that you already have several clients who are already making a profit, and your processes are operational.
If you are not yet at this stage, then I recommend not hiring people now unless you have the means to take the risk.
Getting new people to replace yourself is not easy, and many digital marketing agency owners (myself included) had great difficulty getting things done at first.
A few tips to help you along the way:
Start by hiring people to do simple tasks – explain to your employees what you expect from them and document all the steps. Refine your process (created in the previous step) to keep it up-to-date and relevant.
Start by hiring freelancers instead of full-time employees – this will help you keep costs down and give you more flexibility. You can use additional help as needed and for each project.
Give them a pilot to work with – it’s not always easy to figure out what skills a freelancer has, so the best way to find out if they’re the right fit for your team is to hire them for a pilot before starting a full-time job. hiring time. This will save you a lot of money and the frustration of hiring the wrong people.
A digital marketing agency is a great business to start with. You can provide services from the comfort of your own home, you can be your own boss, and this is a business that can scale without requiring a lot of capital.
While this sounds fantastic, there are a few things to consider before deciding to become a digital marketing service provider.
First, you need to know what you are doing. If you are new to digital marketing, then before rushing into starting a business, you first need to develop your skills and gain work experience.
Start with digital marketing on your sites and try different methods until you understand what works and what doesn’t.
Once you achieve real results, you also have the confidence to offer your services to other people.
Start slowly, don’t try to offer all services from day one, and don’t expand too quickly. Build your portfolio step by step, one client at a time.
When it’s time to hire new people, make sure your processes are already in place and build a team gradually. Hiring remote employees is not easy and you might have to try multiple candidates until you find people who can work with you as a team.
Blog creation and development should always be your top priority. Blogging can help you get new customers without paying for ads, and this can bring huge benefits to your business.
Finally, don’t forget the motto “The customer is always right”. Give your customers the attention they deserve and turn them into repeat customers. This way you minimize the cost of attracting new customers, increase your profits, and scale your business faster.