Back in the day, if you wanted to create a marketing campaign, then you would need to head over to Madison Avenue, New York, and hire a man (they were mainly men) like Don Draper.
Fast forward to today, and the world has changed. Bricks and mortar companies are going out of business, and entire market sectors are transitioning online.
A Digital Marketing Agency is a catch-all term for those that specialise in assisting others in navigating the complexities of selling products and services online.
There are no strict rules for what services a Digital Marketing Agency has to offer. You can provide a range of services or focus on one narrow specialism and become the go-to person for that.
The one thing you must do, however, is to bring your customer sales.
Digital Marketing, for the most part, is very focused on ROI – return on investment.
If you are not bringing in more profit than the fee you are being paid, then you are failing. So, as a Digital Marketing service provider, you will need to deliver.
While there are lots of Agencies in this competitive market, it is also a growing one, and the barrier to entry is low. You can start your own Digital Marketing Agency, with nothing more than a laptop, phone, and a little self-application.
Here’s how you do it.
The Nuts and Bolts of How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency.
Pick a Niche.
When you start out, it’s best to focus on a single niche, and you should already have picked one you want to specialise in.
Businesses like to hire specialists because different business sectors need a different marketing approach.
It’s not possible to become an expert across all.
So choose one that you can devote time to, and learn all the ins and outs.
Most Marketing Agencies specialise. Gary Vaynerchuk solely promoted his family’s wine business for the first 8 years of his digital marketing career, before later branching out with his VaynerMedia company.
Another important aspect of your chosen niche is that it should be one that has money. What do I mean by that?
If you make your niche SaaS startups with bootstrap funding, then your fee will be proportionately large to their tiny marketing budget. Instead, go where the money is.
Think Fine-Dining Restaurants, Plumbers, or Financial Advisors.
Not sure which niche you want to target? Check out my post here on how to choose your ideal niche and target market.
How to charge your services.
There are 3 broad ways you can charge for your services, by the hour, by project, or retainer.
By the hour. Charging your services out by the hour is perhaps the simplest method to use. Build some margin into your rate to cover time spent on non-billable activities. Such as general administration and marketing your own business.
Project work. You could choose to charge a fixed fee for completing a predefined set of tasks, such as rewriting website content or building keyword lists for PPC advertising. A fixed price can work in your favour if you can complete a job quickly, but also work against you if you underestimate the amount of time needed for a task.
Retainer. Retainer work is the best kind of work to get. When a company retains your services on an ongoing basis for a regular monthly payment, then you know you are really on the road to success.
Make sure your fee covers the work they expect you to perform and leaves a little headroom for re-investing in yourself and your business.
But how much should you charge?
Digital Marketing is an ROI business, and your customers will want to see a real return on the investment they make in you. Similarly, if you can increase a customer’s net profitability by $2000 per week, a fee of 50 percent shouldn’t be out of the question.
Figure out how you can increase your customer’s bottom line, and yours should grow in tandem.
Here’s a fantastic video and a complete guide to pricing your digital marketing services from the guys over at Cereal Entrepreneur (see what they did there?) 😁
Setting up as a Digital Marketing contractor.
You can start your Digital Marketing Agency without formally registering a business. Getting bogged down in choosing a name and printing business cards can come later.
Simply use your name for your business when you start. You can backdate self-employment start dates with HMRC, or even set up a limited company, once you know the venture will be a winner.
Don’t let the nitty-gritty of starting out distract you from the most crucial part of setting up a Digital Marketing Agency – choosing your services and pitching for business.
Okie dokie, now lets look at the kinds of services you could offer.
Decide Which Digital Marketing Services to Offer.
There are a whole host of services that fall under the banner of Digital Marketing. When you start out, I strongly recommend that you focus on providing only one of them.
To charge out your services at a decent rate you’ll need to be good, and you can’t be good at something without immersing yourself in it first.
Pick one of the specialisms below and commit to becoming an expert in it.
Branding is probably the only area of Digital Marketing where it is tricky to show an ROI to the customer. The aim of Digital Branding is to enhance awareness of a brand across various Digital Marketing channels.
If you choose this kind of work, then your primary tasks would be to guide companies on their branding strategies and help them to produce content and to grow user engagement across all the online channels.
Here’s an example of an award-winning branding agency run by my good buddy Lauren & her partner Annette.
Content Marketing uses a variety of methods like blogs, videos, and social media messages to promote products or services. It’s aimed more at making sales than brand promotion.
Often Content Marketers will work from a customer persona, which is an in-depth profile of a company’s ideal customer.
You will need to be able to put yourself in the shoes of the prospect and think like them so you can create content that speaks to them. As a Content Marketer, you could be writing long-form blog posts, short social media texts, or producing animated YouTube videos.
Convince & Convert is probably one of the foremost content (plus Digital Marketing) agencies around today.
A business can pay companies like Google, Facebook, and Linkedin for an advert to appear in a prominent location on their website. PPC stands for pay per click, and as it suggests the advertiser is only charged when a user clicks on an advert.
PPC advertising is hard to get right. Setup your campaign incorrectly, and it can cost you thousands of dollars in wasted clicks. Get it right, and it can increase your profits exponentially.
A good PPC Advertising consultant will be well paid when they deliver results.
As a PPC consultant, you will be building keyword lists, targeting demographics, and split-testing ad content. With the genuine prospect of getting it wrong, you will be continually monitoring campaigns to make sure that they stay on the right side of profitability.
My good buddy Liz Melville is a great example for a Facebook Ads Agency.
In fact, we also did a podcast together all about FB Ads which you can listen to here;
Search Engine Optimisation is the name given to tasks aimed at ranking a website higher in search engine results. The top 3 results in Google get 75 percent of all user clicks, so unsurprisingly, businesses spend a lot of money trying to win these spots.
Offering SEO services will mean structuring content on customer’s webpages to highlight the keywords you are trying to win rankings for. You’ll also seek to get links from other authoritative sites, and websites that are complementary to the customer’s niche.
Another task undertaken by SEO consultants is organising content marketing campaigns.
I have literally just started using an SEO Agency and so far they’ve created me an audit including keyword analysis, website health, on-page SEO, backlink audit, competition analysis, and all sorts!
You can see their website here;
I’ll let you know how it goes!
Email Marketing has the best ROI of any method of Digital Marketing.
Websites often entice users to sign up for regular email newsletters by offering a Lead Magnet for free. A Lead Magnet might be something like a special report, a checklist, or a training course delivered by email.
Once a user signs up to get your Lead Magnet, they also grant you permission to email them with regular messages. Some of the emails you send will provide interesting or helpful information, and some will have the aim of selling products or services.
If you specialise in this field, then you will be writing emails, planning sequences of emails, and monitoring how the recipients interact with them. Because of the high ROI on email marketing, the best Email Marketers in the business are paid hundreds of dollars per email.
One of the YLB Community members Helen runs an Email Marketing service. She recently helped me out with some campaigns and was awesome to work with. You can have a look at what she offers here – helenlindop.com
Businesses need a constant flow of sales leads if they are to be successful and grow. Smart companies create a sales funnel that helps to transition prospects along the steps of the buyer’s journey until they are ready to make a sale.
Lead generation is about getting people into the first stage or ‘top’ of a sales funnel. It’s often a combination of a few of the other types of services I am discussing here, like Content Marketing and PPC Advertising.
Web Design and UX
UX stands for User Experience. Once you get a visitor to a website, you can improve engagement and sales by how the website layout looks and reads.
As a Web UX designer, you will be obsessing over even the tiniest elements of a webpage. There is a lot of science behind how users interact with webpages.
People mainly read webpages by skimming down the page. So you’ll be forever tinkering with things like word capitalisation, and picture size to get the best result for your client.
I’ve only ever met one man in the business who has a unique ability to technically understand how a website works while also fully engaging with the user experience and that is my buddy Jared who is re building my site as we speak!
Pitching and Working with Clients.
Starting a Digital Marketing Agency from scratch, with no experience or customer case studies, is the hardest part. Getting that initial momentum is where most people give up. So persist through this stage – it’s what all successful people do.
In the beginning, it’s helpful to tap into your local network of friends and relatives. Perform the work your Digital Marketing Agency will do for free (if you can get them to pay you, great!).
Once you have completed some work, write up what you did and the results you achieved in a case study. A case study is a powerful marketing tool to show prospects what you can do.
Where to find potential clients
Once you have something to prove your skills, you can then start looking for prospects. But where do you look?
There are a few avenues available to you. You might start by looking for work on the freelancing sites like Upwork. On Upwork individuals and companies post jobs they want a freelancer to help them with.
Companies are looking for Digital Marketing contractors, though a lot of the work there is low paid. It can be another avenue to get initial experience but don’t fall into the trap of committing yourself to lots of low paid work.
Instead, you need to seek out and contact companies directly that have the money to pay well for your services.
Here is a short video from Neil Patel from 2019, on how he would start a Digital Marketing Agency.
Even though it’s from 2019, the central message still stands. You need to find companies that have money to pay you, and that you know need the service you provide.
Create a detailed proposal on how you would improve their content, website, or help them spread their message and cold email it to them. What’s a cold email? Read on.
Cold Emailing is where you send an unprompted email to a company you want to work for and offer your services to them.
That sounds like SPAM, right? Actually, no. Cold emails are generally accepted not to be SPAM, as you are a legitimate business contacting a company to offer your services. A SPAM email will be generic, not tailored to the recipient, and possibly irrelevant. A cold email will be constructed specifically for a single person or company.
It needs to be done correctly, though.
It’s best to identify a target, create a bespoke proposal for the business, and track down the email address of the best person to send it to.
You’ll need to send out a number of these per day. It could be one or two, or as many as five. But, keep the number small to prevent SPAM accusations, and also have a manageable process for following up the emails you have sent.
Here are 25 Email Marketing Tools that will help with this process.
Here is a more detailed explanation of the cold email process if you want to go deeper from Leadfuse. They also offer software to help you manage the cold email prospecting process.
Doing the Work.
You will need to invest in yourself if you want to start and grow a Digital Marketing Agency. You can pick up a lot of information from online blogs and YouTube videos. Still, there is no substitute for more formal study.
Click on the pictures below to take you to Amazon.
Both of these books will give you a solid grounding in how to formulate, promote, start, and run your Digital Marketing Agency. If you were to only choose one, I would go with Agencynomics.
If you prefer a more structured study program, there are several courses available on Udemy. Below is one that covers the basics for you, and gets you up and running in 10 days.
Pro Tip: Udemy courses often have heavily discounted sales, they are a bit like sofa’s – you never want to pay full price. You can wait a few days until they have the next sale, or even hunt around the web for discount coupons.
(Please note the course and book recommendations above do contain affiliate links which means if you buy through my links then at least 100ml of tonight’s beer is on you 😂)
As you learn these new skills, don’t forget that Digital Marketing is a fluid discipline, there are always new tools and techniques you’ll need to master to stay at the top of your game.
You shouldn’t do all the work.
As you start to see some success, you may begin to get more work than you can handle on your own. Don’t turn down work, instead, look to expand your business by contracting freelancers.
This is the difference between being a freelance digital marketer and building a business – a business will bring you much bigger rewards.
You’ll know when it’s time to scale up your business. You’ll have a packed roster of clients, and the only thing stopping you from earning more is that there aren’t enough hours in your working day.
The modern digital economy means that you can outsource additional or low-skilled work to freelancers while charging an extra margin for yourself to your client.
This is the easiest way to grow your digital marketing agency, as your contractors are freelance so you don’t have any of the associated costs and administration of employing workers. Working remotely enables you to remain agile and control your costs.
Arguably, you might never need premises. But there may come a point where you want to transition to formal office premises, employ permanent staff, and create your own Don Draper world.
How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency with Leanne Cohens
I recently got to chat with the lovely Leanne Cohen founder of marketingleap.net, an Australian based Digital Marketing Agency offering everything from social media marketing, ads, content marketing and training & coaching. Everything a small business needs to grow its profile on the web.
She didn’t start off with all these services though. In fact Leanne learned as she went and I love her story of staying one step in front of her clients at all times, immersing herself in what she needed to learn to offer the best service allowing her to grow.
Check out our interview here, particularly if you’re concerned you’re not qualified enough to do what you want to do!
So, that covers how to start your own Digital Marketing Agency literally from your sofa, couch, kitchen table or a beach in Fiji. Get out your laptop, and start planning yours today!
Thanks for reading!