Are you an experienced freelance digital marketer who wants to go big and start a digital marketing agency? Or are you an experienced marketing professional who is currently employed, but would like to start your own business? If you are thinking about starting your own digital marketing agency, then this article is for you. We will walk you through how to start a digital marketing agency in 9 important steps. 

starting a digital marketing agency

Why Start a Digital Marketing Agency 

Starting your own business is an experience that is both exciting and challenging. It is not an easy decision to make, as succeeding in any business requires a lot of commitment and constant learning. However, if you are an experienced marketing professional, who has a good understanding of the market and customers’ needs, starting your own agency may be a great next step in your career. 

You should only start a digital marketing agency if you are passionate about marketing. This will allow you to work on projects you are passionate about, with people you can easily relate to. When considering how to start a digital marketing agency, you should also consider how you can help your customers – what you can offer to stand out and bring value to your future customers.  

According to the U.S. Census, in 2019 there were roughly 8,500 companies specializing in marketing and public relations in the U.S (and it’s fair to assume the number is much higher at a global level). At the same time, according to Hubspot, over 75% of marketers believe that their campaigns are directly influencing revenue. 

We may argue that not all companies will need digital marketing services – but in a world where we are constantly connected by the digital space, most companies want to be present in the digital space. These are potential customers. The key is knowing what your target audience is and providing specialized services. 

How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency in 9 Steps

how to start a digital marketing agency

Any good plan starts with a question: how? Before you actually take any steps in starting your own business, you need to make sure you understand the market and the business environment. Then you move on to that question of “how” – how to start a digital marketing agency? 

While the process may vary according to your chosen niche, your experience, or your location (market peculiarities and legislation may vary), there are some general steps you should follow when starting an agency. To make your transition easier, we have compiled a guide on how to start a digital marketing agency: 

1. Make sure you have the right skills. If you don’t, get them

You can’t start any new venture without skills and knowledge. When wondering how to start a digital marketing agency, you should also ask yourself what skills would be needed in your agency. 

Make a list. 

Then, identify if you already have those skills or if they can be easily outsourced. If you choose to outsource, make sure you can be a good manager. If you don’t have the necessary skills at hand, then work on improving them. You make the choice to work on getting the right skills as an employee before jumping on an entrepreneurial endeavor. 

Here are some skills that will come in handy as the owner of a digital marketing agency:

  • Depending on your niche, you should have the right digital marketing skills: building landing pages, managing social media accounts, managing PPC campaigns, etc. If you want to be a generalist digital marketing agency, you will probably need to consider hiring specialists for the different verticals of digital marketing (no matter how good you are, you can’t be a one-person band for long, right?)
  • Work with one or several CRMs and/or other management platforms.
  • The skills to promote your business – both marketing and networking skills.
  • A good understanding of how businesses work; a basic understanding of business finances are also needed. 
  • Good team management skills, but also team spirit. 
  • Sales skills – you will need that in order to actually make your business productive. 

2. Set clear goals

While this may sound counterintuitive, you should set clear goals for your business right from the start. It will be difficult to scale your business without any clear, measurable goals. Would you like to win X new customers in the next year? Invoice a certain amount? Grow a team? Whatever it is, set clear goals and then make yourself accountable for meeting them. 

3. Choose your business model

When choosing how to start a digital marketing agency, identifying the best business model is very important. The services you offer and how you price and invoice them will dictate how your business will evolve in the long term. For example, you can choose to be paid by an hourly rate, using a flat retainer, or commission-based. 

Other very important aspects regarding any business model involve liability and taxes. You should understand how these will work for your particular business and in your particular market(s). You don’t need to work on all the details yourself, but you should have an overall understanding of all the legal and financial aspects associated with running a business. Then you should find the right competent people to help you with the hands-on tasks. 

4. Define your audience

Who are your services for? Defining your audience is vital, as it will guide your entire business trajectory. You should offer the right services to the right audience. Once you understand your audience, you will also know how to approach it and how to build strong long-lasting business relations.

But don’t target a generic audience. That will make it more difficult to differentiate your services. Start with a niche – preferably one you are familiar with. This will allow you to focus on the specific needs of your niche and provide it with top services. 

5. Evaluate your competition

When starting a marketing agency, you’ll want to know who your competition is and how it operates. Who is your competition targeting and what is their business model? What marketing channels are they using? What are they offering? Where are they failing in their offering or their marketing efforts? Without researching your competition, you won’t know how to overcome them. 

6. Plan to scale

Unless you are very rich and famous, your business will be limited at first. You will most likely start small: you will either work by yourself or with a (very) small team. But no matter how you start, in the long term, you will want to grow your business. 

Make sure that you can scale your business – either by hiring new people, working with new contractors, expanding to new markets, or offering new services. Avoid limiting your business and plan for growth right from the start.

7. Practice what you preach and establish an online presence

How to start a digital marketing agency without an online presence? That is basically impossible. Unfortunately, marketers usually focus on promoting their customers’ businesses, not their own. Don’t fall into that trap. Showcase your marketing skills by first promoting your own brand and services. Use a website, a social media presence, paid ads – whatever you are most skilled at – to build your brand and generate leads. This leads us to our next step:

8. Generate leads (and convert them too)

You might want to use your professional network for gaining your first customers. Or attend business events. Or use online lead generation. Whatever it is, you need to plan ahead. Make sure that you understand your customer journey and have a lead generation plan in place. Focus on ways to nurture and convert those leads to reach your ultimate goal: sales. 

9. Evaluate and learn in order to grow

The steps listed above tell you how to start a digital marketing agency up until the point of selling your services. But there is one more step you should follow beyond that: evaluate your business and find ways to improve it. 

You should constantly look into what is working and what isn’t working within your business. Focus on your strong points and improve the weak ones. Find new opportunities and ways to improve. That’s the only way your business can be successful in the long term. 

To Start Or Not To Start a Digital Marketing Agency? 

Now that we’ve taken a look at how to start a digital marketing agency, let’s ask an important question: should you start a digital marketing agency

Well, if you have the right skills and the right mindset, maybe you should. And if you don’t, you can always learn them (e.g. have you checked our totally free Google Ads course, for example?)

As a final piece of advice, keep in mind that growing your own business will involve time and effort. You shouldn’t start a digital marketing agency if you are not willing to commit to it. With the right planning and the right mindset, the sky’s the limit. You can start your digital marketing agency and see it succeed.