Where attention goes, money flows…
A century ago, when people’s attention was on the radio, businesses would pay radio stations a lot of money for playing their commercials or mentioning them while on air.
After the TV was invented and people’s attention shifted there, businesses also started directing their marketing efforts on producing commercials that would promote their products during television programs.
Nowadays, while the TV and the radio are still viable marketing outlets, the vast majority of people’s attention has shifted towards the internet.
With this new shift, more and more business owners and professionals recognize not only that having a solid digital presence could have an enormous positive impact on their business, but also that having no digital presence whatsoever could result in their business eventually getting trampled by the competitors that do have one.
That’s why right now, businesses and professionals are investing more and more money in hiring agencies that would handle all their digital marketing needs, such as:
- Creating a website
- Handling their social media profiles
- Conducting SEO
- Running ads
- & more
As a matter of fact, according to webfx, in 2020 small and mid-sized businesses spent anywhere between $2,500 and $12,000 per month on digital marketing services.
In addition, according to a survey conducted by CMO in February 2020, since 2012 digital marketing spend keeps increasing by around 10% to 15% per year.
So, if you’re after attaining a piece of that cake yourself, there’s no better time to get started than right now.
With that being said, this article is dedicated to revealing all the information you might possibly need to start your very own successful digital marketing agency from the ground up.
But, first things first…
What is Digital Marketing?
In general, digital marketing refers to any form of marketing a product and/or service that takes place through any kind of electronic devices, such as the television, the radio, and even phone calls.
However, nowadays, digital marketing refers mostly to marketing that targets users while browsing the internet through a variety of different digital channels, such as
- Search engines
- Paid Ads
- Social Media
- & more
Most companies don’t leverage digital marketing just to acquire new customers but also to engage with their existing audience, build brand awareness, as well as leverage several tools towards analyzing and understanding their audience’s behavior better.
The term “Digital Marketing” encompasses numerous different marketing techniques each of which requires a completely different skillset and targets people on specific online channels.
Some of the most common marketing practices that fall under the digital marketing umbrella are:
- Web Design
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Content Marketing
- Social Media Marketing
- Pay Per Click Advertising (PPC)
- Affiliate Marketing
- Email marketing
- and Sponsored Content
I know that many digital marketers might argue that web design cannot be categorized as a digital marketing practice but I beg to differ.
Optimizing a website’s design is a crucial step towards ensuring a better user experience, something that could in turn play a pivotal role in a company’s overall marketing ROI by increasing sales and conversion rates.
A website that’s poorly structured, hard to navigate, with a font that’s difficult to read, and not optimized for mobile devices could cause visitors to abandon it in frustration before they even make a purchase, never to return again.
Anyway, now that you have a better understanding of what digital marketing is, let me reveal to you everything you need to get started with your very own digital marketing agency!
Everything You Need to Start Your Digital Marketing Agency
Invest in Education
Before you set out to build your digital marketing agency, it’s important to educate yourself so that you can understand as much as possible about the industry.
This means that you’ll need to invest time and possibly money in the right education, which could consist of:
- Attending seminars/webinars
- Following the work of well-established digital marketers (Neil Patel, Pat Flynn, Jon Morrow, etc)
- Purchasing digital marketing courses
- Reading relevant blog posts/guides/how to’s
- Watching YouTube videos
- Interacting with other digital marketers in online forums and communities
Some of the most important digital marketing concepts that you need to familiarize yourself with from the get-go include:
- Pay Per Click (PPC)
- Content Marketing
- Email marketing
- Conversion Optimization
- A/B Testing
- Google Analytics & Search Console
- Web & Graphic Design
- Affiliate Marketing
Once you’ve gotten a pretty solid grasp of everything just mentioned, you’ll need to actually start honing your digital marketing skills.
Develop the Necessary Skills
For some unknown reason, many people tend to think that performing digital marketing requires minimal skill…
Somehow, people have convinced themselves that having Google’s Digital Marketing Certification or knowing how to publish a couple of stories on their Instagram is enough to be able to handle a client’s digital marketing needs.
Such people are doomed to fail miserably!
Truth is that the digital marketing industry is EXTREMELY results-driven.
A client who’s in need of digital marketing services doesn’t really care about your certification or degree or alleged skillset…
Yes, having all that might seem pretty solid on paper, but at the end of the day, what a client cares about is for you to deliver results.
If you don’t manage to do that, you’ll be replaced at once by another digital marketer who’s actually able to deliver the results that you couldn’t. Like every money making venture, you must add value to what you're doing.
Digital marketing is not the kind of profession that allows you to learn while on the job. You have to actually know what you’re doing before you even get started.
Believe it or not, despite living in the most digital-centric era of mankind, word of mouth can still make or break any business.
This means that if you leave a handful of clients unsatisfied, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll get away with it… The world will know and your reputation will get damaged.
This could in turn result in being unable to land more clients and eventually having to shut down your agency altogether and start from square one.
If you’d like to avoid having to face such issues, here are a couple of things that you could do before setting out on your own:
- Work a normal 9-5 job at a well-established digital marketing agency for 1-2 years. This will definitely help you gather a lot of knowledge regarding how the job is done, how to handle clients, how digital marketing agencies should be structured, dos & don’ts, and more.
- Start handling digital marketing projects of people in your family and social circle. For instance, you could offer to create a website for your cousin’s bakery for free. If he already has a website, you could optimize his website’s design or SEO.
- Experiment for a while on a couple of projects of your own. For example, you can put together a brand new website and try to take it from 0 to 300 visits per day. Or you could attempt to boost your Instagram followers by 1000 in 30 days.
- Start a rank and rent business. Rank and rent refers to a business model where you generate leads first (by ranking a website) and then rent that website to a client. You don't have to prove what you know to a client, or what you can do, because you already have the results. Your just adding their logo and phone number to a site that already generates leads.
Always keep in mind that having a theoretical understanding of how things should work isn’t enough to become a successful digital marketer… You have to actually know exactly what you’re doing!
What you might want to do before you start dazzling the world with your digital marketing magic, is to determine the kind of businesses you’d like to be serving.
Truth is that most digital marketing agencies out there are willing to work with any client type that they manage to land.
However, becoming the go-to digital marketing expert for businesses that operate in specific niches has literally countless benefits, especially for agencies that are new to the field just like yours, such as:
- Gathering specialized knowledge
- Potential to charge higher rates for that specialized knowledge
- Becoming an industry leader
- Go up against a lot less competition
- Much more effective branding
- Better troubleshooting ability
- Building a loyal customer base
- Inspire higher trust more easily
- Improved online visibility
- Higher conversion rates
- Increased referrals through word of mouth
- Simpler and more efficient job
- Higher productivity
Specialize in Offering Just a Couple of Services (for Start)
Another thing that you might want to consider doing before you start looking for clients is to narrow down the digital marketing services you’ll be offering to them…
In order to ensure maximum quality of service, a digital marketing agency should have at least one expert per digital marketing technique; one for SEO, one for PPC, one for email marketing, etc, etc.
However, since you’ll be starting from zero, I’m guessing that you’ll be lacking the required capital to hire 7-8 experts right out of the gate, am I right?
If that’s indeed the case, I suggest that you focus on specializing in providing just a couple of digital marketing services yourself until you’re ready to invest in hiring more experts.
Please don’t try to go full service with fewer people than you’re supposed to by having just one person handling 4 different services at once because this will undeniably compromise the quality and speed of your work.
And delivering slow and mediocre results could potentially hurt your reputation and drive tons of potential clients into the hands of your competitors.
Create an “Amazing” Website
The exact same thing applies to your digital marketing agency with the only difference that you don’t need just a website but rather an amazing website.
This way you’ll ensure that your website will always make an excellent first impression to potential clients that might happen to visit it.
This could definitely result in a dramatic increase in your sales as well as the conversions of cold leads generated through phone and/or email.
Please note that an “amazing” website isn’t necessarily a website that’s extra fancy, with colors and tons of animations that automatically makes your morning coffee the moment you wake up.
An amazing website can be a website that’s easy on the eyes, simple to navigate, usable, and mobile responsive, with a readable font and 4-5 core pages such as:
- Homepage – The main page of your website which could contain anything, from an overview of your services, to case studies and an email capture form
- About – Contains information about yourself, your agency, your staff, your values, your goals, your mission, etc
- Services – A page whereas you’ll be describing in detail all the services your digital marketing agency offers
- Contact – Contains an email address, telephone number, and address of your digital marketing agency. You might also want to include a contact form for easier communication
- Terms & Conditions – Describes the rights and responsibilities of anyone using your website
Put Together a Portfolio of Projects
While putting together a portfolio of projects is not actually essential to getting your digital marketing agency off the ground, it could definitely help you land your very first clients.
The reason is very simple…
If potential clients see that you have delivered solid results to other businesses, they’ll be more likely to trust you and end up purchasing one or more of the services you offer. You can also get help from coaching programs like Agency Master Academy.
Here are some tips regarding putting together a solid good portfolio:
- Include case studies of past projects
- Display customer testimonials
- Use before + after screenshots
- Keep it short
- Create a video collage
- Include your contact info
Now, if you don’t have a portfolio, acquiring new clients might be quite challenging… At the same time, if you haven’t worked with any clients, how are you supposed to build a portfolio, right?
Here are 2 courses of action that you could potentially follow to solve that problem:
- Reach out to clients that might need one or more of your services and offer to work with them for free in exchange for their testimonial
- Create a couple of personal projects to showcase. For instance, you can create a brand new website, take it from 0 to 300 visits per day, and then include it in your portfolio as a case study
Providing any kind of proof that you’re not all talk, but rather a digital marketer who’s able to deliver great results is the #1 way of getting potential clients to trust you and sign up for your services.
Words of caution: Do NOT showcase someone else’s work as you own within your portfolio. This is an extremely unethical practice that could ruin your entire reputation if people happen to somehow find out.
Purchase the Right Tools
Just like it’s impossible to run a restaurant without having the mandatory equipment (ovens, grill, knives, etc), it’s nearly impossible to run a digital marketing agency without having the necessary tools.
Of course, you (and/or you client) is going to need a website, which means you'll need a website builder. You can build it yourself using a content management system like WordPress, outsource it to someone, or in the case of an eCommerce business, use a platform like Shopify for example.
And, if you’re providing SEO services, then you’ll need to purchase a tool that enables you to conduct keyword research, competition & backlink analysis, and website audits, such as Ahrefs and SemRush.
If you’re conducting PPC, you’ll need to purchase landing page builders such as Elementor and/or Unbounce.
If you’re involved with link building, content promotion, and/or influencer marketing, Hunter.io is an essential tool.
Lastly, if your digital marketing agency consists of a team of more than 2-3 people, then you’ll definitely need some kind of team and project management software, such as Asana, Trello, FunctionFox, and/or Slack.
Hire the Right People
The people you hire to work for you can make or break your agency.
Right below you can take a look at a few steps that you can follow to ensure that you hire the right people.
1- Put the word out:
Tell your friends, family, and social circle that there’s an open position in your agency.
Inform them what the position is about and ask them if they know any trustworthy and hard-working individual that might be interested.
2 – Leverage LinkedIn:
LinkedIn is one of the best places to locate potential high-quality employees for your agency.
All you have to do is head over to LinkedIn’s search bar and search for the terms “digital marketing” and/or “digital marketer”.
LinkedIn will then redirect you in a results page that contains dozens of people who have those terms listed anywhere within their profile.
You can also narrow down your search by typing in the specific digital marketing skill that you need your candidates to be specialized in, such as “SEO”, “PPC”, “Content Marketing”, etc.
Once you manage to locate a handful of people that you think might be a good fit for your agency, just send them a direct message mentioning that you’re hiring and asking if they’d be interested to hear your proposition.
3 – Publish the Position Online:
Listing your job opening along with its qualifications on several job-posting websites is a critical step to ensuring that you’ll attract relevant candidates.
The three most popular and well-established job-posting websites that operate worldwide are:
- and Google for Jobs
Nonetheless, I’d suggest that you also leverage a few job-posting websites that operate specifically in your country.
Now, once you’ve gathered a handful of what you consider good candidates, construct a test for them to perform.
The test could revolve around completing a bunch of small but tricky tasks that could resemble the daily tasks they’ll have to complete while working for you.
This way, you’ll be able to figure out which of them are suited the best for covering your position.
Furthermore, if you’re looking to hire someone in an area of expertise that you know nothing about, then you’ll probably need the help of an expert in that specific field during the hiring process.
For example, if you’re after hiring a web designer but you’re clueless about web design, then you might want to ask an expert web designer to join the interviews you conduct with your applicants as he/she will be able to assess their skills far better than you could’ve alone.
Learn How to Set Expectations
What you’ll come to realize pretty soon after you work with your first few clients is that almost all of them tend to have a lot of misconceptions about digital marketing.
For instance, some might not be aware that digital marketing is an ongoing process that needs constant attention.
Others might not know that the results of conducting SEO might take a couple of months to start kicking in.
Others may not expect that the first ads you run for them will probably have an awful return of investment.
And others might think that hiring a digital marketer is a surefire way to double their sales overnight…
Frankly, that’s completely normal… Your clients aren’t supposed to know how digital marketing works because if they did, they wouldn’t need to hire you.
Nonetheless, before you start cooperating with any given client, it would be immensely smart to help them understand what to expect from you and your work.
Let’s assume that a client you just landed expects that the SEO you’ll perform on their website will help them triple their visitors by next week.
That’s nearly impossible to actually take place.
However, if you don’t explain to your client that the results of SEO might take a couple of months to start manifesting when they see that you haven’t delivered the results they expected within the timeframe they expected, they’ll get disappointed with you and your work.
The work you did for that client could have been perfect, but the client ended up being dissatisfied anyway because they had the wrong expectations regarding your service.
A neat trick that you could use from time to time to ensure that you keep your clients happy is to set their expectations a little bit lower than what you can actually deliver.
This way, when you deliver your normal results, your clients will think that you over-delivered.
People and companies just love getting more than they were promised.
Lastly, NEVER try to convince your clients that you can do anything they ask unless you’re absolutely 100% positive that you can actually do it.
Always be truthful regarding what you can handle and what not because if you say that you can handle something and it turns out that you can’t, your clients are going to be disappointed in you.
As you’ve already realized, starting your very own digital marketing agency is no piece of cake.
Even if you do everything correctly, you’ll still probably come across many setbacks and issues that will require quite a lot of time, energy, and maybe even money to be fixed.
However, achieving anything worthwhile is inherently challenging because if it weren’t, everyone else would be doing it as well.
If you just follow all the steps outlined in this article, market your side hustle effectively, take it slow, commit, and stick with it for a while…
… it probably won’t take more than a couple of months until you start landing the very first clients that would be willing to pay you thousands of dollars per month in exchange for your services.
The truth is that nowadays, providing digital marketing services is one of the fastest and best ways of building a full-time income online.
And truthfully, with the internet still in its infancy, there’s no better time to start a digital marketing agency than right now.