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A Comprehensive Guide To Starting Your Own Marketing Or Social Media Agency

digital marketing agency how to start an agency personal branding social media marketing agency tips to growing an agency Sep 21, 2022

After owning an agency for over three years now, and scaling it to over $1M, we’ve started getting people asking us, “If I want to start my own marketing or social media agency, what are some tips you guys would give me?”  You asked, and we always want to deliver, so here is a comprehensive 15-point guide on how we’d start an agency from scratch if we had to do it all over again!

Focus On Your Own Results First

Whether you decide to start a digital marketing agency or a social media marketing agency, the first and foremost thing you should focus on is your own social media accounts and your own marketing.  The reason being is this:

If you can’t grow your own social media accounts/email/etc., then how can potential clients expect you to get results for them?

Before any potential clients look through your testimonials or your portfolio, they’re going to look at your social media accounts and your marketing, so make sure that they like what they see.  This is why I truly believe you should take 1-6 months and build a solid foundation before you ever start trying to land clients.

The reason I say this is that nothing will hurt your agency more than getting a negative review or giving a client a negative experience at the beginning of your journey.  So if you’re going to offer Instagram services, make sure that your Instagram looks good and is growing.  If you’re going to offer email marketing, make sure that you have great open rates and conversions on your own email marketing campaigns.

The better results you can show your potential clients from your own accounts, the more likely they will trust you with theirs.

Pick One Platform/Service, Then Branch Out

It can be really tempting if you’re starting a social media agency to offer services for every platform, or if you’re starting a marketing agency to offer every service under the sun, but here’s why you don’t want to do that . . .

Because chances are good that you’re not an expert in EVERY single platform or service, and by offering everything, you’re opening up yourself and your business to take on clients you can’t get results for.  Doing this can tremendously hurt your brand and business, especially in the long run.

If you’ve got the best results through TikTok, then offer TikTok as your starter service.  If you’re the most comfortable with email marketing, then offer that to start.  Doing this will allow you to make money and give you the time to learn OR hire professionals for the other platforms/services which will help your business exponentially grow.

Trust me, even by offering only one service, there are PLENTY of businesses that need help with their TikTok and/or email marketing for example.  Starting small, getting get results, making money, then branching out is the true recipe for success.

We only offered Instagram, Pinterest, and branding services when we started.  That is because this is what we had the most results in and what we felt the most comfortable offering.  This helped us make money quickly and allowed us time over the first three years to learn the ins and outs of the other platforms and services so that now we can offer a wider variety of social media marketing and marketing services.

Don’t be afraid to start small and expand later.

Figure Out Your USP/What Makes You Different

If I had $1 for every social media agency or marketing agency that existed, I could retire rich right now!  This means that above all else, you need to figure out one thing from the get-go, and that is what makes you different than all the others.

When it comes to figuring out your unique selling proposition and what makes you different, it could be one or more different things, such as:

  • Your educational background
  • Your career experience
  • The amount of expertise you have
  • Your personality
  • A unique way you get results

These are just a few examples, but you get my point.  You need to first figure out what makes you different, then two, you need to make sure and lead with that difference in your social media content and marketing materials so that your audience knows why you’re different.

The reason it’s so important that your audience knows WHY you’re different is that if they think you’re the same as every other social media or marketing agency, then when comparing who to go with, they’re going to compare you based on price, and that’s never a good thing.

If you’re being compared based on your pricing, that means you’ll always have to undercut your pricing just to make sure you get the client as opposed to someone else, and pretty soon, you’re doing a lot of work for very little money, and everyone wants to be paid for their expertise.

Make sure you’re always leading with what makes you different than the competition, and this will ensure that you can charge the premium prices for the services that you know you should be getting.

Diversify Your Own Social Media Marketing

I know this may seem contradictory to what I spoke about before when it comes to only offering one platform for social media marketing or one service for your marketing agency, but hear me out when I say this: potential clients are EVERYWHERE.

Yes, typically most of your leads will come from one source, but that doesn’t mean you can’t and won’t get leads from other places.  For example, we get about 75% of our leads through Instagram . . . but we also get 15% through Pinterest, about 5% through LinkedIn, about 4% through YouTube, and 1% through TikTok.

What does this mean?  This means that if we ONLY focused on Instagram, yes, we’d get a decent amount of leads, but we’d also be losing out on 25% of the leads we get by NOT diversifying across the other social media platforms.

Now I’m not saying you have to go out tomorrow and start on EVERY social media platform, but that should be the ultimate goal.  And if you’re looking for a way to make it easier, you can always re-purpose a lot of the content you make on your main platform to the other platforms, especially when it comes to short-form videos.

The best thing you can do is before you start your agency, do market research on your audience and your competition.  Find out what platforms your audience spends the most time on and find out what platform your competitors are on the most.  This will give you an idea of where to start, as well as where to branch out in the future.

Start By Building Out Your Website & Your Blog

When I look back on when we started our business, one of the smartest things we did was establish our website and blog from day one.  Three years later, our website ranks top of the search in many of the keywords related to “digital marketing.”  Our website gets a total of 15-20K hits a month, while 10-12K of those are direct to our blog.

This results in a HUGE amount of traffic, leads, booked calls, and clients we land just from our website and blog alone.  The best part about it is the ROI is tremendous because our website costs less than $50 per month to run and our blog is completely free!  Only email marketing can give you a better ROI than this!

Having a website establishes you as a legit business, and while some people might say websites are dead, according to HubSpot, website traffic is up 68% from 2021, which shows me that websites are dead, but in fact, continuing to grow.

The same can be said of blogs.  According to Ahrefs, 77% of online users read blogs.  That means that by simply having a blog on your website, you’re giving yourself more than a 75% chance of increasing your traffic, leads, and sales from your website . . . all from a resource that is completely free to use.

Blogs are also a great way of establishing yourself as an authority in your industry.  Remember when we talked about figuring out your USP and what makes you different?  By having a blog and showcasing your knowledge when it comes to your niche/industry, you allow yourself to stand head and shoulders above the rest of the competition . . . especially if they’re not utilizing a blog.

By establishing yourself as an expert and authority in your industry, your blog becomes the place people go to when they need solutions to their problems.  This keeps them coming back and eventually turns a warm lead into a hot lead, and a hot lead into a paying customer.

The last reason why having a blog is vital for your website is that it gives you an infinite amount of space to be able to rank for relevant keywords in your industry.  If all you have is a homepage, products page, and about page, you’ll only have so much space for copy.

However, if you have a blog that you write on a weekly basis, you can continually use short-tail and long-tail keywords related to your industry, and eventually, you’ll start ranking on Google for these keywords.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gotten on calls with people and they said they did a search for “Pinterest Marketing” or “Social Media Marketing” and a blog of ours or our website came up.  It’s because we’ve continually used those keywords on our blogs for over three years now, and all that hard work is starting to pay off.

In my opinion, having a website is non-negotiable because it establishes that you’re a legitimate business as well as showcases who you are and what you have to offer.  A blog is literally a FREE resource that can pay you huge dividends down the road, and all you have to do is devote an hour or two a week to writing one.  Seems like a no-brainer to me!

Start Building Your Email List As Soon As Possible

We touched on the amazing ROI that a blog can have for your business, but do you know where you can receive the greatest ROI for your agency?  It’s by having an email list!  For every $1 you spend on your email marketing, you can expect an ROI of anywhere between $38-43 . . . which is huge!

It also helps that with email marketing tools like Mailchimp, you can start an email list for free, which makes your ROI even higher.  I truly believe that most social media and marketing agencies go about this in a completely wrong way.

Most agencies will try to sell through their socials and either not have an email list at all, or then try to sell again through their email list.  This is the completely wrong way to go about it.  Your social media accounts should be used for bringing about brand awareness, adding value, and establishing your agency as an authority.

Then, you should create a free resource (known as a freebie), that solves the biggest problem your audience has in exchange for their email address.  Your email marketing should then add value on a deeper level 98% of the time, with you selling your services sparingly.  The reason I know that this works is that this is the exact method we used, and we average a 45-53% open rate on our emails, which is more than DOUBLE the average open rate!

The reason we get such high open rates is that people know that when they open our emails, they’re going to get value, not be bombarded with offers like most emails do.  The goal is to find the right balance of value to sell, but if you’re not sure where to start, I’d make 80% of your emails strictly value while 20% of them are selling whatever service you have to offer.

This ensures that your audience will continue to open your emails and you’ll get way fewer people unsubscribing to your list.  The goal would be to start your list right away and slowly build it over time, nurturing your audience with value on a weekly basis.

Just make sure that the free resource you’re creating solves a BIG problem that your audience is having and that it’s something people feel like they should have paid for.  If you do these two things, you’ll have no shortage of people subscribing to your email list.

Utilize The Free Social Media/Marketing Tools Available

Typically, starting a business is tough enough, especially without having to worry about spending a bunch of money on social media and marketing tools to help you run your business.  Your goal, especially in the beginning, should be to spend as little money on these tools as possible.

Luckily, there are so many options out there to choose from, and in the case of marketing tools, some of them are even free.  If you’re just starting out, here is a list of some great tools that are either free or extremely cost efficient:

  • Sendinblue for email marketing (free no matter how many subscribers you have) as well as SMS/text message marketing.
  • Buffer for social media management as it hosts the top five social media platforms (Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook)
  • Social Pilot when your agency starts to grow, as it’ll let you link up to 25 social media accounts for only $50/month.
  • When it comes to a website, you’re going to want to spend some money here.  WordPress has some of the best SEO, a blog feature that can be incorporated as well as a variety of plug-ins that can help make your website look professional.
  • When it comes to CRM software, you can’t be HubSpot.  Not only is it free, but they have a great blog as well as courses to help you continue your education.

Know that you are probably going to have to shell out some money on one or a few of these tools, and just make sure that the tool is the right one and the cost is necessary.  

We ran our agency for the first two years only spending about $100/month on tools like this.  This helped keep our costs down, and our profits up and allowed us to do things like re-invest our money back into our business in other ways, such as hiring and running ads.

Niche Down First, Then Expand

When starting your social media or marketing agency, it can seem really tempting to want to cater your services to everyone, but the better idea is to niche down to one or two industries you are familiar with, then branch out as you gain more experience and get more results for your clients.

For example, when we started our agency we focused on two types of business that we worked with: real estate agents and clothing brands.  The reason for this is that we have family that had been real estate agents for over 25 years, so we knew the ins and outs of the industry.  We had also both worked in the clothing industry for a combined 15 years.

Picking niches that we had expertise and knowledge in greatly helped us gain clients, especially at the beginning because we knew the pain points, we knew the industry jargon, and we knew the best ways to get them results for their social media accounts and their marketing.

As we started to get more results, testimonials, and social proof, that’s when we started to branch out into other industries that we had knowledge of, just not as well as those two.  Making sure to take on clients in industries that you’re familiar with is key to your success, especially in the first 1-2 years, because you want to land clients, get them results, and eventually then raise your prices.

Know The Main Problems You Solve

If you’re going to run an agency, then just like honing in on a niche/industry, you need to hammer down the main problems that you’ll be solving for your client.  It isn’t just as simple as saying, “I’m a social media marketing agency, so I’m going to help you grow your social media.”  That’s too vague, and some clients may expect different types of results from your social media marketing agency than that.

This is why you need to be clear in your copy, especially on your website and lead forms, what EXACTLY are you going to do for your clients to take them from point “A” to point “B.”

If you specialize in helping them grow their following, then say that.  If your specialty is turning social media followers into leads via freebies and email marketing, make that clear.  You want to be crystal clear about what problems you solve, and definitely make them know on sales calls.  This will keep you from taking on clients that have different expectations than you can provide.

It’s also important to mention here that you don’t have to and shouldn’t take on every single client that comes your way.  Saying “no” to a client may seem hard, especially at the beginning when you’re not making a lot of money, but taking on a client that wants results you can’t get will be even worse for your agency in the long run.

Only take on clients whose problems you can solve and businesses you can get results for.

Lead With Value & Service

At some point, people forgot the point of social media.  It’s not meant to be a place where you sell every single post, but rather a place where you build a brand and offer value.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at businesses' Instagram accounts that sell all the time vs. businesses that create value and entertaining content, and tell me which one gets more engagement.

People don’t like to be sold to . . . that’s why TikTok users spend an average of 64 minutes daily on the platform vs. Instagram users who only spend 24 minutes daily.  People want to be entertained, not sold to.  Knowing this, you need to lead with value, service, and entertainment when it comes to your content, and sell in temporary places like your Instagram stories.

You’re not going to grow a social media following, get people to opt into your freebie, or have people flock to your email list if they know you’re simply going to sell to them every single day . . . it’s annoying and very off-putting.

If you have the right keywords in your bio, people know exactly what you do and who you serve, as well as a link to the services you offer, the sales will take care of themselves, trust me.  How do I know this?

Because this has been our blueprint for the last 3 years, and we went from zero to over $1M a year doing exactly this.  Yes, you can talk about your services, but do it from a perspective of value, not a hard sell.  This will establish you as an authority that people come back to over and over because they’ll realize you’re different, and you’re not just there to sell them.

Focus On Networking & Local Business First

When we mentor other agency owners who are just starting out, one of the key pieces of advice we give them is to focus on networking and finding business locally.  Why is this?  Because it takes a while for you to build up your social media following, email list, etc.

Plus, people trust what they can see in front of them, and potential clients getting a chance to meet you in person, shake your hand, hear what you’re about, and see firsthand the problems you solve is so much more valuable than them seeing an Instagram post.

Local business is a lot easier to focus on because chances are good you know business owners in your community.  Maybe they don’t need help, but I can promise you that they know other business owners, and they might.  So here is how we go about sending them a message . . . we’ll say something like:

“Hi Megan, I just wanted to let you know that we started a digital marketing agency, and we’re offering business owners services such as social media management, website design, and email marketing.  If you happen to know any business owners that might be in need of that kind of help, we’d greatly appreciate you passing our name along, thanks!”

We send messages like this for two reasons: first, most business owners know other business owners, so it might be an opportunity to get a lead.  Second, Megan herself might need help with her business and this is a great roundabout way of asking her as well.

I can’t tell you how many people we’ve sent that message to who have said, “Actually, I could use some help with social media management.”  It’s a great way to land local leads and potentially, local clients to jumpstart your business.

Get Testimonials & Build Out Your Portfolio

If making sure all of your social media and marketing platforms are on point is step one, then getting testimonials and building out your portfolio is step two.  First, people will go look at your results to see if you’re the real deal.  If your results look good, where do you think they’re going to head next?

To see what types of results you’ve been able to get for your past clients.

That’s why the previous point of networking and finding clients locally is so important because it helps you get clients right off the bat, which in turn, will help you get testimonials and build up your portfolio quickly.

The best kind of testimonial is a video one, but a written one will work if the client is hesitant to get on camera.  How we like to do it is to say: “Hey Megan, we just want to say thank you so much for being a client of ours, and we’d love to showcase a testimonial of yours on our website with a link back to your website as a thank you.  Our website gets anywhere from 15-20K monthly views, so this will also help increase traffic to your site.”

Who’s going to say no to that?  It’s a win-win because you get a great testimonial that adds authority and expertise, while they get a backlink from a website that gets over 15K monthly visits.  See now why starting a website RIGHT AWAY is so important.

The Power Of Personally Branded Content

We touched on this point a little bit earlier, but if you take only one thing from this blog let it be this: your agency will gain a lot more brand awareness and you’ll gain a lot more business if you lead with personally branded content.

What do I mean by personally branded content?  I mean not just educational content, but also content that showcases your personality and who you are as a person, not JUST a business owner.

If you look back through our social media content, you’ll probably notice that 80-90% of it is personal content and 10-20% of it is business content, and it has always been designed this way.  Here’s a fact for you: most people assume that most business owners in the same industry know about the same amount of information.

Knowing this, there’s no point in you trying to stand out by sounding the most professional or like you know the most information out of all the agencies out there.  What you’re better off doing is creating content that is unique and allows people to get to know you, and ultimately build a relationship with you.

People do business with people that they feel like they know and trust.  Educational content does some of that, but what really builds trust is authenticity and transparency, which is what personally branded content is all about.

Know Your Contract Length & Pricing Structure

One of the most important aspects of running an agency is getting your contract length and pricing structure correct.  If you get either of these wrong, you’ll lose clients as fast as you get them, or even worse, price yourself too low so you look like an amateur or price yourself too high and no one will hire you.

When it comes to the length of contracts we offer clients, we always like to do a 3-month contract to start, then either renew that every three months or go to a monthly contract depending on what they’re most comfortable with.

The reason we do a 3-month contract to start is that it’s very hard to evaluate and judge results based on just 30 days, especially when it comes to things like social media.  The first 30 days are typically getting everything set up and optimized, so to then have someone say the results aren’t happening and bounce isn’t really far to them or to you.

Three months is a fair amount of time with any service for your client to see the results you’re getting them.  Doing 3-month contracts also gives you peace of mind when it comes to knowing that income will be coming in for at least the next three months.

Pricing is a little bit trickier.  Let me tell you my biggest pet peeve: it’s when I see agencies with no social proof of their own, no testimonials, and no client portfolio trying to charge top dollar for their services.  An example I saw was this person selling her social media management services for $1,750/month for one platform, but her Instagram account only had 700 followers, and she had no testimonials and no portfolio.

She’s not doing the industry or herself any favors, because what’s going to happen is someone is going to hire her, and chances are she won’t be able to get the results.  They’ll, however, expect massive results because they’re paying top dollar.  Both parties will be unhappy and the person will leave thinking agencies are a scam.

If you’re brand new in the industry and have no social proof, charge less, then as you grow, slowly start to raise your prices.  You’ll make less in the beginning, but your clients will be happier and you’ll make a lot more long-term because your pricing grew as the results you got grew as well.

Getting greedy in the beginning has been the downfall of many agencies.

Hire As Quickly As Possible

Chances are you’re good at one social media platform or one service, and that’s the service you’ll be offering at the beginning.  Over time, however, you’re going to want to expand and offer more social media platforms and more services, which is great.  The easiest way to do this is to hire help, and as soon as you can.

Not only are you going to want help when it comes to your services, but you’re going to need a VA, a bookkeeper, an accountant, a lawyer, etc.  The sooner that you can fill these positions, the better, because it will allow you to have them do what they’re best at, which allows you to get back to doing what you’re best at, whatever that is.

The best thing you can do is make a list of all the positions that you eventually want to hire for, then number them in order of importance.  This is what we did on day one of our agency and it really helped us when we started making money to know the exact people we needed to hire and in what order.

I would definitely suggest putting an accountant near the top of your list because trying to file your own business taxes is something that’s difficult and can be done incorrectly if you’re not careful.  Plus, accountants can help you save money because they know the ins and outs of business taxes, what you can write off, and what is considered “business expenses.”

However, you go about it, keep this list nearby and always refer back to it, especially as you take on new clients and your revenue begins to grow.

Conclusion

Starting your own social media or marketing agency can seem daunting, but hopefully, this blog put your mind at ease and gave you the information you need to either get started or get over the hurdles you’re currently facing.

I only wish I had seen a blog like this when we first started.  So many of the tips and points I gave in this blog are because of mistakes we made that we had to learn from.  My hope is that this helps you scale your agency much quicker without having to go through the same mistakes we did.


If you feel like you need extra help with your agency, we’d be more than happy to hop on a call with you, talk through the issues you’re having and come up with some solutions together to help get you set on the right track.  If that’s something that you would benefit from, you can book a FREE 30-minute call HERE!