How To Start A Digital Marketing Agency In 13 Steps [Course + Templates]

Content Writing & Strategy
Silvia Li Sam
Founder & CEO

Wondering how to start a digital marketing agency in 2024? You're in the right place! Our blog post has got you covered with 13 practical tips and templates to kickstart your journey to starting and launching a successful digital marketing agency. Whether you're into social media, SEO, or other digital marketing areas, starting your own agency takes time and effort. You'll need to handle things like finding a bookkeeper and understanding the legal requirements for your business.

Take our agency, Slam Media Lab (Slam), for example. We started during the pandemic and quickly grew to serve over 30 clients in just two years. We're a digital marketing and design agency in San Francisco, serving innovative visionaries and brands. We specialize in Webflow design and development, content marketing, SEO, and brand strategy. So, trust us when we say we know what it takes to build a successful digital marketing agency from scratch.

Starting up can be daunting, and we get it. When you search for "how to start a digital media marketing agency," you might find a lot of checklists, but not much on how to actually do it. That's why we created Slam's How to Start an Agency Course. Watch the trailer:

It's a one-stop shop for all the processes and tools you need to get your agency off the ground. Our goal is to save you from endless research and make it easier for you to enter the agency world.

Here is what you will learn in the course: 

  • How to start a digital marketing agency by figuring out your focus, what makes you unique, and the services you want to offer.
  • How to build credibility and find new clients by networking and participating in industry events.
  • How to make your digital marketing agency more efficient by using social media management tools for things like analytics, reporting, content scheduling, and automation.

Is a Digital Marketing Agency a Good Business to Start?

Before we jump into the steps, it's important to address the question of whether starting a digital marketing business is a good idea. The short answer is yes, it can be a highly profitable and sustainable business if done right. Starting a digital marketing agency can be a rewarding venture in today's digital age as businesses increasingly rely on the online world to connect with customers, and the demand for digital marketing services continues to grow. The digital landscape is constantly evolving, creating numerous opportunities for skilled professionals to help businesses succeed online.

Is It Possible to Start a Digital Marketing Agency Without Any Experience?

While experience in digital marketing is certainly beneficial, it's not an absolute requirement. Many successful agency owners have started with limited experience and gradually built their expertise along the way. The key is a willingness to learn, adapt, and stay updated with industry trends. Online digital marketing courses like Google Skillshop are a great resource to start to build on a variety of digital marketing expertise and gain certifications in areas such as Google Ads and Google Analytics.

The 13 Steps to Starting a Successful Digital Marketing Agency

  1. The role of being a CEO
  2. Picking a type of digital marketing agency
  3. Finding your niche and ideal client
  4. Setting up your services and pricing model
  5. Set up your agency operationally and legally
  6. Grow your digital marketing agency
  7. Acquire your first clients
  8. Craft a winning proposal
  9. Market your agency
  10. Operations, onboarding, and processes in your agency
  11. Tools and software recommendations
  12. Hiring employees and contractors
  13. Using Chat GPT to improve processes

The Role of Being a CEO

When you're in the process of starting your own business, it's crucial to carefully consider how you plan to operate it. This involves not only the practical aspects of running the day-to-day operations, but also developing the leadership and decision-making skills necessary for success.

Decide How You Plan To Operate Your Business

Additionally, understanding the responsibilities of a CEO in managing a business is vital. As the Chief Executive Officer, you are not only the head of the organization, but also the person ultimately responsible for its overall success or failure. This role requires you to make strategic decisions that can impact your agency’s direction, financial health, and long-term sustainability.

Build Your Digital Marketing Skills And Self-Confidence

As the founder and CEO of your business, it's essential to focus on developing your leadership skills. Being a leader means more than just holding a title – it means inspiring and guiding your team toward a common vision. Effective leadership involves setting clear goals, communicating your vision, and creating an environment where your team can thrive. As you start your entrepreneurial journey, you'll quickly find that leadership is a skill that should be continuously honed and improved.

  • Setting the vision - as the CEO, you must define your digital marketing agency's mission and long-term vision. This involves determining what your agency stands for, its values, and the goals you want to achieve. For example, Slam’s CEO, Silvia Li Sam, started the agency to help the Hispanic community, especially Asian-Hispanics, with marketing. As a result, Slam’s vision includes working with clients who also value social awareness.
  • Decision-making - CEOs are often faced with critical decisions, from choosing the right market strategy to making significant investments. You need to be comfortable making tough choices and be prepared to adapt when circumstances change.
  • Team building - building and managing a talented team is crucial. You should not only hire the right people but also inspire and motivate them to perform at their best. Effective delegation is another skill that will be valuable in this role. 
  • Financial oversight - CEOs need to have a strong grasp of the company's financials. This includes budgeting, financial planning, and ensuring the agency remains profitable and sustainable.
  • Risk management - identifying and mitigating risks is part of a CEO's role. This involves anticipating potential challenges and developing strategies to address them.
  • Communication - effective communication is key to keeping all stakeholders informed and aligned with the agency's goals. This includes employees, investors, customers, and partners.
  • Continuous learning - the agency landscape is ever-evolving. As a CEO, you should be committed to continuous learning and staying updated on industry trends and best practices.

Picking a Type of Digital Marketing Agency

When you're in the process of starting your own digital marketing agency, one of the most crucial decisions you'll make is determining the specific digital marketing services you want to offer - do you want to be a full service agency, or are single channel agencies your speed? Or, do you want to fall somewhere in the middle? This choice should be driven by a combination of your knowledge, digital marketing skills, passion, and experience.

What Are You the Types of Digital Marketing Agencies?

Here are some different types of digital agencies you can start:

  • Social media marketing agencies - consist of social media managers who assist businesses in leveraging social media platforms to achieve their marketing and business objectives.
  • Influencer marketing agencies - specialize in establishing and nurturing relationships with influencers as well as social media management for these influencers to promote products or services across their social media channels.
  • Web design and development agencies - are experts in crafting and designing websites for clients, which includes UX (user experience) design and back-end coding, tailored to the chosen website building platform.
  • Google Ads agencies - are a type of PPC (pay-per-click) agency that manage online paid advertising efforts for clients, encompassing various digital ad formats like Google search ads and the Google Display Network.
  • Paid search agencies - oversee paid advertising campaigns but focus exclusively on social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.
  • Content marketing agencies - dedicated to producing and distributing various content types, including videos, graphics, and written materials, aimed at lead generation.
  • Video production agencies - create and distribute video content as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy on behalf of a brand.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) agencies - aid businesses in keyword research to improve their keyword rankings and organic search traffic, ultimately helping them rank higher on search engines like Google.
  • Email marketing agencies - curate and execute email marketing outreach campaigns designed to increase website traffic, generate inbound leads, and boost sales for companies.

Finding Your Niche and Ideal Client

Finding your niche and identifying your ideal client is a pivotal step in establishing your digital marketing agency. This process involves defining who you want to work with and what specialized area of digital marketing you want to focus on. Here are some tips for finding your niche and ideal client.

Define Your Target Audience

Start by thoroughly understanding your target audience. Who are the businesses or individuals you want to serve with your digital marketing expertise? Consider factors such as:

  • Industry
  • Size
  • Location
  • Demographics

A clear understanding of your target audience allows you to tailor your marketing efforts and services to their unique requirements.

Identify Your Ideal Client

Beyond your target market, pinpoint your ideal client within this audience. This is the type of client you are most excited to work with, and who is likely to benefit the most from your services. Your ideal client might have specific characteristics, such as a willingness to invest in digital marketing, alignment with your company's values, or a genuine need for your specialization.

Focus on a Niche

To stand out in the competitive digital marketing landscape, consider narrowing your focus to a specific niche. Instead of offering a broad range of services, specialize in a particular area of digital marketing or just a few areas. For example, you could become an expert in influencer marketing, a social media ads specialist, or focus on SEO services for small businesses. Specialization allows you to become the go-to expert in your chosen field and positions your agency as a trusted authority.

Benefits of Niche Specialization

As you begin to seek prospective clients, you will be doing yourself a favor by niching down on your service offerings to help you stand out against other agencies. Here are the benefits of niche specialization.

  • Expertise - by concentrating on a specific niche, you can deepen your knowledge and skills in that area, making you more valuable to clients.
  • Targeted marketing - Niche specialization enables you to tailor your marketing efforts with precision, attracting quality clients who are looking for your specific expertise.
  • Reduced competition - in a niche, you may face less competition compared to the broader digital marketing industry, giving you a better chance to establish yourself as a leader.

Before finalizing your niche, conducting market research can help validate that there is demand for your chosen specialization, and that potential clients are willing to pay for these services. This step helps ensure that your niche is not only appealing to you but also viable in the market. Then, once you've identified your niche and ideal client, you can position your agency accordingly. Your branding, messaging, and marketing efforts should reflect your specialization and clearly communicate the value you bring to clients within your chosen niche.

Remember to adapt and evolve within your niche. The digital marketing industry is ever-changing, and client needs may evolve. Be prepared to adjust your services and expertise to continue meeting the changing demands of your niche, stay relevant, and to ensure your agency is a profitable business.

Setting Up Your Services and Pricing Model

Once you define your agency's niche you need to craft a solid business plan, which includes developing a range of services your digital marketing agency will provide and deciding on a pricing strategy.

Develop a Range of Digital Marketing Services

Once you've chosen your digital agency's specialization, create a list of services that align with it. For example, if you're specializing in content marketing services, your offerings might include content writing and strategy development, SEO services, and creating and executing a content calendar. Having a well-defined list of services helps potential clients understand exactly what you can offer them.

Determine a Pricing Strategy

Once you have solidified your agency's services, you need to decide on your pricing model. Choosing which type of pricing models you'll select for your digital agency depends on a variety of factors, including agency overhead. For example, if your agency has an office space that you need to account for, you must charge clients a price that accounts for the margin required to not just pay this expense but to be a profitable business.

Instead of just thinking about your costs or time spent, consider the value your agency can offer clients. When determining the worth of your digital marketing agency, keep in mind that you have the flexibility to set prices that align with the value your services bring to clients. Take into account the long-term return on investment (ROI) your agency can generate for businesses. If your digital marketing efforts can significantly boost a client's revenue or enhance their brand visibility, you can justify charging higher prices based on the results you deliver. To consistently demonstrate this value to clients, consider setting up an agency reporting dashboard to continually showcase the ROI they gain from collaborating with your agency.

Competitive Analysis

Research your competitors in your chosen specialization and target market to understand their pricing strategies. This can help your digital marketing business position its services competitively and avoid overpricing or underpricing.

Pricing Transparency

Be transparent with your clients about your pricing structure. Clearly outline what is included in each package or service, any additional fees, and payment terms. This transparency is key to building relationships founded on trust, and helps clients make informed decisions, leading to current clients retained and new clients gained.

Here are some pricing models you can adopt:

  • Fixed packages - these are packages with set prices. For instance, you might offer a "Starter Social Media Package" that includes a certain number of posts, ad campaigns, and monthly analytics reports at a fixed price. Fixed packages can make it easy for clients to understand what they're getting for their money and prevent scope creep.
  • Hourly rates - charging clients based on an hourly rate. This can be beneficial if your services are highly customized, and the scope of work varies from client to client. It allows you to bill clients for the actual time spent on their projects.
  • Custom pricing - involves creating tailored quotes for each client based on their specific needs and goals. This approach offers flexibility but requires careful analysis of the client's requirements to provide an accurate estimate. You can also offer complimentary services to help gain more clients as you are just starting out.

Test and Adjust

As you gain experience working on client campaigns, be ready to adapt your pricing strategy based on client input and industry benchmarks. It's important for agency owners to be open to changes in pricing to stay competitive and profitable. Keep in mind that pricing isn't set in stone - it can and should change as your business expands and your expertise develops. The main goal is to offer value to your clients while making sure your pricing supports sustainable business growth.

Set Up Your Agency Operationally and Legally

Setting up your marketing agency operationally and legally involves several crucial steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant, equipped for success, and ready for growth. Start by developing a detailed business plan outlining your agency's goals, target market, marketing strategies, revenue projections, and growth plans. This plan will serve as a roadmap for your agency's success. Your business plan should also include choosing the legal structure of your digital marketing agency, such as a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC (Limited Liability Company), or corporation. Each has its own implications for taxes, liability, and management.

Next, you'll need to register your digital marketing agency. Depending on your location, you may need to register your business name with the appropriate government agency. This often involves filing paperwork and paying registration fees. We recommend tools like Stripe Atlas that can help you incorporate your startup online for your desired state. Then, once you register your digital marketing agency, you'll be required to obtain any necessary permits and licenses to legally operate. Compliance with industry-specific regulations is crucial, and our How to Start an Agency Course will help simplify this tedious process.

Finally, you'll need to open your agency's business bank account and obtain a business credit card to keep your personal and business finances separate. This helps with accounting, taxes, and financial transparency. Our recommendations are:

  • Brex - a corporate credit card with reward points (up to 50,000 Brex points) that integrates with Deel, an HR, compliance, and payroll platform.
  • Ramp - a corporate card and finance automation platform with a $500 sign-on bonus.
  • Mercury - banking services tailored for startups that offer a $500 back discount with a $10k deposit.

Set Up Your Workspace, Equipment, and Necessary Software

Creating a productive workspace for your agency is essential. Designate a dedicated area, whether it's a home office, co-working space, or leased office, ensuring it's comfortable and organized. Once you have your digital marketing agency space, you'll want to do the following:

  • Invest in necessary equipment, including computers, monitors, printers, and office furniture, keeping your hardware and software up to date for efficient digital marketing tasks.
  • Identify and acquire the essential software tools such as marketing automation platforms, analytics tools, content management systems, graphic design software, and project management tools.
  • Establish a reliable internet connection as it's vital for digital marketing work, and set up professional communication tools like email, video conferencing, and internal messaging apps to facilitate client and team interactions.

Grow Your Digital Marketing Agency

To launch and grow your own digital marketing agency, it's important to focus on providing excellent customer service and practicing diligent financial management (or hiring an expert to do this for you). If you prioritize delivering outstanding results and exceptional customer service your agency can establish a positive reputation and eventually generate client referrals.

Simultaneously, maintaining vigilant financial management by closely monitoring income, expenses, and business profitability will help you be a proactive digital agency owner that is prepared to adapt pricing strategies when needed to sustain healthy financial growth.

Want to ensure you are providing clients with excellent customer service? Download our Notion Meeting Notes Template, and never miss a detail!

Acquire Your First Clients

Client acquisition is a crucial aspect of growing your business. To succeed in this endeavor, it's essential to invest time and effort in identifying and reaching out to potential clients. Networking and attending industry events can be effective ways to find clients, and leveraging your existing connections can provide valuable referrals and introductions. Our How to Start an Agency Course includes a module on how to utilize LinkedIn DMs to authentically reach out to potential clients and pitch your agency's services.

Offering initial discounts, complimentary services, and promotions can help attract early clients, while highlighting your expertise in your field will instill confidence in potential clients. Additionally, consider creating a Client Referral Program to incentivize existing clients to refer new business your way.

Craft a Winning Proposal

Crafting a winning proposal is essential for digital agencies aiming to win projects or partnerships within their target market. A well-crafted proposal demonstrates professionalism and understanding of the client's needs. To create a winning proposal, begin by conducting market research on the client's industry, understand their marketing goals, and then customize your pitch to address their specific challenges and objectives. Tailoring each proposal to the unique requirements of potential clients demonstrates your commitment to addressing their specific challenges, increasing your chances of building relationships, winning their trust, and ultimately their business.

Clearly outline your proposed solution, highlighting the benefits you can bring with persuasive language and visuals to make your proposal engaging and easy to digest. Lastly, don't forget to proofread and edit your proposal for clarity and professionalism, because attention to detail can make a significant difference in winning over potential clients or partners.

Build Your Portfolio And Customer Testimonials

Building a portfolio is a crucial step for all digital marketing agencies. To begin, consider offering your services to a select group of clients at competitive rates. These initial projects and client campaigns will serve as the foundation of your portfolio. As you complete these projects, make sure to showcase the successful outcomes and results you've achieved. Providing evidence of your capabilities will help attract more clients in the future. You can check out Slam's case studies for examples on how to showcase client work on your website.

Market Your Agency

Every great digital marketing agency requires marketing and branding, beginning with the development of a robust brand identity that is communicated via a professional website and a strong presence on social media platforms. Implementing effective social media marketing, content marketing, Google ads, and even email marketing strategies is a comprehensive way to attract and retain clients.

A well-established online presence requires you to utilize a variety of digital marketing channels to optimize your reputation and reach. When walking through the process of how to start a digital marketing agency, here are some non-negotiables you will need in order to build your agency's online identity:

  • A compelling web design built with the help of web development experts that implements search engine optimization best practices and in-depth keyword research - check out our SEO keyword research template
  • Active social media accounts and a detailed social media marketing strategy
  • An email list to aid in email marketing and lead generation
  • A solid content marketing strategy that includes blogs, videos, infographics, and more - Canva is great for creating beautiful, fool-proof images and infographics for web design and social media

Operations, Onboarding, and Processes in Your Agency

It's important to develop efficient processes in your agency for client onboarding, project management, and reporting, among other things. Implementing project management tools and communication platforms like Notion can streamline operations. Additionally, gathering the right resources and talent to run your agency ensures that you have the necessary expertise and capabilities to meet your clients' needs effectively and deliver outstanding results.

Remember that continuous learning is crucial for agencies to remain competitive in the ever-evolving digital marketing industry, so staying updated with the latest trends and technologies through ongoing education and training is essential.

Tools and Software Recommendations

Selecting the appropriate tools is paramount in optimizing your digital marketing efforts. Invest in essential digital marketing software such as SEO tools, automation tools, email marketing platforms, and analytics tools to share marketing insights with clients to enhance your overall strategy and effectiveness. Here are some of our top recommendations:

Get our comprehensive list of tools and software when you download our How to Start An Agency Course! 

Hiring Employees and Contractors

When it comes to building and scaling your digital marketing agency, hiring the right individuals to create your agency's core digital marketing team is key. As your agency expands, think about bringing on additional team members or freelancers from Fiverr or Upwork to manage the growing workload and broaden your service offerings.

Prioritize hiring individuals with the relevant digital marketing skills and experience that complement your strengths and contribute to your digital agency's success. Training and developing your team members is essential to ensure they're aligned with your agency's goals and standards.

Using Chat GPT to Improve Processes

Leveraging AI-powered tools like Chat GPT can significantly improve various processes at any digital marketing company. Whether it's enhancing customer support, streamlining content creation, or optimizing data analysis, the capabilities of Chat GPT can be a valuable asset in boosting efficiency and productivity by streamlining workflows and helping with time management. 

Download our How to Start a Marketing Agency Course to access our bonus Chat GPT module! 

Final Thoughts: How to Start A Successful Digital Marketing Agency

Starting a successful digital marketing agency is a journey that requires dedication, continuous learning, and adaptability. While there may be challenges along the way, the potential for success and fulfillment in helping businesses thrive in the digital world makes it all worthwhile. By following these 13 steps, downloading the How to Start a Marketing Agency Course, and staying committed to your goals, you can sustainability start and scale your thriving digital marketing agency!

Interested in how to start different types of digital marketing agencies? Check out our guides:

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