How to Start A Successful Digital Marketing Agency [PDF + Course]

Brand Strategy & Identity
Team Slam
Helping you win online

Digital marketing is an incredibly powerful tool, and we can safely assume that you understand the ROI it can provide for companies if you’ve landed here. Now all you need to do is actually figure out how to start a digital marketing agency. We're here to help!

Agency owners might spend weeks - we're talking hundreds of hours - trying to find the right resources to start a successful business. There are so many things you need to know to start a digital marketing agency, like how to find a bookkeeper, what systems you need to start the agency, and how to actually operate the business.

Unfortunately, most courses and guides on how to start an agency tend to be mere lists of things to do, but no tools to execute. It can be overwhelming and altogether discouraging with the overload of information out there. That's why we created the Slam's How to Start an Agency Course, which includes documented processes that we used to start our successful digital marketing agency, Slam Media Lab (Slam). This is why it was created. The course covers hundreds of hours of research/learning including:

  • The behind the scenes of how I decided to start my own agency during the pandemic and, in 2023, have earned over $2 million.
  • How to pinpoint your niche, perform research for it, and where to start your client search.
  • Everything you need to know about legal and operational setup, from business registration to banking solutions.
  • How to craft winning, high-conversion proposals.
  • How to market your agency with branding, SEO, and social media strategies.
  • How to leverage ChatGPT to streamline your processes.
  • …and more!

The Slam Agency Starter Course is a downloadable resource and a log-in experience for new or aspiring agency owners to find the resources needed to operate and run a successful digital marketing business. Our course provides the support you need by saving time and reducing the barrier to entry to start an agency.

With 10+ hours of video content, 20+ templates, and assignments designed to translate knowledge into action, our goal for the course was to distill all the work we’ve done in three years.

For a limited time, we're offering 75%OFF for the first 5 people who sign up with this link using code AGENCY100.

How Did We Start Our Digital Marketing Agency?

Slam Media Lab is an award-winning digital marketing and design agency based in San Francisco built for founders and brands shaping the future. With over a decade of digital marketing and branding experience, we are experts in providing our clients with web design and development services that enhance their brand and boost their online presence. We also specialize in content marketing, SEO, and brand strategy.

We started our business during the pandemic and have grown to over 30+ customers in just 2 years of operation. It took us hundreds of hours to start our agency, and we've compiled everything you need to know to start yours.

The How to Start an Agency Course is a one-stop shop for everything you need to start your digital agency.

Course highlights include:

  • How to choose and market your digital marketing agency niche
  • Step-by-step instructions on how to start a digital agency both operationally and legally
  • How to grow and scale your digital marketing agency

Let's dive in! 

What Is A Digital Marketing Agency?

Digital marketing, also commonly referred to as online marketing or internet marketing refers to the use of digital channels to market products and services. An agency is a business that provides services to another business. So, a digital marketing agency is a business that provides digital marketing services to other businesses.

Is a Digital Marketing Agency a Good Business to Start? 

To keep it simple – yes – digital marketing agencies are good businesses to start. Any successful business needs a sound digital marketing strategy and often requires the outside help of a digital marketing agency. Namely, they do not have an in-house marketing team, and they don't have the time to efficiently run their marketing efforts themselves. 

Many businesses –  especially small businesses and nonprofit organizations – want to spend their time in the weeds, focused on the everyday operations of their business and their overall mission. For that reason, digital marketing agencies can be invaluable for businesses that understand the importance of digital marketing, but do not have the time to execute their own digital marketing efforts.

By starting a digital marketing agency, you are creating a valuable service that helps clients save precious time and makes them more money. You as the founder of a digital marketing agency are providing the answer to the question so many businesses are trying to answer – how do we gain more customers and make more money without the time and marketing skills to do so? 

What Types of Digital Marketing Agencies Can You Start? 

The digital marketing industry is a vast space that is ever-evolving, and this is good news! Since there are so many different types of digital marketing channels and services, there is sure to be a niche that you can hone in on.

As you are thinking about starting your own digital marketing agency, ask yourself which marketing skills you are an expert in or are interested in learning more about. Where can you add value? Are you a pro at website design, or is content marketing more your speed?

Here are some different types of digital marketing agencies that potential clients might hire based on their digital advertising needs. 

  • Social media marketing agencies - help businesses utilize social media platforms to achieve marketing and business goals.
  • Influencer marketing and social media management agencies - build and manage relationships with influencers to get them to promote a client's products or services on their social media platforms.
  • Web development and design agencies - specialize in creating and designing websites for clients including UX (user experience) design and back-end coding depending on the website builder used.
  • Pay-per-click campaigns (PPC) agencies - manage online paid advertising campaigns for clients. PPC includes various digital ad formats such as Google search ads and YouTube video ads.
  • Social media ads (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram ads) agencies - similar to PPC agencies, social media ad agencies manage paid advertising campaigns on social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.
  • Content marketing agencies - create and distribute videos, graphics, and written materials to generate business leads.
  • Video production agencies - create and distribute video content on behalf of a brand as part of an overall marketing strategy.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) agencies - help businesses grow their keyword rankings and organic search traffic to rank on search engines like Google.
  • Email marketing agencies - curate email marketing reach-out campaigns to drive more website traffic to a company's site and generate more inbound leads and sales.

5 Reasons Why Digital Marketing Agencies Are So Valuable

There are so many value-adds that a digital marketing agency can provide a business. Here are five reasons why digital marketing agencies are so valuable:

  1. Expertise
  2. Cost-effective
  3. Fresh perspectives
  4. Access to the latest tools and technology 
  5. Measurable results 


Digital marketing agencies provide a level of expertise that is hard to beat. Unless a company has a developed in-house marketing team made up of subject matter experts, most companies would be hard-pressed to find better digital strategy consultants. Agency employees have the unique ability to work with businesses across a breadth of industries, and have access to the latest tools and technologies at their fingertips.


Hiring a digital marketing agency is more cost-effective than hiring an in-house salaried employee. Companies don't need to worry about hiring a salaried marketing employee with health benefits and a retirement plan.

Additionally, there is the risk that a company hire might not be worth the time and energy to pay, train, and onboard. Working with a digital agency often comes with a higher return on investment in a shorter amount of time, with less risk.

Not to mention, the latest marketing tools can be quite expensive, but necessary for successful campaign execution. Instead of a company purchasing these tools in-house, an agency has access to these tools already without any extra cost.

Fresh Perspectives

Since digital marketing agencies work with many different types of businesses at any given time, they are exposed to more perspectives than a marketing professional who works for one brand.

Subject matter experts can take strategies they see working for one client campaign and test them with others. Digital agencies breed a sense of flexibility, creativity, and agility in their employees that can be hugely important to keep a company's marketing strategy exciting and progressive.

Access to the Latest Tools and Technology 

Digital marketing agencies stay competitive by staying ahead of the latest marketing trends. Agencies have access to the latest technologies and understand the nuances of these tools by working in them every day.

Often, the hardest and most time-consuming part of introducing new tools like SEO software and analytics tracking is the learning curve. Hiring agency experts eliminates that learning curve, and sometimes agencies will even provide education to their clients on how to use these tools.

Measurable Results 

It's fantastic if a business decides to invest in its marketing efforts, but it means virtually nothing if the results of these efforts are not captured. Agencies provide businesses with analytics tracking and marketing channel attribution that helps tell a data-driven story about what digital marketing channels are working, what new services need to be added to improve the strategy, and when a strategy pivot is required.

Sharing these measurable results not only proves the value of the agency to the client, but ensures clients are spending money on marketing strategies that they can directly tie to revenue, rather than throwing money at the proverbial marketing wall and hoping something sticks.

Can I Start a Digital Marketing Agency Without Any Experience? 

We wouldn't advise starting a digital marketing agency with zero knowledge of digital marketing whatsoever and no desire to learn – that wouldn't be a very sustainable business venture. However, even if you haven't worked as a digital marketing consultant, that doesn't prohibit you from starting your own agency.

As long as you have a passion for digital marketing, you can build your knowledge from there. A good way to start learning is by taking online courses and obtaining certifications to develop your skills. Another avenue is looking for a white-label provider, which are other agencies you can hire to execute campaign work and provide expertise on your agency's behalf.

7 Steps To Building Your Digital Marketing Agency 

Regardless of which type of digital marketing agency you choose to start, it's vital to follow these seven steps when building your digital marketing agency.

  1. Decide on an ideal client profile
  2. Determine the services you will provide
  3. Determine your agency's business structure
  4. Determine your agency's payment model
  5. Set up your agency operations
  6. Find clients
  7. Build a team of subject matter experts

Decide on an Ideal Client Profile (ICP) 

Deciding on your ideal client profile or your target audience is the first step in building a profitable business. As an agency owner, you get to choose who you want to work for, and choosing the right client could dictate the success or failure of your business.

For example, Slam Media Lab's ideal clients are mission-driven companies in education, health, immigration, climate, tech, and venture capital. Slam's CEO, Silvia Li Sam founded the agency as a Hispanic marketing agency with a desire to serve an underrepresented Hispanic community–particularly Asian-Hispanic–in marketing. Naturally, Slam's ideal client also prioritizes social awareness.

With that example in mind, ask yourself these key questions to hone in on your ideal client:

  • Is your ideal client an individual, a small business, or a large company? 
  • What industry or industries do you want to serve? 
  • What problem does your agency solve? 
  • What values does your ideal client possess? 

Determine the Services You Will Provide to Clients

Since there are so many digital marketing channels, it is important to carefully choose which services you will provide to your clients. We recommend offering multiple services, but not too many. If you try to offer too many services, you run the risk of appearing like a jack-of-all-trades, but master-of-none to new clients.

To help determine your agency's core digital marketing services ask yourself:

  • What value do you hope to bring to a client?
  • What are your marketing skills?
  • What are you passionate about providing to clients? 
Want to ensure your client services are always at their best? Download our Notion Meeting Notes Template, and never miss a detail!

Determine Your Digital Agency's Business Structure 

Determining your digital agency business model is vital for creating a solid business plan and a profitable business. To legally start your business, you'll need to consider the following:

  • Your agency's business structure
  • Registering your business
  • Obtaining required licenses and permits
  • How to file taxes as a business
  • Acquiring business insurance
  • Choosing which banking services and payment cards to utilize

Deciding on a Business Structure

First and foremost, decide on your business structure. Will your agency be an LLC, an S- Corp, or a sole proprietorship? Your choice affects your taxes, liability, and business registration requirements.

You'll also need to decide where to set up your marketing agency. Did you know most companies are set up in Delaware? This is due to its advantageous corporate laws –  important factors to consider when choosing where to set up your business.

To help you decide where to start your business ask yourself the following questions:

  • How flexible are a state's corporate laws? For example, Delaware's corporate laws are known to be some of the most flexible in the United States, which allows companies to structure their corporate governance and shareholder rights in a way that suits their specific needs.
  • What level of privacy do you want your business to have? Delaware doesn't require corporations to publicly disclose the names of company officers and directors. This is great for company owners who are looking for more anonymity.
  • What are the tax laws of a state? Are there any tax advantages for companies incorporated in a state but that do not conduct business within that state?
  • What do your investors prefer? Many investors, particularly venture capitalists, prefer or require companies they invest in to be incorporated in Delaware due to the familiarity and predictability of the legal system. If you have investors funding your business, consider their preferences.

Registering Your Business

Once you decide where you want to set up your business, you must register your business with the relevant state authorities. We recommend tools like Stripe Atlas that can help you incorporate your startup online for your desired state.

Required Licenses and Permits

Next, you need to obtain the necessary licenses and permits to legally run your business. Requirements vary depending on your business location and the types of services your agency will provide. You'll also need to know whether you will need a registered insurance agent if you are not working in the state where you registered your business.

For example, if you have an LLC that is formed in one state but you conduct business in another, you need a registered agent in the state where you conduct business for these reasons:

  • Legal Requirement for Foreign LLCs - if your LLC is registered in one state but operates in another, it is considered a "foreign LLC" in the state where it operates. Some states will require a foreign LLC to register with their state's Secretary of State to legally conduct business. This includes appointing a registered agent in the state of operation.
  • Point of Contact for Legal Documents - A registered agent is required to act as a designated individual or company that will receive official legal documents on behalf of your LLC such as legal summons, tax notices, and government communications.
  • Compliance with State Regulations - Having a registered agent helps ensure that your LLC stays in compliance with state regulations. The registered agent ensures that important legal and tax documents are received and handled properly, helping to avoid missed deadlines, legal complications, or penalties for non-compliance.
  • Physical Presence Requirement - State law requires the registered agent to have a physical street address in the state (P.O. boxes are not acceptable). This is to ensure that there is a reliable way to contact your business for legal matters.
  • Privacy and Convenience - Having a registered agent can provide a layer of privacy and convenience, especially if you don't have a physical office in the state.

Filing Taxes as a Business

Understanding how to file taxes as a business is another important factor to consider. This requires business tax identification. You'll be required to get a tax ID number from the IRS, or an EIN if you are a corporation or an LLC.

Business Insurance

Acquiring the appropriate business insurance is also important. Different types of business insurance include liability and professional indemnity. We recommend using tools like Gusto to acquire business insurance and register employees.

Banking Services

Finally, consider which banking services and payment cards you will utilize for business transactions. Look for corporate credit cards with reward points. 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.

We understand that the legal nitty-gritty can be overwhelming. Check out Slam Media Lab's Legal Tracker to help you stay on top of these requirements!

Determine Your Digital Agency's Payment Model

Digital agencies charge different rates across the board, depending on the services provided, the average hourly rate for digital marketing professionals, and the level of client work involved in a campaign (i.e. - charging less if a client implements their website content vs. the agency implementing content for the client).

Ask yourself these key questions when building your agency payment structure:

  • How large do you want your agency to be?
  • How many employees will you need to pay full-time? Part-time?
  • Will you charge a flat rate for your services, or will you charge for billable hours?
  • Will your clients be required to sign a contract committing to 12 months of work, or will you charge on a month-to-month basis?
  • What type of overhead will you be responsible for?

Set Yourself Up for Operational Success

Once you legally set up your agency, you'll want to ensure you have the right tools and software in place to operate your business. Start by choosing tools for priority areas like HR and team management, project management, and accounting and finance.

HR and Team Management

HR and team management includes payroll and employee benefits like insurance and 401k accounts. Here are our top recommendations for HR and team management tools:

  • Gusto - payroll, benefits, and HR platform for small businesses
  • Deel - payroll and compliance platform for international teams
  • Guideline - 401k management tool

Project Management

Project management - aka how the work gets accomplished - is pretty important. We highly recommend using Notion to keep agency teams organized internally. Additionally, tools like HelloSign - a tool for digital signatures - are super important for keeping track of project signoff documents.

Check out Slam’s templates for all of these resources. You can purchase them through the Slam Agency Starter Course or buy them individually. 

Accounting and Finance

Bookkeeping services are an absolute must to make sure your business stays profitable. We recommend QuickBooks or FreshBooks for accounting and financial management - two great options that are very user-friendly.

After you tackle these key operational areas, you'll need to choose tools for other areas such as:

  • Internal communication
  • Document management
  • Customer relationship management
  • Marketing and client acquisition
  • Domain registration
  • And more

Download the How to Start an Agency Course for our comprehensive list of recommended tools.

Find Your Clients

Now for the fun part - finding your clients! There are a variety of ways to go about this, and here is how to start acquiring clients:

  • Build your digital marketing agency website
  • Network using professional websites like LinkedIn
  • Utilize social media to build your brand presence 
  • Create a blog that showcases your industry knowledge
  • Utilize outbound sales strategies like cold emailing and cold calling potential clients

Build a Digital Marketing Agency Website to Increase Your Online Presence

Your website is an important first impression for new customers. Ideally, your agency website should prove your credibility to potential customers by exemplifying your brand identity and providing clear information on your service offerings, and ultimately, it should generate inbound marketing leads. You can follow Slam’s website launch checklist to ensure your site is set up correctly. 

There are plenty of great website builders you can utilize to build your website such as Squarespace, Framer, and Webflow – Slam is a certified Webflow Expert partner

Network Using Professional Websites like LinkedIn

LinkedIn Premium is fantastic for reaching out to potential clients, just make sure to personalize your reach-out messages! Include personal details, like if you worked in the same industries or went to the same college. The How to Start an Agency Course provides even more specific examples of how to authentically network using LinkedIn.

Ready to get your dream agency underway? Join our How to Start an Agency Course waitlist today! 

Utilize Social Media to Build Brand Presence

Create social media accounts for your agency - it's free marketing! Create business accounts on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and TikTok, then utilize tools like Iconosquare to help you track the success of your social media posts and outreach campaigns to continually refine how well they are performing.

Additionally, you can create fool-proof designs with tools like Canva that have templates for social media posts and are fantastic for creating brand guidelines documents. Having brand guidelines provides an aesthetic look that feels cohesive across various platforms. Next, add tools like Sprout Social to your arsenal to schedule social media posts across various platforms all at once to ensure you post consistently.

Finally, we recommend checking out Slam's TikTok script template and TikTok content planner for creative TikTok ideas and a clear plan to organize your content.

Create a Blog that Showcases Industry Knowledge

Make sure to create a blog on your website that showcases your industry knowledge and is also written for SEO. SEO is important because it can help push your website to the top of the search engine results pages for keywords related to your business. Educating yourself on SEO terms is a great starting point to begin to understand how to implement SEO best practices in your blogs. 

Utilize Outbound Sales Strategies

Utilizing outbound sales strategies like cold-calling and cold-emailing at a high volume to cast a wide net out to potential clients. Additionally, utilizing tools like Upwork allows you to pitch your agency services to potential clients. 

Build a Small Team of Subject Matter Experts 

Once you have clients to serve, you need experts to serve them. Upwork and Fiverr provide access to an abundance of freelancers – from graphic design to blog writing, to video production, and beyond. As you gain more clients, look to hire full-time employees and focus on fostering a collaborative and fun company culture for your employees.

Building Your Future: How to Grow and Scale Your Digital Marketing Agency 

If you've made it this far, you can see that starting a digital marketing agency involves strategic planning, client-focused services, and continuous learning. As you embark on the journey of starting your own digital marketing agency, let Slam Media Lab's first-hand knowledge and expertise guide your steps.

To learn how to legally start your digital marketing agency and how to get your first clients, sign up for our course

Interested in starting other types of agencies? Check out our guides:

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