How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency in 6 Steps: The 2021 SMMA (Social Media Marketing Agency) Guide
What is pushing you to learn how to start a digital marketing agency? What is the driving force that motivates you? Is it that voice in your head getting louder every day telling you to build a business? I know, it’s like an itch in your brain that you can’t scratch!
You want to succeed and build a digital marketing agency that makes you six or seven figures every year.
People dream about building this amazing future but most quit before they put in the effort. You can find tons of digital marketing and SMMA courses online but the fact that you are here, right now, means that you are starved for success.
There is no opportunity more exciting and financially rewarding for Millennials and Gen Z right now. The creation of social media and digital marketing disciplines is as close to a real-life gold rush as we’ll ever get. In fact, social media users are expected to eclipse 3 Billion by 2021.
If you are ready to get started and commit yourself to making your dream a reality, keep reading to discover the secrets about how to build your own digital marketing empire.
But before I give away all the digital marketing secrets, let’s touch on the most common questions I get asked.
Can I Start With No Experience?
**If you already have experience in digital marketing, scroll on by this section. If you are new, this is the place to start!**
Okay, you are reading this because you are new to digital marketing and worried you can’t start without experience. But I am here to tell you that, YES, you 100% can start a Digital Marketing Agency with no experience! Why? Because experience comes from doing. And I’ll prove it.
I had a chance to build a relationship with one of my students recently and I want to share her story with you:
Kalah went to college and pursued a degree in Biology. But at some point, she knew it didn’t feel right. So she decided to pursue a different calling and closed that chapter of her life. She started with ZERO experience in Digital Marketing or running an agency and now she is running her own marketing agency and producing over $100,000+ per month.
Kalah is just one example. So many great companies come from founders that never ran a business before. That’s because you don’t need to know everything to start.
So what do you need to start? You need knowledge of digital marketing principles and marketing strategies. What you don’t need is an understanding of running a business. That is what you can learn as you go.
There are tons of resources available that will help you be a great owner and founder. You can find a mentor or coach that is available via video conferencing. If you prefer to meet face-to-face you can find coaches and mentors in your local area that you can meet in person. Check out our mentorship program as one example.
So, now that you know you absolutely CAN do it, let’s dive into the steps of exactly HOW to do it.
How Much Does It Cost To Start a Digital Marketing Agency?
First, I want to emphasize the one key thing you need to know about the costs of starting a digital marketing agency. Ready? It is INSANELY affordable! All you really need to start is a laptop and the internet. That’s it! There is a pretty amazing lack of overhead costs, which is why starting a digital marketing agency is such a smart move. So let’s break it down.
In terms of office needs, you really can start anywhere if you have a computer and internet. So working from home would have basically zero extra cost (always a number I like!). If working from home isn’t an option, you could also look into coworking spaces where you pay a small monthly fee and share the space with other start-ups and freelancers. This is also an awesome way to network. And on the high end, you could rent your own office space—but be warned, that means you pay for everything, from electricity to internet and office furniture. Better to start small and scale up as you grow.
Minimum Costs To Starting An Agency
- Business License: $100 – $300 (Depends On Where You Live)
- Software: $100 – $250 (Depends On What You Choose To Use)
- Website (Optional): $100 – $750 (Depends On Whether Your Hire A Developer)
Total Estimated Costs: $300 – $1,300
Another small start-up cost is paperwork. But luckily, for starting a digital marketing agency the costs are also crazy affordable. For example, the cost of a business license depends on your location, etc. but usually runs between $50 to a couple of hundred dollars. For these needs, I personally use a service that I talked about in a recent article about How To Set Up A Marketing Agency Legally. It’s easy, inexpensive, and ensures I don’t miss anything. I always get the question, “do I need a license to start”. If you’re wondering the same thing make sure to check out that article I just mentioned!
Document/Paperwork Checklist To Get Started Legally
- Federal Business License
- Local Business License
- EIN/Tax ID (U.S) OR VAT ID (European Countries)
So you’ve got your business license and your laptop. Now what?
For software needs, there are tons of great free options or options with scaled prices. Google Drive, Google Ads (for keyword research), and Facebook Business Manager (for online ads) are all free to use. Google Workspace (formerly G-Suite), starts for as low as $6 per month. There are also great keyword research tools, customer relationship management systems, website building tools, and social media management systems that are free or low cost.
Personally, one of my favorite tools is GoHighLevel, which offers a super affordable all-in-one package for your digital agency needs. Also, if you use GoHighLevel, I’ll send you the landing pages, emails, and text message sequences that we used to get 5-10 new clients per month.
Take a look at GoHighLevel and some of my other favorite tools of all time and see which ones can work for you. But remember, this really is the kind of business you can start with very little or no money and scale up as you go.
But, Wait. Can I Really Start a Digital Marketing Agency with No Money?
Yes. Starting a digital marketing agency with no money is exactly what I did. Most business owners start with no money. All you need to build a successful social digital marketing company is a passion for your career and the ability to talk to people.
“That’s all I need?”
Well almost. I was exaggerating a bit. As I mentioned before, you will need a laptop (or some kind of computer) and internet access to actually do the work.
And I know what you’re probably thinking…
“But Jordan, you just mentioned above that the minimum cost is around $300”. The cool thing is you don’t actually have to purchase any of those things until you actually land a client!
But your passion will get you through the rough spots. When you’re not making the money you want, but you know it’s coming later. And connecting with people, every day, is how you expand your network and sell your services. Don’t be afraid of any exposure that puts you in meetups or groups. These groups will provide great relationships and insights in a variety of industries that can lead to more jobs later.
Step 1: How to Make Money & Get Clients for Your Digital Marketing Agency
First, let me assure you that you can absolutely make money with digital marketing. Businesses need digital marketers to reach their customers. Large companies are spending millions across all digital channels. Small business owners want to compete. There are about 90 million small business Facebook Pages currently on the platform. That is a lot of social media accounts and even more opportunities for your marketing team. And that’s just one small example.
You need to make $8,333.33 per month to make $100,000 per year.
Your average agency client spends about $2,500 per month.
This means you need to get 4 clients spending $2,500 per month which brings you to $10,000/mo. in revenue.
This turns out to be $120,000 per year for your agency
I have to mention, some experts in the community think social media marketing is oversaturated. Digital entrepreneurs and consultants are trying to become rich by building their organization with no real expertise or proof of credibility.
All I have to say to that is:
If you do quality work and treat your customers well, you can build businesses in any sector and be successful! This customer-first mentality will be the foundation and will accelerate growth.
Niching is a great way to break into digital marketing. A niche is a subsection of a larger category. Digital marketers might have niches within certain business sectors (i.e. doctors, higher education, e-commerce) or types of marketing. Niching, especially within business sectors, can be useful because different sectors have different needs, legal constraints, and concerns. And the more you know about a specific field, the more likely they are to hire you.
So how to consider your niche? You may already have some experience in certain niches that will give you an advantage over other agencies trying to break into that niche. Play to your strengths and use the terms specific to their industries in conversation. The ability to understand industry terms and speak their language is how you impress prospects and win more business.
The other key benefits of niching early on are that it helps you standardize your processes and grows and solidifies your value as an expert in that area. Once you’re established in the niche, then you can more easily diversify. For the new digital marketer, niching is an excellent way to break in!
Do some research to find the best SMMA niches and think about what industry is hot right now and what industries show future potential.
How to get clients for my digital marketing agency
Getting clients and selling marketing services seems impossible sometimes, right? The secret is all about how you approach it. There is a strategy involved that will help you win more clients and keep them.
5 Steps To Find Clients
- Qualify Business
- Value Offer
- Info Meeting
- Create Proposal
- Present Proposal & Close
Time is the only thing I can’t get more of, so I need to protect it. Prioritize time management, create a schedule, and live by it.
And what should you prioritize within that time to get clients? Cold calls aren’t the only route. It may sound counter-intuitive, but you need to be your own best client. Use the strategies you know for yourself. Optimize for SEO, create hyper-targeted ads, and reach out to your niches via LinkedIn, and get out from behind your desk to network and connect. It may sound uncomfortable at first, but you have to believe in yourself to convince others to believe in you. And it will get easier with practice, I promise.
If you are serious about growing your agency and landing SMMA clients, you have to put in the work. Most importantly, you have to learn that rejection is a part of the process, and it’s a numbers game.
Check out my article on my 5-step process to landing agency clients for a complete guide.
Services to Offer
Similarly to figuring out your niches, you need to decide what services to offer. And your services should ideally align with your niche. Why? Because the niche you pick will have specific service offerings that work better than other options!
Also, it’s key to remember that as CEO you’ll want to focus more working ON your business and less IN the business, or you won’t be able to get more clients and optimize operations. Don’t try to do all the marketing work yourself. When you get your first customer, make sure that you price your services appropriately so that you’ll be able to outsource from the jump. (and don’t worry, we’ll cover pricing services in the next section).
When you are ready to scale your digital agency, your services will begin to expand. Here is a quick list of services I provide in my marketing business:
- Social Media Content Creation & Management
- Social Media Advertising
- Website Design & Development
- PPC (Pay-Per-Click a.k.a. “Google Ads”)
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
- Email Marketing & SMS Marketing
- Content Marketing
Now let’s look at pricing your services, so you can make a profit from the great work you are doing.
Pricing and Services
If you want to actually make money with your marketing agency, you need to charge your clients enough so you can begin to realize the dream of building your empire.
I know that sounds like a half-baked statement but you’d be surprised how many people told me they have lost money because they missed the mark on pricing when they quoted the job. 🤦🏻♂️
This will directly affect your earnings potential. If you don’t want to run your agency into the ground learn to build a quote that covers all expenses. It’s always better to charge too much than to not charge enough. If you charge too much you can always throw in some free consulting to make up for misquoting. You also need to create a menu, of sorts, for your clients so they can select the package they want. It makes it easier for you and the client knows exactly what they are getting.
I made a full breakdown on how to price your SMMA services. You can also find a pricing PDF there for you to download.
I’ll see you on Thursday, right?
Step 2: What You Need To Learn To Be A Digital Agency Owner
Like anything else, before you start, you need to learn the proper skills. There are countless options available online that help you understand the basics. Before you purchase a digital marketing course (if you haven’t already) you need to watch and read some free content.
Some of the free content available online right now is better than college textbooks (*cough* overpriced). You can learn the basics of social ads and social media services by watching youtube. (shameless plug to my Youtube channel) 👉🏼
I mentioned you need to learn the basic skills of running a social media marketing business. You will be learning a lot so it’s ideal to break it into sections.
Here is a full list of the skills you need to be familiar with to become a digital marketer.
I have an abbreviation for the parts you need to focus on. It’s called SWEPS+CM. SWEPS+CM represents the 6 pillars of key services offered by SMMAs and digital marketing agencies.
I’m going to briefly cover all of the marketing concepts you’ll need to learn to be an agency owner below, but if you want an in-depth training that covers each of the topics then check out my SWEPS+CM article when you’re ready. Alright, let’s dig in.
Social Media Marketing
Obviously, you need to learn everything about social media. But what details of social media activity do you need to focus on?
You need to learn the details of all the characteristics of social media networks. Some of the biggest social media platforms include Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and YouTube.
When you start learning more and begin to notice the various posts, you will notice there is a stark contrast in the type of content that is being produced for each social site. This is something a lot of marketers miss early in their careers. Understand what kinds of content work best with different platforms and why.
Another key component of social media you need to learn is social ads. Because of the ways the algorithms have changed, the days of going “viral” through organic reach may be long gone. But paid social ads allow you to reach a hyper-targeted audience. You’ll need to know the basics of the types of ads, how to optimize them for each platform, and how to budget and measure ROI (Return on Investment).
Don’t worry if this all sounds new to you. Get more in-depth info in my article on the different social platforms and ad strategies. Your drive to be better will be rewarded soon.
Website Marketing & Website Builds
Everyone knows what a website is, but few know what all goes into creating a website that people want to use and visit repeatedly. And even less know what it takes to create a functional work of art that stands out from the rest of the web.
The coding, the structure, the flow, the look and feel, and how visitors interact with the website are all factors that will be considered when building a company website or any new site.
There is way too much to get into here but I did write an in-depth piece about websites and what goes into building a website.
Email Marketing is the act of sending a communication via email with the intention of that email eliciting a response from the reader, usually to achieve a goal established before starting the email campaign.
If you are thinking that email marketing doesn’t work, I hear you…and you’re wrong. Email Marketing has been around for a few decades and it keeps producing big results.
Every marketer includes some form of an email campaign in the overall campaign strategy. If you are creating a strategy for a SaaS (Software as a Service) product, an e-commerce store, professional service company or for your own agency, emails will be essential in accomplishing your campaign objective. And emails are extremely budget friendly too.
Check out my Email Marketing Tips for Digital Marketing article to learn more.
PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Marketing
PPC (Pay-Per-Click) is a category of advertising that involves creating a campaign around specific keywords that are predetermined by the marketer and then inputted into the ads’ management system of a specific search engine.
This is a fairly easy process to grasp but much more difficult to implement at a high level.
The basics of a PPC campaign:
- Keyword Research (Targeted Keywords and Keyword Exclusions)
- Campaign Setup and Monitoring
- Ad Copy
- Landing Pages (Design and Copywriting)
Check out my Pay Per Click For Marketing Agencies (Full Guide) for more in-depth info.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Marketing
SEO is the work that goes on behind the scenes to make web pages appear on top of SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages). Because this visibility is hugely influential in who sees your info and finds you, is really important for the digital marketer to understand for several reasons.
First, SEO has, by far, the biggest ROI in the long term. If you can rank high organically for your major keywords, you are guaranteed high traffic to your site. And as you’ll see below, like email marketing, it is a fairly low-cost strategy that gets great results for clients because there are people looking for these services right now.
If you do not have experience with SEO, learning this may take some time, so if it is not one of your skills you can hire for (outsource) it. Make certain you understand the basics, so you can communicate your clients’ and potential clients’ needs to your employee.
- keyword targeting
- site speed
- performance optimization
- content value
- and more
- citations & backlinks
- brand mentions
- guest posts
- and more
On-page SEO (On-page Search Engine Optimization) is the action(s) taken to optimize content and HTML source code on any site page or blog post in order to clearly define what the webpage is and what information is provided. It is also considered the “technical” version of SEO. This information allows search engines to understand the page, thereby providing their users with the most relevant answers to their questions.
Off-Page SEO (Off-Page Search Engine Optimization) is the activity undertaken by the owner or representative of a website to promote the website or content in order to drive traffic and create awareness. The promotional methods used are done outside the realm of the actual site and can include brand mentions, guest posts, citation/review sites, Google My Business, and outreach. This segment of SEO more closely resembles Public Relations (PR).
Another growing field of SEO is local SEO. Local SEO (Local Search Engine Optimization) is the action(s) taken by a local business owner or their representative to market a local business online to local customers and thus ensuring the business will show in relevant search results for local queries.
Local SEO is a rapidly expanding sector of marketing. This is due to the amount of searches done by users that are local focused (82% of users searched with the phrase “near me”).
Content marketing is the act of creating, distributing, and promoting content that is produced for the benefit of the consumer with the explicit goal of driving consistent traffic, leads, and sales for a site.
The content produced can vary in type and success. They can be blogs, videos, infographics, checklists, downloadable templates, and much more. The key is that they need to be high-quality content and relevant to the customer. This isn’t about making a sale, but creating a relationship.
If you know about content marketing, and you are ready to take it a step further, check out this full breakdown of how to automate content marketing.
Taking Your Agency To $1,000,000 And Beyond (Steps 3-6)
To be absolutely honest with you…some of you will not succeed with your business models for social media marketing services. A loss of focus when hitting an obstacle has made it easy for aspiring entrepreneurs to give up.
You will not do that… Right? (Seriously, say it out loud. I don’t care if the people at Starbucks think you’re weird.)
Say “I WON’T GIVE UP!”
OK, now that’s done, let’s talk about the last steps for building a successful digital marketing agency.
Step 3: Set Goals For Your Agency
Goals are essential. But only if you set the right kinds. Set realistic targets that are achievable. I like to start with micro-goals. They are little goals that I celebrate on the way to the big ones.
A list titled first year goals that includes:
- Acquire Business License (LLC)
- Build Internal Business
a. Create Service Offering & Pricing
b. Hire Team
c. Create Operational Workflows (SOPs)
d. Build Sales Process
- Find & Manage 5+ New Clients
These goals, both the bigger ones and the micro-goals, will be a constant reminder of where you are trying to go. Anytime you think about taking on another project or doing something new, review your plan and ask yourself:
“Will this help me reach my goals this year?”
If the answer is “No” then you saved yourself a lot of time and money. I am not telling you to throw out the idea. The best advice I can give you is the method I used. Push it to the back until it aligns more closely with your current situation.
Step 4: Create a Business Plan/ Company Structure/Set Up a Business Legally
We touched on this briefly in the costs section, but another key step in growing your business is coming up with a business plan, company structure, and setting that business up legally.
A business plan is essential because it acts as a roadmap toward your goals. While some business plan templates out there are quite lengthy, you probably don’t need more than a one-page business plan to get started. Think of it as a more robust elevator pitch, both for prospective clients, but also for yourself. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, but it helps to know where you want to go.
Setting up your business legally has implications that can have unfortunate side effects if you choose wrong. A quick consultation with an attorney and an accountant will give you clarification and help to protect you in the future. You don’t want to deal with the IRS for violations if you can avoid it from the start.
A quick reference table for you to review the basics will give you an idea of where to start when you speak to your consultants. Personally, I suggest an LLC to start.
|Sole proprietorship||One person||Unlimited personal liability||Personal tax only|
|Partnerships||Two or more people||Unlimited personal liability unless structured as a limited partnership||Self-employment tax (except for limited partners)|
|Limited liability company (LLC)||One or more people||Owners are not personally liable||Self-employment tax|
Personal tax or corporate tax
|Corporation – C corp||One or more people||Owners are not personally liable||Corporate tax|
|Corporation – S corp||One or more people, but no more than 100, and all must be U.S. citizens||Owners are not personally liable||Personal tax|
|Corporation – B corp||One or more people||Owners are not personally liable||Corporate tax|
Step 5: Build A Team & Outsource as Needed
At the start of your journey as an agency owner, the key is to start small. Do not take on the extra challenges involved with payroll until you can’t keep up with the workload. Focus on your niche and the service that you can best provide to gain experience and practice.
As you meet or exceed the expectations of your first clients and keep them happy, they will re-sign your contract because of the trust you built. This trust will produce more connections and referral business.
In my opinion, once you land your first client you should immediately bring on a contractor or a VA (virtual assistant) to begin fulfilling campaigns. REMEMBER: Your job as the CEO is to work ON the business, not IN the business!
Having the right people in place to help you grow your Digital Marketing Agency is essential to your future scalability. This is one of the most important aspects of growing marketing agencies.
When you hire a virtual assistant or a new team member, you want them to complete a task your way. To ensure your staff is doing the work correctly, they need training and guidance. Take the time to train them properly, and they will not let you down. So how do you train them? Enter workflows, operations, and SOPs. 👇
P.S. I have LOADS of content about outsourcing and building a team! Head on over once you finish reading to check them out. This is the KEY COMPONENT to earning passive income!
Step 6: Establish Your Workflows, Operations, & SOPs
Workflows are the actions and activities required to complete a task. They can run linearly or in parallel. An SOP is a Standard Operating Procedure. These are often detailed instructions on how to complete the tasks in the workflows. For example, if you get a new client that wants to utilize your SEO services, you need to know what steps to take to implement the service for their business. Without workflows and SOPs, you can waste a lot of time and resources! These documents are worth their weight in gold!
Once you have your workflows and processes documented, don’t stop there. Work with your freelancers to review the workflow and make adjustments as needed. I have a quarterly meeting with all departments to review processes and get feedback to see if we need to update or change any of the current processes and procedures. Here is a LIVE video I made about operations for marketing agencies.
Final Thoughts On Building A Digital Marketing Empire
Becoming a digital marketer or building a digital business is the best option for anyone looking to build a future of financial freedom. If you want to retire in 10 years, start building now.
It will not be easy, and you will fail a couple of times, sure. That is no reason to give up. There are plenty of resources available to help you with anything you are struggling with. A positive mindset will keep things in perspective!
As the great Michael Jordan said: “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”
So are you ready? Because right now you have TONS of options/resources to get your agency started AND save time and money while doing it.
Kalah Haley (making $100,000+ per month), John Artzberger (making $50,000+ per month), and Maria Thrasher (making $75,000+ per month) can all attest to the fact that my programs just work.
Start with the BEST training program for building successful marketing agency owners and sign up for my FREE minicourse on how to start a marketing agency (via email).
And check out my YouTube channel with super detailed step-by-step video lessons.
Or tell me in the comments what, if anything, is stopping you from starting a social media marketing agency and how I can help.