By 2026, it’s estimated that over $835 billion will be spent on digital advertising, and in 2022, 62% of total media spend was put toward internet advertising. The world has truly embraced the power of digital marketing, and with so much growth potential ahead, it’s still an excellent time to learn how to start a digital marketing agency.
Starting an agency 20+ years ago was a farfetched dream reserved for those with lots of money and/or decades of experience. But now, with the pace of technology, you can realistically start a digital marketing agency with no experience and little capital and still make a name for yourself.
Now, we’re not saying it won’t take hustle! But with so much growth ahead for digital advertising, now is the time to start planning, building, and hustling your way to start an online marketing agency from the bottom up, and we’ve got the six steps you need to follow to get there.
How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency With No Experience: Step-by-Step Guide for 2023
1. Decide Which Services to Offer
Digital marketing has grown to include a massive list of service offerings, and the best way to start is by narrowing your focus to a few complimentary services.
Here are some options:
- Social media marketing
- SEO (front-end, back-end, local, technical, etc.)
- Email marketing
- Website design
- Content marketing
- Paid advertising
- Influencer marketing
One approach to deciding on the types of services to offer is to think about your ideal client — what types of businesses and brands are you interested in working with? Virtually any type of business owner can use the help of a skilled digital marketer, so really, anything is possible. You still need to be focused in your approach, but your ideal customer avatar should direct your service offerings.
Things to consider:
- Don’t cast too wide a net in the beginning in terms of service offerings — it will be more difficult to sharpen those skills and market your services.
- Leverage existing skills as you build out your offerings.
- You can (and should, if you want!) expand your offerings as your agency grows, but focusing your energy in the beginning feeds calculated growth.
2. Develop the Necessary Skills
The reality is that digital marketing superstars, like Mari Smith or Neil Patel, started from the bottom before they reached greatness. No one is born with innate SEO skills or is a copywriting savant at age 5. You have to develop those skills over time.
So now that you know what services your digital marketing agency will focus on, start building the necessary skills. For some people, this step takes months and others years, which is all okay! It’s not a race — it’s about honing the skills so you are an asset to your clients.
Let’s take one of these services and flesh out what kinds of things you’d need to learn. For example, if social media marketing is going to be your bread and butter, what does that all entail? You’ll need to be able to:
- Write compelling copy
- Create engaging images to use with your ads
- Set up triggers
- Learn how to use the social media ad platform of your choice
- Understand funnels
- Optimize opt-ins and sign-ups
- Run reports and analyze data
That’s a sample of what social media marketing is all about, and each of the services covered in the last section will have a similar sized list. The good news is that the internet is full of tutorials and courses that cover the exact skills you need for any digital marketing service. You can also follow digital marketers on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, and so on to learn bite-sized nuggets of information designed to help you run a successful agency.
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Beyond the core skills required to fulfill your service needs, you will also need to learn soft skills, like:
- Problem solving
- Time management
- Critical thinking
Learning how to start a digital marketing agency means you’ll be running your own business, which goes well beyond being an independent contractor who merely contracts out their services. The goal is to run a rockstar agency, and that takes more than being able to build a landing page and funnel.
Things to consider:
- Despite a financial investment, taking a digital marketing course teaches you proven strategies and can be a time saver. And you know the saying: time = money! That's not always true, but we believe it's the case in this situation.
- Stay future-focused as you gain your skills and knowledge. That means you’re thinking about where the digital marketing landscape is headed in the next few years.
3. Be a Contractor Before Becoming a Founder
One of the biggest mistakes future marketers make is thinking they’re going to start an agency on day one. The stakes are lower (and far more manageable!) when you focus on contracting out your services to other agencies and clients before going the solopreneur route.
As a contractor, you can build your digital marketing business as a side hustle. You can keep working another job, then make the switch to full-time freelancer and agency owner when you’re ready.
Things to consider:
- As a contractor, you can still build your client roster, establish yourself and your services, and lay the groundwork before diving into the deep end as an agency owner.
- Beginning as a contractor means you can scale at your own pace.
4. Choose the Right Business Model
This is something every freelancer and agency owner has to decide on, and it’s one of the most difficult things — deciding on the right pricing model. You’re trying to find the balance between creating an irresistible offer and being well compensated for your services. And as your agency grows, you’ll have more expenses and need to make sure you generate enough revenue to cover everything.
You have a few different options for how you bill your clients, and here are the most common billing options for digital marketing agencies:
- Retainer: This is by far the most common choice for agency owners because it provides stability and predictability with guaranteed upfront payments, which leads to stellar results. This kind of payment model fosters long-term relationships, with the added benefit that you can plan your agency’s cash flow and workload.
- Hourly: Another common option is the hourly model, and while it’s by far the simplest option, the difficult part is tracking the work involved in each campaign. The benefits are that you’ll avoid scope creep and it’s easier to track profitability and scheduling.
- Commission/Performance-Based Pricing: If you know you can consistently deliver high-quality work that converts, this is a feasible business model. This can be a very lucrative pricing strategy, but you’ll need to establish key metrics that your agency needs to meet beforehand.
- Flat Rate: This model involves determining a list of deliverables and charging your clients a flat fee for the project. You will need a very clear understanding of the amount of time and work involved in each project before landing on a price. This is better for agencies that are offering one-off services like SEO-audits or website development.
Things to consider:
- Pay attention to how others in your industry are charging for their services because some pricing models naturally work better than others, depending on the services.
- Think about your agency goals and how your pricing structure will facilitate those goals.
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5. Define Your Niche
Your niche defines the type of clients you work with — it’s your target client and audience, and when you define that, it makes it easier to market your agency and establish yourself as an authority.
For example, you could start a digital marketing agency that specializes in email marketing, but if you’re an email marketing agency that specializes in launching high-ticket courses, that will make you stand out when someone wants an expert. It’s a competitive advantage!
Things to consider:
- You don’t have to be 100% committed to a niche from day one. Many freelancers and agency owners fall into a niche as they grow their client list.
- The best niche is something you’re interested in, are passionate about, or have a higher level of knowledge on.
6. Find Clients
No digital marketing agency is complete without their clients, but the funny thing is that most marketers are horrible at marketing themselves. Honestly, this is another reason why we suggest starting as a contractor before an agency owner — you’ll have time to gain your confidence and build that roster!
The internet provides a wealth of options for finding clients. Seriously, it’s never been a better time to learn how to start a digital marketing agency because you have so many options for services and client acquisition!
Here are five ways to find clients for your agency in 2023:
- Create a website: Your agency will need a website at some point. It should be beautiful, user friendly, and professional, and it needs to show potential clients that you take seriously what you do. You can convey a lot of information on your website too — contact information, about your agency, what services you offer, email opt-ins, portfolio, and more. You can start simple and build out your site over time.
- Cold call/cold email: This is one of the most active client acquisitions methods. It’s a hustle that works if you stick to it. You can go through your contacts and find your ideal clients online and the reach out to see if they’re willing to work with your digital marketing agency. Be ready with an offer, how you can help, and why they should choose your agency over someone else.
- Create a portfolio: As you gain clients, start keeping track of the work you do, including performance metrics, so you can show off this work in your agency’s portfolio. Your website or social media accounts is a great way to display your past work.
- Build social media accounts: Because social media is such a huge part of digital marketing, being present on social media is a powerful tool for client outreach. This can be a very active way to find clients if you treat it like a job and post on a regular basis. Create posts that show your expertise and authority and start engaging with your client avatar. You don’t have to be active on every platform, but having a presence on each is advantageous.
- Freelance platforms: Platforms like Upwork and Fiverr, while mainly designed for freelancers, are still a solid source of clients for agency owners. You can create a profile, outline the services your digital marketing agency offers, and do active client outreach.
Remember that client acquisition is a skill in itself! You may have to TAFO — try and find out — to see which method is best for you. As your agency grows, you’ll be able to use word of mouth, but until then, you’ll have to take a more active approach.
Things to consider:
- Start with one or two strategies when you first start so you can learn and master them, but be willing to tweak your approach until you find what works for your agency.
- Think about the best way to reach your ideal client. Where do the clients in your niche hang out?
Can You Start a Digital Marketing Agency Without Any Experience
Yes! Digital marketing is a fast-growing and dynamic industry, and you have to be willing to take a do-while-learning approach. But you don’t need a background or degree in marketing or advertising to start an agency.
It’s going to take time and a lot of effort to establish yourself, but we promise that the hustle is worth it if you’re passionate about starting your own digital marketing agency.
The core things to remember are as follows:
- Decide on the types of services you want to offer, and be future-focused with this and the next point.
- Gain the skills required to deliver on your service offerings.
- Spend time first working as a contractor. You can keep your day job, scale at your own pace, and the financial commitment is far lower.
- Determine how you want to price your services.
- Landing on a niche doesn’t have to happen on day one, but it will help you market your services.
- Land those clients! An agency is only as strong as its client list, so land them and keep them coming back for more.
It ultimately depends on where you live, but the costs are extremely low compared to start-up costs in previous decades. The cost includes business checking account and LLC start-up costs, which is typically a one-time or annual fee. The total cost is less than $300 a month.
We recommend starting as a freelancer first so you can learn the required skills and learn digital marketing best practices before diving in headfirst with an agency. You can get started with the Facebook Side Hustle Course which teaches you proven strategies for running Facebook and Instagram ads for small businesses.
New digital marketing agencies may bring in around $10,000 a month while established agencies can bring in six-figure earnings.