With low initial costs and no need for equipment or office space, your digital marketing startup is just a few steps away from becoming a super profitable reality.
Business at a glance
For a busy first year, consider the above as a solid baseline. Depending on experience and clients, it's *very* possible to exceed $110,000 per year.
$50-550 for a business license (depending on your location).
No official qualification is required by any regulatory bodies to be a digital marketer. However, education is available from countless institutions, from community colleges to online learning platforms to Ivy League universities.
How to start your own digital marketing agency today
Unlike some other startups, launching an online marketing business doesn’t need to take a long time or cost a lot of money. There are just a few things that you can do right now (no admin or hand-wringing required) to get your company prepped and ready to go.
Set your services
Since your online marketing business is based on your skills and experience, you should start by selling services that you are comfortable providing right away. Rather than trying to be everything to every client, it can be helpful to zero in on a niche to keep your business focussed and to ensure the services you provide are well-executed.
Here's a list of potential services (and a few other essential details).
Social media marketing (including influencer marketing)
Search engine optimization (SEO)
Software as a service (SaaS) marketing
Online advertising (Facebook, Google Ads)
Video (YouTube, Instagram Stories, TikTok)
Mobile marketing (smartphones)
What to charge
Yep, it's a big range. When in doubt, ask contacts in your network what they charge, or what agencies they work with charge.
Attention to detail
Marketing experience and/or education
You might choose to combine a couple of these niches if you have the expertise. You also might want to further specialize in a specific industry that you know well. For example, social media marketing for the video game industry, or content marketing for health technology. By specializing, you give yourself a shot at becoming the go-to person for that niche, hopefully encouraging clients to seek you out.
How much does it cost to start a marketing agency?
You’ll be happy to find out that starting a marketing company online doesn’t cost much at all. With no office space to rent, no heavy equipment to purchase, and almost no supplies necessary, in some states you can get away with paying next to nothing to get going. Common costs include:
Business registration, starting at $0 for sole proprietors in most states
Business licensing, ranging from $50-550 depending on your state
Business cards (optional) $20 for 100 cards depending on design and print options
A note about business cards: while you don’t strictly need them, business cards can be useful for in-person networking, even if you intend to work entirely from a laptop in your pyjamas. The local boutique where you buy bath bombs could be your next social media marketing client, but they have to know how to get in touch.
And how much should you charge?
Rates for digital marketing services range quite drastically from $50 per hour to $500 per hour or more. This scale is determined by your level of experience, the market in which you operate (bigger cities command higher prices), and the services you provide. For example, basic SEO copywriters might only charge $50 per hour if they work in a smaller city for local clients, whereas an advertising copywriter working on a national YouTube campaign could get triple that amount or more.
You can also choose to quote project rates for clients if it suits your needs and makes your clients happy. Sometimes a predictable amount on the invoice is all it takes to convince a customer to sign the contract, since they won’t be worried about unexpected costs. Per project rates are also good for digital marketers who are just starting out, since they give you the time and flexibility to do research and learn new skills along the way, without running up a tab for your clients.
Now go build a marketing agency website
As a digital marketer, your website is critical to the success of your business. The bulk of your clients will visit your website at some point on the journey between prospect and customer, whether they search Google and find you, type your web address in from your business card, or receive a link as part of a referral. But not every digital marketer has web development and design skills.
If that sounds like you, Durable has you covered. The AI website builder will take a small amount of information about your business and generate a comprehensive, professional website for you, complete with copy, images, colors, fonts, contact form, and more. And it takes just 30 seconds to make it happen, so there’s no reason not to build your website right now. Want to see an example? Check out this digital marketing website template.
If you want to get cracking in the next three seconds, you can do that right here👇
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With the foundation of your business set to receive clients, it’s time to actually go look for some. As a marketing professional, you might be inclined to spend a lot of time and money coming up with a complicated strategy, but when you’re first starting out, casting a wide net is probably the best course of action to find your first few clients. Here are some promotional tactics:
Share your website with anyone and everyone in your network
Consider producing thought leadership content for a blog or social media accounts—write about your marketing niche
Ensure your LinkedIn company page is filled out, linked to your website, and that you post on LinkedIn regularly
If you think you’ll encounter potential clients in real life, hand out business cards with reckless abandon
Prep for payment
When you’re getting close to locking down your first client, it’s a good time to make sure you can bill them and they can pay you, quickly and conveniently. The best way to make it happen is with an easy-to-use invoicing tool like the one from Durable, which generates beautiful, professional invoices with integrated payment options and sends them to your clients automatically.
Where does the money go when your invoices get paid? The best place for business income is a business bank account, and Durable Money is the easiest way to get one. It keeps your personal and professional finances separate (essential for paying your taxes) and works hand in hand with your invoices and website.
Once your marketing agency starts to grow
After you’ve found your first few clients and you have a little money coming your way, it’s a great time to implement a few simple things to ensure your business finds continued success.
Brand your digital marketing business
If you started your agency under your own name, now is a good time to think up a brand name that is more memorable to start creating an identity for your operation. Try the AI business name generator if you’re having trouble coming up with ideas.
It’s also a good idea to choose brand colors and design a simple logo to add to your business identity. These will be super helpful when creating future iterations of your website, business cards, invoices, email signatures, and more.
Build out your marketing strategy
You know what you’re doing when it comes to digital marketing, but here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing:
Competitive analysis. Start looking at your competitors—what do they charge, what tactics do they use to find clients, how are they promoting themselves? Use what you learn to improve your own marketing strategy.
Understand your client. With some clients under your belt, you’ll begin to notice the signifiers of an ideal customer (as well as the signs of a client that might not be worth your time and effort). Noting what makes an ideal client can help you outline your target market, making it easier to find the types of contracts you want in the future.
Send email. You probably already know that email is more effective than social media. People tend to actually read it—amazing! So send everyone in your contact list newsletters, promotions, discounts, thought leadership content, and anything else you want to talk to them about.
Webinars/podcasts. If you’ve got a mind for multimedia, consider starting a podcast or hosting webinars where you can discuss your digital marketing niche and further build your brand. Just be careful not to give away too much for free.
Set up a CRM. You need a way to keep track of your contacts, from potential customers to active clients, suppliers, and more. Client relationship management software is the best way to make that happen.
Purchase business insurance
As a digital marketer, in many cases you’ll be deeply embedded in companies, giving you access to sensitive information and systems as well as control of their brands. That leaves you open to liabilities, many of which you can’t easily control. That’s why you need business insurance—to protect your personal and professional assets in the event of a mistake that leads to legal trouble. Be sure to talk to a broker you trust to understand your options before purchasing business insurance.
Setting yourself up for the future
So you’ve got steady clients and you can finally breathe a little bit—time to relax, right? Not necessarily. With a small financial and time buffer, it’s the ideal moment to lay the groundwork that will see your digital marketing agency grow according to your vision for the company.
Write a digital marketing business plan
You found success by jumping headlong into the startup phase of your digital marketing agency. But to ensure the future continues to see success, it’s good to have a plan. A business plan can help you set goals, outline strategies to achieve them, and provide a helpful document to refer to when times get tough. If you need help getting started, the U.S. Small Business Administration has a great template for download.
Register your business entity
There’s a solid chance that you started your marketing agency as a sole proprietorship. It’s the fastest and easiest way to get rolling. But there are advantages to registering as a formal business entity, such as an LLC. These types of registrations require more paperwork and higher fees, but they offer protection from liabilities, increased access to funding options, and important tax benefits. If you decide you’d like to explore formal business structure options, be sure to work with a CPA or business attorney to determine which one is right for you.
Scale your digital marketing agency
Eventually you’re going to run out of hours in the day in which you can personally work for your clients. At that point, your revenue will level off and the growth of your business will stagnate. Not to worry though, there are things you can do if you’d like to further expand your business.
Raise your rates—this is the easiest way to boost your income and your clients won’t hesitate to pay a little more for quality service, so don’t hesitate to do it.
Hire part-time, full-time, or contract employees to help you with administrative and client-focused tasks, freeing you up to accept more clients. Or hire traditional marketing experts and expand into real world spaces like print, billboards, TV, radio, etc.
Secure financing or investment for major expansion projects, such as purchasing office space or new technology that will help you work faster.
However you scale, remember to spend carefully where it counts, and don’t get too big, too fast. You bootstrapped your way to success in the first place, so keep that mindset even as you build your marketing empire.
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