How to start a Digital Marketing Agency

June 7, 2019 / Comments Off on How to start a Digital Marketing Agency


Before we begin and talk about how to start a digital marketing agency, take a look at this article by Carolanne Mangles and you can see why setting up a Digital Marketing agency could be a good and very lucrative idea.

Now I am talking here about setting up a full-service agency, which the link above explains nicely and this is in relation to a statistic in the above article explaining that from their research, only 15% of companies had integrated their traditional and digital marketing activities.

This presents a clear opportunity.

tips-to-start-a-digital-marketing-agencyI am going to write this article from the perspective that I had co-owned a Digital Agency in Dallas, Texas, and also from a client perspective, as I have used traditional and digital agencies extensively throughout my business career.

As you read through my initial experiences, you will see what I expected and what I received and this is real of course!

I am a tough, but fair client by the way, but I do expect people to be able to do what they say they can do.

I would like to state that I am not concerned about some debates I here concerning traditional vs digital marketing as to me, marketing is marketing, and my co-founder in our marketing business, Jack Spirko, would often talk about the job of marketing is to make sales redundant, so now it depends on how you want to deliver your agency services or go the whole hog and start a full-service agency. Jack was also one of the best salespeople I have ever come across, so he had the best of both worlds and could easily handle the debates in my company between the business functions of sales and marketing.

I met Jack when I found a full-service agency in Dallas and made an appointment to go and see them.  I was greeted in a very nice office by two people – one was the ‘front’ or salesperson and the other, the Creative Director.

Now I had met one of the best Creative Directors in London, who used to work for the famous advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi.

So I knew what to expect and having dealt with one of the best, I was in for a surprise in Dallas!

I don’t care about how plush an office is, I simply want to get down to business and move on – I was in Dallas, which was the new headquarters for both my technology staffing business and a new software company that I just started and I wanted to basically re-brand and that is a dream for an agency.

After the initial greeting, we went into the Boardroom and got down to business – a brief was taken, existing designs and logos were reviewed, we had a nice lunch and then I went away and waited.

The designs that followed, with the accompanying sales copy were absolutely uninspiring, to say the least.  I then have the usual calls back and forth (when I could get hold of the people) and still, what came through was unacceptable.  I hadn’t paid any monies over at this stage, so I decided to call a ‘crisis’ meeting to iron things out or walk away.

It was at this meeting where I met Jack, who had presented both of my companies back to me as if he owned them – he also tweaked the logos and my immediate reaction was ‘done.’  I actually thought he was part of the company and jokingly asked him if he could attend a client presentation with me later that week and he looked at what I then knew to be the owner (the salesperson) and the whole thing was laughed off.

On my way out I followed Jack and he stopped at his desk – it turned out that he was only the SEO consultant. Talk about an underutilized talent.  Eighteen months later, Jack joined my company and ended up heading the marketing function, we both started an agency, Franklin-Spirko and then he left to follow his passion, which he is enjoying to this day.

Much later and still in Dallas, I hired a very well-known agency to launch a specific digital product for a joint venture I had with a partner.  This time the people came to my office and we had the usual ‘front person and some of the technical team.  The product was in a very specific niche that anyone would have understood and the plan was to start the process organically and to build a landing page, blog, and commit to X amount of blogs pre months for three months, and away we went…or so I thought.

The first blog post was let’s just say not exactly what I wanted and a good analogy would be that you order 1000 t-shirts in white and they turn up in black!

We parted company but not before some heated discussions and taking a legal approach to the resolution.

So there are some real experiences that may help you to realize that the #1 issue to cover is sales and customer service.

You are starting a business and I don’t care if it is totally online, you need to give customer service and if you want to secure real clients with real companies, you had better learn how to sell.

My goal in selling is to reverse the process and educate the customer about how to buy and that means creating a compelling ‘no brainer’ Value Proposition.

I am keeping these tips generic as it is impossible to go into the various sub-sections and layers in one article, so think about the principles


#1 – Define Your Target Market

Please remember one thing – you are in the marketing business and whether it is online or offline, you must never forget the purpose of marketing.

Are you going for a full-service agency or are you going to start the process with a specialization such as copywriting?

Whatever you decide you are going to need a business plan and I have covered this in another article here.

Don’t skip this step as done correctly, it will pay you dividends down the line.

The goal here is to have a crystal clear focus BEFORE you start the process of taking action.

#2 – Establish The Correct Legal Entity for your Business

It is essential to talk to professional advisers here and the money will be well spent – you need to set up the right corporation in relation to the legal entity and your tax situation.  To do this in the UK take a look here and in the US, here.

Now you need to get some taxation advice and this will come from your accountant or CPA in the US

#3 – Finance

Whatever decision you make you will need to look at finance – the first thing to consider is how are you going to live?  Starting a business takes an enormous amount of time, energy and commitment and it is the time factor that you should consider most.

How much money do you have put aside to keep you going – 6 months, a year, or are you going to borrow money from family, friends or financial institutions?

You are starting a company and this takes careful financial planning.

#4 – How Are You Going To Get And Engage With Clients?

It’s a Digital Marketing Agency right?  But that doesn’t have to mean that you are not going to take the client acquisition and engagement process offline – in fact, I think it is the best way.

Even if you are targetting online entrepreneurs, you can differentiate by putting yourself in front of customers and many don’t.

Yes, the world is becoming digital, but that doesn’t mean we cannot push the ‘human factor’ to the max, especially while everyone else is trying to stay behind a machine.

Let’s say that you are an SEO expert and you are looking to get monthly retainers for your SEO agency from clients to get you started and you have offered a ‘launch’ pricing structure for say three months.

What do you think would be the easiest way to get clients for your SEO business?

You could attend networking and local business events, search the web and find websites that are not optimized for SEO and contact them via email as two examples…or…you could do both and also pick up the phone and talk to people.

Here is a quick guide to help you make those cold calls and you will realize that it is a lot easier than you think!

  • You have to go to the business owner and tell them something (website critique)
  • Make the call and if you can’t reach the person, ask for the assistant or someone senior
  • Explain to them that you have created a report and would like to send it to them and that you are phoning to simply introduce yourself before you send the report, so they know who is behind it
  • Put the phone down

No selling, no ‘pitching, no stress…just a simple means of saying ‘hello’ in a very no intrusive way.

What you will find is that people will ask questions and guess what…you give answers…but remember the rules:

  • No pitching
  • No selling
  • No stress

No so many of you may be thinking that this is crazy and why not sell and ‘close the deal.’  I am a ‘long game’ salesperson and I believe in ‘educational selling.’

Let your report do the work.

You have seen all of the campaigns that create information, send it out to a landing page and start the conversion process and you are doing the same, with a personal approach – this is what you may end up recommending for your clients – a ‘hybrid’ model.

Try it!

If you are a full-service agency, then do the same – only the report will be more comprehensive.

Business is all about selling and I am going to write an in-depth article on the subject as there is only so much I can cover here, but I want people who have never sold, to be able to sell and not fear the process.  It really isn’t difficult and by trying out what I have suggested above, you are getting out of the sales mentality and simply learning how to converse with your clients in a natural and meaningful way.

The rest will follow.

#5 – Keeping Your Clients

Once you have landed a client and even with the smallest and most non-lucrative deal, you absolutely must maintain the engagement process in the same way that you landed the client in the first place.

As I have said, my style of selling is educational – I would rather have people buy from me than sell to them and it has worked well for me over the years and it will work well for you too.

In the most unintrusive way, never miss a chance to help your customer grow their business by explaining how you can help them.

You are, after all, there to help solve their problems, so don’t be shy in doing so – if you see that there is something better you can do with their website, then tell them, if you feel that they could benefit from a logo update, do the same and if you believe that they are really missing a trick with something major, have the confidence to tell them.

But…only because it makes business sense and never for the sake of doing it!

I used to explain to all of my salespeople that if you want to increase your business by 10%, then look no further than your existing clients.

Always remember that a client is precious..but there is another side…and that is to learn when to fire them.

In our agency Jack Spirko and I had the tagline:

“Brutal Honesty, Creative simplicity.”

We had absolutely no problem in ‘telling it how it was and we didn’t really care about the consequences because telling how it was meant it came from our hearts, our passions, and beliefs.

We were at the ‘early adoption’ of Digital Marketing in the US as far as convincing regular bricks and mortar clients to move their operations online, so we decided to augment our business by taking joint-venture opportunities with entrepreneurs who had good ideas, that wanted to put them online.

I must stress that it was more my idea than Jack’s and to be fair, he really didn’t like it as we were dealing with individuals and corporations and I was far more enthusiastic in helping them than Jack.

This was because I would always try to see the best potential outcome and spend hours working with people who quite frankly, would never work out.  Jack has a saying that is with me to this day and I have learned a lot from this:

“You cannot breathe for people.”

We would have been better off focussing purely on the corporate sector and although it would have taken more time, it would have been far more successful.  So you have to know when to persevere and when to change direction – I got them both wrong, so don’t make my mistakes, but equally, you have to learn when to say “no” to a client.

#6 – Scaling your digital marketing agency

Growing companies is a passion of mine and I simply love breaking into a new account where a large company has either missed the opportunity through lack of focus or complacency.

I had a coaching session once with a guy who had built a very successful energy business and he was a very nice guy who told me his ‘rags-to-riches’ story,

The coaching session lasted about 30 minutes and the message I gave him was something like this:

“Remember when you took early redundancy from your employer and how hungry you were to be a success – the passion you had and the drive to make your life better.  Think of all of the hardships you have endured, the deals you have lost, and how you simply refused to quit and would never give up.  Now you are enjoying the fruits of that journey and this is precisely right now you should be worried.”

He looked at me with absolute amazement asked me what I meant – I simply added that there were a load of just as hungry people, who were in the same shoes as you, who are looking to take as much of your business as they can.

He looked at me, smiled, and said, “that is what I needed to hear.”

Ideally scaling a business should see you diversify, even if your diversification is within the same market sector.

But here is the golden point – if you have forged a good relationship with your clients, have understood their businesses, then your clients will determine how you scale.

It is all about working proactively…working in anticipation of needs before they arrive…which brings me to the last part…

#7 – Knowledge

You may be in the Digital Marketing business, but you are still ‘in business,’ so never stop learning about the world of business.

Keeping up with the trends in your industry is a ‘given’ but here is another thing you can fo to help you scale and gain credibility.

Start appointing advisors – the more credible your company is, the more clients you will attract and secure.  Hunt around for people who will lend their credibility to you in return for a small fee or even for some work.

Take a look at the advisory Boards of large corporations and it will not hurt you to emulate that strategy in your own way.

Plus of course, you get another network and possibly a client base.

I will finish this article with another saying that should be “right up your street” as we say in the UK:

“Stop competing…Create!”


Last modified: July 12, 2021