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How to Start A Marketing Agency

Alla Slesarenko
Content Writer
Get a pre-made project plan based on this how-to guide.
With the advent of the Internet, starting a business has become easier than ever. It has affected almost all fields. And as everyone in the past used to apply to agencies on Madison Avenue, the Internet now allows anyone to start a marketing agency staying at home in your pajamas.

Do you think you’re ready to start your digital marketing agency? Do you feel you have enough experience and creativity but don’t know how to start a marketing agency and what steps to take?

In this guide, we’ll dive deep into the how-tos of starting your own marketing agency from scratch and the essentials of growth. Although this process is not easy or fast, it can be very empowering and rewarding. Starting your own marketing agency comes with fierce competition and (potentially) huge upfront costs. But the market is projected to account for more than half of global ad businesses by 2021 so if you're waiting for a time to take action, the time is now. This guide will help you plan and execute your marketing business ideas, and ensure the journey ahead goes as smooth as possibl

Pick the Niche or Go Broad

The marketing world is presented by a variety of digital agencies. They range from general advertising firms to agencies offering their services in SMM, SEO or influencer marketing. Your first step is to research the market and define what niche makes the most sense for you. These are some of the most popular types of marketing services:

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is an essential part of any digital marketing strategy. It’s a process of making website pages more relevant for search engine queries. SEO allows you to optimize a website to make it rank higher than its competitors in Google and other search engines. You consequently attract more traffic, catch more leads, boost your sales and increase your revenue by increasing your exposure. 
SMM (Social Media Marketing) means using social media to increase brand awareness, build a relationship with your audience and get feedback from customers. According to Digital 2020 reports by We Are Social, 3.8 billion people are active social media users. Social media platforms are an ideal fit for promoting products or services. The largest networksFacebook, Twitter or YouTubeare equipped with in-depth analytics tools, allowing an agency to build a better strategy for its clients by closely monitoring ad spend and campaign performance. It’s important to devote as much of your attention to both your content as well as the promotion of your content.

Content marketing is an invaluable marketing approach based on engaging as many people as possible with relevant and valuable information. It can vary from a well-researched blog post, an attractive video or a weekly email newsletter. If your agency focuses on content marketing, be prepared to spend a lot of time on research and editing. Your future clients have an unprecedented amount of content to choose from, and the competition for their attention span can be exhausting. To start such an agency you should be competent in content marketing. You need to be great with persuasive writing, be able to edit and sell your content to a client.

Influencer marketing is one of the most efficient marketing tools nowadays. Although sometimes considered to be a part of social media marketing, influencer marketing grew exponentially in the last couple of years, thanks to platforms like Instagram, where opinion leaders are involved in the process. A marketing agency focused on influencer marketing will spend a lot of time discovering thought leaders and trying to convert them into ambassadors for their brand. When successful, the results can be astounding, after all, people always tend to trust other people over impersonal brands.

Broad agencies provide a full package of marketing services. Broad agencies tend to grow fast and hire staff for both inbound and outbound marketing. They deal with a ton of niches but the costs can be huge. It’s worth starting such an agency if there are people with a lot of expertise in the team or you have an opportunity to work with contractors who have the required expertise. 

After researching and analyzing a market, think about what you are good at and how many people you can hire. Most important, is to decide what niche you want to pick for your marketing agency. Don't rush. If it's difficult for you to assess your options, ask advice from somebody who runs a similar agency to the one you consider starting. During your communication and collaboration, you’ll be able to gain insight in their marketing pains. Having tried and tested information on hand will be a good basis for starting a marketing business. 

Depending on your personal preferences, you can pick a particular niche or opt to go broad in marketing. If you have limited resources, it's probably better to pick and focus on a specific marketing service at least in the beginning. After all, it's better to offer a few exceptional services rather than a bunch of mediocre options. On the other hand, going with a broad agency will allow you to grow more rapidly but the risk (and cost) will be much higher.

How to start and not to fail

Everyone wants to start a marketing agency that will be successful and profitable at the same time. Here are some money-saving and time-saving tips that will come in handy when starting a marketing firm.

Find a Co-founder

To avoid unnecessary stress and delegate duties it is a great idea to have a co-founder. It can be your friend, co-worker or anyone who you can rely on, and who shares your vision about how to run a marketing business. The ideal will be to have a co-founder who compensates for a skill set which you lack. Combining your experience, skills, and imagination will give you a recipe for success and cover more business opportunities. A partner will keep your spirits high in difficult times and motivate you to go ahead no matter how hard the obstacles in the way.

Start an Agency Like a Side Hustle And Grow It

You’ve probably already heard this piece of advice but it's paramount to talk about it again.

Start your agency as a side hustle and grow it gradually until it becomes a day job. Your mindset is important. Especially on a limited budget, it's all too easy to burn through your startup resources trying to find clients while your marketing agency is a new kid on the block. Start small. Even if the endgame is to have your own marketing agency, don't be afraid of helping other firms as a freelancer it will allow you to hone your skills, get some experience and build a network of potential clients.

Moreover, make sure you’re self-organized and motivated. Starting your own business is exhausting. You will dedicate your evenings after a workday by dealing with the tasks required for your future marketing agency. You’ll focus on content, website design, the list of your professional offered services and the pressure to deliver results immediately. It’s a marathon.

When you’ve expanded your client base enough and saved some money to get through an initial couple of months, now will be the perfect time to launch your agency.

Start Agency By Acquiring a Big Client

The next thing you should think about is who your target audience is. 

By creating a portrait of your perfect client you will be able to determine to whom you’ll provide your marketing services. It is a splendid experience to start an ad agency by working with a big client. 

You can offer your help in developing a new marketing approach for a major company for the sake of getting experience and to boost your portfolio. Big businesses usually have enough resources for implementing interesting ideas. Besides, you will face all the stages of creating and executing a marketing strategy. It will allow you to express yourself and acquire new skills.

Make Sales Stand Before Marketing

One more secret of a successful marketing agency is to pay attention to sales first and not to marketing. Sounds counterintuitive?

You might be running a marketing agency but it's still a business. And every business needs clients.

If you focus only on offering state-of-the-art marketing services, you might be very proud of your work... but you might also close after 6 months because nobody knows about your firm. Make sure you spend as much time as possible on acquiring a steady stream of new clients. Invest your time in networking when you have enough work, then it's time to think about marketing.

How to Grow Your Digital Marketing Agency

When all is clear about how to start a social media marketing agency, the next essential question is how to grow it to an outstanding agency. It is important for firms not to only create and execute great marketing strategies for clients but also to run and develop their own business. Take advantage of the tips below to create your own step-by-step plan for growing your marketing agency.

Think About Marketing Your Agency Before Starting It

Are you going to start a marketing firm? Think about what sets you apart from your competitors. Specify your distinctive features, values and the main message of the agency. For example, it can be an agency that helps to improve visibility on the Internet for small local businesses.

A brand is more than just a name. It's a starting point that provokes the interest of potential clients after all if you can't make your website recognizable, how would you do it for the client? So, if you were planning to go with 'Best Marketing Agency LLC', it's probably not a good idea. It’s of vital importance to think about your brand and the main message that you want to convey to the target audience. 

First of all, you should think about the identification of the brand, a landing page, and a presentation, which is all going to help to sell your services. You can then present your agency via social media. Nowadays, people tend to assess services by viewing the brand’s accounts on social networks. Having a vivid and engaging profile on Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest where you display your works and communicate with the audience can help you to effortlessly attract more clients to your marketing agency.

Furthermore, a website with a modern and user-friendly interface can also boost the popularity of your agency. This is where you provide comprehensive information about your offered services and the mission, values, and vision of the agency, a  list of your successful works and contact data for getting in touch with you. It is highly recommendable to focus your attention on the website blog and to post relevant, useful SEO articles that will help increase your website’s visibility in Google search engines and attract potential clients. 

Define Your Business Model

The crucial issue for a new business in development is creating an agency plan for making a profit.

In other words, you need a business model. Your business model is a high-level plan for running your business and staying afloat. It should project the costs and revenue of your business, which will help you understand what services make the most sense for your bottom line and how much money you should charge your clients.

The simplest model is the hourly pricing model. It is a convenient model if you work with an intermediary and the deliverables of the project always change. But it requires discipline, documentation and close communication with a client.

The flat retainer model is based on a pre-set and pre-billed price for a certain period of time or value of your work. For example, a client can pay $10,000 for 100 hours per month. Or it doesn’t matter how much time you’ll spend on the project, a client pays for a finished amount of work, for example, $10, 000.

A lot of agencies use a percentage of spend pricing model. In this case, your client pays a predetermined percent of their ad spend. For example, if the client's ad budget is $10,000 and you agreed to a 10% percentage of spend, you'll get $1,000 for your services.

Another common method of charging clients is using a commission-based pricing model. In this case, an agency receives a fixed percentage of the money a client spends on media as a fee. It is a so-called “agency discount” which averages a certain percent of the media budget and is actually a commission. For instance, a client decides to spend $10,000 on a social media promotion campaign, which means collaboration with an influencer, and the agency discount is 10%. In this case, the influencer charges $9,000 and the agency gets $1,000 as a commission.

Make a Stable Sales Flow before Investing in Growth

Sales is a key point in running any business. It is required to put all efforts into generating as many as possible leads. You should create a custom base and present services according to prospects’ needs. A great idea is to track sales productivity metrics and analyze the data. These metrics can help to grow a marketing agency and understand sales predictions of the clients more accurately. Only after the process of sales is established and you sell services in a high enough volume, is it time to think about expanding the team and hiring new people.

Make Client Satisfaction a Priority

Customer satisfaction is the cornerstone of organizing your business. During communication, you can better understand clients’ requests and their expectations about the services.

Never underestimate the importance of a personal connection between you and your client. A big commission can help you run your business for a couple of months but a long-lasting relationship will allow you to survive for years. It leads to repeat orders, referrals and boosts the brand’s image. The most efficient methods to keep in contact with your clients are to perform sales follow-ups, provide special offers to loyal customers and ask for their feedback. 

The power of retention in the long-term success of an agency should never be underestimated. In truth, it’s more beneficial to retain existing customers than to win new ones.

How to Operate a Marketing Agency

Operations is a crucial side of running a marketing agency that subsequently affects the agency's bottom line. Well-organized operation management influences the work of the whole team and the end results. Specify inner workings in the agency and divide them among members of your team. It allows each person to deal with a specific part of the project in which they are specialists. Besides, as the owner, you will be able to focus on growing and developing your business in this type of scenario instead of spending all your time on day-to-day activities.

Divide, Automate and Delegate

When you find ways to automate and delegate some tasks, it improves the workflow and increases the productivity of the team. The scope of operations depends on the size of your agency and its specialization. There are a couple of key aspects that should be standardized to remove inefficiencies and misunderstandings. Make sure you’ve taken care of the core processes in your agency: task management, CRM, billing, and taxes. When you proceed to a new project, an initial step is to organize the work process of the team. In this case, you need to gather the team and determine the scale and scope of work:
  • Create tasks,
  • Divide the tasks between the team members,
  • Set deadlines. 
But your main job is managing all the tasks through their life cycle. To ease this process and achieve goals quicker, it is the best solution to use one of the time management tools, which allow planning, tracking and reporting the work of each team member. With an online project management tool like Casual, it is possible to plan and display individuals’ activities as visual workflows.

It furthermore has a user-friendly interface, so all team members can view the whole process, add changes in the tasks and mark them as done when accomplished.

Automate Billing with Software

When it comes to billing, there are a lot of things to keep in mind. Among them are billing terms, invoice formats, contract set up, etc. It is important to find solutions for these issues to ensure a well-run payment process and avoid unpleasant situations with customers. There are some pieces of advice that can help to increase cash flow and improve a billing system:
  • To have the contact set up,
  • To set the conditions with clients upfront;,
  • To choose the billing method,
  • To manage the call collections,
  • To provide a clear invoice.
Adopting the above-mentioned practices will help with the prevention of billing discrepancies and will impress the clients as a professional marketing agency. Moreover, you can use simple and secure Freshbooks accounting software that enables you to invoice, organize expenses and save all the data in the cloud, so you can access them from different devices whenever and wherever.

Use a CRM

To save all data in one place, managers usually use a CRM system. It’s a tool used for collecting all the information about the target audience and their needs. CRM is critical for managing all the agency’s interactions with current clients and potential clients.

Using data analysis about clients’ history with the agency helps you keep in contact with customers and improve business profitability. Having the data helps you improve the productivity of your agency, with a focus on customer retention and providing additional services. Hubspot is one of the most popular CRM platforms that include the data about each client for the marketing, sales, commerce, and service departments of your agency. 

Automate Taxes

And let's not forget about taxes because no business can be run without them. The best way to do taxes for your agency is to hire a professional accountant or use accounting software to conserve tax data. According to the Balance’s research, below are the 7 best tax software programs of 2020:
  1.  TurboTax
  2. H&R Block: Runner-Up
  3. TaxAct Premium
  4. Credit Karma
  5. Jackson Hewitt Premium
  6. TaxSlayer
  7. Liberty Tax

Using these platforms will enable you to know what you can write off and ensure you’re up to date with all the bills.


A marketing agency isn’t an easy business. If you’ve decided to start one, be ready to face some issues. But as a reward, you get an opportunity to implement your best ideas, connect with smart people and earn a lot of money. After all, the industry's growth won't stop any time soon.

That is of course if you can survive the initial growing pains of starting an ad agency in 2020.

So, now you know how to start an advertising agency and what questions you should ask yourself in advance. Hopefully, with this guide you’ll be able to manage inner processes in the agency, create a growth strategy and motivate your team to aspire to new heights.
Story by
Alla Slesarenko
Content Writer