In today’s day and age, you shouldn’t need to attend a ‘Business 101’ course to know that marketing is essential for your agency.
Be it the traditional mediums of advertising to leveraging a growing number of digital channels, there is no shortage of ways to market your offerings.
However, with a countless number of others competing with you for people’s attention, it’s certainly not easy to start an agency nor outperform the competition.
In fact, for many businesses, investing in every component necessary to effectively stand-out is cost-prohibitive, or not an efficient use of company resources. But that doesn’t negate the need for marketing — cue outsourcing to dedicated marketing agencies.
With a global value of $1.2 trillion, gargantuan marketing and advertising spending certainly spells opportunity for marketing agencies.
On the surface, looking on how to start a marketing agency should be a no-brainer, but there’s a lot under the hood you need to be aware of before proceeding.
So, here’s the only guide you will need.
Does the Market Need Another Marketing Agency?
Just because it’s a giant industry, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s room for yet another player. The best way to determine if there is the room is to find if there’s a problem, i.e., are the players in it today fulfilling the needs of their clients?
However, you must break things up across multiple levels to see if that is (or isn’t) the case.
We started by looking at HubSpot’s State of Inbound Report for 2018. In it, 61% of companies are reporting that “generating traffic and leads” is their top challenge.
Moreover, 39% of these companies have also had difficulty proving return-on-investment (ROI) from their marketing.
We can infer that the majority of businesses are not getting enough visibility with their target market online, which would imply that their existing digital marketing (e.g., SEO and content marketing) efforts are not necessarily optimal.
In the same study, salespeople are saying that referrals are still their best source of leads, both in terms of quantity and quality. The least useful leads to sales are those from marketing.
The final metric we want to show is that conversion rates. Getting leads is only half the battle, but translating those gains into sales is another issue. We got the following from Unbounce (measuring landing page effectiveness).
We acknowledge that the conversion rate information here is a limited snapshot (i.e., of landing pages, not marketing efforts at a whole).
However, if you look at the gap between the best rates and median rates across each industry, it’s apparent that businesses are well below their actual potential in terms of converting leads to sales.
These are gaps that aren’t being filled, at least in today’s market. So there is a problem and, in turn, a potential opportunity for new entrants. So yes, the industry can take another agency and you should learn how to start a marketing agency.
Pick a Focus: B2B or B2C?
Your next step is to pick your focus: business to business (B2B) or business to consumer (B2C).
The one you hone in on will determine the roster, specialization, and capabilities of your agency. Moreover, each one has its own set of challenges and opportunities.
Business to Business
In B2B marketing, you are generally dealing with a long — and increasingly slower — buying cycle. This is because, in most B2B scenarios, you have companies dealing with expensive purchases that are meant to last years, if not decades.
In addition, the B2B marketing environment also involves costlier goods, higher risk, multiple decision-makers and, when it comes to decision-makers, people who will not react on a whim.
Moreover, even if you secure the lead, you must be aware of the fact that in B2B, the sales process is also long. It can involve protracted, multi-party negotiations as well as discussions about deferred payments, lines of credit, and regulatory approvals, to name a few.
Finally, how you engage in B2B audiences matters. In B2B, the use of jargon, specific terminology, and acronyms are the norm. If you’re not couching your engagement in those terms, then in all likelihood, you’ll tune your target audience out.
Business to Consumer
In B2C, you are typically dealing with, comparatively speaking, lower-cost goods and a much shorter purchasing cycle. Of course, certain goods, such as homes and cars, involve a longer turnaround time, but these are exceptions, not the rule.
For example, on average, the typical adult aged 25-34 will spend $161 a month on clothing, while families will spend $1,800 a year on clothing (source: Credit Donkey).
In B2C, you’re dealing with more frequent purchases, individuals making decisions on a whim, and lower purchasing costs/value.
Ultimately, the path you choose depends on your own specific strengths, your target industry, and other preferences and factors. However, in a general sense, the difference between B2B and B2C is akin to preferring much small fish over a few big fish (or vice-versa).
Create a Website
For your agency to grow your customers need to be able to find you, right?
And for that to happen you kind of need a website – nowadays it’s the face of your company.
So, make it presentable.
Choose a Platform
Building a website is easier than before – all you have to do is decide where you want to build it:
- WordPress – This is the cheapest and easiest way to start a website. It’s SEO friendly and has all the functionality one might need.
- Wix – Probably the most user-friendly website builder on the market.
- Shopify– In case, your agency needs an e-com functionality (to sell online courses, etc.) this is the best option.
So, now when you are one step away from having a website, let’s see how to get those clients.
Pick a Medium: Traditional or Digital?
Next, it’s time to determine your preferred medium: traditional marketing or digital marketing?
In most cases, traditional marketing efforts typically involve the following:
- Trade Shows, Events, and Conferences
- Traditional Field Sales
- Direct Mailers
The value of trade shows and other such events depends on the goal.
In B2B, the objective is to generate leads. So when you invest in setting up a pavilion, you must ensure that you’re investing in the right trade show — there’s no point in setting up at a show in a market you won’t be catering to, for example.
In B2C, the goal is to generate brand and product awareness. You might be familiar with E3, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), or regional auto-shows.
Be it B2C or B2B, exhibiting or presenting at events is expensive. This applies to advertise as well; it’s a good way to generate brand awareness, getting to the best audiences is expensive — the ones who do it are typically the largest competitors.
However, traditional marketing isn’t confined to just awareness, there are conversion oriented practices as well, such as direct mailers and field sales operations.
But like advertising, trade shows, and events, these approaches are outreach oriented — i.e., you’re reaching out to prospects, rather than attracting them to you via inbound.
Finally, referral leads typically come from existing customers and professional networks. As noted at the beginning of this post, salespeople consider these leads as high quality and will prefer them over leads that come from marketing efforts.
With digital marketing, you are leveraging websites, social media platforms, and online ads as a means to engage your prospects.
It generally comprises of the following efforts:
Search Engine Optimization
The idea behind search engine optimization (SEO) is to get your website and its content to rank on the top, or at least the first page of Google and other search engines.
In general, the rationale is that you have people and businesses who are searching for goods and services online. With a good SEO strategy, you can bring yourself front and center at very minimal cost (i.e., generate organic traffic).
You can also have a preceding step wherein your website tries answering questions or solving problems without directly marketing your products and services.
This works in the framework of a buyer’s journey where you have prospects who don’t fully understand their problems nor their potential solutions, but with guidance from you, could become customers.
The SEO process involves identifying relevant search terms (i.e., keywords), understanding how much investment it may take to rank for those keywords and implementing a content strategy.
While SEO works to bring organic traffic to your website, your website must have content that delivers on the expectations of your readers. If you’re ranking for a specific question, then you must have content — e.g., blogs, eBooks, webinars, etc — that provide solid answers.
Earlier, we had noted the buyer’s journey and the idea of engaging people who, while not yet ready to buy, are dealing with problems your company solves. You can use content to answer those problems and gradually guide the reader to favoring your solution.
Typically, ‘early stage’ content works to help the reader understand their problem; ‘mid-stage’ educates the reader about their solutions; ‘late-stage’ pushes them to favor your solutions.
Based on the visual above, you can have specific kinds of content matching with each stage of the buyer’s journey. Moreover, your content need not be limited to just your website, you could also use it across your social media channels.
Search & Display Advertising
You can leverage digital advertising in various ways.
First, you can retarget people who visit your website such that when they leave, they’ll still see your branding, products, services, etc in other websites through ads.
Second, you can also pay to show up in search results. This is effective for campaigns where you don’t have time to wait for organic traffic, such as events or new product releases.
Third, you can target very specific audiences on the search and in social media. For example, you could have a niche product. You can use ads to target your intended audience and direct them to a page with copy that’s focused on converting those people into sales.
In Digital, Technology Matters
Be it Google’s routine algorithm changes, the use of many different tools for SEO, or using data and analytics to track results, digital marketing is technology heavy.
In a sense, you can’t separate the two and, increasingly, a digital marketing agency will take on the characteristics of a technology company.
For example, in content marketing, you will take an iterative approach wherein you publish the copy, examine its effectiveness, and then improve it.
Your product delivery cadence might even use Agile and Scrum; this facilitates iteration while also enabling digital marketing agencies to deliver relatively rapidly.
Finally, your marketing and implementation professionals must be experts at using marketing technology (MarTech) tools. For example, even your writer will need to know how to measure the SEO friendliness of their work and A/B test lead generation and conversion.
Pick Your Vertical, Carve a Niche
As the overused and cliche adage goes, “jack of all trades, master of none.”
But it’s true.
Though there are marketing problems in need of being solved, the market is saturated with many players. In a way, selecting a vertical (e.g., software development), and then carving a niche (e.g., SaaS, outsourcing development, etc) is a way to overcome both challenges.
By specializing, you are differentiating yourself from other marketing agencies by showing that you best know how to engage your clients’ target market. You can help your client become the authority in their space and set them up to generate strong leads and convert sales.
Specialization helps you from an operational standpoint as well.
For example, you can leverage the learning curve of building one niche’s market research, copywriting best practices, and SEO audits.
You can then scale it across multiple clients. You iterate each time you apply yourself with each client and improve ahead of the next implementation.
Build Your Roster
Your roster will depend on whether you are a traditional or digital marketing agency as well as your agency’s specialization. However, you can expect three broad groups of employees.
You need point people to manage each account and represent your clients’ interests. These people will also own their clients’ deliverables (e.g., television commercial, web pages, blogs, etc). The specifics will differ between digital and traditional, but in broad terms, the goal is to demonstrate the success of your marketing efforts and, with time, up-sell the client.
Your account managers will rely on implementers to actually deliver your clients’ work. These people could include writers, graphic designers, SEO experts, and other specialists.
You may find some commonality between traditional and digital marketing implementers, e.g., graphic designers and copywriters. However, as noted earlier, digital implementers will need to be comfortable with letting data and MarTech drive their creative output.
Business Development & Administration
The final element is in relation to running your agency’s business elements.
You need a sales team in place to acquire clients. Fortunately, you can also leverage your marketing infrastructure to help with lead generation and nurturing.
Finally, you need an administration element to run payroll, human resources, etc.
Put Yourself to the Test
This is our concluding point: prove what you’re made of and show everyone that you know how to start a marketing agency.
There’s little value in a marketing agency that is unable to secure clients for itself — what better way of proving it than by actually building a client roster through marketing?
In many cases, the initial business may come from referrals, but in the long-run, this is going to be unsustainable. This is where specializing in a niche, fine-tuning your resources to serve it in the best possible way, and demonstrating authority in that space will be critical.