Last Updated on July 31, 2023 by Oluwajuwon Alvina
If you have been searching the internet lately for the latest information on how to start digital marketing business, then you’ve come to the right place. You need not search further as all you’ve got to do is to read on to know more.
As more and more companies turn to the Internet to generate sales, the need for experts in digital marketing has never been greater. It’s a fast-paced, evolving industry that has a lot of challenges, but also plenty of rewards, including a potentially lucrative income.
If you’ve thought about switching gears and getting into digital marketing, now is the time to do it. And lucky for you, it’s not necessary to have a traditional degree marketing degree to get started, although some training will help to get your foot in the door.
Here are 10 things you can do right now to start a digital marketing career:
- Create an Online Presence
These days, when it comes to landing a job in almost any field, you might as well not exist without an online presence. For obvious reasons, this is especially true of digital marketing: a prospective employer is going to look online first to learn about applicants, and if they can’t find you, they are going to move on to the next person who has a curated image.
Create your own digital marketing blog, social media accounts that are linked to websites you have built, portfolios, etc. Show them what you are really capable of.
- Know the Latest Trends
Digital marketing is a career that is always on the move and always changing. If you are choosing it as a career, you need to keep up with the latest trends. The needs of this industry vary over time, and if you fall behind, someone else will be waiting to take your place.
Attend virtual seminars, take online classes, and do your best to stay ahead of the game rather than simply keeping up with it.
- Use Your Creativity
Digital marketing really allows you to use creative gifts in a variety of ways. Yes, there are methods and systems that are standardized for certain applications, but you can always add your personal flair to projects, making them creative and unique.
Digital marketing is built on creativity, so if you have an idea that you think will work, give it a try. The more creative you are, the more likely it is that you will be noticed and land that dream job.
- Create a Winning Resume
Before you start applying for jobs, make sure to create a dynamic resume that shows just how valuable your skills are. There are many different types of resumes, and you shouldn’t limit yourself to just one, especially when you are working in a creative industry such as digital marketing.
Go online and check out various resume examples for digital marketing professionals, and tailor yours around them.
- Get Out there and Network
It is important to get your name out there, and the best way to do that is by networking. Not only is this going to make people remember you, it is also going to give you great connections that can help you in many areas throughout your career. One person may know where you can get specific training. Another may have a lead on a great job. You will also be able to learn from their experience, and gain a list of experts you can use to put together a great team.
- Learn about Analytics
In order to know how successful your marketing campaigns are, you need to understand analytics. This is the data that shows how well or how poorly a campaign is doing, and helps you to figure out how to make things better the next time around. You don’t have to go to college for a degree, but there are many online classes you can take on your own time that will help you to learn about and understand how analytics work, and how to use them.
- Get Some Experience
The only way you will get your career going is by gaining experience. You may have to do some unpaid jobs, but this is a worthwhile time investment with long term benefits. Using any skills you acquire, help friends or community organizations with projects, and take on all kinds of side jobs that will give you plenty of experience that you can draw on when you to start applying for long-term digital marketing jobs.
- Say “Yes” to Anything
We touched on doing free jobs in the last tip, and we can’t stress enough how important it is to do anything that will give you the experience you need to land your first digital marketing job. Take on free jobs, or jobs that other digital marketers don’t want to do. Demonstrate that you can take on and make the best of any project, and be successful in your endeavors.
Not only will you gain experience, but you are also showing that you are willing to work hard.
- Get Trusted Certification
Anyone can get into digital marketing without a university degree, but the candidates who are getting the best positions are those who have a certification in digital marketing. There are classes you can take that will help you to prepare for the certification exams, and if you are really serious about digital marketing as a career, you should get certified as soon as possible.
This is going to make you stand out in a crowd of digital marketers who may be experienced, but definitely not certified.
- Be Prepared for Entry-Level Jobs
No one is going to start at the top in any career, no matter how much training, skills, and experience they may have. You may not get the job you want right away, but you will get there if you work for it. You will likely start out as an assistant, or a junior digital marketer, until you are able to prove that you are able to take on more responsibilities and that you are willing to work hard in order to succeed in your chosen career path.
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How to start a digital marketing agency with no experience
How do you start a digital marketing agency with no experience?
There have never been more opportunities to strike off on your own in the digital marketing space than there today. But how do you actually do it? Where do you start, and how do you scale?
The secret to starting a digital marketing agency with no experience is to have an actual strategy, grow organically as you learn, and deliberately build word of mouth with a specific type of client. It’s about taking aim for a target audience vs. shooting randomly for anyone who will pay and hoping something lands.
There’s also a major misconception that starting a digital marketing agency has to mean a HUGE process that requires building a massive company and doing “all the things” and taking all the clients.
In reality, a digital marketing agency can be just…you. It’s not about the pricey software or offices or employees. It’s about determining who you help, how you help them, and then actually doing the work.
The business model of an agency is fairly straightforward. Sure, you can tinker around the edges about whether to bill by hour, by week, by task, or by project. But at its core, you are providing specialized knowledge for a fee. An agency of one and an agency of 10,000 work in basically the same way.
With that concept in mind, here’s how to start a digital marketing agency with no experience.
- Set Your Business Goals
Before you decide to do anything, you’ve got to do some planning. What do you want the business to actually look like? What’s the end goal? The vision?
Starting your digital marketing agency without some sort of direction in mind is like trying to get to a new restaurant with no address and no navigation. You end up lost, taking wrong turns, and probably not having much success.
If you’ve observed the industry for any length of time, you’ll notice that agencies with conflicting goals run into trouble often. But the ones that stick to their vision do well.
Some agencies want to maximize prestige. They focus on recognizable clients who are willing to do interesting work.
Some agencies want to maximize profits. They focus on boring but high growth, high opportunity clients.
Some agencies want to maximize freedom / autonomy. They focus on low maintenance, consistent clients.
And some agencies want to maximize business value. They focus on internal operations, cash flow, and strong branding.
There is no correct goal – except to choose a specific goal and stick to it no matter what.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to starting a digital marketing agency. There are big agencies, small agencies, agencies that focus on just one part of digital marketing (like search engine optimization) and full-service agencies who do everything from design and development to paid media, local marketing to social media marketing to content marketing to SEO.
The buzzword in the agency world is about “landscapers” vs. “gardeners”. I’ve seem this term on some forums, but most recently via Nick Eubanks.
“Landscaper” agencies focus on coming in and solving specific business problems, sticking to a checklist, and layering additional services. They are fast, have set rates, and focus on services rather than outcomes. They are like landscaping companies who show up, cut grass, spread fertilizer, leave – then call in the Fall about trimming and leaf raking.
“Gardener” agencies focus on developing a deep knowledge of the clients’ business so that they can use a range of tools to grow the business into what it could be. They are heavy on digital marketing strategy. They establish a long-term relationship and focus on a long-term business & marketing goal rather than specific marketing services. They are like professional gardeners who show up, spend most of the time discussing your property’s potential, and then working towards that outcome.
It’s up to you to decide who you want to serve and how you want to serve them.
What To Consider
Do you want to serve local clients, or go outside of your local sphere?
Are you focusing on a specific industry?
Do you want to offer a specific digital marketing service, or a variety of services?
Will a potential client need to be within a certain budget?
Are there services you don’t want to offer? Niches you don’t want to serve?
What To Avoid
Avoid trying to have something for everyone. You know what they say about a jack of all trades… you’re a master of none.*
Avoid direction hoping. Pick a direction and see it through until you have enough data and experience to make a decision on changing directions.
*of course, the rest of the saying is that ”…oftentimes better than a master of one.” It’s also good to consider if you are going to be a specialist agency – like an “SEO Agency” – or are you going to be a digital agency that happens to focus on one aspect / industry.
- Define Your Target Audience
The irony of all ironies is that usually, marketers are horrible at marketing themselves, mainly because they don’t go through their own steps.
If you’ve done any marketing before, then you know one of the first things is to clarify your target audience. The same applies for starting your digital marketing agency.
Once you’ve decided on who you want to serve, it’s time to dive a bit deeper. What are they struggling with? How do you help them with that problem?
Outline the wants, needs, likes, dislikes, habits, and information of someone you think would definitely be an ideal client for your agency.
Outline what their marketing needs are, what their goals are, and how you can help achieve those goals through the service(s) you’ve decided to offer.
Don’t just armchair imagine this. Ask potential customers what they struggle with when it comes to getting the word out about their business.
What do they wish they could get some help with? What do they look for in a digital marketing company?
Make 2 to 4 very specific personas. Remember that your initial market is not your total market. Even if you start out by targeting a very specific geographic area or a very specific customer doesn’t mean that you can’t expand. It’ll just give you more focus.
What To Consider
Get specific. It’s better to start small and scale (i.e. being a digital marketing agency that helps local dentists get more clients through organic search) than try to help everyone and get lost in the noise (i.e. being a digital marketer who can do anything for any business).
Remember that your initial market is not your total market. It just gives you focus for your marketing efforts and lead generation.
What To Avoid
Avoid businesses that don’t align with your overall business strategy. Sure, it’s great to get work in the beginning, but remember… pick a direction and stick to it. If you don’t offer a service, don’t offer it – even if it means turning down a little bit of money at the beginning.
Avoid businesses that won’t provide good word of mouth, case studies, or testimonials. A toxic client will only be profitable in the very short-term. They always lose money in the long-term.
Personas aren’t just for marketing strategies. Have 2-4 for your own business direction so you know who to say yes to and who to say no to.
- Build an Online Presence
Once you have an idea of what type of agency you are, who you serve, and how you serve them, it’s time to think about how you’re going to present this information.
This means building your online presence through your website and social channels.
Setting Up Your Website
You don’t need to have a full-blown website to have a digital marketing agency. But given you’re helping people get seen online, you should have some sort of online presence.
If you are going super-lean, you can use a Facebook page, Yelp profile, or a few focus (aka “landing”) pages (more on that in a minute).
But going without a decent looking website will put you behind the curve and place limitations on what you can do with your brand & marketing campaign.
I recommend setting your own website up with a common, well known software like WordPress** and hosting it on your own hosting account**. I have a simple guide to doing that from scratch here.
That route will give you a good technical foundation with fast, simple setup and access to other business tools like email and digital storage. It will also allow you to implement a customized off the shelf design – “themes.”
Themes allow you to have a website that looks good enough to make a sale without spending months and lots of money on a 100% custom design. Creating a website on something like WordPress also allows you to implement a 100% custom design when that time comes.
**Note – self-hosting WordPress does have a learning curve. For a long-term website with a business that has resources, it’s worthwhile. But – there is absolutely a role for a hosted website builder for many businesses – especially if your business will focus on clients who use a specific platform (like Wix or Squarespace or Shopify). I have a guide to selecting a good website builder here. Practicing what you preach goes a long way with skeptical prospects.
**Note – the other benefit of self-hosting is recurring maintenance revenue. Reseller hosting plans are super-affordable and can allow you to bundle a maintenance package for web design clients that are super-profitable. That said, some website builders allow you to arrange teams / users.
Setting Up Focused (aka “Landing”) Pages
As I mentioned above, a few high-quality focused pages on your website can get you a long way. In addition to your Home page, About page, and Privacy page, you need landing pages to address specific needs.
When I say “landing pages” – don’t think of anything too complex or anything that you would need to A/B test.
I’m simply referring to pages that visitors can land on from a search engine or an ad and find exactly what they are looking for. I like to call them Focused Pages rather than Landing pages.
Why? Here’s pro tip that few website owners will admit to: nobody cares about or even sees your homepage.
Your homepage is for people who already know you who are. For businesses in a single specific service, you can use it to “rank” for your main industry term.
Landing pages go beyond your homepage.
Landing pages are for new (or returning) visitors to land on and convert. Before you build out all your website pages, you should develop focused landing pages that sell to one or all of these buckets:
Service specific – These pages should promote your services. But, they shouldn’t be generic. You should make them either focused on the problem that your service solves (ie, no website traffic) or focused on the application of your service. For example, it’s one thing to offer “SEO” – it’s another to make websites more crawlable, more relevant, and more visible in search.
Geography / Demography specific – These pages are all about the location service & logistics of obtaining your agency’s services. Even though your work might be global, your clients’ are likely not global. They will pay for someone who understands their local market. Additionally, if you have a keen understanding of a demographic (ie, college students), then you can focus on that as well.
Industry Specific – These pages should promote your expertise within specific industries. Even though marketing principles do not differ much across industries, clients want someone who can understand their perspective. If you know more than someone else about [X] industry, you should promote that. And if you can go deeper within a niche, then do that.
Now – the magic here is combining buckets & going deeper within each bucket. Until you are big & growing, going niche is your friend. Create combinations to make extremely focused pages.
“Digital Marketing for the Travel Industry” will not bring in your first clients.
“Facebook Marketing for AirBnB Hosts in Atlanta, Georgia” absolutely will.
The goal here is to sell to people at the very bottom of the sales funnel – the prospective clients most likely to convert and most likely to succeed. These pages will both rank organically – and you can use them for paid ads (i.e., Facebook Ads, Google Search Ads, etc).
What To Consider
Detailed content (like a blog) can take your presence a long way. Think about future functionality you may want to have on your site so you can choose a platform that supports it and don’t have to create something from scratch once you’re ready to implement it.
Practice what you preach. If you’re a copywriting agency, make sure your copy is up to par. If you’re a design agency, make sure your site looks like you can actually design something. If you’re an advertising agency, have some ad case studies. If you are a social media marketing agency, have pages that exceed best practices.
You don’t have to be everywhere (i.e. Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, WordPress, Facebook, YouTube, [social media platform du jour]). Pick your starting channels and expand later if need be.
What To Avoid
Avoid perfection. The goal is to have a online presence that shows you’re legit, but being an agency is about billable hours. Don’t spend more time working on your own presence than your clients’.
- Get Visible (AKA Getting Leads and Clients)
Once you have a place to send people, it’s time to get some leads and clients.
Again, marketers are notoriously bad at marketing themselves. But the days of “build it and they will come” are long gone. You actually have to do something to get clients and start building your portfolio, especially if you’re starting a digital marketing agency with no experience.
Here are a few key steps to follow to get the word out about your digital marketing agency.
Word of Mouth / Referrals
Above all other marketing techniques, agencies thrive on word of mouth and referrals. In fact, many top agencies are past the point of direct response marketing. They grow exclusively on word of mouth. They know how to appeal to certain markets and what kind of performance it takes to get further referrals.
The focus of your landing pages will help word of mouth since you’ll develop a simple, straightforward reputation.
In order to get referrals, you’ve got to get clients to back up your reputation. Which brings me to…
Also known as hustlin’. This consists of all the tedious and tough pitching that you know you need to do… but don’t want to do. It’s true marketing effort. , and the opposite of a brand awareness digital marketing campaign. It’s straight direct reponse pitching.
Now, it doesn’t mean spamming. It means going directly to your market and doing appropriate outreach.
It means emailing and Facebook messaging people that you know might be interested in your marketing services (or know others who might be). And sending them to your landing pages to learn more about your agency or hopping on a call with them to talk about how you can help them. And again, the focus of your landing pages will help make word of mouth simpler. You’ll stand out when people remember you as “the [X] marketer for [Y] industry in [Z] city.
It means helping within industry forums. I got my first handful of web design clients after helping people on the WordPress.org support forums. I got my first ecommerce client after helping in the Shopify forums. I never pitched anyone directly, but this type of manual, hand-on work counts as direct outreach.
When you’re just starting out with no experience, direct outreach is one of the most effective ways to get clients quickly (which you can then turn into referrals).
Tap into your existing network, look for projects that you can knock out of the park, and continue to get your name out there without having to spend money on ads or wait for your inbound strategy to grow (more on that in a minute).
Yes, it’s true — Google Ads and Facebook Ads can be expensive for a good return on investment, especially for the close to converting keywords that you should try to buy. This channel requires some marketing budget.
But if your serious about building a long-term marketing strategy for your digital marketing agency, then your goal is a bit different when using paid traffic.
You are buying data. Lots of data.
You should be doing a few things with your new traffic.
Look at what keywords are driving the best leads. Google Ads & Facebook give you this information. Try using modified broad match for your keywords. Many times customers are using a wider variety of keywords than you’d guess.
Run your ads very focused on geography, especially if you’re a local agency. If you have a landing page for a neighborhood, set up a campaign for that area. Beat the big guys with local familiarity.
Look at what landing pages are driving sales & calls.
Look at what areas are driving sales.
Test ad copy and figure out the right messaging. You can use this data to inform any print or display campaigns.
On Facebook, you can get really specific with your audiences. Do that. Create an audience of 100 who you know would be perfect. Make sure they know about you. Use the campaign to warm up any direct pitch.
Organic Search (SEO) Traffic
Organic traffic (SEO) still might not be the best next channel to pursue after paid traffic. There’s a great big wide world of paid and organic traffic sources, and if you’re working on building a portfolio and just get some experience, this is going to take awhile.
And yet, if you’re playing the long game, setting up your SEO strategy now can have huge payoffs in the end.
Google processes more than 3.5 billion queries per day. And for most queries, most of the clicks go to an organic result. And you’ll know from your Ads campaigns that clicks for competitive keywords can be quite expensive. That’s a cost you don’t have to pay if you rank in the organic results.
So I won’t hide my enthusiasm for SEO and inbound marketing. It’s my specialty and is the giant battleship that will keep on going once it’s headed in the right direction.
When you are setting your marketing strategy for your digital marketing agency, you just have to know what it takes to get organic traffic and what it will take on your part to get it done.
Often you’ll just need a handful of really useful posts to prove your expertise. Don’t go after generic topics. Show off your specialty. Do a tutorial on tools that you know your audience is trying to use. Write about an issue that you know everyone is dealing with.
What To Consider
Your first goal when you’re starting an agency is to get clients. Billable hours drive everything (and is what will enable you to invest in other marketing efforts).
Some of your best leads can be in your own circle. Don’t discount the network you already have.
No one will know about your business if you don’t tell anyone about your business. You don’t need fancy business cards, a beautiful website, or even some elaborate marketing funnel. You DO need to tell people what you do.
You do have to walk the walk, but you don’t have to rely on your own area to build your business. If you do SEO and you choose not to use SEO to generate leads, that’s fine — but be prepared to speak to that with potential clients.
What To Avoid
Avoid being a generalist. Yes you need clients, yes you need revenue — but remember the business strategy you set upfront.
Avoid adding additional work without increasing the scope to “win” a client. If clients want additional services and you offer them, great! Let them know how that changes your fees. Earn respect with results, not with price or perceived responsiveness.
- Define Your Growth Plan
Building a digital marketing agency doesn’t mean you have to become the next big company doing Super Bowl commercials. As I mentioned before, a digital marketing agency can be an agency of one.
You should however, have an idea of how you’d like to grow. Being a one-person company still doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself.
ShivarWeb is made up of exactly 1 person, Nate Shivar, but several amazing contractors help shoulder specific responsibilities. Employees are great once you have a solid book of recurring contracts, but contractors can help you bridge any gap.
As you start to grow, think about the teams, systems, and deliverables you want to have in place to help support your clients.
For your marketing team, would bringing on a full-time copywriter help you sign two more clients? Could you outsource design work or administrative tasks that take up your time to a place like Fiverr? Are there digital marketing skills that you need?
For your tools, what are the essential tools?
Should you use a broad tool suite like SEMrush that provides PPC, SEO, Social and more in a single suite? Or just an SEO tool suite like Mangools?
Should you assemble lots of specialized tools – like Screaming Frog or Ahrefs for SEO? Should you save money by getting a Mangools tool suite?
Should you save time with AdEspresso for PPC or TailWind for social media channels or start with a manual touch?
What tools can you let your a new client pay for and what do you need upfront?
For your systems, do you have a written system for new clients? Even if you are solo, you need to have a written system that clients pass through. It should be something that you can set out in a contract. You can (and should) find examples for Master Service Agreements (MSAs) & Statements of Work (SoW’s) to build of of.