How to Move from Being a Solo-Freelancer to Starting a Digital Agency

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“You’re either a freelancer or an entrepreneur, which one are you? Entrepreneurs use cash (preferably from someone else) to create businesses larger than themselves. Entrepreneurs make cash in their sleep. Entrepreneurs aim at growth and scaling the systems they’ve designed.”

Once you’ve conquered the world of freelance, it may be time to take a leap into the next logical sphere: starting a digital agency. But the first thing you must know is that freelancing and running an agency are completely different things.

You’ll have to make so many adjustments. For instance, as a freelancer, you’d have total control over who you opt to work for and which clients to steer clear of. You also get to set your own schedule, with your business supporting just one person instead of a group of people.

But, on the flip side of running an agency, you’ll need more clients and more people on your team who’ll help you to bring in and take on those additional clients.

Such individuals may quit their current jobs to give their time to your budding startup, or some may come on board part-time. Whichever way they come, you’ll require a team of people willing to see the business grow.

Running an agency means you’re not just responsible for your future and stability, but that of others as well. The decisions you’ll make will affect everyone you employ.

Starting a digital agency is a huge decision, so, before you take the cliff jump, there are certain things you should know and numerous decisions to make.

What is a digital marketing agency?

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A digital marketing agency differs greatly from the traditional marketing organizations in that their focus is based on generating marketing results in the digital space. ROI and measurable marketing are what it’s all about.

A solid digital marketing agency avoids the “spray and pray” marketing approach. Gone are the days of magazine ads, radio or TV spots; in their place has come a team of consultants, developers, strategists and creatives that work to build and deliver measurable results.

Simply put, a digital marketing agency is a lead generation and brand-boosting engine.

What services do digital marketing agencies offer?

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While there are many services you can offer as a digital marketing agency, here is a list of the core services you should offer:

1. Social media marketing – Instagram marketing, Facebook marketing, Twitter Marketing, and LinkedIn marketing

2. Content marketing and copywriting – Guest posting, SEO copywriting
3. Design and branding services

4. Search Engine Optimization – Local SEO, Enterprise SEO, and eCommerce SEO

5. App Store Optimization

6. Design and Branding Services

7. Web hosting

8. Paid Marketing – Google Ads, Retargeting Ads, Bing Ads, and Social media Ads.

Signs that Show You Should Move from Being a Solo-freelancer to Starting an Agency

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The long-term goal of most freelancers who are in it for the long haul is to start an agency. If you, however, start freelancing with the idea of becoming an agency right away, it’ll be a tough nut to crack.

Why?

Freelance newbies may have it hard setting up an agency because they lack enough expertise and clients that agencies need to function. They will have to be solo-freelancers for some time before transitioning into an agency.

On the other hand, if you have been a solo-freelancer for a while and you are considering starting an agency, ensure that you start at the right time. Below are signs that indicate it’s time for you to go from being a solo-freelancer to an agency:

1. Your workload is heavy

If you have gotten to the stage of your freelance career where you are biting off more than you can chew in terms of work, then it’s time to start an agency. Freelancers are in the habit of taking more work than they can handle in a day because of the fear of not having enough work. But, over time, this can become a challenge.

Overworking yourself as a freelancer isn’t good. It affects the quality of work you do and takes a toll on your health.

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Most often, when freelancers have more work than hours, they begin to turn down gigs and leave money on the table.

If you have gotten to this stage in your freelance career, there is no need to do away with clients or turn down gigs. You can still take as much work as you want and earn a better living by starting a company.

Starting an agency will enable you to hire freelancers to work with you and lighten the workload. This will increase the number of clients you can work with and enlarge the capacity of work you can do.

2. You already network with other freelancers

If, as a solo-freelancer, you are beginning to get the help of other freelancers or refer work to them, you should start an agency.

As a freelancer, you can get submerged in a lot of work or receive requests from clients asking you to do something that is not a part of the service you render, and instead of turning down the request, you decide to refer the job to another freelancer who can do it effectively.

Once this scenario plays out for a while, you’ve built a network of freelancers.

This network gives you access to different freelancers with diverse skills and you can take advantage of the network to get your company running.

3. Your clients are demanding for more

As the digital world is rapidly evolving, the demands that clients place on freelancers is also rapidly increasing. For instance, one client may need you to write SEO content and want you to write some HTML as well as design a logo.

It is almost impossible to give clients all they want because of the limited number of skills you have.

If clients regularly ask you to help render services that you have no skill in and you constantly require the service of other freelancers, it’s a sign that you need to start an agency. An agency will enable you to hire freelancers who have different skill sets that clients require.

4. You need help with admin tasks and customer service

As your number of clients increases, there will be more need for administrative skills to manage each of them well. You will need help with managing your records, scheduling meetings, responding to clients’ mail, and giving your clients a 5-star service.

You can’t do all of this on your own because you may mix up records. It’s hard to manage administrative duties while working on the client’s project at the same time. If you try combining the two especially when you have many clients, there may be a drop in the level of service you render.

To avoid cutting corners and compromising the quality, you can start up an agency, this will enable you to hire administrative staff that will handle redundant tasks while you focus on building the brand.

5. You want to expand your service offering

If you notice any skills that clients are becoming interested in and you wish to render services in that field, starting an agency will enable you to hire new freelancers or staff that have the skills they require. This will increase the number of contracts you get and boost your relevance in the industry.

In addition, if you prefer the editing of projects to the actual creation of the project, starting an agency may be a good idea.

6. Your schedule is about to change

A major reason why a lot of people love freelancing is because of the flexibility of the schedule. Freelancers can work from anywhere and at any time of the day.

If, for some reason beyond your control, your schedule is about to change and the number of hours you dedicate to freelancing is about to reduce, you will need to stop being a solo-freelancer.

Instead of dropping clients and turning down gigs because of the change in your availability, you can start an agency. This will reduce your workload and sustain your freelance income.

7. You love marketing

Marketing is very important in determining the success of an agency. If you have great marketing skills and you are eager to devote many hours to finding new clients and marketing rather than doing the actual freelancing work, you can start an agency.

When you have an agency, your marketing skills will determine how many clients you get, the volume of projects you have, and the amount of money you make. Your marketing skills also determine the credibility and promotion of your brand. So if you already have excellent marketing skills and prefer promoting your brand, kicking off a company should be your priority.

8. Your freelance business is not scaling

Being in the same place as a freelancer, earning the same amount every year can be tiring. As your experience in the industry increases, you’d want to increase your rates and earn more.

But doing this as a solo-freelancer can be difficult, especially if your schedule is full and you are stuck in a rut with your current clients. An easy way to scale your freelance business is by getting more hands. This will enable you to take on more work and to increase the rates you charge the new clients you start getting.

9. You like managing people

To start and successfully run your own agency, you need to be good at managing people. As the head of the agency, you will need to communicate with clients without being misinterpreted, discover unique ways of executing gigs, hire qualified individuals, monitor the timely submission of gigs, edit projects, and render quality service to each client.

This is a lot of work, and it can only be done effectively if you’ve good managerial skills.
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If you can work in a group and keep track of workers, then handling your staff and business processes shouldn’t be an issue.

Things to consider before starting an agency

As thrilling as the idea of starting an agency is, you need to be adequately prepared before taking the leap.

Having too much workload or having great marketing skills just isn’t enough to start an agency. Just like with every other kind of business, you should take the time to consider some factors and things that must be put in place before transitioning from being a solo-freelancer to an agency.

Let’s examine some of these factors below:

1. Do you have what it takes to run an agency?

Even though starting an agency is the right thing to do as you advance in your freelancing career, not all freelancers have what it takes to run an agency.

For example, the workload you’ll handle as an agency will be distributed to many workers, but the bulk of the work and responsibilities will still be handled by you. and if you don’t have what it takes to handle all the jobs coming in plus the business processes attached to them, it’d be a painful ride.

As the owner of the agency, you will need to give more priority to administrative tasks instead of working on projects. You’d have to know how to maintain a healthy balance between your business development, running the agency, and handling projects.

Excellent communication skills are necessary to get and manage clients effectively; you should also know how to relate with other members of your team. If there is a challenge with communication between you and other workers of the agency, it may run into serious challenges.

Take time to assess yourself and don’t start until you are certain you are fit for the work ahead.

2. Understand how bigger businesses run

Solo-freelancing is often at a subsistent level and doesn’t require too much expertise. An agency, on the other hand, is bigger than freelancing, so a lot of things will be done differently.

The scale of work and level of professionalism required is different. It is therefore important to understand how big businesses run before delving into it. As a solo-freelancer, you rarely related with other people internally, but as an agency, you will have workers who you’d be responsible for.

You will also have to determine whether to hire other freelancers you need either as employees or as contractors. This also entails determining how much you’ll pay them and whether they will be paid per project or monthly.

Lastly, you need to think of how to handle the business if a contractor or an employee that is responsible for a project suddenly quits or is unavoidably absent.

3. Find out your most profitable service.

As a freelancer, there are one or two skills that you are good at. The services you render to clients with these skills usually generate more resources for you. If you haven’t taken the time to identify these skills or services, you can simply discover them by analyzing the list of projects you have done and the amount you were paid per project.

The three most common jobs you did that gave you more money are your profitable services.

Data even has this to say:

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So marketing unneeded or unwanted skills could be ultimately detrimental to your business success. When creating an agency, you need to focus on skills and services you know your target audience is interested in. This will enable you to gain clients easily and boost the growth of your agency.

4. Seek out advisors and mentors

Setting up an agency is a whole new adventure, and, for you to thrive, you need to seek counsel from people who have been in the business for a while.

Here’s an interesting stat:

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If there are a lot of questions and hazy issues that you need to be explained to you, don’t try figuring out the answers to such questions on your own, instead, take the questions to seasoned advisers or mentors. 

And if you don’t have direct access to the mentor, you can check the library or internet for a book that talks about the topic and take notes from the book. 

Having at least one mentor will help your agency succeed. A great example is Ramit Sethi who credits Jay Abraham for a lot of his business successes.

Even though your advisor or mentor may not give you an ultimate business success recipe, they can tell you how to go about it, which strategies worked for them, and the mistakes they made that you should avoid. This will save you the stress of learning certain lessons the hard way. 

If you don’t know any individual that can mentor or advise you, there are organizations that specialize in linking mentors to mentees, the organization will help you locate the right mentor for your agency.

When you get a mentor, it may not be possible to regularly have access to them. You can, however, keep tabs on his suggestions, opinions, and strategies by following him on social media, reading their books, or visiting their blog (if they have one). You can also correspond via email. 

Note that some people you meet for mentoring may decline for some reason or the other, but this shouldn’t discourage you. 

Aside from having a business mentor or role model, you also need an accountant and a lawyer to advise you on financial and legal matters. They will help you to manage your resources, set up payroll, draft the terms of the contract, and oversee partnership agreements. Without them, you may make some costly legal or financial mistakes.

5. Get your workflow in place

Transitioning from being a freelancer to an agency entails changing your workflow. As a freelancer, you may have an unwritten routine, which you fill with every project, but, most often, freelancers do things by habit. 

You might have gotten away with this as a freelancer, but as an agency, it won’t cut it. You need to solidify the way you operate. 

Start by writing down your workflow for each project. You may need to do this for multiple projects before you get your full workflow. Once you have your workflow in place, you will be able to identify areas that you can easily delegate to others to handle. It will also make repeatable processes such as pitching to clients’ work automatically. 

Getting your workflow in place will increase efficiency and make things work faster and smoother for both you and your workers.

6. Start small

Don’t jump from being a solo-freelancer to an agency overnight. Take time to work on projects that are associated with running an agency before you start your own.

You can start by subcontracting out minor projects or you can look for a virtual assistant that you can delegate non-client work to such as items on your to-do list. This will save you the stress of having to do too many things at the same time.

Having a virtual assistant is also cost-effective. You can delegate the work of regular employees to a virtual assistant without having to pay as much as you would to regular employees.

Working with a virtual assistant or a subcontractor on some of your projects will enable you to have an idea of how a real agency functions. You can keep doing this until you are ready to go in full.

Keep in mind that the stats state this:

To avoid being a part of those statistics, you can use this period to sharpen your talent hunting skills.

You will gain more experience in delegating assignments and get a firsthand experience of some common communication challenges. This will be on a manageable scale and it will enable you to come up with practical solutions which will come in handy when the agency starts.

You may need to inform your client that you are not the only one working on the project, even though this is not compulsory, it’s the right thing to do. When you start small, you will be well prepared to face any challenge that comes up. If you, however, skip this process, you will learn on the job and this can be detrimental to your brand.

How to hire the right people for your agency

As your workload increases, you will need to hire the services of freelancers who you will delegate work to. When hiring extra hands to help you, there are certain factors you should consider. 

You need to know whether the help you need is for a short-term or long-term basis. If it’s for a long-term basis,then you want to take out time to train them in the processes of your agency so they’ll be on the same page with you. 

Before hiring, you also should know the kind of tasks you can delegate to a freelancer without continuous supervision. For such jobs, you will need to hire freelancers that are experts in that field and give them guidelines to work with. 

You also need to know if the services of the freelancer will be remote or on-site. If it is on-site, you’d want to hire a full-time employee, but, if it is a remote job, a freelancer will do just fine, this is because most freelancers prefer to work remotely, as data shows that 80% of workers want remote jobs.

How to find a freelancer

There are different ways you can find a freelancer for your agency;

  1. Online marketplace. These are freelancing platforms that enable you to post your job requirements and freelancers can apply for the job. 

Such platforms allow employers to advertise a wide range of roles ranging from designers, marketers, writers, sales developers, and so on. You will then be able to interview and choose the freelancer that meets your requirements. 

The numbers show that 73% of freelancers look to online marketplaces to secure jobs:

Alternatively, you can go through the profiles of freelancers on these sites as well as go through the reviews of their previous clients and invite them to apply for your role. 

Examples of such platforms are Fiverr, Freelancer, and Upwork.  

  1. Social media. You can search or post your job openings on social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for good freelancers. 
  1. Network referrals. You can get freelancers through word of mouth referrals. A good freelancer can be recommended to you by your friends or colleagues. You can also reach out to freelancers whose work you have seen. 
  1. Job boards. There are niche-specific boards like BloggingPro and ProBlogger where you can find writers. You can list out your job requirements on ad sites/generic job boards like Craigslist as well. 
  1. Recruitment agencies. There are agencies that specialize in pairing freelancers for fixed-term projects. All you need to do is to give them your work requirements, and they will pick freelancers that fit. 

Whenever you advertise for a job on any platform, most times, you’ll get lots of replies, and choosing the right person can be difficult in such situations. Don’t be tempted to simply hire the cheapest freelancer that applies. 

Even though it is important to consider the cost of hiring, don’t choose a freelancer based on that alone, pick the one that will deliver quality work with little or no supervision. 

To ascertain whether a freelancer suits your requirements, you can read reviews about the freelancer from his/her previous clients as this can help you know the kind of quality the freelancer delivers. 

You can also check the recommendations of freelancers on social platforms such as LinkedIn.

You will get to see the testimony of previous clients about their service. Evaluating their portfolio can also help you know if a freelancer is right for your brand. Go through their portfolio to see the previous work they have done and if the works meet your standards and requirements. 

When you have picked out the applicants that meet your requirements, you can further narrow the number of applicants by interviewing them. If it’s not possible to have a physical meeting with them, you can have a face to face conversation using either Skype or Zoom. 

You may also want to opt for a paid trial project to test the few remaining applicants if you are still not certain about which one to hire. When given them the trial project endeavor to add a submission deadline to it, this will enable you to test their creative abilities as well as their ability to meet deadlines. 

At the end of the entire process when you have chosen the best freelancer, prepare an agreement or a contract. 

Let the contract contain the details of the projects and other specific guidelines or rules you want the freelancer to abide by while working with you. Agreements are not just limited to freelancers you employ; you should extend them to every contractor you hire. 

This will protect your interest and that or the freelancer and prevent any form of misunderstanding. Whether the contract is formal or informal, make sure that the freelancer agrees to it and signs it before work begins.

Keys to starting your own agency

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As stated earlier, starting an agency is a serious business, and your success largely depends on how well you prepare before executing the plan.

Below are five vital keys you need to build an agency:

1. Define your niche

As pleasant as the idea of working with any and every business or client is, it isn’t the best for your agency. You may not see any need to turn down any client, but if you want to stand out of the crowd of hundreds of agencies that are already in existence, you need to specialize in an area, and prospects should know you for something.

Take digital marketing guru Brian Dean, for example, who chose to go deep in a particular area of SEO and not simply generalizing:

Having a clearly defined niche and focusing your services towards it has some advantages.

Firstly, it gives you a competitive advantage over other agencies. There are many digital marketing agencies in existence, but not all of them are specialized, some of them offer low-quality services due to unnecessary diversifications.

Having a defined niche will give you the confidence you need when approaching prospective clients, it also enables clients to trust and relate with your brand more.

Onboarding is also easier when you have a defined niche. Your customer base is clearly defined and this makes every process easy. You will be well prepared to handle them because you already know the type of information that is valuable to them and the kind of questions they will ask. You will also know how to fix your rates.

Finally, having a defined niche will help in strengthening your skills. With the proper knowledge of the target audience, you will be able to strengthen your skillset exponentially and have your ideal client clearly defined.

Using your ideal client persona, you will be able to gain the intuition necessary to know when and how to make a decision with prospects.

2. Develop the necessary skills

No matter how intelligent or creative you are, if you are not experienced or well prepared to handle client relationships, getting gigs, and managing accounts, you may not experience the kind of success you want.

Take out time to build and improve on the required skills.

Having an agency is more professional than being a solo-freelancer, and, for you to succeed, you need to be really good at what you do. If you have excellent marketing strategies that can get you clients while being unable to deliver quality services, you won’t be able to retain clients for long.

Once they discover that your services are poor, they will take their business elsewhere.

You may need to work for another agency and help them manage clients to be able to understand the skills that are most vital for your niche. This way, you will be able to develop the skills needed and be fully equipped for the work ahead, and it’ll also help you use the experience as a tool to deliver quality work once you’ve begun.

While developing your work skills is a great idea, your entire focus shouldn’t be on that alone. Take out time to gain experience on how to structure and lead the agency. Improve your communication skills, your ability to work with a team, how to handle stress, how to foster unity among workers in the agency, how to maintain professionalism and so on.

3. Determine how you want to scale

Scaling your business entails knowing how to handle your growing work capacity in a cost-effective way. Growing is different from scaling. Scalability has to do with capability and capacity.

In fact, here’s an interesting fact:

You need to find out if you have the required system, team and infrastructure to accommodate growth. If for instance, you get a new client and your income increases but you do not have what it takes to serve that client well, you will have to hire someone who can handle the client’s work effectively. 

This is growth, but your business is not scaling. When you get a new client, your revenue increases, but so do your expenses. If you require the same amount of time and effort for every sale you make (past and present), then there is a problem with the scaling model of the business. 

If your company’s growth brings about more confusion, miscommunication, or missed deadlines,, you may begin to lose clients.

Scaling your agency means that you can enable and support your growth; you should have the ability to grow without experiencing minimal challenges. To do this, you will need to employ the right staff, learn the right processes, make use of the right technologies, and probably get additional funding. 

This will enable you to maintain or increase your efficiency as the agency grows. 

If you are struggling to survive as a solo-freelancer, scaling may put more pressure on you. You need to be certain that you can stand on your feet before taking on the responsibility of having to handle more people. 

You need to understand how things work before you delegate it to others. In terms of finances, you can try managing your accounts yourself for a period, so you will understand the skills and knowledge necessary for the job, as well as know what to look out for when hiring someone to manage it 

You also need to consider how much it will cost you to get help. To be able to pay for the extra hands without sinking your finances, check out how much you earn from each client, the average duration your contract with each client lasts, and how you constantly get new clients. All this will assist you when calculating the right amount to pay your workers. 

You, however, need to be certain that you can attend to the needs of your employees well; they will only agree to work with you if you pay them well, offer them benefits and give them the security they desire. If you can’t afford any of these, then you shouldn’t go for employees, rather look for contractors. 

You don’t need to provide any of these benefits to contractors. There’s a lot of talented contractors that will agree to work with you for a short time, this will relieve your workload. 

You can keep working with contractors until you get to the point where you can scale to full-time employees. 

If, however, you have a partner or partners that you want to start the agency with, you may not have to bother so much about most of these because you and your partners may be able to afford the extra cost.

4. Set pricing standards.

Agencies usually charge higher than individual freelancers do. Starting an agency may give you the opportunity to charge higher rates. You need to take note of the fact that, once prices are established, changing them becomes difficult. 

This is why you need to set fees or rates you’re comfortable with from the onset. A great way to determine your prices is to consider your revenue versus your expenses. As an agency, other freelancers or workers will be on your payroll, you need to determine how much you will pay them, the basis for the payment, and the way you would want to bill your clients. 

Below are common ways to bill clients:

1. Hourly.

Even though some agencies choose to bill their clients this way, it is not a good billing method. If you have a complex or long-term contract with a client, this method may bring up some issues between you and the client.

Most often than not, there will be fluctuations in the working hours due to circumstances beyond your control. Stating the exact amount of hours spent working on a project will become difficult for you and this will affect your earnings. 

The client may also begin to doubt the amount of time it takes you to complete a task, if they feel you are taking longer than expected, they will take their business elsewhere and if you try to reduce the actual number of hours you spend on the project just to keep the client, you may get underpaid. 

2. Commission-based billing.

Due to the attempt to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals, a lot of agencies adopt this billing method. With this method, the agency receives payment when the client makes money off the project the agency did.

This billing method is good when you want to build trust with a client, especially those who have had bad experiences or zero return on investment with other agencies in the past.

As great as this billing method is for getting clients who are skeptical about doing business with agencies, you will experience extreme difficulties in billing them, especially if the client’s company has a complex sales funnel. 

The ideal type of clients you can use to try out this billing method are those that are into direct sales or e-commerce. You will be able to appropriately determine how much sales they have made and know how much to bill the client. 

Another problem with this billing method is that your earnings are dependent on whether the product is sold. If the product isn’t sold, you won’t get paid, and this is bad for your agency. If, however, there is a good profit margin, you will gain a lot.

3. Flat retainer.

This is the simplest pricing method for agencies. All you need to do is to determine the worth of the work and time spent on a client’s project and you and the client agree on a flat monthly fee.

Because the client knows exactly how much a job will cost, there is little or no friction between you and the client when the time to pay comes. The only time a client may stall in paying is if you do not meet his expectations and you can fix such situations by reviewing the job and effecting the desired corrections. 

This billing method may be detrimental to you if your clients scale exponentially over time. 

You can, however, resolve this by stating in your contract that the price is for a period (preferably quarterly), and once the time-frame expires, you negotiate a new price. 

With this, you can forecast your earning for the period of time that you will work with the client. This will enable you to set goals and be financially prepared for any challenge, it will also help you in determining how much to pay when hiring or outsourcing work. 

4. Percentage of spend.

Even though this method is popular with agencies, it isn’t the best option for startups as it factors in the scalability and growth potential of clients. When agencies have grown to a certain stage, they prefer to work with larger clients and can decide not to work with clients who have no preexisting spend. 

The disadvantage of this method is that, if an agency conducts business solely with the percentage of spend model, certain internal factors that are beyond your control, which will dictate your budget, may arise. This will make the client gain at your expense. 

The best way to bill when you are starting your agency is to use the flat retainer method, and as the agency grows, you can add the percentage of spend method to the Flat retainer. 

This way you are certain that if a client must scale and spend more, you will have to put in more work. 

If you are looking for clients on online marketplaces, ensure that your prices are consistent on all platforms, if a client discovers that you are charging him more than you charge other clients with the same type of work, it may affect your relationship.

5. Decide how you will handle taxes and legal matters

You need to figure out how to handle the taxes and liabilities of your agency. Creating an LLC or Scorp will give personal legal security if someone files a lawsuit against you. Getting an LLC will also add legitimacy to your business in the eyes of the client and in the eyes of the law.

It also gives you access to a lot of tax benefits.

You can hire an expert to handle your taxes for you. If you are savvy with taxes, you can handle them yourself, keeping a professional record of your taxes will make things a lot easier for you.

Also, ensure that you have a lawyer that oversees every legal aspect of your agency such as drafting of contract agreements.

How to get clients for your agency

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The growth and success of your agency are dependent on your ability to constantly get clients. Without clients, you won’t have any revenue and you won’t grow. As a freelancer, you must have understood that clients don’t last forever, this is also true for agencies.

Clients come and go. Whether it’s for a short term or a long term contract, after a while, you will have to part ways. To stay afloat in business, you need to know how to regularly get new clients.

Getting new clients requires a lot of time and energy as well as excellent communication, networking, and marketing skills. In this section, we will examine how to get new clients for your agency.

A combination of a minimum of two of these strategies will give you a constant stream of new clients.

1. Start a company blog

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The stat above spells it out, having a blog for your agency will enable you to build relationships which ultimately creates a loyal customer base.

Starting a blog isn’t a big deal; the problem is knowing what to blog about and how to get started with blogging. As an agency, your aim in starting a blog should be solving the needs of clients, by ensuring that your blog content resonates with the queries and needs of your target audience.

To achieve this, you have to find a way to link your content with the services you offer, so that, when prospective clients visit your blog, you can turn them into leads with your offers as the solutions to their queries. 

Posting well-researched quality content on your blog will make clients view your agency as an expert on meeting the specific needs you blog about due to the in-depth info on the subject matter.

To drive traffic to your blog, you can post the links of your articles on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook or other online platforms like Reddit, LinkedIn, etc. You can use this method to drive inbound traffic to your blog and you can expect a portion of that traffic to convert into paying clients. 

When pitching to clients, you can also include the link of your blog in the pitch, so when they go through your blog posts they’ll see your knowledge on their wants and will most likely be convinced that you are capable of handling the job well. 

To get the best results out of blogging, you need to be consistent and ensure that you always churn out quality content that will capture the attention of your target audience. You can hire professional writers to help you create content for the blog instead of adding the workload of blogging to your already busy schedule.

2. Online and offline networking

You need to attend conferences and events where you will have the opportunity to mingle with your potential clients or sign up for online networking platforms such as LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a great platform for finding potential clients. Complete or update your LinkedIn profile information and upload samples of your work. You can share your blog posts or any other interesting content to your LinkedIn news feeds. 

Join LinkedIn groups for your industry, this will give you the opportunity to meet and interact with your prospective clients. To get your prospects to notice you, you can offer help, answer questions, or post useful content as often as possible. 

Also, you can make use of industry networking sites. There is a networking site for every industry where clients and agencies come together. Being active on those sites can give you access to new potential clients. 

By uploading your work or engaging in the discussion on these sites, you will get new clients. Examples of such networks are Behance and Dribble design agencies, Hacker Mews, GitHub and Stack Overflow for developers, and Inbound, ProBlogger, Reddit, for marketing and writing agencies. 

You also need to attend local small business networking events; these events usually provide time either before or after the event for networking to take place. 

Here’s a stat to show the importance of such events:

Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

You can find out about networking events on sites such as meetup.com. And the founder Aditi Gautam made an intriguing quote:

Photo by Jane Palash on Unsplash

When attending such events, make sure you carry along with your business cards and have a quick pitch ready so that you don’t lose the prospects you meet there.

After the event, don’t sit back and wait for the potential client to reach out, follow up on every one of them within 48 hours.

Note that going for events or meet-ups where your competitors are may not yield the desired result because it will be hard for you to find a potential client. So, instead of going for events that your competitors will most likely attend, look for other events with the same kind of opportunities where the competition for the attention of the potential client is minimal.

3. Partner with a small business incubator and a non-competing business

By collaborating with a small business incubator in your city, you can get access to new clients because most of the people on these programs are people who are in need of your services. 

To find a small business incubator in your vicinity, go online and search for “(the name of your city) startup incubator” or “(your city) small business meet-up”. The search results will be displayed, and you can select the ones you want to collaborate with. 

You can also partner with non-competing firms or firms that offer services that are complementary to yours. By partnering with such firms, you will be able to offer your services as an extension of their business. Search for these companies or agencies and pitch your services to them. 

A motion graphics agency can collaborate with a graphic design or web development agency, or a web development agency can partner with a marketing agency. 

This partnership will give you access to the clients of the company and will enable you to help them render better services to their clients by complementing their offers. 

When the other agency gets a client that needs a service you render, they will refer the client to you as an extension of their agency, and you will do the same for them as well. This is a win-win partnership for both parties. 

To successfully partner with non-competing agencies, you need to know the needs of their customers as it relates to your services and how you can meet those needs.

4. Partner with other agencies

This doesn’t sound good, right? Well as a new business, you’ll need to partner with other agencies to get new clients. As a startup agency, the type of clients you get and the rates clients are willing to pay you will be different from what established agencies get. 

They have more inbound links and access to more potential opportunities than you—this is why you should partner with them. 

To avoid any form of competition, make sure that the agencies you are collaborating with are larger than yours. Partnering with larger agencies can get you at least one new client every month. If you can prove to them that you can produce quality work at a price that they will be able to make a profit, you may land a contract with the agency. 

You may be wondering why an agency would want to pass on work to you. Here’s why; large agencies chose to pass on work to smaller agencies because the budget of the client for the project is lower than what they accept, or they are unavailable to work. 

It could also be because the agency lacks the skills or expertise required to complete the job or they have no interest in the project. Instead of saying an outright no to the client, big agencies prefer to refer the client to an agency that is in their network. 

To enter into a partnership with such agencies, you can send personalized mail to the agency offering to take on any work they can pass up or collaborate with them. 

The email should be sent to the person in charge of business development, they are the ones responsible for building relationships with outside vendors. If your proposal appeals to them, they will get in touch with you.

5. Ask for referrals

This is one of the simplest and most obvious ways of getting new clients. Don’t wait for people to refer you, ask them. You can ask your friends, acquaintances, family, or even workers in your agency to refer you to clients. 

This method is usually efficient because everybody you know is connected to more people that you don’t know including your potential clients. Keeping mute and not asking for referrals may deny you access to these clients. 

Also, ask happy clients to spread the news of your excellent services. 

Not all clients remember to refer you to their friends. You can go through your email and select clients who gave positive feedback about your service. Clients you worked for as a freelancer should also be included. Send them an email politely asking them for a referral; most of them will be glad to refer you. 

When sending the mail to the clients, get straight to the point, keep it short, and don’t leave it open-ended; be specific about what you want.

6. Reach out to lost clients

Either as a freelancer or an agency, there are clients that you spoke with or sent proposals to in the past, but you didn’t win the business, these groups of clients are referred to as lost clients. 

Don’t give them a cold shoulder because you didn’t win the contract, they may still come in handy. 

You can find these clients by going through your mail and identifying clients you lost months ago. You can send them a follow-up email asking how their business is faring and if you can be of help to them. 

If these are clients who knew you as a solo-freelancer, you can tell them that you now own an agency specialized in a certain area that is capable of rendering better services. 

This simple act of care can spark a new conversation; they may decide to offer you a small project especially if the agency or freelancer they choose over you is not giving them what they want. Even if this does not happen, you will be on their radar and if the need for your services arises, they won’t hesitate to reach out to you.

7. Run online ad campaigns

Advertising online is an effective way of getting new clients. Below are the types of online ads you can run:

Facebook Ads

Facebook is one of the best platforms to advertise your agency on. Facebook ads are targeted, cheap and have a wide reach. You can advertise your agency on Facebook by having a dedicated Facebook account for your brand, or you can create Facebook ad campaigns.

You can increase the efficiency of your Facebook ads by driving traffic to a squeeze page. This will increase the number of conversions you get and also give you all the information you need to nurture leads into sales.

LinkedIn Ads

As stated earlier, LinkedIn is a good place to find clients for your agency. LinkedIn is mostly used by other businesses that are looking for agencies that can meet their needs. 

Your ads can be easily targeted on LinkedIn because most LinkedIn users update their job titles and experiences on the platform. This enables you to distinguish between employees and key decision-makers of companies on the platform.

You can easily narrow down your ads to companies within a certain location, or individuals with specific job titles.

Gmail Ads

You don’t need to have a huge email list before you can make use of Gmail ads. 

Gmail ads via Google Ads enable you to place ads that look like emails above the inbox of specific users.

When the user clicks on the ad, an editable HTML ad space that looks like an email, containing your information will pop up. 

With this ad type, you can target users based on some specific keywords in their inbox. You can target a user who receives emails from your competitors or brand that are relevant to your agency. By using Gmail ads, you will be able to advertise your business to prospective clients or people who have an interest in your offer.

Instagram Ads

Instagram has over 1 billion monthly active users including your prospective clients. You can make use of Instagram ads to reach them. 

Advertising on Instagram is easy. You can create ads with nice visuals, inspirational captions, and the right hashtags. You can also create visual content that resonates with your target audience.

As a new agency, you can also hire the services of influencers to help advertise your agency.

Google Ads

With Google, your ads will appear to people who have searched for a keyword that relates to your services. 

As effective as Google Ads is, it is also very competitive and a bit expensive for startup agencies. You can, however, save costs by ensuring that every click you pay for has a high chance of converting. Having a quality-landing page will help you maximize leads 

Twitter Ads

A lot of professionals and companies use Twitter as an avenue to find a new client and interact with like-minded individuals. Twitter ads enable you to reach many users even if your following is not massive. 

When using Twitter ads, focusing on the number of likes and retweets can be misleading because the analytics report in these engagements tends to be inflated. Keeping track of the amount of traffic you drive to your website and the total number of clicks generated is better. 

If you decide to use some or all of these ads, remember to use retargeting to capitalize on lost traffic. Retargeting enables you to place a tracking pixel on the browser of a user that has once visited your site; this will allow targeted ads to be shown to the user at different places on the web even without visiting your website.

Here’s an illustration of how it works:

The cost per click for retargeted ads is lower, and it enables you to build a long-term brand recognition

8. Search for clients on job boards

You must have been used to job boards as a freelancer. Even when you start your agency, you need to keep visiting these job boards to get new clients. 

Make it a part of your daily schedule to look for clients on more at least two job boards. The positions of jobs displayed on job boards cover contract, remote full-time or part-time. 

Examples of job boards you can check for clients are Reddit for Hire, Authentic Jobs, Folio, Inbound, Indeed, ProBlogger, Layervalut, Tuts+, Fiverr, Smashing Jobs, Freelancer, etc. 

If you are unable to check these job boards daily, you can subscribe to services that will email you the best leads from job boards daily. These services are, however, not available for some job boards.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Starting An Agency

When starting an agency, you need to learn from the experiences of those who have gone ahead of you. 

You need to know the common mistakes they made and how to avoid making the same mistakes. Many founders make some of these mistakes because they are not aware that they are doing something wrong and only realize when the damage has been done. 

Below are the common mistakes you should avoid when starting an agency:

1. Refusing to delegate

Trying to do everything by yourself can hamper the growth of your agency. If you have a team you work with, try to delegate some responsibilities to them. Delegating duties does not mean you are lazy; it shows your commitment to growth. 

As the owner of the agency, your focus should be majorly on getting the agency running smoothly rather than doing all projects yourself. You can delegate a huge percentage of the work you have to do to others. All you need to do is to find out tasks that can be delegated and give your workers the necessary guidelines for doing them. 

If you don’t delegate certain tasks, your agency won’t be able to scale. That’s the difference between a freelancer and an agency, a freelancer does all the work by himself and is unable to grow, but an agency with the right workforce should be able to delegate and grow.

2. Having an unprofitable pricing structure

Choosing a payment model that will make you disadvantaged just to please a client isn’t advisable.

The reason you scaled to start an agency is to generate more income, but having a pricing structure that is unprofitable will jeopardize this dream. Ensure you get the right value for every work you do. Except you are running promotions, don’t charge below what your service is worth.

You may get away with this as a freelancer, but not as an agency. Your bills as an agency are more than what you had when you were a freelancer. Don’t be scared to tell clients your pricing and which payment model you want to adopt.

3. Not knowing your limitations

You need to know what you are good at and what you are bad at and hire people to help you with the areas where you have some loopholes, this doesn’t devalue you; rather, it increases efficiency. 

Trying to figure out how to handle things that you have no experience in can affect your agency and your relationship with clients. You can get trained in those areas or hire professionals who will handle them for you.

4. Using ugly ads

Not everyone knows how to design ads, but clients don’t see that as a good reason for neglecting a vital aspect of your marketing. You need to create a beautiful image-based creative ad that people will want to click. 

You can use the image-ad creation platform in Google Ads UI or you could use Fiverr or hire the services of a designer. 

You can also use the Smart Ads technology of WordStream which enables you to transform existing images on your website to create attractive Facebook and Instagram ads. 

Whatever method you choose to create your ads, ensure that the end product is beautiful, attractive, and paints a good picture of your brand to prospective clients.

5. Ignoring company culture

The culture of the company or agency is how the entire agency is built and how employees collaborate and interact with each other. 

The company culture has to be one that ensures that employees are happy. 

Research by the Economics Department of the University of Warwick revealed that happy workers are 12% more productive than average workers are and unhappy workers are 10% less productive. This means that having employees that are not happy will cost your agency money. 

Ensure there’s a bond between you and your staff, and do all you can to make sure that the work environment is relaxing and conducive. 

You can organize dinners, Christmas parties, picnics, and any other activities that show that you care about your employees. 

Because your team members will be working long hours trying to meet tight deadlines, you need to have a culture that improves their performance. Give them a break to refresh and recharge, this will help them function better. If the culture of your agency is great, you will have good retention. Employees won’t quit or abscond from duty or collapse under pressure.

6. Hiring too early

The fact that you are now an agency does not mean you should go on a hiring spree. Hiring employees too early can take a toll on your finances. 

Apart from the basic salary, you have to cater to other expenses such as health insurance, training fees and paid time off. While hiring professionals to ease your workload is a great idea, if it is going to drill a hole in your pocket, then maybe you shouldn’t hire just yet. 

There is affordable software that can help you handle some duties. Only hire an extra pair of hands when there is none available.

7. Taking on the wrong clients

Not every client that comes your way should be accepted; sometimes you need to say “no”. 

Before accepting to work for a client, look for red flags that can spell trouble in the future. Check to see if the client can fit in and work well with your team, if the client is okay when you give pushback, also check to see if the client has certain attributes that you can’t work with, and ensure that the client is not unreasonable or impossible to work with. 

No matter how much they pay, the wrong clients are not worth the stress. If you notice a client is bad for your agency, don’t try to compromise to suit them at the expense of your employees and your agency; politely end the agreement.

8. Ignoring the numbers

As a solo-freelancer, you may ignore the numbers sometimes without running into trouble, but as an agency, not looking at the numbers spells doom. 

This is because you have people you are responsible for as well as bills, rent, and taxes to pay. You need to constantly check how many clients you have, how much you earn from each client, how many potential deals you are going to close, etc. 

You also have to check the expenses to make sure that it is not more than the income and cut down on any unnecessary expenses. 

Monitoring the number will keep your agency from running bankrupt.

9. Failing to educate yourself and improve your skills

Many agencies make the mistake of pushing education and training aside once they are established. You need to level yourself up and level your team up to maintain relevance. 

Set aside a portion of your income to train and educate yourself and your employees regularly.

This will help you stay abreast of new innovations and ensure that you are able to give your clients the best service per time. If clients notice you are ignorant of the latest trends and skills in the industry, they will take their business to agencies that are up to date with the industry.

What is the best digital marketing company?

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There are many digital companies that excel at the services they offer but here are 3 great agencies to imbibe:

Ignite Visibility

This agency headquartered in San Diego is one of the best digital agencies globally. With over 75 full-time workers, Ignite Visibility specializes in paid media, email marketing. SEO, CRO, and social media. The brand is a two time Inc. 5000 organization and is led by John Lincoln, an industry thought leader. 

Straight North

WebFX

Founded in 1997, Straight North is an SEO brand headquartered in Chicago with offices in CA, Washington, NY, and NC. The agency offers its customers various services such as display advertising, email marketing, SEO, and professional website design.

WebFX offers complete digital marketing services like social media, PPC, design, SEO, and others to brands across the United States. Founded in 1996 with a workforce of over 200 people, they specialize in managing digital marketing processes which affect their customers’ revenue,

Are digital marketing agencies profitable?

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It all depends on your approach. We’ve seen so many parameters and factors that need to be in place to ensure your agency acquires the needed amount of clients to succeed and how to make sure your business processes are smooth. 

Why is that so important? Well, research has shown that 37.3% of digital marketing agencies state getting new clients as their major challenge, and, if you can handle it, you’ve solved a major bulk of your business problems, 

 If these factors are all in place, running a digital marketing agency can yield amazing profits.

Conclusion

Transitioning from freelancing into an agency is tough work; you become responsible for other people, and a lot of things you could do when you were solo suddenly can ruin your business if done. 

So it’s crucial to know what to expect every step of the way to start your digital marketing agency. By following the tips and ideas in this piece, you’ll be able to have a smooth transition as well as run a company that both you and your clients will be proud of associating with. 

What’s your favorite digital marketing agency?