Want to know how to start a marketing business?

The barrier to entry is surprisingly low these days. That doesn’t mean the standards have changed, it’s because the industry has changed. 

Businesses are changing their approach, shifting from traditional forms of advertising (TV, radio, newspaper) to online approaches. They’ve also begun to realize that someone who delivers results is less important than someone who holds a degree in marketing, especially when the necessary skills are readily available on the internet.

It does take hustle, but today you’re going to learn what the hustle entails so you can be on your way to starting a marketing business in 2020, including when it’s time to leave your day job and focus on your agency full-time.

5 keys to starting a marketing business in 2020

1. Learn the necessary skills

You can’t start a marketing agency without knowing what you’re doing. Right? Fortunately, you don’t need a degree in marketing to get your foot in the door. Many, many agency owners started exactly where you are right now. 

Running an agency requires both hard skills (technical, job-specific skills) and soft skills (people or interpersonal skills). The soft skills you pick up along the way, but the hard ones are what you need to learn before you start taking on clients.

There are some nuances in the kinds of marketing services you can offer, but let’s go over the most important ones. These are the core skills you need to start an agency:

These are all skills you can learn on your own time, while you’re still working at your current job. I’m going to talk more about this in a second, but you can build the foundation of your marketing business on the side. 

The Facebook Side Hustle Course teaches budding marketers how to run Facebook ads for small or local businesses. 

In addition to a comprehensive understanding of Facebook ads, the course also teaches you how to build landing pages. And, the live trainings in our coaching community teach essentials like building sales funnels and email marketing.

2. Start freelancing

No one goes from, “Hey, I want to start a marketing agency,” to being out on their own raking in clients left in right. They start off as freelancers to build a solid foundation for their business, develop their skills, and build relationships with their clients. 

That’s how I started my agency. I was still in law school and continued growing my agency even after I began practicing law. I had the freedom to fail a few times (okay, a lot, haha) before I was 100% relying on my agency income.

Think about it like this: new marketers have absolutely zero credibility when they get started. 

Don’t let that scare you — everyone starts here. 

But, that’s why you start freelancing. You have a chance to build a reputation for yourself. The risk of failure is minimal if you have a stable day job that lets you pay your bills. 

There are two extremely important things you need to do in order to start freelancing:

  1. Figure out your business structure: This is establishing your business as an LLC or another kind of legal structure.
  2. Find out how to handle your taxes: I highly recommend talking to a tax professional!

I cannot stress how important those two pieces are. This legitimize your business, and having them set up now means you’re not scrambling to put things together once your business blows up.

3. Develop your niche

Successful marketing agencies position themselves as experts in a particular niche. These are the kinds of clients you work with. You specialize in fitness, restaurants, home improvement services, real estate agents, B2B companies, educational products, etc. 

Now, there’s some value in working with a diverse set of clients when you’re first starting your marketing business (more opportunities to work, you get to learn which clients you work best with, etc.), but eventually you need to focus on a target market.

Here’s why: every client you work with will be a little different, but those in the same niche are addressing similar pain points, how you market to their customers might be the same, and have similar industry standards.

The other reason — this one is big — it adds to your credibility. 

My agency, for example, started with gyms and online fitpros. In the beginning, if I was trying to take on a big new real estate client, do you think they’re more likely to go with me or someone who has proven experience in that industry?

I know who’d I choose.

This brings me to another benefit of starting a marketing business by freelancing: you can begin collecting reviews and testimonials. Those give you valuable social proof that what you’re doing works. Don’t be afraid to ask you clients for them. It can be text or video-based and they don’t have to be long.

Being niche-specific might not make a huge difference when you’re starting a marketing business and finding your first clients. However, as you try to approach bigger clients with larger budgets, most will want someone who has previous experience in the industry, or at least a similar niche.

If you have an idea of the kinds of clients you’d like to work with, that’s awesome. But one of the nice things about freelancing is that you can test out several niches before deciding which one is the best fit.

4. Develop your business model

Now we’re talking about how you’re going to price your services, and there are several ways to approach this: hourly, flat monthly charge, commission-based, and percentage of spend. 

The last two options aren’t ideal when you’re first starting a marketing business — they’re just too complicated, too many factors, can set you up to fail, etc. That’s not where you want to start. I’m leaving those out so I can focus on the two that work well for new marketers.

Paid hourly

Some marketers prefer this model because you can account for all the time you are spending communicating with clients (phone, email, in person) and the time you spend on their marketing campaigns. 

You’ll probably end up billing for more in the beginning as you’re setting things up, but then you can see your monthly billings drop as the campaigns start to run on autopilot.

The problems with this model is that you get clients who question the number of hours you’re spending, which is made more difficult by the fact that it’s really hard to account for all of your hours. 

Like, if you thought of an idea while you’re driving your kids to school, can you bill for that time? This is why I personally don’t like hourly billing.

Flat monthly rate

A flat monthly rate is giving your client an exact amount to pay you each month. It’s based on the average amount of work it takes to manage their marketing campaigns.

This model is super simple and have some serious perks when you’re starting a marketing business:

  • You have the ability to work creatively without worrying about keeping track of your hours
  • It puts the value of  your work on your results rather than time spent
  • It’s easier for you and your clients to forecast income and spending
  • There’s less friction when you’re invoicing — the client is less likely to nitpick about hourly expenses

You will have to make sure that you’re meeting your client’s expectations. Most will have absolutely no problems paying you a flat rate as long as you’re delivering consistent results.

This is the model we recommend in the Facebook Side Hustle Course, and most new digital marketers average $1,000-$1,500/month per client.

Creating add-ons and packages for your clients

This is something that several of our FBSH course students have started doing to grow their agencies, and it’s something you can do fairly early on.

The idea is that you offer core services, Facebook ads for example, but your clients might also benefit from some additional services, like:

  • Social media management
  • Writing blog posts
  • Launching a course or webinar
  • Putting together an email marketing campaign
  • Lead generation
  • On-site SEO

Like marketing, these are all skills you can learn on your own. You can talk to your clients to find out where they’re pain points are to decide which of these additional services you should start offering. 

Read more at: Practical Guide for Creating a Digital Marketing Agency Plan

5. Start scaling

Let’s talk about growth. This is what I love so much about online marketing is that there is so much room to grow in this industry. 

I started earning a couple thousand dollars a month running ads for gyms and fit pros, and my agency has grown to ~$30,000/month revenue. Now I’m working for clients with bigger budgets, like business coaches and course creators.

My best piece of advice for scaling your marketing agency is to get really good at what you do. That includes creating efficient systems to manage your accounts and build quality relationships with your clients. 

Having a good system in place is crucial, so pay attention to how you’re doing things and address any weakness and friction. A good system makes it easier to onboard clients and contract out some of your work.

There’s no hard and fast rule about when you add to your team and how you do it, but there are a couple of different approaches:

  • Bring someone on as a partner to take on some of the workload. You could, theoretically, split your clients and your profits. 
  • Hire people that are better at certain tasks than you are. Find someone who’s better at creating images, hire a copywriter, hire a virtual assistant to keep track of billing, etc.

The second option is my preferred method because you can spend more of your time on the aspects of your marketing business that you do best.

When do you go from freelancer to full-time marketing agency owner?

I hear this question asked all of the time, from people who are just starting a marketing business to those who have been running theirs on the side for a couple of years.

The answer is: it’s different for everyone.

I highly recommend working on building your foundation before you ever consider leaving your day job. There’s too much risk otherwise, especially if you have a family, a lot of debt, not much  in savings, etc. 

Because digital marketing is something you can easily do on the side, many agency owners build up their agency until it’s out earning their day jobs. Then, they make the switch and go all in with their marketing agency.

My agency saw rapid growth when I quit practicing law and started running my agency full time. You can just devote so much more time and mental energy to your marketing business when.

The final word on starting a marketing business

Digital marketing agencies are going to be the way of the future, and that opens the door to new marketers who are ready to give it a shot.

Learn the basic skills — Facebook ads are one of the most requested services I hear businesses ask about, so a good starting point! Then just get really freaking good at what you do as you bring on new clients.

It’s the least fun part of the business, but address the legal implications of running your business — that’s your formal business structure and taxes. The sooner you do it, the sooner you can stop stressing about it.

Let me end with this: always show up for your clients. That’s delivering results, providing the services they’re asking for, and making sure you’re giving them the time and attention they deserve. 


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