The idea of getting to send Tweets to influencers and post Stories on Instagram as a viable career is an exciting prospect for many, especially those of us who grew up alongside social media. When you consider this in conjunction with the fact that more people are interested in starting their own businesses, it’s not a big reach to understand why more people are interested in starting their own social media marketing agency.
We definitely understand the appeal here at Social Media College, since we’ve worked hard to develop coursework that will help our students be able to do exactly that.
There is a lot that goes into starting your own agency, so if you know you’re in it for the long haul and want some guidance to get started or if you want to see if starting an agency or working for one instead is the right call for you, keep reading; in this post, we’re going to look at exactly how you can start a social media marketing agency of your own.
The Pros & Cons of Starting a Social Media Marketing Agency
The idea of starting your own agency is often exhilarating and intimidating at the same time, and as someone who started their own business almost five years ago, it’s a feeling I’m all too familiar with. Because it’s a big decision, there are a few pros and cons to consider before diving in.
There are a lot of great perks to owning your own agency. These include:
- Big potential for big profit. Owning your own agency means that you can build something great, and overtime reap the benefits. There’s no middle man getting paid for the work you do, and there’s no ceiling putting a cap on your salary or how much to work or scale. The sky is the limit here.
- You can set the rules (to an extent). If you know that you really don’t want to work weekends, or that you will only work with ethical-mission clients, you get to call those shots.
- Building something that’s yours. A lot of people have ambitions of owning their own agency or business-- this could be your chance.
There were pros, so now you know we have to be realistic about the challenges and downsides to starting an agency of your own instead of working as a practitioner for another agency or as a company marketing team member.
Here are the biggest ones to note:
- It’s risky. There’s no safety net when you’re going out on your own. You’ll succeed or fail due to your own efforts, and that can be more than what some people want to deal with.
- Running an agency is expensive. All of a sudden you’re the one paying for the contest software and the social media management software and the photo editing tools and everything else you could think of. Put this on top of business license fees, marketing fees, ad costs, website costs, employee/worker costs, and you can see why business ownership isn’t all about the profit.
- It can be time consuming. Instead of just working on client accounts, you also have to handle things like accounting, invoicing, business management, and more. At least until you hire someone to tackle this for you.
- It can be difficult to get started. Running a business has a lot to do with momentum, and getting those first few clients to get you rolling can be stressful and difficult. Meanwhile, going to work for an established agency would pretty much just dump a handful of client accounts into your lap pronto. Difficult does not mean impossible, but it does take time.
How To Actually Start Your Own Social Media Marketing Agency
If you’ve made it this far in the post, you’re serious about the idea of starting up your own agency. That’s excellent, so let’s go step by step through the process so you can know what to expect during the early stages.
Get The Right Education
The first step is to make sure that you have the tools and skill set needed to shine on your own. You won’t have an agency or employer offering initial or continual training, after all; it’s entirely on you to ensure that you’re up to the task. Remember that clients will be counting on you to help them grow their businesses, so a lot is at stake.
There is plenty of great resources online that can help you learn valuable skills-- including our blog right here!-- but it’s important to consider a formal, structured course or certification. This will ensure that you have well-rounded skills in every key area, which is important in social media marketing.
If you aren’t sure where to get started, take a look at our courses, which were created to help train confident, expert social media practitioners.
If you want this to be a career, after all, you should invest more time into training than a casual weekend so that you can implement best practices, understand each platform, and develop strong, original strategies that will serve your clients well.
Decide What You Want to Offer
“Social media marketing agency” seems specialized, but it’s actually a pretty broad term that can mean a lot of things. It’s up to you to decide what you want it to mean for your agency.
You could, for example, create an agency that caters exclusively to B2B clients, or to those in the food and beverage industry, offering niched down services. There’s also the option to specialize the actual services you offer; I personally met one social media marketer that would only work on Pinterest accounts.
A few more things to consider would be:
- Which platforms you want to offer services for
- If you’ll manage and/or run ad campaigns, or just do organic marketing
- Will you create strategies, or just post a few times per week?
- Do you manage engagement and/or private inbox messages?
Set Your Prices
While being a business owner means you can adjust pricing as you see fit, agencies (not individual freelancers) often benefit from established, set pricing. This can include pricing options, like $750 per month for management of two platforms, and $1250 for three platforms.
Consider your target audience, your experience, the market, and your potential overhead when determining prices. Small local businesses won’t have the same kind of funds as a large corporation, for example, an agency with an office downtown is going to have a lot more overhead costs to cover than one where everyone is working remotely from home.
Some costs to consider include:
- Social media marketing software
- Employee/worker costs
- Business licenses and fees
- Office expenses
- Credit card/bank fees
- Software needed to run your business, including accounting software
- Professional services like attorneys, accountants, and business consultants
There really is a wide variety of what you can charge. Melbourne agency Aston Social demonstrated this, explaining that costs of social media management in Australia can range from $400 per month to $22,000 per month; that’s an enormous gap.
Obtain The Right Licenses & Establish Your Business
The legal part of starting an agency can be one of the most dreaded parts, but a simple checklist can make the process a lot less intimidating and much easier.
Depending on the country and specific area you live in, the licenses and certifications that you have to obtain to be able to run a legal business will be different. In Australia, as a starting point, you should make the following a priority:
- Register your business with the Australian government
- Set up a business bank account to keep your funds separate
- Find a lawyer to help you establish legal contracts to use with your clients
- Find an accountant to help you with your taxes and financial planning
If you’re stumped, you can consult a lawyer or business consultant. You can also check out the Australian Business License and Information Service site, which can give you information about what licenses you need or laws you need to follow depending on specifics related to your business.
Get To Work on Branding
After you’ve gotten your business established legally, you can get started on actually creating the business itself.
Branding is a central part of that. A “boutique” agency that promises to cater to your every needs and be available at 4AM if requested isn’t the same as the one promising to create hard-hitting ad campaigns, like the example below. They’re targeting two different audiences, and you need to figure out how you’ll represent your agency so you can best connect with yours.
At this stage, you’ll need to:
- Create a brand that will appeal to your target audience and help you stand out.
- Get a website up and running that explains who you are, what you offer, what makes you different, and how to get in touch.
- Set up your own social media accounts so you can prove you’ve got what it takes and start to build an online presence for your agency.
- Order business cards. I’m a big believer in this, because business cards have helped me grow my business; you never know who you’ll meet when, and you don’t want to miss the opportunity to connect with a great client because no one has a pen.
- Think of any services you would need in order to improve your website. An important aspect of growing your website traffic would be to optimise for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Here's a list of affordable seo services for small businesses that you could use to grow your organic traffic.
This is when you start really fleshing out your business, so take it seriously. Your branding can always be adjusted later (that’s the whole point of rebranding!), but you want to have something you feel good about from the beginning.
Start Marketing Your Services
Your site is ready. Your business model and pricing have been carefully mapped out, and you yourself are ready. It’s time to start finding clients.
Market your services far and wide so you can start casting out the net to bring in a few. Here are a few strategies I recommend when you’re first getting started:
- Reach out to your professional network. Let your friends and family know what you’re doing and that you’re looking for clients. Chances are good that someone will know at least one person.
- Optimize your site and LinkedIn profile for search traffic. Use keywords in your description, including specialized keywords like “affordable social media agency” or “social media PPC ad agency.” This will help the right clients find you.
- Join professional groups on social media. Facebook groups are an excellent choice. Join a group for business owners, and offer up advice to establish good will when someone asks about marketing. This can help you be seen as an expert and get hired for jobs. It can be a long-term strategy, but I’ve gotten more assignments than I can count using this strategy.
- Run PPC campaigns. There’s no denying that it’s hard to get your first clients in such a competitive market, but running PPC campaigns like Google Ads will help you capture users further along in the buying process and hopefully get them to your site instead of a competitors’.
Starting your own social media marketing agency isn’t easy, and we never said it was. Many of our alumni choose to take their hard-earned skills and share their expertise with an established agency so that they can focus exclusively on the Tweets, Pins, and Likes of their favorite clients. If, however, you decide that it’s a right fit for your personality and your goals, we can also assure you that it’s definitely worth it.
When forming your agency, remember that momentum is everything. It will be slow going at first, and it’s much more difficult to get your first client than it is to get your second or third or fourth. Put time and energy into your own marketing campaigns so that you can grow, and as you do, leverage your network and referrals for all they’re worth.