You’re ready to move from daydreaming about starting your own social agency to making plans for it.
But where do you even start? There are many factors to consider if you want to create a business that is both profitable and well respected.
If you want to establish an agency that’s both well respected and profitable, you need to do plenty of due diligence.
In this article, I’m sharing hacks and learning lessons about how to start your social media marketing agency.
A Brief History
Back in 2017, along with my business partner Niki Nikolaou, I established Contentworks Agency, a content and social media marketing agency specializing in finance and tech.
This will be our fifth year running the agency. Today, we work with midsize to large brands in the finance space. We provide them with compliance-savvy content like PR, blogging, technical analysis, whitepapers, videos, and e-books. We also manage their social media channels.
Here’s a picture of Niki and me at our first Bloomberg finance conference shortly after launching the agency:
In the early 2010s, starting a social media marketing agency would have been a dream. Adwords and Facebook ads let you target your clients’ prospects with ease, competition was lower, channels were fewer, and you didn’t have the backdrop of lockdowns, cancelled events, and perpetual Zoom calls.
In 2022, you need to up your game if you want to stand out and succeed with your social media marketing agency.
On the plus side, it’s no longer necessary to have a physical office space, providing you put in the work to facilitate online business. Zoom and Skype calls in place of physical meetings are the norm. Online seminars and events are widely accepted, and hybrid or work from home is no longer considered “amateur.”
Most importantly, more businesses are understanding the benefits of outsourcing, so great agencies are thriving.
2. The Stuff You Never Thought You’d Need to Know
As someone working in the fast-paced social media and content marketing space. I always kept myself up to date with the latest developments and trends.
But when you start a social media marketing agency, you need to learn about stuff that isn’t social media or even marketing related. This came as a steep learning curve to me as it threw me right out of my comfort zone. (Something I now realize was a positive.)
Here’s some of the stuff you will need to learn when you start.
Profit and Loss. If you’re a social media specialist, you’re probably not an accountant, too. But it’s essential that you get a grip on your P&L early on. That means understanding your costs, outgoings, income, turnover and profit. You need to know how much money you will make on each service you provide after costs. Failure to grasp this early on could leave you in a state of false confidence over your actual profit.
Accounting. On the same subject, you need to ensure you have a good accountant to audit the books and submit tax returns for your company. While you don’t need to be an expert, you should oversee the process and ask questions to improve your knowledge. There are plenty of examples of rogue accountants running wild with the money from naive and trusting business owners. Don’t be one. You can use a system like Quick Books for complete visibility of your accounts.
Human Resources. If you’re planning on hiring team members then you need to be familiar with employment laws in your region. If you plan to hire contractors or freelancers, you will still need contracts and clearly defined boundaries, expectations, and deliverables. Many agencies utilize freelancers and that’s no problem, but you need rules in place regarding their work. Otherwise, what could stop a freelancer approaching your client directly?
You also need to be aware about ongoing employment rules in your region like sick leave, maternity leave, bonuses, and disciplinary procedures.
Legal. Starting your social media marketing agency also means that you’ll need to register your company. Working with a registered agent is essential to have all your papers in order. Business entities like limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporations must name a registered agent to receive legal communications and other documents on behalf of the business.
Technology. Not social media technology but technology that powers your social media agency. You need to be able to set up emails, CRM systems, a website, video calling and other communication tools. You can hire someone to undertake these tasks, but you should still know what’s going on.
You may feel overwhelmed at first because there is so much to take in. However, there are plenty of helpful YouTube tutorials you can watch. Every day is a learning lesson when you start a social media agency, and you will start to embrace that!
3. Know Your Value Proposition
A value proposition stands as a promise by a company to a customer or market segment. It should be an easy to understand reason why a customer should choose your marketing agency over another.
A value proposition can also translate into an elevator pitch. This is a fast and compelling way to describe your agency as though you only had an elevator journey to do so.
For example, ours is:
“We started a marketing agency to improve and transform the financial services sector. We took complex subjects like forex, banking, fintech and blockchain and turned them into engaging, fun, talking points. We designed hands-free content and social media solutions for busy corporations that deliver results without stressing managers.
Today, Contentworks Agency provides compliance friendly content to banks, forex brokers, fintechs, and many other sectors. Our content marketing services includes technical analysis, intelligence reports, press releases, whitepapers, video marketing and social media management.”
Writing an elevator pitch or value proposition is a great way to get your creative juices flowing and to focus on what you want to offer.
Remember the wording is not about you, it’s about how you will benefit the customer.
- Benefits. What will you do for the customer? How will your product meet their needs or solve their problem?
- Differentiation. What do you offer that nobody else does? Why should they choose you?
Once you’ve written your value proposition/elevator pitch, you should learn it. It should come naturally to speak about it at events, meetings, or in elevators!
4. Are You a Specialist or Generalist?
Thousands of agencies around the world provide marketing services. That means you need to differentiate yourself and choose your focus.
Are you going to be a specialist agency?. Or will you take any opportunity that comes in like health, beauty, finance brands? If you’re a specialist, what is your background knowledge in that space?
Additionally, will you focus on specific marketing areas like organic social media or cover everything like content, paid social media marketing, SEO, PPC, and the whole digital experience?
Read my tips on how to build your startup dream team.
What is your core expertise? If you are a designer, for example, this will help shape the direction your agency takes and the resources you will need to build it. If you are starting the agency with several partners, you may have the benefit of several areas of expertise to create an all-round digital agency.
My advice is to start with what you know and build out. That means beginning as a specialist and expanding your portfolio to include other sectors. Doing this means you will provide excellent services to your clients, and you can then hire team members who specialize in the areas you want to grow into. That doesn’t mean you will turn business away, especially not at the start. It means understanding your core values and expertise to position yourself accordingly.
Social media marketing tip
Most of our great clients come from word of mouth or our portfolio page. Showcasing your work is the most powerful way to win business. If you have a good background in the sector and can show off case studies, previous work, and client testimonials, you’re off to a good start. Always ask clients if it’s ok to share their work before you do it!
5. Work Out Your Agency Running Costs
This is a tough one, so expect to get through a ton of coffee while you grind those spreadsheets. You need to understand your basic running costs. This is your set-up costs (what you will need to launch) and the base costs of running an agency. We found it helpful to have our accountant with us for some of the meetings. He or she can put you back on the right road if you start to veer off with your finances!
Costs to Consider Include:
- Set-up costs will include a lawyer, auditor, and accountant, and the cost of establishing a company and any corresponding administrative charges
- Office space, utilities and running costs if you have a physical location
- Team software licenses (e.g., Basecamp or Slack) if you choose to be remote
- Printing and buying your set-up materials like business cards, professional photos, flyers, billboards, promotional gifts
- Ongoing license costs for social media tools, email, Zoom, design software, photography licensing and video/GIF makers.
- Staff costs. This will be a big one because unlike additional marketing tools, you cannot opt out of paying your staff.
- Your own marketing costs such as Adwords, Facebook ads, PR, and events
Aim to always leave two months running costs in your bank account. This will give you a cushion for quieter months or unexpected costs.
Now work out your service costs
You need to work out how much you will make from your social media and content marketing services. How much does Twitter management cost? What do you charge for a blog? What will you charge for a set of Facebook ad content?
- Be sure to factor in all your costs and ensure you’re making the profit you want. It’s unprofessional to make up costs as you go along, so all this should be documented.
- Go one step further and create quote templates for your different services so you’re ready later.
- Review your prices and costs on a yearly basis. Writers might raise their rates, your time to do a task might increase and all this needs to be reflected in your pricing.
There is no exact ideal profit margin so that is something you will decide for your own agency. As a rule of thumb though, 20% and above is a good margin to aim for. According to industry benchmarking data, marketing agencies average a net profit margin somewhere between 6.0% and 12.0%.
6. Know how you will charge for services
Typically there are three options open to you as a marketing agency:
- Monthly retainer. A fixed monthly fee that’s on a “use it or lose it” basis. This creates consistent billing patterns and dependability for both client and agency.
- Project-based. Often a one-off project such as a video or rebranding. Ensure you get payment in advance or at least 50% upfront. This may also be in accordance with milestones for example 50% upfront, 25% following the strategy, and the remaining 25% on completion.
- Hourly. We don’t usually use this model but regardless, you should know your hourly rate. You can write this into your terms to cover you if a project runs over or a client needs additional mentoring or training. Never add charges if you haven’t discussed them in advance.
Additionally, you should be clear on whether you are charging VAT or not.
Set up consistent and professional invoicing through a site like Quick Books. Clients like to receive their invoices at the same time each month without any unexpected charges. Doing this will mean you don’t jeopardize a client by ruffling the feathers of their accounts team.
7. What Are Your Services?
Be clear on the services you offer and then decide how you will tackle enquires for the services you cannot provide. For the latter, you could team up with another agency, take on a contractor, or simply say no thanks to the work.
Services typically offered by social media agencies include …
- Social media management
Do you offer full social media management? Be clear about what this involves, how many channels, how many posts, does it include graphics and videos, etc. Also, discuss whether you will answer direct messages.
- Paid, organic or both
Do you provide paid social media marketing services? What are your management costs for campaigns? Do you have a minimum spend? Are you a certified agent?
- Content writing
Will you provide blog posts, PRs, Whitepapers, eBooks or presentations? How much will you charge to deliver the social content by email and not manage the accounts? (Many clients want this.)
Will you work with clients on their strategy, branding, and positioning? This includes competitor and market research, positioning, branding, content strategy, and social media planning. You will also need to allocate time and costs for ongoing strategy calls with clients. This could be an hour a week and will need to be costed in.
- Community management
Do you want to get into community management? This involves engaging fans on forums and social media, providing fast answers, and supporting sales and customer support teams. Be aware that this is usually 24/7 and fairly labor-intensive.
Social media marketing needs great designs, but will you provide them? If you don’t have a designer, you still can create the graphics inhouse using Canva, Visme, or PosterMyWall. You could also source a good freelance designer to work with.
Social media marketing tip
Create service agreements for new clients. Your template can include a description of each of your services, which you can then edit or amend, as necessary. It’s important to set client expectations correctly from the start.
8. Get That Research And Marketing Strategy Written
You wouldn’t start a client campaign without a strategy, would you? When Niki and I established Contentworks Agency, our strategy, style guide, competitor analysis, and costings took months. That’s because they are the cornerstone of everything you will do later. It can be difficult to pivot when you’re already set up.
Your strategy should set out your KPIs (yes, you need them) and action points for each channel.
Your strategy needs to be reviewed and updated at least once a year.
Your tone of voice document is essential to keep you on brand. This governs how your brand will sound, what it will or won’t say and the personality it will exude. It also documents spelling and grammar rules and how your company name should be written.
This document should be formalized so it can be shared with new team members or external contractors.
Your brand style guide
Your designer needs to create a formal brand style guide for your agency. Unforgettable branding can come from a weak logo, inconsistent use of colors and fonts and sloppy or unprofessional graphics. Lay out clear guidelines that can be followed by anyone in your organization.
I recently wrote about competitor analysis.
It’s certainly essential when you start a social media marketing agency. Know your competitors, what they’re offering, and how much they charge. Make a point of following them on social media, so you can get a feel for how they operate.
Create a pitch deck
Growing your social media agency and winning more clients means you’re going to have to pitch your business to prospects. A lot! And often you will only have a few minutes to do it so work on your elevator pitch.
Having an awesome video or presentation to wow clients can be a great conversion tool. We created this fun video for new clients. No, we won’t make your VP go viral, but we will create great content that improves your brand.
When we launched Contentworks Agency, we budgeted to create gift boxes for potential clients. They contained business cards, pens, flyers, and—of course, chocolates and snacks—check it out!
Establish your roles
If you’re setting up a marketing agency with other people, what will your roles be? Will you be actively working on client projects or managing a team? What will your area of responsibility be? This is important to establish early on to avoid conflict later. As obvious as it may sound, don’t go into business with someone if you don’t have a good relationship. If you don’t want to draw up a contract, at least document your roles and responsibilities.
Social media marketing tip:
Treat your social media agency like it’s your best client. Constantly strategize, and produce great content and eye-popping social media posts. Create reports for yourselves using Agorapulse and analyse your engagement, best content and top acquisition posts.
9. Nail Your Launch
As a marketing agency, you need to have a successful launch. It doesn’t matter whether your business is physical or virtual, your launch needs to happen correctly.
Here are some factors to consider:
- Your website. Is it up and running? Are all your links working? Test your contact forms, telephone numbers, and emails.
- Social media. If you’re starting a social media agency then your social media channels had better be popping. Consider running a paid advertisement for the first few months of your launch.
- Google Maps. Make sure you’re listed on Google business and that you have confirmed your address. This can take a while and involves Google physically posting your verification code, so start early.
- Listings. Get your agency listed wherever you can. Start with free business listings then consider paid opportunities.
- PR. Plan a series of PRs to go out to relevant industry publications. They could be interviews with your founders, an introduction to the agency, or perhaps a special launch offer. Remember to get professional photos done at the start to create the right impression.
- Gifts or events. Consider kickstarting your agency launch with targeted gifts or an online event. You could give attendees virtual vouchers for your services or enter them into a prize draw.
When you start a social media marketing agency, you need to be ready to invest in the tools you need for your agency and its clients.
Failing to use the right social media tools can slow you down, create miscommunication, make you look like an amateur, and worst of all, cause you to lose leads and customers.
My advice is always to start with the free tools then get the paid ones you really need. We utilize hundreds of tools at Contentworks Agency, but my favorite free ones include:
- Trello. I love Trello for managing team projects. It’s easy to set up and has everything you need to organize projects of any size. With Trello, you can also add clients to boards—but make sure your team knows that before they start commenting!
- Zoom. This one doesn’t need an introduction. In addition to the usual video meetings, Zoom can be used for webinars, training, and conferences. Supporting up to 1,000 video participants and 10,000 viewers, this is the ideal tool for remote events. Your agency should also have official Skype IDs set up for calls with clients.
- Dropbox. You will need a server or cloud space to host essential files. That includes client files, ongoing projects, artwork, or employee details. The great thing about Dropbox is its flexibility. You can set access permissions for files (for example, senior management only). It’s easy to upgrade at a cost later on when you need more space.
- Canva. Research shows that visuals increase content engagement by 80%. So, what do you do if you’re a small agency and can’t afford a full-time graphic designer? Canva allows you to create social media covers, JPEGs, web banners, invitations, and ad imagery. Eventually, you may hire a designer, but until then, this is a great option. You can also upgrade to a paid version of Canva to access even more features.
My favorite paid tools include …
- Agorapulse. Obviously! Agorapulse is incredible for social media team collaboration, scheduling all your social media accounts in one place, and monitoring multiple interactions. It also allows you to pull off impressive reports, which you can provide to clients. That’s hours saved messing about tracking stats and putting them into a PowerPoint!
- PosterMyWall. Graphics, GIFs, and videos on a “Pay as you go” or subscription basis are perfect for your social media agency. One clear advantage of PosterMyWall is its immense library of high-quality stock videos. It’s incredibly easy to search for the one you want in the video library.
- Visme. If you’re an agency that needs to present to clients, you will know the importance of beautiful infographics. While I find Canva great for accompanying social graphics, I find Visme to be stronger in generating more in-depth infographics, product demos, wireframes, presentations, and design mockups.
- Zoho CRM. Inevitably, you will start out using Excel spreadsheets to store clients and leads, BUT try to transition away from this as soon as you can. A CRM (customer relationship manager) is online software that manages your sales, marketing, and support in one place. It stores your leads clients and prospects and allows you to make notes and log interactions. You can also hook it up to MailChimp later for newsletters.
- Quick Books. Don’t neglect those accounts. You need to be regularly invoicing clients, paying employees, paying tax, and calculating social security payments. All this is nearly impossible without the correct accounting software. Our accountant uses Quick Books to keep us timely, organized, and knowledgeable about our finances. Be sure to have regular meetings to assess your expenditure and analyze profits and losses.
When you interview potential staff for your social media marketing agency, set a practical test. Everyone thinks they are a social media expert, but it’s important to see their skills in action before you hire them. Also, ask to see past work samples.
11. Take Time to Properly Onboard Clients
Once you’ve signed a client up, you must properly onboard them. Failing to spend the time early on will likely result in miscommunication, complaints, or even lost clients later.
Onboarding can take place over Zoom or Skype, and should factor in the following:
- Are the right people on the call? Often the people on the call (shareholders, CEO, and CTO) are not the people you need to deal with daily. They might be the CMO, content manager, or digital marketing manager. Don’t be afraid to ask if everyone is on the call who needs to be. It will save you time later!
- Have all the documents been signed and returned? NDA, services agreement, contract, and payment form? You can use services like Hello Sign or DocuSign to get your documents signed.
- Recap that you are aligned with the client goals and strategy. This is not a strategy session. That will take place separately.
- Set expectations regarding deadlines, your availability, who they should speak to, and how to contact you. The same goes in reverse. Who can you contact in an emergency?
- What the next actions will be? For example, your next actions will be a strategy call on Thursday at 9 am with the CEO and marketing manager.
- Leave time for questions. You should be approachable and open to questions at this point. Ensure your new client understands exactly what will happen next and leaves the call happy.
Create a “Get to know you” document for new clients to complete. This will include emergency contacts, their USPs, their landing page links, and any legal disclaimers to include in their work.
Managing time is a crucial skill for social media managers.
As I mentioned before, you should always be acquiring clients. That doesn’t mean you don’t care about retaining your client base, but it means acknowledging there will be a natural drop-off rate.
Here are some of the activities you should be performing regularly:
- Utilize LinkedIn. Write articles, answer questions, and network in Linkedin groups. Politely decline opportunities that don’t suit you, and do be professional. Proactively reach out to companies you want to work with but avoid being spammy.
- Run events. Hosting or moderating webinars will put you in contact with CEOs and CMOs of companies you may later onboard. Speaking on panels establishes you as a thought leader. Here’s Niki moderating the marketing panel at our Big Forex Breakfast event.
- Promote testimonials. When a client stops your services, you should always know why. If they are happy but simply no longer require your agency, always aim to get a testimonial from them. Happy client testimonials are great for winning new business. Add them to your social media schedule and watch the leads come in.
- Regularly restrategize. The social media landscape is always shifting. So, too, is the sector you operate in (pharma, finance, sports, etc). It’s important to regularly assess your approach and redirect your marketing spend to move with trends.
- Be proactive. Always keep your eyes open for potential clients. If you’re at an expo, make a note of some brands you could work with. Seen companies recruiting on Linkedin for a social media manager? Approach them to introduce your services.
13. What Posts Should Your Agency Share?
As a social media agency, your presence should be consistent and strong. Remember, each channel needs its own content and strategy so think about that before you open 20! Planning ahead you should always create a social media calendar to guide your activities.
Here are some ideas:
- Take team photos. They don’t need to be staged and awkward. Capture fun and impromptu moments. These are great for Instagram … Here’s Niki grabbing some expo pizza!
- Share a quick catch-up or interview video with a team member, client, or supplier.
- Tag local businesses, clients, and events in your posts for added traction. Here I am with SEO superstars Search The Nest.
- Support local businesses and charities. It is a great thing to do. Provide a donation if you can or volunteer your time or services. Regularly sharing updates is such an awesome way to help whilst providing interesting content for fans. Our chosen charity is Room to Read and we regularly provide updates. This aligns with our content marketing ethos of #literacyforall. This cause is important to us so we link to a corporate responsibility page explaining why.
- Share photos of events like birthday milestones or parties. Yes, running an agency can be glamourous sometimes.
- Create short, fun videos of your team working on a project or socializing. Don’t feel you have to wait for something impressive. Sometimes, the small things are the best, like this funny green screen video script we were working on with MotionMilk.
- Share insightful content that reflects your knowledge of the sector. To do this you should have a well-populated blog with at least one article per week being added.
- Share case studies. Sharing case studies, work samples, and client testimonials is great for your agency’s social media channels. Potential customers will be keen to hear from past clients and view your work. In my opinion, doing this organically can be more powerful than paid advertising.
It’s important not to lose the human touch. Ultimately, everything you do on social media has to connect with another human to be successful. This is true even for B2B companies where there is always a decision-maker.
Three Time-Saving Social Media Agency Hacks
Running your social media agency requires some savvy thinking and smart hacks.
Here are my top three tips for social media marketing agency owners and social media managers.
1. Allow flexible working hours
Hear me out on this one … By allowing some degree of flexibility in staff working hours, you may be able to serve clients better. For example, say you have two social media managers, and one is a night owl and one is an early bird. This will allow you to cover different time zones in real-time and therefore target a more diverse location range.
2. Plan your content in advance
Always do this for your agency and your clients. Allowing your agency time to work on videos, graphics, and content is key to getting great results. Search for days within your sector that could be incorporated into cool campaigns. Aim to work at least one month ahead but have an overview of the next six months.
3. Automate tasks
Use automated tools where you can. These may be scheduling tools, chatbots on social media, auto-response emails, RSS, and automatic media monitoring. At some point, you will need a human to step in, but automation can save a lot of time in the interim.
Running a social media marketing agency is about lasting the distance. Only 3% of marketing agencies last 50+ years so be sure to think strategically and don’t get burnt out in Year 1.
Get started on saving time and energy on your own social media management! Check out our free trial of Agorapulse to help you schedule, track, and measure all your social media efforts.