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How to Start a Social Media Marketing Agency: Step by Step

You’re ready to move from daydreaming about starting your own social agency to making plans for it. But where do you even start? Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to start a social media marketing agency. 

Want to start your own social media marketing agency? It’s not all champagne and cat TikToks (unfortunately). There are many factors to consider if you want to create a business that is both profitable and well respected.

In this article, I’m sharing hacks and advice on how to start your social media marketing agency.

A Brief History

With 20+ years’ experience in corporate marketing, I felt it was time to take the leap. 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.

Today, we work with midsize to large brands around the world to providing them strategy, social media marketing, and content.

Contentworks: my social media marketing agency

Here’s a pic of Niki and me at our first Bloomberg finance conference shortly after launching the agency:

Starting a Social Media Agency in 2020

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 like never before. Social media was new and exciting; competition was infinitely lower. (So were client expectations.)

Fast forward to 2020 …

We see a barrage of social media agencies, infinite tools and platforms to learn, restrictive advertising rules, and high client expectations. That doesn’t mean starting a social media agency is impossible. But it does mean you need to up your game if you want to stand out and succeed with your social media or digital agency.

On the plus side, 2020 in all its glory has opened the online marketing space.

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. Invoicing electronically is welcomed, and businesses need an online presence more than ever.

More businesses are understanding the benefits of outsourcing their social media so great agencies are thriving.

Social media marketing agency tip

Treat your social media agency like it’s your best client. Constantly strategize, and produce great content and eye-popping social media posts.

1. What’s Your Area of Expertise?

Hundreds of thousands of social media marketing agencies exist all around the world. So, the first thing to do is clearly define your USPs (Unique Selling Points).

Your USPs might be any of the following.

You specialize in a sector 

Do you specialize in tech, beauty, sports, pharma, or like us, financial services? 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.

You specialize in an area of social media marketing 

It’s always good to specialize in something. That doesn’t mean you can’t take on other tasks, but it sets you apart as an expert.

For example, maybe you are Google Adwords certified or a Facebook ads expert. Your social media agency might have the best videographer, most creative designer, or the top writers. That specialization can help to set your social media marketing agency apart.

You can help clients in a specific way

Some social media marketing agencies claim to generate leads through advertising. Others can increase your following or improve your brand awareness through organic content. It’s important to know where your skills lie.

Social media marketing agency tip

Weak branding makes you forgettable. Ensure that everyone in your organization gets your brand. That’s everyone, from the founders through to the web design team.

2. What Services Do You Actually Offer?

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 the following.

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.

Content writing 

Will you provide blog posts or are you just writing social media content? How much will you charge to deliver the social content by email and not manage the accounts? (Many clients want this.)

Paid social media 

Will you offer paid social media advertising? How will you bill for that? Will you also provide the content, images, and videos?

Strategy 

Will you work with clients on their strategy, branding, and positioning? This includes competitor research, positioning, branding, content strategy, and social media planning.

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.

Design 

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. (Get more details about in the free and paid tools section of this article.)

Alternatively, you could hire a contractor or team up with a design agency.

Social media marketing agency 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.

3. Get That Research Done 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.

Here are some of the areas to work on.

Competitor analysis

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. Use a personal email to obtain pricing.

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. This is essentially what you do and how you help clients in under a minute. (Grab this FREE social agency pitch deck if you need one.)

Define your brand

Marketers are accustomed to doing this for clients but often fail to do it for their own brand. Fully understand your brand voice, style, grammar, and content.

Who is your brand and how will you engage on social media? Remember, as a social media agency, you will be expected to shine on social!

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.

Costs include office space (if you choose to have a physical location) and the bills within it.

Set up costs of establishing a company, paying an auditor, and a lawyer. Paying freelancers, professional licenses, gas for the car and outing costs, expo expenses, professional photos, marketing costs (flyers, business cards, banners, website, Adwords promotional gifts).

And always leave a small reserve for unforeseen costs that will certainly occur.

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!

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 about animated or live videos?

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.

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.

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.

Social media marketing agency tip

Knowing your profit margin is key. A good margin will vary considerably by industry, but a 10% net profit margin is considered average, a 20-30% margin is good and a 5% margin is low.

4. 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.

Social media marketing agency tip

Decide early on which hashtags best represent your agency and sector. Some can be generic like #socialmedia and #socialmediaagency while others might be specific to your brand. Our own #AskCW helped us to run a series of AMAs.

5. Use These Free and Paid Tools for Social

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.

Free social media tools for social media marketing agencies

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:

Paid social media tools for social media marketing agencies

My favorite paid tools include

Social media marketing agency tip

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.

6. 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!
  • 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.

Social media marketing agency tip

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.

7. How to Manage Your Workday

Agency life is busy but also rewarding when your clients are happy and love what you do. Ensuring your team understands their role, daily tasks, and responsibilities is key.

Each working day is different but as the owner of a social media agency, I know my daily tasks can include …

Monitoring channels 

A quick sweep of the social media channels in the morning tells me that there are no problems, and everything is running smoothly.

Checking trends 

Even if you’re not actively managing your social media networks, you should still be aware of the trends in your sector. Being up on the latest news means you can be insightful and relevant in your interactions with clients.

Answering emails 

Whichever way you look at it, you will have tons of emails in the morning. It’s important to assign these to your team or reply if they are directed to you.

Team management

If you’re a new agency, it’s likely you will be managing the team yourself. In this case, it’s a good idea to utilize team collaboration tools like Basecamp, Slack, or Trello. These allow you to stay on top of collaborative projects, chat with the team, and in some cases, log freelancer hours.

Client Zooms

Client Zooms and Skypes take up a large part of my day. That’s because our agency model is hands-on, and we like to work on strategies with our clients. Even if you grow a large team, you should still be in the loop of what’s going on and at least know your clients.

Provide reporting

Similarly, I like to stay in the loop on the reporting side. When social media reports are generated, I like to analyze them before they go out to clients. This is where we can see what’s working and make alternative recommendations.

Proofing content

Not all the content needs to be proofed at the director level, but the important stuff should be. Key press releases, presentations, ebooks, or video scripts can benefit from several pairs of eyes before they go out.

Attend events

Whether you’re hosting them or attending them, events are a part of agency life. In 2020 these have mostly become virtual (webinars, podcasts, AMAs, online seminars) but they are still important.

First, having a presence there is great for networking and brand awareness. Second, it’s important to keep improving your knowledge. If you’re in the pharmaceutical sector, for example, you should be attending relevant webinars to stay updated on the latest pharma news and protocols.

Plan your marketing 

Always treat your agency as if it’s a premium client. That means planning your own content, social media, and advertising. Involve the team for input, ideas, and action plans.

Acquisition 

Never stop acquiring clients. You will find there is a natural turnover, especially if you handle one-off projects. You must always be acquiring and onboarding clients to maintain a steady flow.

8. How to Delight Clients at Your Social Media Agency

I love happy clients. Not only do they retain your services, but they also tell other companies about you.

When we are onboarding new clients, it’s great to hear we were recommended. So how do you delight clients at your social media agency?

Communicate effectively

Always keep clients in the loop, even if things aren’t going to plan.

Logo taking longer than expected? Tell them.

Social media campaign not working the way you hoped? Communicate this and explain why you are pivoting.

Always give more 

That doesn’t mean giving discounts or money off (something I don’t like to do). Instead, go above and beyond in your work. For example, create an extra article to celebrate a client’s company birthday.

Make time for clients

From past experience, I can recall utilizing social media agencies and then only having contact with juniors. Their directors who were so keen to onboard us, wouldn’t return calls or emails. Don’t be that agency. Establish clear points of contact but make time to speak with clients, drop them an email, or a friendly Skype from time to time.

Be strategic

Mostly it’s your strategy and insights that clients appreciate. It’s the part they cannot do themselves and they look to you to be the expert. Research, analyze, and take strategic actions on their social media accounts. One size never fits all.

Be friendly

Regardless of how tired or stressed you are, you should always be professional and friendly with clients. And extend that out to your team members too. It’s your social media agency so you need to steer the ship calmly out to sea!

9. How to Find New Clients for Your Social Media Agency

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:

  • 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.

10. 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.
  • Share photos of events like birthday milestones or parties. Yes, running an agency can be glamourous sometimes.
  • 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.

Social media marketing agency tip

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.

In Conclusion

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. Have you started a social media agency? What were your biggest challenges or tips? Send me a tweet and let me know.

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