Once upon a time, social media was used to share photos of your meals, blurry highlights from your night out with friends, and general life updates with your family.
But then something magical happened. The influencer was born.
All of a sudden, individuals with thousands and even millions of followers could post a photo wearing a certain sweater, and that sweater would sell out immediately.
It wasn’t long before businesses took notice. Enter the age of social media marketing.
Today, it’s possible to grow your entire business through social. And even if social media is just one of your many marketing and sales channels, it’s still crucial that you get it right. Which is why there is now a massive supporting industry of social media marketing agencies to help businesses master their social media game.
Are you thinking of adding an agency of your own to the mix? Here’s what you should know before you get started.
What You Need to Start a Social Media Marketing Agency
Technically you only need a few things to start selling social media marketing services:
- A Client
- An Offer
- A Price
Yes, there is more to it. But without these, you don’t have an agency.
A social media marketing agency usually starts one of two ways: you have someone who wants to hire you to manage their social media after seeing your work, or you have a desire to monetize your social media skills.
If it’s the former, you’re in a great spot. Nothing beats starting a business when you already have a paying customer. If you don’t have a client(s) lined up, you’ll need to get on this ASAP (we’ll get into the how later).
What do you plan to deliver for your clients? There is no shortage of social media marketing agencies, and if you want yours to succeed, you need to think about how your offer will stand out.
It’s best to take an initial stock of your skills. Ask yourself questions like:
- What do you notice better than others in the social space?
- What do you like creating the most?
- What type of content comes naturally?
- What have you been given compliments about in the past?
- What types of industries apparel to you the most?
From there, think about certain channels and verticals where you could have the most impact with your skills. As the range of social media content continues to grow, so will the need for specialized social media marketing agencies to do specific things, such as:
- Social engagement: getting more shares and comments than others
- Virality: being able to get a certain amount of views or traction with your content
- Unique voice: putting creativity at the forefront and offering a service that breaks norms and highlights the voice of a brand
- Conversion: getting people off of social and onto your client’s website/store/email list
- Community: create highly engaged, niche-specific communities your client can use to push new products or services
You get the idea. By focusing on a specific area of social media, you can stand out more and differentiate yourself in an otherwise saturated market.
You only have a business when someone pays you for your services. But what should you charge?
Here are a few things to consider when pricing your social media services:
- What are your operation costs? Project management tools, social scheduling, creative softwares, etc.
- What is the hourly rate you’d like to pay yourself?
- Do you plan to hire freelancers or other outside help?
- Do you want to work with a handful of big clients or lots of smaller ones?
This is a very limited list, but if you’re starting from nothing, answers to these questions will help you shape a fair price for your services.
Another helpful method is to use the information above, but also look at your competitors. What are other agencies charging for services similar to yours?
Your first inclination might be to charge less than them, but psychology tells us that if you charge slightly more, prospects can actually assume your business does better quality. You have to back up your prices with quality work, of course. But resist the urge to join a race to the bottom with your pricing.
Finally, you’ll also want to consider the different types of pricing you can offer, like flat rate, a la carte, hourly, project-based, and bundling.
Steps to Start a Social Media Marketing Agency from the Ground Up
Okay, so you need more than just three things. There’s lots to consider when starting a social media marketing agency. You have to figure out how to track the money, pay yourself and any employees, and how you’ll manage the workload in an organized manner that clients appreciate.
It’s tempting to do the work first and figure out the rest later, but that’s a quick way to burn yourself into the ground and run out of money. Here are some important steps to take before you open up shop:
1. Get Project Management Software
This is what you’ll use to track your tasks, their progress, and stay on top of what to do for which client. It’s best to use a software that allows for creating different projects for each client, along with the capability of giving your client access for easier content approval.
Find one that works best to fit your needs—and don’t go overboard with the features and functions. More isn’t always better.
2. Social Media Management Software
Social media software will help you keep track of all your clients’ accounts, upload and publish content, and track performance.
There are hundreds of social management programs out there, but these are the most popular:
Of course, if you’re specializing in a certain social platform, it may have an all-in-one planner built in (like Facebook’s page manager). Do your research and start with a few free trials to test the features before you buy.
In addition to thinking through how you register your business, it’s wise to set up a unique bank account for your agency from the very beginning. Even if you’re just an agency of one right now, separating your finances is important (and might even be legally required, depending on how and where you register your business).
Be sure to keep track of the numbers in a bookkeeping software or a financial spreadsheet. While accounting tends to be a drag for anyone that’s not an accountant, it’s important for entrepreneurs looking to grow an agency to know their numbers.
4. Systems and Procedures
How are you doing what you’re doing? How do you decide which types of content to create for which client? How does a piece of content get proofed before publication?
These might seem like unimportant pieces of the business that’ll just “come together,” but you have to think about them from the start. What happens when you publish something with typos or the wrong link? It’s best not to find out…
You’ll want to think about these processes when starting your social agency:
- Content creation
- Content proofing
- Content editing
- Content publishing
- Client approval processes
- Creating a content schedule
- Research and analysis of social trends
- Analysis of social KPIs
5. Client Acquisition
You can’t keep an agency running with one client. At some point, you’ll want to grow and then hire more people. That requires finding new clients.
There are a few tried and true ways new businesses can get clients. Cold calling/emailing is a common place to start, though be prepared for lots of rejection and low close rate.
Referrals are a much more successful and cost effective method, since they involve your current clients sending you prospects. It’s truly the best way to grow your social marketing agency, but is contingent on you producing quality work and a quality experience for your existing clients.
Inbound marketing is a long-term game that can pay off big. This method involves promoting your services through value-add content on social media, through your website, and even email marketing. The benefit of this method is that it compounds over time. You’ll start slow with a few pieces a week, but in a year you’ll have hundreds of pieces of content about social media marketing pointing right back to your agency as the solution. Each piece of content you create serves to educate other people but also showcase your skill sets as an agency.
You’ll have to decide which method suits your agency best, but if long-term growth is your goal, work on nurturing all three.
6. Client Communication
Your relationship with your client is what will dictate if they continue to use your agency to grow. Naturally, you want to work with people and companies as long as you can because their growth is your growth. Business owners are always asking each other how they managed to grow, and if your agency is a part of their answer, referrals will start knocking down your door.
So, prioritize quality client communication. Start with our guide to great client communication which covers everything from transparency to meetings to building your communication plan.
But…not every client will be a dream to work with, and you’ll need a plan to deal with those difficult clients.
Also decide how you want to communicate with clients. Email? Slack? Project management software? Remember that while it might be easy to stay on top of your emails with one client, it can be damn near impossible with 10. That’s why you might want to consider looping them into your project management software and having a no-email policy if you can. It’ll save you and your team.
7. Tracking Growth
If you’re starting an agency, you probably have a vision. That vision likely includes growth. And in order to grow, you have to measure your progress.
There are a ton of digital marketing KPIs you can track (for both your own business and your clients), but not all matter for social media. Pick the ones that make the most sense for your and your agency’s specialization.
8. Branding, Website, Inbound Marketing
Once you have your agency’s name, unique selling proposition, and offers locked down, you can start to create a brand around it.
Think through how you’ll share your brand with the world. A website is always a good place to start. Plus it’s easy these days to build and launch a website in just hours using a drag-and-drop template.
In addition to your website, you’ll of course want to think about social. As a social media marketing agency, poor social presence is a non-starter. You must practice what you preach.
Starting a social media marketing agency isn’t a snap-of-the-fingers endeavor. But if you have the skills and the determination, there is always room for another agency that can deliver value.
This guide should give you a good understanding of where to start building your own social media marketing agency. If you want to learn more, be sure to check out all our articles on starting and running creative agencies.