You might think starting a local marketing agency will provide fun work that seems like play. Perhaps you watched a TV show that made it look cool or you saw a neighbor doing it and thought, “That looks easy.” TV produces fiction – even on “reality” shows. Your neighbor probably made it look easy by having an education and years of experience in the area. So, before you hang out the proverbial shingle and open up shop to rub elbows with local celebrities and business leaders, know what it takes to open and successfully run a marketing agency.

What Kind of Marketing Agency?

Marketing refers to a huge industry with multiple facets. Few agencies try to cover all the bases. Successful agencies pick one area of marketing and may eventually expand to include another, but specializing helps create success. So, what falls under marketing?

  • publicists,
  • public relations firms,
  • advertising agencies,
  • Web design,
  • illustrators,
  • commercial photography,
  • search engine optimization services,
  • content creation,
  • web analytics,
  • social media management,
  • social media marketing,
  • branding/brand management,
  • reputation management.

For example, the world-renowned advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather started out creating quality ads that communicated genuine product knowledge. It still does that. It did add divisions to assist clients with related areas, like Internet advertising, after having been in business for decades.

Pick Your Niche

Once you pick your agency type, you need to determine your niche. Trying to service every industry might seem like it provides a multitude of potential clients, but… no. Each industry looks for agencies that specialize in its area. You’ll successfully build a long-term client list much more quickly if you specialize. Some publicists work only with musicians or actors. Some commercial photographers specialize in the insurance industry. A content or creatives agency might specialize in blockchain or the high-tech industry. They succeed because they know their topic exceedingly well and there is less competition within a niche. The good news is that with so many industries and businesses, plenty of clients abound for everyone.

Business Type

Determine the type of business you’ll open. In the US, you have three essential choices:

  • sole proprietorship,
  • limited liability corporation (LLC),

Each type requires separate paperwork. Each has separate requirements from the Internal Revenue Service. A sole proprietorship works if you are a single person working for yourself. If you need help, you can sub-contract.

If you would like to separate your business assets from your personal assets, you need to file for a LLC or corporation. If you want a simple partnership, i.e. you and your best friend want to found a business together, choose a LLC. If you’re a startup with venture capital or an angel investor that will hire employees, file incorporation paperwork. For a LLC or corporation, you’ll need to hire an attorney. They’ll help you handle major items like your articles of incorporation.

Home Office or Outside Office?

Will you office at home or rent an office space outside your home? Many sole proprietorships start out in a home office. This saves money and some paperwork. If you choose to office outside your home, you’ll need to apply for and obtain a local business permit which you must display so visiting customers can see it. This also applies if your home business hires employees (which differs from sub-contractors). You’ll also need a state tax certificate and a federal tax identification number from the Internal Revenue Service, if you hire employees. A sole proprietor may legally use their Social Security Number. Marketing agencies don’t require special licenses.

Setting Up Office

Yeah, you’re legal. You know what you want to do and for whom. Set up your office with the right equipment. Running a business from your cell phone is possible, but it kind of sucks. Purchase and install the following:

  • cell phone,
  • computer,
  • digital camera,
  • e-fax,
  • furniture,
  • high-speed Internet,
  • printer,
  • scanner
  • software, such as Adobe Creative Suite,
  • supplies (USB drives, SD cards, paper, pens, paperclips, tape, etc.).

Set Rates and Service Plans

Offer a range of plans. You’ll need an hourly rate and a flat rate scheme. Figure out what it costs you to run your business – paying the bills and buying supplies, etc. Add to it a livable wage for yourself, and employees, if you have them.

By offering different packages or service levels, you enable almost everyone to afford your services. Offering hourly rates lets you provide service to a client who only needs one creative piece or needs to hire you/your firm for a single week. You also let people try you out for a small project that lets them determine if they would like to work with you for something larger. An hourly client for a one-off creative piece or a client who begins with your smallest package can easily turn into a long-term client with the largest package you offer. Cater to all income levels and give every client the same amazing turnaround times, quality content and customer service.

Collect Needed Info.

Again, this varies by business. A public relations firm or advertising agency needs the rate sheets of germane newspapers, magazines, TV stations and websites. An illustrator or photographer starting out may not be able to afford an offset printer or poster printer, etc. They need rates for such printers. Want to use t-shirts as a marketing device? You’ll need those rates.

Market Yourself

Show clients from the start that you know what you’re doing. You are your first client. Your blog, brochures, business card, social media and website show what you know. Your first creations should be for your own company and should stand out. Try to use a local print shop, when possible. Support other local business. It creates a symbiotic relationship. Don’t forget to purchase a domain name for your blog or website.

Your website should include a portfolio of your work. Potential clients need to see what you can create. Only use your own, original work. (Copyright violations provide a quick way to have your business shut down.)

Conduct target audience research to identify local and regional businesses that would potentially hire your firm. You’ll need to create a marketing campaign for your firm to target them. You can be your own first case study.

Build Your Case Studies and Feature Them on Your Website

This means different things depending on which agency type you start. A reputation management firm or public relations firm would develop client case studies that show long-term results with factual data including customer KPIs, campaign results in numbers reached, branding gains, etc. It would also include the client’s return on investment calculation. You will find client testimonials a boon, as well.

On the other hand, an illustrator would include client testimonials side-by-side with the logo or illustration created. These testimonials hopefully speak to the great response a client got from the logo or ad, how easy the artist was to work with and how responsive.

Conduct Your Own Market Research

Big or small, the best firms do what the Gartners of the world do. They conduct their own research. Create and administer a scientifically designed survey to gather original data. Write blog posts, white papers and create infographics and social media posts using it.

Join Appropriate Business Organizations

Register with the Better Business Bureau. Join local organizations like the Chamber of Commerce. Join the national, state and regional organizations for your business type. For example, the public relations industry has a national organization that sets best practices and guides professional behavior, the Public Relations Society of America(PRSA). Attend meetings and network.

Running Your Business

Any type of business requires accounting and expense tracking, but marketing, especially. Be ready to bill hours. Track every minute and penny. Don’t forget that businesses need separate bank accounts from your personal accounts.

Don’t forget to insure your business. Before you let a single soul through your new office doors, get small business insurance quotes, pick an insurer and buy a policy.

Never undertake work without a contract. Have your attorney create a standard contract that your provide every client. You don’t perform an ounce of work until final negotiations are done and everything is agreed to – in writing. You can use online or written contracts, so long as you use a valid signature method. (You need a legally acceptable e-signature method for online contracts.)

Before you begin any work, including for yourself, learn the laws regarding advertising, especially false advertising, misleading advertising and fraud. You’ll need to follow all laws at the local, state and federal level. Violations of these result in significant fines, legal issues, and in the case of fraud, jail time.

Before you begin any type of marketing agency, heed the words of ad executive Paul Venables:

“The world does not need another ad agency… However, the world does need special places to work. Places where “culture” is more than foosball tournaments and happy hours. Places where both employees and clients are treated like living, breathing human beings.”

Venables speaks the truth, If you want to create an amazing workplace with a culture that builds people up and genuinely helps clients build and expand their businesses and brands, and treats every person it employees like a star, then start a marketing agency. If you want to donate some of your time to pro bono projects for non-profits, start a marketing agency. If you have a talent for storytelling through art, photos, websites or words, start a marketing agency. If you genuinely want to inspire people by telling the stories of others, start a marketing agency. If you can do these things sans BS and lies and with gratitude, start a marketing agency. Marketing does need more people like that – with a mix of activist, artist, entrepreneur, fighter, leader and storyteller in them.

Author Bio:  Jeremy is a tech and business writer from Simi Valley, CA. He’s worked for  Adobe, Google, and himself. He lives for success stories, and hopes to be one someday.