Starting a business is a significant and bold move, and for many social media marketers, it’s the logical next step after gaining experience in the industry. So what does it take to start a social media marketing agency and grow it successfully? From understanding which platforms you want to work with to standing out and finding your first client, there are many things you need to understand before starting.
This guide will take you through all the necessary steps to starting a successful agency – from building a solid foundation and packaging your services to winning clients. Combined with our research, we asked several people with experience or an extensive background with social media about starting a social media marketing agency, and this is what they had to say.
Choose a niche
The more focused your niche is, the more tailored your potential audience will be. A niche can be focused on a particular industry (entertainment, beauty, tech) or a specific platform like Instagram or Tiktok. It just needs to be able to serve enough clients to bring in revenue.
A big part of creating a successful social media marketing agency (i.e., having a steady client roster and inflow of revenue) is presenting yourself properly online. Richard Barker is a former social media agency owner who now runs marketing at the security company Clarion Security Systems. He asks you to consider, “Are you a LinkedIn specialist or TikTok? What type of audience do you want to speak to?”
This question is critical as you go through your clients' content ideation and creation process. Richard says, “Depending on if you want to specialize on one platform or across them all, you need to ensure that your channels are producing great content that gets engagement.”
You’ll also need to determine a niche to avoid multitasking, especially if you’re starting solo or with a small team. Doing too much for too many types of industries and platforms can be overwhelming and cause you to burn out as quickly as you begin.
Jason White, a social media industry expert and CEO of the gardening information platform All About Gardening, has some great advice about picking a niche. He advises, “Start by mastering one platform when building a social media marketing agency. Identify your niche and choose the best social media platform to reach them.”
Keep in mind that each platform has its own respective rules and dynamics that you will need to master first. What works well on Instagram might not work so well on Facebook, so your marketing strategies will need to be tailor-made for each platform.
Picking a niche can be very beneficial – here are some reasons to consider yours extra-closely
- Building expertise in a certain niche to the point where clients come to you for your knowledge
- Expertise also lends itself to better pricing – clients will pay for your knowledge and experience if you can show that you have it.
- Lots of competition means that picking a niche can help you focus on standing out with a certain type of client at a certain level. For example, you may choose to serve influencers, small businesses, or big corporations. Of course, different clients will bring in different revenue levels, but you can find immense success as long as you are focused on serving your audience well.
Determine the services (and pricing) you want to offer
Closely followed by picking a niche is choosing what services and pricing you’ll offer. Social media marketing is varied and there are many services you will and won’t be able to offer. Some of the things social media marketing agencies might offer include:
- Social media strategy
- Account creation, branding, and growth
- Social media and community management
- Content creation: Copywriting, Graphic design, Platform-specific content (IG Reels, TikToks, 140-character Tweets)
- Content publishing
- Research and analysis
- Social media consulting
You might be able to offer graphic design and social media copy but not account creation and growth. Some clients might want detailed reporting, while others might handle that. You might publish content but not respond to comments. You can take a roster of services you’re qualified to handle clients and give them value for the money.
Two things cannot be understated – the value of a well-defined process and how to price. Anna Sullivan, founder of The Creative Exchange, a content creation agency, shared that not having them might harm your agency in the long run.
Don’t undersell yourself – if you are looking to build an agency charge accordingly for your expertise. - Richard Barker
Determine your unique selling points and prepare a business plan
When starting a social media marketing agency, it’s important to study and understand the market. There are many agencies that offer different services that will be similar to yours. So understanding the market is vital to determine what your audience wants and what your unique selling points will be.
Roy Morejon, the co-founder of Enventys Partners – a full-service product launch company – says, “I also highly recommend finding a differentiator that sets your business apart from the others.” You’re competing with not just the social media marketing agencies, but possibly around the world too. He adds, “It's okay if you do not have a differentiator from the start, but it will be harder to succeed until you do find one.”
Once you’ve determined what your unique selling points will be (growing TikTok accounts like Kozen Creative or creating visual content for Instagram), you’ll need a business plan. While you may not be hunting down investors or convincing a top CMO to make the move to your company just yet, a business plan will be a good model to guide your decision-making as a business owner.
“An agency cannot be made possible without intensive financial planning. The most fundamental step requires computing the total set-up and base costs in running your agency. This advice may sound simple, but you have to look into many financial elements to ensure that you start your business the right way,” advises Allan Stolc, founder and CEO of Bankly, a loan finder platform.
Lilia Tovbin, founder and CEO of Big Mailer – an email marketing agency – adds, “Social media marketing entrepreneurs might not have enough venture-back capital at the initial stage of their careers. However, they can still be competitive by bootstrapping their businesses. This means they can use affordable and effective tools to maximize their resources without shelling out a large amount of money.”
Start pitching clients
Once you’ve determined your niche, work on finding the clients that fit your requirements and build mutually-beneficial relationships with them. Consider creating an ideal customer profile, which in tandem with your chosen niche, can help you figure out who you can and can’t work with.
For people just getting started, Eric Ridenour, marketing consultant at Strategus, a programmatic ad agency, recommends reaching out to a charity and volunteering to manage their social media. He says, “Volunteering for an organization you agree with has several benefits. First, if you are looking at setting up a culture and brand values behind your new business, supporting a nonprofit is a great way to do this. You gain experience and can list them as a client.”
Eric also adds that oftentimes, a nonprofit will have no problem with you using them for a case study and more. In addition, many organizations have teams and some policies in place, so you can learn how organizations work.
For those who already have experience, a good way to find clients is to go on freelancing sites and social media to look for clients, particularly those looking for long-term partnerships. Johannes Larsson, a digital marketing expert shares, “Go above their expectations to produce the results they need, and express your desire to continue working together. The ideal outcome is to build a client base that you like working with, represents your skills well, and is happy to partner with you for the long term.”
Remember that work you’ve previously done (along with its performance analytics) is the best way to grab a potential client’s attention. You’ll need to grow and gather your experience in a portfolio to get better responses from the clients you are pitching to.
Go above their expectations to produce the results they need, and express your desire to continue working together. The ideal outcome is to build a client base that you like working with, represents your skills well, and is happy to partner with you for the long term - Johannes Larsson
Track your progress in a portfolio and turn it into social proof
Building a strong portfolio that leverages your services as a marketing expert is a crucial starting point in establishing yourself as a social media marketing agency. Highlight the credentials, relevant experiences, and past clients of your team to show potential customers that you are an expert in what you do. Let your portfolio do the sales talk.
Why is a portfolio so important? As Brogan Renshaw, marketing expert and Director at Modelers Central, a model ship manufacturer, says, “Establishing a strong portfolio answers the question of why customers should pick you even if you are only starting out as a social media marketing expert.” In order to actively build a portfolio, you need to:
- Document your successful projects on your website as you go
- Quantify your actions and what results they had for your clients i.e., X campaign achieved Y percent of growth for my previous clients. Blake Smith, marketing consultant says, “Analytics that show the return of investment of your work are integral to client retention.”
- Encourage satisfied clients to leave feedback on your page to bring authenticity to your brand
Creating social media accounts that reflect your brand and expertise is also important – this is easier than waiting for your first client. To quote Richard Barker again, “No potential client wants to look at your social channels and see that your last post was over a year ago, they come to gain help as they want someone who lives on social media, understands, and can get engagement and selling from it.”
For example, marketing agency Truffle Social’s TikTok account is at over 9,000 followers, and their Instagram at over 12,000 followers. The agency’s efforts to create content and grow its social media accounts will be encouraging to clients that are looking for those services.
Your clients can also act as social proof for you. Tim Hill, CEO of Social Status, a social media analytics platform, says, “When business owners find great value and benefits in the social media marketing services you offer, they can become your first brand ambassadors. Encourage them to mention your brand on their social media, post comments, like your posts, and follow you on your social media page. By doing so, you’ll establish good long-term business relationships.”
Doing good work for your clients creates a cycle of return business that can sustain your agency and help it grow. Focus on creating and delivering quality work on your own and your clients' platforms as the ultimate proof of your expertise. This encourages people to make referrals, eventually slowing down your need to hunt down clients to sell your service to.
Grow your agency at a slow and steady pace and find community
Building a social media marketing agency is one thing, and growing it is another entirely. From developing a deep understanding of how to run a company or maintain professional relationships, there are many things past the initial development stages that you’ll need to keep an eye on. That’s why slow growth is essential.
The quality of your work and delivery should be great enough to speak for itself so that you don’t have to run around pitching clients. Going back to Richard Barker’s advice, he says, “Make sure you deliver – chasing leads and new business is essential for an agency, but don’t forget about your customers – always make sure you deliver what you said you would. Referrals are potentially the lifeblood of your business.”
Communities can be a powerful tool for entrepreneurs. Find and connect with a community of people doing the same thing as you. For example, marketing-focused communities like Online Geniuses and Demand Curve can be super valuable for connecting with other marketers on the same journey as you.
In a final confirmation of the power of a community, The Creative Exchange’s Anna Sullivan says, “Have the right people in your corner, as people to help do the work or be a mentor. There will be so much that will come your way that you won't know how to handle - everything feels like a unique situation, but having the right people to help will make it so much easier.”
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