These days practically all businesses need a social media profile, and as such managing social media for companies is a huge industry (especially when many business owners are largely clueless about how to do social media effectively). This industry has absolutely boomed over the past decade or so — and its hard to see the demand for social media agencies shrinking in future:
If you’re contemplating starting your own social media agency, this collection of stories I’ve collected from social media agency owners (if you have your own social media agency, you can submit your story here) is intended to help you out and give you some useful food for thought. I strongly recommend reading through each one! I’d be surprised if you didn’t pick up at least one or two things that will be helpful to you.
We started our agency because we wanted to bring our collective expertise to the market and thought we could build an agency of real value together. It's been an amazing experience and journey. A lot of ups, some downs, but it's learning from those downtimes which are crucial and have ended up adding the most value to our business.
A major tip is to work with clients you want to work with. There are only so many hours in the day and life is a precious commodity so you want your days to be as enjoyable and productive as possible. That means working with clients who you like, who have matching energy, who can vibe creative ideas with, and who you can genuinely connect with. It makes such a difference to the outcome of projects. So learning to say no is a big part of that.
Obviously, when you're starting out, you think you don't have that luxury. But taking on clients who are not a good fit can be an enormous time suck and actually hold your growth back. Better to focus your time and efforts on building a network of trusted contacts and building your business with people who have a matching work and creative ethos.
--Alistair Dodds, Ever Increasing Circles
Digital Marketing agencies are notoriously expensive. After delivering Social Media for many big brands at top Digital Marketing agencies, I saw the challenge for smaller businesses.
I wanted to offer an affordable Social Media service - one that smaller businesses can afford and one that where they can see revenue-based results from their social media channels.
Initially, I set up as a boutique Social Media agency, yet there is a huge amount of competition and I felt I really needed to expand my offering to reflect my expertise and my approach to Digital.
Brand Love Solutions now focuses on three main areas: Social Media, SEO and Content Marketing. The synergy between the three results in higher brand recall and brand engagement.
I had been content writing for years as a freelancer, alongside delivering successful SEO projects, so I know how impactful the various touchpoints are for higher customer retention and lower customer acquisition.
People underestimate the power of branding. And this is one of the reasons why I named my agency 'Brand Love Solutions'.
I would have to say that the biggest challenge I have faced is that due to having worked in the industry for 10 years, I am known as a Social Media Expert within the industry. The majority of my client work has been Social Media projects and retainers, however, in order to drive long-term business growth, all touchpoints with the brand need to be considered and Social Media should integrate within the wider digital strategy.
My advice for those who want to set up a Social Media Agency would be to refine and work on your core offering. What exactly do you offer that is different from everyone else? Your agency needs clear competitor differentiation. Work on your agency positioning and expertise. Don't try to target everyone at first. You need to be clear on exactly who you are targeting. There is a huge amount of competition out there. Figure out how to communicate your 'why' and how your agency can deliver Social Media strategy.
--Aimee Joseph, Brand Love Solutions
Amplify media + marketing started 9 years ago as a digital marketing agency helping SMBs (small to medium sized businesses). In those 9 years, we have grown to just under 200+ active clients and service clients across various verticals.
I started Amplify for the pure reason of helping SMBs generate leads and build brand awareness. Another pain point we were trying to address were eliminating the high costs and poor results many of them were getting from the larger companies that were handling their social media, as well as the issue that many SMBs have less than 5 employees- and while many attempt to handle the task of social media themselves, it was found it simply takes up too much time from their day to day tasks of running the business. We also found that social media was not typically a strong suit of their own, so the hours they were investing in attempting to run their on social media was simply a waste of time for them, as it wasn't generating results.
Our results of helping SMBs with their social media has been very fulfilling. We've seen them grow their business, become more active in the communities they serve and build a strong reputation for their business. The challenge of social media- regardless of whether or not it's handled by the business owner or an agency comes down to time. The time involved to brainstorm the content, create the content, publish the content and then monitor that content is very time consuming - and efficiency is a must. For anyone wanting to start a social media agency, or for a small business that wants to handle social media themselves, a priority must be placed on simply getting it done. Set up a schedule, dedicate a certain day(s) to those tasks, put a system in place, etc. Lastly, there is a lot of software out there that can help manage these tasks and streamline the ins and outs of running social media.
--Travis French, Amplify media + marketing
After many years of doing marketing for a variety of brands and businesses, as well as managing clients in my spare time, I finally took the plunge this year to launch my own agency. I was drawn to starting my own company because it provided the freedom and flexibility to have more control over my career and earning potential, as well as giving me an opportunity to utilize more of my education and skills in digital marketing.
So far, I've exceeded all of my own expectations and goals for growth, utilizing my own network that I've been building over the years.
I'm incredibly glad I took the plunge and wish I would have done it sooner, although I do feel that a bit of extra time learning and gaining experience has made a big difference in my success.
For those looking to go out on their own, I would recommend getting all of your ducks in a row. A logo, a thought out business strategy, a solid website as well as a good portfolio of clients and examples of your work and how it helped are all very important for gaining good footing. Don't be afraid to ease into the transition of entrepreneurship by starting it on the side of your day job.
The other thing I would say is to look at those people around you you can learn from. I was lucky to have a boss who was able to share with me a wealth of insight and lessons on how to do business and, more importantly, grow it. Find those mentors and humble yourself to learn as much from them as you can.
--Jay York, Grove Brands
Our social media agency was an accident of our web design agency. It came quite naturally to us that recurring revenue was better than project-based revenue. The problem with web design is that there is little to no repetitive business.
After some back-of-the-napkin financial modeling, we started offering other services such as social media marketing, SEM, and influencer marketing to our clients. As a team, we had a little something for social media, and more specifically, influencer marketing.
One advice I would give anyone starting in this field is to specialize as fast as you can. Social Media is too broad of a term. Being the Pinterest marketing agency (this is an example) for fashion brands will paradoxically create more opportunities. Specialization allows you to reduce your operating costs and increase your pricing (people pay a premium for a specialized service).
--David Morneau, inBeat.co
I started Whisker Media in 2014 but really focused on the pet niche in 2019. I originally started the company as a general strategic communications firm, taking on all kinds of clients, with the goal of donating proceeds to animal welfare organizations.
At the time, I was working primarily with government and school organizations. But I quickly learned my passion is animals so I switched the company to focus on pet related clients, especially cat clients. It's been the perfect match, I use my passion and knowledge for animals to help pet companies focus on solving the problems of pet consumers and create social media posts to address these issues.
I also work as the public relations manager for the third largest animal welfare organization in the country, so I have first hand knowledge of why people surrender or abandon animals. I have knowledge of animal behavior and see thousands of cats and dogs going through our shelter system every year, so love that I can mix that knowledge with the for-profit side of things, advising my clients on why their products will or won't work.
I love that my for profit work and non profit work hand in hand. You are not going to get great results unless you have a passion for the products, businesses and organizations you are promoting. Take work that you believe in. You are not doing yourself or your clients any favors if there's no passion behind it.
--Mary Tan, Whisker Media
Starting a social media agency came from my passion for helping business owners more efficiently reach their communities. I had been running a brick and mortar business, a Martial Arts school, where I fell in love with marketing and communication. I saw how life-changing it was for our students to start their Martial Arts program and that meant it was critical to reaching those people in our community. So I worked to master the listening and speaking skills it really takes to make a difference for people and realized so many other business owners could benefit from learning those skills.
I started just on Facebook and once I had a few clients my company expanded quickly. There are really a few basic things that keep our agency growing while still delivering excellent service: consistency in posting for our own company on social media, consistency in networking to meet new business owners, and regular follow up with everyone we meet. Now we offer affordable social media plans for Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, custom website design, and 1:1 social media training and consulting.
--Lori Ramas, Relezant
We started our company with the goal of having greater flexibility when we had our first child. This industry allows you to work from anywhere at any time. So we've been able to work while our kids were in preschool or at summer camp and in the evenings. It allowed us to maximize our time with them.
But what I enjoy most about the industry is the challenge. Technology and trends are constantly changing, so to be successful, you have to be always learning.
For newcomers, I would say to stay focused on the end goal. In most cases, it isn't to get the largest following or the most likes -- it's to help your clients grow their business. At every step of the way, show your clients the value you provide them.
--Juliana Weiss-Roessler, WR Digital Marketing
I built my agency to serve as a resource so that smaller businesses can run strategic, results-orientated, integrated marketing programs.
Digitally Enhanced focuses predominantly on women-owned businesses in the health, wellness and empowerment space. And while it's been a wild ride, for the first time in my career I actually feel fulfilled and like I have actual autonomy over my life.
However, if I could share a few tips for others thinking of making the jump, they would be:
1. If you can, start your business as a side hustle so you're financially supported while it ramps up
- I heard a great quote that said You can't have a baby and expect them to immediately start paying rent. The same goes for your business. I, unfortunately, did not see this until after I started the agency
2. Surround yourself with a strong support system -- or seek one out
- The days of an entrepreneur can be emotionally taxing and I can't tell you how many times I questioned my decision, however it was the people around me who kept me sane and reminded me that I can do this
3. Make sure you actually enjoy what you're doing
- Your work-life balance may be crazy, you'll probably end up doing every aspect of your business and I can't promise that you won't get an awful client or two, so before you make this decision, make sure that the main work is worth it to you
4. Find joy in learning all aspects of your business
- You'll eventually get to the stage where you can hire and outsource, but in the meantime, learn all that you can about your business: the accounting, the legal disclaimers, etc. This is your baby, try to find the joy in learning and breathing life into it because you'll probably look back at your one-man show fondly one day
--Katie Gootenberg, Digitally Enhanced Marketing
I started VisualFizz's social media offerings from a desire to help brands carry their voices into the real world and into the real lives of their customers. Social media is personal by nature, and what you say is just as important as to whom you say it. Social media allows consumers to allow businesses that most align with them into their personal feeds. This type of connection isn't established on any other channel.
My experience in building a social media agency has been truly reflective of social media management itself - straightforward in theory, but a lot more complex and difficult than expected. The toughest challenge to overcome when managing social media channels for other businesses is how to get audiences to engage. This nearly always means you need some budget - whether it's budget to create some truly shareable content or budget to extend the reach of your posts (ideally, it's both!). We've made some really incredible organic social media campaigns, and they unfortunately received very little visibility because the client prioritizes advertising budgets elsewhere. That's tough, especially when we know the potential of social strategies that focus on reach.
My best advice for other social media agency owners is - invest in the tools that will enable you to succeed. It's not easy to write catchy, creative posts, identify and target audiences, nail brand voice and tone, engage with other accounts in similar spaces, and build up a brand following - it's even more difficult (and time consuming) to do these things manually. Premium versions of your favorite tools (we use Sprout Social and have used Hootsuite in the past) can help you engage with others, find ideas, create conversations, and manage your community efficiently and effectively.
Another piece of advice is to really push social media clients to have unique, branded media that follows a campaign. This means don't post whatever random image you find in your feed or they've told you they like - it means creating custom designed images, libraries of content that are contextually related to the client's services, and branded video/photography shoots if and when it's possible. Branded media always has a greater impact than stock photos and overused layouts.
--Marissa Ryan, VisualFizz
Starting a social media agency has been great. No other business that I started gained traction so quickly, and that's probably because we focus on the Instagram niche solely. Instagram has points in the plus column that other social networks just don't, mainly hack-ability.
My tips for anyone starting a social media marketing agency would be to start with research and a business plan. You'll want to follow a template that has a heavy focus on financials and monetary projections so you can set your budget and goals with the knowledge of research on your side. One of the biggest research topics you'll want to focus on is your market and your competitors.
A marketing plan is important too--this is another facet of your business that will need a budget. A marketing plan is where you will research who your customer is. The marketing plan will help you define your niche, which is another initial step you'll want to take. For example, my niche is indie musicians and labels. You will want your niche to be narrowly defined like this (I laid out what type of musicians I wanted to work with, not just musicians). So basically plan, plan, plan. You'll be so much better prepared.
The agency started on accident. I met my husband on YouTube, moved to Canada to build a life with him, and wanted to work. I started freelancing doing everything from writing blog posts to product descriptions. I landed on social media marketing quickly and worked as a freelancer for over a year. As the business grew, I quickly realized the value in having a team support my efforts. I continue with the agency model because I fell in love with social media strategy but didn't quite enjoy the day-to-day implementation. With the way my agency is built now, I get to hang out with the big picture strategy, fine tune the day-to-day implementation, and run reports to ensure it's all working as planned.
What's your experience been like? are you glad you did and what tips/advice can youshare?
The past six years of building the agency has had many ups and downs.
I distinctly remember in 2017, I had my first 20K month and my husband and I celebrated with a last minute vacation to a resort in Mexico. I had finally hired a team of rockstars after going through some duds. And I was getting into the momentum of building up some thought leadership content around our approach to social media.
But by 2018, I had burned out. I had over extended my team. We were working with 40 clients and not getting paid well for it. I had two pillar clients who were bringing in the majority of our revenue and both of those clients in the same month. It was a mess.
The beauty in all of that is that I got to rebuild and learn from the structure we had before. I repositined our services so that we really only have one core offering. I doubled down on the types of clients we worked with, and I restructured my team's contractor agreements so that they were better paid and had more flexibility.
One of the biggest lessons I learned that year was to go deeper and not wider. What I mean by that is we spent all of 2019 developing processes, systems, and deliverables that would keep our clients happier for longer. Things like monthly strategy calls, custom video reports, client welcome gifts, and more really show how much we value our client relationships. We spend a ton of time ensuring our clients find value in our services so that they stay for longer.
My advice to any new agency owner is to really get to know your client. Find out their real why behind why they'd hire your agency. Because let's face reality, there are so many agencies out there. There are so many people who do exactly what we do. So why would they want to hire you?
--Andrea Jones, OnlineDrea
I started my agency over a decade ago because I was tired of seeing business owners and marketing managers stress out over web and social media marketing. Between working as a web marketing director in corporate and teaching social media classes, I noticed this pattern of stress and overwhelm. But once I educated my teams and students, they all chilled out and we got into healthy marketing. I knew I'd be much more helpful to more companies by going out on my own. I left the confines of my corporate job in 2005 and never looked back.
Social media success is not about the tools, but how and why brands could use them to make meaningful connections. My journey as an agency owner has been so rewarding. I have an amazing team and we support wonderful organizations doing advisory, training and social media marketing management.
My biggest piece of advice to anyone starting a social media marketing agency is to make social media stress-free for clients. Don't be an insultant, be a great consultant and make things better and easier for them. It is never ok to "should" on a client. (Example: "you should be blogging".... "you should be posting on Instagram more"....
Not all brands should be on Pinterest. Not every organization is going to have the budget to do video. They key is to educate your clients and be respectful of their comfort zone...help them prioritize need to have's over nice to have's...
--Lorrie Thomas Ross, Web Marketing Therapy
Social High Rise is a social media management company specifically for restaurants that I founded started in November 2012. We create custom content for our clients on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We respond to their customer reviews on Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor, and Facebook. We run paid Facebook ad campaigns and manage their business and menu information across the internet. We have an amazing team of 12 who work to delight our restaurant clients all over the country. But let's rewind for a sec...
1st Startup Failure:
After beating testicular cancer in college (and with a new resolve to live my best life), I founded a company called KarmaKey which provided a digital loyalty solution for restaurants (Think digital version of the traditional paper punchcards you get at a coffee shop.). That experience opened my eyes to the challenges restaurants faced, even beyond loyalty marketing, but in the end, the company failed. This first startup failure taught me lots of lessons about what NOT to do when starting a company, especially with 3 other co-founders.
2nd Startup Failure:
After that, I thought if I can't run a startup, I'll go work for one. So I joined a startup in San Francisco who managed social media for small businesses. I broke their sales records in my first month, did it again in my second month, and was promoted to manage a sales team. But I soon realized the company had a toxic culture that I didn't want to be a part of and began looking for other opportunities. During that time, I also began noticing how poorly this company actually managed their client's social media, so I left. This second startup failure taught me about the impact bad company culture can have on your team, and also showed me how NOT to manage social media for small businesses.
Social High Rise Was Born:
But I was still very passionate about helping small businesses succeed on social media because I knew first-hand that they didn't have the time or expertise to manage it on their own and I thought I could do a much better job, so I started Social High Rise.
I pitched my business to a few local angel investors who gave me a small amount of seed capital to get things started. In the beginning, I worked from coffee shops and the local college campus to keep expenses low, and quickly acquired my first set of clients. And then I practiced my craft.
During the first year, I hired my first employee, who became our first account manager, and who I consider my co-founder. She began to define our underlying social media philosophy while I brought on new clients and built out the operations of the business. We managed social media for anyone who would pay us -- everything from hair salons, restaurants, and gyms, to insurance, HVAC, lawyers, real estate agents, and e-commerce companies.
After a year and a half, and with a small team of 5, we made the conscious decision to focus on serving the restaurant industry. Shortly after that, we bought out our investors and continued to refine our processes and grow the company.
But our journey has not always been easy. We've made countless mistakes and have had several near-death experiences that have forced us to be scrappy, nimble, and innovative. We've had to make hard decisions with our team, and sometimes with our clients. We've put a lot of energy into creating, refining, and reinforcing our company values, and have lived them even when it wasn't easy.
We've worked hard to stay in touch with the ever-changing social media landscape (get it together, Google) so we can provide our restaurant clients with the best social media service on the market. We've run countless experiments to test our social media theories to ensure they continue to work, and as time goes on, we are more and more confident that the social media philosophy we defined for ourselves years ago aligns more and more with how the greater social media landscape is evolving.
Where We Are Today:
Today, we have a team of 12 amazing employees (70% women). We believe social media is all about people, relationships, human connection, customer service, and authenticity. We work hard to make Social High Rise a fantastic place to work by providing our team with 100% paid health insurance, unlimited paid time off, work from home days (currently fully remote), paid maternity/paternity leave, and matched IRA contributions. But beyond the benefits we offer, we also sincerely care deeply about each person on our team and their personal and professional success.
I couldn't be more proud of our team and what we've accomplished so far. It's been incredibly gratifying to work with such smart, energetic, and compassionate people. It's also been entirely satisfying to help restaurants use social media to grow their business and build stronger ties with their customers.
Where We're Headed:
We're staying focused on delighting our clients and being the best social media partners for them. We're also taking everything we've learned from managing thousands of business' social media over the years to build better self-serve tools that restaurants can use to engage their customers on their own.
To anyone thinking about starting their own social media agency, consider these thoughts. Instead of taking the advice of all the gurus out there, experiment and discover for yourself what works and what doesn't. Consider the human element in everything you do. Ensure your work is authentic from your clients' perspective, and not just from your own perspective. Have compassion both in the way you act towards your clients and how you act on behalf of your client. If you plan to build a team, invest in them. Make your company culture a top priority and nurture it. Expect that process to feel like hard work. Keep an optimistic attitude and keep trying. If you can do all of that, you'll probably be successful.
--Mark Sorenson, Social High Rise
- I built a small-business marketing agency in a little over 90 days using just cold emails and sold it for 6 figures in March. I own another marketing agency, but it's invite-only.
- The reason I started that small business marketing agency, was to challenge myself to build a business by doing something that I was afraid of doing (cold emails).
- My experience was awesome. I got to learn a lot about cold emails, about agency-client relationships, about hopes & fears of a small business owner and what works & doesn't work for a small business.
- Indeed I'm glad that I built a small-business marketing agency because it gave me a deep look in the world of a small business owner. Even though the cost of the services were on the premium side, but I still learned that a business owner is willing to spend as long as he/she gets the desired results.
- Advice I would share with anyone starting a small business marketing agency or any kind of marketing agency (social, SEO, creative and so forth):
1. Be different - A typical business owner receives anywhere from 20-30 cold emails and many calls each day. The number is greater if the industry you're targeting is a very common one.
Rather than repeating what everyone says (we'll get you results, we'll take you higher on Google, we'll do this & that & blah), aim to be genuinely curious about how you can help them.
Believe me, a business owner can tell when you genuinely want to solve their problems from when you're just their to satisfy your own means.
The best way to do it is to ask thought provoking questions, not the kind that screams I AM HERE TO SELL!
2. Don't offer what you can't deliver - Before I started my agency I read a lot about what makes a client have a sour experience with an agency.
In every case I analyzed, the reason was along the same lines. They were promised the sky but were delivered nothing.
You don't have to offer every kind of service under the sun in order to succeed. There are niche agencies out there that deliver just one kind of service to just one industry and still rake 6,7,8 figures in revenue.
So offer what you're sure you can deliver and then hit the ball out of the park with your result.
A happy client is a valuable asset because it brings you more clients (through referrals) and since the new potential clients are referred by someone they trust, it's way easy to have them on board.
3. Work only with your ideal clients - Do not, and I repeat DO NOT work with anyone just because you want to have a client.
Bad clients can really drain the life out of you and what you'll make by taking them on-board will not be worth the hassle.
Define who your ideal clients are and only reach out to them and target them. Make sure your messaging doesn't just attracts your ideal clients but also repels the people who you don't want to work with.
This really goes a long way in making sure that you enjoy running an agency and don't see it as a burden.
4. Set clear expectations - Always make sure that your client understands the scope of the project and also what is covered & not covered under the agreement.
Make sure you have the proof of their agreeing to your conditions.
Some clients just seem to come under some spell and take a 180 degree turn on what you both agreed upon.
The best way to deal with these kind of clients is to show them that you're delivering exactly what you promised you'll deliver under the conditions you mentioned, to which they agreed.
--Iqbal Hussain, Norm Defiers
I started my company as a natural progressional response to my personal growth. I had a business when I was in high school & I learned the ins and outs of running a business through social media. After I realized I had learned all these skills I started to apply them to other business and capturing more and more success. I knew that opening a marketing company was the way to go, especially with my love of photography, and videography, added to my social media & online marketing skills. My experience has been amazing working with all the companies and brands my company has been affiliated with, such as Whole Foods Market, to Justin Bieber. Creating a system & following it for each business always finds success in this field. You need to be adaptable and you need to know how each business operates. When you can see how the business works, you can then see where you need to improve and how to succeed your goals through social media marketing. There are so many ways to grow a business through social media paid and unpaid growth, you just need to know how to achieve it and which one to go for.
--Daniel Booter, D.B. Marketing Group
I started Social Behavior, Houston's first female-forward social media agency in 2014. Surviving disappointments my 10 years of experience led me to this point. I have over 10 years of experience in sales and marketing, and the one thing I always got right was my social media messaging for the brands that I worked with. In my professional career, I was able to harness social media to make my brands stand out, I leveraged social media as it was emerging its introduction to the world.
My first start-up business failed due to my lacking of business knowledge. During that time my personal life was going through several ups and downs, but I still had to do some self-reflection to figure out my strengths and weaknesses. Social Media was at the top of my list so I decided to launch my own agency. I had people around me tell me I was crazy and that no-one would ever pay for someone to manage their social media. Boy, were they wrong! Six years later, we have helped over 200 businesses advance their social media presence, we've created successful ad campaigns, launched new social media activations, helped managed day-to-day social, and so much more!
The experience has been rewarding and overwhelming at the same time. In the past six years, I have gone from solo-preneur to entrepreneur, staffing six team members that work at the agency, in whom I've been able to keep fully employed during the pandemic. Social media moves quickly, it's a very fast-paced workflow. We were lucky to have come into the digital age early and evolve with it. The world is now experiencing a digital renaissance. If someone desires to start an agency, I advise they do their research, grow slowly, set expectations with your clients, and look to other agencies or agency support groups on LinkedIn and Facebook. Those are great tips and tricks on running an agency. I wouldn't trade it for the world, but I definitely recommend to anyone starting an agency to hold on tight, because you're in for a wild ride!
--Karen De Amat, Social Behavior Agency