How To Start A Digital Media Agency
Hello, Tim Cronin here. In this article I’m going to share some of my best advice (based on my actual experience) about how to start a digital media agency. But first let me give you some background.
How We Started
About 8 years ago, my son, Brian Cronin, and I decided to start a business together. I was “between jobs” as they say, and he was a server at a local restaurant.
We were both entrepreneurs at heart and figured we could do something part time from home to begin with. I had managed a large computer and internet training company. Brian had natural sales skills, a good understanding of internet marketing, and was driven to be more than a waiter for the rest of his life.
At first we really didn’t know what kind of business we wanted to start. So we got involved in a couple of network marketing ventures at first. Those initial business didn’t work out at all but we weren’t discouraged. Our desire to build a successful company was really, really strong. We learned from our mistakes and moved on.
Not long thereafter, a friend of mine introduced me to a company that specialized in getting small and medium sized local businesses to rank on Page 1 of the Google Search Engine when people searched for their associated keywords.The service was called Search Engine Marketing (SEM). They were Google AdWords Certified Partners who needed sales reps to bring them clients.
We discovered that there was an under-served market for the service they provided. So we signed on with them. Now we were in the internet advertising business.
The company we represented provided some really good online training so we studied and learned as much as we could as fast as we could. Then it was time to go out and find prospects and turn them into customers.
It wasn’t that difficult for us to find leads. We’d search Google for local businesses like plumbers, auto repair shops, hvac companies, roofers, etc. in our town who didn’t show up on Page 1. Then we’d call some of these businesses or go visit them to set up appointments to present our service.
Gradually we built up a portfolio of clients who paid a monthly subscription fee to get ranked high on the Google Search Engine and we got paid a commission each month. Around town we became known as the “Google Guys”.
Not much longer after that we added Facebook business page creation and management, then Facebook ad campaigns, YouTube video creation and marketing, website design and SEO, online lead generation and many of the most popular social media platforms. Eventually we were specializing completely on social media marketing and we called our company “Elite Social Media”.
We made lots of mistakes along the way but we had a lot of successes too. The more we learned the more value we were able to provide for our customers.
Fast forward to today. Our company has grown consistently over the past 8 years. We’ve added more digital media services to our tool box and we are blessed to be able to say that we have a nice stable of wonderful clients who we consider more as “partners” than customers.
Two years ago we re-branded and changed our company name to Apio Media. Now we are a full service digital media agency and consulting firm.
If we can do it, so can you.
If you’re wondering how to start a digital media agency here’s some tips to get you going.
1. Pick One Thing
The most important advice I would give to any entrepreneur who is thinking about starting a digital media agency is, in the beginning, to be really, really good at one skill or platform that has demand in the marketplace.
For example, right now there’s a huge demand for video production and marketing. So if you enjoy creating videos then focus 100% of your time and money in becoming an absolute expert at video campaigns.
Or you can master Facebook Ad campaigns, Google PPC and SEO, Instagram, LinkedIn, sales funnels, blogging, or any one of the many popular platforms out there now.
In the beginning we made the mistake of trying to be good at everything to everybody and ended up being pretty mediocre at most of the services we offered.
If you specialize in one thing and become the best at it you will increase your chances of “wow-ing” your clients and your clients will be more inclined to recommend and refer you to people they know. Your ultimate goal should always be to provide such outstanding results for your customers that they will become advocates for your business.
2. Do It For Free
When you are first starting out most prospective clients will probably be reluctant to spend money on an unknown business with no history. However, if you have an existing portfolio of happy customers you have some credibility in their eyes.
So how do you build a list of happy customers? Easy, offer your services for free to 4 or 5 new businesses. Since you’re an expert at what you do, give them more value than they expect.
Approach businesses where you are a customer and spending money and they know you. Or ask friends and family who own a business and would be willing to help you get started. Let them all know that you are starting your own business and would appreciate their help getting started.
Now this is really important. After you’ve provided your service to your “free” customers and you’ve absolutely given them the “wow factor”, ask them if they would do a customer testimonial video about how great an experience you gave them.
The video can be really simple, nothing fancy. Shoot a quick video of them on your mobile phone camera saying nice things and recommending you. It’s a very powerful way to advertise your business. Put testimonial videos on your website and social media sites. Then make sure all your “paying” prospects see what great things people are saying about you.
3. Invest In Training
The digital media industry is always changing at ever-increasing speed. In order to stay competitive in this market and to always provide outstanding value to your clients you need to understand that you need to be willing to adopt a continuous learning mindset.
The best investment you can make in your business is to invest in yourself. You should follow as many of the leading experts in your chosen field, attend their webinars, purchase their courses, buy their books, subscribe to their blogs, newsletters, and lists.
Most importantly, you should invest in training that is going to increase your expertise to make you better and more effective at the services you provide.
4. Treat It Like A Real Business
This may sound silly, (and we were guilty of this!) but when starting out, most new entrepreneurs treat their business like a hobby and not like a real business.
What do I mean when I say treat it like a real business? It means you’re not paying attention to the accounting, tax, compliance and legal side that’s required to create and manage a business.
Here’s some things you need to take care of when you start:
- Determine what kind of company you’re going to be, i.e. corporation, partnership, or sole proprietor and create a legal entity. Use an online service like LegalZoom.com
- Register your business with your state, county, and town business agencies. Get all your proper tax ID#’s and licenses.
- Get a bank account and debit card for your company. All your sales and expense transactions should be done through your business account. Don’t mix your personal finances with your business finances. It will make your life much easier in the long run.
- Know your numbers. Get a bookkeeper or accountant to record all sales, expenses, income. Number don’t lie. Always “keep score”. Don’t do this yourself unless you love accounting.
- Get a tax expert. Expect to pay some taxes to all levels of government agencies along the way. There’s a lot of forms and reports and deadlines to keep track of. Invest in someone who does it for a living.
- Pay to advertise your business online. You’re in the digital media industry! Use it to grow your company.
- Create tons of content about who you are, what benefits your services provide for clients, and how you do it.
5. If You’re Not Good At Something Contract It Out
As much as possible avoid doing things in your business that you don’t enjoy or things that you’re just not any good at.
For example, when we were first starting out we had a client that wanted to scrap his existing website and build a new high end website. He was willing to pay someone a lot of money to get that done too! He asked us if we could build him a new website.
We told him that we could. The truth was we had very minor web skills but we thought we’d be able to figure it out ourselves and get it done somehow. Most of all, we really needed the money. So we went for what we now call a “money grab”.
It was a disaster. We didn’t know what we were doing so we wasted a lot of time and money. After awhile the client figured that out. He fired us, rightfully so.
Don’t succumb to temptations of a “money grab”. Only do what you’re good at. The stuff you’re not good at hire out to a contractor.
If you’re not good at graphics hire a competent graphic designer, if you’re clueless about video creation, hire a good videographer. Yes, it will cost you money that you may not have. But what is your time worth? Adjust the price of your service to cover the extra cost. Believe me, in the long run it’s more than worth it.
Starting your own business can be a very exciting and at the same time scary adventure. So dream a big dream and go after it with everything you have. You’re going to have lots of ups and downs along the way.
If you never give up you can never fail. The feeling of creating something from nothing is exhilarating!
I wish you all the best.
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