When it comes to starting an agency, there’s never a better time than right now. Unless you have experience launching other businesses in the past, it can seem a daunting task to start an agency from scratch. Fortunately we’ve launched some of the most successful agencies of the past decade and have put together this quickstart guide to share what we learned and help guide you forward. By the end of this article you’ll have learned enough about how to start an agency to take your first steps on the path to agency ownership.
The first step in forming any new business is determining what type of business entity it will be. There are more than a dozen different options to consider, and unfortunately there’s no “one size fits all” option when it comes to starting an agency. We’re strong proponents of bootstrapping the launch of an agency and keeping costs as low as possible. But when it comes to registering your agency, it’s worth investing in some professional help. The tax and legal implications of this decision are far reaching, so you’ll want to hire a competent lawyer and CPA (preferably ones with experience in new business formation) to guide you to the right solution for your specific situation.
This might feel like a significant upfront cost, but the long term repercussions of tackling this yourself can be even more costly. Plus, your lawyer and CPA can help structure your business in an ideal manner to anticipate any future growth or sales plans you might have for your agency.
The next step for how to start an agency is to identify what value and services you will provide for your customers. What can you sell your clients that they can’t get anywhere else? Or if they can get it anywhere else, why should they buy from you?
To answer this question, take some time to codify your agency’s mission, vision, and values:
Picking a name for your new agency can surprisingly be one of your most challenging tasks as you learn how to start an agency. Your name not only says something about the type of agency you are starting, but also impacts what type of clients you will win and how much you will be able to charge for your services. Fortunately, by now you have wrapped up your mission, vision, and values statements which can serve as a barometer against which you may test potential names. Try to choose a name that speaks specifically to your craft, but remains broad enough to not pigeonhole your agency in one specific niche. The name must also be easy to remember so that happy clients will have no problem referring colleagues to your business over a few happy hour beers.
One more note: Before you make a final decision on your agency’s name, do a quick copyright search to avoid any costly legal challenges in the future.
If you’re learning how to start an agency, you obviously know that clients will be the lifeblood of your business. Without clients there is no work; without work, there is no revenue; without revenue, there is no agency. Most entrepreneurs looking to start an agency have tons of experience when it comes to executing their specific craft, whether that’s design, marketing, advertising, or any other specialized skill set. However, not all of them have experience when it comes to new business development and account management.
When starting an agency, you should focus on these three channels for winning new business:
Your website is the first place potential clients will go when considering hiring you. Because of this, it is critical that your messaging all aligns with the ideal agency you envisioned when developing your mission, vision, and values statements. Prospective clients don’t just want to see work samples—they want to see why you do your work and how you do it.
Case studies provide the best opportunity to show off your full scope of capabilities, from research, to strategy, to execution and more. Every case study should tell a compelling story about how you solved a particular business challenge for your client, walking through the thought process and methodology that led you to whatever end deliverables or services you provided. Here are 25 fantastic case studies for inspiration.
Some of you learning how to start an agency might have tons of marketing experience. For you, this work is a no-brainer. For others, marketing can feel like a foreign language with terms like SEO, SEM, PPC, UTM, GMB, and more. Hubspot has an excellent crash course in content marketing that serves as a great starting point as you begin developing a marketing strategy. In the world of online marketing, content is everything—the best way you can start to build a presence online is to produce high-quality thought leadership content. We recommend ahrefs.com as a tool for SEO research so you can figure out what relevant search terms your potential customers are seeking out on the web and then start writing content that targets those searches.
You likely have some great relationships with existing clients from previous positions you have held. Barring any non-solicits or non-competes you may be beholden to with previous employers, these relationships should be the very first place you turn to when just starting your own agency. And if you are legally restricted from soliciting business from these clients, you can still reach out to these clients to see if they can refer you to any colleagues who might be in need of your services. There’s no harm in asking!
As you continue learning how to start an agency, never lose sight of the guiding principles you codified in your mission, vision, and values statement. The shape of your agency may change, but it’s important to always stay true to the underlying ideals that led you down the path to agency ownership in the first place.