How Do I Start Small Creative Agencies From the Ground Up?

Owning an agency isn't for the faint of heart, but it's well worth the effort to start your own company. It'll all be for your personal success and revenue when you're working into the wee hours of the morning.

How Do I Start Small Creative Agencies From the Ground Up?

Do you have clients who don't grasp creative or "out-of-the-box" thinking at your current job? Maybe they have a very limited brand that makes it difficult for them to be creative?

Perhaps you simply disagree with the way established agencies operate. You may have your distinct perspective and skills in design, drawing, branding, photography, and other fields.

And you only want to do things the way you want. Now, more than ever, it is possible to start your small creative agency.

1. Networking

It would be a huge error to ignore your present network and professional networking chances. The importance of networking in the development of your business cannot be overstated.

Make the most of your contacts! If you plan to start your agency in the future, make sure you retain strong relationships with everyone you deal with while you're at it. Make contact with former coworkers and colleagues.

Request that they call you to catch up or meet you for coffee or lunch. Your contacts may have opportunities that they are too busy to manage or don't have the resources to handle and this would be the ideal time for an introduction.

If you tell your coworkers that you're going solo, they're likely to rally behind you and remember you the next time they have a creative need.

Referrals and word of mouth have a great influence. When someone they know refers them, they are four times more likely to buy. But don't wait for them to come to you; ask for them.

Consider networking karma as well. Don't just go on once you've learned everything you can from your new and existing connections.

Make sure to pass it on to new entrepreneurs who may require assistance or introductions to help them launch their firm. Agree to speak with anyone who contacts you and asks for assistance in starting their own business.

When I first started my agency, I used all of the aforementioned networking strategies, and now I receive around one request per month from someone wanting to know how I did it. I never refuse!

2. Recruiting Expertise

When you're just starting, it can be difficult to afford to hire full-time staff, especially those with specific expert specialties that require a large budget to afford, such as SEO, video production, and so on.

With the flood of professionals going it alone, there are several opportunities to recruit freelancers and small businesses on a project-by-project basis.

Consider using CloudPeeps, Upwork, or Torchlite to hire supporting freelancers or SMEs for client contracts such as an SEO audit or a PR plan.

These markets are dedicated to connecting organizations with the best individuals to maximize opportunities and work.

You might also pitch potential opportunities for other creatives to find your first few clients. These creatives could bring established clients to your firm, allowing both your agency and the creative to work with a larger team.

3. Creating a Website for Your Agency

It is important to make a good first impression. You work for a design firm. You need a brand and a website that wows your visitors and prospects while also showcasing your skills and abilities. Don't, on the other hand, be the agency that tries too hard to be clever.

Consider hiring a UX professional to avoid having a website with muddled navigation and no clear hierarchy.

Your website should appear professional and one-of-a-kind, but it should also provide crystal-clear information to any visitor who navigates it and wants to contact you.

Also, keep in mind that your website's purpose is to generate leads. Make sure your call to action is obvious and that the visitor understands who you are, what you do, and why you care.

Two excellent examples of a creative and effective website are provided here. It's obvious who they are, what they do, and how they can assist you.

There are a few additional fundamental functionalities and content areas you should have in addition to your call to action and easy navigation to make it a successful internet marketing tool:

  • Every page includes contact information.
  • A blog site
  • An SEO approach to increase the number of qualified visitors to your website.Case studies and testimonials
  • Photographs or video of your team, venue, or work (think: online portfolio)
  • A subscription to a newsletter
  • Accounts on social media

4. Strategy for Content

Content marketing is critical for lead generation, brand exposure, and brand trust. As previously stated, a blog and an SEO strategy are two essential basic features to incorporate into your website. Make it easier for potential clients to locate you!

Your internet marketing channels run-on content. Begin by writing blogs that will attract customers to your company.

Consider the challenges your prospects are attempting to tackle and how you may assist them. Examine the creative issues you've resolved for previous brands and clients.

Your blog's content can be shared on social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. It can also be used to make:

  • An email newsletter
  • E-books
  • Online Courses
  • Lead Magnets

Guest writing for major creative publications like AdWeek, B2B Marketing Blog, or Creativity can help you obtain more visibility and display your experience.

Keywords should also be a part of your content strategy. Keywords will assist you in attracting more qualified traffic to your specific web pages, resulting in more conversions.

Keywords can also assist you in getting your material in front of the appropriate audience at the appropriate moment.

Owning an agency isn't for the faint of heart, but it's well worth the effort to start your own company. It'll all be for your success and revenue when you're working into the wee hours of the morning. Take the time to think about what kind of firm you are and what your value offer is.

Concentrate on the clients you want, how to make them happy, and how to create a team culture you can be proud of.

Finally, remember to have a good time. Your agency is your livelihood, and you should be enthusiastic about it. Share your enthusiasm with your coworkers, employees, and clients.

5. Professionalism & Culture

A successful, thriving agency won't just happen. It must be cultivated with intentionality. The best way to do this is by creating a company culture that supports the work you do and the brand you want to present to your customers.

You can create a high-quality product or service, but if you don't have a suitable infrastructure, your business will fail.

The first step is to make sure you are professional in all of your interactions with clients. This includes meeting deadlines, returning emails promptly, responding respectfully to any customer complaints or inquiries, and staying on budget.

You should also ensure that no personal bias or feelings interfere with your business dealings by being respectful to all of your clients, employees, and coworkers.

Proper business attire should be worn to all work meetings and networking events. Your business cards should feature only your name, email address, phone number(s), job title, company name, website address, office location(s), social media links if you have them (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn ), and your logo, if you have one.

Be mindful of the way customers perceive the people they work with at your agency by acting respectfully toward colleagues and clients.

This includes not speaking disrespectfully about customers, coworkers, or competitors in public settings. Your culture is the legacy that you leave behind when you are no longer running your agency.

6. Building an Office

Designing your office space, buying furniture, decorating it with team pictures and inspirational quotes.

When you start a company, it can be difficult to separate your home life from your work life. To avoid this kind of confusion, have a professional office space.

The internet is full of wonderful photos and ideas for inspiring office designs that will fit any small creative agency's needs.

You should also speak with your insurance provider about creating an office policy, especially if you plan on working with any sensitive or private information.

Your employees should be aware of what is expected of them while they are in the office and where to find important documents like contracts and invoices.

7. Manage Your Client Expectations

The biggest mistake that new agency owners make is thinking that they are going to "live the dream" by working on their own business, rather than someone else's.

While it is true that you are now your boss, this newfound freedom doesn't mean you can take a day off whenever you want.

You will need to carefully manage your client expectations and ensure you meet all of the deadlines and commitments that you have agreed upon.

You may also need to argue with clients about payment terms if they are unwilling to pay for high-quality work promptly.

Of course, this is not always possible, especially for new agencies that may not have the necessary resources.

In this case, you must explain your predicament to the client and offer a solution--perhaps by offering to work for equity until you can afford to hire full-time employees.

8. Do Your Research

Successful agency owners run their businesses like successful business people in any other industry: They invest time into learning about their industry.

In the case of small creative agencies, this means learning about emerging trends in web design and development, user interface design, graphic design, copywriting, branding, marketing communications, digital art/animation/3D animation, motion graphics, event planning and management, public relations (PR), social media marketing and promotion, search engine optimization (SEO), content management systems (CMS), e-commerce, internet marketing, local search marketing, and more.

Some of these topics you will need to learn about to offer the best services possible to your clients. Others you will just need for branding purposes. Either way, you must spend time learning about your industry and its related topics.

A great place to start is by reading books about web development/design, graphic design, business management, and more.

Also, consider taking online courses in the same subjects you need to know more about, or that will help improve your current skill set.

9. Securing Funding for Your Agency

Not every small business has the capital to fund its agency from day one, which is why finding outside investment can be helpful.  

You should also create a business plan that outlines how much money you need and what you will use for many people to secure bank loans or turn to business incubators like Y Combinator.

10. Advertise Your Agency

Advertising for a small creative agency is not the same as advertising the launch of a new restaurant or clothing boutique.

You do not need to put up posters on every telephone pole or purchase inserts in local newspapers; there are more efficient ways to market your company today.

The internet has made it possible for businesses to reach large audiences with targeted ads that can help them grow their customer base faster than ever before. Some options include Facebook ads, Google AdWords, and banner ads on other websites or blogs.

11. Hire Employees

Once you have built up a steady client base, it is time to dedicate yourself to the company's future instead of just working long hours to wear all of the hats.

The first thing you will need to do is hire a rock-solid team of employees; this could include artists, programmers, writers/copywriters, social media marketers, SEO specialists, and more.

If you don't have much experience hiring employees, consider browsing job sites like Upwork and Freelancer to find the type of talent you require.

12. Stay Organized

As your company grows, all of the work you do for your clients must remain organized. If not, then things can quickly get out of hand--and this could lead to missed deadlines, payment disputes with clients, and more.

Therefore, you will need to create a proper system for managing your clients' accounts and paying invoices on time.

To do this, consider using a specialized project management app like Harvest. It doesn't have to be anything too elaborate; the goal is simply to keep things organized and avoid miscommunication that can cause problems down the road.

It is also crucial that you keep business records organized. The last thing you want to do is misplace one of your client's files or forget to send them the invoice for the work they commissioned.

If you are not savvy with accounting software, consider using a free alternative like Xero or FreshBooks.

13. Monetize Your Website

Many startup agencies launch their online presence on a simple website, which they use to advertise their services, portfolio, and contact information to potential clients.

As your company grows, however, it is vital to think about how you can leverage your website as a way to make extra income; this is where monetization comes into play.

Many companies today make money by selling their products and services through websites and blogs, which brings us back to the initial argument: there are plenty of ways for agencies both large and small to generate revenue from the company's online presence.

A great example of a company that makes money via its website is Big Cartel, which allows artists and small companies to sell their products without having to invest in expensive eCommerce software and web designers.

14. Improve Employee Productivity with AI Tools

As your agency grows, it becomes more difficult to manage the workflow of all of your employees without the help of some type of project management tool.

This is where AI tools like I Done This comes into play; they allow you to record what each employee worked on for the day, send out automated reminders about upcoming deadlines, and more. All in all, it helps reduce hours spent managing projects.

AI tools are available on nearly every platform imaginable, so you don't need to worry about being "locked-in" to one particular service provider. This gives you the freedom to try out multiple options before settling on the best fit for your company.

15. Update Your Website

Once your agency has grown to a certain size, it might be necessary to update your website with more advanced features; for example, you could integrate professional tools like MailChimp and Google Analytics into the site's blog.

Updating the website regularly is also crucial; this ensures that visitors always see new content on their first visit.

If you don't have a lot of experience with updating websites, consider outsourcing this task using Upwork. To learn more about building a creative agency, read our comprehensive guide here.

16. Upgrade Your Technology

In today's fast-paced world, hiring an arsenal of talented employees is not enough to guarantee success as a small agency.

To stay competitive, you must upgrade your company's technology you are using Slack to communicate with employees and clients, consider upgrading to a premium account as your agency grows.

In addition to this, you will also need to update all of your server infrastructures as your agency becomes larger and larger; as a result, it is recommended that you start familiarizing yourself with tools like Amazon Web Services, which is highly scalable and helps you acquire server capacity quickly.

17. Protect Your Intellectual Property

Before you hire any employees or subcontractors, take the time to draw up a contract that clearly states what they can and cannot do when working for your agency.

Make sure that all of your employees sign this document since it prevents confusion if an employee decides to take his or her talents elsewhere.

In terms of subcontractors, you should consider setting up a payment structure that assigns a portion of the final invoice to your company.

In doing so, you will be protected from any potential lawsuits in case a worker decides to take his or her talents elsewhere.

18. Set Up Analytics & CRM Tools

As your agency continues to grow, it will be necessary to use analytics and CRM tools to track website visits and better communicate with clients.

To make things easier for your small agency, consider using a popular service like MailChimp; without the help of a third-party tool, this would not have been possible.

In addition, you can add custom domains to your account to ensure that all e-mails sent from MailChimp have a professional appearance.

Finally, you can use Google Analytics to track your website's traffic and visualize hard data. This allows you to make more informed decisions about what types of content are performing best on the blog.

19.  Expand Your Online Presence

The more visible your agency becomes on the web, the more likely you are to attract new clients.

To help accomplish this goal, you should consider hiring a search engine optimization (SEO) specialist to dramatically improve your online rankings.  

In addition, make sure that your website is listed with major search engines like Google and Bing.

20. Build a Customer Support System Before Growing Your Agency

You should learn as much as possible about customer support best practices before hiring additional employees.  

This will give you an idea of the necessary infrastructure that is required to maintain your quality standards, even as your agency continues to grow.

To make things easier for your creative agency, you can use a customer support system like Zendesk; this makes it easy to assign different cases to the most relevant employees.

In addition, consider adding a help desk widget to your website that allows visitors to submit questions about your products or services.

21. Find Ways To Save Money

Most small businesses do not have a lot of cash on hand, so finding ways to save money is always helpful.

To keep your spending in check, consider saving money on website hosting by opting for a third-party service like Squarespace, which offers simple drag and drop tools that can help you build an aesthetically pleasing site.  

In addition, using Google Analytics to track website visits can help you identify trends in user behavior.

22. The Importance of Marketing Strategy

In addition to the points discussed above, there are a few other things that successful agencies do to acquire new clients. The first thing is ensuring that your agency has a well-thought-out marketing strategy.

You should create a content marketing plan that outlines which topics will be discussed on your blog, as well as how often these posts are published.  

In addition, you can use advertising platforms like Google Adwords to direct users to your website based on certain keywords.

Finally, you should consider creating an e-mail marketing strategy that allows you to engage with your customers regularly.


Finally, you should avoid common agency management mistakes, such as not giving employees enough authority and not maintaining high standards for your products and services.

Instead, be sure that every member of your team is properly trained before allowing them to work on projects for clients. Also, make sure that you are holding yourself accountable for everything that goes on in the company.

With these 22 steps, you should have no problem getting your small creative agency off the ground and on its way to success.  Good luck!

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