6 Things You Need to Do When You're Starting a Digital Agency

May 01, 2023

Leaving my corporate law career in favor of starting a digital agency was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made…doesn’t mean it wasn’t scary, though! I had to take a major leap of faith to depart my secure job (and secure paycheck) for the uncertainty of entrepreneurship. I launched my business on my own and figured things out as I went — and now I’m giving you the inside scoop I wish I had!

6 Things to Do ASAP Before Starting a Digital Agency 

After building my business from the ground up and growing it to new heights over the past 18 years, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to lay the groundwork for a successful career. Here are six things you need to do before starting a digital agency to set yourself up for success as an entrepreneur.

#1: Decide If Starting a Digital Agency Is Actually for You!

Everyone has a different path to entrepreneurship. A lot of people start as freelancers or work in-house for a larger firm to get their foot in the door. This is the more traditional route, but just because it’s been done before doesn’t mean it’s your path! 

I took the alternative route and started my agency before ever working for someone else in PR. I wanted to dive in and build my business on my own terms, and I launched The Agency Accelerator and The Pitch Lab to help make this path easier for others. But it’s not about starting from one place or another — it’s about what’s best for you and what sets you up for success. 

If you’re considering starting a digital agency, the most important thing is to listen to yourself and not bite off more than you can chew. Think about your experience thus far, your career wins, your background, the things you’ve done that have lit you up, and how you can use all that to serve clients. If imagining your dream business gets you excited and eager to start working, then you’re ready to build an agency! If there are still some question marks or you’re unsure what your business would look like, it may be better to spend time as a freelancer first. 

#2: Choose Which Services You’ll Offer 

Your agency is yours — you should only offer the services that excite you and that you know you can crush for your clients. Consider where you can bring value to key players in your niche and build from there. You could offer general services like PR, social media marketing, or graphic design, or zoom in and offer niche services like influencer marketing, short-form content creation, or Squarespace website design

As you grow and scale your agency, you can expand your offerings to showcase your team’s strengths. Have a killer writer on your team? Add copywriting services to your agency! You can also outsource (or white label) specialized services to freelancers to offer more comprehensive and overarching packages to your clients. 

Building a strong, well-rounded team is one of the most important parts of starting a digital agency. With their support, you can spend your time focusing on your zone of genius to truly move the needle for your business. 

#3: Structure Your Services 

My #1 rule for starting a digital agency is to use retainer pricing in your business as opposed to hourly rates. Trading your time for money isn’t conducive to agency growth and makes scaling your business impossible! With hourly pricing, your revenue is limited by the number of hours you can work each day, so you’ll never truly earn what you’re worth. 

Retainers set you up for predictable, recurring revenue every month — retainers let you get your mind off money and dedicate your energy to generating results for your clients instead. Your retainers should be at least six months to get the ball rolling for your clients, but longer is better. 

The exact prices of your retainers will depend upon your niche, your experience level, your business expenses, and your financial goals. Research other agencies in your niche to see what they charge; your prices will likely differ from theirs, but it’s a good way to know you’re on the right track. Offering customized retainers gives you a lot of flexibility, too. Instead of one generic package, you can provide your clients with the exact services they need to reach their goals and alter the price depending on the scope of work. 

#4: Set Up Your Client Pipeline 

Hard truth time: you don’t have an agency if you don’t have clients. And if you want to scale your agency and reach your goals, you must take on bigger and better clients. These clients pay more and are much easier to work with. 

Setting up a pipeline full of prospective clients who are interested in working with you will help sustain your growth through the years. You can build your client pipeline in the earliest stages of starting a digital agency to land those first few clients. Then, you can continue to pull from these leads when a client unexpectedly leaves your agency or you increase your business’s bandwidth by bringing on new team members. 

#5: Get Your Numbers in Order 

Starting a digital agency is an intimidating endeavor, and the finances don’t help! Make it easier on yourself by setting up a bookkeeping system right when you start laying the groundwork for your business. You can use online software like Quickbooks, work with a local licensed accountant, or outsource to a virtual bookkeeping assistant. Trust me — everything about financing your agency is easier with a bookkeeping system set up and running smoothly! 

Comb through your existing and anticipated finances to get a full picture of what it will cost you to run your agency every month. You’ll have to pay your employees or contractors, save for taxes, put away money for retirement, and pay any business subscriptions or memberships (like Canva Pro, Prowly, or The Pitch Lab) on top of your personal expenses. This total will affect what you charge for your retainers and the margin you need to be profitable and grow your wealth year after year. 

Related: 6 Best PR Tools to Help You Get Better Results for Your Clients

#6: Find a Mentor 

If you’re coming into entrepreneurship from a corporate background, you probably have some toxic hustle culture habits lingering in your mind. You need to let go of these limiting beliefs before starting a digital agency to truly set yourself up for success! These outdated philosophies on client boundaries, working hours, productivity, and your value to clients will just hold you back. 

Breaking your old hustle culture mindset is tough, but it’s the key to building a career in entrepreneurship that supports the life you want. And to help you on your mindset journey, you need to find a mentor to guide you through the setbacks and push you toward your vision of success. 

The best mentor should be actively working in your industry or niche and share the new anti-hustle culture mindset you’re working to cultivate. Being a mentor to female entrepreneurs all around the world is one of my favorite parts of The Agency Accelerator! Our private community is full of agency owners on this mindset journey who are always ready to gut-check each other and encourage other members to leave old ideas of success behind. 

Taking the leap into entrepreneurship and starting a digital agency isn’t an easy decision by any means. But you can make the process of building your business much easier on yourself by taking care of these six key areas of your agency before you launch.