Marketing is a game of eyeballs, and if you can get them, clients from mom ‘n’ pops to multinationals will pay for access. But knowing how to start a marketing business is the real trick. A background in marketing, account management, advertising, or project management can help a lot, but nearly anyone who starts small can play the game.
Your marketing agency can serve as the go-between for companies and their target-market customers. Independent consultants and freelancers can offer services like blog and social media writing, analytics review, media research, search engine marketing, brand development, and video creation. Starting a marketing business may be challenging, but it boasts a potentially profitable leap to self-employment.
Benefits of Opening a Marketing Business
Fueled by low interest rates and increased corporate profits, the marketing industry is expected to have a quick return to growth through 2025. That general upswing could streamline your path to profitability.
With no need for inventory, manufacturing facilities, or store fronts, a service business like marketing can have simple operations, lower startup and ongoing expenses, and straightforward invoicing. Better still, you can earn a decent income as a marketing specialist even with just one steady client. Even marketers with entry-level experience can earn over $46,000.
How to Start a Marketing Business Checklist
Launching your marketing business will need some prep, like filing LLC paperwork, choosing a registered agent, and identifying target markets and a sales funnel. It’s also a sound idea to draft an operating agreement and file annual reports. Location, employees, office equipment needs, and decisions about outsourcing developers, writers, and graphic artists can influence your marketing company’s startup process. But how will you figure it all out?
To learn how to start a marketing business, pay attention to these steps.
1. Create a Business Plan
Crafting a solid business plan helps you think through which problems your marketing agency solves for customers, how you’ll conduct operations, and what scale you’re aiming for.
Your business model could center on print advertising, digital marketing, SEO, email, or a mix of everything. The path you take depends on your existing sales and marketing experience, equipment, and your business goals. Your business plan can also examine potential problems like stiff area competition or an economic downturn, and how you may resolve them.
You don’t have to tackle the whole plan at once. Try working on it in bite-size pieces. Setting goals strengthens your business plan too. Try using the S.M.A.R.T. goals methodology (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based) to create tangible targets.
2. Choose a Business Structure
Two business structures to consider are a sole proprietorship or limited liability company (LLC). A sole proprietorship has one owner, requires no annual state filings, and can have low startup costs. However, it can be difficult to build credit or obtain outside funding. Taxes can be higher, too.
An LLC can help protect your personal assets from debts and lawsuits. While slightly more complicated to set up, an LLC may also lower your business tax bills and smooth your path when pursuing loans or other capital. Need help with the administrative side? A registered agent can save time and hassle fulfilling state requirements such as fees and annual filings.
3. Determine Your Business Costs
You’ve got your business plan and your structure narrowed down, so now it’s time to calculate startup costs. An initial list of fixed, ongoing, and one-time expenses may include:
- Office supplies and technology (printer, computer, desk, chair, fax machine, copier, paper, etc.)
- Software and apps (for graphic design, email, data analysis, payroll, CRM, etc.)
- Payrolled or outsourced professionals such as graphic designers, programmers, writers, etc.
- Domain name registrations and website hosting
- Marketing or advertising (such as business cards, postcards, or digital ads)
- Business insurance and taxes
- High-speed internet
- Packaging and shipping
- Leased office space and utilities
- Travel and registration costs for trade shows and networking events
Whatever your costs, save receipts and keep clear records. This can help you both monitor your business’s financial health and streamline tax prep.
How do you fund your startup costs?
Whatever your marketing company’s startup costs, there are different paths to get the purchasing power you need.
Some new small business owners tap into personal savings, investments, or other assets that they sell for cash. Some retirement plans allow for loans or withdrawals. Terms and penalties vary, so be sure you’ve checked your plan’s fine print. Also weigh the pros and cons of how much of your personal money or investments you’re willing to put on the line.
Borrowing from friends and relatives can free up funding under favorable terms and low interest rates. Agree on terms in writing, though, and do your best to keep up with timely payments so your relationships don’t suffer.
Business credit cards can help you manage cash flow for campaigns and contract labor, build credit, and dial up more purchasing power. Keep an eye on interest rates and be strategic about paying down your debt. Another possible funding source is small business grants that don’t have to be paid back, though availability is limited
Don’t rule out commercial banks, either. A great business plan could demonstrate that your business has potential, but be ready for the bank’s credit checks, collateral requirements, and payback terms. Loans guaranteed by the SBA may have rates and fees comparable to non-guaranteed loans. Additional SBA options may be available for certain marketing business owners, such as women, minorities, or veterans.
4. Name Your Business
Full Spectrum Marketing. Social Butterfly. Digital Focus. Each tells a different story about the company’s marketing services. A good name can help your business stand out and reinforce a favorable impression about your brand. Don’t fall in love with a name too quickly, though. If you adopt a name already in use, there could be legal repercussions, not to mention wasted time and money.
Search the business database at your state’s secretary of state website as well as a domain registrar like Domain.com before registering your marketing agency’s name and web domain. Also check major social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram to see if you can reserve the name.
It’s also important to know that there’s a difference between a formal name and a “doing business as,” or DBA. While it may be necessary to register the business as “Toadstool Print and Digital Marketing Agency LLC,” it’s also possible to create the simple DBA, “Toadstool Marketing” for signs, business cards, and other promotional materials.
5. Register Your Business and Open Financial Accounts
Once you’ve chosen an available marketing business name, register it, your entity, and any DBA with your state’s secretary of state. From there you can obtain an employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS.
Next, check local or state regulations for any business licenses and zoning permits you may need to apply for. An insurance agent can also help you get the right coverage for your marketing company, such as general liability, or coverage specific to a home-based operation.
Lastly, opening a business checking account and credit card keeps your business and personal finances separate, which can make it easier to track your company’s expenses and income.
6. Purchase Equipment For Your Marketing Business
To take a basic marketing business from concept to fruition, you may only need a computer, an all-in-one fax/scanner/printer, a smartphone, and fast, reliable internet access.
If you’re launching your marketing business on a larger scale, research the needs, costs, and availability for meeting space, furniture, filing cabinets, telephones, specialized software, app subscriptions, and other necessities.
The potential basic equipment costs for a non-home based marketing business can start at $5,000. Before committing, consider doing a feasibility study that evaluates whether to rent, lease, buy outright, or possibly partner with another business to share equipment, space, and other costs.
7. Market Your Business
Marketing businesses typically get new clients in one of two ways:
- A potential client finds the business through social media, word-of-mouth referrals, online searches, or by responding to an ad.
- The marketing business finds them by reaching out to contacts on a purchased list, cold calling, or networking at conventions.
You may be able to focus on the former without ever leaving your office chair, but don’t dismiss print outreach. Mailing postcards, coupons, or brochures can pique interest and prompt a prospect to see how you can help.
Whether through networking groups, trade shows, or business partnerships, referrals can be a solid path to new and potential clients. Online marketing such as a search-optimized website, original content, and engaging social media posts can also bring in customers, so keep the following in mind:
- SEO and content marketing strategies to engage readers through blogging and original content
- Social media helps to market your business through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram
- Claim and optimize listings on Google My Business and other online directories
While it’ll take some budget, you can also consider developing incentives and targeted online ads through Google or Facebook. A marketing podcast may also help you develop a trusting audience. Or, if you like to be on the other side of the mic, perform some outreach to be interviewed as a marketing expert on other people’s podcasts and YouTube channels.
Examples of Marketing Businesses to Start
Looking for marketing business ideas to run from a home office? Niches like the ones below can require little more than experience, a computer, and an internet connection:
- Public relations: Create a strong image of a company to the public.
- Direct marketing: Develop print and/or email marketing campaigns to communicate with a company’s existing and potential customers.
- Digital marketing: Specialize in online communications campaigns, such as paid ads (PPC) or content marketing.
- Social media marketing: Engage with a company’s existing and potential customers on social platforms.
- Branding: Establish, maintain, and communicate a company’s brand.
Create, Communicate, Deliver
Service-based businesses can be a great option for new entrepreneurs, thanks to their low risk and their potential for high rewards, including a fast turnaround to profits.
Anyone with marketing experience and minimal startup capital can become their own boss. With so many companies in need of help with advertising, public relations, and marketing, base your marketing business on your own strengths. Grow from there, and you could be on your path to delivering top-rate marketing services and running your own business.