5 tips for starting an agency after successfully freelancing

Transitioning from freelancing to running a digital marketing agency can be challenging. All of a sudden you are tasked with the responsibility of managing an entire team, juggling multiple roles and responsibilities as well as holding the overall vision of the organization.

These 6 tips from industry professionals will help guide you through the transition of building an agency after successfully freelancing.

  1. Make use of your network

Sandra Holtzman of Marketing Cures says “Maintain existing relationships you made through freelancing and project work. This is important, and for me when I started my own agency, it was crucial. It’s also a basis for introductions to new contacts. Advertising and marketing are relationship-based businesses, not transactional. You have a history of working with these previous clients and they know and trust how you work.”

Marcus Clarke of Searchant says “Make use of your network. After freelancing, you should have been able to build many strong connections. Identify any potential collaborators, partners or mentors among them. Starting an agency is no small task and you will need every support you can get. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas. They might even pitch in a few very essential ones you haven’t thought about yourself.”

Ciara Haley of MHF Creative advises “After freelancing in London for 11 years for creative agencies and in house at Virgin and Burberry – my one tip is utilise the network that you already have as a freelancer to get the ball rolling. It’s important as a freelancer to make an effort at building relationships, do good work, be on time and generally be professional so that people think highly of you and remember you – when you do your initial reach out when you start your agency.”

“My one, key, tip is to maintain existing relationships you made through freelancing and project work. This is important, and for me when I started my own agency, was crucial, to get work from existing relationships. It’s also a basis for introductions to new contacts” suggests Sandra Holtzman of Marketing Cures.

One more tip: When starting out don’t take on more clients that you can handle as you don’t want to sacrifice personalization or quality of work. That being said, you don’t want to be in a position of turning work down as your agency cannot grow that way. This is why you need to be sure you have a network of resources that will allow you to take on more business.”

  1. Work on the business, not in it

Chris Hinchey of Shiny Creative says “Where possible you need to be working on your business and not in it and that means pricing jobs properly and making sure there is profit after paying other people to do the work. Even if you are doing some of the work yourself, cost your job as though you’re handing the piece of work on to someone else. It sounds really simple, but that is the key difference between an agency owner and a freelancer.”

  1. Hire talent

Hinchey also says “The number one tip to a freelancer who wants to start an agency is to trust other people. You have to take the gamble of outsourcing any work that you don’t need to do. The simple truth is, other people will be just as good as you or potentially even much better than you, depending on specialism.”

Megan Nivens of Flourish Consulting Services LLC says “I would say to make sure and surround yourself with people and resources that can help fill your professional gaps and answer questions that you didn’t know you needed answers to.”

Hilary Reiter of Redhead Marketing & PR advises “Decide what services your agency will offer and then arm yourself with experts in those specific disciplines whether they are independent contractors, full-time employees on your payroll, or a combination of the two. If there are services you don’t offer, perhaps you can create a reciprocal arrangement with another who does that will allow you to work seamlessly together for certain clients, providing your respective capabilities.”

  1. To niche or not to niche

Megan Nivens of Flourish Consulting Services LLC says “Our agency has been in business for three years, and has grown from just myself to eight people in less than three years. We have never been niche, instead, what we have focused on is doing work that we are very passionate about. We don’t partner with organizations that we can’t get behind, morally, ethically, and how they service their customers. This has been challenging, because we aren’t able to become niche with deep rooted expertise going into a brand new partnership, but it has also allowed us to bring innovation that otherwise wouldn’t exist and carry that across industry to industry.”

Andrea Siy of S!Y Communications advises “As for a niche, a majority of my clients come from one industry – that gives me important credibility and helps secures future client work. But I also serve a few different industries and you learn so much from each of them to apply to others so I think diversification is necessary to keep learning and growing.”

5. Understand your role in management

Sam Sprague of Sprague Media says “As a freelancer, you do the one thing you do, and you do it well. When you transition to an agency, you become an HR manager (recruiting, hiring, firing), team leader, and leading the vision of the company. 

If there was one tip I’d have for any freelancer starting an agency it would be recruiting and hiring are your best weapons. You don’t need to hire the most skilled, the best talent, you need to hire for the process.

You can hire all stars but you’ll have to pay, and there is the risk of them not holding to your expectations. So hire for the process and over time, those people will become all stars in that process. Lowering your risk and overhead.”

In conclusion, making the shift from freelancing to operating a marketing agency requires you to think strategically when it comes to your niche, hiring talent and holding your vision for the company. It requires you to spend a considerable amount of time marketing and working on the business instead of strictly working on client projects.