Written by: Shubham

How to start a digital marketing agency with minimal investment? Is that even possible? 

What if I tell you, YES, you can start a digital marketing agency with minimal investment? 

And what makes me eligible even to say this? Let me share with you that I started my digital marketing agency in 2021 called Mydigital.io, and over the last 3 years, I have managed to scale it effortlessly. 

I understand that starting a digital marketing business is not everyone’s cup of tea, but with the right tools and strategy, the chances of failing are lower. 

Let me walk you through all the right steps you can take to start and run a digital marketing agency with my experience and with as little investment as possible. 

how to start & Grow a Marketing Agency (With Minimal Investment)

Step By Step Guide: Start And Grow A Marketing Agency

As someone who had been working as a solopreneur for four years, I decided to turn my solopreneurship into entrepreneurship in 2021. 

With plenty of online resources and months of understanding different aspects, I decided to A/B test the theories I learned. Here is a detailed breakdown of each step I have followed. 

Market Research And Niche Selection

In 2023, the global digital marketing market reached a value of nearly USD 363.05 billion. It is projected to grow at a CAGR of 13.1% between 2024 and 2032, reaching around USD 1099.33 billion by 2032.

Sure, the numbers highlight tremendous growth opportunities, but finding your specific niche within this growing market is crucial. Let’s take a look at how you can do this. 

  • Assessing Market Demand: 

The important questions you need to ask yourself are: 

  • Where do you excel?
  • Which particular service can you deliver the best? Is it content, SEO, social media marketing, etc?

For example, my core strength lies in SEO and content marketing, where I lead SEO and content teams. Following this, I launched my Agency with my first-hand experience because that’s where my team can provide maximum value to clients. 

Once you have analyzed your core strength, it’s time to move to the next step. Conduct market research initially to explore trends, possible opportunities, and gaps that you can fill. 

Get to know the audience and niche and learn about the top industry experts using Semrush’s Market Explorer

All you need to do is enter 3 domains, select your ideal location, and choose from the list of what you want the Market Explorer to do for you. 

Market Research And Niche Selection

Tip: Look for industries or services with high search volume but relatively low competition. The ultimate goal is to find areas where demand outstrips supply. 

  • Selecting a Profitable Niche:

Focus on a high-demand, low-competition niche. Some of the current trending niches you can check out: 

  • Sustainability marketing
  • Local SEO Services 
  • AI-powered marketing automation
  • Voice search optimization
  • Video marketing for short-form content platforms

However, niche selection is both — a science and an art. 

Your niche needs to be aligned with your passion because, without it, execution can have potential pitfalls. 

In addition, it’s important to blend introspection with market analysis here. You cannot run solely behind the profit, neglecting your expertise. At the same time, you cannot choose only your strength without analyzing the market. 

One of the best lines that I’ve read about niche selection was stated by Paul Stainton, Director of Content & SEO at AgencyAnalytics: 

The right niche aligns with your agency’s strengths, target audience, and unique services, driving growth, profitability, and client satisfaction.

You can also get in-depth information on niche selection by reading his article here.

Remember, selecting a niche can break or make your agency. So, take your time and get expert insights from a mentor or industry expert. 

  • Analyzing Competitors

Irrespective of the niche you decide to go to, it’s equally crucial to keep an eye on your competitors in your selected niche. 

For example, you might discover that Neil Patel’s agency focuses on content marketing and has gained clients like Google, Amazon, etc. This information can help you plan your marketing strategy and goals effectively. 

Also, your goal should be not only to do things better than your competitors and fill the gaps but also to learn from their best practices and replicate them better for your business. 

You can use Semrush’s competitive research tool to get complete insight into your competitors. 

Business Planning And Legal Setup

Having a business plan laid down will help you bring your dream vision into reality. 

Business planning needs to be simplified as much as possible. It should outline your services, financial projections, USP, goals, operational needs, etc. 

A business plan for a digital marketing agency doesn’t have to be complex, especially when you are starting out. 

Here is a template I use that you can follow. Feel free to customize it as per your preference. 

Legal Requirements And Registration

Register your business and obtain the necessary licenses for your digital marketing agency to run smoothly and minimize the risk down the road. 

Generally, you will have to register your business, register for State and Local Taxes, get a business account, get insurance, create basic legal documents, obtain a license, etc. 

The average cost you will need for legalities can be approximately $710-$2,100. 

*Price differs as per your geo location. 

The legal requirements and registration process for any agency will vary depending on your business’s location and specific circumstances. It is better to speak to your accountant or local business attorney for the exact requirements and estimated costs. 

Building A Cost-Effective Online Presence

85% of consumers conduct research online before making a purchase, and this research happens 74% through your website and 38%  through social media.

Having a strong online digital presence will help you build credibility, raise brand awareness, boost customer engagement, enhance search visibility, etc. 

Let’s dive deeper into how you can build your online presence through a website and social media below. 

Developing A Professional Website

Minimum cost: Free (DIY method) or $61-80/hour to hire a web developer

Your website is often the first point of contact for potential clients, so it’s crucial to make a strong impression while keeping costs low. 

Even if you’ve never created a website before, you can leverage platforms like WordPress, Squarespace, or Wix to create your website for free. 

WordPressFree to use, but you’ll need to pay for hosting (typically $3-$10/month for beginners).
WixOffers a free plan
Squarespace14-day free trial then starts at $16/month

Here’s what my agency website looks like – with clear navigation, minimal theme, and responsive designs.  

I’m running my agency on WordPress, and I’m using Astra Theme with some minimal plugins to keep the site up and running smoothly. 

My Agency On WordPress
MyDigital Team Members

Note that if you’re creating a website for the first time, you might find building a DIY website overwhelming. However, you can spend some time watching the tutorials (of the platform you’re picking) and designing one for yourself. 

On the other hand, you can hire a website developer to help you build one from scratch. This option also gives you the chance to get the exact website you have in your mind and appear more professional while also saving you time. 

Some of the essential elements for your agency website include: 

  • Home page: Add a clear value proposition and call to action
  • Services page: Put a detailed description of your offerings
  • About page: Your agency’s story and team
  • Portfolio/Case Studies: Showcase your best work
  • Blog: showcase your expertise and improve SEO
  • Contact page: Add your contact details so potential clients can contact you. 

When creating your agency’s website, remember to follow the best practices such as: 

  • Optimize page load speed (use tools like Google PageSpeed Insights)
  • Use personalized and high-quality videos. You can also use free stock images from Unsplash or Pexels
  • Always make sure to keep your website mobile and tablet-responsive 
  • Implement basic SEO practices such as meta titles, descriptions, and header tags. 

You can also refer to this guide by Hubspot for excellent website design tips. 

Leveraging Social Media

Time investment: 5-10 hours per week
Paid social media advertising to boost visibility: Start with $50-$100 per month.

In the initial stage of your business, you need visibility, and that will happen when people start recognizing that you exist and the work you do. 

With 5.17 billion people using social media, it would be awful to think your agency doesn’t need a social media presence.

 In fact, 91.9% of US marketers already use social media for marketing purposes, highlighting the importance of leveraging social media for your business. 

In the first step, identify where your target audience is active.

As a digital marketing agency, your target audience typically includes small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), startups, and established companies aiming to expand their online presence and reach a wider audience.

Depending on who you are targeting, your audience can lie on different social media platforms.

Here’s a glimpse into different types of social media and their purpose. 

PlatformType of AudienceContent Focus
LinkedInB2B clients, professional servicesIndustry insights, thought leadership articles, case studies
InstagramVisual industries, B2C brandsBehind-the-scenes, team culture, visual portfolio
TikTokYounger demographics, trend-focused brandsShort-form video marketing tips, trends explanations
Twitter (X)Tech, news, and media companies Industry news, quick tips, engagement with industry leaders

Initially, begin with 1 or 2 social media platforms. Aim for an 80-20 strategy at first, meaning 80% of content should be valuable and informative, and 20% should be promotional.

Remember, your core goal is to build an online presence and let people trust what you do. Analyze your competitors to understand their best practices. 

You can use Semrush Social as an all-in-one social media tool to track competitors, drive engagement by automatic scheduling,  have central community management, and get data-driven recommendations.

Leveraging Social Media

Managing social media shouldn’t be difficult. 

Here are a few of the personalized tips that have helped me grow my agency’s social media presence: 

  • Optimize your social media profile
  • Put yourself in front of the camera
  • Touch on the topics your audience is most likely to be interested in. 
  • Do not make educational content boring. Use interactive storytelling to make your content more engaging. 
  • Focus on highly targeted campaigns to maximize ROI for paid ads
  • Focus highly on engagement and respond to all the comments, DMs, replies, etc. 
  • Keep a consistent posting schedule, including time and days of the week. 
  • Use stories (wherever possible) to keep your account active. 
  • Keep eye-catching thumbnails for your video content.
  • Always focus on providing maximum value to your audience. 
  • Your initial content isn’t going to perform, and that’s okay. Continue creating content to see what works the best. 

In the initial stages, you don’t need to hire a social media manager to do the tasks. If you can manage to post 3-4 hours a week, you can save your time. In addition, investing in Semrush Social can be your ideal choice to save time and manual hassle. 

However, if your budget allows, you can have someone (a freelance social media manager) assist you. 

Remember, consistency is key in building your online presence. A/B testing is key, as well as ensuring that you regularly analyze your performance and adjust your strategy based on what resonates best with your audience.

Cost-Effective Marketing Strategies For Agencies 

So far we have done the basic setup of the agency.  

Let’s move to the most interesting part, which is — the marketing strategy for your agency. 

There are different aspects of marketing strategy which you can follow given below:

1. Local GMB Listing

The number one point that a local business owner or an agency owner misses is setting up the local GMB listing. 

For example, my agency is based in Nashik, India. So, I have to set up and optimize my GMB profile accordingly. 

Local GMB Listing

For setting up and optimizing your GMB account, you can try using — the Semrush Local SEO toolkit, which provides immense value.

I ran a quick check on my GMB profile and found that — I’m missing a lot of stuff, as suggested by the toolkit. 

Optimizing Account According Semrush Local SEO Toolkit

I know the optimization score for my Agency isn’t good at all; however, with the suggestion of Semrush, I can improve it. 

With a Local GMB listing, you can generate local leads easily and start providing marketing services.  

2. Content Marketing

Create high-quality, repurposed content to maximize reach. Break down ways and tools they will have to use here. 

For this, you can go by the pain points for the clients and industry you’re serving. You can set up a multi-channel content marketing strategy for your brand. 

Create a solid content marketing plan with — the Semrush Content Marketing toolkit. Elaborate on how to use it: 

Logging to your Semrush account >> content marketing toolkit >> enter the topics for which you need topic ideas. 

And boom, you have a hell lot of topics that you can cover. 

Content Marketing

3. SEO And Inbound Marketing

Use SEO to drive organic traffic and generate leads.

For example, my agency is based in Nashik, India, and I want to rank all keywords for the same. 

I used the tool Keyword Explore of Semrush and entered the query “Digital marketing Nashik,” and voila, I got a keyword suggestion:

SEO And Inbound Marketing

What’s more, you can find good keyword suggestions and create pages that target the same keywords and offer services. 

Keyword Suggestions And Create Pages

Similar way, you can align toward paid advertising to generate leads for yourself. Make use of the toolkit of “Advertising” by Semrush and get things done. 

PPC Keyword Tool

4. Cold Email And Networking 

Effective techniques for reaching out to potential clients without high costs. 

For this you need to collect leads through paid ads and start reaching out to the clients. What’s more, you can use your local network or groups to land local clients for your Agency. 

For a cold email, you can use the template below: 

Subject: A Quick Question About [Prospect’s Website/Business]

Hi [Prospect’s Name],

I noticed that [specific observation about their website or recent content].

At [Your Agency Name], we help businesses like yours [briefly describe the results you deliver, e.g., “increase organic traffic,” “generate high-quality leads,” or “improve search rankings”].

I’ve put together a few quick ideas that could help you [tie your services to the observation you made in the first line].

Would you be open to a brief chat sometime next week to discuss how we can help [Prospect’s Company Name] achieve [specific goal relevant to their business]?

Best, [Your Name]

That’s the template you can use to get started with cold calling and outreach. Unless you don’t have a brand built, it can be challenging to find clients through in-bounds all the time. Therefore, a targeted outreach strategy should be developed using platforms like LinkedIn and personalized cold emails. 

5. Semrush Agency Kit For Growing Your Agency

If you have a budget and you’re looking to grow your agency — you should give Semrush Agency Toolkit a try. 

Here’s my agency page: https://www.semrush.com/agencies/shubham-singh/

You can see it provides a proper breakdown — what services offer and everything. 

Semrush Agency Kit For Growing Your Agency

In addition to this, you can get inbound leads from people looking for Services on the Sermush marketplace. 

My lead story:

I got a lead on 8 June for a copywriting service, which I can accept and reject. 

Here’s a screenshot for the same: 

My Lead Story

Similar way, you can set up and get started with the Semrush Agency solution (don’t purchase; you’re just starting your agency). 

Building A Remote Team

I scaled my business from 3 figures to 7 figures, and it wouldn’t have been possible if I did it alone. 

Before I established my agency and was in the process of research, I picked a book called “Together is Better” by Simon Sinek. There was one of the lines that hit me hard, and it goes: 

“You can’t do it alone. So don’t pretend you can. Together is better.” 

Your team is going to help you achieve every small and big milestone TOGETHER. So, start by slowly building your dream team, even if you begin with just one right person. 

Here’s how: 

Hiring Freelancers and Remote Workers: 

Decide which task(s) is most time-consuming for you and can be delegated to someone else. 

Based on that, if you can afford to invest in a full-time team member, get one onboard. You can either hire a fresher or experienced person (if your budget allows). The first one will save you money, but you’ll have to train the person. The latter will help you save time but will cost you more. 

On the other hand, you can also hire freelancers to delegate your tasks and get the work done. 

Use platforms like LinkedIn, Fiverr, or Upwork to find these working professionals. Create a detailed job description and use the free job posting features (of LinkedIn). 

Lastly, you can conduct online interview sessions to assess the candidates. 

Tip for the interview: If you’ve never interviewed someone, you can use AI tools like ChatGPT or Gemini to help you prepare interview questions for the designated role. It will give you a basic outline that you can customize. 

Outsourcing Non-Core Activities: 

Most of your time should go into expanding your business and delivering the promised value to your clients. To do this, you need to reduce the tasks at hand and free up your time. 

This can be achieved by outsourcing activities and tasks to specialized professionals. For example, you can outsource your accounting tasks to an accounting firm. Similarly, you can outsource your marketing to a freelance marketer who can help you in saving your time. 

💡Interesting read: Check out this in-depth outsourcing marketing article by Semrush to get complete insights on how it can do wonders for your digital marketing agency. 

Tools For Agencies — The Agency Success Arsenal 

Investing in tools and technologies will be one of the best decisions you can take to reduce the cost of hiring resources and save time. 

There are plenty of free and low-cost tools available on the market that can streamline your workflow. I recommend starting with a smaller budget for tools unless your budget aligns with the costlier tools, and only if you really need them.

Most of the tools I use are free, and you can check them out below. 

For organizing and planning projectsTrello
For GraphicsCanva
For SEO-friendly content & social media postsContentShakeAI
AI video creatorSynesthesia AI
For communicationZoom, Slack
Process payments and manage transactionsPayPal
Social Media Management & AnalyticsSemrush Social

I committed the mistake of picking different tools for each purpose, and the result? 

It actually doubled up my time into learning each tool rather than saving it until my friend introduced me to Semrush. 

I have been using Semrush for more than 3 years now, and one thing I love about it is that it’s a complete marketing suite that is power-packed with all the essential features. 

Note that Semrush offers different products in addition to its popular digital marketing toolkit. You’ll have to buy other products, such as Semrush Local, trends, ImpactHero, etc, separately. 

However, there’s good news! New users can get 14 days of free trial to explore its features. The 14-day trial is available for Semrush products (mentioned below)

  • Semrush Platform — Comprehensive digital marketing suite(keyword research, site audit, backlink analysis, Domain & Keyword Analytics, reporting, Content Marketing Platform, etc.
  • Semrush Local – Boost local SEO efforts for small businesses.
  • Semrush Agency – Get leads with Semrush Agency Kit (which I have been using) 
  • Semrush Social – Complete social media management and analytics
  • ContentShakeAI – AI Writing Tool to boost content marketing production

Service Delivery And Client Management

Your service and delivery are going to decide the success of your digital marketing agency, meaning it’s essential to have a system for service delivery and client management. 

Here is how you can improve service delivery and client management. 

Creating Standardized Processes

Developing and implementing standardized processes ensures consistency in your service quality and helps streamline operations as you grow.

Usually, the process can vary from one agency to another, but here is a generic process that you can follow: 

  1. Service blueprint that demonstrates each service you offer. 

Example for SEO Service Blueprint:

SEO Service Blueprint
  1. Quality control – Add checklists for each service to ensure all elements are completed, Implement a peer review system for deliverables, and have regular team training to maintain and improve service quality.

Bonus: Keep track of tasks and deadlines and implement time tracking to understand how long tasks take and improve efficiency.

Client Onboarding And Management 

A clear and effective onboarding process for your client is important to ensure that your client’s expectations align with the project deliverable. Additionally, it also promotes healthy business relationships. 

Here are a few best practices you can follow for the client onboarding process: 

  1. Welcome Package: Offer digital welcome packages for your clients that include an overview of your company, an explanation of your process and timeline, communication guidelines, and FAQs.
  2. Meeting Agenda: Clearly lay down the agenda of the meeting 
  3. Use Client Portal: Use Google Drive and Notion (free) for easy access to information for your clients. 
  4. Regular check-ins with your client: Schedule weekly or monthly meetings with your client to get feedback and address any concerns. 
  5. Reports: Create customized reports based on client KPIs. You can use Looker Studio to create data visualization for effective and measurable reports. 
  6. Feedback: Implement a system for gathering and acting on client feedback.

Remember, your primary goal should be to make the onboarding process as simple as possible. 

Additionally, plan your system before onboarding a client and tailor it according to the feedback you receive. 

Lastly, do not forget also to have a system for handling the challenges. For example, create a plan for scope creep, missed deadlines, underperforming campaigns, and client onboarding process. This approach not only leads to higher client satisfaction but also sets the foundation for sustainable growth through referrals and repeat business.

Pricing Strategies For Agencies 

  • Value-Based Pricing: Set prices based on the value provided to clients rather than just cost. Give them a starter package starting as low as $500 or even more, depending on the services and value you offer. 
  • Transparent Pricing Models: Clearly outline your pricing structure to build trust and avoid misunderstandings. Have a clearly defined pricing structure which needs to be given in the starting. 
  • Retainer Pricing Model: If some of your clients are looking to continue your services for more than three months. Just offer a retainer model pricing where you give them a 10% or less discount since they would be your retainer client. 

Scaling Your Agency The Right Way

Although your agency is doing good, how to grow a business? 

Scaling a marketing agency requires careful planning, strategic decision-making, and a willingness to adapt.

Scaling isn’t always gaining thousands of followers or hitting that one major client. Scaling requires you to constantly adapt to changes, be strategic, and constantly generate leads organically. 

Here is how you can do it: 

  • Leveraging Referrals and Partnerships: 

Referrals and partnerships are one of the easiest ways to scale your agency. You can: 

  • Offer incentives for clients who refer new business (e.g., discounts on services, bonus deliverables). 
  • Build relationships with other agencies for mutual referrals. 
  • Identify complementary agencies or freelancers (e.g., web developers, PR firms)
  • Attend relevant conferences and events

Focusing on High-ROI Services: 

Concentrate on services that offer the best return on investment for clients. You can do this by understanding and calculating profit margins for different service offerings and gradually phasing out low-ROI services. 

Some of the examples of high ROI services include: 

  • Conversion rate optimization
  • Email marketing automation
  • Paid advertising management
  • Content marketing and SEO

Remember, every agency is scalable when you implement proper systems.

Conclusion: Go Start & Start Your Marketing Agency

Starting and growing a digital marketing agency with minimal investment is challenging but not impossible. 

Start with market research and niche down. Next, focus on building an effective social media presence, invest in quality tools, and, most importantly, focus on delivering maximum value to your clients. 

As you grow, you can increase the investment amount, but starting with low investment and growing your digital marketing agency shouldn’t be rocket science. 

My personal tip is to get started with Semrush. Semrush has all the tools that will help you explore your local market (through Semrush Local) to the last step of scaling your agency. 

So, you don’t have to go around and spend time learning different tools. 

 Affiliate Disclosure: This content is a part of the campaign – #MakeitWithSemrush and we are the affiliate partners of Semrush. So when you buy a subscription to Semrush by clicking our link we may earn a tiny commission at no extra cost to you.