Business development · 17 July 2019

The challenges and opportunities on offer in a digital marketing start-up

digital marketing

It’s common knowledge that the road of a brand-new business is a rocky one. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), whilst small business survival rates in some industries are as high as 91%, fast-forward five years and only 40% of SMEs are still trading.

Digital businesses can seem like a safer bet. If your start-up isn’t dealing with tangible goods, surely the initial outlay will be lower?

If you’ve set up your digital marketing start-up after acquiring agency or in-house experience. Surely you will have a safety net of expertise where you can avoid costly mistakes?

However, both of these can be misconceptions – and potentially risky ones.

Why are we talking about digital marketing?

Physical assets are still likely to be an essential expense in the early days of a digital marketing business. Even if this is only a computing resource. Digital marketing businesses are likely to require a substantial upfront investment in software applications.

This could involve licenses for existing tools, or the time and resource required to develop proprietary technologies.

What kind of applications might a typical digital marketing start-up require?

Beyond general productivity software required by any business, digital marketing organisations are likely to need specialist tools for:

Pitching

Winning new business is an integral part of becoming an established SEO agency.

Sometimes it’s hard to justify the cost of certain campaigns and explain to potential customers their value. Especially so if you’re pitching them before you’ve started working with them.

That’s where forecasting tools can help.

Perfecting the art of translating business KPIs into marketing metrics is the edge that gives start-ups a fighting chance when going head to head with established players.

Research

Research is a core element across a wide variety of digital marketing disciplines. Whether that’s for understanding how competitors are performing or gaining an understanding of a particular topic or product.

Start-up agencies need effective tools both for carrying out this research and organising its results into an easy-to-access and intelligent format.

An example is a monitoring platform for giving a competitive overview for a particular topic, keyword list or domain.

Analytics

Digital marketing agencies don’t merely collect information – they transform that information into tangible insights for their customers.

This requires some form of analytics tool. This can consolidate the different information sources the agency is working from and interpret them in a way that makes sense for the customer organisation.

Forecasting is a key capability for many digital marketing agencies and relies in part on having an accurate understanding of past data trends and their impact.

Tracking

Like any service-focused organisation, a digital marketing agency needs to be able to track its own performance tightly and explain that performance clearly to its clients.

Whilst performance metrics will vary between agencies, clarity, and consistency of tracking are vital for all.

Data storage and comparison

It’s not enough for digital marketing agencies to make intelligent use of data on a day-to-day basis. They also need to be able to examine trends over time and compare today’s performance with last week, last month, last year.

This requires a smart approach to data storage. This includes tools that enable previous intelligence to be quickly accessed, filtered and compared with more current data.

It’s a complex picture. All these different functions – and more – could require different software applications which need to be purchased or built. They need to be personalised and tailored to the precise needs of the digital marketing business in question.

Every single one of those applications adds to the cost and complexity of launching and growing that young business.

Switching from task to task

An overlooked cost of setting up a new digital agency when you have substantial previous experience is the shift from having a single clearly-defined position to the constant switching of roles required of a start-up leader.

From doing sales at 9 am to giving an inspirational speech to junior employees at lunch and planning scalability operations in the afternoon, a vast array of responsibilities begin and end with the managing director.

Furthermore, each decision they make will eventually become part of the company culture, so procedures and operations become extremely important.

Choosing the right combination of service and tools to support these responsibilities is therefore critical – but can be costly.

The solution –  careful procurement and consolidation

To work around all this complexity, digital marketing start-ups need to take both a careful and consolidated approach to the tools they deploy.

Finding tools that can achieve multiple functions, rather than paying for lots of disparate ones, can save on initial outlay by simply reducing the number of licenses and deployments required.

It can also reduce ongoing costs by streamlining management overheads.

Don’t overlook the possibility of ones aimed specifically at smaller businesses and start-ups which can be used to reduce initial outlay also.

There are also initiatives available to help. SEOmonitor’s Spark Programme, for example, is a $5,000 (£3,882) grant available to digital marketing agencies that are under three years old.

Digital marketing is a hugely exciting space for new businesses to enter. It’s a sector where small agencies really can compete effectively with the big established players.

Agility, creative thinking, and innovation are all great assets for digital marketing agencies and ones that smaller organisations and start-ups can have at greater levels than their bigger competitors.

But to get off the ground and maintain initial momentum, a thoughtful approach to the tools you deploy is critical.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Cosmin Negrescu is the founder and CEO of SEOmonitor, a tool that brings a new and better way of predicting and measuring SEO performance. He launched the product after managing his own digital agency for 7 years.

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