My journey to starting a Digital agency started when I was in my final year studying Computer Science at the University of Ibadan. The Google Online Marketing Challenge (GOMC) is an opportunity for students to learn Google Adwords. Google gives each team a test budget of $250 for a duration of 3 weeks to push campaigns for the chosen client. My team came 2nd in the regional finals and we were all awarded certificates and recognition for a successful campaign.
Our client, a network engineering company based in Ikeja, Lagos was able to get over 60 leads in phone calls, emails and sales. This would be the beginning of my journey into the Digital Marketing Industry. My hard-knock journey in the school of Entrepreneurship is a story for another day. But I’ll share some lessons I have learnt on how to start and run a Digital Agency in Nigeria.
Understand the Business
Digital Marketing is a very wide career. I have met a lot of so-called “Digital Marketing Experts”. The term expert means someone that knows everything about something. The first thing to understand about Digital is you cannot know everything about everything in Digital, and really in any field you choose to study.There are over 20 careers you can have in Digital Marketing and “Digital Marketing Expert” is not one of them.
A good way of distinguishing yourself, both as an agency and an individual is to pick one area that interests you and apply the 10,000 hour rule to it. Own that niche and make sure you are a “go-to” in that area. There are 2 types of digital agencies. There is the creative agency and the Digital Marketing Agency.
A Creative Agency is responsible for coming up with the content of a campaign while a Digital Marketing agency is in charge of pushing the content on various Digital Channels (e.g Google Search, Google display, Facebook, Twitter etc). You need to decide which type of agency you wish to start and define your core clearly from the outset. An agency that functions both as a creative and a Digital Marketing agency is referred to as a Full-Service agency and it usually takes years of experience to effectively be able to offer both services.
Most times even full-service agencies still have their core service; for example a creative agency could offer any of the following or a combination – Graphics Design, UI/UX Experience Design, Animation & 3D, Branding, Video Production and strategy, web design etc. Some areas of specialization you will find in a Creative Agency are Art/Creative Director, Graphics Designer, Production Manager, Animator, 3D artist, and Strategist. For a Digital Marketing Agency they offer more technical services like PPC Management, Social Media Management, Email Marketing, Programmatic Buying etc. Roles you can find here include Data Analyst, Search Engine Marketer, Programmatic Manager, Account Manager, and Social Media Manager. Of course in a number of cases, these roles are found in both types of agencies but these agencies usually start with the core roles that are peculiar to their agency type. This is because an agency is fundamentally defined by the founding core ideology and culture which drives everything the agencies does and usually reflects in their work ethics.
Define your Niche
Many new agencies make the mistake of trying to be a “one-stop shop” i.e a full-service agency that offers services in all the areas of Digital Marketing. This makes it hard for you to spread your resources across all your service offerings. When you spread your resources too thin, it makes it harder for you to scale your agency effectively.
Find the one service you’re the strongest in and own that area. It will pay off in the long run.
When we started Webcoupers, my partners and I decided we wanted to be known as one of the best Digital Marketing agencies in Nigeria.We were already very good with the Google Adwords platform so we decided to leverage on the No. 1 Search engine marketing platform. Our success stories with clients on the PPC platform got us the Google Partner Status in a year and by the end of the second year, we became Google Premier Partners; the only agency with this status in West Africa. This further solidified our credibility as one of the best Digital Marketing agencies in Nigeria and we were able to leverage on good referrals and our partnerships to seal more deals for the agency.
This is perhaps the most important lesson I have learnt in starting an agency. In order to be able to build a strong and lasting relationship with your client, they must be able to trust you to handle their campaigns in a professional and transparent manner. Transparency has taken our agency to places where sheer hard work wouldn’t have. The business model of an agency makes it easy to include a lot of padding and falsehood if you want. But trust me, in the long run, it pays to be just and transparent because cheating always has a way of coming back to bite you in the ass. I know agencies that have a terrible reputation amongst brands even though they do pretty decent work. Brands they have worked with now swear not to work with them again. You don’t want to be that agency.
Under Promise and Over Deliver
As an agency, you always want to give more than expected by the client. When setting your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) be sure to set a reasonable and fairly ambitious target and aim to exceed that target. This helps establish your agency as an agency that exceeds expectation and helps you get good referrals. Consider your client, determine what is valuable to them and try to go the extra mile in adding the right kind of value by delivering a great service that is beyond the actual service you are providing.
Agency work is 80 percent about relationship and 20 percent execution. You need to maintain a very healthy relationship with your clients. As an Account Manager, you need to know everything about your client and show them that you care about them beyond just making money from them. Make yourself constantly available on client’s request. Make regular phone call check-ups to discuss the status of their campaigns and new ideaas. Visit clients’ offices regularly; you could even work from their office once in while as long as the client is okay with it.
Build a culture that is unique to your business. No matter how crazy it seems, culture will help attract the right talent to your agency and also help in choosing the brands to work with.
Build your Network
There is the saying that goes that “Network is your networth”. As cliché as this sounds, it holds true for your agency. The more people you know in key industries in Nigeria – and in other countries – the higher your chances of getting referrals. In the agency business , referrals are most likely going to be what drives your sales the most at the early stage of the agency before you can afford to build a proper sales force. Go for agency seminars, conferences and workshops. Don’t just dish out your business cards like the “Networker Ninja” you are, but aim to engage in meaningful and constructing conversations about your business and the industry you operate in.
Hire the Right People
When you’re hiring people; skills and competencies are very important traits to watch out for but not as important as personality. Skills can be taught, but people never change. It’s important you hire people that fit into your culture. A good way to hire is to have a discussion with the interviewee. You can also have different team leads have a brief session with the person and say if the person is someone they can spend 30minutes with in a room alone without looking for the nearest exit door. Beware, a bad apple can influence the whole team negatively.
Learn, UnLearn and Re-Learn
The Digital Marketing industry is a dynamic one. What holds true today, may become obsolete in the next one year. It’s important to keep learning new things about the services and and products you offer so as to stay ahead in the game.
Peter Ajegbomogun is a Digital Strategist and Technical Lead at Webcoupers. He loves training on the awesomeness of “Digital” in his free time.