You've taken the plunge and started your own social media agency. Startups live and die on new business, and there's no other time when winning new clients will have a bigger impact. Going from none, to one, to two clients is arguably a bigger transition than moving from 20 to 25, and without any momentum or case history behind you, it's tough.
Most decision-makers believe their business can handle their own social media in-house, because almost everyone runs their own, personal social media profiles. Many leaders also believe that they should run their own social media pages themselves for authenticity’s sake: who better to post about “us” than us?
There comes a time when your potential clients realize they either don't have time to run their social media effectively any more, or they grow frustrated at their inability to drive meaningful likes, shares, comments, replies, RTs, traffic and leads. This is your moment. But how do you start a startup social media agency, and what are the keys to your early success?
Tap into - and grow - your personal network
Your first and easiest port of call is your family, friends and their wider networks. Tell people that you’re starting a startup social media agency and you’re looking for clients. Ask your friends and family for their advice, help and support, even if it’s simple stuff like brainstorming ideas about what to call your agency.
You’ll get plenty of ideas and support from your close network, and if you’re able to grow your social media agency into a fully-fledged business in the future, their support will be invaluable along the way.
Your network might also open a few doors for you to pitch and interact with businesses. Even if these early meetings aren’t successful, make sure you learn as much as possible and ask for feedback after every pitch. You should always be striving to improve the quality of your pitching, and tailor each one as closely as you can to the client, their needs, problems, how you can solve them, and why you’ll be fantastic to work with. Your personality, agility and likely relatively low monthly cost as a new startup agency are your strongest suits here.
“One entrepreneur wanted to meet one of the richest men in the world to fund his company. It took eight months of nurturing relationships and asking for introductions, but he got the meeting, made the sale and now has a board member so prominent that he can attract virtually anyone else to his venture.” - Stever Robbins, Entrepreneur
Even if the door closes on you, stay in contact with the people you're communicating with and pitching to. They don’t have a need now, but they might in a year’s time.
Find other businesses to partner with
This can start very simply. Just sit with a notepad, identify who your target clients are and write a list of the other services they might want or need. Services that you don’t offer. For example, when you’re looking for social media clients, it’s likely they have websites that require design and development, search engine optimization, a blog they need content for, pay per click ads to drive traffic, and so on.
Set yourself a daily or weekly target number of people to contact that work in these related (but non-competing) services, and see if there’s a dialogue you can have with them. It’s probable this will initiate at least a few conversations at one time, so start a spreadsheet or recruit some software to help you keep a list of your contacts.
Open with a problem they might be facing, such as they’re a startup design agency whose clients might be asking them about social media, for example. It should go without saying: personalize your emails, ask the recipient how they are and what they did at the weekend, to try and spark a relationship that goes beyond your desire to win clients for your startup. You’ll probably enjoy the process and can make new friends on the way.
There’s a good chance this approach, while time-consuming, will provide you with the opportunity to offer your service alongside someone else’s. You may find an SEO agency whose clients always ask about social media management, and that’s a great opportunity for you to partner with them, which could yield more business down the line.
Use social media to find new clients
It’s safe to assume the person you’re contacting might receive 10 or more requests a day like the one you’re sending, so make sure you:
- Do something to stand out
- Make your message “float” by putting the most important content at the open
- Identify their issues and pain points, make it very clear how you’ll make their life better
- Include your personality - you’re friendly and confident, make a great first impression
Linkedin is a great place to source new social media clients. Being able to see someone’s job title and level of seniority will help you pitch your message appropriately, while their personal and company profile will give you a good insight into their business challenges.
But where do you find these prospects in the first place? Assuming you have your current network as connections, you can see second and third connections of theirs, who are likely to be in some way associated with their business. Every prospect has a need that requires fulfilling.
Social Media Examiner recommends using Linkedin’s advanced search feature, which allows you to search by dozens of criteria, including industry, seniority level, location, language, company size. Zone in on your niche and areas of specialism and go find yourself a list of new contacts. Linkedin also allows you to save your search criteria, which is helpful and saves time on filling out the advanced search form in future. Make sure you tweak your saved searches over time so you’re not missing out on any new prospects.
You can also...
Host a free training session on a specific industry topic
While an often-employed tactic, this is a great way to put yourself and your new venture on the radar of dozens or more potential new clients. Choose a specific topic to host your training session around and use a catchy stat to reel your audience in - “Double your Linkedin following with these 7 actionable tips”
Zoning in specifically on one platform is likely to have far more interest than a coverall “Increase your social media engagement” title which has been done over and over again.
Work hard to make sure your training is actionable and as up-to-date as possible. Keep your session to no longer than 30 minutes, if you can, and reassure your audience you’ll be starting and finishing on time. Make your points actionable, so your audience could literally take away your advice, apply it, and see some kind of result. This will also really help with your follow-ups, as you can email and ask your prospects how they got on with your advice.
Consider using boosted posts and adverts on social media platforms to drive sign-ups for your training session, and make sure you record the contents so you have a video that you can continue to market it after the event. If you don’t have any budget available, do some groundwork using Boolean searches on Twitter and search on sites such as Quora to find and invite people to your session.
Make sure you follow-up by email or phone call with everyone who signed up to your training session, sending people who didn’t attend a copy of the video, and asking those who did attend what - if anything - they’ve used your advice for. If the answer is that they:
a) Used the advice and achieved great results, your foot’s in the door and you can ask if they want more great advice, or
b) They didn’t have the time to use the advice - bingo! Ask them if they’d like to have a conversation about hiring your startup agency to buy themselves more time, or
c) They used the advice but didn’t see results - no problem. Invite them to your next training session, or, better still, offer them a bespoke audit of their social media and provide them with new insights to improve their profiles
Drive word of mouth referrals
It’s a well-worn phrase, but you should focus on delighting the first clients you win. These guys are the cornerstones of your flourishing enterprise, and you should look to make it clear they’re a priority.
Almost every business owner and decision-maker has access to a wider network of other people, and they’re usually happy to recommend. In fact, business leaders are usually quite proud if they’ve managed to find and recruit a fantastic agency that’s saving them time, enabling them to focus in other areas.
According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers say they trust earned media - such as word of mouth from family and friends - above all other forms of advertising”
Once you’ve enjoyed a sustained spell of impressing your new clients with great results, organic traffic, growing social media profiles and influencer outreach, it’s time to simply ask them if they’d be willing to recommend you to their wider network. You might decide to offer some kind of incentive, such as a discount, but if your relationship with them is strong and authentic, it’s likely they’ll want to recommend you anyway, provided you assure them it won’t distract from your work on their brand, of course!
Plan to scale your startup from day one
As you grow your agency portfolio and gain more clients, you will notice that your business becomes increasingly complex. You might be hiring new staff, renting larger office space, and liaising with your roster of clients, all of which comes with an added drag on your precious time. This is where recruiting a tool to help manage your social media across multiple client accounts can be a crucial difference-maker between juggling dozens of accounts and logins, and managing them all from one easy-to-use dashboard.
An agency social media tool will also help you report on your performance to your clients with dashboards and PDF reports produced in real-time, demonstrating how effective you and your team are at growing their business on social media. Your clients want more likes, shares, comments, retweets, followers, organic traffic and leads, and not only can you deliver it all, but you can prove their return on investment at the same time. Data always makes for the most compelling arguments, and your clients will be wowed by the quality of social media reporting and analytics you have to hand at any given time.