I’ve been working on forming a promising business partnership with another agency owner. We’re currently collaborating on a necessary element of any business--a business plan. Since I love walking my readers through my business experiences, I’m going to break down the exact steps for writing a simple digital marketing agency business plan.
2020, with the global pandemic and economic crisis, is showing us that life and business are fragile. All businesses, especially digital marketing agencies, should have an organized plan that is simple enough to apply pivot actions to it. Therefore, the digital marketing agency business plan template that I’m giving you today will trim all the fat so you and your team can focus on what’s important.
The necessary sections of a marketing agency business plan template are team/operations, Your Why, Sales, and Marketing. And for this exercise, we’re going to focus only on what’s necessary to help you get organized and get going with your marketing agency. This assumes that you’re taking the other necessary steps for starting your business outside of this exercise (i.e. partnership agreement, incorporation, etc.).
Keep it simple
Your mission for your one-day planning session is to keep the first draft of your business plan simple. Your business plan will expand and change over time as you run your digital marketing agency. Avoid getting so deep into the weeds that this exercise drains and depresses you instead of preparing and motivating you.
Make the writing of your business plan a team effort. Get with your co-founder(s), order some coffee and good food, and jam on writing your business plan in one day. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you will get a good start.
Operations: who’s on your team and what are their roles?
It’s vital to know if you have the right people on the bus before you depart onto your business journey. Quickly note the players on your agency’s team in this section (include key contractors and outsourced resources). Include short bios for each team member.
Quick aside: Do you really want to do payroll and bookkeeping? Decide among your team if you’re going to handle these tasks internally or if you’re going to outsource them.
The most important part of this team section is the documenting of roles and responsibilities for each team member. You should have a good idea about who is going to do what before you meet, so this shouldn’t take long. Decide this based on the talents and passions of each team member.
Name, bio, role, and responsibilities. This should be the depth of your team/operations section for your basic business plan. Things will change as you run your agency, so be sure to update the specifics of your operations in a separate operations/systems/processes document(s).
Time to spend on this section: 30 minutes
Discover your agency’s WHY
As a digital marketing agency, you’re not in business to write content, schedule tweets, design ads, and improve SEO for your clients. Your job is to solve your clients’ deepest business problems through your knowledge, guidance, and services. Your services and capabilities are simply a means to a bigger end.
Combine your passion (which you can derive from your mission, vision, and values — see below), your agency’s capabilities, and the problems that you solve for your clients to develop your digital marketing agency’s ‘why statement’. It’s important to note that it’s wise to niche down your agency by choosing one or two verticals (industries) to focus on. Your niche will impact how you apply your capabilities in solving your clients’ problems.
Mission, Vision, and Values
A mission statement is a short statement that explains why an organization exists.
Here is the mission statement of Animalz, a cool content marketing agency: Set a new bar for quality content marketing. We envision a world where the internet is dominated by content that’s informative, insightful and entertaining.
A vision statement is a short statement that expresses a lofty aspiration that positively impacts the world.
Here is the big vision for my company, Nao Media, that owns a marketing agency and various media properties: To inspire other organizations to operate with biblical principles unashamedly.
Values (or core values) are qualities or standards that a business operates by.
Here are the core values for BNI, a business networking organization that I think every digital marketing agency executive should join:
- Givers Gain®
- Lifelong Learning
- Traditions + Innovation
- Positive Attitude
- Building Relationships
Know who you don’t want as a client
Not every client is a fit for you. Your digital marketing agency will burn out quickly if you try to be all things for all people. Focus on a specific niche and become known for doing digital marketing work for a specific client.
Putting it all together: writing your ‘why’ statement
Your ‘why’ statement should be so specific that it leaves you, your team, investors, clients, and prospects with no questions about why you exist. Your ‘why’ will inspire your team, clients, and community. It will have a direct impact on how you approach sales, marketing, and operations.
Here is a good example of a ‘why’ statement:
Awesome Agency was founded to promote educational equality for all children. We help socially conscious clients in the educational technology space consistently share their message through our digital marketing services. Our capabilities and guidance helps our clients focus on curriculum and platform development — leaving marketing strategy and execution to us.
Power tip: Develop a ‘why’ for the business plan itself. Think of every annual business plan as a battle for a yearly business campaign. You’re a creative marketer. This should be easy for you. For example, your 2021 business plan can be titled [X Company] 2021: The Year of Serving with Excellence.
Time to spend on this section: 1.5 hours
Sales: write a sales plan and do sales forecasting
If your question is “how to grow a digital marketing agency?” Sales is the answer. The formula for business is simple: no sales = no business. That’s why rainmakers (excellent salespersons) are so highly coveted by digital marketing agencies.
Here are the items that you will address in your digital marketing agency sales plan:
- Remember your ‘why’ statement in all of your sales activities
- Write how you will do prospecting and networking
- Note how you will contact leads and prospects
- Write a simple description of how you plan to present your business to leads
- Decide on a system/strategy for following up with prospects
- Design a referral process that involves clients and partners (finder’s fees can be involved)
- Document how you plan to maintain healthy client/customer relationships
This Valuetainment video will help you understand the sales process to base your sales plan around (I love Patrick Bet-David’s content for entrepreneurs by the way):
Sales forecasting and goals
If you have already been in business, look at your revenue data from the current and recent years before you try to forecast future sales and set goals. If you’ve been freelancing, base your forecasts and goals on the amount of recent business you’ve done as a solopreneur. Just remember to factor in that you plan to scale your business by adding partners, team members, and outsourced resources.
An important point about past sales data and goals: Be honest with yourself and your team when looking at past sales data. If you reached or exceeded your previous sales goals, praise God! If you failed to reach your sales goals, give thanks for having another opportunity to improve your sales in the future…then figure out if your shortcomings were due to a poor strategy or subpar effort (or a combination of the two). If your effort was the issue, try breaking down and documenting fruitful daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. These tasks will help you and your team form stronger selling and marketing habits. Book tip: The 4 Disciplines of Execution
Here are the steps for completing the sales forecasting and goals section of your business plan:
- Quickly note the startup costs for your agency (including your estimated payroll, rent, utilities, incorporation costs, web design, hosting, sales and marketing tools, and more) and set a goal for when you want your agency to recoup those costs.
- Write down all of the services (and products) that you will offer to your clients. Also, estimate the percentage that each service or product will contribute to your gross revenue.
- Calculate an end-of-the-year gross sales revenue target (consider alternative revenue streams too).
- Write three sales-related tasks/habits that will help your team reach and exceed your end-of-the-year sales target.
- Decide on three-year revenue and profit margin goals
- Write three sales-related tasks/habits that will help your team reach and exceed your sales target.
- Decide on a recurring meeting day and time for reviewing sales, marketing activities, and outcomes. This will help you see if you’re on track to hitting or missing your sales goals.
Time to spend on this section: 3 hours
Marketing: write a marketing plan for your agency
If sales is the engine that keeps your agency running, marketing is the fuel system that feeds the engine. If you want your agency to grow, then you need to excel at both marketing and sales.
The problem is that many marketers are horrible at marketing themselves…so this might be the most important part of your agency’s marketing plan.
Include a simple marketing strategy in your digital marketing agency business plan and hold each other accountable for following through with it. Don’t be like many freelance marketers who focus more on doing marketing tasks for clients instead of marketing themselves to keep their sales funnel full.
You must exhibit a mastery of the marketing capabilities that you provide for your clients in the marketing of your own agency. If you’re the best at writing and deploying Facebook ads, then show that in your own ads. If you write killer blog posts and have a great content distribution strategy, then you should work to make your digital marketing agency blog the best in the industry.
Consider the Hub-and-Spoke content marketing model
The Hub-and-Spoke content marketing model is a simple and well-tested strategy that your digital marketing agency can use for yourself (and your clients). The model features your agency’s website as your hub and your content distribution channels (i.e. email, podcasts, video, and social networks) as the spokes. Your hub is where your content is published and your distribution channels are used to deliver your content to your clients, prospects, and the general public. A well-deployed Hub-and-Spoke model will engage people at the end of spokes and usher them back to your website for your agency to do even more marketing and sales nurturing.
Apply a deeper inbound marketing strategy to your Hub-and-Spoke content marketing strategy. This will help you leverage thought leadership content and educational ‘how-to’ content to build top-of-the-funnel connections with your readers/visitors. Make a plan for nurturing these new contacts through email messages, webinars, and more. All of these details should live inside a separate, more in-depth marketing plan that’s referenced in your business plan. Just decide on the basic framework for the purposes of your one-day business plan exercise.
For more content marketing tips, read my massive guide on how to increase web traffic.
Here are several more marketing strategies that your team should consider:
- Search engine marketing (SEM)
- Paid social media marketing
- Highly targeted print advertising
- Referral marketing (digital approach)
- Referral/word-of-mouth marketing (in-person approach — more on this and networking below)
Network and do word-of-mouth marketing
If you’re a new agency, don’t solely depend on online leads and nurturing (and this is coming from a person who loves content creation and inbound marketing). You must get outside your office and network with other human beings. This is why I think every agency should target at least two marketing conferences and one industry trade show to attend (and eventually present at or sponsor). Human connections and referrals from clients and industry contacts are the best kind of leads. Warm leads secured through word-of-mouth marketing have a smaller probability of being tire kickers.
Power tip: Joining BNI (Business Network International), who I mentioned earlier, is a great way to implement weekly networking and referral activity into your marketing agency’s marketing and sales processes.
Time to spend on this section: 2 hours
Take your new business plan and condense it to a 1-pager that contains your business goals for the year. Print and laminate this one-pager and share copies with your entire team. This will serve as a reminder to help keep everyone motivated and on the same page.
On a personal level, take stock of your spiritual, familial, relational, financial, personal, and professional well-being and consider how these areas will impact your business--whether positively or negatively. Take specific steps to improve in weak areas. Remember: there is no separation between your personal and professional life. It’s all connected.
Boom! You have all that you need to complete your digital marketing agency business plan in one day. The process that I laid out will take you seven hours to complete. If you and your team begin working on your b-plan at 8 am, you’ll be done by 4 pm (with a 1-hour break for lunch). Taking one business day to grind on the framework for your digital agency’s business plan will pay dividends deep into the future.
But your work doesn’t end there. Always remember that…
A business plan is a living document.
You should review your business plan frequently with your co-founder(s) and executive team members. Meet at least once a quarter to review your business plan and see if your business is staying on course and sticking to your ‘why’. A business plan is not a ‘set it and forget it’ document. I suggest doing small tweaks throughout the year and doing a total review and rewrite of the sales and marketing sections for the upcoming year at the end of the year (based on the current year’s successes and shortcomings and projections for the upcoming year). Put every recurring business plan task into your project management tool so that your team can remain organized and prepared.