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  • Denis Sinelnikov

FORBES Council Feature: 5 Lessons For New Digital Marketing Agency Owners



Having a successful digital marketing agency gives me a good feeling. I am proud of what I have achieved over the last 20 years. However, that time hasn’t been without setbacks and mistakes. We should always learn from our mistakes, but I didn’t have to make every mistake that I made. Here are five things I wish I knew before I started my own marketing agency.


1. Don’t stress about campaign performance.

When I first started in digital marketing, I thought I had to provide instant success and monitor every moment of a campaign. This led to a great deal of stress and mismanaged client expectations. Through trial and error, I learned that campaign returns are ephemeral.


That’s a bold statement. Let’s break it down. Yes, you should establish clear goals and milestones. These numbers aren’t hard, fast rules. They are estimates that vary by marketing platform, brand, and industry segment.


What matters isn’t the time you promise. If you have a strong foundation for your digital marketing campaign, understand your demographic targeting, and create a compelling story for your client, you will see a positive return for your work. Once I understood this concept, I became a much more focused and successful marketer.


2. Realistically manage client expectations.

I knew starting out that, technically, I could tell a client no. Unfortunately, I was still locked into the service-minded concept that I shouldn’t tell a client no. I believed that if I did, they’d just go to a competitor who would tell them yes.


Learning how to tell a customer no, however, is only the tip of the iceberg for learning to manage expectations. Teamwork and LinkedIn both have good articles to help you learn how to manage expectations. I boil them down to five key points:


• Process transparency.

• Flexible communication.

• Realistic milestones.

• Cost of doing extra.

• Access to assets.



The first three are simple and self-explanatory. The last two, however, were eye-openers for me. I was already accustomed to being upfront with clients about pricing. However, I had a couple of clients who would pop up with last-minute demands or who needed extra attention in setting up their websites or campaigns. When I learned to communicate what last-minute demands would cost, that it would add hours to the work I already did, and created a system that allowed clients to keep up with progress without demanding time, my relationships changed and managing expectations was easier.


3. Don’t wait to build your team.

We usually start our businesses alone. This is especially true for digital marketing because we can do almost everything from one computer. When I started, it was easy enough to handle web design, image development, writing, and customer communication by myself. Over time, though, keeping up became harder and more frustrating. I thought if I didn’t keep up, I was lazy.


Facing burnout, I finally pulled in the partners, employees, and freelancers that now make up my team. I shouldn’t have waited to build my team. I subjected myself to unneeded stress and my team to the frustration that comes with crisis delegation.

Often, we find ourselves in a sweet spot with success—where we aren’t so large that we’re stressed and need more people but don’t think we can afford to bring on a partner or employee. That, I learned, is exactly when we should begin building our team.


Delegation, communication, and trust are three of the foundational elements of strong, effective team building. They are also the easiest to accomplish when you bring your team on a little at a time. Build trust, create effective delegation and establish firm communication when your team is small and unstressed. It’s how I grow my team now. I wish that I had started that from the beginning.


4. Know how to market yourself.

Do you know who needs a good digital marketer? You. Take time to market yourself. That seems like a no-brainer now, but when I first started, I thought all I really needed was just word of mouth, customer referrals, and the little blurb at the bottom of a page or ad saying where it came from. The rest would build from there. Yes, these things help build your business, but they aren’t the only things that help you grow.


Promoting yourself as a digital marketer is important. It not only gets your name out there for people to see, but it also showcases your expertise, market knowledge, and creativity. From case studies showing that you understand market demographics to thought-leading articles that highlight your skills to ads that feature your storytelling talent, you not only build brand awareness, but you also build brand trust. I recognized that immediately for my clients, but it took time to understand that I needed to do that for myself as well.


5. Networking pitfalls are part of human nature.

Did you know that we’re making a lot of the same networking mistakes in the 2020s that we made in the early 2000s? We don’t call them the same things because no one wants to rewrite the same blog post every year for 15 years. However, “not making a meeting about you” and “not being self-promotional” is the same mistake. A lot of articles from two decades ago touch on the same conceits as today: social anxiety, self-centeredness, and lack of communication skills.


In other words, we focus on the symptoms when we talk about networking pitfalls rather than the underlying issues that cause the pitfalls to begin with. I struggled through my own mistakes until I began to identify the skills I lacked. Once I addressed those basic skills, my networking prowess improved.



It’s important that we learn from the mistakes we make early in our careers. Each of these things that I wish I had known sooner is things I learned to put into practice over time. Now that you know these things, hopefully, you won’t be shaking your head in 10 years saying, “I wish I knew that sooner.”

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