Starting a business always comes with successes and failures. We don’t get where we are without making mistakes and learning from them. That experience of mistake – learn – grow, is an important part of growing as an entrepreneur. That said, I still have a nice list of things that I would love to have done differently, knowing what I know now. It’s too late for me, but you, as you start out in your digital marketing business, will be able to grow with the things I wish someone had told me.
Give It Time
When I first started in digital marketing, I thought I had to prove my strategies and techniques to my clients with fast returns. I would be successful if they saw an immediate increase in sales or traffic. It didn’t help that there have always been less reputable individuals that lure businesses with these promises, and I felt I had to compete with them.
In truth, the most foundational aspects of digital marketing, like brand building and SEO, require time. The simplest truth of this is to look at what people trust. Consumers and investors alike trust names they recognize. While yes, some strategies, like PPC (pay per click), produce fast results in terms of clicks, if you don’t have a solid foundation of SEO and brand recognition, those clicks won’t convert to the returns your clients want. Building strong SEO and brand identity simply requires time and patience from you and your clients.
Manage Client Expectations
Your client sees a competitor suddenly see success with a digital marketing campaign. They don’t see the work that happened to lead up to that successful campaign. So, your client comes to you with the expectation that they should be able to launch a social media campaign and see their sales increase by 10, 25, or 50%. When you’re new, you find yourself tempted to try to deliver that kind of impossible return, especially if you don’t realize that you sometimes have to give it time.
What I didn’t know about starting my own digital marketing agency was that I could just tell my client, “No, I can’t do that.” I came from other service-focused industries, so the mantra, “the customer is always right” was drilled into my brain. While I learned with experience (and a few patient clients) that I could tell my customers no, or that they had to be patient if I had known that from the beginning, I would have had happier clients and more success early on because I would have set the right kinds of expectations for success.
Build Efficient Systems
Early on, I found myself facing potential burnout. While I loved the creative side of digital marketing, the simpler everyday tasks wore me down. I would spend hours sending emails back and forth to clients trying to get final approval on a campaign. I would go back and forth for days trying to get a new platform set up. I would find projects backing up because I was trying to keep up with my posting schedules.
I thought I had to do everything myself – by hand. I thought I wasn’t professional if I used scheduling and organization platforms. I thought I was lazy if I didn’t get everything done on my own. When I learned how to put together schedules, found organizing platforms that worked for my clients, and hired staff to help me manage tasks, my world changed. Burnout faded and I was able to better manage my time and meet my clients’ goals.
The people you directly hire to work for you in your digital marketing agency are not the only people you will need. That’s something else I wish I had known early on. While yes, having someone handle client communication and other daily tasks took a huge load off my digital marketing plate, I quickly found myself running into another problem. Greater efficiency meant I could take on more clients – and I ran headfirst into the extent of my own skills.
Success came with higher expectations than I could meet. At first, I struggled to perform beyond my abilities – and some of my clients were disappointed with the results. It wasn’t until I began reaching out to other experts that I was able to see my company really grow. Now, I maintain partnerships with professionals like videographers, writers, and digital artists, to help ensure I have access to the right experts for a project.
Have a Pet Project
When I started out, I thought I had to dedicate every moment I could to digital marketing and only focus on my clients. In some ways, this was true, especially before I was able to bring on staff and build partnerships with other professionals. However, I often found myself devoting even my free time to my clients’ work, even when I really didn’t need to, and ignoring my own interests and letting my own pet projects fall to the wayside.
Early on, my clients tended to come from similar fields, as new work came through word-of-mouth referrals. While I was able to keep up with my core interests in social media and web design, everything was focused on these early industries. Looking back, if I had devoted more time to my own projects, I would have kept up with trends that I later had to catch up on.
We all have something that we wish we’d known about sooner, and these are by no means the only things that I still sometimes shake my head about and wonder, “why didn’t someone tell me?” The most important thing, something I did learn early on, is that you must allow yourself room to make mistakes and grow. In a way, being a digital marketer is like the campaigns you run – if something doesn’t work, you pull back, reevaluate, and change your strategy. If you learn from those mistakes, you’ll see the changes bring success.