Starting a side business while studying in college can be a good idea if it could help you pay off your college fees or help you build skills that could land you into your preferred career. If you’re studying marketing, business, design, or related fields that could help a business grow its revenue creatively and effectively, you could earn some serious money. The good thing about providing marketing services is you get to work from home or your college dormitory and it’s perfect for students who are juggling with studies. 

What is a marketing agency?

A marketing agency is a service provider that offers a broad range of services for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that provide value for its customers, clients, partners, and society at large.[1] It can provide experts in their field and resources to help businesses implement an integrated marketing strategy for their brand goals. In other words, your marketing agency services are to bring leads to your customer. 

“If you’re not bringing leads to your customer; no matter how pretty you make them look online; doesn’t matter how many views you’re getting them; they’re going to fire you,” Ruan M. Marinho, founder of Develomark, a marketing company in Southington, Connecticut, United States said. “Once you can bring a business sale, you are in business,” he added. Ultimately, the main job for marketing is to help companies grow revenue and bring in sales.

In this article, you’ll learn three ways that experts recommend on how to build a marketing agency as a side business, tips on where to start, and what are the common challenges faced by new agencies.

1. Educate yourself: 

Before you start a business, you need to know how to actually run a business. Experts recommend you to invest some time in learning the concepts of the following:

– How to run a business
– How to grow a team
– How to sell your marketing service
S.W.E.P.S. which stands for Social media marketing, Website marketing, and design, Email marketing and automation, Pay-per-click (PPC) marketing, and Search Engine Marketing (SEO).
Social media guru Jordan Steen recommends that for a full digital marketing agency, you need to provide services in SWEPS.

There are tons of free online educational resources you could utilize for your learning. Read more about 34 Educational Resources for Aspiring Entrepreneurs.

2. Build your brand:

Marinho recommends that you should spend at least 6 months to build your branding before launching your side business. This includes building your website, creating content that will bring traffic to your site, manage social media accounts, and build your audience. 

Why this is important? The first impression counts! Customers will not give you money if you do not have a website, an audience, or a name card to begin with. Building your brand is the first and foremost important part of getting more business. 

To learn more, you can watch his video here.

3. Find companies that you can help:

New York Times Bestselling author Neil Patel recommends that you find customers that you can help. It’s always easy to start with small boutique shops or eating houses that you frequently visit and with those you’ve made a connection with before because this type of relationship is considered a warm business lead. 

Another way is through networking with your peers. Sometimes, they may know someone who is looking for skilled professionals to do marketing jobs. By telling the people you meet about your business and what you do as a side business may get you more referrals. Through referrals and building warm leads, you could promote your side business more effectively because it would be easier to get their attention when you pitch your business. 

Put the contacts into a list and find out what can you do to help them. You need to research how you can help fix the things they are doing wrong in their marketing and give details of your feedback. Customers love to hear insightful feedback and a proposal to help them fix their problems. Once they get an insight, the chances of hiring you are pretty high.

Where do you start? 

The easiest way to start is by providing a service that you’re specialized in. If you don’t have a specialization yet, experts recommend the following areas:

1. Search Engine Optimization: 

It is a process of getting traffic for free on search engines. When you type the keywords on Google, you want to see your website at the top of the page. It provides visibility of your business and drives traffic to your website. According to Marinho, SEO is the easiest way to bring business to your customer. 

You can learn more about SEO here.

2. Make Videos: 

Web strategist, digital marketer, and founder of Money Journal Sam Oh recommends that you make video content, specifically for YouTube, that helps customers solve their problem. People go into YouTube to find answers to their questions. You could use tools like or Google Keyword Planner to look for popular questions people are searching for on your topic.

3. Social media marketing: 

There are so many social media channels out there, so which one do you choose? Sam Oh recommends that you go where your target audience is and cater specially to that platform. If you have to choose just one platform, don’t only go for the platform that has the highest number of active users. Try to first understand the audience that’s there and to serve the reason for them being there.

What are the most common challenges faced by new agencies?

1. Choosing the Right Talent

Service-based businesses like a marketing agency count on their talented professionals to justify the charges for their work. If the work is done poorly, the chances of clients complaining and giving your agency a bad review are highly likely and will be bad for your agency’s reputation and for getting repeat customers. The quality of your team members is what distinguishes your agency from the other. Therefore, recruiting quality talents and retaining them is absolutely necessary.

2. Retaining Quality Talent

Retaining quality talent is important because it is very costly to find a replacement. According to a 2017 study by Employee Benefits News, the cost of replacing an employee is 33% of their annual salary. To give a numbers perspective, it costs about $15,000 to hire a replacement for an employee whose annual salary is $45,000. This is on top of the annual salary and other hiring costs such as advertising and recruiter’s fees. 

3. What Makes Your Agency Stand Out?

Standing out from your competition is crucial for your business to stay profitable. If you did enough research to understand your customer’s needs and get ahead of your competitors to meet those needs, you can avoid being run down by your competitors. Studies have shown about half of all small businesses make it past the first 5 years and one-third make it past the 10-year mark.[2] To sustain your business in the long run, you need to ensure that your agency services are catering effectively to your target market.

4. Client Servicing

Client servicing is a vital part of the service industry. Agencies with a high customer retention rate always strive to keep their customers happy. New agencies often struggle in this area because there are no perfect formulas to keep a customer happy. It all depends on the situation and how well you handle them. However, new businesses can learn how to implement a customer service recovery framework to handle upset customers that are used by successful Fortune 500 companies.

One example is how Starbucks uses a customer service framework that spelled “LATTE” which means: 

– Listen to the customer 
– Acknowledge them
– Thank them for the feedback
– Take action
– Explain what you have done to handle the issue and improve the situation

Another one is Marriott’s that spells “LEARN” which means:

Listen to what the customer says to identify the problem
– Empathize with the situation
– Apologize
– React by offering a solution
– Notify the rest of the team about the problem so that the team is aware of it and can follow-up with the customer promptly, and bring up the issue for resolution if necessary

5. Pricing

When you start your own agency, one important thing to consider is how to charge your customers. Are you going to charge your clients by the hour, project-based, or a yearly retainer model? This will depend on your business goals as your pricing strategy shapes your prospects’ view of your service quality. 

Social media guru Jordan Steen recommends that package pricing works very for those who are new to the industry. For example, you can charge customers $100 for doing 5 Facebook posts. Setting a base rate will help you get familiar with what to charge, how many hours you are going to work, etc. As you grow, you can be more creative with your pricing strategy.

In this digital age, clients are getting savvier and demand transparency when it comes to pricing. There are many pricing strategies for service business and choosing the right pricing strategy can help you achieve your business objectives.

Why do companies hire an agency?

When you’re in this business, you might ask why do companies hire an agency? Some businesses hire agencies to handle their marketing activities because it can offload the work that requires specialized skill sets such as creative asset execution, blog article writing, video content creation, organic SEO, content management, social media management, etc. For some businesses, it makes sense to work with agencies. A few examples are:

1. Small business owners (SMEs): 

Business owners or founders who have passion for their products may not be equipped with the skills to communicate, create, deliver, and exchange offerings that are valued by their customers, clients, partners, and society at large. Hiring an in-house marketing specialist may not have all the skills to keep up with the vast and latest marketing trends. Getting a part-time marketer, i.e. someone who is probably in charge of another role within the business operations to do the marketing jobs could simply overwhelm them. This is where a marketing agency is helpful to help them execute marketing activities while they focus on their business.

2. Multinational corporation companies (MNCs): 

Large businesses that have the funds find it more cost-effective to outsource their marketing activities to one or a few agency houses that have a global presence and can work across regions and time zones. This is useful when they have other regional headquarters scattered around the world. They usually hire a marketing manager who develops marketing strategies and partners with agencies to execute all of their marketing plans. Instead of hiring a few in-house marketers with limited skills, they can get access to a wide resource of experts to help them expand their vision and scale opportunities by doing more campaigns, brand engagement events, and improving brand visibility on social media. This is especially true when marketing consists of a vast field with many different categories. Hiring an agency could help them achieve their objectives and goals on time.

Advice for students who want to set up a marketing agency

Pick a specialization. You can specialize in Facebook, video, email, or SEO. What Marinho does not recommend is to specialize in everything because why would you offer a service in SEO, for example, if you are not proficient at it? When you specialize, it’s easier to build trust with your potential customers when you share past projects with similar customer profiles that are successful.


  1. American Marketing Association; “Definitions of Marketing” –
  2. U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, Frequently Asked Questions, August 2018 – 

1 comment

  1. I appreciate you sharing this extremely useful information. Many people will undoubtedly benefit from this.As a Marketing agency Envicion Studio specialize in a particular area, such as digital marketing, or it can provide a range of services. A good Marketing agency will have a team of experts who can provide strategic advice, creative ideas, and executional support.


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