Skip to main content

How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency: Palabra Weighs In

Are you considering starting a marketing agency? It seems like a massive undertaking, right? The thought alone can prevent marketing professionals who are just starting out from even trying.

You’re in luck! We’ve got tips and resources to help you successfully start and grow your own agency on your terms. Read on to learn more, and then we’ll dive into a Q&A with the creative team behind Palabra, Mailchimp pro partners Alessandra Farabegoli and Marco Ziero. We asked them questions about their professional journeys, which we hope will help motivate aspiring agency owners like you.

Be a freelancer before becoming a founder

You’ll be hard-pressed to find clients who will trust you with their marketing strategy (and wallets) if you haven’t gained an ounce of industry experience. Some thriving agency owners start as freelancers and work for several years to acquire a client base before branching out and bringing on team members.

If freelancing isn’t your cup of tea, you can try landing a gig at an established agency before setting up shop yourself. Working for a bona fide marketing pro, surrounded by knowledgeable peers who feel as passionately about the field as you do, can help you gain the experience you need to build your portfolio.

Nail down the services you want to offer

Locking in your expertise when there’s a bonanza of marketing services out there isn’t always easy. After all, small business clients don’t need help with just one thing these days. They may need marketers who can build a sales-ready website, implement a customer-focused SEO strategy, reputation management, e-commerce, and other major services and trends that are likely to shape the future of digital marketing in 2022 and beyond.

But even seasoned agencies can’t always excel at everything, so many are learning to find a niche. In our 2022 Mailchimp & Co Benchmark Report, many of the surveyed agency owners said their businesses are becoming more specialized. So while there are scores of marketing disciplines out there, finding the right one for your business is key.

By focusing on one specialty or working within a specific industry, you can learn how to position your agency as an expert in your field. Plus, if your competitors generalize their services, they’re less likely to compete with your specialization. And try to steer away from adopting a niche that has too narrow of a focus, or you can potentially prevent your business from finding long-term success.

Find your USPs

We don’t mean locating your nearest post office—we’re talking about identifying your unique selling propositions (USPs). Nailing down your USPs is the precursor to establishing your marketing niche. Once you do, communicating these points can help you set your services apart from your competitors. To get started, find what’s unique about your skill set by asking yourself what your marketing expertise can produce that others don’t.

Take Mailchimp & Co, for example. As of writing this article, 30,000 Mailchimp devotees—and counting—have joined our community. If you have an existing Mailchimp account that you’ve been using as an agency or freelancer, and you haven’t joined already, we recommend signing up today. It’s free and easy to get started.

What sets Mailchimp & Co apart is that we’ve studied what agencies, freelancers, and marketing pros from around the world are looking for and created a global community dedicated to addressing those needs. And you can do the same by pinning down what makes your skillset unique and modeling your services after that.

How to find your target audience

Imagine 500 people scattered about a music festival, waiting to watch scads of bands perform, maybe even yours. As concertgoers push through a crowded field, they might catch a song from your setlist, but the reality is that some people might move right past you, especially if you’re a new talent going up against veteran bands with more clout.

Now, think of those who arrived hours before everyone else to stand in the front row and belt out your songs. These die-hard fans have an intuitive sense of what you should play next and are more likely to help you fight a larger crowd’s tendency to clap offbeat. In other words, their engagement with your setlist allows your performance to really come alive—and maybe, even sell more records, too. Like these superfans, your target audience are consumers characterized by their behavior and demographics who show the most interest in your services or products.

Without a target audience, you won’t be able to identify the persona behind your business. Think of your business persona as the people who stay the most engaged with your marketing. Get to know their pain points to position your services as the thing that’ll solve their problems. Their behavior should influence your marketing strategy, including how much money you want to spend on ads or what service promotion to offer next.

By targeting a specific audience who will be most receptive to your marketing, you’ll be well on your way to marketing more efficiently—and setting yourself up to launch an agency of your own. But as you’ve probably guessed, identifying your target audience involves doing a ton of research. Here are a few tools that can help you find your target audience and track their behavior, too.

Make the most of your data

When you take a deep dive into your data, you’ll learn how to find the gaps in your digital marketing strategy. For example, maybe a Facebook ad didn’t gain the momentum you thought it would because it wasn’t given the proper budget. Or maybe your landing page didn’t generate as many page views as you hoped, and you realize it needs a makeover so it’s more enticing. Discovering these opportunities for improvement as you dig into your data can help you figure out how to fine-tune your messaging and connect more effectively with your target clients.

If you haven’t started using it already, Google Analytics is a robust tool that can help you spot patterns in your clients’ online behavior and find pertinent demographic details about them and their interests. You’ll be able to scan digestible website analytics and easy-to-interpret color-coded graphs on your Google Analytics dashboard.

Use social media

Do you use social media for advertising? If you do (and you should), it’s worth looking at how your followers interact with what you post. Do they chime in most when you go live on Instagram or create a video for TikTok? Once you catch a glimpse of what content your audience is most interested in, focus on developing more of that.

Remember that every channel is different, so looking at the individual analytics for engagement within each platform you use is essential. For example, as of April 2021, Statista reported the majority of Twitter users were between the ages of 25 and 34, so if your target audience falls into that range, you might want to put some effort into your Twitter presence.

Q&A with the creative team behind Palabra

Alessandra Farabegoli and Marco Ziero are the co-founders and CEOs of Palabra, an Italian agency that offers email marketing services and more. In this Q&A, this dynamic duo gave us insight into their company’s founding and their decision to work together throughout its evolution.

By networking with partners across our community—both near and far—Alessandra and Marco have landed opportunities that helped them expand their client base, strengthen their business reputations, and engage in new career activities and challenges. We hope you enjoy their stories and tips on what it takes to launch an agency—and be successful at it.

Tell us a bit about yourselves and what you do at Palabra.

Marco: Alessandra and I are the CEOs of Palabra, an agency that specializes in email marketing automation. From the beginning, especially after becoming a father, I wanted Palabra to have a female soul. And I’m proud to say that women own 51% of the share capital.

We also participate in ethical and social commitments. Steps like these ensure that we draw up an annual report that illustrates how close or far we’ve come to meeting our objectives. For example, some of our commitments are devoting time to digital volunteering or planting trees, which we give away to companies that become our clients.

Alessandra: The choice to create a “vertical” agency is because, in Italy, email marketing is often neglected compared to other, more popular marketing channels such as social media. While many other agencies devote little to zero resources or thought to it, Marco and I know that this type of marketing can be a powerful tool that helps improve awareness, conversions, and retention when used well. And we think this is the right time to offer our specialization and experience to the Italian market.

How did you first meet?

Marco: We’ve worked in the digital marketing world for years, even when few professionals worked in this field. And I think we met at an event that Alessandra and others still organize: the Freelancecamp.

Alessandra: Yes, Freelancecamp was the first chance we got to know one another. Then Marco was one of the lecturers in the courses of my other company, Digital Update.

Why did you choose to work together?

Marco: When I envisioned the people I wanted to work with at Palabra, I aimed for the best: That’s why I connected with Alessandra and then our third partner, Nicole Zavagnin.

Alessandra: I’ve been working for years as a freelance consultant in the email marketing sphere, but there were projects—and a few clients—who, while valuing me, didn’t hire me just because they knew I didn’t have a team. So, when Marco told me about his project to create a vertical agency specializing in email marketing, I immediately thought, “We have to do this together.” Involving Nicole was a natural choice for us as we intend to create a world-class team and culture, and she fits the bill.

When you first started building your agency, did you face any challenges?

Marco: Oh yes, we had to hunt for answers, questions on strategy, finances, commercial viability, and skills needed to succeed.

We love the name Palabra. Can you tell us why you picked it?

Marco: After taking a beautiful creative path to find our name, we arrived at Palabra, which means “word” in Spanish. We think it resonates with what we do every day, whether it’s penning newsletters that convert or email marketing that generates conversations.

We don’t sell technology or flaunt case studies. But we’ll always have our words. Alessandra and I think of ourselves as two old scouts, for which words hold so much value. So, we will engage, have fun, ask questions, and put our heads, souls, and hearts into delivering results for our customers using our words.

Alessandra: Yes, Palabra is also easy to pronounce and remember, and we found the perfect domain name:

Did either of you know you wanted to team up with someone to start a business?

Alessandra: I started over 20 years ago at a small web studio, which steadily grew into a major agency that I led for 8 years. It was an enlightening experience, but I knew that I wanted to work on my own or with very fluid teams involving talented freelancers with different skills. After more than 10 years of working independently, it was time for me to go back and build something bigger—with the right people—and treasure all the learnings and mistakes from my past.

Do you have any tips for marketing professionals who want to start an agency?

Marco: Yes, make sure that the service you want to sell is perceived as a necessity by your potential target clients—that is, if you want to have a shot at achieving a comfortable level of stability in this industry.

Also, contact people who have launched a successful agency and ask them to share their stories with you, not to necessarily give you a solution for your agency, but to help inspire you. And lastly, develop a competent team from the outset so that those within your agency can devote themselves to its strategic development.

Alessandra: Value people’s work, and carefully consider legal and contractual aspects. Even if you think it’s not your job, those areas can dramatically affect your chances of success.

There are a lot of different service offerings you can provide—both digital and traditional. How did you choose your agency’s services?

Marco: I chose email marketing automation because I believe—and I hope—that there will be increasing interest from companies in this discipline; some companies might bring their expertise to this form of marketing while others will continue to rely on outside consultants.

But being email marketing experts, I chose our services for several factors: One, the GDPR calls on companies to manage their data more carefully, so companies must learn how to become more aware and sensitive about their data management. Two, phasing out third-party cookies (planned by Google for 2023) will favor first-party data, including email addresses. And three, Google and Meta acquisition costs are rising. They’re likely to keep growing, so I hope e-commerce companies invest time and money on retention, not just acquisition.

When people first start out, they sometimes take any client who comes their way. But with time, agency owners and freelancers realize that not every client is a good fit for their company from a culture and profit standpoint. With that in mind, how do you find the right clients for your agency?

Marco: We launched Palabra on January 11, 2022, but Alessandra, Nicole, and I have been involved in email marketing, on average, for over 10 years, and we have been in this sector for over 15 years. As a result, we have a vast network of contacts and are doing well for ourselves, mainly because we get many word-of-mouth referrals. Potential clients who reach out to work with us typically know a bit about us and understand what we do well already.

Of course, we sometimes interact with prospects who don’t exactly meet our objectives. So, in those cases, we would love to offer our services to all prospective clients at, say, a lower rate, but we’re committed to and more interested in providing clients real value first.

Alessandra: We’re also very vocal about sharing our values, both as professionals and as a company. Over the years, I’ve learned that it takes a certain degree of compatibility to work well and create a win-win relationship with a client.

How did you decide between branding the business vs. being the individual names/faces of the agency?

Marco: Alessandra’s, Nicole’s, and my faces are known more than our logo, but we know that this may, and should, evolve in time to help bolster Palabra, independent of our reputations.

Alessandra: Today, all 3 of us carry strong personal brands, which benefits the agency as well. Our goal is to consolidate the reputation of Palabra and make it synonymous with first-class email marketing.

What makes an agency portfolio stand out?

Marco: An impressive portfolio is diverse, not just a portfolio full of known logos. In my previous experience, I often learned from experiences with lesser-known clients than from campaigns for big-name brands. A diverse portfolio tells me that an agency has managed to sell its services to various companies.

Alessandra: It’s about balance. While you can work with and learn from smaller clients, you should also try to demonstrate your value and expertise by landing a few big names and including them in your portfolio to make it clear that you can manage larger projects.

What are the benefits of being part of Mailchimp & Co?

Marco: Opportunities! While working at my previous agency, I was the first Italian partner to be invited to a Mailchimp Partner Lab in Atlanta—and I’ll never forget that. After attending that Partner Lab, I felt closer to the community, and it became easier to talk constructively with Mailchimp leaders. I met several partners from different parts of the world, too. At a strategic level, meeting so many people creates valuable opportunities. I have the potential to maximize the range of people I can talk with about Palabra.

Alessandra: Mailchimp & Co enables me to share knowledge and network with professionals from all over the world. I’ve learned a lot, and I think I’ve also helped other professionals from time to time, which has consolidated my reputation.

What role has Mailchimp & Co played in your professional success, if any?

Marco: Earning certifications in Mailchimp Academy and getting to publish my badges help me demonstrate my degree of preparation and reassure potential customers about my skills.

Alessandra: Being invited to a Partner Lab, being one of the first partners to earn Mailchimp certifications, and getting my testimonial featured in Mailchimp & Co’s 2021 and 2022 Benchmark Reports is a great honor.

Thanks to this community, I had the opportunity to participate in international online events as a speaker, and I was challenged to write posts in English. Indeed, this community gave me so much, and I’m happy to give back whenever I can.

And finally, what are three books you recommend to readers that played a critical role in your development as a marketing professional or personal life? (Yes, podcasts and articles are great too!)

Marco: Well, since I believe that people come before profits, I recommend picking up Shoe Dog, which tells the story of Nike’s founder and board chairman, Phil Knight.

Alessandra: Check out Business Model Generation by Alex Osterwalder. This book helped me evaluate a project’s sustainability and gave me a framework that I applied to my communication strategies. Also, Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier. Their approach resonates with my distrust of “traditional” team organization methods, and it proved to me that an unconventional approach to marketing can really work. Lastly, Tara Hunt’s The Whuffie Factor explains how social capital and networking can serve you—and your business—better than being greedy and selfish.

Want more helpful insider tips like these?

Share This Article