How to start a Digital Marketing Agency in New Zealand

How to start a Digital Marketing Agency with Olivia McIver from Soda Digital

Olivia McIver also known as Liv delves into her best advice on how to start a digital marketing agency in New Zealand. In addition to her top tips on making that transition from freelancing to growing and hiring a team.

Meet young & ambitious Olivia McIver, agency owner of Soda Digital.

Hi, my name is Liv. I’m technically the owner of Soda Digital, but I just call myself the Chief Fizzer. The team at Soda are made up of other talented “fizzers!” Soda is our brand name, and we are a digital marketing agency in New Zealand with a focus on social media services. On behalf of our clients, we manage their business social media profiles. At the moment, we mainly work with service industries, such as lawyers and tradespeople. Those industries make up about 90% of our clients. 

What roles are needed for a digital agency?

Team photo of digital marketing agency members on a laptop

Currently, the way we’re doing it is through something we call Pods. Interestingly, we figured out when you get to a certain level of growth in your agency. And with quite a few clients on your books, the question is, which way do you go?  

Firstly, one option is to have account managers whose primary focus is on providing a high level of service. However, we’ve decided we’re going to do it by pods. For example, each pod is going to have an account manager who also manages the strategy side. Then a content creator (generally with a design background). In addition to an ad specialist.

“Social media marketing is one of those services where there are a lot of moving parts. From insights and analytics to content creation and design. And also the social media management side, too.”

To sum it up, social media marketing calls for more diversity. This means you need a large pool of skilled talent with your digital marketing agency. There is no shortage of content creators in the market, but with ads specialists, there is. I figured that due to this shortage, I don’t necessarily need to hire someone that’s done paid ads before. But I need someone that is quite analytical and enjoys that side of digital.

What are essential skills someone working in an agency should possess? 

Keep up with trends 

In social media, in particular, it is vital to keep up with and move quickly with trends. This includes updates to different platforms. Most of us work across multiple platforms. From Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, Pinterest, Tik Tok, Instagram, Snapchat, and Google My Business. Everything moves fast in the digital marketing world. That is why keeping up with the latest information is essential. Or at least knowing where to look and find that intel. Staying across the board with all the social platforms, algorithms and updates is probably the most challenging part.

Be highly adaptable

The ability to adapt across multiple industries is also essential. Currently, we are planning our next six months, creating giveaways and activations. However, it’s about understanding each clients’ industry and what will work and align with them. Additionally, we are developing new content. For instance, writing about switchboards for a Sparky and clinical trials for another client. Truly you have got to be comfortable switching around and adapting between clients. As that is the true nature of working within a digital marketing agency.

Best tips on how to start your own digital marketing agency

Tip 1. Get into a professional networking group

Find a professional network or a few people you can lean on and perhaps get some referrals. It might not sound exciting, but I joined a lot of networking groups. Ironically, it was the last thing I wanted to do when I started. Perhaps this is mainly due to my generation’s use of cell phones and texting. For instance, young people rarely conduct face-to-face communications or simply pick up the phone. Truly, it has become an issue for many. In other words, networking took me out of my comfort zone. Because you have to stand up and pitch in front of people. Furthermore, pitch your business to a range of different age groups and in varying levels of business. More importantly, I now get over 80% of my business from networking and referrals.   

Tip 2. Build up a client base as a freelancer first 

Secondly, make sure that you build up your clients on the side as a freelance business. Once you are confident that you’ve got a good enough foundation to build upon, proceed to the next step. Rather than being limited with the number of clients you can handle, outsource, or hire team members. And don’t delay too long.  

Tip 3. Enhance your work environment 

A big factor is the work environment, too. After six months of working from home, I quickly moved into an office. Being among people is quite uplifting. Therefore, I strongly recommend getting into an office. There are a lot of shared spaces out there; they’re not expensive, but the value you get is huge. For example, the office I just moved into is full of young entrepreneurs who are doing really cool and inspiring things. Plus, it is yet another way to expand your professional network and collaborate with like-minded businesses. 

Tip 4. Get yourself a coach or mentor. 

Lastly, I’d recommend getting a coach or a mentor. In the past, I didn’t pay for a coach, and now I do. As a result, it’s made a significant difference in my agency, since it enforces accountability. Even someone in your family or networking group could be a coach or mentor figure. An excellent quality coach can help push you to your next level of growth.

Digital Marketing Agency owner looking at analytics

How do you make that transition from freelancing to hiring a team? 

Don’t wait until you are over capacity. 

Being overcapacity, I found myself unable to provide the service my clients deserved. Therefore, do not wait until you are over capacity before getting someone else on board. I know it is a scary transition because you’re responsible for yourself and others. In this case, a coach will help you understand your business mindset. As sometimes, what you see is very different from what is happening.  

 For me, I’ve got money coming in and out all the time. So, needing to understand your numbers is critical. Even more so if you are like me, someone who hates spreadsheets. However, getting help will have you feeling more confident. Especially if a numbers or accountant person walks you through the figures first before growing your team. 

Have a process that works 

The most significant transition is making sure your processes work for a team. As a freelancer, I had all my processes in my head. Consequently, it was like I knew everything, I knew the clients, and I knew what I had to do. Therefore, I just did it. However, when you bring someone else in, the dynamic changes. 

I learned the hard way when I brought in my first team member, Max. Thankfully she was an absolute gun. Having presented her with my process, I realised that it wasn’t feasible for a team. So, we worked together. Subsequently, it was awesome that Max was able to offer a different point of view and additional insights. So that’s my tip! 

“Consider creating some kind of structure that works for a team, not just for you. However, keep in mind that it isn’t always easy. And sometimes the processes and systems are a work in progress and constantly evolving within a growing team.” 

 When it comes down to it, you just have to take the next step. People always say that getting into business is like taking a giant leap, but leaps happen all the time. Therefore, it’s kind of just a matter of taking a chance on yourself and trusting your gut. 

Social Media Marketing agecny owner posing with Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube and Instagram icons

Career changers considering digital marketing and agency life

A deep understanding of digital as a whole is required because it constantly changes and everything must be aligned. In saying that, I absolutely love being in this space. There are so many opportunities right now. Most of all, the digital marketing industry allows you to move around quite a bit. This can be quite exciting as there are some great companies out there.

“Digital Marketing is a Hybrid as it’s a perfect combination of exploring creativity and getting analytical.”  

In terms of business, I just think it’s an amazing environment. Anyone reading this will probably be studying in the space, so let me just say I believe you are making a good choice.

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