How to start a digital marketing agency from scratch

How to start a digital marketing agency from scratch

This video shows you how to start a digital marketing agency from scratch.

Here’s a walkthrough showing you how to analyze the website and online presence of a local business and showcases the types of improvements that need to be made in order to get more visibility and exposure online.

A business needs to be found in search engines and local business directory listings in order to generate traffic, leads and sales from online.

If a business does not have a web presence (or a good one), it could literally be costing that business thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars a month in lost revenue that goes to their competition.

You can become an expert in helping local businesses increase their web presence, thus generating more traffic, leads and sales, which in return justifies them paying you a monthly fee for your services.

Depending on the type of business, you can charge anywhere from $1000 up to $10,000 and more per month as long as the business is generating a return from their investment with you.

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How To Start A Consulting Business From Scratch

How To Start A Consulting Business From Scratch

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How to Build an Email List from Scratch (A Step-By-Step Guide)

How to Build an Email List from Scratch (A Step-By-Step Guide)

If you’ve already got your first online store or landing page promotion set up, the next step is to get it in front of an audience. Because unfortunately, most people won’t just find you by random happenstance. (“If you build it, they will come,” doesn’t apply to online marketing. Sorry Kevin Costner fans.) The next step of the game—and the most effective way to grow your online business—is to build an email list of interested prospects.

This can seem like a daunting task, especially if you’re starting with nadda single person in your database. But it doesn’t have to take years to get a sizable number of subscribers. There are some easy steps you can take today to grow your email list much faster.

Despite what you may have heard from some of the marketing Nostrdramuses over the years, “email is most definitely not dead.” (Seriously, an article like this one has popped up every year since 2007. It’s been over a decade—maybe we should all stop planning the funeral?) The truth is that email is still one of the best ways to reach customers online, especially if you’re a small business. And it delivers some of the best ROI out of all the marketing channels out there.

Unlike SEO (which can be competitive and complex), social media (which can be wildly inconsistent), and online advertising (which can cost mucho money), email is practically made for marketers. It’s straightforward, predictable, affordable, and easy to use. And with email, you can build relationships that turn one-off customers into repeat business.

But first—you need to start building that email list. So let’s get started.

5 Steps to Build Your Email List from Scratch

  1. Get an Email Marketing Tool
  2. Create an Offer You Can Exchange for Email Addresses
  3. Build a Landing Page, Popup, or Sticky Bar to Collect Emails
  4. Advertise Your Email-Gated Offer
  5. Start Sending Regular Emails to Your List

Step 1. Get an Email Marketing Tool

A screenshot of an email list in ActiveCampaign.

Before you start building your list, you’re going to want to sign up for an email marketing tool like ActiveCampaign, Campaign Monitor, or Mailchimp. These are some of the most popular pieces of software for not only building and sending emails to your customers, but also collecting and organizing your email list. (Because trust me… you’re not gonna want to keep track of all this on an Excel spreadsheet.) The initial costs for these tools are very low—and all of them offer free plans or trials that make it easy to get started.

Once you’ve chosen a tool, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with how it works. Each platform is slightly different, but some of the first steps you’ll want to take include…

  • Create Your First List(s) – You can organize the emails you collect into groups called “lists.” To start out, you may want to create a “Master” list where you can put all email addresses, a “Customers” list for people who have already bought from you, and a “Prospects” list for people who have shown interest but haven’t yet made a purchase.
  • Import Any Existing Contacts – If you already have some emails that you want to add to your new database, now would be the time to do so. You can set up your existing email contacts in a spreadsheet to import them all in one go. Remember, these are folks who need to have expressly agreed to receive emails from you per privacy laws.
  • Set Up Tags/Segments –  As email addresses come in, you’ll be able to tag leads based on how they entered your database, and send segmented emails to more specific groups of customers or prospects. To start out, you may want to create tags for segments like “Landing Page Leads,” “Newsletter Sign-up Leads,” and other entry points so you know who signed up where.
  • Create an Email Template – These email marketing tools aren’t just for organizing your list—they’re also for sending emails. Get familiar with the different templates, and try designing and sending out a test email from your business.

Bonus! Unbounce integrates seamlessly with ActiveCampaign, Campaign Monitor, and Mailchimp. That means you’ll be able to set up lead-generation landing pages, popups, and sticky bars that automatically route visitor contact info into your email marketing software.

Step 2. Create an Offer You Can Exchange for Email Addresses

Now that you have a tool to collect email addresses, the next step—and possibly the most important part of this entire process—is to figure out how the heck to convince prospective customers to actually give you their emails.

The traditional approach here is to put some sort of “Subscribe” button on your website’s homepage or blog and ask visitors to enter their email address. But have you ever actually filled one of those things out just… because? (No, thank you.) Most visitors skip over a form like that entirely because there’s no real compelling reason to give up your email address in the first place.

An email address is someone’s personal (and private) contact information. Most people aren’t just going to type it out onto any old website, all willy nilly like that. You’ve got to offer up something genuinely valuable in exchange.

That’s why it’s a good idea to take some time and brainstorm what your business can offer that’ll convince visitors to give up their email address first. Because getting the right strategy here will help you build an email list much faster later on.

If you’re wondering what most other marketers do, here are a few of the most common ways to get a visitor’s email address…

Offer a Coupon or Discount Code

MeUndies and other ecommerce brands often offer discounts in exchange for email addresses.

For ecommerce, one of the easiest ways to get a shopper to give you their email address is to offer them a coupon or discount in exchange. This is the most straightforward approach—but it’s also usually the most expensive. “Get $10 Off Your First Order” or “Get Free Shipping” can be powerfully persuasive for visitors… you just need to make sure you factor those expenses into your cost-per-email-acquisition.

Offer a Free Tool or Resource

Free Resource from Later to Build Email List
SaaS companies like Later use free resources to collect email addresses.

The other common way to build an email list fast (especially if you’re in SaaS) is to create a free resource and gate it with a form. The key here is that it has to be something your audience would find useful that also aligns with your business expertise. So, for example, if you run an online pet store, you might create a free guide all about “How to Choose the Perfect Leash for Your Pet.” Or if you run a hair salon, you might create a “How to Cut Your Hair at Home” guide for customers staying at home during the pandemic.

Run a Sweepstakes, Giveaway, or Contest

People love free stuff. There’s something about sweepstakes, giveaways, and contests that just appeal to our lizard brains. (“Why yes, I do want a chance to win a lifetime supply of mayonnaise. Where do I sign up?”) You could even consider setting up ongoing sweepstakes like this one from Fat Stone Farm to collect customer emails on a weekly basis. 

Set Up an Email Newsletter

An example of using a newsletter for list building by Toast.
An example of a newsletter by Toast to help restaurants during COVID-19.

I know I said earlier that people never sign up for newsletters “just because,” but they will sign up if you give them a compelling reason to. You can offer a newsletter as a way for folks to hear about your latest products or curate content based on what might be important to them during COVID-19. (This strategy works particularly well in B2B, where you can use a newsletter to share stories of how your other customers are navigating the crisis.)

Ultimately, it’s up to you to choose the approach that makes the most sense for your business. You may even want to test a combination of these two approaches to build your list faster. For example, check out how this baby food brand brought in 14,000+ email subscribers in less than a year using both coupons and a free guidebook. (You may also want to look into other creative ways to generate leads, such as free webinars, templates, quizzes, and online tools.)

A word of caution—be careful with any emails you collect for purposes other than marketing (like when someone places an order on your website). With regulations like GDPR in place, you’ll want to obtain explicit consent from your visitors in order to send them promotional emails.

Step 3. Build a Landing Page, Popup, or Sticky Bar to Collect Emails

Next, you’ll need to create a landing page or popup (or both!) to start collecting emails for your list. These will be the spots where you display your offer and ask customers to enter their contact information. 

  • Landing pages are great if you have a juicy offer that needs some explanation (like a free resource).
  • Popups are perfect for short and to-the-point offers (like discounts or coupons).
  • Sticky bars are good for adding onto the top or bottom parts of your existing storefront or website for quick offers (again, think discounts, coupons, newsletters).

Creating a landing page or popup is pretty simple using Unbounce. (You don’t even have to get your hands dirty with HTML or CSS—which is super helpful if you’re not a developer like me.) Get started with one of our lead-generation templates and customize it using the drag-and-drop builder to match your brand and offer.

You’ll want to connect the form on your landing page or popup to your email marketing tool, and then test it out to make sure everything is hunky dory. Hit publish when it’s ready to go, and you’ll be ready to start building your list.

In Unbounce, it’s easy to set up your landing pages, popups, and sticky bars so all new leads get routed directly into your email marketing platform.

Step 4. Advertise Your Email-Gated Offer

Now, it’s just a matter of directing visitors towards your offer. There are a few different ways you can do this, depending on what type of offer you set up in the previous step…

Use Popups and Sticky Bars to Promote the Offer on Your Website

An example of a discount offer popup by the clothing store Chubbies.

If you already have a lot of visitors coming to your website, you can set up a popup or sticky bar to get people’s attention and promote your offer. With Unbounce, you can set these to show up (or slide down) on any high-traffic page of your website, including your homepage. Advanced targeting options let you time ‘em so they only appear when you want them to—like when a visitor is exiting the page without purchasing anything, for example.

Post to Your Blog or Social Media Channels

If you already have an online audience on social media (or via a blog), you can use these channels to organically get the word out about your offer. This is a great way to connect with your existing audience and turn social media followers into email subscribers so you can reach them more directly.

“But wait, why do I need the emails of people who already follow me on social media?” I hear you asking. The sad truth is you only reach a small portion of your audience with organic posts on most social media platforms. (For example, according to research done by Hootsuite, the average reach of a Facebook post is only 5.5%.) Getting directly into your prospect’s email (where open rates are typically above 20%) is far more valuable than relying on organic social impressions.

Set Up Paid Ads to Drive Traffic

An example of a paid ad on social media for a free resource by Shopify Plus.

If you don’t already have an online audience and you’re truly starting from scratch, you may want to try investing in some online ads. Lots of brands use social ads on Facebook and Instagram to promote their free resources or discounts that get customers in the door. Think of this as an investment—once you have a list of emails, you’ll be able to reach out to these customers directly (for free).

Step 5. Start Sending Regular Emails to Your List

An example of an automated welcome email from HubSpot.

Once the ball starts rolling, you should start seeing the email addresses come in from your offer. Don’t worry about waiting until you cross a certain threshold of subscribers before you start sending emails to your list. Instead, build a personal relationship with those initial subscribers and get feedback from them on what types of emails they would like to see from your brand. This will help you create an email strategy that resonates with your audience as it continues to grow.

It’s also a good idea to set up automatic email nurtures that go out to new subscribers and to begin scheduling promotional emails on a regular basis. If you’re consistent, your list is much more likely to be active and engaged.

Build Your Email List Faster with Unbounce

Once you have the email addresses for your customers (and prospective customers), you’ll be able to easily let ‘em know about your latest products for sale, landing page promos, and store updates. Use the drag-and-drop builder in Unbounce to quickly create high-converting pages and popups that collect emails much faster.

Get started today by checking out some of our lead-generation templates.

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Thoughts on Building a WordPress Website from Scratch (Without Code)

Thoughts on Building a WordPress Website from Scratch (Without Code)

Over the past decade, I’ve worked with WordPress on a (pretty much) daily basis. It’s my go-to solution for building websites for clients of all sizes.

And, as I’ve gained more experience with the highly-popular CMS, I’ve advocated for building WordPress themes from scratch. These days, I use a fairly barebones starter theme based on Underscores. It’s set up just the way I like it and helps me get new projects off to a fast start.

But, just like everything else in the WordPress ecosystem, there are plenty of choices in how we do things. The approach that I prefer isn’t for every developer. Nor is it always the most realistic solution for certain clients (especially those on a tight budget).

Today, I’d like to share my experiences in building a website a different way: Using a WordPress page builder plugin and a companion “blank” starter theme. I’ll fill you in on the pros and cons of the process, along with some tips for getting the most out of it. Let’s get started!

Project Background

I was approached by a longtime client who wanted a redesign of their older HTML website. They wanted the benefits that go along with using WordPress, but didn’t have the budget for a full-on custom build.

The idea of purchasing an industry-specific commercial WordPress theme was mentioned. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with buying a theme and throwing some content into it. In many cases it will work just fine.

But it often seems that there are added costs associated with reworking the look and/or functionality to match a client’s specifications (or, worse yet, my expectations). Even then, there’s only so much you can do without completely destroying the theme, the client’s budget, or both.

With that in mind, I began looking into an alternative. I’d recently started playing around with Beaver Builder, a popular page builder plugin for WordPress (Full disclosure: they’re not paying me to say this, it just happened to be the tool I used. There are other, similar products on the market worth considering as well.)

They include a framework theme (and a related child theme) with some of their commercial packages, which allows you to essentially build an entire website – header, footer and content – using a combination of the WordPress Customizer and page builder.

How did it work? Read on to find out…

The Starting Point

The first steps of the process are pretty familiar to anyone who’s built a site with WordPress:

  • Create a fresh install of WordPress;
  • Install & activate the theme;
  • Install & activate the page builder plugin;

From there, you get an essentially blank slate. It’s actually not much different from what I see upon activating my own Underscores-based starter theme.

The advantage of this is that the theme doesn’t have many preconceived notions about what you want to build. This means that a designer could, in theory, create a design mockup and subsequently bring it to life. So long as they understand what the theme can and can’t do, that is.

But, as we’ll find out, there are some options for those who do want something a bit more readymade.

The theme, before any changes have been made.

Using the WordPress Customizer

The WordPress Customizer is a built-in tool that allows you to tweak various theme-related settings and see the results in real time. It was meant to bring a universal UI to theme setup, as opposed to the bespoke options panels many themes have implemented.

Here, the Beaver Builder Theme taps into the customizer and provides plenty of options. Among the highlights:


Choose from a selection of premade color schemes. These styles can be superseded via other Customizer options or CSS.

Theme preset settings.


There are a variety of settings here for layout, logo placement and navigation. The option for a “sticky” header is included, which is a nice touch. The layouts cover several common scenarios.

Theme header settings.


Pick background colors and page layouts for your blog, individual post, post archive and WooCommerce templates.


The site’s footer can be styled and widgets added to handle various types of content. By default, there are some limitations here. For example, I wanted to place built-in social media profile links up into the Footer Widget area (they are set to show up below the widgets) – which isn’t supported. Thankfully, a code snippet I found made it possible via a WordPress shortcode.

Theme footer settings.


If you want to inject specific CSS, JavaScript or other code into your site, you can do so here. This could be of use if you want to add Google Analytics or pixel tracking code.

The Verdict

In all, the Customizer had enough options to help me create the basic look and layout of my website. It’s not quite as robust as what I’m used to with a custom-built theme, but that’s to be expected. The whole point here is for rapid development and to avoid code.

The Beaver Builder Theme did just that, as I was able to get things set up the way I wanted within a half hour or so. Any shortcomings are kind of the price you pay with a lower budget project.

Building Pages

I won’t spend a ton of time going into detail here – for two reasons. First, my needs for the site’s various pages weren’t very complicated. Second, the page builder itself is sort of secondary to the theme. But there are still some items worth mentioning.

The home page was built rather quickly – and not from scratch. My client liked one of Beaver Builder’s prebuilt page templates. Setting it up was just a matter of importing the template and then hacking away to customize the things we wanted to keep and remove the things we didn’t. In addition, there were a few extra modules to add in via page builder. Features such as post carousels and on-scroll animation added some personality.

Secondary pages were extremely simple. I created a page title module that used a photo background and saved it for repeated use across other pages. From there, it was just a matter of adding the rest of the content and formatting it nicely.

The one sticking point I had was integrating Gravity Forms. Since the page builder uses neither the WordPress Gutenberg block editor nor the Classic Editor (both of which the popular form plugin supports), I had to manually place a shortcode into a Text Editor module. This wasn’t a huge problem, but might be tough for a client who is unfamiliar with the process.

The Verdict

Page building went pretty much as expected. Ease of use is the selling point of these plugins and this one fit the bill. Various modules were easy to drag-and-drop onto the page, and multicolumn layouts were simple to configure. Everything was responsive and could also be customized specifically based on screen size.

The number of modules included were solid and covered virtually everything the project required. If some more fancy features were needed, there are a number of available third-party add-on packs that can help.

Overall Impressions

In all, I have to say that this was a better experience than those I’ve typically had with readymade themes. The fact that I could start from something basic and build up to suit the project’s needs was more in line with my preferred workflow.

Truth be told, I did have to implement a few extra bits of code to achieve everything I wanted. The aforementioned shortcode for social media profile links and a bit of extra JavaScript helped me round out the site. Both were queued up via the child theme’s functions.php file, allowing them to avoid being overwritten during any future theme updates.

I found this to be a viable option for simple projects. There are some scenarios, like the use of custom fields or conditional content, where it may still make more sense to go with a full-on custom theme. But those types of features are often for bigger budgets anyway.

So, if you’re a developer who wants to quickly develop a thrifty new website – but without the trappings of a third-party theme, this may be the way to go. Just recognize that you’ll have to live within the parameters of what’s there. Otherwise, it will be time to fire up that code editor.

* Note: The images in this post are for illustrative purposes only – they don’t reflect the actual project described.

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