Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.
David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.
Updated on September 8, 2023
$2,600 - $6,000
$60,000 - $450,000 p.a.
Time to build
0 – 3 months
$54,000 - $135,000 p.a.
How to Start a Creative Agency
Decide if the Business Is Right for You
Hone Your Idea
Brainstorm a Creative Agency Name
Create a Creative Agency Business Plan
Register Your Business
Register for Taxes
Fund your Business
Apply for Business Licenses and Permits
Open a Business Bank Account
Get Business Insurance
Prepare to Launch
Build Your Team
Run a Creative Agency - Start Making Money!
Creative Agency Business FAQs
Creative agencies offer a variety of services, including creating advertising campaigns, logo and marketing materials design, and media production services. Their goal is to build a brand image for the companies they serve. Creative agencies are part of the advertising agencies industry, which is a more than $70 billion industry in the U.S.
If you have creative skills and experience, you could put your skills to work with your own creative agency.
But you’ll also need some business know-how. Fortunately, this step-by-step guide has you covered with all the insights you need to start a lucrative creative agency.
Looking to register your business? A limited liability company (LLC) is the best legal structure for new businesses because it is fast and simple.
Average level of education – The average creative director has a bachelor’s degree.
Average age – The average creative director in the US is 40.2 years old.
How much does it cost to start a creative agency business?
If you start your agency by yourself from home, startup costs will range from $2,500 to $6,000. Costs include a computer, design software, and a marketing budget.
You’ll need a handful of items to successfully launch your creative agency business, including:
Setting up a business name and corporation
$100 - $500
Business licenses and permits
$100 - $300
$500 - $1,000
$1,000 - $2,000
$300 - $700
Sales and marketing budget
$500 - $1,000
$2,600 - $6,000
How much can you earn from a creative agency business?
Generally, creative agencies charge a monthly fee for a certain amount of hours, which for small agencies is about $2,500. Your profit margin should be about 90%.
In your first year or two, you could work from home for two clients a month, bringing in $60,000 in revenue. This would mean $54,000 in profit, assuming that 90% margin.
As you gain traction, you might have 15 monthly clients. At this stage, you’d have an office and a creative staff, reducing your margin to around 30%. With annual revenue of $450,000, you’d make a tidy profit of $135,000.
What barriers to entry are there?
There are a few barriers to entry for a creative agency. Your biggest challenges will be:
Having the required skills and experience
Breaking into a competitive market
Related Business Ideas
If you’re still not sure whether this business idea is the right choice for you, here are some related business opportunities to help you on your path to entrepreneurial success.
Now that you know what’s involved in starting a creative agency, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market.
Market research could give you the upper hand even if you’ve got the perfect product. Conducting robust market research is crucial, as it will help you better understand your customers, your competitors, and the broader business landscape.
Analyze your competitors
Research creative agencies in your area and online to examine their services, price points, and customer reviews.
Make a list of creative agencies that offer similar services.
Review your competitors’ services – their features, pricing, and quality – and marketing strategies.
Check out their online reviews and ratings on Google, Yelp, and Facebook to get an idea of what their customers like and dislike.
Identify your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.
This should identify areas where you can strengthen your business and gain a competitive edge to make better business decisions.
Why? Identify an opportunity
You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the local market is missing a creative agency that offers digital marketing or a branding agency that offers media production.
You might consider targeting a niche, such as the graphic design of marketing materials. This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away.
What? Determine your services
Your services will be based on your skills and experience. You might be a specialized design agency, or a full digital marketing agency. You could also be more of a branding agency if you choose. Here are the common services offered by creative agencies:
Branding: Development or refresh of company logos, identity design, and brand guidelines.
Graphic Design: Design of marketing collateral, packaging, print materials, and more.
Media Planning & Buying: Identifying and purchasing ad space in suitable media channels.
How much should you charge for creative services?
Your prices should be based on market prices in your area, but also on your costs once you have a staff.
Once you know your costs, use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.
Who? Identify your target market
Your target market will be business owners who you can connect with on LinkedIn or call on directly.
Where? Choose your business premises
In the early stages, you may want to run your business from home to keep costs low. But as your business grows, you’ll likely need to hire workers for various roles and may need to rent out an office. You can find commercial space to rent in your area on sites such as Craigslist, Crexi, and Instant Offices.
When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these rules of thumb:
Central location accessible via public transport
Ventilated and spacious, with good natural light
Flexible lease that can be extended as your business grows
Ready-to-use space with no major renovations or repairs needed
Step 3: Brainstorm a Creative Agency Name
Your business name is your business identity, so choose one that encapsulates your objectives, services, and mission in just a few words. You probably want a name that’s short and easy to remember, since much of your business, and your initial business in particular, will come from word-of-mouth referrals.
Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:
Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better
Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
Including keywords, such as “creative agency” or “creative branding”, boosts SEO
Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “Imagine Innovate” or “VisionVoyage” over “PixelPulse Studios” or “Design Dream Dynamics”
Avoid location-based names that might hinder future expansion
Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these.
Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead and reserve your business name with your state, start the trademark registration process, and complete your domain registration and social media account creation.
Your business name is one of the key differentiators that sets your business apart. Once you pick a name, reserve it and start with the branding, it’s hard to switch to a new name. So be sure to carefully consider your choice before moving forward.
Step 4: Create a Creative Agency Business Plan
Every business needs a plan. This will function as a guidebook to take your startup through the launch process and maintain focus on your key goals. A business plan also enables potential partners and investors to better understand your company and its vision:
Executive Summary: Brief overview of the entire business plan; should be written after the plan is complete.
Business Overview: Overview of the company, vision, mission, ownership, and corporate goals.
Product and Services: Describe your offerings in detail.
Market Analysis: Assess market trends such as variations in demand and prospects for growth, and do a SWOT analysis.
Competitive Analysis: Analyze main competitors, assessing their strengths and weaknesses, and create a list of the advantages of your services.
Sales and Marketing: Examine your companies’ unique selling propositions (USPs) and develop sales, marketing, and promotional strategies.
Management Team: Overview of management team, detailing their roles and professional background, along with a corporate hierarchy.
Operations Plan: Your company’s operational plan includes procurement, office location, key assets and equipment, and other logistical details.
Financial Plan: Three years of financial planning, including startup costs, break-even analysis, profit and loss estimates, cash flow, and balance sheet.
Appendix: Include any additional financial or business-related documents.
If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist to create a top-notch business plan for you.
Step 5: Register Your Business
Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.
Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business!
Choose where to register your company
Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you are planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to creative agencies.
If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state.
Choose your business structure
Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your creative agency will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely.
Here are the main options:
Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts. Here’s how to form an LLC.
C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation. Read how to start a corporation here.
S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using an online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have.
The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN.
Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.
It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you are completing them correctly.
Step 7: Fund your Business
Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:
Bank loans: This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
Venture capital: Venture capital investors take an ownership stake in exchange for funds, so keep in mind that you’d be sacrificing some control over your business. This is generally only available for businesses with high growth potential.
Angel investors: Reach out to your entire network in search of people interested in investing in early-stage startups in exchange for a stake. Established angel investors are always looking for good opportunities.
Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.
Bank and SBA loans are probably the best option, other than friends and family, for funding a creative agency business. You might also try crowdfunding if you have an innovative concept.
Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits.
You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more.
Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your creative agency business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.
Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account.
Step 10: Get Business Insurance
Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.
Here are some types of insurance to consider:
General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of the above insurance types.
Step 11: Prepare to Launch
As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business.
Essential software and tools
Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks.
If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial.
Create a website
Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism. You can create your own website using services like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.
Your customers are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. SEO will help your website appear closer to the top in relevant search results, a crucial element for increasing sales.
Make sure that you optimize calls to action on your website. Experiment with text, color, size, and position of calls to action such as “Schedule Consultation Now”. This can sharply increase purchases.
Some of your business will come from the casual online visitors, but you should still invest in digital marketing! Getting the word out is especially important for new businesses, as it’ll boost customer and brand awareness.
Here are some powerful digital marketing strategies for small businesses:
Social media is a great tool for promoting your business because you can create engaging posts that advertise your products:
Facebook: Great platform for paid advertising, allows you to target specific demographics, like men under age 50 in the Cleveland area.
Instagram: Same benefits as Facebook but with different target audiences. It’s a very good platform for creative businesses.
TikTok: This social media platform has over 1 billion monthly active users and it is used primarily by a younger demographic.
LinkedIn: the most effective place for B2B marketers.
Google and Yelp: For businesses that rely on local clientele, getting listed on Yelp and Google My Business can be crucial to generating awareness and customers.
Email marketing/newsletter – Send regular emails to customers and prospects. Make them personal.
Start a blog – Start a blog and post regularly. Change up your content and share on multiple sites.
Paid ads on social media – Choose sites that will reach your target market and do targeted ads.
Pay–per-click marketing – Use Google AdWords to perform better in searches. Research your keywords first.
Take advantage of your website, social media presence and real-life activities to increase awareness of your offerings and build your brand.
Traditional marketing is any form of marketing that uses offline media to reach an audience. Some options that might work for a creative agency business include:
Cold calling –Close more sales with less stress.
Sponsor events – You can pay to be a sponsor at events that are relevant to your target market
Seek out referrals – Offer incentives to generate customer referrals to new clients.
Testimonials – Share customer testimonials about how your creative services helped them
Focus on USPs
Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your creative agency meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire.
Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your creative agency business could be:
Creative strategies to build your brand image
Fresh strategies to refresh your brand
Creative advertising to maximize your ROI
You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a creative agency business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in creative agencies for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections.
The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in creative agencies. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership.
Step 12: Build Your Team
If you’re starting out small from a home office, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for a creative agency business include:
Marketing Specialists – create and implement marketing strategies
Designers – design logos and marketing materials
Writers – write content for marketing
Media Producers – produce videos and advertisements
General Manager – scheduling, accounting
At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need.
Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent.
Step 13: Run a Creative Agency – Start Making Money!
Are you ready to get creative? Owning a creative agency is a challenge, but it also could be fun and rewarding. You’ll be helping companies in your community grow and thrive, while growing your own business at the same time. There’s also plenty of money to be made in a $70 billion industry.
You’ve got some business savvy now, so you’re ready to start your creative entrepreneurial journey!
Creative Agency Business FAQs
Is a creative agency profitable?
Whether or not a creative agency is profitable depends on various factors such as the agency’s business model, services offered, target market, pricing strategy, and operational efficiency. However, many creative agencies can be highly profitable if they have a solid reputation, an extensive client base, and a talented team of professionals.
What is the growth potential of a creative agency?
The growth potential of a creative agency is considerable, as there is always a demand for creative services in areas such as branding, advertising, graphic design, and content creation. The growth potential may depend on factors such as the agency’s ability to differentiate itself in a crowded marketplace, its ability to attract and retain top talent, and its ability to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies.
What type of business is a creative agency?
A creative agency is a type of service-based business that provides creative and strategic services to clients in areas such as advertising, branding, graphic design, digital marketing, and content creation.
Can you start a creative agency on the side?
It is possible to start a creative agency on the side, although it may require a significant amount of time and effort to get it off the ground. Starting a side business may involve working on projects during off-hours or on weekends, and may require the ability to balance a full-time job and a growing business.