Before we begin, make sure you've checked out our previous article: How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency first.


Firstly a big shout out to who developed the original Lean Canvas for businesses and startup companies based on Alex Osterwalder's Business Model Canvas. Inspired by this format, we've applied it to the world of digital agencies and created the Digital Agency Lean Canvas comprised of 10 building blocks essential for starting a digital agency (or indeed pivoting your existing agency).


Many SEOptimer users are marketing freelancers or consultants who think about one day taking the jump to establish their own digital agency. We dedicate this lean canvas model to you. We're inspired by your ambitiousness and determination and we hope you find this model useful in how you think about and describe your new venture!


"Lean Canvas helped us keep our ideas succinct yet robust. It feels like we actually fleshed something out without having to write a 20 page business plan! Amazing!" -Pamela Capalad, Lean Canvas user


The Digital Agency Lean Canvas is essentially a business plan for a digital agency on a single page. The best thing about a one-page document is that it forces brevity. One page makes you sweat every word and ensure that each one contributes meaningfully and specifically to the description of your new business. One page makes other people read every word. If you're handed a 60-page document you're much less likely to read every word.


When looking at the page, you'll immediately notice the difference in size between the first 7 building blocks: 3 are large (Market Need, Unique Selling Proposition, Client Types) and 4 are smaller (Mission, Goals, Services, Lead Generation). The 3 large blocks are bigger for a reason - in most cases they should be more descriptive than the other boxes. Use the extra room to more vividly describe these 3 building blocks - more description is better. For the 4 smaller boxes, shorter descriptions are better.


Let's step through the Digital Agency Lean Canvas of a hypothetical digital marketing agency called Vandelay Media:

SEOptimer - Digital Agency Lean Canvas

Example Lean Canvas PDF


1. Market Need


  • Boutique wine producers in Napa Valley struggle to stand out in Google search and suffer from low organic search traffic.
  • Few boutique wine producers leverage social media channels effectively or see any tangible ROI despite having passionate fans and customers who love their products.
  • Repeat purchases are difficult to encourage with most customers defaulting to their local wine shop and purchasing big brand imports for convenience.


This building block is for the problem space you're tackling. List the specific problems your agency will directly address for clients. A description like "Clients need more digital marketing help" is not specific enough. Get to the core problems - this can easily be highlighted by talking with potential clients and asking them what their business challenges are when it comes to digital marketing. Although its tempting to jump straight to the solution, this building block is all about identifying and empathizing with the client problems. Be as specific as possible.


2. Mission


Vandelay Media’s mission is to pair great wine makers with great results-driven digital marketing. We believe the greatest wine is made right here in Napa Valley and Sonoma. We also believe digital marketing done well can transform a business.


In a couple of sentences sum up why you want to start this agency. As you flesh out more details about your agency, this building block evolves into your agency manifesto - a clear declaration of the agency's purpose and a way to infuse an emotional "why?" into your company. Your agency manifesto is what you and your employees live by. This is the kind of thing you print and hang on your wall next to your awards cabinet ;-)


3. Goals


  • Work with 1% (6) of the regions local wine makers by the end of the year.
  • Achieve monthly revenue of $50,000 by the end of the year.


Goals must be SMART. This example is great because there's no subjective judging needed to determine if the goal has been reached by the target time.


4. Unique Selling Proposition (USP)


  • We are a dedicated team of digital marketing hackers who work exclusively for boutique wine producers in the Napa Valley and Sonoma.
  • We come from the local area, we understand the local wine-producing industry and know how to craft compelling stories to showcase our clients to the country and to the world.
  • We help boutique wineries get exposure, sell their world-class wines and build customer loyalty.

The second large building block is your agency's Unique Selling Proposition (USP). After its people, an agency's USP is probably its greatest asset. The way you position your agency will set you apart after the client has heard pitches from 4 other agencies. Digital agencies have a great tendency to all sound the same and blend into a similar stereotype. It goes along the lines of "we are creative thinkers who focus on doing great work". Your USP needs to actually be unique!


5. Services


  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Search Engine Marketing
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Email Marketing


This will be a simple list of the actual digital marketing services you will offer. The point is simply to list them - no need to go into any detail.


6. Lead Generation


  • Inbound marketing (content, free reports)
  • Cold outreach (email, phone, cellar door)
  • Webinars, events and free workshops


List the ways you will find new clients. You will likely need to utilize many lead generation tactics but list the tactics you will focus on initially. These should be things you can execute yourself at low cost. Lean on your network and add value wherever possible.


7. Client Types


Boutique wine producers in Napa Valley and Sonoma who:

  • are independently owned or owner-operated
  • are recognized in industry with at least 1 wine award
  • have an existing marketing or advertising budget or work with an incumbent agency
  • have a marketing resource on staff who is stretched and can’t execute everything


As important as it is to define your agency's USP, its equally important to define who your target client looks like. By doing this, you are inherently also defining who your target client doesn't look like. This definition is key because its easy to fall into the trap of working for clients who don't originally fit your target criteria. This can be unavoidable because most agency owners don't have the luxury of turning down work. However, working with clients clearly outside of your target criteria can set yourself up for a bad mutual experience.


8. Expenses


  • Payroll: $12,000 per month
  • Office rent: $3,000 per month
  • Utilities and office expenses: $1,000 per month>/li>
  • Software subscriptions: $500 per month
  • Accounting and insurance: $200 per month


List all your big-ticket expenses at their monthly amounts.


9. Tools / Software


G Suite, MS Office, Slack, Zoom, Xero, Adobe Creative Cloud, Notion, Hootsuite, Mailchimp, SEOptimer


List all the software you plan to utilize to run your agency. Don't forget SEOptimer for website audits and lead gen!


10. Key People


  • Managing Director
  • Creative Lead
  • Account Director
  • Digital Strategist (future hire)
  • Search Marketing Manager (future hire)
  • Social Media Manager (future hire)


Finally, list all the key roles in your agency, both current and short-term future hires. You can also specify whether these roles are full-time, part-time, casual or freelance.


That completes the model! Make sure you download the template in MS Word .docx format below. Save the file to your Desktop so you can create your own version. Let us know how you go in the comments - we'd love to hear from you!


Once you've set up your agency, SEOptimer's Embeddable Audit Tool can help you generate leads on your website instantly. Once installed, it enables your website visitors to run their own site audits. Then you can follow up with an email delivering their results and introducing your services. This feature has generated hundreds of thousands of new business leads for our agency customers all around the world.