At a high level without getting into a ton of detail, the amount of money a digital agency or freelancer helping clients with digital marketing earns will depend mostly on what type of clients you’re serving.
If you’re serving small businesses then you’re going to be doing just as much work as you would for a larger business, but you’re going to get paid less for it. Your clients probably won’t have an ad budget, and they’re unlikely to have the industry recognition to win any awards related to your work.
I’ve never worked for an agency that serves clients this small, but the retainers I’ve heard quoted for businesses in this price range are around $2,000 – $4,000 per month, per client. Of course, subtract expenses from that figure before calculating profit.
You’ll also likely encounter more project work than steady retainers, as most small businesses can’t afford to pay any level of retainer for digital marketing. A steady stream of projects means that agencies working with small businesses need to close sales faster and more often. To do this effectively, they’ll probably need to hire sales staff, even if it’s only one overworked guy. This further reduces the profit these small accounts can bring to the table.
If you’re serving SMBs and smaller corporations then you’ll make more money per client. Probably somewhere in the $8,000 – $10,000 per month, per client range. These accounts will be harder to land, especially when you’re first starting out. The more clients like these you’ve worked with in the past, the more credibility you will build.
Lastly, if you’re a serious agency that only works with large and exceedingly wealthy corporations, you can command upwards of $15,000+ per month, per client. A speaker at Inbound 2015 in the partner track mentioned today how his agency will not take a retainer below $15k minimum, and the client must also pay for 6 weeks of discovery while the client account is being on-boarded with the agency. Obviously to command this type of income you’ll have to have built a reputation for delivering outstanding results far above what the average and even many above-average agencies can provide.
As you can see, there’s a wide range to how much money you can earn. I’d say that ideally you want to be in one of the last two categories (and realistically probably in the 2nd one). I would expect that as an agency that serves small businesses exclusively or primarily that you would always be struggling and your margins would be very weak.