Brooke B. Sellas is the founder of @HelloBSquared, which specializes in “done-for-you” social media management. Brooke is a marketing and social media consultant, and an adjunct for consumer behavior at CUNY.
Brooke recently spoke with Sprout about what it takes to start your own social media agency, the done-for-you social approach, and the importance of scaling when launching a business.
How did you first get interested in social media?
I went back to school, and to graduate with honors from Penn State, you have to do an undergraduate thesis. So, I decided to do my undergraduate thesis on social media and the Social Penetration Theory. Back in the sixties, there were two social psychologists, Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor, and they said that we form relationships through disclosure. Meaning, if I like you and I disclose information to you, and you accept that information and you disclose information to me, it would keep prompting deeper and deeper disclosures until we build trust in a relationship.
My study looked at Facebook and three brands and how and if they were using disclosure to talk to their audiences. Essentially what I found was that the companies that got deep with that disclosure—with opinions and feelings—had the biggest audiences, the most engagement and the most return.
What is your marketing strategy? Why did you decide to focus on “done-for-you” social?
We started with “done-for-you” social because I knew, from my previous marketing experience, that clients often said things like, “I don’t want to learn how to manage social. I don’t have time for that—I just want to hand it off to someone and have them do it.” So I knew that this was a pain point.
How do you get people interested in your agency?
It really comes down to networking. The majority of our clients have all come from word of mouth. I started to meet people who owned marketing agencies—a lot of times these marketers are experts in their own way but they get requests to do “done-for-you” work that they don’t specialize in. So they often turn around and pass this work over to us.
So it’s word of mouth but from highly recognizable, sought after people. Lately the big boom for us has been partnering with a lot of marketing agencies who offer agency work but not social agency work.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned?
Nobody explains to you what it’s like to scale a business. Everybody tells you, “Oh, business is hard, it’s so hard,” but my advice that I would give as far as scaling goes is document everything. Figure out how you can then take those documents and turn them into processes and workflows, and turn them into client education, and then maybe blog posts.
Everything you write down can turn into some sort of content for yourself. Because I think, with scaling, the first thing you can scale is the process or the workflow. As soon as I know I have a repeatable process that works for done-for-you social or for advertising or for content, or whatever it is, then I can scale. Once you scale so many of those processes, then you add the people in.
Speaking of scaling, how did you scale your efforts?
Scaling the agency is an ongoing conversation. I think there is no one answer. There’s no “scale in a box.” You have to pair up with a financial advisor. I think that’s one of the first things you should invest in, when you can.
Luckily my husband is a financial advisor. We talk about scaling every day—how to scale, how to make things fit—because, again, we prefer not to make any sort of investment or borrow any money, so we only do it when we have the cash. Which makes it hard but it’s also smart.
I like to think and set goals in five-year increments. I have revenue goals that I set; for the first five years, which we’re in now.
When you have big clients like we have, it’s wonderful, but when you lose a billion-dollar client, it really hurts the bottom line. So you have to be able to bob and weave and keep scaling.
How did you know when it was time to hire additional people?
I work seven days a week, 365 days a year. I was working holidays, I was working weekends and I think when I finally got, like, a tick, my husband—or then-boyfriend at the time— said, “You know, you’re making enough now that you can hire someone part-time.” He helped me crunch the numbers.
Who are some of your clients?
We help everyone from startups to billion-dollar brands. The mix of our clients is everything from fashion to retail to pharma to tech to staffing—there’s no one industry. I would say the majority of our clients now are middle-market to large-size companies or brands.
Have you set goals for numbers of clients?
Last year and this year we scaled up very quickly. We went from two people to four people and that was partly because we grew so much and so we had the income to support that growth. But part of what we’ve done in these two years, too, is to work on what everyone’s threshold is.
So we set up a threshold for accounts—and by social channels or accounts, not clients, because some clients just have Facebook, but some clients have Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram—so we set a threshold on what we call properties, or channels. We said, “You’re responsible in this role for handling up to 30 properties.” We’re almost at that 30-property threshold with two of our girls and they haven’t quit on me. We know if we close a large client, we know we have to hire someone. If we close a medium client, we probably have to hire someone. If we close two small clients, it’s time to hire someone.
Your blog is a large part of your brand and agency. How did you develop your blog’s tone of voice?
I’ve always written the blog. I do have guest bloggers come on every now and again but I’ve always written the blog. So when I decided to get serious about blogging, which was several years ago now, I said, “I’m going to publish weekly.” And I’ve published weekly—I’ve never broken that because it’s so important.
Consistency is important, even if only three people are reading your blog. I feel like it was easy to keep voice and tone consistent on the blog because I’m the one who writes most of the posts. As far as the copy on our site and all of our client collateral and even proposals, I have a very casual, fun, bubbly way of speaking to people. I can be serious when needed, but I just feel like “serious” and “social media” don’t really go together.
Have you seen an uptick in business in terms of blogging? Have you set any goals related to blogging?
My blog audience is really made up of other social media experts. So I don’t really sell anything to that group.
What are some tools that you’ve relied on for documenting those processes besides Sprout?
Excel, Basecamp for project management, which has been huge. These tools really come and go, but we’ve stuck with Sprout Social. We use Toggl—that’s big for scaling because Toggl allows you to log in and out based on projects.
And so what our social media and advertising strategist and I do is we go through every so often and we look at where the most time is being spent. That helps us understand that threshold of what people can handle, what paths are taking longer than we anticipated and that 30-property threshold.