As a marketing agency owner, you know that growing and scaling an agency is hard. Honestly, it’s harder than you think for many. The top three challenges reported by agency owners were: acquire new customers, time constraints, and cash flow. And as any business in the industry will tell you, if you’re struggling to bring in new clients and keep a positive cash flow, you simply cannot grow and scale your business, which is why finding agencies that have been around for over a decade is both a surprise and an opportunity.

How did they manage to grow and achieve such longevity. How are they approaching marketing and agency management differently?

That’s what Brooke Sellas is here to help us with. Brooke is not only shaping the future digital marketing one conversation at a time but has also earned her stripes as an award-winning industry leader. Recognized as a Top 100 CMA influencer and strategist in 2024, the CEO of B Squared Media agency over twelve years, Brooke has crafted an approach for pioneering social care solutions for heavyweights like brother international endless pools in BCU. She’s one of my oldest and dearest friends in the marketing community and hosts an agency podcast of her own.

Listen to the entire podcast of Social Pulse Weekly below. Or read on for a summary of the conversation.

B Squared Media

Mike: Let’s start by talking about B Squared media. Why’d you start your agency? Tell us about the services you offer and the kind of businesses you work for.

Brooke: So, a very long time ago, in another life, I was working for a different company, and I was responsible for not only their marketing but also creating revenue streams, which I did.

And then my dad funnily enough came to me one day and said, “Hey, I just won you a pitch with our CMO!” He was at a tech company at the time, and he said, “But here’s the deal. I’m out of it. I’m not in it. This is as far as I go. And if you win the pitch, you have to do it on your own as in start your own company.”

He gave me a gentle shove off into the deep end.

And I did win the pitch, and that’s why I started B Squared Media. So I thank him a lot for that shove. Our biggest service today fast forward is for a social media agency, but our biggest service is social care, which is social media customer service and helping our clients both acquire and retain customers through social media.

Mike: Fascinating, and we’re definitely going to dive into that because I think that’s one of your big differentiators. But you started this agency over a decade ago, which means specifically you’re in the minority for having stayed in business and thrived for so long.

What would you say have been some of the keys to your success?

Brooke: Having a numbers person right off the bat, I got lucky. This wasn’t smart. This was just luck, but for you, it can be smart. My husband’s a CFO. He has been forever.

And so I immediately had that numbers/strategy/forecasting person in my corner. I am not that person. I’m a creative person. I’m not doing the maths very well. I think that’s important. And I also think just being realistic, right? We all think, “Oh my gosh, we’re going to make all this money, and then we’re going to sell, and we’re going to make all this money when sell,” and unfortunately that’s just not how it goes.

Having an exit strategy is scary. As downtrodden as that sounds. I think it’s important because you have a rip cord to pull if things get dire.

Mike: I also want to talk about the challenges and the struggles you’ve faced, because no one is going to be in business that long without facing some serious hurdles, particularly in your early years.

What were some of those challenges in your early years?

Brooke: It’s just acquisition. You think you have this network. And, previously, I had been a nonprofit. And nonprofit would do this exercise with our volunteers where we would look at someone’s network and figure out all of the different areas and spheres within your life, networking sphere, social network, whatever it may be, where we knew people. And I filled that out for myself, but it’s so funny as I learned, and I think a lot of young entrepreneurs often face this challenge: Even though I knew these people and they love me and they believed in me, they didn’t need or want my services.

It became more of finding ways to get in front of people who were in need of my services. So I ended up joining a local BNI group is like a networking group. And that’s how I got a lot of my business in the early days, by going to events and figuring out who some of the key players were. I followed a lot of speakers. I became friends with a lot of people who were in my same shoes like Mike. Mike and I actually wrote for the Social Solutions Collective, a group of social media entrepreneurs who came together to write. We all knew each other. We all helped each other out. Your net worth is your net worth. But only if you do the work part of network, which means constantly to this day, I need for myself to have at least three networking calls a week.

How have you overcome the acquisitions challenge?

Brooke: You are investing in your network, and you continue to invest today, which is one of the things that I think it is also a differentiator. A lot of people will build things up to a certain extent, and then they’ll just assume, “Oh, well, it’s working now. I no longer have to invest in networking. I no longer have to invest in marketing. I no longer have to invest in whatever it is that was getting them there.”

My other piece of advice is when you’re not new anymore, when you do start to have some finances coming in, you have to reinvest that money back into the company.

I’ll give you an example. We all have our margins and profits and net profits. If you take your net profit, which is what you might pay yourself or what you made in a year, I would divide that by three.

One third can go to you as a salary. One third should go to savings for a rainy day, and one third should be reinvested into the business. For part of that one third, in more recent years, we’ve taken some big risks and spent some big dollars on investments that have and have not paid off. And that’s okay.

We know we’re taking that money and we’re investing it, and it’s a test. And it may not produce fruit, let’s say. However, that’s so important to what we do, because through all of these tests, I can tell you that we’ve learned so many things and we’ve still come out the other side. Even though the test failed and the money’s gone, we’re still here.

Mike: I know that that strategy at least for us has done really, really well. That makes a lot of sense. I heard somebody share something very similar recently at an ecommerce event, they were talking about Facebook advertising. And they were talking about continually reinvesting into Facebook ads or whatever platform it would make the most sense for for you and your business. But he uses this great analogy: You put a seed down in the dirt, and you stop watering because you’re not seeing any growth, and you didn’t realize there’s a little sprout just about to come up. But you cut off the water, and you killed it. And so they stopped that investment.

And I like how you were talking about how you’re putting aside some money for yourself. Some for a rainy day. Oh my gosh. Isn’t that so important? You will need it. I don’t care what you think. You will need it. It may not be a black swan event like a pandemic, but something’s going to happen. You will need that money, but then reinvest in marketing.

One other quick follow-up. You talked about some of the other things that you’ve tried do that maybe didn’t work out so well.

Could you share what hasn’t worked for you?

Brooke: We’ve tried influencer marketing. Didn’t go so well. We tried account-based marketing. Didn’t go so well.

And here’s why. I think understanding what your market category is and then what your market problem is so important. And what I’ve come to find and learn is that we were very early to market with social media customer care.

We started doing this eight years ago. We went public with the service six years ago, and just this year, I feel like we’re seeing big brands talk a lot about social media customer care. So with that, the audience that we were trying to target set everywhere within a company, right? It wasn’t the CMO or marketing. It wasn’t the CXO or experience. It wasn’t customer success. It wasn’t HR. It wasn’t business development. It wasn’t e-learning. And, by the way, I’ve literally closed clients where each one of those departments owned social media customer care.

What I realized was we have a bigger problem to solve. We have to look at owning our category versus ABM or influencer marketing because we’re so early to market and because we really only have two competitors.

Now, that’s a lot of information I just threw at you, but I think really digging deep and doing the deep work into your industry, your category, your competitors is so important because we’ve known we’ve had a problem for a long time, but it took the really, really deep work to understand exactly what that problem is and what will and what won’t and what won’t solve that problem.

Mike: It’s a lot of great information because, for folks in our audience, you’re trying to apply some of what Brooke’s saying to yourself to your own agencies. Influencer marketing didn’t seem to work for her. ABM didn’t seem to work for her. That’s not to say it won’t necessarily work for you. In your case, you’re going to be in a completely different category probably in a niche than Brooke.

It might be that interestingly, the influencers might have had an impact, but because the category was so unknown in the past, they might not have had the direct impact we were looking for at that time. It’s hard to say. I’m in the same boat at Agorapulse where I’m responsible for our partnerships.

And I’m working with other brands and other influencers on partnerships. And still it’s a very nebulous area who owns partnerships. And I’m going to throw out a term that most of you listening have probably never heard of: nearbound. That’s a new category being created specifically within the partnership umbrella where it’s not outbound. It’s not inbound. It’s working with our brand partners to co-sell into our mutual customers. It’s fascinating, but it’s brand new. So when I talked to somebody about nearbound, they’re like, “Near what? I don’t understand what that is. Is that a hockey play? What? I don’t understand.” So I totally get it. Fantastic advice.

What is your approach to social media?

Mike Allton: Now, I think one of the major differentiators for your agency and a huge factor in your success is the approach to social media and social care that you touched on a couple times.

Tell us about that approach. What is it? Why are you so passionate about it? How is that different from so many other agencies and businesses.

Brooke: Another piece of advice is listen. Your customers are telling you every day in all sorts of ways what they want.

What I kept hearing early on when we provided just basic social media management was, “We do the content in house, and we really love our team. Can you just help with the community management or review management or monitoring social?”

Again, there’s a lot of different names that kept popping up. And then I would say, “Well, yeah, I guess we could do that if it’s just community management,” but as we started to get into what that community management, what was, and listened to the client answering our qualifying questions, what we found was that it’s a much, much bigger than community management or social media moderation. What we’re looking at is the entire digital customer life cycle. That involves not only attracting people, obviously, to those social pages, but also nurturing them and having brand conversations so that we can start to understand our clients’ wants, needs, and desires.

Ultimately, what we found was a lot of the social chatter that is happening on social media pages, and this is we’ve seen this grown year over year. A lot of the chatter is acquisition-based, meaning someone’s coming to Agorapulse’s social channel and saying, “Hey, how much is your software every month, or does your software include social listening?” Those are interest questions.

As we continue on with that conversation, they can turn into intent questions, like intent to buy. And so we quickly figured that we needed to not only attract people and retain customers who come to social for support but also be ready to sell those customers who have those interest and intent questions for the brand. So it’s everything in the words that were described, but it’s also social selling.

And we put it all in one nice neat package.

It’s everything all at once. Everything, everywhere all at once. You’d be surprised how quickly you can turn those digital rants into smiles just by showing people that they’re being heard.

That’s really it. Honestly, it’s not that hard.

Mike: Yeah. But to your point, it’s different from how most businesses and most agencies approach social media as a channel, which is simple as a distribution and broadcasting medium. They’re not deliberately trying to have conversations, and they certainly aren’t investing that amount of time and care into the conversations that are there, which would in turn foster additional conversations, because I know that’s what you and your team do.

You create this wonderful environment where people feel welcomed and seen and heard, which makes them even more willing to participate in the conversation. If they feel like they’re just shot into the wind, then they’re not going to bother. They’re going to move onto another brand or not at all. I think that’s powerful.

Be in deep research mode

Brooke: If you look at the research, again, this goes into that deep research. I feel like we’ve been in deep research mode for almost really the whole time we’ve been offering this service. So, like, six years.

We’ve been in deep research mode, but what we’re seeing with this deep research that we’ve been doing is that the consumer base has changed. It’s becoming younger and younger, and the younger generations are coming into their buying power. And what’s happening is they’re using social media to buy, to research, to ask their peers questions, right? And they’re actually now rating conversations with the brand, whether they initiate that conversation or the brand does, as high or higher than online reviews.

So that was kind of like an ah-ha moment for us. Because we’re like, “Wait a minute.” Review management is important, and we do that as part of our service. But understanding that those conversations that you’re having on social media are actually helping people decide whether or not they want to buy from you is a huge game changer if you listen.

Mike: Now thinking about some of the clients that you’ve worked with, I’m sure every client you’ve ever worked with has just been amazing. But if you were to put yourselves in a different agency owner’s shoes, perhaps, I’m thinking about some of their not so great clients.

What shouldn’t clients do? What would get them literally fired?

Brooke: You know, unfortunately, I think we all come across this, or you will. It’s not an if, it’s a when, unfortunately.

But this happened early on, too, and I have to say early on, I thought, “Well, we have to pay the bills. Everybody has to get paid. So we have to put up with this.”

Now my attitude is very different.

If you mess with my team, my beautiful team who is doing everything in their power to help you sell to and retain customers, we’re not working together. Again, that took a lot of maturing on my part to understand how important it was to protect my team at all costs. We have difficult clients, and it’s okay to have difficult clients. What I will not tolerate and what I will not expose my team to are clients who are just outright rude or mean or disrespectful.

And I think, again, it’s a learned lesson, but the earlier you learn it, the better.

Mike: Kudos to you for taking that stance. And this is exactly why I asked questions like this because there are many agency owners listening and reading what you’re saying. They may be a fairly young agency owner. Maybe they’re a boutique agency owner and just bringing on staff for the first time.

These are the kinds of questions that we’re bringing up here. They’re life lessons for agency owners. There’s no manual when I raise my hand and say that I’m going to start my own agency. There’s no manual to tell me what to look out for when it comes to taxes and accounting and pricing and services and staffing and client management.

Brooke: There’s no playbook. And I think that’s a hard one to learn. I get that sometimes you’ve got to pay the bills, but rude or disrespectful, I’m just not going to tolerate.

What tools do you use?

So I’m curious, what are some of the tools in the B Squared Media tool stack that you just absolutely adore from an agency perspective?

Brooke: We all probably have some of the social media management tools that are lovely, like Agorapulse. Lovely.

I think social listening is really big for what we do because if you think about those brand conversations and people having conversations about your brand, there are many times when you’re not tagged. Right? If they’re mentioning your product name and not the brand, you’re not going to see the conversation unless you’re using social listening. So, if moderation and social care is very important to you, I would beg you to invest in a social listening tool so that you can get proactive with those conversations instead of remaining reactive.

I also think AI is such a great tool for efficiency with social media. I’m not saying it’s replacing anyone on our team. It hasn’t, and it won’t. What it has done is helped people become more efficient with creating content, creating different headlines for ads, testing, and things of this nature. I would say whatever large language model you’re into, go for it. We use the paid version of ChatGPT and also look pretty heavily at design tools because, let’s face it, on social media, things have to be pretty.  Sorry for all of those who are groaning at the AI word.

Descript is such a great tool. It’s important if you are the face of your agency, to put yourself out there and be authentic. Mike and I were actually talking about some of this in the green room before this, but I know that I have to get people to be more familiar with my face, my voice, like it or not. And just my mannerisms. I’m goofy. I talk with my hands. I make a lot of jokes. I laugh a lot. This is just who I am. And I found that putting little quick snippets of short video of me talking about what we do in the social care space, but with my everything, has been very successful for us. And so I use Descript for that because I am not a tech person, y’all. I know that I work in social media, but I am not a tech person, so if the tool can do the heavy lifting, great.

The other tools that I would say that we use a lot has to do with keyword research, so SEMrush or something like that would be fantastic. Again, because we are in a category that is fairly small, right? We have a blue ocean strategy going on, considering we’re early, and we only have two major competitors. We’re very big on understanding what the keywords are, what are the users saying, what are the customers calling it, what are our competitors doing, etc.

Mike: That’s fantastic. I’m glad you’re putting those snippets out there. You have a lovely voice, and you’re very relatable in how you communicate. And that’s why that material is successful. It wouldn’t be successful.

I’m glad you brought up AI, too, because I know where you’re coming from. A lot of people are against AI, but I’m going to push back on those people because this is not Clubhouse. This is not BeReal. This is not a fad that in six to twelve months, people will have moved on to something else.

This is what in the financial world that we call a black swan event, where things are changing so radically right now that it’s not actually possible for us as humans to predict accurately how things are going to be in twelve months. It will only be in five to six years. We’re able to look back and realize this was a revolution on the scale of the industrial revolution and how AI was going to have an impact on every aspect.

Brooke, you and I had had the pleasure of going to the marketing conference last fall. And I was just telling somebody else yesterday that I appreciated and was impressed by that conference in a lot of ways, but mostly because it was filled with agency owners who were there for that purpose. They were there to find out what they needed to know.

Brooke: It’s so true. My entire mastermind group went.

We decided as a group to go because we didn’t know what we don’t know. And we came away saying we were really glad we went because now we felt like we had a leg up. Out of all the other agency owners who aren’t paying attention to AI, we felt like we had a leg up.

Yesterday, Mark Cuban came out and said, “If you are not paying attention to AI, you will fail.” So it may be annoying to hear it, but I think because as an agency owner, you have a responsibility to your clients, to yourself, to your team members, to keep pushing forward, and you have a responsibility to at least get to know AI. Even if you hate it, you need to get to know it. So do the deep research there too. Sorry. Not sorry.

Mike: Now I couldn’t agree more. That was something we just talked about in our previous episode with Megan Bowen from Refine Labs. She referenced the exact same quote from Mark Cuban.

I made the exact same point. That’s fantastic that you guys are aligned in that way. I just got one more question for you. And again, this is one of these questions that we love asking agency owners.

And you can take it and you can answer it however you’d like because everyone’s got different perspectives on this. But I’m really curious how you currently measure the business impact of social media for your clients.

Brooke: So for B Squared, in particular, it’s retention and acquisition. Right? So not to get too nerdy on you, but when we’re having these conversations through social (and you can do this too) take this and use it, please. I’m begging you. Use it. Do it.

We label those conversations as acquisition or retention. Sales support or customer support. And then once you start labeling those conversations with acquisition or retention, you can start to understand which channels have the most volume of conversation, which channels have the most volume of retention, and which channels have the most volume of acquisition.

This helps you better spend your time, energy, and money on the platforms where those are happening most, but it also helps you understand if we can solve more customer issues through social.

We know it costs fourteen dollars when a customer calls the call center, and this is an actual example. Typically, we’re twelve times cheaper doing it on social versus someone calling into the call center. And then with those acquisition conversations, you can start to put price tags on those unique conversations that are acquisition. A hundred dollars here, a hundred dollars there. All of a sudden, if you’ve got a lot of acquisition happening this month, you can say to the client, “Look, we’ve got about a hundred thousand dollars of acquisition content or conversation sitting out on social. How are we gonna close this? How can we bring it in, and how can you figure out how to do that so you can attribute it to what you’re doing for the client and to your work on social media?”

Mike: Agorapulse actually does a lot of that automatically.

You can do the labels in Agorapulse automatically. It integrates with Google Analytics, as you’re tracking the links and things that you might share. Even in a comment, if somebody asks, “Do I have this cartridge in this color? Do I have that particular pair of jeans in this size?” then your staff gives them the direct link. You get to track that and attribute that. That ROI is built in there.

Brooke: Yeah. Use it. I’m telling you. Like, it’s so nice that Agorapulse has that built in for you. We did this work manually for so long. If you have a tool in front of you that can do it, please use it. You’ll be all the better for it.

In Conclusion

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