Q&A with two young entrepreneurs
Pop! Social Media, Inc. was founded by two young professionals, Jenn and Jill, from Chicago. Pop! Social Media works with businesses to develop a customized social media strategy that provides companies with the tools essential to grow their business. The company offers digital brand strategy, online content management, and comprehensive staff training services for companies.
Jenn and Jill both quit their corporate jobs at one of Age’s Top 10 PR Agencies of the Decade to pursue a life in entrepreneurship.
Q&A with Jenn and Jill of Pop! Social Media, Inc.:
JF: Before starting POP!, I was working as part of the digital team at an international public relations company. I worked on six different accounts, helping create and execute digital strategy for consumer brands. I learned more in eight months at that job than I had learned during four years of college.
As small business owners, Jenn and I stress the importance of understanding the business of business. You can’t just be good at what you do, you must also understand and execute good business strategy. I think the same is true when you hold a job. You can’t just excel at your particular skill set – you must also understand the business of a successful career. You must learn how to manage up, negotiate a raise and navigate company politics. Make it your job to master these skills and you’ll be well on your way to an incredibly successful and fulfilling career.
JK: Like Jill, I was an Assistant Account Executive at a major Chicago public relations firm. I worked with some top-tier consumer clients in both the food and beauty industry, helping to coordinate and execute major client events. I pitched print and digital reporters, as well as monitored and analyzed traditional and social media coverage. I was also a member of the digital team, which meant it was my job to build relationships with bloggers and generate content for client Twitter and Facebook pages. There was never a shortage of work to be done!
The interesting thing about our previous jobs is how they brought us together. Jill and I were hired on the same day as interns fresh out of college. We were then hired on the same day as full-time employees. We shared similar experiences in company culture and the actual work we were doing that led us to begin meeting outside of work hours. And then, eight months later, we quit on the same day to go into business together. We joke that it will be a book or movie someday!
Q: Describe the moment when you decided you were going to take the plunge into starting POP! Social Media, Inc.
JF: We often tell people that the creation of our company was a perfect storm. Everything came together like it needed to for us to take the leap. We were unhappy with our current jobs, and over Christmas break I bought a book called, “Making a Living Without a Job” by Barbara Winter (which we highly recommend!).
Over coffee, I was telling Jenn how much I loved the book and that if she ever wanted to start a business she should read it. Turns out, she had similar ambitions – but like me didn’t plan on starting a business for many years.
We started shooting around ideas, and at one point I threw out a crazy proposition that we should really quit our jobs and start a company, thinking she’d never agree.
She did. And so that day we bought calendars, set a quit date and never looked back.
Q: Where did you get the idea for POP! Social Media, Inc.?
JK: The idea for POP! Social Media came when we realized we could take what we learned from working with big name brands and provide that same service for small to mid-sized businesses, who don’t necessarily have the budget to hire a large public relations firm. Working with big brands, we found there were so many hoops to jump through to get social media content out to the public. Because the companies are so large, it’s easy to get caught up in legal approvals and liability. Small businesses, on the other hand, are interacting with their customers every day, whether at brick and mortar stores or through their online website and customer service. Social media is a natural “digital” extension of who they are and we were excited to show them the best way to introduce themselves to their advocates in an exciting, authentic way.
The name POP actually came out of our blog, which we launched alongside our business as a way to document our journey as two young female entrepreneurs who never went to business school, but decided to take the leap anyway. It’s called PursuingOurPassion.com, and with an acronym of POP, we thought it was the perfect fit. Our goal as a company has always been to help small to mid-sized businesses “spark” online conversations!
Q: What has been the most unexpected challenge when becoming an entrepreneur?
JF: Learning how to guard my time. As an entrepreneur, you wear a ton of hats and it seems there is always someone or something that wants or needs your attention. It’s easy to feel like you must give 100% to every opportunity, for fear that it will reflect badly on your company or become a missed chance if you don’t. At the end of the day, you must learn to prioritize and delegate. It’s the only way you can take care of yourself, and therefore your company.
JK: The most unexpected challenges are always the ones you don’t think about when you’re dreaming of running your own business. Sales. Legal. Taxes. It’s important to have a firm grasp on all of these so that you avoid creating more work for yourself or running into trouble later. For Jill and me, that meant networking. In the months that followed us leaving our stable corporate jobs, we attended event after event after event. As a result, we were connected with a lawyer who helped us incorporate our business and several other professionals who would become our advocates, eventually leading to client referrals. We wouldn’t be where we are now without the people we met along the way who opened doors and created opportunities for us to succeed.
Q: What do you love most about being your own boss?
JF: Truly owning your work. There is just this amazing feeling when you get to deliver your work to the client that hired you. You own everything about it, whether good or bad. It’s such an amazing feeling. Well, that and getting to travel much more frequently!
JK: I think the biggest benefit to being your own boss is having the freedom do decide when and how you work. Being able to set our own schedules is a perk that Jill and I never take for granted and we are just as productive now as were were at a physical office because we know when we work best during the day and determine our hours accordingly. Over the past year, we’ve found ways to balance the tendency to be “always on” (which is a particularly valuable lesson when your business is online) and knowing when to turn off the shiny objects – be it Twitter, email or anything else that pulls our attention – and focus solely on one specific project or task. Having the ability to determine what works best for us, rather than someone else telling us how we should function, has made a world of difference in our work happiness levels.
That said, another thing I love about being my own boss is that I’ve learned that even though I’m young, I am strong enough to make tough decisions, whether client-related, financial or otherwise. The idea of being held responsible for the success of our business was terrifying at first, and it still is to some extent! But I’ve also developed the confidence to know that everything that happens – good or bad – is up to me and Jill. We are in charge of our own destiny in a different, more empowering way than we were when working for someone else, and that distinction is very rewarding.
Q: What advice would you give someone who is looking to start their own business?
JF: I think many people let fear paralyze them from trying, and so I always tell people that you are never going to be completely ready to quit your job – there is always going to be some unknown. That being said, here are things I recommend having under control before you quit:
Dollars and Sense: Understand your financial situation and know your backup plan. I didn’t have savings when I quit, but I did have seven years waitressing experience that I knew could land me a serving job, if things didn’t pick up right away. Understanding your finances and opportunities will free you from the fear of losing a steady paycheck.
Three Musketeers: Identify the three friends that will unconditionally support you on your venture. These are the three people who will pick you up when you’re having a bad day (and you will), only to remind you why you started down this path in the first place.
Reality Check: Quitting your job is the easy part. It’s the days, weeks and months following that are the real challenge. Give yourself a reality check and ask if you are leaving because you’ve had a bad month or if you really feel you would thrive and be happier in a different gig. If things seem difficult and you believe it would be easier to do something you’re passionate about, know this: landing your dream job is harder than sticking with your current employment.
However, if you can come to terms with the little (and big) challenges that lie ahead – and be honest about the fact that your life is not instantly going to become more glamorous, fulfilled or easy – than I say start drafting your resignation letter and prepare for what will be an amazing experience!
JK: I tend to give two pieces of advice when asked this question! First, don’t be everything to everyone. Jill and I had to figure out what we excel at and respect ourselves and our business enough to know when to say no. You can’t say yes to every opportunity just because it’s an opportunity, which is one of the hardest things we’ve learned along the way.
Secondly, it’s important to realize that the biggest battles you’re facing today will likely seem insignificant one year from now. Life keeps moving (and it moves fast!) whether a business idea succeeds or falls flat. While it’s certainly important to learn from setbacks and find ways to grow from them, don’t dwell on what could or did go wrong for too long. It will drive you crazy. Instead, find ways to pat yourself on the back as you go. Even the littlest step forward each day is a big deal because you are working toward a truly exceptional goal!
Q: What’s next for the two of you?
JK: Believe it our not, we are in the process of launching our second business! It’s called DreamChamps, and just talking about it makes us squeal with excitement. We’re on a mission to create a community that will connect impassioned job seekers (called “Dreamers”) with the mentors and contacts (called “Champions”) who can help them achieve their dream careers in a uniquely human and genuine way. We truly feel that the site will benefit anyone who is passionate about a particularly industry. Right now, we are encouraging people to sign up on our landing page: http://www.dreamchamps.com. Our official launch is in March and we can’t wait to share more details in the coming weeks!
JF: It’s already been an epic adventure and we can’t wait to officially launch the project in March. If you haven’t signed up already, it’s time to head over and become part of the movement. To mimic one of our idols, “Everyone’s getting a MEEENNNTOOOOOR! You’re getting a mentor! And you’re getting a mentor!”
More questions for Jenn and Jill? Check out their blog, Pursuing Our Passions.