My Passion For Social Media Led Me To Build A $1M/Year Business

Olga Bondareva
Founder, ModumUp
$83K
revenue/mo
2
Founders
44
Employees
ModumUp
from İstanbul, Стамбул, Турция
started July 2018
$83,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
44
Employees
1.49M
alexa rank
1
followers
38
subs
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My Passion For Social Media Led Me To Build A $1M/Year Business

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Olga Bondareva. I run my own business – the ModumUp agency. We provide Social Selling services, which means that we help our clients to attract new customers, partners, or employees through the development of their profiles on social media. We work mainly with the IT, digital, finance, and logistics industries.

We offer 4 types of services:

  1. Managing personal profiles on social media for business goals is our flagship product. This is what most of our clients need as very few experts who represent the companies have the time, resources, or assistants to do it on their own. The way this works is that we are hired by a company, but manage the company employees’ profiles. We develop a person’s image on social media and produce regular content for them based on interviews and other external sources. Also, we help them to engage and grow their audience. Following the clients’ approval, we manage interactions and networking with their followers: reactions, commenting, skills endorsements, and activities in relevant groups.
  2. We provide training and mentoring services in two different formats: short workshops and long three-month programs on Social Selling. We teach people how to generate leads on LinkedIn, how to develop their social media profiles, and how to reach potential customers/partners.
  3. Consulting. We offer consulting packages and one-time consultations on Social Selling. This is for those entrepreneurs who are ready to do everything themselves or are already using the Social Selling method. They come to us because they either face certain difficulties, they want to improve their results/processes, or they just have questions.
  4. Employee advocacy. We offer mentoring/training programs for companies that want to motivate employees to develop their profiles on social media. The focus here is on the development of employees’ brands and the company’s HR brand (which is done by encouraging employees to post company-related content).

Our current ARR is around $1M. We have more than 30 b2b clients now, mostly large and medium-sized, and the number is growing.

That’s what parties look like when you work in a remote and distributed team:

modumup

modumup

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I studied to become a psychologist, and while studying I started a social media page with a couple of other students that were dedicated to psychology memes. Our posts began to spread virally. We started to gain followers, and as I became more interested, I invested my time and efforts in the project.

My knowledge of social media proved to be very helpful when I participated in the Microsoft Student Partner program and became Microsoft’s evangelist among the students. Then, shortly after the university, I decided to start my career as Microsoft digital marketing specialist.

Later I was promoted and began to oversee SMM and special projects for Central and Eastern Europe. At that time, I learned about Employee Advocacy and Social Selling. When I went on maternity leave, I realized that even though I like Microsoft, I need to create something of my own.

I dreamt of creating my own business even before Microsoft. I even made several attempts, but they didn’t work out because I lacked the experience. While working at Microsoft, I realized that I want to do what I know, in a field where I don’t need any investment, where I can use my expertise in social media and teach every team member I hire.

So it should come as no surprise that I chose Social Media Marketing – a field that I had a great passion for and that has grown substantially in recent years offering amazing business opportunities.

When my baby was 4 months old, I announced the creation of my agency ModumUp on my social media pages. I immediately had more than a hundred responses from potential clients. It was the moment when I realized how many people were willing to work and experiment together with a business that I’d just created.

The main indicator was the excitement on the market and the high demand for our services. After a while, we realized that Social Selling (managing personal profiles on social media for business goals) was our most-in-demand service and that became our primary focus.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

The process of designing our product was a little more complicated than usual since it is a service. At first, we worked as a regular company, tailoring our services to the client’s wants and needs. We were learning a lot from our experience and analysis, finding our different best practices, and we’ve grown our expertise on how one should manage their personal social media pages.

So, based on all that, I developed our Social Selling method. We started to offer that approach, based on our methodology, so basically, we created a product from service. That product has a fixed price, it includes a certain number of activities, and the output is highly predictable.

This became a very effective approach to selling our services because clients want to be approached with a ready-made solution: we are the experts, this is the method, it works, do this. Nobody wants to fill out an endless brief, and that’s inevitable with most agencies. Every client wants to work with those who know what to do, who will guide them the way step by step until the desired results are achieved.

Of course, our method is constantly changing, but not because we make mistakes or something isn’t working. We change it simply to adapt it to the changing behavior of the audience, either on LinkedIn or on other social media. The algorithms of those social media platforms are constantly changing, so our operations need to be modified accordingly. Also, we increase the number of metrics that we focus on to improve results for these metrics.

Describe the process of launching the business.

At first, I didn’t have a team, just an understanding that if I sign a client, I’ll quickly hire a couple of reliable people whom I already had in mind. When I published a post about starting my agency and the clients flooded in, we began to grow very quickly.

Originally, I named my agency Digital Power, thinking it was a fun name. We had a one-page website with almost no information because we didn’t use it to sell our services. I was always approached through my personal social media page.

Most of the clients who came in trusted me personally. So for a long time, I thought that I didn't even need a website, I thought the concept of having a company website was outdated.

modumup

modumup

modumup

Two years after the launch, in 2020, we hired a branding agency, and they developed the new name ModumUp and the visual identity of the brand.

As a service-based business, we didn’t need to raise VC money or take loans to invest in the company's development. The team’s salaries were covered by money from clients who started paying right away.

Our very first clients were the people who had worked with me before, and they knew me personally, understood my expertise, and believed that I was a responsible person, and wouldn’t let them down. I immediately began to earn about the same as my corporate salary, and as we began to grow, my income grew further.

I am an anxious person, and I don’t think I would start something that requires a large investment from the get-go. I’m the kind of person who tries to avoid and anticipate all the risks and also tries to build a shatter-proof system. What’s important to me is that the system is very stable and doesn’t collapse quickly.

The biggest lesson that I learned right away was that I have to focus 100% of my time on my business. In the very beginning, I was working for another startup as a freelance SMM consultant, and I was trying to run something of my own at the same time. We only began to grow exponentially when I switched my focus completely to my agency.

Another important lesson was the need to transform our service into a product and narrow our focus as much as possible by choosing to do the things with the highest market demand and the most significant business results for our clients. This step also enabled us to deepen our expertise, and the market always values that.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

My brand and social media pages have worked the best, because I was writing a lot about how we work, and describing the method of Social Selling. Also, I was speaking at different events and conferences, and it was also generating leads. Then one day I thought to myself: “Personal profiles are a great sales channel and I need to scale it.”

modumup

I suggested to my team that they should also begin to grow their personal social media brands. These days, the team’s social media is another source of new clients for us.

In addition, we promote our case studies to our target audience and we host various free events/webinars. We recently held our annual international conference on Social Selling (900+ registered participants).

This is the second time we’ve organized it. The conference is our way of building an international network and integrating into the global community of Social Selling, B2B marketing, and sales experts.

For example, this year’s conference was dedicated to entering new markets via social media and other channels. We invited experts from Malaysia, Egypt, Austria, the Netherlands, the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and Turkey. The experts on B2B marketing, sales, and Social Selling shared their experience and insights of working in their markets.

Thanks to that, companies interested in international expansion and entering new markets were able to gain insights from those who have long been working in the region and those who live there and understand it well.

Our next step after the conference will be to identify the participants most interesting to us as potential clients and to return to them with additional materials and a suggestion to organize a call. Also, we offered partnerships with some speakers.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We are profitable from day one. Last year, we grew by 50%. This year, we expect about the same growth (+50%). We keep our gross margin at about 50% and our net profit margin at 30%.

Since we work in B2B and it’s such a complex service, it is difficult to calculate customer acquisition costs. There are a variety of channels from which the clients come. We have a mailing list of about 3,000 email subscribers that consists of our potential clients from the B2B companies. Through the personal pages of team members, we engage with an audience of about 25K potential customers.

The goal for 2023 is to triple our income compared to 2021 and to launch an international expansion ecosystem, so that we could offer a subscription-based platform with the services of several agencies, experts, networking opportunities, and constantly updated databases of content and reliable software for international expansion.

The mission of the ecosystem is to help B2B companies enter new markets with the help of reliable agencies, partners, and software. It will assist with not just sales and marketing, but also with legal and accounting services and other aspects of doing business. This is the plan for the next two-three years. Our annual conference will also be a part of this ecosystem.

In terms of our service, we are always ready to expand our toolkit. Right now, we are experimenting with emails and messengers such as WhatsApp and Telegram, which are very popular in some regions. We are bringing our clients the leads from the MENA, LATAM, and APAC regions, from Western Europe and the United States – these are the regions of the most interest to us.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I often thought that the team’s discomfort while working with some clients or a client’s dissatisfaction with the team meant that we should terminate the contract and leave. And we have walked away from those clients because we were uncomfortable working with them.

Now, I’m starting to notice that some people are a good fit for working together and some are not. For example, some people work faster and people who work slower. Sometimes if the speed of our team and the client doesn’t align, it immediately causes conflict.

But there’s an elegant way out of this situation: you need to pick the right people who are compatible with a client on a human, communicative, and behavioral level. Before I realized there was a solution, we had terminated several contracts, even though the clients themselves were in no hurry to leave us.

There were some mistakes in hiring as well. The main mistake was when the business was growing actively and we had no established HR processes – and I decided to delegate building these processes from scratch to an HR manager. Today, I think I should have done it the other way around: I had to dive in and build the HR processes myself, and only then hire an HR manager to work within the established structure.

As a result of my mistaken decision, we hired managers with insufficient background, and our project directors had to micromanage their work and spend too much time teaching and controlling them. It didn’t affect the service quality for the client, but it was hard for the team. We needed a preliminary process of training the people before we could assign them to projects.

Another mistake was to invest in the development of our software (not for sale, but internal use). There’s a lot of existing software that could solve similar problems. It may not have been a perfect match, but it was possible to compromise, to use ready-made software – such a solution would’ve been easier, cheaper, and more flexible. If it didn’t satisfy us, we could always move to another software.

But if you develop your software, you have to remember that you’ll need to support it constantly, which means it will always need investment. This is way worse than paying for SaaS. I believe now that if you decide to develop your software, you should create it for an external commercial project. It makes sense when software is a revenue stream, not an additional expense.

One of the best decisions that I’ve made was to show a lot of our cases to the public (examples: 1, 2, 3). We are not afraid to share our Social Selling method and reveal all the important details and numbers, even though it makes it easier for the competitors to take and adopt our approach.

We adhere to the principle of openness, we do not hide the methods that work in our projects. I know that a lot of experts and consultants keep all their information behind a paywall and only offer it to those who are ready to buy their courses. We share everything we know and tell it publicly, openly, and for free. As a result, clients who see our content, perceive it as valuable, and useful, and they begin to trust us.

Also, one of the best decisions was to organize our conference, which enable us to meet a lot of interesting people. We also find new partnerships, new opportunities, and potential clients there.

There were some forces beyond our control that have helped us, such as Covid-19. Social Selling became very popular during the pandemic. It has been around for 10-11 years but was always perceived as an additional method that is used in combination with offline sale tactics, cold calls, etc. But Covid-19 changed everything because with offices deserted, offline events postponed indefinitely, and everyone in WFH mode, these cold calls, and offline channels were no longer working.

Very few sales managers know the personal numbers of their potential clients, and they mostly call them at the office. The conferences and events were all put on hold, so this sales channel also ceased to exist. All that was left was social media, online webinars, and emails. With fewer options to reach potential B2B customers, the demand for our services has increased significantly.

Well, at first, there was a crisis and everyone held back their budgets, but then they realized that the pandemic will be a long affair and began to invest actively and train their teams to use personal social media pages and hire us as an agency.

In terms of helpful abilities and skills that I possess, I think empathy is the most useful one. It helps me to work with clients. I understand what they need, I try to understand what they think and feel.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use LinkedIn Sales Navigator, it’s an internal LinkedIn tool. It is included in the premium subscription for sales. It helps us to find the target audience more easily because it has additional cool filters. It helps to monitor insights, events, etc. Two other tools that we use are Expandi, which helps us to get people’s emails so that we can hack LinkedIn limits and send more connection requests, and Apollo, which we also use to extract emails.

Upwork is sometimes used to find professionals in high demand, such as proofreaders or content writers in Arabic, Portuguese, and Hebrew. The ones you don’t know where to look for.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is a book that I like and that has influenced my business. It talks about fast and slow thinking and the notion that it can be hard for people to force themselves to think and make decisions. We use the insights gleaned from this book to communicate with our clients. For example, we try not to overwhelm them with options, instead asking them questions that require a "Yes or No" answer. The principle is simple: don't make your client think; think for them instead.

When it comes to TV shows, I enjoyed watching Suits. Business owners will find it very interesting since it shows the structure of a consulting organization. The showrunners revealed how the system works, and I even implemented it in my modified way. For example, we also have senior partners and it works. People feel that they are a part of this business because we share revenue with them. They are the leaders who help others, teach, and feel responsible for the company’s success.

I recently enjoyed a series called WeCrashed, the story about WeWork. I liked the idea of a company becoming an ecosystem. The idea for the ModumUp international expansion ecosystem came after watching this show. The ecosystem shouldn’t try to cover all occasions in human life, but at least it should help people enter new markets. I've also learned that a big idea is not enough to run a successful business as it should also be based on certain values.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Consider the risks and try to avoid them right away.

Count your money. Think about your margins. Don't let them go to minus/zero. Always have money for yourself and your team.

Maintain a stable emotional state. It is different for everyone: someone needs rest, someone needs exercise, someone needs to sleep well, and someone needs to meditate. Find your ways to do it. All the businesses I see collapsing do it precisely because of the founder’s unstable emotional state, not because of their mistakes (which, of course, happen as well). It happens when a founder is burned out and upset, so they give up and leave everything behind. Business is more sustainable when you have emotional stability.

Do it. It doesn't cost anything. Discover what you're good at. Go, do, sell. The first thing you need to understand is that you can sell your expertise without investing anything. That is the risk-free approach, and at the same time, you will profit from it.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Yes. We now have open positions for Social Selling specialists and project managers. We are interested in people who have experience with LinkedIn, such as managing personal pages, not just running advertisement campaigns. If you know how to find new B2B connections and communicate with them, then welcome to our team. Of course, we train people we hire for these positions and help them to grow.

To apply, please get in touch with me or one of my colleagues via email. We have both full-time and part-time remote positions.

Where can we go to learn more?

[a]It's dedicated to the second picture (zoom party)

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Olga Bondareva, Founder of ModumUp
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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