Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Our Chief Burro is Frank Kecseti, he is the creator and data nerd behind our business, Social Burro Inc. Alyson, his wife, and business partner are our Content Director. We built our business on the unwavering belief that social media can help small business owners who are challenging an aspect of their industries. Our flagship services include social media audits and team training sessions, as well as complete content takeovers. Frank is extremely passionate about the possibilities and power of hyper-targeted paid social media ads. Alyson is fixated on helping businesses own their “Why”.
Social Burro first came online on March 20, 2020 – 3 weeks prior, Alyson was laid off as COVID warnings multiplied. Combining more than 20 years of experience, Social Burro has helped 37 brands gain momentum, clarify their purposes, and rally their offline communities. To date, we’ve increased our revenue by 235.3%.
Using a retainer model, we average an income of $13,000 per month (more than we’ve ever earned combined). Behind the scenes, we are always learning and sharing information – even at 2 AM during an online class.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Throughout our careers, we have often been told, “You’re overthinking it.”, “That’s not how we’ve always done it.” and, the kicker, “I don’t know how to manage you.” Flash back to February 2020. Frank was laid off shortly after he and Alyson relocated to North Carolina in 2019. When introducing ourselves around town, so many business owners asked about our marketing and advertising backgrounds and then immediately exclaimed, “I HATE social media!” After applying to more than 50 roles and sending more than 2000 emails in four months, Frank asked Alyson if he could take a shot at running a business. Remembering those first conversations, he made a list of social media services and then walked up and down Main Street sharing his ideas with those owners. He got our first two clients in 48 hours.
For Frank, social media is a great passion. From 2015-2018 he was an influencer for the power tools industry and maintained a following of 100,000+. Alyson wasn’t sure how she fit into the plan and opted to work part-time at a grocery store to keep their savings topped up. She detailed her experiences in essays, starting with the surprisingly popular “Thank You for Firing Me”. The follow-up, “Thank You for Firing My Husband” earned the most reads of anything she’s ever published. In October 2020, Social Burro had grown so much that content management had to be offloaded – that’s when Alyson joined the team behind the scenes. On January 6, 2021, we made it official with the title of Content Director to bring the “Yes and …” to every client ask.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and pitching your first service.
Frank started Social Burro with a $12 stock icon, a hosting plan, and a one-page website. Initially, he only wanted to offer organic social media content creation and scheduling. From the outset, the business grew because we were willing to say, “No.” Turning down paying jobs is terrifying as a new business but the depth of knowledge we’ve gained by specializing in social media has helped our clients fortify their brands in ways that are much more meaningful to their customers.
As the business grew with new client needs, and the core platforms innovated to offer more features as lockdowns rolled across the globe, Frank dug in to learn as much as possible about targeting, tracking, and measurement. We had a few fails, including a white-labeled “listening” tool that couldn’t recognize the difference between our client and a B-list actor. The stand-out success, however, is paid social media ads. Once we busted the myth of quantity over consistency, we had a rock-solid plan.
We now operate on a “mostly organic” social ethos. Brand positioning and tone of voice will never outrank the latest trend. At Social Burro, we believe 100% that consistent content, tailored to your audience, will outlast any new fad. That said, by taking such a keen interest in the target audiences (yep, always plural) we are also able to craft hyper-targeted, exceptional ads that deliver true value for the end user and help our clients convert likes into loyalty.
In October 2020, we signed a client with a great deal of sensitive data. To protect both sides as effectively as possible, Frank worked with LegalZoom to convert Social Burro from a DBA to an S-Corporation. $700 in legal fees was a scary investment six months in but it has paid off exponentially, in taxes as well as peace of mind. In July 2021, we celebrated our anniversary with a brand new logo. A phenomenal illustrator, Logarhythm Creative in Asheville, NC, helped us shape the future of the company with an iconic look that completely captures the fun yet steadfast personality of Social Burro.
Describe the process of launching the business.
With a pandemic on the horizon and Alyson freshly unemployed, Social Burro simply had to succeed. To float the idea until the first checks rolled in, we borrowed $1,000 from our savings. The deal was that it had to be paid back in 90 days, whether Social Burro flopped or flourished. Getting started took less than 20% of that initial investment and the business earned enough to pay its expenses within six weeks. We talk frequently about how different it might have been having we not been in the upside-down times. We’re both champion overthinkers and love a beautifully-crafted brand, but without that sense of urgency, likely, Social Burro would still be just an expensive pipedream.
The launch of Social Burro was quiet but busy. Frank walked up and down Main Street, talking to any business that was open, and handing out a list of services. Many were unreceptive, exclaiming (again) “I HATE social media.” Undeterred, he signed two clients in 48 hours and spent the next four weeks gathering, editing, and scheduling content. He also sent dozens of carefully vetted cold emails – scanning LinkedIn for any job posts regarding social media, Frank was able to pitch Social Burro as a company backed by 20+ years of experience for less than the price of an entry-level employee.
Many were still insistent that remote work wasn’t doable but several came back within six months to request a proposal. Behind the scenes, Alyson worked at a grocery store and took freelance jobs to even out the cash flow while taking several online courses by General Assembly, including “The F*CK IT Formula to Content Marketing” by Demi Kotsoris – that one was based in Australia and started at 2 AM EST.
One major growth contribution was Frank’s willingness to join business organizations. It’s easy to assume a Chamber of Commerce and the like are just full of “old people” who won’t get it. By joining the Chambers in the three closest counties, Social Burro had unlimited access to nearly every business owner in a 75-mile radius from day one. The biggest fail we saw most often were owners who slapped a logo on something and expected ROI. Frank volunteered in-kind services for membership drives, meet-ups, and outreach. Impressed, several local business organizations asked him to host lunch-and-learn sessions that put Social Burro front and center as a solution to an issue that nearly every owner faced: how to stay in business when no one is spending money.
One big lesson was expanding our pitch process to include a proposal stage with expiration dates. After an initial client meeting, we customize a proposal that covers all the challenges and goals discussed, as well as what we think will best address those issues. Once details and price are agreed on, a contract is signed. We are very diligent about onboarding new clients; every proposal includes an expiration at which we are no longer holding space in our calendar for that work. By adding these two extra steps, we’ve saved ourselves hours of work on the back end from shuffling schedules, adjusting timelines, and working double time.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Personal service, transparency, and clear expectations. The industry-standard engagement rate to measure “good” content is 2%. That means that for every 1000 followers you have, you should aim for 20 likes/shares. While we never aspire to mediocrity, helping business owners understand that quality over superficial quantity is at the core of any strategy we recommend. It’s often hard for them to hear – especially when they realize they have 10,000+ followers and an average of 0.5% or less engagement.
We said it earlier, but saying “No.” has been one of our biggest wins. To anyone who’s trying to get started, ask yourself “What don’t I know about this topic?” It’s a brain teaser to pivot from just gathering information to gaining knowledge. So frequently we’re rewarded for having the biggest collection of flair but no one stops to ask what it has to do with the work at hand. Who genuinely has time to Christmas-tree one more quiz from a free “academy”?
After many years of picking up freelance on the side, neither of us wanted to chase the next job. Social Burro operates with 6- or 12-month retainers that build in checkpoints to adjust the scope and discuss progress. We do offer to consult agreements on a by-case basis and are always eager to provide free workshops for community programs, such GoLocal Asheville, where we can help owners with quick-fix issues or think bigger with their limited resources.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Our first “year” was only 9 months during the height of the COVID panic. Still, Frank earned just shy of $53,000 which was more than he’d made at any in-house role. For 2022, we’re on track to exceed $170,000 at EOY with a 75% client retention rate and a 20% operating cost. Big chats are coming in Q4 and we are stoked!
We’re in the early stages of exploring opportunities with municipalities. Social platforms have gained so much traction across generations and are heavily underutilized as a way to keep IRL communities in touch with those who run the place. We had a very successful partnership helping our now-mayor win her election on a small budget – hyper-local targeting (often as little as a 1-mile radius) with key campaign points presented to the most-receptive audience resulted in visibility of nearly 3X per person of voting age in the district.
The work we’re most proud of to date is the #VeryMerryMemories holiday series for a senior caregiving client. We conducted more than 30 interviews with residents across the state and reached 47,719 people with zero dollars of ad spend in six weeks. One resident passed away shortly after being featured and her family asked for the artwork to display at her memorial service.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Every single day we make time for gratitude, especially when something is going off the rails. It seems cheesy but flexibility and financial stability haven’t always been a given for us. Social Burro gifted us that and it will never be taken for granted. Sure, there are a lot of “shoulds” that come with the entrepreneur label but overall we are so much healthier and happier, and our marriage has never been stronger. We are pushing hard toward the four-day workweek and have made it a “company policy” to spend at least one day every weekend together just doing silly, fun things.
Our biggest ace in the sleeve is that we love learning. Shaping our careers around our actual skills and interests (vs “SMART goals” that never address true competencies) far outweighed the “What Ifs”. From day one we made continued education part of the budget. Udemy and General Assembly are two of our favorite resources for fast skill-building. In 2021, Frank completed the Digital Brand Management program through OSU’s online campus. Alyson is currently working on a Brand Management certification through eCornell.
Our last two pieces of advice are short and simple:
1) Before you start something, accept that “working for yourself” is not the same as owning a business. Be sure you’re ready for the hard decisions.
2) Make time to work on your business, not just on it. Being in the weeds 24/7 means never seeing the big picture – or the next big opportunity.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We are very protective of our complete tech stack. However, the most crucial tools are:
- Dual Raid NAS server for complete control over assets
- Tri-Band WiFi router to separate networks for better protection
- Google Sheets for managing and tracking all paid ads
- SocialBee.io scheduler for ultimate flexibility and approval workflows
(Use our referral link for a 14-day free trial)
- Canva Pro for budget-friendly image and graphic creation (as art school kids who still have Adobe CS2 disks … this was a hard swap but it’s truly a powerhouse when used as a tool for brand management)
- Agency Analytics for fully-custom client dashboards with 24/7 updating
(Get 50% off 30 days with our Promo Code: AA_PARTNER_196237)
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
- Entrepreneur Magazine
- Financial Times
- Marketing Brew newsletter
- Social Burro Brand Voice Guide (Alyson made him work through it for 9 hours until it was perfect)
- Grammar Girl’s Quick & Dirty Tips for Better Writing
- The AP Style Book, 55th edition
- The Atlantic
- Fast Company
Dystopian fiction novels (forces me to rethink every assumption)
Science Vs podcast (great for upskilling critical thinking)
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
We’ve learned so much and it just keeps going. Here are our top 10:
- Buy bluelight-blocking glasses – even the cheapos from Amazon will save you hours of literal headaches
- Trust your gut and remember that no one will ever be more invested in your company than you; manage others (and yourself) accordingly
- Always always tip your service industry folks well; we’ve ALL been there
- Buy margin where you can – you only have 24 hours in a single day and you deserve to outsource tasks that drain your energy. (HUGE shoutout to Tom, our Laundry Extraordinaire at SudShare)
- Internalize the statement “Perception is your biggest competition”
- Offer coffee chats for free; it’s worth $8 to know if you can work together long-term
- Find a way to give back – Frank created r/AshevilleBeer as a place for WNC craft breweries to connect with beer-lovers and promote themselves for free
- Show up in the industries where you want to work; join a Chamber of Commerce or other professional group and volunteer value before cold calling
- Prioritize the cost of a CPA before tax season hits; there are so many hidden aspects of business expenses and that knowledge is vital to maintaining positive cash flow
- Make a list of all the people who’ve ever vouched for you – it will become clear that you have something special to offer even when you can’t see it yourself
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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