Nichole Kelly is the President of SME Digital, the digital marketing division of Social Media Explorer. Her team helps companies figure out where social media fits, and then, helps execute the recommended strategy across the “right” mix of social media channels.
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- Your Big Idea: Successful Entrepreneurs have One Big Idea. Follow JLD’s FREE training & you’ll discover Your Big Idea in less than an hour!
- “Failure is not an option.” – Unknown
- Nichole was working at a corporation where she was given an option… give up social media or be terminated. Well, as you can probably guess by the name of her company, Social Media Explorer, she chose termination!
Entrepreneurial AHA Moment
- Nichole has been blessed with a number of AHA moments. The one she shares with Fire Nation is inspiring for Entrepreneurs in every industry… tune in!
- Nichole likes BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), and wow, does she ever share a doozy with us here!
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John Lee Dumas: Okay. Let’s get started. I am simply thrilled to introduce my guest today, Nichole Kelly. Nichole, are you prepared to ignite?
Nichole Kelly: I am ready to ignite!
John Lee Dumas: Alright! Nichole is the President of SME Digital, the Digital Marketing Division of Social Media Explorer. Her team helps companies figure out where social media fits, and then helps execute the recommended strategy across the right mix of social media channels.
I’ve given Fire Nation a little overview, Nichole, but why don’t you take a minute. Tell us about you personally, and then talk about your business.
Nichole Kelly: Absolutely! Well, I kind of started my career in the corporate world actually. I spent 15 years in corporate marketing, dealing with executives and a very, very male-driven environment. I worked for a lot of big companies that had a lot of men at the top. That was a really great experience for me and I decided that it was better to start out kind of doing something on my own because what I was finding is that the corporate culture wasn’t giving me the culture that I wanted to grow personally and professionally. So that’s why I started SME Digital. On a personal note, just so you understand a little bit about my background, I am a mom. I have three lovely children. I have two boys and a little girl who is 15 months old and my boys are actually 14 and 12. So I actually started over around the same time that I started this business, and that certainly led to a few challenges from time management as I got started.
John Lee Dumas: Absolutely, Nichole! I definitely look forward to delving more into all those aspects later in the interview. But before we do, let’s get into our first real topic here at EntrepreneurOnFire, and that is the success quote. We love getting the motivational ball rolling and we love getting Fire Nation excited for the content that you have for us today. So Nichole, what do you have for Fire Nation?
Nichole Kelly: So my success quote is “failure is not an option.” It is something that has driven me from a very, very young age. I overcame a lot as I grew in my career, which I know we will get into later, but my whole philosophy on life is that you never stop. There are no excuses. If you do have a failure, it’s not a failure because you use it as a learning opportunity, as a step towards the next thing, and that really is truly what drives me as an individual.
John Lee Dumas: Such a great mentality for entrepreneurs in general to have, but can you take that mentality, Nichole, and really share with us a time where you applied that to your life, to your journey?
Nichole Kelly: Yes. Absolutely. So it’s actually interesting because when I started SME Digital, I was faced with a challenge. That challenge was I was seven-and-a-half months pregnant with my daughter, I had been working in Corporate America for about 15 years, and I was presented with a challenge and an opportunity, I will say, from my boss at the time, and I was told that I either had to shut down my website and all of my social media channels or I was going to be terminated. As a social media person, obviously, I had a lot of time and energy, personal time and energy outside of the workplace invested in my brand and what I was doing from a social perspective, but personally, I was in a situation where I was seven-and-a-half months pregnant, I was unemployable, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to get another job because no one’s going to hire you when you’re going to deliver in the next two months, and I had to make a really tough choice, and it was am I going to stay true to who I am as an individual and to my brand and what’s important to me, or am I going to let this organization basically strip it all away from me? I kind of said life gives you that “are you sure button” every once in a while, and I said, “You know what? I am sure and I’m going to start this business. I know I’m seven-and-a-half months pregnant. I’m probably not going to get a maternity leave, but it’s the right thing for me to do,” and I literally worked tirelessly at a very challenging time in my life and really built up an agency that I’m very proud of.
John Lee Dumas: Wow! Well just to really clarify, did your company just across the board say, “Okay, nobody period is allowed to have any social media” or were you singled out for that?
Nichole Kelly: I was not aware that everybody was asked. I know that I was particularly asked. It was a little awkward because I was the Social Media Director, so that was my job. I was hired for my personal brand and stuff like that. Basically, there was a lot of stuff around why they felt like it was a conflict of interest and there’s a lot of stuff put on me that I felt was a little bit sketchy, but I had a choice. I could either use that as something that was going to tear me down or I could use it as something that was going to build me up, and I decided to go with the latter.
John Lee Dumas: I love that, Nichole. That’s just a perfect transition to our next topic, which is failure, which are challenges, which are obstacles that we as entrepreneurs face every single day. You’ve already shared with us such a challenging situation that you were recently in and how you overcame that. Can you go back to another point in your journey where you just really failed or you just really came across a challenge that you had to overcome and share that and how you overcame that obstacle with Fire Nation?
Nichole Kelly: Absolutely. So I was in a situation where I was, again, a corporate employee. I was in an organization that the leadership wasn’t as innovative as my spirit tends to be and I was really trying to kind of push the envelope on moving that organization forward, and everywhere that I went, I kind of hit these roadblocks, right? And it was like, no, we can’t do this because of this and no, we can’t do this because of this. I’m more of the mentality of I always say it’s yes. The correct answer is “Yes, but…” Yes, that’s a good idea and yes, we should do that, but here are some challenges and let’s figure out a way to overcome them, and I was always faced with this constant negativity. One of those was actually around social media and the organization. It was back in 2008, 2009, so social media was really just kind of starting to take hold in the business world and one of the challenges that I had was they would not invest in social media unless I could prove that there was an ROI. And at that time, I mean you can imagine that tracking tools weren’t as sophisticated. Really, everyone was kind of Kumbaya, let’s stand around a fire and roast marshmallows together in social. So really, the business drivers haven’t yet really been discovered.
And so I was kind of upset about it and I really, really wanted to make a difference in social. So I decided that you know what? That everyone’s saying you can’t measure social media, you shouldn’t measure social media, it doesn’t relate to all of these other metrics in the business, and I said, “You know what? That’s just not an acceptable answer. As businesspeople and as employees of corporations, we have a responsibility to protect the bottom line,” and the only way that we’re ever going to sell social media through is if we can actually prove how it delivers on the bottom line and what that ROI is. So I did end up leaving that organization, but in the meantime, I started writing a lot about social media ROI, about where it fits into the business coming from a business perspective. Not the social media perspective. Social media is the tool. But I understand a lot about business, and so I started tying those two pieces together and it worked out really great because I developed a brand, I wrote a book on social medium measurement, it helped me to launch my company. And so I feel like it was a really good opportunity where someone was saying no and I turned it into a yes. Maybe not in that environment, but I turned it into a yes somewhere else that made sense.
John Lee Dumas: I love that, Nichole. That just makes so much sense on so many levels. It’s such a valuable lesson to just analyze exactly how you reacted to that situation. Let’s go now to the other end of the spectrum because you shared with us a couple of challenges and/or failures that you’ve had in the past. Now let’s go to the aha moment where every single day when you are just so involved in your industry, you’re having small aha moments that are inspiring you, that are propelling you to the next level, but every now and then at some point in our journey, we’ve had that really big light bulb that’s just come on and we just said, “Wow! This is going to resonate so well with me, with my clients, with my customers!” Can you share an aha moment that you’ve had?
Nichole Kelly: Absolutely. So I had a very interesting aha moment and it was actually while I was still a corporate employee and I hired Chris Brogan to do some work on a project that I was working on and we were out at dinner one night and we were having this conversation/debate about how he has always been so positive towards entrepreneurs, and I said, “Chris, it’s great that you’re so supportive of entrepreneurs, but you have to understand there are some of us like myself who just love working for big companies and we like being a corporate employee and it kind of looks like you’re dissing the corporate employees as that we’re not fulfilling our potential.” And he just said, “Well, Nichole, if I told you that you could build a business around a lifestyle that you actually want to live versus driving to your office at nine o’clock every morning and then fighting traffic every day on the way home, and that you could make three times as much money doing exactly what you love to do in a lifestyle that you want to live, would you still be as passionate about being a corporate employee?” I said, “Well, no. How could I possibly be that passionate when you tell me something like that?”
When I dealt with that situation where I was being fired at seven-and-a-half months pregnant, I remembered that conversation and it was a huge impetus for me to make that decision because I said, “You know what? It is time for me to put myself as a priority, to build a lifestyle that we want as a family, and then to transition that into business.” I think those lines between what we want as individuals and personally and the structure of which our businesses are built are starting to really, really meld together. And so I actually hired a business coach and designed my entire company around the lifestyle that I want to live, and therefore, I want to offer that to my employees as well.
John Lee Dumas: So get a little more specific because we want to now go to the actions that you took after this aha moment. You said you hired a business coach. Tell us a little bit about that, and then a little bit more about the culture that you’ve created.
Nichole Kelly: So one of the things that I recognized early on is that I’m very honest about things that I’m not as smart as someone else in, and one of them was actually starting up and running a business. I had been a corporate employee for 15 years so there were parts of the business that I really had no exposure to. One of the things that I was most concerned about with starting a business was whether or not I can start a business that I actually want to be involved in for the long term, and the long term being 10, 20, 30 years because I think our culture these days, staying somewhere for that long is not the norm anymore. So I wanted to make sure that the company was built in a way that it would help me thrive professionally and personally. And so I hired a business coach that basically did a lot of personality testing and figuring out like what my wealth dynamics were and all of those kind of things, and he basically laid out a roadmap and said, “If you want to be able to thrive in this company and you want your employees to thrive under your leadership, then this is the structure you should use.” One of those was you don’t need a corporate office. Your definition of what a successful business looks like is very different than what the traditional business model is, and it’s okay that your model is very different. It doesn’t mean you can’t be successful. So accept and embrace the model that you want. Don’t try to force yourself to be in that corporate environment that isn’t going to allow you to flourish.
So one of the things that I actually did as a result of that is I made a strategic decision that all of our employees would work virtually and we aren’t going to have a big corporate office with huge conference rooms and all of that kind of stuff because I don’t want to drive to the office every morning and I don’t think that my employees should have to drive to the office every morning. In addition, like one of my big goals in life is that I want to go to Mexico and I want to spend 6 months and immerse myself in the culture and learn Spanish, but I still want to be able to run my business while I do that. And so building out our company in a virtual environment allows me to fulfill that dream, but it also extends that kind of dream to all of our employees that want to be able to travel and have life experiences and don’t want to wait until they retire to live their life, but want to be able to live their life now but still be able to earn a good living doing it.
John Lee Dumas: That’s exciting, and a lot of things of what you’re saying is really inspiring because I just really see that is where the ball is rolling in this new entrepreneurial virtual world and it’s really exciting to see people like yourself taking the lead, setting the precedence, setting the example, and I love hearing about some of your passions too, Nichole. I mean for myself, after my career in the Army, I took off. I moved to Guatemala for 4 months, lived with a family, learned Spanish. It was an amazing, amazing time, and I think that you will definitely get so much out of immersing yourself in a culture like that. I want to go back real quick to you talking about Chris Brogan. He’s such a great guy. We’ve had him on the show very recently. He’s just really gave us some awesome insights along the lines of what you were talking about and he himself has recently started a podcast and just released his book “The Impact Equation” about social media. Very good stuff. Have you continued to engage Chris Brogan with your new business?
Nichole Kelly: I mean Chris and I, we see each other at events and we certainly hang out when we’re at the events. What I really love about Chris is that he really is one of those innovative minds. And so if you can ever have a conversation with him over a cup of coffee or a beer and just hear his perspective on the world, it’s so unique, and for me, it was just so motivating. So we certainly see each other at events and things like that. Definitely, we don’t get to keep up as much as I think either one of us would like. We’re both busy running our own businesses so every opportunity that we get to kind of hang out and have a nice chat, it’s definitely very interesting, and I think that we’ve seen each other in both places. Like the last time I saw him was right after I started the company. It was at BlogWorld in L.A. last year. He just came up and he said, “You know, Nichole, you just look so happy. You just are glowing. You’re smiling and you’re happy. It is such a different perspective seeing you this way versus how you used to be,” which was interesting to me because I never thought that I was unhappy in corporate world and I always have been kind of an outgoing personality and all of that kind of stuff, but for him to see that in me showed me that I have made the right choice and that I was doing the right thing for myself but also making a difference in the business world at the same time.
John Lee Dumas: Well on that note, Nichole, have you had an I’ve made it moment?
Nichole Kelly: I have not yet had my I’ve made it moment. My I’ve made it moment is – and this is because I dream too big – probably, I probably should have smaller I’ve made it moments, but my I’ve made it moment is after I’ve spent that 6 months in Mexico and I’ve come back and I’m fluent in Spanish and my business is still running and I was able to work while I was over there and my teams are still flourishing. That’s when I’m going to be able to say, “You know what? I’ve built something. I’ve built a culture. I’ve built this in a way that I don’t have to necessarily have my hand in every pot. My teams are strong and they’re very independent and they can operate on their own and just call me when they need something.” That’s when I know that I feel that I will have made it.
John Lee Dumas: Well as Jim Collins would say, that is your “BHAG,” your Big Hairy Audacious Goal.
Nichole Kelly: That’s right.
John Lee Dumas: So it’s so important to have those. I’m so glad you do. Too few people have those BHAGs. We should all have one way out there, but at the same time, Nichole, you’re completely right. You really should be having these little I’ve made it moments along the way too because it’s about the journey and EntrepreneurOnFire, we stress the journey. You should be setting these little goals for yourself that you are just achieving and then appreciating what you’ve come because you’re creating something very special. You’re impacting a lot of people. You need to make sure that you’re enjoying that along the way, and it does sound like to some degree you are, so I commend you for that. Again, it’s all about the journey.
Nichole Kelly: That’s right, that’s right. I mean I definitely have seen small successes along the way that we celebrate. We’ve won some very large accounts that we worked really hard at and we’ve seen 400% growth year over year. We’re definitely meeting those milestones and I think that there are business goals and things that are important for you as an entrepreneur inside of your business and I think that those are your short term – 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, two year goals. And then there’s that big thing that for you as an individual that fulfills you. So Mexico for me is that personal goal, and from a business goal, we’re working our way towards building – I want to build a $100 million agency.
John Lee Dumas: Again, a great goal. I know you’ll achieve that. Let’s use that to move into the next topic, which is your current business, Nichole. You have a lot of things going on in a lot of different directions, but you’re all focused on the one end goal. What is one thing that’s really exciting you right now?
Nichole Kelly: What really excites me and what I love most about the way that I’ve built this company is that we are – I mean for lack of a better term, we’re an agency. So you could compare us to all of the digital marketing or advertising agencies that are out there, but we approach things very differently. I think that because I have been in corporate marketing and I’ve been in the shoes of every one of my clients, I know how important it is that their reputation for hiring us, that they look like a rock star for bringing in amazing people to help them on this journey towards whatever project they have.
So our approach is a little bit different in that respect, but also because I hired so many agencies before and I saw the quality of work coming back, I really pride myself on that. We really work hard at delivering value, of what’s important to the business, and I think that sometimes that’s different than what they come to the table asking us for, but we’re able to recognize that okay, this is what you’re saying you want. Like people come to us and they say, “We want a Facebook page,” and as we explore why they want a Facebook page and what they want to do with that Facebook page, many times we uncover that there are other business goals that they’re trying to achieve.
So I think the level of work that we do, the quality of work that we do, and the fact that our clients are very happy with our services and they are constantly saying how happy and how great of a job we did, how much that actually impacted their career. That at the end of the day, my job is to make my clients – help them get promoted and make them look like rock stars, and I want to see my clients running companies. I want to see them getting promoted into the CEO position in their company, and so we do a level of work that makes them look awesome.
John Lee Dumas: Nichole, no two days look identical for you. Absolutely, that’s just the life of an entrepreneur. That’s how it is.
Nichole Kelly: Right.
John Lee Dumas: Can you tell us two tasks that do seem to occupy a good portion of your day, every day?
Nichole Kelly: There are two primary tasks. So the first is writing client strategies and doing client research. So a lot of times, my head is down and I’m in my computer documenting strategies for clients. And then the other big one is new business development. So I do a lot of prospecting calls, figuring out if we’re a good fit for somebody. Just figuring out what people’s needs are, whether or not we’re a good fit, and then passing that along for any kind of proposal status. So I would say that those are the two big things that take up most of my day.
John Lee Dumas: So what is the near term vision you have for Social Media Explorer?
Nichole Kelly: Well, I really want to make a difference in terms of where marketers are viewed in the organization. There was a stat that actually came out – I guess it was about a year ago now – that said that 73% of CEOs feel that marketers lack business credibility. That really rubbed me the wrong way because I know a lot of brilliant and smart marketers. I started thinking about it and I said, “How many CEOs do you know that come from a CMO position or any kind of a marketing position?” If you start thinking about the companies that you know, especially these bigger companies, CEOs tend to get hired from either a CFO position or in the Finance department or from Technology. A lot of software companies hire their CEOs as they used to be one of their primary developers. I said, “You know what? My vision is that we are going to help transform how marketers are viewed in business, and I want to have an impact on the number of CEOs who came from marketing positions.”
John Lee Dumas: So Nichole, we’ve now reached my favorite part of the show. We’re about to enter the Lightning Round. This is where I get to provide you with a series of questions and you can come back at us, Fire Nation, with amazing and mind-blowing answers. Does that sound like a plan?
Nichole Kelly: That sounds like a plan!
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] Alright! What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Nichole Kelly: Having enough faith in myself and my ability to succeed. I was always taking risks with other people’s money. And now I get to take risk with my own money.
John Lee Dumas: How is that different?
Nichole Kelly: Well, I think it’s different because when it’s your own pocket that it’s affecting, I think you tend to be more risk adverse. So understanding how decisions are made based on risk versus reward and being able to do that analysis and make good decisions for business is very different as an entrepreneur than it was when I was a corporate employee because it was like yes, I’m willing to like risk that $200,000 of my budget. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Now, I’m like looking at the $200,000 expense and saying, “Okay, is this going to kill my business or not and is it worth it?”
John Lee Dumas: Absolutely. What is the best business advice that you ever received?
Nichole Kelly: Mine is your business doesn’t have to fit the corporate mold, and that came from Giovanni Cavalieri.
John Lee Dumas: What is something that’s working for you or your business right now?
Nichole Kelly: So this is interesting, and this ties into kind of personal and professional. So one of the things that I was trying to do is I was trying to balance fitness into my life, and being an entrepreneur, as you imagine, we work ridiculous hours and we’re up early and we’re working late, and so I actually bought a TrekDesk. So I stand and walk on a treadmill while I work all day long and I’m walking anywhere from 6 to 10 miles a day while I’m working so that I can fit exercise in, and it has made me so much more productive than I ever was before.
John Lee Dumas: Okay. We’re going to have to talk about this a little bit because I love the idea of this TrekDesk. I have been researching a little bit about it. I’m trying to figure out how can I really make this happen while I’m interviewing. Can I really be typing and surf the Internet while I’m walking? Talk to us about it. We have a couple of minutes here. I want to hear about this.
Nichole Kelly: Okay. So I was just like you. I saw it at BlogWorld, New York and I was like, “That’s a really cool idea,” but I was like, “Oh, I don’t know if I’ll be able to talk and will I get out of breath when I’m on because I do a lot of conference calls and will they be able to hear the treadmill in the background? So I actually talked to Jay Baer about it and Jay was like, “It is the best thing that I’ve ever done. You walk slow. It’s not like you’re walking fast.” He’s like, “You start out at like one mile an hour,” which literally is so slow you almost trip over yourself because it’s so slow. He said that he basically was increasing it until he got up to two-and-a-half miles an hour and he walks at two-and-a-half miles an hour now and doesn’t even notice. I was like, “Alright! So I’m going to do it!” I started at a mile an hour. I’m up to 1.8 miles an hour now. I’ve walked over 220 miles since I got it in September and I feel really good. One thing that’s interesting is I think that while you’re walking and working, first of all, I can type, I can have a conversation. Sometimes I have to slow the treadmill down if I’m talking a lot because I get really excited and then I might start getting out of breath, but I just slow the treadmill down a little bit.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs]
Nichole Kelly: [Laughs] But the big thing is I think that there is a connection that’s made when you’re actually in motion with your brain, and I find that I think clearer, I come up with better ideas, I document them clearly when I’m actually doing some kind of an activity, and so I think it’s actually improved my work as well.
John Lee Dumas: Wow! Now if you have to sit down, is there a way to kind of move things down or is it always a standing function?
Nichole Kelly: This is always a standing function, but I have another. I still have my old desk that I can sit at if I actually want to sit at a desk, but I can’t even imagine like walking over there and sitting down to work. Like it feels unnatural now.
John Lee Dumas: Right, right. It’s all about acclimating. I love it! I’m going to link this up in the show notes. What is the website that you got this from? The name of the company?
Nichole Kelly: It’s TrekDesk, and it’s TrekDesk.com.
John Lee Dumas: I love it! Thank you for that.
Nichole Kelly: You’re welcome!
John Lee Dumas: This is actually interesting because it’s going along the same lines of a resource that you’re going to recommend, but that was just such a great one, we’re going to just use that to move into what’s an Internet resource that you’re in love with like an Evernote that you can recommend to Fire Nation right now?
Nichole Kelly: I just actually downloaded Rappel on my iPhone which syncs at Basecamp, and so I can add tasks, I can view – project management is a huge part of our business and understanding where we are with client deliverables is a big deal for us. So being able to, on my phone, add tasks, review comments, see files that have been uploaded off of my phone or my iPad is huge.
John Lee Dumas: What is your favorite business book?
Nichole Kelly: I actually just had this one recommended to me and it’s called “The Win Without Pitching Manifesto” by Blair Enns. Tamsen Webster recommended it to me. It’s just a whole new approach to looking at how you value, how your clients value the work that you do and how you do pricing from an agency perspective, and so it’s been very, very enlightening.
John Lee Dumas: Awesome, Nichole! We will link that up in the show notes as well. This brings us to our last question, which just happens to be my favorite. So take your time because it’s kind of tricky. If you woke up tomorrow morning in a brand new world, identical to earth, but you knew nobody. You still have all the experience and all the knowledge you currently have, $500, an Internet connection with a laptop, and all your food and shelter is taken care of. What would you do in the next seven days?
Nichole Kelly: Wow! That’s a really good question! [Laughs]
John Lee Dumas: Think about it.
Nichole Kelly: Yes. I would say in the next seven days, I would – well first of all I have Internet access, so I think that I would definitely start a website of some kind with a blog so I could document my journey and things that we’re going on, and I would find a way to listen to the conversation of the world to figure out where I fit in.
John Lee Dumas: I think you’d be in trouble because I’m probably guessing that TrekDesk is more than $500, right?
Nichole Kelly: [Laughs] No. It’s only $479.
John Lee Dumas: Wow! So that would be your budget right there.
Nichole Kelly: That’s it, that’s it.
John Lee Dumas: Awesome, Nichole! You’ve given us some great actionable advice and we are all better for it. Give Fire Nation one parting piece of guidance, then give yourself a plug, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Nichole Kelly: Thank you! Well, my one piece of advice is to look at how you can break the mold in whatever industry that you are. Don’t follow someone else’s rules. Create your own. Again, I’m Nichole Kelly from SME Digital. We are the digital agency that understands your bottom line.
John Lee Dumas: Boom! We will link that up in the show notes as well. Thank you so much, Nichole. Fire Nation, we salute you, and we’ll catch you on the flipside.