Nicole is the founder and CEO of Thrive Collective Co. Nicole and her team help startups and small businesses to grow and convert customers on social media. She helps people improve their social media strategy, stand out among competitors, market effectively and sell strategically so they can grow and increase profit from social media.
In this episode, we talk about how Nicole started her agency, and some of the successes, failures, and learnings she’s had as a relatively new agency owner.
Learn more about Nicole and Thrive Collective at https://thrivecollectiveco.com/
Learn more about Socialistics at www.socialistics.com
Jason Yormark: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Socialistics, social media agency stories. I am Jason Yormark, owner, and founder of Socialistics. And I am excited about our guest today. Her name is Nicole Hamzeloo and she is the CEO of thrive collective company. And she owns a relatively new agency. She’s about where we were a couple years ago. So I’m fascinated by where she’s at right now and can certainly relate to a lot of the things that she’s going through. So we’re going to talk about what that looks like. So if you’re an agency owner or thinking about starting an agency, this will be a great episode for you. So Nicole, welcome to the show.
Nicole Hamzeloo: Thank you so much for having me.
Jason Yormark: Absolutely. So like with all my guests, let’s just going to jump right in. Tell me a little bit about you, your background, pre business owner, agency owner, and how that came to be.
Nicole Hamzeloo: Yeah, definitely. So I went to school for business, so I went to Indiana university got a marketing and finance degree and, you know, out of college, I kind of just expected to, I didn’t necessarily have a plan of where I wanted to work. I just knew like business is kind of something that I could cover a lot of different areas. So I was just thinking though, you know, I was going to climb the corporate ladder, kind of do that whole thing. And I really envisioned working for medium to big companies and just kind of moving my way up. And I ended up getting a position starting at a media agency. So they did paid media for, you know, different medium companies, I would say medium to bake companies more focused on digital, but also they’d did a lot of traditional media buying and planning and everything like that. So got my start there. And that was kind of my first introduction into the agency lifestyle, the agency world. I had obviously an entry level position there, so didn’t really necessarily have a lot of contact with those clients or anything like that. And then from there, I ended up each time, I worked for a few different companies before starting my own, and I would always find myself moving to a smaller and smaller company as I kept getting new positions. And I really liked that more. I liked working with a smaller teams working with less people, and I think it just provided a lot more transparency and I felt more responsible for the clients. I felt like I had a little bit more say in what was going on. And so I liked that part of it. And I think that’s when I really started to see like, oh, maybe this is something that I want to do. I just kept wanting to have more responsibility to do more and to kind of have more of that on autonomy with the work that I was doing rather than necessarily reporting to someone else, I felt like I wanted to own it a little bit more. And so from there, that’s when I, you know, the last company I was at was only about eight full-time people. And so that was the smallest company I worked for. Really got to see the ins and outs of what a small agency looks like. They wore a lot of different hats there too. So didn’t just do the role that I kind of came in to do, but I was able to actually kind of leave a little bit of a foot print I feel like when I worked there and then COVID happened and since they were a small agency and it was really unexpected and that uncertainty was something that they couldn’t necessarily really handle. Then I was laid off in that position. And then from there, that’s when I kind of knew at that point that I wanted to kind of go off on my own just because like I’d been saying before that was becoming more appealing to me owning more of like my own position and doing more with clients.
Jason Yormark: Okay. So tell me a little about that transition when you, Well, it sounds like in your particular case, kind of your circumstances kind of pushed you over the top. Had you already started to build something or you were kind of let go and you were starting from scratch. What did that leap look like?
Nicole Hamzeloo: Yeah, so it was completely from scratch since it was really unexpected. You know, before I was laid off, I had done a few different freelancing things like that because I just, when I worked for other companies, I always had a lot of free time and I was always kind of searching for like, what do I really want to be doing? Like trying different things. I was really exploratory. And I had a lot of time because some of my companies, they just didn’t give me enough work. And so I was finding myself kind of searching for other things to do. So I did a few freelancing things. None of them are necessarily related to social media or even the jobs that I was doing was a little bit more writing and email and things like that. So I had kind of dipped my toe in, but it was not anything official, nothing was really set up in terms of like an actual agency or long term. So I was, you know, thinking maybe at the end of 2020, maybe starting 2021, I would kind of be more in a position to leave my job. And I was kind of starting to think about it, but I hadn’t actually put any steps in place in terms of creating the agency when I was laid off. So I was completely from scratch. It was more just the desire to start a business rather than actually having anything in place.
Jason Yormark: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting. So, I’m writing a book and ironically there’s a chapter that I was working on prior to our conversation is about starting a runway, like for a lot of people, most people don’t have, you know, unlimited resources and connections to kind of launch a business. So we’re all kind of, you know, starting from scratch. And I talk about the importance of starting a runway, like most people that are wired entrepreneurly you know, are thinking about that. So even though in your particular case, yeah, you, you were starting from scratch, but it sounds like the seed was already planted in your head. Like you had started to think about, you know, what could this look like? So there is work that, you know, that happens before you kind of take that leap. So if anybody’s listening, that’s starting an agency or in the beginning, like you are thinking about doing that, like just, you know, get the ball rolling. It takes time to kind of build something up. And if you’ve got kind of a, a business already in movement, it certainly can make it easier to take that leap, you know, sometimes like in your case, sometimes you don’t have a choice, you kind of get thrusted into that. But if you had, you know, if you had had something that was already in motion, it can make it a lot easier. So, you pretty much started from scratch. What were some of the biggest challenges for you in starting an agency from scratch? Like how did you kind of scratch and claw to get your first couple clients? Like what was really some of the most challenging things that were there for you to kind of create something and not only create something, but be able to stick with it?
Nicole Hamzeloo: Yeah. So I would say some of the biggest challenges is number one kind of starting from that ground zero, I felt like a lot of pressure to make things happen fast. Whereas if I had things in place or had maybe a couple clients before leaving my position, I would’ve not felt as like frantic, I guess. So I definitely felt that pressure to like, make things happen very, very fast. And so it was a lot of, that was a big challenge for me is just realizing that, you know, I didn’t need to, I didn’t need to move as fast as I was necessarily thinking, and I would rather build it right. And build it the way that I want it, rather than just kind of like taking anyone on or like doing, you know, kind of being in more of this frantic energy. So definitely that was like taking the key to like kind of slow down. Like, you know, you do have some time, you do some space to kind of do this the right way and do it the way you want, even though I didn’t necessarily have things in place. So that was one of the challenges for me. And then another thing was, I didn’t necessarily come a hundred percent from the social media world. Like at the other positions I had it wasn’t strictly social media. It was a lot of other types of media as well. And so really feeling confident to be able to take on those social media clients specifically was something that I kind of worked on and, you know, I probably undercharged myself and things like that. And, you know, I have to realize that I had more expertise than I was kind of presenting maybe at first, when I first got those clients. So kind of working with the wrong people, over working myself to doing things that I didn’t necessarily shouldn’t necessarily be doing. And that was something that was maybe below what I was capable of. So that’s another challenge that, or like, I guess just lesson that I kind of learned going through it is, and I think most people kind of go through that at the beginning where you’re undercharging or working with people that you necessarily, don’t necessarily aren’t a good fit for you.
Jason Yormark: So how far along are you now? How long has the business been in existence?
Nicole Hamzeloo: We’re a little bit over six months now. So still pretty, pretty new.
Jason Yormark: Okay. So what are your biggest challenges now? Like what do the next six months look like for you? Where do you want to be? What do you work kind of working towards?
Nicole Hamzeloo: Yeah, so I would say the two biggest challenges are going to be team. So I’ve never really managed people very much before. That’s never been something that I got that was never a point that I got to in my positions at the other companies I worked at, it was a much more like team oriented, you know, no one really was like above anyone else at the last place that I worked at besides the owners. And so that is number one is scaling and growing the team side of things. And how do I want the culture to look? And especially, I know you deal with this too, like being virtual, how do you still kind of create that culture and what does that look like and how do you get everyone on board, excited and moving in the same direction that you want to go? So that’ll be a challenge for me. I’ve just hired, I have two people now working for me, not full time, but I’m thinking that’ll probably grow in the next couple, six months here. And then the other thing is just, I think working with clients that I really want to work with. You know I’ve been consistent in getting clients for the most part, but it’s not always my ideal client. It’s not always exactly who I want to be working with. So I’m trying to be a little bit pickier moving forward and getting to work with the types of companies that I really want to work with. So finding those people, getting them on board and kind of shifting gears into not accepting everyone and kind of setting my boundaries, being clear about who I’m going to take, what kind of work I’m going to do and being a little bit clear on that. So kind of, I think potentially have to turn work away for the first time, just because of those types of standards that I’m going to set.
Jason Yormark: Yeah. That’s one of the things that I think, every agency owner kind of goes through is getting confident with saying no, you know, especially when you’re first starting out. So what’s been successful for you in terms of, you know, obviously you are a new business. So I’m guessing that, you know, a lot of people aren’t just finding you organically too often, so what’s been successful for you in terms of generating enough leads to kind of grow the business.
Nicole Hamzeloo: Yeah. So, I mean, it’s a little bit of a combination. You know, I was someone who was probably pretty terrified to go out there and like pitch myself kind of, and like share what I do and like just reach out to people. But you know, when you’re in that position of, there is not really another option, you have to get clients, you have to start making money for yourself to live basically because I was laid off. And I didn’t really have the option. I did do, like, I kind of tried a different variety of ways to like cold outreach people, whether that was through emails or DMS or you know, social media as a way to reach out to people. So that’s been fairly successful, but then another thing that’s been pretty successful is just utilizing networking. So I just, this year really have stepped more into, you know, at the beginning I was kind of more siloed and like very, just like bubble, like laser focus. And I didn’t really connect with people outside of my space. And I was just like really focusing on like building a business. And then I realized like, oh, I need to be like out there talking to people, connecting with people, utilizing people. And so I joined a few networking groups, some local, some national, and that’s been another really great way to just connect people. Cause I think you just build trust so much faster with people and people want to help and want to connect you with other people. That’s the whole point of networking groups and things like that. So they’re much more happy to step in and put themselves in a position to go out there and kind of do your job for you too. They’re on the lookout for you as well, not just yourself.
Jason Yormark: So, you know, what’s your ultimate goal? Like what do you, what are you trying to build? What does that look like for you? What’s your end game with this? Like, do you want to be, you know, just kind of like a solopreneur, boutique agency or are you like, Hey, I have an unlimited ceiling, I want this to get as big as it can get and you know, what are your hopes and dreams around the business?
Nicole Hamzeloo: Yeah. I mean, I definitely right now still see it as boutique. Like, you know, I think 10 to 20 contractors or employees working for me kind of being able to remove myself from the day in day out of the business. That’s kind of the ultimate goal for me. So I can have like, again, I think we’ve discussed this before too. Like the reason I started the business is to live my life, have that freedom to kind of have that flexibility and do things that I really want to do. And I’m someone who is very interested and curious in a lot of different things. And so I’m building this business to really be able to step back and explore other areas that I’m interested in and see just what else is out there. It may be that I realize that I want to have a more active role in the business. Maybe I do want to still focus on being more hands on with clients. But it could be that I find something else that I’m really interested or passionate about and I could still pursue other things and do other things in my life and have the business still running. And I still am managing the people and everything like that. But you know, maybe in five years that’ll be different. Maybe I’ll want to expand it and keep growing from there. But for now, what I see is more realistic in what I’m thinking. More for like the next five years is more of that boutique agency.
Jason Yormark: What in terms of like, if you were going to grade yourself, like where you’re at right now, are you at where you at hope to be at this point, have you exceeded expectations, under like kind of what do you see in terms of, you know, how you would kind of grade yourself in terms of where you’re at and how things have progressed?
Nicole Hamzeloo: Yeah. I mean, I’m pretty, I like to have high expectations. I’m someone who likes to move really, really fast. And so I probably never meet my expectations. I always have higher goals for myself than I really reach. But that kind of keeps me pushing, I guess. I would say be like some things I kind of look back and I go, oh, wow! Like sometimes I think like I have come a really long way and I have accomplished a lot. And then sometimes of course, on the flip side, be like, but I could have done more. So I always go back and forth between that. So I would give myself a because I think you can always do better. You can always improve. So I’m happy where I’m at and I’m proud of where I’ve come from and how much I’ve accomplished in the past, like six months or so. But I always think that there is room for improvement.
Jason Yormark: On that note, what’s something that maybe sticks out that you would’ve done differently.
Nicole Hamzeloo: Potentially I think the one thing, and that’s something that I’m working on now, as like, as I know that I’m going to continue to grow and like hiring people and getting more clients it’s more of those systems and processes. So every client has kind of come to me and we, it’s a little bit of a different way that I work each client and I want to streamline it more. I want to have those systems and like, this is how we do things and this is the way it’s going to be and like, to make it easier for myself and for the new team that I am bringing in. And I think so that’s one thing that I think I could have set up better at the beginning and been more firm about like, this is the process that we go through this agency instead of kind of just being like, okay, we’ll do it the way that you want to do it.
Jason Yormark: So you talked a little bit about clients, I’m curious, you know, what does an ideal client look like for you?
Nicole Hamzeloo: So I primarily started in the B2B space, but something that I’ve always been interested in and the direction I’m looking to go is more in that food and beverage space. So I’m just someone who is always been a big foodie lover of food. I love to cook and bake and that’s always been like, one of my things that I love to do is like, I actually am someone who like loves going to the grocery store and loves kind of finding like new and unique brands and things like that. And kind of seeing, not just like the nutritional side of things, but also like what’s the brand about, what’s like kind of their story. I’m very interested in that and I always have been. And so I want to follow that interest. And now that I can, like I said, be a little bit pickier, hopefully moving forward, that’s really the direction I would like to go. And I think it’s just a little bit fits my personality and it’s more fun I think for me, at least like, I’m very, just, I think food and beverage is just like a fun space to be in.
Jason Yormark: Gotcha. Is most of your current clientele fall under that umbrella or is it that what you’re kind of striving to get a niche around?
Nicole Hamzeloo: Yeah, I’m striving to get a niche around it. Right now, I would still say it’s like 60% B2B and then the rest food.
Jason Yormark: Gotcha. What in terms of, you know, when I think about running our agency, one of the things that’s been interesting is just the evolution of process and technology and the things that we use to kind of help manage the business effectively. Is there any tool or RESO source that you’re using these days that just stands out, that’s been like an awesome revelation or addition to your business that’s helped you be more efficient or more profitable or anything that kind of stands out?
Nicole Hamzeloo: Yeah. So the tool that like, and again, it’s something that’s, it’s not super, super new but it has a pretty big learning curve and I’m still learning it, even though I’ve been using it already for months, it’s called click up. It’s like a project management software system and it’s great for, you can work with clients in it, but you can also work with your team in it. It can house a lot of things just on the business side of things. You’re able to segregate a lot of things. So like you can set up a folder for clients and only they can only see that folder. They can’t see the rest of your business stuff, even though your team maybe has access to that. So it’s just kind of like a one stop shop. I think their motto even is like an app to replace them all. So basically one place to house everything. And like I said, there’s a lot of capabilities that it has, and it is, there is a huge learning curve because there is so much that you can do with it. And it’s so customizable. But I think as I grow and as my team grows, it’s going to be a really great resource to keep things very streamlined, efficient, and to make sure things don’t fall through the cracks.
Jason Yormark: Gotcha, okay. Two part question. What is your absolute favorite thing about being an agency owner and the life that you have now, and then what is the least, what keeps you up at night? What’s stressful about it?
Nicole Hamzeloo: So, favorite part is definitely the flexibility that I have, like obviously, yes, I have deadlines for clients have to get my work done. But I can do it whenever I want to. You know, and I use that lightly because of course, like I said, things still have to get done. But I can work from home in my pajamas. I can go to the pool in the middle of the day. I can work out whenever I want. I get to like, you know, if I want to spend a couple hours making dinner, like I can do that. And I don’t have to worry about commuting and being like online from nine to five. So that’s definitely my favorite part. And that’s really, again, coming back to the reason why I decided to be a business owner in the first place, an entrepreneur in the first place. So that’s definitely my favorite part. And then, and you know, on second side of that, I think it’s fun. And it allows me to still be creative to do social media. So when you’re working with different clients, you kind of get a little bit of insight and you get to dip your toe into like a lot of different types of businesses. And so you get to see kind of what would it be like to run that type of business. So it’s kind of fun to see how different businesses run and what it would really kind of be like to have that type of business. So that’s another thing. Least favorite part is probably just worrying about the uncertainty and inconsistency of things. So, you know, a client potentially could always drop off and you don’t have necessarily a backup plan for it. And so it’s always a little bit, there’s always a little bit of level of that uncertainty and risk that goes along with it, which I think obviously probably subsides a little bit as you can get further into it because you’ll have more clients and you have a little bit, it’s probably easier for you to get more clients if one does kind of drop off. But I think that’s probably the least favorite part is that stability, which I know is kind of against what I said with the best part of it. But I think, you know, there’s, everyone always wants a little bit of that safety net. Everyone always wants to feel a little sense of security and you don’t necessarily have that as much when you have that business.
Jason Yormark: You’re preaching to the choir. I can certainly relate to all those things. Awesome. Well, anything that I didn’t ask you that you would like to add to the conversation around anything out.
Nicole Hamzeloo: I don’t think so. I mean, I just, I’m excited. I’m glad that we got to chat. I mean, I love talking to other business owners too, especially agency owners. So this is just like an area that I’m super interested in and I love everything about it since, you know, I came from the agency role that I decided to continue in it. So, something that I truly really enjoy.
Jason Yormark: Awesome. Awesome. And lastly, where can people learn more about you and or your agency?
Nicole Hamzeloo: Yes, definitely. So best place to find me is on social media. So Instagram and LinkedIn are my top platforms that I’m on. So I’m at thrive collective co on Instagram, and then you can find my company thrive collective co on LinkedIn or just my personal page, Nicole Hamzeloo, and then www.thrivecollectiveco.Com.
Jason Yormark: Awesome, Nicole, well, I am excited for you and your journey. Look forward to following that and staying in touch. Thank you so much for covering out some time and being on the show today.
Nicole Hamzeloo: Yeah, of course. Thank you so much again for having me.
Jason Yormark: You got it. Awesome. Well, that does it for this week’s episode of socialistic, like, subscribe, share all that good stuff. Thank you for listening. And we’ll catch you next time.
Jason is a 20+ year marketing veteran including time spent at Microsoft overseeing social media for Microsoft Advertising & Office for Mac. Once named to Forbes Power Social Media Influencers List, Jason is the owner and founder of Socialistics.