Monday, November 23, 2015

How She Started Her Social Media Business

by Marie Bradby

Nicole Pullen started her social media marketing firm, Harper Alliance, in April 2015 — less than a year ago. And from the get-go, she says business has been amazing. She feels she’s finally found...

her niche.

“I was getting interested in how you can make a living as a blogger,” says Nicole, 34, who over the past decade has had stints as a medical coder and transcriptionist, a freelance news photographer, and a portrait photographer. “I started freelancing for a local social media firm and worked for them for a few years. I gained experience and went out on my own. I started seeing there was a need for guidance for small local businesses that had small budgets.”

Nicole’s boutique firm provides social media management as well as training so clients can do their own online marketing.

By the fall of 2015, she was teaching a social media marketing class for small businesses at Bellarmine University, showing participants how to use Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms. “I had people break out their phones and take pictures and talked them through how to edit,” she says.

What did you do before you started this business?
I went to school to be a medical coder and transcriptionist, but that job wasn’t for me. I am passionate about people. That’s when I started doing freelance photography for the Courier-Journal and Leo. I am a self-taught photographer. I learned while working for a portrait studio. I still do portrait photography on the side. I love to capture people.

What led you to create Harper Alliance?
A friend was starting a business, and I guided her through the social media channels — what hashtag to use and how she should interact on social media. I even helped her get her jewelry on the news and into boutiques. She said, ‘You should help new businesses do this.’ She planted the seed.

Why is having an online presence so important?
Many mom-and-pop businesses that I deal with don’t have big budgets, but they still need to be on social media. It’s vital. It’s their Yellow Pages, which no one uses anymore. People go to Google to check things out.

One client, a physician, was moving back to Louisville. When she did searches online, it was showing information for her old firm. Patients couldn’t find where she was located. She didn’t know how to get out of that. I said, ‘I can do that for you.’ She is a fabulous, wonderful doctor, but there was no place for people to do reviews. We also put all her pre-certification forms for new patients online. They could fill it out online or print it out and bring it with them. Traffic flow in her office is so much smoother now.

What is the importance of online reviews?
If you have a good experience, you want to sing that to the highest levels. Even if you have a bad experience, you want to put that out there, too. I teach people how to deal with that. You can learn from your negative reviews. People want to hide them, but if it’s a true authentic review, you should rectify the situation. It builds trust.

What risks did you take to start this business?
I left a really nice freelance position at a social media company. It was scary. I had no clients. I left all my accounts behind because I had a noncompete clause. I was starting from scratch.

What hurdles did you have to overcome?
My main problem is explaining to people what I do and how I can help them. Often people can’t understand what social media can do for their business and how you can use it to draw in more customers.

Another thing is that I am a small business, and I’m new. It’s hard for people to hear about me. If they go to Google, they will see the large firms first. The large firms tune out the small businesses with small budgets.

How did your vision compare to reality?
I didn’t realize the large demand for small businesses who wanted to keep social media marketing in-house and learn how to do it themselves. I do more training than outsourcing. I have Arbonne and Avon clients, physicians, and others who want to learn how to do their own social media.

What have other social media professionals overlooked?
The human side — that’s what helps bring people to you. Many posts are too commercial. Not everything has to be an ad. It’s a turn-off. You become a spammer. You are not projecting the message of your business. You are just promoting a sale, and people tune that out.

What’s the significance of the name Harper Alliance?
I have three boys, ages 12, 5, and a 20-month-old. I’ve always wanted a little girl and to name her Harper. So this is my baby, my little girl that I help succeed in the world.

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