After spending years working in digital media, friends and colleagues Johanna Grange (left) and Carolyn Brundage (right) decided to take the ultimate leap of faith and put their knowledge to the test: They started their own social media firm, Oak Street Social, in 2014.
Less than a year later, the Chicago-based pair have garnered a reputable client roster (including Trump Hotels, Chicago fashion designer K. Amato, and local businesses like City Soles and Harry’s Velvet Room), and now have a staff of ten.
Here, we chat with Johanna and Carolyn about how they got their first clients, working as a team, and why they love their entrepreneurial lifestyle.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR FIRM, OAK ST. SOCIAL, AND THE WORK YOU DO.
Johanna: My partner and I, Carolyn Jarrett, built a boutique social media firm called Oak St. Social. We specialize in one thing…social media! We cater to small-medium sized business as well as start ups who value and understand social media but lack the bandwidth to do it and do it well on a daily basis. We create a strategic plan, direct an editorial-style photo shoot followed by copy/visual development that we execute for a myriad of different lifestyles here in Chicago and beyond. It will be our one-year anniversary come September!
WHAT WERE EACH OF YOU DOING BEFORE YOU STARTED OAK ST.?
Johanna: Carolyn and I worked together in the luxury spa sector selling digital advertising, managing social media and planning high-end influencer events. Right before we founded OSS, I was working with a start up out of Venice, CA selling to the restaurant industry in Chicago. Tech start-up to be exact. It was a lot of fun but I was ready for a bigger challenge.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO START YOUR BUSINESS?
Johanna: I knew I could trust my partner and I knew what I lacked she more than made up for in entrepreneurial smarts and strategic thinking. She is the creative ying to my sales-minded yang. (I just made that up!) I knew that with the volume of freelance projects I was taking on…something had to give and we were onto something!
Carolyn: I love being a business owner. As a woman and a mother, there’s no better way to navigate baseball games and doctors appointments paired with meetings and proposals than working for yourself. It allows me the freedom to design a life I love on my terms.
WHAT DREW YOU TO EACH OTHER AS BUSINESS PARTNERS?
Johanna: There is no one else in the world besides my husband who will serve it to me straight. Good, bad, indifferent and that laid the foundation for my trust and respect for her.
Carolyn: Johanna is the yin to my yang. She speaks up where I stay quiet. She’s direct when I’m polite. I’m creative and full of ideas while she’s someone who gets things done and can really be counted on to follow up and execute. I often tell clients that if you want results, Johanna is the person to hire. Who wouldn’t want all of that in a business partner
HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT FINDING YOUR FIRST CLIENTS?
Johanna: I dug into old rolodexes but more importantly, I drove around and wrote down the names of brands that I wanted to work with. Lifestyle brands, start ups, the really hungry entrepreneurs. I get that big time and it excites me.
HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGIES TO EMPLOY WITH EACH CLIENT?
Johanna: It depends on their needs and the channels that make the most sense for their brand and target demographic. Retail differs from fashion differs from travel differs from food/beverage. It’s never dull, tell you that!
Carolyn: We meet with clients and get to know their brands but often, there is, at least for me, just a visceral, gut reaction to what our clients share about what their brand is really about. I just get it, and it’s as if a light goes on and I start to feel very connected to who they are and what they want to accomplish.
WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU’VE LEARNED ABOUT KEEPING YOUR CLIENTS HAPPY?
Johanna: Telling them upfront what you can and cannot do for them, openly and honestly. Then exceed their expectations and stay agile – response time is everything!
Carolyn: This is something I’ve learned from Johanna… the truth hurts but give it to us anyway. We like no holds barred honesty from our clientele. And, personally, I thrive on criticism, if you will. I know how to do a great job, I’m 100% confident in that, but tell me how to do better. That’s information I can put to use.
WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU’VE ABOUT BEING A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS OWNER?
Johanna: Do the work. Don’t wait for opportunity to strike you. That and time management is essential.
WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST SUCCESS STORY THUS FAR?
Johanna: It’s hard to choose because every client feels like a success story, truthfully. I’m really proud of the name we’ve created for ourselves and the fact that our peers associate us with good work. All I care about is doing good work and making our clients happy. Our clients are an extension of our family…we’re vested.
WHAT’S THE MOST DIFFICULT THING ABOUT BEING A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER?
Johanna: Balance at home. I need to work continuously on walking away from my devices so that I can be present with my family. What else is this all for…them!
Carolyn: Balance, of course. We are women after all… we want it all.
YOU HAVE 10 EMPLOYEES. WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN THE PEOPLE YOU HIRE?
Johanna: I can answer that right away. I look for: excellent communication skills, enthusiasm, tenacity and initiative. That is the total package.
Carolyn: Train for attitude not ability. I believe this totally and completely.
WHAT’S YOUR BEST ADVICE FOR SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO PURSUE A CAREER IN SOCIAL MEDIA?
Johanna: Immerse yourself in each and every brand and have fun with the creative process but be sure you have a way to back up your strategy with analytics. Everything has to be measurable.
WHAT’S THE BEST CAREER ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
Johanna: It’s simple: Do what you love! Life is short. I love what I do!