She sees herself as an accidental entrepreneur. Her ability to be flexible and quickly adapt to challenges life throws at her, enables her to stay on her feet and perform at astonishing levels. Zoe Bermant, owner and CEO of Zoecial Media, shares her insights on what it takes to scale a business, lead, and get over the fear of talking about money.
Zoe Bermant never planned to be an entrepreneur. She just had an idea and ran with it. She built an app that had close to 50,000 downloads. But then things went sour and she was forced to quit. The need to pay bills and keep her family afloat kept her going. Making use of her marketing background, she started providing consulting services. Five years later, Zoe is the owner and CEO of Zoecial Media, a social media agency with nine employees.
Be a work in progress
“It’s constantly a work in progress,” Zoe says about scaling. “Every time I think ‘wow, I’m doing this right,’ I realize a small change could make a huge difference.”
What I learned from Zoe about growth and scaling, is that like success, there isn’t a finish line.
There is always a better way to do things and more ways to grow.
Zoe views herself as a work in progress, and has adopted a growth mindset necessary to constantly make sure that everything is working at the rate it should, and consistently produce good work.
This mindset also enables Zoe to be flexible and change the flow of things as needed. There is always forward movement and there is always progress. Even if things get thrown out of balance for a bit.
Zoe shares that learning to scale came with doing the math and realizing how much a new employee costs, how many employees one client can manage, and how many retainers cover each salary. It was a big deal to uncover that. But she cautions, “I don’t think there’s a model here.” And the reason she says this is because there’s such thing as cashflow.
(To me this is an extremely interesting point, because cashflow was a keyword in my conversations with my father about business. Whenever he spoke with me about his business, he would emphasize the importance of cashflow. He explained that while you could have a profitable business and do well, if you lacked cashflow you could easily be tripped up and fall flat on your face.)
Despite cashflow issues, that is, never having enough money to grow as fast as she would like, there is still the opportunity to grow, there is knowledge and there is willingness.
And with all that, there is also beautiful pride and enthusiasm in Zoe’s voice when she talks about how she got to where she is today.
“What got me to where I am today is surrounding myself with an amazing team of people.”
This raises the question of the chicken and the egg.
Does leadership precede growth, or does growth precede leadership?
In Zoe’s case, I have no doubt that it’s her inspiring leadership that has catapulted Zoecial Media’s growth.
Leading with character
Zoe invests in employees because they’re real people. Because she remembers being an employee who wished she were treated better. Today, Zoe is that boss, treating her own employees the way she would have wanted to be treated.
There are few inspiring ways Zoe leads:
1. She sets her employees up for success.
While Zoe has high expectations, she doesn’t have them from the beginning. She builds them over time. Zoe doesn’t overwhelm her employees with all the work they will come to do months later. Instead, she trains them. In fact, junior employees shadow senior employees, learning one task at a time.
It takes Zoe three to four months to fully onboard an employee, after which she reviews their performance and salary, adjusting them accordingly.
Zoe trusts her employees, empowers them, and rewards them when they grow.
2. Compete together, grow together
Many companies pit departments or employees against each other, offering them rewards to perform better. Zoe’s competitions are different. For one, they’re learning based. For two (????), they ensure everybody grows and has fun, even if only one winner takes home a prize like an iPhone or a bonus.
As an example, Zoe once felt that her teams Instagram skills could use a boost. So she created a competition where for a month whoever would do the best job of growing their own Instagram account would win a prize. As a result, her team learned, they grew their own accounts, and they enjoyed the process.
3. She understands her team’s needs
Zoecial Media’s team is made up of young moms. Zoe supports her team at every opportunity using her own salary to create meaningful gestures that help her team feel supported, while helping them cope.
Here is a perfect example from one of Zoe’s posts on LinkedIn:
Developing a money mindset
I ask Zoe if talking about money is something she had to learn or if it came to her naturally. Zoe is quick to say that using the word “naturally” undermines just how much work went into changing her money mindset, and getting comfortable with talking about money. Most women have an inability to talk about money and be confident in those conversations. Only recently, has Zoe herself begun feeling more comfortable about talking about money and sharing revenue milestones.
When I suggested that pricing involves confidence, and that confidence is an essential element to getting paid what you deserve for the value that you’re giving, Zoe added that more important than confidence is conviction. While it takes initial confidence to state your price, it’s your conviction that convinces your prospects that you’re worth it.
And yet, Zoe clarifies, despite your confidence, conviction and even the ability to hold your own, there is still room for compromise and even taking calculated risks. Three years ago, Zoe was willing to take on financial loss at the beginning of the relationship with a new client, in return for working with a big name. And yet, despite not charging enough, Zoecial Media overdelivered. And then they did it again and again. And their retainer eventually increased. And increased again. Sometimes, Zoe explained, you have to compromise on a lower price, not because you’re weak, but because you want to grow stronger.
I’m so grateful to Zoe for taking time out of her busy day to talk to me about Zoecial Media’s amazing growth. Follow Zoe on LinkedIn for best tips, tricks and best practices.
1. What books do you recommend?
- Pick Three: You Can Have It All (Just Not Every Day) by Randi Zuckerberg
- This is Marketing by Seth Godin
- Influence by Robert B. Cialdini
2. What skill do you think is hard to learn but will pay off forever?
Graphic design. So that I don’t always have to go to somebody else to ask them to design something.
Any tech skills that you can teach yourself, is better than having to rely on someone.
3. What’s your favorite quote?
Now, during Covid it’s something I saw on Adam Clyne’s feed.
“You’re not working from home. You’re living at work.”
4. What does feminism mean to you?
I have a problem with the terminology, not with the ideology. Feminism does not have to have such a defined line. You can be a feminist and still want a man to buy you flowers.
5. What do you think of Clubhouse?
If I had another five hours in my day, I would spend it all there.