Behind the Business with Aalap Shah of So Me Connect

image of aalap shah from so me connect
  • Published
  • March 3, 2016

Interview enough entrepreneurs and you quickly see that while there are often similarities in the personalities driving the innovation or ambition of a company, there are as many different origin stories as there are businesses. This one’s pretty neat. It’s an unusual twist to go from owning a set of toy stores to starting up a social media agency, but that’s the truth behind So Me Connect.

We interviewed So Me’s founder Aalap Shah and spoke about the transition from toys to Tweets, what it takes to make a company successful, and what the future might hold.

Tell us about your business. What is SoMe Connect and who are your customers?
SoMe Connect is a Chicago social media agency with 10 fulltime employees based in the heart of the loop.  We’re an agency that focuses on content marketing, search (SEO), and paid search (Google + social ads) to drive towards business objectives determined by both our clients and SoMe. We work with a variety of companies, from regional retailers, to national fortune 100 clients. Our experience is centered in B2B service firms, food/hospitality, real estate, and consumer products. Our team is made up of community mangers, graphic designers, writers, and account managers that work with our clients to deliver social media content and search and study and analyze incoming data to optimize toward our goals. We will be celebrating our 4th year in business this upcoming January and are looking forward to many more years to come.

What made you decide to get into this industry?
I went to school to study accounting and e-commerce technology but was always interested in entrepreneurship. I took a class my senior year and that gave me the bug to want to open up my business someday. I went and got my CPA and worked as a consultant before venturing out to open up my children’s toy stores. After 5 years of owning them, I sold them to co-found my social media agency, SoMe Connect. I wanted to create an agency that really spoke to the brand and the founders of the businesses it represented and while we have evolved since then, our core is to create awesome marketing solutions that drive business goals for our clients.

They say that to be successful you have to be passionate, so why do you love what you do?
My favorite part of my job is waking up each day around 6AM and not knowing exactly what is going to happen on that day. I love the unpredictability and the fast-paced nature of what I do specifically (marketing & business development). I’m also incredibly passionate about finding the right solutions for our clients – from a business and marketing perspective. We often work with businesses to understand what their needs are, what their goals are, and ask how our relationship will look like in 6 and 12 month increments. Based on that, we present solutions that make the most sense for their business and for optimal success for both parties. I love that aspect and being an entrepreneur, it’s extremely fun to be around innovative clients and always learning!


image of Aalap Shaw working

Has it been smooth sailing or have you overcome adversity to get where you are?
I would say that each challenge on our path has only lead to new doors and windows opening for the both of us and our company. Startups are hard, and even harder when there are literally 100’s of social media agencies popping up every minute (back when we first started). Many questions come to mind – how do you stand out? How are you different? Are you priced competitively? Both my partner and I are not from traditional agency backgrounds – I’m a CPA and a toy store owner and she’s a consultant. Thus, those first few months, we ramped up very quickly and had to learn quickly in an industry that changes everyday. But the sweat & tears create a great basis and foundation for a company and I’m so incredibly proud that despite the challenges, we’ve been blessed with many opportunities and also have thriving families and amazing clients.

What do you do with your time off? Are you familiar with that concept?
I cherish my time-off and as our business and team has grown, I’ve had the opportunity to be “off-line.” It’s incredible as it’s a nice recharge from being “online” and on my computer at all times and allows me to think strategically and have “work-on-the-business” type of conversations with my co-founder. I’m also incredibly thankful that due to my work, I can be home and pick up my two kids (3.5 years old and 5 months) at 3:30 and spend quality time with them after school and be 100% dedicated to my family. That’s mostly what I do with my time off – because you’re almost always “on” as an entrepreneur and you can work tons of hours so there is very little time to do anything else. I’ve also combined family time with travel so we take family trips as a way to explore the country & world!

How important is social media to the business and how do you make it work?
Social media, search, and paid avenues are incredibly important to our business. We think first of search – that is, how are people finding us? Correspondingly, we use content marketing to create and publish great content that a potential client may want to read. We use paid search to promote that content to curate our audience and drive them to our website. We use social media to engage in conversations about our work and content and create and form 1:1 relationships. As a social media agency, it’s important for us to have a thoughtful presence on social, and to that end, we only utilize platforms that make sense from a B2B perspective.  Thus, we are focused in on Twitter and LinkedIn and our blog as our social platforms to drive the right types of clients to our business.

This is part of our series on businesses using online accounting software. Why did you choose such a system for your business?
We chose a cloud-based accounting system because we wanted flexibility and the ability to have real-time updates on any device we chose. We also liked the idea of having cloud software as the latest updates and upgrades would be built in whenever they are released without us having to take action. We wanted to share access to our accountant and other key personnel at anytime instead of having to download or print paper around tax times or month ends. Our accountant can easily access our books at anytime and help us strategically plan in real-time vs. looking back. There are some trade-offs though —> we are locked into a monthly fee, we don’t own the software, and, due to the richness of the software, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with how many options and items you can track. We’ve been using it for about 2 years and are finally utilizing more than 50% of the features available!

Which accounting platform did you choose and why that particular brand?
We choose Quickbooks Online – we experimented with several platforms when we first started but over the 4 years, we’ve found Quickbooks to be reliable and scaleable. It allows us to grow into features that we didn’t think we needed and also now can process our payments. We liked the idea of having one central accounting system vs. piecemeal programs that required separate logins and manual meshing because one product didn’t, for example, have payroll abilities.

What does this enable you to do as a small business owner?
The key benefit of cloud accounting is that we can access it at anytime, any-day and are not locked down to the computer or a workstation. It forces us to look at our numbers and expenses to make better decision because there is no excuse as to why we can’t access it. It’s also nice because while our firm is based in Chicago, one of the partners is in Atlanta allowing us to collaborate and review our reports together vs. sending endless emails about a report, etc. that may not be pulled up or a wrong one was pulled up. It makes us more efficient and smarter about the engine of our business —> revenue and expenses!


aalap_shaw_office

How are you involved in your community? What does supporting local mean to you?
I am incredibly involved in my community. For over 5 years, I’ve been a volunteer for the Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship (Chicago), a fantastic organization that works with students to showcase alternative paths in business and entrepreneurship. I’m also a fund board member of the Illinois Mathematics & Science Academy. Both opportunities allow me to serve and volunteer in the education and #STEM space and I’m so thankful for those opportunities as that allows me to make an impact. Prior to SoMe, I owned a pair of specialty toy stores in the suburbs of Chicago so shopping and supporting local vendors is very important to me, as, that is how my business succeeded due to my loyal community that shopped local at my toy stores.We  support local businesses in Chicago as they are vital to the community and our city.

What does the future look like for you and your business?
The future for our digital agency is incredibly bright. Companies are shifting greater % of budgets to digital and recognizing that this is an area that requires expertise (be it in-house or an agency like us) and dollars to reach their target customers…much like any other medium does. I think our biggest opportunities are in the areas of SEO and content marketing – it’s an incredibly powerful method for any business to capture purchase intent of a potential consumer and serving them with the right content at the right time. I’m excited about our growth ahead and we are both growing in the types of clients we serve along with our firm headcount as well.

Do you have any advice for aspiring business owners just starting out?
Go all in. Early on (perhaps at the end of year 1), I was endlessly debating to get a job, or a freelance position, etc. as we had a baby on the way and I was felt stressed that I had a shorter runway to earn enough to support my family. On a run, my friend encouraged me to go all in and make it work and if I still wasn’t gaining traction in 90-120 days, to then find a job. This advice was so incredibly valuable to me because it made me focus on making it work and eliminated the distractions of “what if.” I stopped thinking about safety nets and we took key risks that allowed us to stretch and grow to the incredible agency we are today because we eliminated any sort of back-up options for us.

 


Content Manager at FS Local


Jesse is a typical class clown. Born and raised just north of the Toronto, he fell in love with the City on school trips to the ROM and the Science Centre. He tried Vancouver for a few years, but the call of home was too strong to resist. Today he lives in the North-East Upper Beaches. (What? It’s a thing!)

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