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An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Content and Interaction — Obviously, there are more complicated segments where the competition is high, for example, the major companies, whom everyone wants to make their client. To target them successfully, I advise my clients to work on their expert image on LinkedIn. You can do that by creating valuable content and then interacting with people through personal messaging. Content works, a lot of leads come from content. But if you are just a content creator, it doesn’t work either. It’s a social network, not a blog. Interaction is very important. You should communicate with people: like, comment, respond to comments to your own posts. That is, you have to be in constant conversation.

As part of my series of interviews about “How to Use LinkedIn To Dramatically Improve Your Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Olga Bondareva, Co-Founder and CEO at ModumUp.

While studying at the university, Olga was a participant of the Microsoft Student Partners program and served as a Microsoft tech evangelist among the students. After completing her studies, she started working at Microsoft as a Digital Marketing Specialist and quickly progressed to the position of the Social Media Marketing Lead in Central and Eastern Europe. At Microsoft, she was responsible for the company’s social media presence in Central and Eastern Europe, digital projects, Social Selling, and Employee Advocacy programs. After leaving Microsoft, she became the Co-Founder and CEO at ModumUp, the agency with 33 clients and ARR around $1M, which specializes in personal branding and social selling for B2B lead generation. Olga runs a team of 44 people who are industry experts and enthusiasts of social selling. Olga’s ambition is to build a global expansion ecosystem with several diverse agencies and coaching schools, helping her clients to expand to the MENA, APAC, and LATAM markets. Olga’s favorite writer is Philip K. Dick. Among her favorite nonfiction books is Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I studied to become a psychologist, and while studying I started a social media account with a couple of other students that was dedicated to psychology memes. It was mainly focused on different stereotypes around psychologists. Our posts began to spread virally, because this was in 2011, and there weren’t many projects like this back then. We started to gain followers, and I became more interested and invested my time and efforts in the project. My knowledge of social media proved to be very helpful when I became Microsoft’s evangelist among the students and then shortly after the university decided to start my career as their digital marketing specialist. I began working with a target audience that consisted of software developers, IT pros, and startups. Then I got a promotion and started to oversee their SMM and special projects for Central and Eastern Europe. It was at that time that I learned about Employee Advocacy and Social Selling. Employee Advocacy is when a brand helps its employees to develop their social media pages so that they write more about the company’s news and products. Social Selling is more connected to sales — it’s when you use social media to find new clients and partners. I started to work closely with Microsoft’s Sales Department and account managers. When I went on maternity leave, I realized that even though I really like Microsoft, I need to create something of my own. I announced the creation of my agency ModumUp on my social media pages. By that time, I had already grown an audience of entrepreneurs, senior executives, and marketing specialists, and I had a lot of followers interested in my expertise. So when I posted about ModumUp, I had more than a hundred responses from potential clients. I was a bit shocked by the volume of responses, and started to build my agency. At the beginning, we worked with more diverse projects — for example, we offered social media marketing. But it didn’t take long till we began to focus exclusively on social selling. It was way more interesting for us because you could see the results immediately (in the form of new leads and new clients). It was also more popular with our clients, at least in the b2b sector. My agency has already been operating for 4 years (since 2018), and we have very ambitious plans: to scale it, to transform it into an ecosystem for international expansion with other partners, agencies, organizations, to be able to help our clients in a more complex way.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

There are “secret advocates” who recommend my agency to potential clients. These new clients come to me and say, “I’ve been told your services are great, but I won’t tell you who told me so.” And this has happened several times. Who are these people? Are they different people or the same one? Why do they hide their identity? It’s funny, but I haven’t found the answer to these questions yet.

Another interesting fact: the very first employee in my agency started working with me before the agency was even launched. I’ve been developing an Instagram account about my two cats back then, just for fun, but with an idea that someday in the future I may find a way to monetize it. And I was looking for a freelancer to help manage this cat account for a small salary. So my future first employee came forward, and I started to teach her SMM. We grew this account together up to 50K subscribers. And then when I started my agency, I realized I must involve her, because she’s very responsible, very cool, and she’s a fast learner. I also contacted another candidate for this cat Instagram page (I didn’t choose her then). They are both my partners now. It turns out this little cat project gave me the opportunity to find the coolest, most reliable people. They’ve grown so much over the last four years that they’re now our key experts in social selling. They are the engine of the agency.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I can share a few, some of them may not be funny per se, but I found them very insightful.

  1. I was very uncomfortable charging for my services at first. It was difficult for me to name the price and sell our services. How did I cope with that? I just started doing it. I think my corporate career helped me a lot, because I understood how much the agencies’ work costs. And at Microsoft, we’ve worked with agencies that aren’t cheap. I knew roughly the price level, which enabled me to avoid offering my services at low prices.
  2. Our service range was too wide. If we talk about clients, the mistake was to offer a fairly wide list of services, such as SMM, content marketing, and launching special projects. Some things I managed to complete successfully on the basis of my expertise, and some things were executed with the help of my partners’ expertise. But later I realized that the fast and stable work processes and stable quality can only be provided if you focus on something specific, on a certain type of service. And so we did. This focus gave me an opportunity to deepen my team’s expertise. We became one of the best experts in a very specific market niche.
  3. No recurring revenue. At first, we were doing a lot of project work, which didn’t provide stable monthly revenue. Right now we are using a subscription model for almost all our projects, and it provides us with recurring revenue. I find it to be more predictable and overall better for business.
  4. Hiring “experts in everything.” At first, I thought it would be better to hire versatile people who could do analytics, write content, communicate with clients, etc. But in fact, it doesn’t work that way. People are different and they fit different roles. Also, different people work well with different clients. There were a lot of mistakes in that area, too. But a lot of insights as well. We discovered that when a client and a team member are not a great fit in terms of work pace and character, and it feels like it’s better to give up this project altogether, changing an account manager just makes everything fine.
  5. Public speaking. When I started the agency, people began asking me to speak at various conferences. And at one of the first conferences, I was really nervous — I was used to giving speeches as a Microsoft representative, but this time I was the founder of my own agency. At one point, I just realized that I can’t do it anymore, my voice and hands started to tremble. I just stood up in the middle of the conference and said, “All right, let’s take a break.” I put my hands up, sighed, and everyone laughed. I made a joke about being too nervous. And everyone became even more supportive of me because they saw a real person behind the entrepreneurial facade, a person who is genuinely nervous and wants to perform well. And that conference gave me new clients and partners with whom we’ve been working together for several years.

Which social media platform have you found to be most effective to use to increase business revenues? Can you share a story from your experience?

It was definitely LinkedIn. I can say that LinkedIn helped me to launch ModumUp, because I was gathering relevant audience there and was regularly posting content prior to that. And when I announced that I was launching my agency, a lot of people came to me.

We also experimented with our customers and independently with such specific websites as Quora, Reddit, etc. But they always give a vaguer result. We didn’t see a direct impact on business, so we got out of it.

We use Twitter with some clients too. Twitter is a good platform for quick interaction and networking, but not for lead generation.

Professional groups on Facebook are important as well. They are very helpful. I sometimes announce our events and articles there, and it brings us new and interesting contacts.

Let’s talk about LinkedIn specifically, now. Can you share 5 ways to leverage LinkedIn to dramatically improve your business? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Profile design — It’s important that your profile doesn’t look like a profile of some bot or spammer, meaning it should not be empty and should look as human as possible. There are a lot of bots on LinkedIn, a lot of spam, a lot of automation, and it’s important to prove that you’re a real person. There are very cool features that can help with this:

– LinkedIn “cover story” — a video greeting that you can record for your audience. It happens all the time that a person who clicks on this kind of profile immediately experiences the “wow” effect because the profile photo moves. When we add “cover story” to our clients’ profiles, we see that the views start to grow immediately. And that means that people really want to see the real person, how they talk, what their facial expressions are, and what they look like.

– LinkedIn “audio clips”

This feature was originally invented to record the correct pronunciation of a person’s name, because it is such an international network and sometimes it is not clear how to do it. But now a lot of people use “audio clips” in order to briefly tell something about themselves. It also makes a profile page livelier, because it is such an indicator that there’s a friendly person behind it.

– LinkedIn “featured”

This feature helps to fill the profile with meaningful content and useful materials that can be attached: videos, links, pdfs. If they are “featured,” they can be accessed quickly. So a person who goes to your profile can get to know you, read your useful materials, and maybe learn something new.

– LinkedIn “creator mode”

This is a mode for content creators on LinkedIn, which also helps you to show your content, to move it to the first screen on your profile page. You can showcase the subjects of your expertise. “Creator mode” helps the audience that visits your profile to see your posts before anything else.

2. Personal messaging — Although many experts advise you to focus on building your personal brand, the main way to get new clients on LinkedIn is through personal messaging. Some people say that when messaging potential clients, you shouldn’t immediately sell, or spam, or actively pitch, but we have found that direct approach works best on most markets in terms of the result (the number of leads and appointed calls). It’s better to get to the point quickly and to find out whether your proposal is relevant to their current objectives or not. This way we get more leads. Why is this happening? LinkedIn is more of a business social network, and people understand why they are here. They understand that this is a platform for business networking, customer search, and other business opportunities. People are actually very happy that we save them time by not prolonging this communication. They understand from the get-go that something will be sold to them at the end of the conversation. And as we found from practice, the longer we stretch the conversation out, the faster they fall off and start to ignore you. They’re just not comfortable with you wasting their time.

3. Follow Up — What’s important is that on LinkedIn the most popular reaction to a message is to ignore you. It doesn’t necessarily mean that people are not interested in your proposal, it’s that they are so overloaded with different tasks, deeds, messages on LinkedIn — all this information noise. Because of this, they very often miss your message or simply don’t want to grasp the essence of it. That’s why follow-ups are essential. They act as a reminder. There are different kinds of follow-ups: with additional materials or details, with new ideas, or just with a smiley face. But the point is that follow-ups work very well, they help either to stimulate the conversation or to revive it if a person stopped answering. And it’s only thanks to follow-ups that you can actually arrange a call or a meeting. If you just send one message and forget about it, it’s not an effective way to sell your services on LinkedIn. There are lots of people who could answer you and could become your clients, with a little bit of persistence.

4. Content and Interaction — Obviously, there are more complicated segments where the competition is high, for example, the major companies, whom everyone wants to make their client. To target them successfully, I advise my clients to work on their expert image on LinkedIn. You can do that by creating valuable content and then interacting with people through personal messaging. Content works, a lot of leads come from content. But if you are just a content creator, it doesn’t work either. It’s a social network, not a blog. Interaction is very important. You should communicate with people: like, comment, respond to comments to your own posts. That is, you have to be in constant conversation.

5. LinkedIn events — On LinkedIn, there is an option of scheduling events and quickly inviting your connections. You can send out up to 1,000 invitations per week. The event may be a small webinar or a livestream, or you can schedule a larger conference. In any case, an event will give you an opportunity to show your expertise. Whenever there is live communication, trust is built way faster compared to a situation when your potential clients read your message or posts. Event organizing is a big trust booster, so it’s important to do it. For example, my agency has organized a conference recently. We were sending connection requests to people who would most likely find this conference relevant to their objectives and their business. Our conference’s target audience is people who are responsible for scaling businesses to new regions and who are looking for market entry cases, specifics of different markets, sales scripts, etc. So here’s a step-by-step process: we organize an event, invite our target audience, build up the trust, and afterwards we delicately pitch them with ideas specific to them.

Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It would be dedicated to the idea of ownership. My top priority in life is my job and my professional development. For me, the main thing is the focus on the result and quality. And I believe that even if you work as an employee in a corporation (as I have done at Microsoft), you should always treat it as your business.

When I worked at Microsoft, we always had this notion of “every activity has an ‘owner’.” You were not just a project manager, but a project owner. And I really like this notion of ownership, because it helps you treat every task as your own. Whether you do it for the company or for your own clients, you have to do everything with maximum efficiency. In fact, this applies to everyday life, too: when we perceive ourselves as owners in our lives, we take the lead and begin to change things.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

The most inspirational person for me is Irvin D. Yalom. He is a renowned American psychotherapist who specializes in existential psychology (life and death, meaning of life). This is very inspiring to me because the meaning of life is something that I always think about. Irvin D. Yalom has written many books on how to deal with the fear of death, and how this experience of dealing with death changes a person. Actually, it makes one better, because you overcome your fears, start to rethink your life, and start doing what’s important to you. You begin to live in the moment, not postpone your life for later. You realize any day can be your last. And to me, these ideas are very important. I try to think more about the fact that my life is finite and it helps me find the life’s meaning. Irvin D. Yalom is the person who got me thinking about it with his books and his speeches. I’d like to have a cup of tea with him and talk about things.

Thank you so much for these great insights. This was very enlightening!

Olga Bondareva of ModumUp: How to Use LinkedIn To Dramatically Improve Your Business was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.