From Grad Student to Social Media Millionaire

By |December 1st, 2013|Categories: News|

Skeptics say social  media hasn’t existed long enough to produce experts. Clearly, those folks  haven’t met Shama Kabani. The 26-year-old wrote her master’s thesis for the  University of Texas at Austin about Twitter–when it had only 2,000 users, not  the 175 million it has today. She hosts a web TV show about technology. Her 2010  book, The Zen of Social Media Marketing: An Easier Way to Build Credibility,  Generate Buzz and Increase Revenue, is the No. 4 seller about web marketing  on Amazon.com.

And those are just the side projects. In 2009, at 24, Kabani founded The Marketing Zen Group, a social media marketing firm in  Dallas. The company, which she launched with $1,500 of her own money,  specializes in all aspects of web marketing for clients–from Facebook and  Twitter to blogs and video.

“We are in an age where people are tired of the faceless corporate culture,”  the Texas native says. “Every day, I ask myself the same question: What can I do  today to increase value for our trusted audience (blog readers, TV watchers,  Twitter followers, etc.), for our team and for our clients?”

That value means different things for different clients. For k9cuisine.com, a  Paris, Ill.-based online retailer of dog food, Marketing Zen established blog  and Twitter presences and cultivated relationships with pet-related bloggers.  For Arthur Murray Dance Studios in Boston, the company optimized a website to  generate more targeted sales leads.

Marketing Zen wasn’t always about social media. Kabani says her original plan  was to start a general consulting agency. But she quickly realized her  passions–and all the best gigs, for that matter–were in the social media  space, so she tweaked her strategy.

This modified approach was about consulting with clients, telling them how to  better market their businesses online and letting them run with it. Meanwhile,  Kabani learned two things: Clients wanted not just a consultant, but also a firm  that could implement ideas; and social media is only part of a larger marketing  puzzle that includes building solid websites and developing smart search engine  optimization.

“That is how we went from being a consulting company to a company that takes  over web marketing for our clients,” she says. “Our value proposition is simpler  now: We drive inbound leads for our clients and increase their online brand  visibility.”

That thinking appears to be working. Kabani declines to share specifics, but  she notes revenues grew more than 400 percent last year alone, and she expects  Marketing Zen to be a “multimillion-dollar company” by the end of 2014.

One of the secrets to Kabani’s profit model is low overhead. She hired almost  all her 30 employees virtually, and many key people work remotely. At least a  dozen Marketing Zen employees are in the Philippines.

Another key differentiator: legitimate engagement. Kabani prides herself on  having her clients engage with followers, rather than simply talking at them.  For Dave Kerpen, CEO and co-founder of competitor Likeable Media, this is a  distinguishing characteristic. “She understands the true meaning of community  engagement,” Kerpen says. “She gets that the conversation must go both ways in  order to satisfy customers.”

Kabani is also giving back: Earlier this year, she was part of a delegation  of businesspeople from the U.S. and Denmark that traveled to Egypt to educate  young entrepreneurs. It’s all part of her far-reaching quest for enterprising  youth to tackle the new global business market.

“The world we live in today is not the world of our grandparents, or even  that of our parents,” Kabani says. “A college degree does not guarantee success.  Young entrepreneurs have to create their own opportunities. The economy needs  fresh blood and bold new ideas.”

By  for Entrepreneur

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