Today we are diving into an essential discussion on growing into an agency model and touching on social media trends with Emma Barrera (she/her).
Emma is the CEO of Right Hand Glam, The Engagement Agency. Using data-driven strategies, Right Hand Glam supports scaling service providers & coaches in organically growing your following and increasing brand awareness, ultimately converting conversations to cash over the past three years
Emma is also the founder of The Engagement Academy, a program that gives SMMs & VAs the tools, tech, and tenacity to add engagement to their product suite.
Welcome to the show Emma!
You have to remember that you are a CEO…and that you have put in the work, and now you have taught other people, and you have to trust them to carry out the things that you taught them.Emma Barrera (she/her), Engagement Expert
Here’s what you can expect to hear in this episode:
- Emma’s journey to starting her agency
- Mistakes to avoid when starting to build your agency
- How to scale/account for ups and downs in business
- Why she is still the face of her agency
Can you tell us a little about your story?
So my journey here was very unconventional. I graduated college with a degree in anthropology. And so my options were go dig in a ditch, get my master’s degree, or figure it out.
And at the time, I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder just a year and a half before, so I really was just trying to get through. We were focusing on surviving.
The thought of thriving had not even crossed my mind. So when I graduated, which I didn’t think was going to happen in a timely manner, and I ended up graduating in three years, which was so sick. It’s one of my like favorite life accomplishments.
I reached out to a mentor of mine and I said, your girl needs a job. And he was like, well, your boy has a job for you. I was like, cool, cool. And I was working at this tech startup and it was awful.
I was doing customer service and social media, not being paid for the social media portion of it. And it ruined my life. It completely ruined my life. And he actually owned that a few years later on a stage.
He was like, Emma’s going to come up here later and tell you about her business. And she’s going to say that corporate ruined her life. And that was me. I ruined her life. And I wasn’t there. And so I went up to him when I did get there and I was like, I heard you told everyone you ruined my life.
And he was like, yeah, and look at you now. And I was like I’ll accept that apology. Thank you.
So I got started with social media, probably when I was like 16, working with a nonprofit, just doing different things here and there, it was never paid work.
And then while I was in college, I started going to get spray tans at the salon in Philly and the owner and I got tight and she was like, can you do this thing where you log into my account and just like leave comments places that will get people to follow me?
And I was like, yeah, sure. That sounds like fun. And she paid me $15 an hour for it. And when you’re a college student and you’re broke, that is actually a lot of money. And I was like, you’re paying me this much money to just put comments on social media.
Okay, absolutely. And I got really good at it. And so when I decided to leave my job in January of 2020, it was a complete joke, had no clue what was going to happen. Fine. I was working four jobs.
So I was trying to get Right Hand Glam off the ground. I was teaching nine to twelve spin classes a week. I was working front desk at the gym where I was teaching and then I was working as a hostess. I’m like 20 at the time.
And I had absolutely no clue what I was doing whatsoever. So I started just posting in local Facebook groups and I was like, hey, I’m doing this thing. If you’re looking for a social media manager, let me know. And at that point we were doing week long contracts.
So I was having this insane turnover. I was working with so many freaking people, but every week it was something new. And at that point it really was just growth. I was working with a lot of influencers. It was not the Right Hand Glam we know and love today.
And I was working 14 hour days. I was bopping around, I was doing all the things. I was doing social media management, engagement, hashtag strategies, bio writing, content creation, everything under the sun, because I didn’t even know that this whole world existed.
And then in the fall of 2020, I was like, I can’t handle this on my own anymore. I’m going to hire two people and I knew nothing about that either. And so I hired two people, loved them. They were great.
They are no longer with Right Hand Glam, but they have gone on to do wonderful, wonderful things. And it was then that I found my first business coaching program and we completely revamped Right Hand Glam at that point.
And we had a database structure. We had full month minimum contracts. And I walked away from that program in June of 2021 with a team of four, making 10K months. And then from there, it just grew and grew.
Six months later, we launched the Engagement Academy. And then we were looking at 20K months. And now we pretty much oscillate between, I would say 22 and 30K months.
I want to be very transparent and I do not take home anywhere near that amount of money. My bank account does not reflect that whatsoever. But Right Hand Glam, as it exists now, has one full-time employee, Chloe, who is our director of strategy.
And then we have four other strategists who are part-time. And then we have one lovely gal, Maddie, who helps us with just some little tasks here and there every month. She ended up getting a new job and she was one of our strategists, but she was like, I don’t want to leave. I want to do something.
And I was like, you can write these reports that I don’t feel like writing. And she was like, yeah, that sounds great. So yeah, that’s how we’ve gotten here. And it’s been wild. And it’s ever evolving and I’m really excited to see, there’s a lot of changes coming, maybe not changes that people will necessarily notice, but there’s a lot coming and I’m so excited about it.
So I never planned on being agency, like I said, I didn’t know this entire side of the internet existed and it just kind of happened because I was like, well, I wanna keep making more money, that sounds really fun.
I wanna pay off my student loan debt, which I did, which was really, really fun. And the only way to do that was to keep hiring people. And that’s really my philosophy now. It’s like, if we’re booked out and we need to hire, great, we’ll figure it out.
What are some mistakes you made or avoided as you went from solopreneur to agency owner?
So I had someone come to me the other day, I also mentor some of the students that go through the Engagement Academy on a longer term basis and one of them came to me and she was like, so I wanna hire someone, but I feel weird hiring them as a contractor.
And I was like, okay, tell me more. And she’s like, well, I wanna hire an employee. I said, absolutely do not do that. I said, no, no. If you are going to start hiring, hire contractors. Hiring an employee is a fucking headache, okay?
It is a mess. It is confusing as hell. You have no clue what you’re doing. And although it’s wonderful that we pay into Social Security and Medicare and can think about things like that, I now have to pay into Social Security and Medicare for not just myself as an employee, but for Chloe as a full-time employee.
And I just feel like I’m literally always paying taxes. So always start with a 1099 contractor. It’s what people expect of this industry anyway. As long as you communicate very clearly that I have a team member and they’re going to be handling some things, then you’re good to go.
If not, then frankly you’re fucked. So do not start with hiring an employee. That would be one of my first things. Wait till you are really, really ready and you have enough work for them. I was told to do it in like 2021. And I was like, no, it’s not time for that yet.
And when I finally did it though, it was worth it. And I am so glad that Chloe is full time with us and I would not have it any other way.
Get an accountant and get a good one because I had a bad one and some people know this. I ended up owing $15,000 that I am still working on paying down because my accountant royally screwed up.
So get yourself a good accountant because there are more moving parts than you think when you are running an agency because you are now fiscally responsible for everything and everyone.
So, Chloe and I are taking a business trip to London and everything goes on the company credit card and I am responsible for everything, every meal, every bonding activity, all lodging, all travel.
So you have to really think critically about how much money you are capable of spending as an agency owner. And I think the other thing is, I mean, I’m a very money driven person. I have reached a point in my business where I’m fortunate enough to kind of play a money game.
And I’m like, ooh, like how can I make money this month? And what do I need to buy in my house that I need to fund? So what can I create to do that thing?
You have to remember that you are a CEO, and this is something that I am working on every single day, and that you have put in the work, and now you have taught other people, and you have to trust them to carry out the things that you taught them, and know what you trained them to do.
I have actually recently taken a major step back where every new client that we onboard, I’m no longer in their Slack channel. And I have no clue what goes on there. I assume it’s good things because I haven’t heard anything about it.
But it’s a thought that crosses your mind every once in a while. You are really surrendering control of your business to other people that you trust wholeheartedly because you wouldn’t hire them if you didn’t trust them. And you’re the one that trained them so you know they were trained well.
But it does require a lot of surrendering to the business, to the team, to trust, and knowing that it will all get done, but knowing that it doesn’t all have to be your problem. And that’s something, like I said, I’m working through every single day.
My last thing is to take everything with a grain of salt because there are a lot of people out there who say they are making a certain amount of money or they are working a certain amount and as an engagement strategist, what I’ve learned is that everyone is full of shit.
You don’t know what is going on until you are in the backend of someone’s business and you see those actual numbers. And what we see is typically the end result of a launch.
If someone has a 50K launch, we see that, but we don’t see everything that went into getting there. And as an engagement strategist, you actually tend to see those things and it’s very eye-opening.
So I tell everyone to take everything with a grain of salt because everyone is full of shit and the people who are either seemingly or who are genuinely further along in their success journey, I don’t wanna say more successful than you because we’re just all at different chapters, they are going through the same issues that you are.
My business coach works with some of the really big names that we know and I get imposter syndrome all the time. I’m like, how am I working with you when you are working with all of these other people?
And she’s like, Emma, those people come to me with the same problems that you have every single day. And I’m having the same conversations with them that I’m having with you. And I’m like, you know, that’s a crazy, crazy thought. So just remember that we are all out here trying to accomplish the same thing.
Because I’ve been transparent about this, I posted this. We grossed over $300,000 last year as an agency. I took home, quote unquote took home $200,000 of that, but after taxes, it was $140,000, but I bought a house.
So when I tell you like, I started this year off broke, I genuinely mean that. And I say that because I want people to understand that it is not all sunshine and rainbows and that the numbers come with asterisks.
I think it is harder to be an agency owner and then a solopreneur because you have to manage people. And something that I’m working on and I’ve gotten a lot better at it is like taking on the emotional burden of, well, I don’t have enough clients for you this month and I know you need money.
And I’m like, that’s not my fault. They’re not mad at me for that. And like I said, I’ve gotten a lot better with it, but it does come with a lot of other stressors. And then you’re looking at profit margins all the time because you might charge X amount for a service, but then you need to take out any tools that you’re using, Zoom, ClickUp, Flowdesk, everything in between, and then what you pay your team member to carry out that service.
When you started this process, did you map everything out and how do you manage that scale of an up and down/flow of work?
So I’m horrible at answering this first question because I do everything by the seat of my pants. I really do. People are like, what’s your content strategy? I’m like, I post what I want. I am not the poster child for having shit figured out because I always just see a need, fill a need kind of thing.
So really when we were hiring people, every time we know that we have a wait list or we know that we have a lot of interest right now or like we know everyone’s booked out and we don’t see people leaving, great, let’s hire someone.
And we actually hired someone at the beginning of the summer for a multitude of reasons. But one of those reasons was when someone is on vacation, we still need their time covered. So when we have an extra team member floating around that has a little bit of flexibility, great, that’s a win for everybody.
I am super transparent with my team and I make sure they are super transparent with me about how many clients they want, how many clients they can handle, whether or not that number is a flexible number.
So for example, one of my team members was like, hey, I’m gonna be with family a lot this summer, can you take one client off of my roster? When there’s an opening, not fill it. And I was like, yes, absolutely.
And then she was like, hey, when September rolls back around, I want that person back because I want that cashflow. And I was like, great. And then, you know, I’ve had other people that are like, I can take on one extra person for one month or this one project that we’re doing.
And we allow that to ebb and flow. And I always tell them if it’s like coming down to the wire of when we think we need to book and we don’t see the bookings come through, I’m like, listen, like I’m gonna work my ass off this month to get you full.
And normally, like, you just gotta trust the universe. Normally it turns out they actually needed fewer clients that month because one thing or another came up or they were feeling tired or, you know, just in general life happens. And it ends up all working out.
I mean, we started this year very transparently, $6,000 under what our typical benchmark is and we recuperated and then we had our highest grossing agency month ever, and now we’re like somewhere in the middle again.
It’s been a really weird year, and I’ve talked about this on my page. I’ve talked about this with a bunch of other business owners too, that this is the first quote unquote normal year if you were someone that started in 2020, because there’s nothing crazy happening with COVID.
God knows what’s going to happen, but there’s nothing super crazy happening right now. And so we’re back to normal. And a lot of people moved away from their businesses and went back to jobs and referrals were dying out.
And so we were navigating something very new. And so we saw a massive dip. And as someone who was buying a house, I was like, oh shit, normally I’m not worried about myself. I’m worried about the team. At that moment, I was very worried about myself.
But now, you know, we’re back in a place that feels really good. And it’s really just about keeping open communication with the team. I mean, I talk to them every single day.
We’re not really big on team meetings, which some people might be really surprised about, just because we are all in vastly different time zones. We have people on Pacific time, and then we have people in fucking France.
So getting everybody on one call as a team is nearly impossible, but we are all talking to each other every single day. Like I am texting someone, I am slacking someone. I might be hopping on a quick FaceTime with someone every single day. And we don’t need those weekly or monthly calls because we are constantly communicating with each other.
Can you tell me a little bit about your brand and why you’re continually staying the face of your company, even in this agency model?
I am a storyteller and a connector at my core. I have done theater my whole life, anthropology. I was not the dig in the ditch kind of anthropology. I was a sociocultural anthropology major, which is just storytelling.
I was a spin instructor and not that you’re necessarily telling a story, but I liked to kind of theme my classes, and you’re telling different messages and it’s a type of performing really.
And so, putting myself out there is something that I’ve always been used to. Being in front of people is something that I have always done since I was nine, when I was in my first show. So that part of it comes very naturally to me.
I also know that I am the secret sauce that sells. No one comes to me expecting to work with me. They know that I have a team and they’re ready to do this. And because I trust my team, they trust my team.
So I’m the face, I am the glue, I am the connector, but I am not the end all to be all. And I could not do this without my team whatsoever.
I think also, I was bullied in middle school as I’m sure like a lot of us were because we wouldn’t end up doing crazy shit like this if we were not. So I made a reel a few years ago about this too. So I was bullied in middle school and then when I got to high school, it was not the kind of school where people bullied each other.
We were just like nonstop stressed. I went to a college prep school for all girls, craziness. And then I started like bullying myself. And then I went through this horrible bipolar diagnosis and completely losing myself in that process.
And so when I got to a place of, holy shit, people are buying in because they’re buying me. I knew that I needed to keep going. And I’m just a no BS person. And this is like we’ve said a space where there is so much BS.
And so someone needs to be the one who is not. I also have found, I said this yesterday to someone, I am Right Hand Glam and Right Hand Glam is me. My brand is very much infused into my daily life.
I mean, like my wardrobe is the Right Hand Glam pink. I love it, like it is not just a Barbie core thing for me. Like I freaking love wearing the Right Hand Glam pink. I love disco balls. I love being loud. Like I just can’t imagine showing up for my job every day, that I created that is fueling a life that I have, always being someone that I am not.
Because for so long I had to be someone that I was not to be palatable for other people. And I am just too old, even though I’m younger than most of the people in this space, I’m just too old to worry about not being palatable.
Like if you don’t like me, I don’t give a fuck. I spent too many years worrying whether or not people liked me and changing how I acted based on whether or not I was getting the vibe that someone liked me.
If you don’t like me, don’t follow me. If you don’t like me, don’t book with me. I don’t care. There are plenty of people that I wanna work with that wanna work with me and it’s gonna be okay.
If your business is not fun, if you’re not enjoying yourself, if you’re not being you, what’s the point in doing it all? Why else would you choose to do this?
I think also too, the “we” agency model, this works for some people. It would never work for me. I am just not a polished person and I think a lot of the other agencies that I see they use we, they’re very polished. It’s, you know, less of like a let’s have fun and be crazy.
And I will just always be a let’s have fun and be crazy. I love featuring my team and talking about the different things they’re doing and cheering them on. Most of the people on my team are on my team because they do not want to be a CEO.
Chloe tells me all the time, I don’t ever want your job. I don’t ever want to have to do what you do. And I was like, okay, mama, we don’t have to do that. And so I also know that they work with me because they know what they want and they want a job where they can have fun and enjoy themselves and be creative, but be able to clock in and clock out every day.
And I think if we were that more polished look, people just wouldn’t pick up what we’re putting down as much. I think also given the nature of what we do, it is so important for me to act the way I do on social media because we are literally connectors in what we do.
We need to show that we have a lot of personality. And that’s what I’m able to do with my brand. And I think that it is a trust building point for people.
Can you tell us a little bit more about what you do?
So I am an engagement and lead generation strategist. The way I explain this to like Joe Schmo down the street is, I log into my client’s accounts every day, I pretend to be them and I sell their shit. That is the most basic form of what I do.
Every day I do clock into my client’s accounts and I pretend to be them. But I am leveraging different types of data to connect with people, to find the type of people that my client would enjoy working with and build relationships with them through targeted DM conversations.
And this is not like we go in and we talk business right away. This is, oh my God, your cat is so cute. I also have a cat. What’s the deal with your cat? Conversations that eventually build trust and result in business conversions.
Now, there are different types of approaches to what we do. Some people like to take a bolder approach where they just kind of rip the bandaid off and they are like, hey, what are your thoughts on this?
Some people, it’s more of a slow burn. And we always tell our clients, the longer you’re with us, the more success you’ll have. I always tell the story of a client who was aiming for a $50,000 launch.
And halfway through the launch, she had only hit $11K. And I say only hit $11K, $11K is a fuck ton of money. And she was like, why is nobody buying? And I said, my love, it’s tax season, no one has money.
And I said, how about we focus on downselling people? And you know, this is probably what the program is gonna look like, let’s downsell people. So I go back, we had been working together for eight months. I go back to all of our data from six months ago where people said, like, I wanna work with you at some point in the next year.
And I started sending all of these messages just checking in with people, and they were like, oh my God, I’ve been meaning to reach out to you. I need to talk to you right now, and we need to work together.
It turned into a $47,000 launch because of that strategy. So I feel like that’s just an easy way to explain what we do. And my favorite answer to get from people, and I say this very often, is actually maybe later, or not right now because then the longer a client is with us, we can go to those maybe laters when the time is right.
So, you know, if someone says in June or Q4, I’m gonna be ready, okay. In October, we know we’re gonna go follow up with that person and be like, hey, the time is here. How are we doing? What’s going on? What are we feeling?
And then, you know, it can also be a really short game. I have a client right now that’s launching a free masterclass. And we’re very literally just messaging everybody in a way that’s very authentic to her voice and everybody that likes the posts about her class.
And we’re saying, hey, I want to know if you were gonna be there because I saw you checked out the posts and I would absolutely love for you to be there.
And some people were like, I did not know about this. Tell me more. And some people were like, absolutely. Please send me the link stat. And I think we have like over a hundred signups and it’s only been a few days.
So there are different engagement strategies that work for different people, depending on what your goals are. And that does often shift. And we don’t do the same thing for every person because everybody comes to us with different goals, and it can also depend on the size of your audience and how in depth you want to go with people.
I get asked a lot, you know, how is this necessarily ethical? Because you are pretending to be someone and then handing them off, and then the client has now built a relationship with you, but they think it’s them.
And the answer I give is that most people don’t have a really personal relationship with their clients. As I have grown as a CEO, I’ve stepped away from one-on-one client relationships. There are some clients that I am really tight with and that I still am really involved with, but the majority of our clients, once they’re onboarded, I don’t really see them again.
And that’s an agency model. And that was something that I had to get over. But I’ve learned over time, especially if you’re a project-based service provider, you’re gonna do the project and they’re gonna go.
And a lot of the time it’s for something like a VIP day or a short-term project because that’s the sexy thing this year. People want that instant gratification, so they’re booking VIP days and weeks and short-term projects.
You don’t even need the time to build a relationship, but also we’ve taken the time to get to know our client’s voice and their values that you can’t even really tell the difference. That’s the whole point of hiring us, to not be able to tell the difference. I don’t ever get caught. I just, I don’t.
People all the time, they’ll come to me and they’ll be like, well, what if you can’t get my voice exactly? And I go, you know what the complaint we get is the least? My voice.
I get clients all the time that are like, I was looking at my messages and I saw that message that you sent and I did a double take because I don’t remember sending that. And then I realized I didn’t, you sent it. And I legitimately thought I sent it.
And that just is like my favorite kind of client message to get, because that means we are damn good at our jobs. And it happens across all of our strategists. I don’t hear it that much, to be honest, because my clients tend to be really hands off with their account. I’m mostly doing everything, which I freaking love.
But for our other strategists, they tend to have people that are more involved in the process, which we love, because things can move faster when there are more hands on deck. But they will get that feedback and I’ll see it and I’ll be so proud of my team member and I will celebrate them.
But also, you know, celebrate with the client because it means that they made a good investment and that they can trust us and that we’ve shown that we know our shit.
You really do get to know people. I mean, I know my one client, her cat, has the greatest name in the world. And I use that to start conversations all the time. And I just feel like I am her when I get in there.
And it’s actually so much fun for me to kind of slip into, especially as a theater kid, because I’m essentially slipping into these different characters throughout the day. So, you know, one of my clients is a 29-year-old copywriter who loves oddities and has a cat with a really cool name, and it’s just, like, edgy and cool in general.
And then I have another client who’s a 54-year-old gay real estate agent. And then, I have another client that works with women in the corporate space. So it’s three vastly different voices, vastly different niches, but I get to be all those people.
I think that’s also why my account, I’m so authentically me, because that’s like my safe space to come back and like to reset and root myself in being me.
Where can people find you and keep up with you?
So with the Engagement Academy, we have also had a lot of people joining lately who are looking to leave their nine to five or start a side gig, which has been really exciting for me to explore this whole new side and welcome people in who were exactly where I was when I started all of this.
So my recommendation is start with my new training on what it’s like being an engagement strategist and I go more in depth into what my day looks like and what I do and how I got here.
That’s a great way to kind of dip your toes in and even see if the engagement academy is something you want to explore. And there is a cutie-patootie little discount code in there too just for having watched the training
So why would you not watch the training? It’s free It’s 25 minutes of your life and you get a discount if you decide you want to move forward
And then we have our done for you month to month engagement services where, like I said, we log into your account, we pretend to be you, we sell your shit.
And then we have our VIP days where we create a customized set of system strategies and SOPs for you. We idiot proof your product suite. We focus on what your goals are for the next week through six months and how you are going to develop relationships with people.
We give you scripts, we give you polls, we give you content ideas, we give you trackers. I mean, when I do these with people, I’m giving them like eight trackers and eight SOP sheets.
And then they’re able to go hire an engagement strategist and have that all be done for them because I don’t mind if people aren’t hiring our team, but a lot of people come to me and they’re like, I want your strategy. And I’m like, that’s sexy, I can give you that.
And where to find us literally just Instagram. I don’t even fuck around with any of the other platforms. If you want to talk to me, come on Instagram. Don’t carrier pigeon me. Don’t text me. Don’t email me. Just message me on Instagram.
I’ve gotten to a point literally where I tell my fiance and my mom, if you want to reach me, just message me on the Right Hand Glam account, because that’s the easiest way to find me and I will actually answer. So Right Hand Glam on Instagram, literally your right hand and then glam.
And then righthandglam.com if you want to see the whole party.
Emma Barrera (she/her) is the CEO of Right Hand Glam, The Engagement Agency. Using data-driven strategies, Right Hand Glam supports scaling service providers & coaches in organically growing your following and increasing brand awareness, ultimately converting conversations to cash over the past three years
Emma is also the founder of The Engagement Academy, a program that gives SMMs & VAs the tools, tech, and tenacity to add engagement to their product suite. Over the past year and a half, Emma has trained with nearly 100 service providers in her systems, strategies, and SOPs.
She is a TEDx Speaker and scaling mentor, serving CEOs who are looking for business + mindset support to scale their own businesses to agencies.
Outside of work, Emma can be found at rehearsal, traveling the world (her team often jokes that she’s never actually in the country), or jamming to Stevie Nicks. She lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia with her partner, Luke, and their two cats, Beans & Nala.
When Emma was 18 years old, she was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder. It ripped her entire life apart. She had aspirations to go into politics and was actually interning on the Hill at the time. Emma was in a top ten International Affairs program and had big dreams. All of that was taken away from her with the diagnosis.
She transferred schools after her third semester of college and came home. Emma finished her degree in three years, but had absolutely no plan. She hadn’t dared to dream of a future because she never thought she’d have one.
Emma fell into entrepreneurship. It was a total accident. But it saved her life.
Shortly before starting her business, Emma was in a terrifying downward spiral and almost reverted to how she was in the darkest periods of her life. Her business freed her and allowed her to create the life of my dreams.
She was living. She was no longer surviving, but truly thriving.
Emma is now a multi-six figure business owner with a full-time employee and 5 other team members. She’s been able to travel the world and get back the time she lost when her ideal college experience was taken away from her. She’s 25 years old, just bought a house, lives debt-free, and recently got engaged. There are BIG plans for the future.
Emma is living proof that you can conquer the most terrifying things life can throw at you. She wakes up every day grateful that her life is a “get to” and not a “have to” or a “should.”