Jessica Sorentino talked with Y Not You Media about her journey into the world of social media marketing and how she created her own company, Relevè Branding Agency. Having studied marketing at the University of Delaware and fascinated by the power of storytelling, Jessica became the go-to-girl among her familiars for advice on effective branding. Fueled by this perception, Jessica elevated her career, guiding clients on how to grow their following and promote their business on social media through her own agency. Her mission is to help others make their dreams come true through unique and creative branding strategies.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Jessica Sorentino and I am the founder of Relevè Branding Agency, located right here in New York. I grew up in Westchester, studied at the University of Delaware, and am a city girl through and through. I have lived and worked in Boston, but Manhattan is my home. I love immersing myself in the city’s culture and working from coffee shops. My favorite thing to do is network and build connections, so ironically, even though my business is a digital one, most of my work comes from word of mouth referrals. A typical day for me includes journaling, many cups of coffee, a workout, some wine, and an old episode of Grey’s Anatomy while I work. I’m a big reader, and the beach is both my happy place and visual aesthetic. You can follow me on Instagram at @jessicasorentino.
What made you get into doing what you do now?
I studied marketing in college and was always drawn to the psychology and aesthetic components of brand recognition and content. I graduated just on the cusp of the launch of digital marketing, so I had the fantastic opportunity to work within the new landscape as it unfolded. I love creativity and memorable advertising. I think my favorite part of my job is working on the business storytelling process and networking with other driven individuals and teams. I decided to take the entrepreneur route of opening an agency after I realized many people already considered me an expert in the industry, asking for tips and advice for their business journey on social media. I thought, “if this many people value my help without my effort, imagine what I could do with a business plan behind me.” And now, here we are.
What differentiates you from others within your industry?
While I live on Instagram and primarily market brands through the app, I believe that social media should be an extension of a brand, not the brand itself. If the apps were to shut down today, I want my clients to feel confident that they have solid branding in place that can be used within whatever marketing frontier emerges next. I believe a brand should innovate and evolve, all while keeping their integrity and bending trends to fit their needs, if they feel inclined to participate in one. Lastly, my team and I work hand-in-hand with our clients. We develop relationships with each and every client and integrate ourselves as part of their team, always prioritizing their business goals and brand values.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
In five years, I see myself behind the scenes, no longer client-facing. Right now, we’re only a year and a half old – still a baby! – and we’re operating at high capacity with little consistency. I do a majority of the work myself: backend, RBA content, client work. I do have one employee who I would die without. In fact, part of my drive for consistency stems from my desire to offer her a stable compensation instead of just commission. The five-year plan is to develop a strategy which will allow for more long-term projects and client relationships instead of only offering a la carte, month-to-month packages. By prioritizing consistency, I’ll be able to grow the team and our stream of content. By taking a step back from client work, I can start to make my other dreams for the agency’s future come true.
What challenges have you faced while building your business and brand?
My biggest challenges have been on the business side of growth. I always had a solid brand in mind, and fortunately, when I set out to develop the agency, my team was able to understand and execute my wishes. But on the business side… that’s where it gets dicey for me. I spent my first year on the job practically working for free, doing tasks my agency doesn’t even offer because I was “building a portfolio” or “networking.” I don’t have a background in business, and in hindsight, I should have spent more time honing some of those skills. I wish I stuck to a solid price list off the bat and learned how to have those awkward, tough conversations. It would have been helpful, even if the ultimate goal was to make enough money so I could hire someone else to handle the business responsibilities.
What have you learned from these challenges?
I’ve learned two things: you don’t have to do it all and there’s a power in saying no. Seemingly different, these two lessons complement each other really well. First of all, it’s valuable to learn when to educate yourself and spend your own time learning a new skill versus when to outsource and hire a professional for different roles. For example, while I’ve hired an attorney and an accountant – both on a needs-basis for larger tasks such as privacy policies, contracts, and taxes – I’ve also taught myself how to manage the day-to-day tracking as a manner of cutting costs. Second of all, learning how to say no allows you to take control of your workflow and business, just like how knowing when to educate yourself or outsource does. You do not have to fulfill every outlandish request of a client just because they are a client. Bend over backwards, but within limits. If they want a service outside of your scope of work, you can comp something every now and then, but realistically speaking, they should be charged. If they push back, say no. If they want something you don’t offer and you don’t have the bandwidth or skillset, say no. If they don’t pay your invoice, charge a late fee and say no to starting the work. It’s a HUGE lesson.
What advice would you give to others while on their journey?
Take your time. A downside to social media is it makes every entrepreneur seem successful off the bat… but looks can be deceiving. Don’t compare yourself to someone else’s business model or account. You are starting your own business from your brain, your knowledge, your creativity, and your skillset. You are what makes your business different from the others out there. So, take your time to figure out what your value is, what your why is, and what you plan to bring to the table. Then, home in on the how’s. It’s a process, but if you take the time upfront, you’ll launch strong. You’ll be able to make evolutionary changes as you see what consumers need versus having to start fresh time and time again.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Know your worth. I have – as mentioned above – always struggled with difficult conversations and the strength to demand what should be no-brainer requests. If I could talk to my younger self, I would tell her to negotiate that higher salary when I work in corporate or charge her friends for the work she’ll do for them. Take freelance invoicing and compensation seriously.
What is your why?
Ah, this is what it all comes down to, right? WHY did I begin this journey? My WHY is my desire to help others see their dreams come true. I’ve already mentioned that I took this leap after many people solicited advice from me for their social media and marketing journeys. I LOVE helping people work towards and accomplish their dreams. It is my own dream to help them build theirs. I don’t look for the big-fish client (though I wouldn’t turn them down, ha-ha). Instead, I get so excited to collaborate with the passionate entrepreneur or small business owner to help them develop content and a marketing strategy that will elevate their brand to the next level. Of course, this “why” is also the reason I struggle with the hard conversation surrounding payment. I’m eager to help, and sometimes – fortunately, not as often anymore – I let that be the driving force in a business relationship. Now, before I can let that happen, I circle back to my “why.” I remember that if I don’t get paid, or follow proper business procedures, I may not be able to help other businesses… because I’d be out of business. I’ve learned to reconnect with my “why” before doing anything, whether it’s writing a blog post, recording a podcast episode, drafting a newsletter, working on a social campaign, or, most importantly, prior to pitching a perspective client. All it takes is the simple utterance of “My dream is to help you elevate your dream” as part of my morning ritual. Every day, I start my work from there.