I think it's about time I tell this story.
Names have been changed for obvious reasons.
So for a bit of background information on myself - I have been hustling for a very long time.
I started my photography business at the age of 14. My first client was a couple session, and I charged $100 for an hour and a half of my time, and 30 edits. I had a website, disclosure forms, business cards, and a wide portfolio including weddings, engagement, boudoir, comp cards, artists promos and product photography by the time I hit 16 years old. I am 27 now.
While I was developing my photography business, Facebook was in it's infancy years. I saw the birth of Facebook pages & Facebook ads, and the slow decline of organic content reach.
Every update was critical for me, because my business revenue and leads were 100% from Facebook. I was able to create a fairly stable business for myself, and my strategy was wickedly effective - pick a niche, obtain one client within that niche, provide a release form, provide photos once received, upload those photos to Facebook before the client did, tag the client. I was able to generate huge buzz every single time, and every round of uploads resulted in at least 3 new solid leads.
This strategy of course didn't last forever as ads were introduced, and I became more and more effective at getting the best reach for my organic posts, and keeping my audience as engaged as I possibly could.
Once I got to University, I gave freelance photography a go 100%. Honestly, I didn't like it. The hours were crap, It meant I couldn't have weekends to myself or time off when I wanted it, and I hated that I couldn't use all of my skills. I was making money but I felt bored.
After and during photography, I took on a number of other positions. Senior Photo Editor, Social Media & Customer Service Rep, Marketing Director for 94.9, Digital Media for Indie88 - I really loved them all.
From trial and error I knew what I liked.
- I wanted to use my whole skill set
- I wanted a regular schedule so I could have my weekends
- I liked (and was good) at managing people
- I liked (and was good) at training people
When my boyfriend Connor got accepted to another program in Toronto, it was a no-brainer to move. I put in my notice at 94.9, and off we went.
I was hired at Qode Media for 10 hours a week.
They hired me on PT, and I continued the job hunt for another position to fill the time. Queue the good part of this story.
I was interviewed by a social media "agency" of which I cannot disclose the name. "Agency" because it's really just the one guy. We'll call him Mark. I had already been waiting for Mark at the agreed upon coffee shop for 35 minutes when I gathered my things and was about to leave.
I received an email that he would be 5 more minutes, so I waited.
Mark walked in 42 minutes late to my interview, on his phone, and did not look up as he said "sorry just need to send an email". I sat in silence, staring at him incredulously for the next minute and a half.
Mark paid minimal attention to my interview, in between looking at his phone. I received an offer letter later that week. I had made my mind up that I wasn't going to go with this company due to how unprofessional Mark was, but I took a breath and thought, hey, let's give it a chance.
I saw a blank slate. Not only had this company purchased 1,000 fake followers (most of which have either disappeared or they removed), they had no strategy whatsoever. Nothing. The Instagram post from the day before literally had 0 likes and a link in the caption. My bet is that the parent company started as a marketing consulting firm, and saw there was money in social and jumped in without really understanding how it worked.
Once I started, I was on-boarded (digitally, because Mark was working out of his house) with another male, whom I'll call John. Our start date was the same, job role was the same. I didn't know much about John, but I did know that his graphic design style was... interesting. I assume John didn't stay working with Mark for very long, as some of the graphics he created were removed a few months later.
As I do, I put 100% into making content that was really next level. If I wasn't proud of it, I would scrap it and do it again. I went through some of our clients and noticed that the same content was being pushed out, over and over again. I created templates for regular types of content. I revised old post copy for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. I fixed weird crops on social profile and cover photos. I was surprised that the client wasn't complaining, but I thought "weird. I guess this must be industry standard for agencies".
A couple of weeks go by, and I send over an invoice to Mark. A couple more weeks go by and I send another. It's been 4 weeks since I've seen payment. I was getting a bit nervous. I receive payment for the first period, and Mark sends me back John's invoice, and asks if I can use the same format. But Mark, removed the hourly wage and not the full amount, or the hours. John was being paid a full $2/hour more than I was.
I was really polite at first. I sent an email simply asking for equal pay, and I reiterated that I had nearly a decade of social experience in small business, with the last three years also including management experience. The response was, well, negative. Mark did not only refuse to pay equal wage, but he got angry. He asked for his assets back.
I immediately agreed to sending whatever "documents" he requested. In the same email I asked for payment. His response was "Are you f*cking serious ?". Hilarity ensued. Payment, did not.
Over the next two and a half weeks, I contacted the Better Business Bureau, a couple of Government funded groups, and even had to ask another person who worked in IT (who was friends with Mark) what I could do to obtain payment. After I reached out to the other individual, I got paid.
While this was happening, I was happy and doing well at Qode Media. I had increased my hours from 10 to 30, on my way to needing full time. As I was complaining one day to my CFO, Dan, about the craziness that had happened and how completely lost they were. I told him that the worst part was that I could do Mark's job better than he could. Dan looked at me and asked, "why don't you?"
And, that's how it began. I would work 9-5 on Qode Media, learning about web design and SEO, writing blogs and copy, and then I would go home and work 6-11PM on Qode Social. I created the logo, and all the website copy, images and the design by myself, and worked with a developer to deliver it 3 months later. I barely ate and never saw my friends, and my poor boyfriend didn't see much of me when I was happy or mentally there. But I did it. I hired three interns (paid, but not much at first). I told them my vision, my motive, and my end goal.
Flash forward a few years, and things are going well.
We've outranked Mark and his "agency" for all of the top social media keywords, and taken a significant amount of the social media spend in Toronto. We've moved into a much larger office because growth happened so quickly - we have 15+ individuals who contribute to the social team, and we have several dedicated account managers, content creators, community managers, and videographers.
We work with some of my favourite brands, and I come into work knowing that I love what I do.
I know it's a cliche, but bad things are sometimes a huge opportunity.
Without Mark refusing to pay me equally, I would have never founded Qode Social.
So, if you're reading this (and I know you are), thank you, Mark.