The Social Media CEO Spotlight: Kayla Beckmann Barnhart of Small Fox Media
Kayla Beckmann Barnhart’s career has been an exciting mix of twists and turns that have eventually led her to be the SMCEO of Small Fox Media a boutique social media agency for active lifestyle brands. From competitive surfer, to magazine editor, to ad agency minion; her story and lessons learned along the way are sure to inspire any Social Media CEO!
She reminds us that we may not always know what the next thing is leading to, but to trust we are going in the right direction. Her favorite social media brands have a common thread (say it with us: authentic), and there are big things to come for her and her business in 2019!
Read on to get to know Kayla and how she got to where she is today…
Tell us more about your social media business! What is your "elevator pitch"?
Small Fox is a boutique social media marketing agency and we specialize in active lifestyle brands.
You have such an interesting career story! You've gone from a competitive surfer, to magazine editor, to ad agency minion, and now Small Fox CEO. How has your personal life, previous careers, interests and connections impacted and shaped your current business?
I actually had no intention of starting my own business and my career story is a series of “figuring it out as I go” type scenarios. I used to be a pro surfer and always knew I wanted to leverage what I had accomplished in that world. I have always been good at writing and speaking, so I decided to study broadcast and written journalism in college, with the intent of doing on-air talent for FUELTV. I put all my eggs in that basket and interned with them, only to have them change their demographic from surfing and skating (what I loved), to UFC fighting (not so much).
I left FUELTV with no backup plan and eventually found my way to Void Magazine, which was a local publication in Jacksonville that covered surfing. I had some friends that worked there and they needed help with writing, so I jumped at the chance. Once I began working there, I realized how much help they really needed and basically self-appointed myself as the editor of the magazine.
Through that opportunity, I also discovered my love of broadcasting, which led me to pitching a Void Magazine TV show. The team gave me the greenlight (and a whopping $200 per episode budget) and from there, I produced, wrote, and directed 24 episodes of the Void Magazine TV show- interviewing various bands and athletes.
Then, at the ripe age of 23 I hit my ceiling at Void and decided I needed to go. So I quit, yet again, without a backup plan. From there, I found myself at an ad agency doing account management. Although I wanted to be a producer, I was held onto the account management side of the business, which gave me a crash course in client relations and working with a variety of different sectors. While it was great experience, I began to feel the itch for something different and wanting to get out of the 9-5 grind.
So when I quit (again, without a plan), my boyfriend (now husband) said to me- “write down what you want to do.” So, that is exactly what I did. And when I began to write out what I wanted, I realized I truly wanted to be a producer and make TV. He looked at me and said, “well, do it!”. So naturally, I did.
Technically, Small Fox Media was then born in 2014 as a video production company. I partnered up with a talented cinematographer and we started getting jobs together. I handled the budgeting, client stuff, and he did the video. We had a ton of success the first two years, gaining recognition and awards. However, after a few years, the demand for professionally produced videos was declining due to the accessibility of cameras and high-quality software. Because of this, we began to have a hard time landing clients.
At the same time, we realized a lot of the videos we were making were for social media, but once we created them and handed them over to the client, they had no idea what to do with them. So, we started pitching social media services to clients and eventually became a full-service social media agency (and dropped the video production side) in January of 2018. Through networking and referrals, I landed bigger clients such as Sanuk and Teva, and now we are a boutique social media marketing agency that specializes in active lifestyle brands.
So as you can see, my career has been one stepping stone after the next without really knowing what each would lead to. I also picked up skills and interests along the way, leading me to what Small Fox Media is today.
What do you love about being a Social Media CEO?
I love having full ownership of everything that I do and everything that is done under my name. I decide the clients I work with and I am super fortunate that I can be picky about that. I decide what the voice is and what we sound like. I also get to decide who I work with on a team level and I how much money I’m going to make.
I’m also passionate about being a boss and mentor. I empower my team by paying them well above average for their roles, which helps them determine their value and worth, and I give them the opportunity to work with a flexible schedule.
What is the biggest challenge with being a Social Media CEO?
Everything I just said (ha!). But really, there is a lot of pressure to have ownership of everything while showing up for your clients and team. The same way you create success for yourself, you are equally responsible for everything that is not successful.
If you could give your younger self some words of wisdom, what would they be (does not have to be business related!)?
This one is hard because I have always been really confident. Kids did not like me growing up because I was so confident, it was borderline cocky. I blame my parents as they always told me I could do anything I wanted. Try out for the football team and surfing? Go for it!
So with that being said, I don't think I have any regrets. I would tell myself- “ Hey, you’re doing great. Trust your gut and trust your intuition and even if you have to close your eyes--keep moving forward.”
What are you most looking forward to in your business this year?
Even though Small Fox Media has been around since 2014, this is the first year I am crystal clear on what I am doing. In 2019, I’m really enjoying this place I’m in. I have worked really hard to get here and now I’m able to say, “wow-- I made it. I did the thing.” So, I want to sit in this space and enjoy it.
And from a tactical standpoint, I have identified I like working with a specific type of brand. I’m particularly interested in working with smaller brands that know who they are and have well-defined vision, but don’t have the manpower yet to show up. From my experience, the larger the brand, the less flexibility and creative allowance. They are definitely still fun to work with, but in 2019, I am especially passionate about break out brands and we will be pursuing that demographic.
I’m also really excited to start an official internship program this year. I have had a ton of interest and am attracting the right people, I just have not had anything set up. So this year, we will be launching an official internship program and I’m excited to serve as a mentor to college students that want to learn about social media for brands.
For Small Fox, last year was a year of turning the business upside down. This one is going to be more slow and steady. I like to say, speak softly and carry a big stick. We are focusing on a few little things that will make a big impact in 2019.
Our theme this month is network. Your clients are recognizable brands like Sanuk, Icemule, and Teva. How has your network and past agency experience affected your current client roster?
All of my current clients have been through personal referrals. Sanuk was first and came from an old connection when I was 17 years old through surfing! Eventually, Sanuk referred me to me to Teva (they are a sister brand).
Icemule was a connection through the agency I worked at, and I have gotten other clients through partnering up with a branding agency that I got connected with while working at Void.
When you are thinking about how can you can leverage your network, you have to tell people what you are doing. Reach out to people and say “hey I am doing this thing. Do you have any leads or connections for me?”. People genuinely want to help you. For me, everything came from sending an email and straight up telling people what I am doing and asking if anyone knows of leads or work. Sounds simple, but it works!
Give us three brands you are loving on social media right now!
I absolutely love what they doing on social. Their feed is super thoughtful and they are very true to who they are. They don't take themselves too seriously and often their captions have nothing to do with their bottom line. They have created this extremely loyal following because they are not constantly thinking about “how can we sell this thing and do this thing?”. They are just themselves, and people can sense that and appreciate it.
I picked them because they are doing what is not obvious for them. As a super cool and hip makeup brand, it would be easy to fit into a certain perfectly curated mold. Yet, they don’t. If you look at their grid, it’s kind of a mess, but what they are doing is very approachable. It feels like you are talking and reading something from a girlfriend of yours. They are very in-tune with their community, so they know they want the authentic factor.
I love this brand because they truly are authentic, inclusive, and they (like @whalebonemagazine), don’t take themselves too seriously. Their #doingthings movement is creating a lifestyle that says, “hey! You don't have to go to Crossfit and Pure Barre to get after it. Taking your dog on walk going to the grocery store is also #doingthings”.
To sum it up, I think the one thing that these brands get is the authentic factor. They know their audience and cater to that fully.
#RealTalk | We like to keep it real + even though you’ve obviously been successful in your business, can you remember a time when shit hit the fan, or when something you tried failed miserably? How you were able to bounce back or what that incident inevitably taught you?
Ahh yes. So right before attending Steph’s retreat last year (AKA CEO Yeah!), I‘d moved to Denver from Jacksonville, FL. Denver is much more expensive than FL (my rent went way up). In that time, I was partnering with an agency and doing social media for three of their clients.
Then, all of the sudden, I lost three retainers in the span of two days from this agency. I was devastated (and not to mention, had just hired my first full- time employee).
With the loss of over half my monthly income, the negative thoughts came creeping in saying “I am not qualified to do this. Who am I? I am in no business to be running a business. I messed up these relationships.” etc etc… All the things.
I gave myself the rest of the week to grieve and barley answered emails. Then, I woke up one day and came to terms with it. I realized they were not the right clients for me anyways as I was always defending my work, and they were not in the industry I wanted to serve.
Then, as soon as I came to terms with it and was ready to move forward, I got the email from Teva. Someone internal left and they needed someone to be brought on to support their social media ASAP. And by the next week, I had already been onboarded and replaced my three client retainers with just Teva. I went from lowest low to on top of the world in one week!
The lesson learned is to always remember that you lose clients because they are not a good fit to begin with. So it is usually for the best, and if you keep moving forward, you will create space for the right clients to come along.
Who was your 90's crush?
This sounds so icky now but I was so obsessed with Brian Littrell of the Backstreet Boys. Yes, the one with the receding hair line. I don’t know why--but it was him all along. I had a group of girlfriends where I was the leader, so I could of gotten Nick, but I chose Brian…
Wanna hang out with Kayla and other badass Social Media CEO’s like her?
Join our exclusive Clubhouse for female-identifying social media professionals! This is not your mama’s Facebook group. Join the clubhouse to get access to loads of Social Media CEO resources, a monthly book club, virtual pizza parties with Steph (yes, pizza!), and no bullshit community of awesome women.