Social Business Strategies founder talks company acquisition

The Karcher Group announced on Feb. 15 that it had acquired Social Business Strategies, a social media strategy and consulting firm in Columbus.

A Web marketing and development and data services agency based in North Canton, Ohio, TKG had been keeping an eye on Columbus over the last year, as the city is gaining national recognition for being an incubator for small and mid-sized businesses.

“We discovered that Columbus businesses need an agency that is able to cater to them,” said Geoff Karcher, president of TKG, in a statement. “Too many agencies start out targeting small to mid-sized businesses, but abandon them at the first opportunity to land a big client. TKG is built to serve both.”

The addition of SBS follows TKG’s November acquisition of Cleveland-based data services company SitesNow− moves designed to strengthen TKG’s capacity to fully develop strategies and solutions that are tailored to each client’s needs.

In an effort to give Metropreneur readers a  look inside a small business acquisition, we sat down with Nate Riggs, who founded SBS and now serves as TKG’s director of social marketing. In the following interview, he shares his biggest professional challenge since SBS and TKG merged, why selling was right for he and SBS, and what business owners should consider if they’re looking to sell.

The Metropreneur: First, for those who are unfamiliar, when and why did you start Social Business Strategies?

Nate Riggs: I started Social Business Strategies back in 2009. At the time, I was working in an [search engine optimization] firm and the use of social media tools was starting to pick up momentum for businesses. I think that was largely driven by the whole mentality that social media was seen as a free tool, and the economy was struggling.

I saw an opportunity to develop a new set of strategic consulting services around helping businesses get their head around how customer communication and marketing would change because of the social web, so with a little bit of money in the bank and one interested client, I turned in my two week notice and took the plunge. It was an interesting first year and there were times I’d wake up at night wondering why I had done what I did.

[M]: In September 2011, you took a job with Bob Evans, where you led digital marketing efforts. But with the help of  a contract worker, Sarah Storer, SBS was able to keep working with a few clients. Have all those clients moved with you to The Karcher Group? 

 NR: We just recently finished up a client program that was an SBS client brought over during the transition to TKG. A few of the others are project-based and we expect work to continue as usual as we move through 2012 and beyond.

I think the biggest opportunity for us lies in a sizable book of business that TKG has built over the past 12 years. When Geoff and I first started talking, one of the main benefits we saw in coming together was having the ability to offer a new set of services and support for social media to an incredibly deep base of existing TKG clients. Most of those businesses already partner with us for everything from web hosting and data services to web marketing and search engine optimization.

We’ve been fortunate to have a sizable influx of interest from our existing clients, some of whom have been partners for years and have developed internet marketing programs in place.  It’s about the best situation we could have hoped for and it’s keeping us excited and very busy.

[M]: What does SBS specifically bring to TKG?

NR: TKG has been incredibly effective at helping clients with the core of internet marketing. What I mean here is that the agency is passionate and experienced about making sure that the “hub” for a company that can be a website, blog, or a combination of the two is built very effectively so that it converts interested visitors into actually leads and opportunities.

SBS brings to the table a core expertise in creating creative, consistent, engaging and sustainable content strategies that draw consumer attention to internet “hubs” or the web properties that companies actually own. Most companies today are so focused on using social media outposts that they forget that those networks are more powerful when used to refer traffic to owned internet properties.

All of that combined with TKG’s core expertise in web marketing and particularly search engine optimization for relevant keywords and phrases for the business makes us a true soup to nuts digital agency that has brought everything under one roof. Coming from someone who’s operated a virtually agency model, I can tell you that there are significant advantages to both the clients and the agency in having all of the services under the same company.

[M]: What made you decide this acquisition would be a good move for you and the company itself?

NR: The move to TKG has been good for me in that it allows me continue the work I started with SBS, but lets someone else run the actual business. At the end of the day, I’ve always been a purest when it comes to social business strategy. That’s what I enjoy doing most, whether it’s for my own presence or clients. I did operations, payroll, taxes, and all the other fun stuff that goes with running a business because it was required. The acquisition gave me a chance to cash out on about three years of hard work, find a better balance between my family and my work, and the opportunity to really focus on what I enjoy doing most.

[M]: Why did you stay on after the acquisition?

NR: That was the plan from the beginning. Keep in mind that SBS was a consultancy and a set of intellectual property, processes and expertise. That’s a very different type of company as compared to software as a service solution that most startups focus on developing. The value of the acquisition on both sides was bringing SBS’s team of Sarah and I together with the team of web marketing experts at TKG in order to develop new services and products. It’s an incredible match, and we are already in process with some of those plans.

[M]: Have you faced any challenges during the acquisition process that surprised you? 

NR: For me personally, learning to delegate has been the biggest challenge. I’ve been so used to taking on every aspect of the digital business in both SBS and Bob Evans that I’ve had to relearn how to lean on support. Luckily, Geoff and the team at TKG are all but to familiar with the challenges of merging separate companies and  they’ve been good guides in helping Sarah and I to transition and become a party of a larger team.

[M]: You and Sarah will continue to work in Columbus. Are there plans to open a satellite office in Columbus?

NR: Eventually, yes. That said, we’re not really in any hurry. With things like Google +, collaboration at a distance becomes pretty simple. We’ll be spending this year working through our own positioning, developing out and testing new service offerings around content engineering and community management, as well as low hanging fruit opportunities with our existing client base. If all goes well and we’ve built enough volume around the new services and need to hire more support staff, we’ll be ready to look at opening up TKG South towards the end of 2012.

[M]: Do you have any advice for business owners who are trying to decide whether they should sell their business?

NR: Aside from dollars, capabilities and vision, I’d encourage any entrepreneurs to look closely at the culture of the company offering to make an acquisition. It’s worth taking time to make sure that their culture aligns with the vision you have for your life and career. When those two visions don’t align, it usually results in very short relationships and the acquired company working through that contract and then parting ways. If you put in the cultural diligence up front, I think it helps in breeding a more successful marriage in the long term.

For me, not only was TKG fit in terms of capabilities, expertise and direction, it was also a good cultural fit. Most everyone at TKG has or is on their way to having families, and there is a great amount of importance placed on finding a good balance between the work and life. While every company today will talk that talk, it became immediately apparent that TKG also walked it. For me, that was a key factor in my decision to sell my business.

Photo of Nate Riggs provided by Chris Walker Photography. Chris Walker works as a on-location commercial photographer working with cooperate, advertising, and editorial clients. If you would like to connect with Chris Walker Photography, email CW@CWalkerPhotography.com or visit CWalkerPhotography.com.