For our career series “How I Got My Job,” we’ll be talking to real people, working real jobs across a variety of industries. These people are pushing boundaries and have made their mark. They’ve found success on their own terms, and now we’re extracting their advice on how to carve out your own career path.
Sara Koonar is half of the creative force behind Platform Media & Management, an influencer management agency based out of Toronto. Following a dream that she’d had for quite some time, Sara and her partner Daniel Ocean opened Platform in 2016. Masters of branding and social media marketing, Sara and Daniel have been able to build a creative and agile business that has flourished in the age of the social media influencer.
Now with a roster of over 25 influencers, they have plans to expand their employee base this year and have truly embraced all aspects of entrepreneurship.
Read more about what it was that pushed Sara to take the plunge into entrepreneurship with Daniel, some of the highs and lows that have come along with it, and some key lessons she’s learned along the way.
Full Name: Sara Koonar
Job Title: Co-Founder of Platform Media & Management Inc.
First thing’s first, what was the first job you ever had? The job after that? And how did it lead you to where you are today?
My first job was in retail at Foot Locker. I was surprisingly good at selling sneakers! And my second job was a bartender at a bar in Ottawa. They were both very sales-focused. At Footlocker I made a commission and bartending was always about tips. I learned early on how important building relationships with your clients and customer service was.
When did you realize that you wanted to open Platform Media? And how is it that you and Daniel Ocean came to open it together?
I had been thinking of opening an influencer agency (back then I would have called them bloggers, not influencers), years before opening Platform Media. I just wasn’t quite sure how it would work. I needed more experience in the industry to understand that advertiser and creator relationship, and what makes people take out their wallets. As the Editor-in-Chief at 29Secrets, I’d follow the sales team to meetings with their advertising clients and pitch branded content for the website. Five years of that work prepared me for my next step. When I met Daniel, we always talked about our dreams: he wanted to own a creative agency and I had my blogger agency idea. One night while we were out for dinner, we were both sharing our frustrations with our current job situations. Over a bottle of wine and yummy pasta at Terroni, we’d decided I was going to quit my job if we could get at least six influencers to agree to join our roster. Within a week I’d put in my notice.
What’s a typical day at work for you?
Each day is very different. Owning a small business, you end up doing a lot of jobs at once. This year we’ll be expanding our staff from four to six, so hopefully that alleviates some of the work on my plate. A typical day includes emails, meetings or phone calls with our clients, ensuring they are up to date on our roster, any exciting new content opportunities they have and any new services we can offer. I like to touch base with our roster as often as I can to ensure I am in the loop.
What has been the most fulfilling project you’ve worked on so far?
When I started Platform Media I really just put my head down and got to work. I stopped going out to events and just spent all day at the office. I wasn’t out there marketing myself or my business too much. The quality and care that went into our work mattered more to me. I was lucky that word spread, and people started to pay attention. I had a bit of a social presence from my years in media, which helped a lot. Since then I have been approached to do regular speaking events, typically on the topic of female empowerment or entrepreneurial panels. This has been really rewarding for me because it is something I wasn’t seeking out but just sort of fell into my lap.
In your time working, what do you think has been the most important thing that you’ve learned?
I’ve seen a lot of people who are eager to get success quickly. And they end up taking shortcuts or being dishonest to earn money fast. I realized that is not my strategy. I am in this for the long haul. Honesty and transparency are why Platform is respected and successful. I could have a very different business plan and be on a yacht right now drinking champagne, but that business wouldn’t last very long. I feel as a pioneer in this space, it is my duty to standardize this industry, clean out the frauds and help create more believable and honest campaigns.
Creative industries are notorious for unpaid internships or pay via “exposure.” How do you feel about this? Are you for or against unpaid internships?
If someone is earning a school credit, I understand why they would have an unpaid internship. We’ve had a few interns that have come to work for us for three months as part of their marketing courses. Usually I wouldn’t be allowed to pay them or offer them a bursary of any sort, which is a rule their school has enforced. But I’ve broken the rules and offered a transportation credit to pay for their TTC passes. I feel uncomfortable not paying people. I see other businesses like mine who use interns to do jobs that I have paid employees do. I think that is extremely irresponsible and unfair to expect people to have such important responsibilities and not be compensated.
What’s your advice to someone looking to get into your line of work?
I think you must be passionate about advertising. I have studied ads for years while working as a journalist. It was always really intriguing to me how the campaigns were conceived and rolled out. I think if you want to get into the world of influencer marketing you should be creative, understand good storytelling, and appreciate the work that goes into what these creators do. Building audiences of thousands that are inspired by your content is amazing. It takes large teams of editors, writers, photographers, and designers to build similar sized audiences at magazines. And to see one person get that level of exposure is extremely impressive to me.
What’s the best thing about working for yourself?
While working for myself I have a lot of freedom, but it’s not always a walk in the park. And I think it is more important to share with you how difficult it is. When you have your own business, you don’t get to leave the office at 5pm and forget about what happened that day. You are aware 24/7 that you are responsible for the livelihoods of your staff and your roster. If I know someone has a wedding coming up, or is buying a house, I go home thinking about how to ensure that I am doing my job, and the business is successful, so that they can pay for those things. But, I am slowly learning that to take care of everyone else I have to take care of myself first.
All images courtesy of Sara Koonar
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