At Creative Allies, we are always looking to build relationships with freelancers all around the world. Freelancers are essential to our company and to our clients. One of the lessons learned from 2018, is that as a company we need to do a much better job building real relationships with the freelancers in our community. We aren’t looking to just have a database of people that we don’t know. So this month, we are starting our Freelancer Spotlight to not only get to know our community better but also allow them the opportunity to use our platform to talk about their talents and goals.
In our first spotlight, I sat down to interview Stephanie Caudle, a writer and public relations expert. She is also the founder of Black Girl Group, a community where she connects companies seeking to hire more diverse talent to African-American women freelance creatives.
Stephanie has been a part of our community since earlier in 2019 and has worked on a few different projects for Creative Allies. Enjoy getting to know Stephanie as you read through a recap of our interview conversation.
Creative Allies: Tell us how you got into freelancing?
Stephanie: When I really think about it, I’ve actually been freelancing since college. Back then, me and my friends used to make MySpace pages for people and charge just a few dollars for it. I didn’t realize at the time, I was freelancing. I was making websites!
But I technically became a freelancer after college. I wasn’t making enough money from my full-time job as an entry level marketing coordinator so I needed a way to be able to make money quickly, but also pretty consistently. At the time, I was still keeping in contact with a lady that I did an internship for and she asked if I was interested in taking on some part-time work. She started to refer to me as a freelancer. This is actually how I got to know the term and what it really meant.
Creative Allies: So you’ve been doing freelance work for a while. At what point did you decide that freelancing was for you?
Stephanie: I think I figured it out once I started to gain some traction and I started getting more and more opportunities to work with other clients. It actually gave me something to look forward to. At a certain point, my full-time job was pretty routine so it wasn’t something that excited me every single day. By doing my freelance work, I got a new spark that helped me chase my dream.
Creative Allies: Ok. Chasing your dream. Tell us more about your dream.
Stephanie: I have so many! I’ve always said that my biggest dream was to make other people’s dreams come true. I’m able to do that through storytelling as a publicist because most people have this dream of having their names in lights. I’m able to give clients that glimmer of hope, by helping them land an online interview or a podcast interview or sometimes even TV interviews. Just being able to help raise awareness about their brand and the dreams that they’re working towards. That’s always been my dream, just to be able to help other people, and spread the word about other people’s brand.
Creative Allies: Take us back to your early days. A lot of times, we actually define who we are pretty early on in life, but then stray away from it. What did you want to be when you were a kid?
Stephanie: Well, my initial dream was to be a pediatrician, but I hate science and math! I was good at it, but I just didn’t like it. I had to work too hard for it. So I realized that wasn’t going to work. Even as early as 6 or 7 years old, I really enjoyed writing. Poems. Short stories. Our school had this thing called the Young Authors Competition. So me and my older brother, he can draw really well, wrote a book together. It was called “The Night The Lights Went Out”. We actually won the competition, and after that I had this dream of being a big-time author that would eventually turn my books into stage plays and then into movies.
I still somewhat have the dream of one day working in television or film. I don’t know if that will ever happen because the trajectory of my life has been so focused on PR. But who knows what the future holds.
Creative Allies: Talk about a memorable public relations project you’ve been a part of.
Stephanie: Several years ago, I was hired to be an intern at a record label. I won’t say which label, but I was hired and told it was a paid internship in Atlanta. When I got there not only was I told I would be getting paid, but what I thought was going to be an internship was really a full-time role that I would be doing for free.
So I became the record label’s public relations person because their previous person quit. This experience was so memorable for me for many reasons. It wasn’t just a regular internship where I would get coffee or make copies. I had the opportunity to meet artists and do real work.
At the time I stepped in, there was actually a PR crisis that I had to clean up. I had no idea what crisis management was at the time. But I Googled what crisis management was and I tried my hardest to dig us out of that hole.
That was a stressful time for me. I didn’t get paid and I was living with a complete stranger that somebody else connected me with. I was living upstairs in her house, and I had to pay her rent even though I had a job that didn’t pay me. I was too afraid to tell my parents so it was a stressful time.
Creative Allies: Was this all while you were in college?
Stephanie: Yes. It was the summer before my senior year. I was actually hoping they would hire me full time. But since they didn’t pay me for the internship I realized that wasn’t an option.
Creative Allies: What did you learn from this crazy experience? I believe we can learn lessons from everything and everywhere if we take the time to really find them.
Stephanie: One thing I’ll say is that it was really tough. I cried a lot, but it was a good experience. It taught me to never give up. It taught me that I never wanted to be that low in my life after college. Despite everything that was going on, I was able to go to industry events and meet people.
That didn’t really serve me well until about 10 years later. And now some of those people that I met in Atlanta are coming back into my life to connect with me. They see the work that I’ve done so they’re now able to hire me. Not necessarily people from that label, but people that I worked with or met at different networking events.
So it did come back full circle. Even from that experience, I always tell people that when you’re in PR, especially, you can never get in a mind frame of ‘that’s not my job’ or ‘I can’t do that’. You just figure it out. That’s part of public relations. You figure out things on the fly. There’s no manual, you just have to get things done. And whatever fires come up you have to figure out how to put them out.
Creative Allies: Tell us about Black Girl Group and why you started this company.
Stephanie: Black girl group is an online community of African American women, freelance creatives. I created Black Girl Group – it was a dream. A few years ago, I had a really stressful day at work. I went to sleep and prayed. I was like, there has to be more to life than this. I was so stressed out working 14 hour days. And I was just like, what else do you have in store for me? Then one night, I dreamed the words black girl group. Literally those exact words.
But I’m kind of person where if I ask for a sign and I feel like I’m given a sign, that’s not enough. I’m like, okay, if this is the sign, you gotta give me something else too so I know it was the sign!.
Creative Allies: Yeah we can all be shaky like that sometimes. Like I need a sign to know that the earlier sign was the right sign!
Stephanie: You gotta let the light blink twice or something like that! So I had this dream and I saw the website laid out even down to the colors. I saw that it was a website very similar to Upwork. But for black women freelancers. In addition to having the dream, it just started clicking with me. As black women freelancers, we’re not always privy to the opportunities that other people who are not African American are privy to.
Creative Allies: Why do you think that is?
Stephanie: I’m not really sure. And I don’t think I realized how underprivileged I was in terms of being a freelancer until I started talking to some of my other freelance friends who are not minorities. And they would tell me how easy freelancing is for them. How clients are always being thrown their way and how they are never questioned on their rates.
That’s just the society that we live in and so Black Girl Group made sense to me. Before I really started pushing it as a business model, I created a Twitter page. Then I started pitching the idea of Black Girl Group to publications to see if they would do stories about the group and talk about our Twitter page. It actually worked.
I would tell them that I created this Twitter page to share experiences and past work among black female freelancers. Then they started writing about us and tagging us on their socials. In turn, our Twitter following has continued to grow. It’s grows organically because people have read about us and then start following us. Then with my background in SEO I was able to start writing content on our website. Of course that helps us grow even more of an audience.
Creative Allies: So what do you want for the future of Black Girl Group? What are some of your goals?
Stephanie: My number one goal is to help black women find sustainable income opportunities from clients. I also want to offer resources, like education on different topics. I want to be in a position to help other black women in a way where they’re not always having to prove why they deserve to be in certain areas.
Creative Allies: What advice would you give to someone interested in public relations?
Stephanie: You have to get comfortable with rejection. Even as a freelance publicist or any freelancer, you’re always in a position where you’re having to sell yourself and sell your services. I guess it’s the same with whenever you apply for a job, you’re always having to sell yourself to the company. Public relations is so competitive. Not only are you competing with people who just graduated, you are also possibly competing with people who may be the same age as your parents.
You will hear the word no a lot. Especially when you’re at the entry level stages. You’ll hear a lot of no’s before you hear that one yes. But you have to continue to keep pushing forward and get creative. Reach out to local companies and see if you can intern or volunteer to help them with PR. You can reach out to a company and ask if you can join their board and offer your PR services that way. Do whatever you have to do to ultimately turn all those no’s you’ve gotten into a yes because you’ve proved yourself in the industry.
Creative Allies: What other advice would you give to a new freelancer, no matter what type of work they do?
Stephanie: I wish they offered a freelancer course in college. Maybe even high school. There isn’t enough information out there, especially for young people to understand how to become a freelancer. You see plenty of classes, even majors for entrepreneurship but a lot of students don’t even know freelancing is an option.
But for someone considering freelancing or just getting started, persistence is everything. Some freelancers struggle with finding clients but you have to be persistent. I pitch all the time. Some days I may send 200 pitches. You might get one response where someone wants to follow up with a meeting. But that’s how it is because it’s so competitive out there.
Another piece of advice I would give is to find out what makes you stand apart. Determine what your focus is and have the case studies to back up your work. I have an SEO background and that’s what kind of helps me stand out from other PR professionals. I have both PR and digital marketing experience which is a rare skill set to have.
The last thing is, don’t give up. It is hard. There will be days where you want to go back into the workforce. But if it’s something you really want to do, you have to keep at it no matter what. And don’t be afraid to do things outside of your wheelhouse. You can be a virtual assistant for example, that might be your way in the door with a client.
Creative Allies: Anything else you’d like to share?
Stephanie: And at the end of the day I do just want to help people, you know what I mean? Because I know that there is a need for freelancers to find work. If anyone has a question about my community, Black Girl Group, or you are interested in hiring African American women freelancers, you can reach us at blackgirlgroup.com.