Teresa Bigelow, Founder of Spiral5, talks about the agency’s Starter Publicist Incubator program which teaches communicators how to be freelancers by developing their skill sets and networks. Teresa also explains the impact of the program and gives valuable advice for new freelancers.
DOUG: Our next guest has the added coolness factor of actually starting something that’s fresh and new. Tell us about Spiral5.
TERESA: We’re essentially an all freelance boutique PR firm that also serves as a career incubator. And those two elements are actually symbiotic.
DOUG: Yeah. And you talk about that incubator. It’s sort of the starter publicist incubator. What does that mean?
TERESA: Yeah, starter publicists is the term we came up with. It’s essentially like a junior publicist or an apprentice. And the idea is that we are identifying high potential PR talent from across the country, in some cases, the world, but mostly in the US. We identify the talent and then we put them through an eight week online course and training. From there they go through a 12 month apprenticeship as the starter publicist incubator and within that, they start taking on small clients, startups, artists, creatives, people who are looking for PR support but might not be able to afford a PR agency quite yet.
DOUG: And now one might think a startup publicist. Great. Maybe you’ve graduated from college, you’re ready to go. But you’ve also really focused on women who want to get back into the workplace.
TERESA: Yeah, so there’s a couple different segments of the incubator participant. Mostly they are career change women, some men, we like to say that anybody who identifies strongly with the Sisterhood is welcome at Spiral five. The publicist Sisterhood is how we tag that. Some of them are coming right out of college, so we call that the entry level freelancer. So they might be two or three years out of college, maybe they’ve had some other jobs or maybe they’re still sort of serving tables and are looking for something part time to do as a freelancer. And so the idea that they can then connect in with our layers of senior publicists or our collective of women who are experienced independent publicists, they can connect with them and sort of learn through maybe two or three different junior publicist roles rather than working as an account coordinator at a PR agency. So it kind of creates a different environment for them that’s both learning income and freelance. The other more common segment that we work with would be women who are maybe coming from marketing backgrounds or social media or other, maybe in-house communications, and they’re looking to launch a PR, a freelance PR career. Also, women who are kind of brand new, but they have very good writing skills and that’s kind of what we love about it, because there’s all this talent out there that’s really not serviced because it feels like the only way to get into PR is to get a job at a PR agency. And oftentimes that’s challenging if you don’t already have a little bit of a track record there.
DOUG: What is so unique about this to me is you could take each of those aspects and that would be a cool thing to be doing, helping women expand their career options and get back into the workforce, helping your own firm bring in talent to grow your own business, and of course, helping the PR industry as a whole solve some talent shortage issues by getting more people into the industry and then even getting people to become entrepreneurs who might not have been able to do otherwise. What sort of sparked this approach to bring all these things to the table at once?
TERESA: So I got my start at a PR agency, entry level like a lot of people do, and I learned a lot in those two years. And one of the main things I learned was that I’m much better suited as a freelancer. I wasn’t good at managing up and I was better at sort of taking the skill sets that I learned and then adapting them to the way that I wanted to work and the types of clients that I really wanted to work with. Of course, at that young age you don’t really quite have the professional skills or even the network necessarily to be able to just go off and have a full time freelance PR career. That said, the skills are fairly easy to learn for the right person. And so as I went through my throughout my twenties, I kind of went through a couple of different sectors of PR and then worked in-house and finally when I started my consultancy in 2016, I realized, okay, so I know how to do PR, but setting my rates, invoicing, client relations, this was all a new paradigm for me. And so I started just interacting with other publicists who worked independently, asking to buy an hour of their time, seeing if they could kind of help me walk through some of these steps initially and that sort of then became a collective of independent publicists and communicators from there. I think actually moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is where I live now, and I moved here through a remote work program called Tulsa Remote, I realized that there’s probably so much untapped talent and there is, around the country in these, you know, more quote unquote, rural areas or growth size markets. And then they’re not necessarily going to have the same access or the networks to to be able to achieve a full time freelance career. So I just started connecting the dots. And then the last thing I’ll say about that from a values and lifestyle perspective, I really love the freedom to be able to just pack up my laptop, bring it anywhere in the world, and work from there, live from there. I mean, it’s like the the OG digital nomad. But beyond that, there’s really something to be said about waking up every day and designing your schedule and your life and who you work with.
DOUG: You mentioned yourself as a freelancer, but I almost see you as a “free-prenuer” if I can coin that term, because it’s sort of the freelance, but you’re an entrepreneur at the same time, which I guess many freelancers are to a degree, but it seems like you’re building sort of a multilevel business at the same time because you’ve got a network team that you can bring together to do projects for clients. You’ve also got this training program. So how do you manage all of the different pieces of that?
TERESA: Yeah, you’re right. It really started as a consultancy. It was just me, freelance, independent, however you want to frame that since 2020 when the collective kind of launched for real at that point. It was very informal before that, when I launched the collective and the membership, started charging for membership, built the training with five other PR pros, who were so helpful in bringing all that together. It’s like it’s a huge training. It takes eight weeks to get through all of the modules. We then kind of transitioned more into a boutique firm dynamic, but that’s how we say all freelance because I am the only full time employee however, the clients that we’re bringing in, they’re typically at a boutique agency level, and then I’m leveraging the talent through the incubator to support me on those accounts. So I do delegate quite a bit as far as the direct clients that Spiral5 works with, which are typically, you know, in the psychedelics space, we’ve got a lot of psychedelic clients and then entertainment, culture and innovation and then all of the other clients, they can come from all sorts of different sectors. A lot of them are small businesses, startups across wellness, health, lifestyle, music, you name it. And those people work directly with our apprentices and I’m supervising. So we have workflow in place where I’m asking them to send send the pitch you’re sending out, send the press release, the media list. I review it, and then I kind of let them do their thing.
DOUG: For people out there who are doing freelance PR or looking to maybe adjust their life to be instead of working at the agency to become a freelancer. Any advice for them?
TERESA: Yeah. Well, I would say, number one, start thinking about the types of clients you’d like to work with and your network. So really the best way to generate consistent work in business as a freelancer is to look directly around like, who are you around and who if you’re in a room full of entrepreneurs, looking at this way, somebody needs PR in there. And so just keep putting yourself in those rooms and become the person in your network that people know does PR and you’ll start to see a nice flow of that. And I think that’s from the revenue perspective, which it’s hard to have a business without revenue. So I would say that’s like my number one piece of advice. Of course, incubators like Spiral5, it’s designed to kind of help launch you. And it’s been very cool to see our, you know, our beta testers in 2021 now having full time PR careers where I’ll send them client referrals and they’re like, Sorry, I can’t take on any more work. And I’m like, that’s amazing! And so I think networks and being patient with yourself and adaptability, appreciation, I mean, all of these sort of might sound kind of life coach-ey, but it’s a, I think becoming an entrepreneur or solopreneur or a freelancer. There’s a lot of characteristics and a lot of character building in general around adaptability and flexibility that I think are super valuable.
DOUG: And I think one other added tip is to go back to your previous employer because they might need you. That was one of my own experiences when I started this company, and recently we interviewed someone for this show who’s had a very similar experience where that’s an opportunity to get work. It’s really look at who already knows you. How about if you’re someone within a brand’s communication department or at an agency maybe looking for talent to work with. Any advice for them based on your own experience?
TERESA: Number one piece of advice is do it. I think it’s very cost effective. It’s efficient, it’s more flexible for everybody. And I think since COVID, especially with the great resignation or whatever they’re calling it these days, a lot of people, especially more senior level, are looking at a lifestyle, a work life balance that feels a little bit more in their control and therefore they’re not really looking to go back into the 9 to 5 corporate world. And so if you want that talent, you might need to consider a less conventional employment package for them, including part time contract work.
And of course, it’s great because then you can modularize it like you can bring them in for a project for three months. You don’t have to worry about paying for all their benefits. You know, it’s it kind of works great for everybody. That’s what we call the democratisation effect. Not everything needs to be concentrated within a big agency or big internal comms teams.
DOUG: I guess the difference between a freelancer and an entrepreneur is the freelancer can sort of try and convince themselves they have a lot more control. You clearly had control of the information you shared. Thanks so much for being a great resource to the people who watch the show.
DOUG: Thank you, Doug. This was great.