Boss Responses

#40: Behind the Scenes of PR Freelancing with Expert Michelle Garrett

June 07, 2024 Treasa Edmond
#40: Behind the Scenes of PR Freelancing with Expert Michelle Garrett
Boss Responses
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Boss Responses
#40: Behind the Scenes of PR Freelancing with Expert Michelle Garrett
Jun 07, 2024
Treasa Edmond

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In this episode of Boss Responses, host Treasa Edmond is joined by guest Michelle Garrett, an influential PR consultant, writer, and speaker specializing in B2B companies. Michelle shares insights from her extensive career, including founding her own consulting business. They discuss the importance of choosing the right clients, setting realistic expectations, and the value of freelancers supporting each other through platforms like Michelle’s Freelance Chat. Michelle's practical advice on client management, thought leadership, and the significance of building lasting relationships provides valuable lessons for anyone running their own business or working with clients.

00:00 Introduction to the Podcast and Guest

00:11 Michelle Garrett's Background and Achievements

01:16 Discovering Michelle and Freelance Chat

01:44 Starting and Running a PR Business

05:23 Challenges and Strategies in Freelancing

09:21 Client Management and Expectations

13:07 Tools and Systems for Freelancers

21:12 Freelance Chat and Community Support

22:38 Final Thoughts and Advice

About our Guest
Michelle Garrett is a public relations consultant, writer, and speaker who helps B2B companies create content, earn media coverage, and position themselves as thought leaders in their industries. 

After working in various PR and marketing communications roles, including time spent in Silicon Valley with technology companies such as HP, Adobe, and numerous startups, she launched her consulting business to provide down-to-earth advice and a practical approach to public relations for her clients. 

Repeatedly ranked among the industry’s most influential PR professionals, Michelle has written a book, B2B PR That Gets Results. She also launched her own YouTube show, PR Explored, where she interviews trusted industry experts about public relations trends and topics. 

Michelle has written hundreds of articles that have been featured in business publications including Entrepreneur, Muck Rack, and Ragan’s PR Daily. She’s a frequent podcast guest, often quoted as an expert source on public relations, and regularly speaks at events like Content Marketing World, the largest gathering of content marketing professionals in the world. 

In 2018, she founded a weekly Twitter chat called #FreelanceChat to help support freelancers in what can be a lonely journey. Since then, it’s grown to attract dozens of new participants and has been featured in Entrepreneur, MSN Money, and the Houston Chronicle. In 2024, the chat moved to YouTube

Connect with Michelle on LinkedIn

Grab your copy of Michelle's Book: B2B PR That Gets Results 

Support the Show.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to listen to Boss Responses. Have a question you'd like answered? Send it to info@bossresponses.com

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

In this episode of Boss Responses, host Treasa Edmond is joined by guest Michelle Garrett, an influential PR consultant, writer, and speaker specializing in B2B companies. Michelle shares insights from her extensive career, including founding her own consulting business. They discuss the importance of choosing the right clients, setting realistic expectations, and the value of freelancers supporting each other through platforms like Michelle’s Freelance Chat. Michelle's practical advice on client management, thought leadership, and the significance of building lasting relationships provides valuable lessons for anyone running their own business or working with clients.

00:00 Introduction to the Podcast and Guest

00:11 Michelle Garrett's Background and Achievements

01:16 Discovering Michelle and Freelance Chat

01:44 Starting and Running a PR Business

05:23 Challenges and Strategies in Freelancing

09:21 Client Management and Expectations

13:07 Tools and Systems for Freelancers

21:12 Freelance Chat and Community Support

22:38 Final Thoughts and Advice

About our Guest
Michelle Garrett is a public relations consultant, writer, and speaker who helps B2B companies create content, earn media coverage, and position themselves as thought leaders in their industries. 

After working in various PR and marketing communications roles, including time spent in Silicon Valley with technology companies such as HP, Adobe, and numerous startups, she launched her consulting business to provide down-to-earth advice and a practical approach to public relations for her clients. 

Repeatedly ranked among the industry’s most influential PR professionals, Michelle has written a book, B2B PR That Gets Results. She also launched her own YouTube show, PR Explored, where she interviews trusted industry experts about public relations trends and topics. 

Michelle has written hundreds of articles that have been featured in business publications including Entrepreneur, Muck Rack, and Ragan’s PR Daily. She’s a frequent podcast guest, often quoted as an expert source on public relations, and regularly speaks at events like Content Marketing World, the largest gathering of content marketing professionals in the world. 

In 2018, she founded a weekly Twitter chat called #FreelanceChat to help support freelancers in what can be a lonely journey. Since then, it’s grown to attract dozens of new participants and has been featured in Entrepreneur, MSN Money, and the Houston Chronicle. In 2024, the chat moved to YouTube

Connect with Michelle on LinkedIn

Grab your copy of Michelle's Book: B2B PR That Gets Results 

Support the Show.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to listen to Boss Responses. Have a question you'd like answered? Send it to info@bossresponses.com

Speaker 1:

Welcome back to the Boss Responses podcast. Today is one of our longer podcast episodes. My guest host this week is Michelle Garrett, and today we're going to learn a little bit more about her and her business. Michelle is a public relations consultant, writer and speaker who works with B2B companies and helps them create content, earn media coverage and position themselves as thought leaders in the industry. After working in various PR and marketing communications roles, including some time spent in Silicon Valley with tech companies, michelle launched her own consulting business to provide advice and a practical approach to public relations for her clients. When you hear our conversation today, you'll understand why Michelle is repeatedly ranked among the industry's most influential PR professionals. She has so much knowledge to share on the subject that she's actually written a book. The title is B2B PR that Gets Results, and it debuted at the top of the Amazon bestseller list in April of 2024. Michelle has also launched her own YouTube show, pr Explored, where she interviews trusted industry experts about public relations trends and topics. Now, I'm not exaggerating when I say Michelle is great, but all of that has nothing to do with why I'm so excited she's here with us.

Speaker 1:

In 2018, I discovered Michelle. She was already out there. That's just when I found her. Michelle founded a weekly Twitter chat called Freelance Chat to help support freelancers. I'll admit that those Thursday chats they helped me, they helped my business and they helped me not feel so alone, because at that point I hadn't really discovered a lot of the communities that I'm in now. Now Freelance Chat moved to YouTube in 2024.

Speaker 1:

And today Michelle is here with us and she's going to talk to us about how she got her start, what her path has been, how she deals with her clients and a host of other very interesting things. That's enough introducing. Let's just go ahead and get into that conversation. If you're a freelancer, business owner or anyone who deals with clients, you're in the right place. I'm your host, teresa Edmond. I've been dealing with clients and running my business for nearly two decades and in that time I've dealt with my share of doubt, imposter syndrome and not knowing what to say when a client asked a question I wasn't ready for.

Speaker 1:

I created this podcast to empower you with the boss responses you need to grow your business. Each week, my guest co-host and I will bring you five episodes packed with practical insights. Monday through Thursday, we answer your questions, and Fridays we dive deep to explore how our co-hosts embrace their role as the boss of their business. Welcome to Boss Responses. We are back and today we are talking all about Michelle and her business. Michelle, thank you so much for being with us this week.

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much for having me, teresa. This is fun, it is.

Speaker 1:

I enjoy it All right, so let's start off. Tell me a little bit about you and what you do.

Speaker 2:

Well, I am a public relations consultant and I also write content for clients. My degree is in journalism, with a focus on public relations, and over the years I worked in a number of roles before I went out on my own. But I have been freelancing or consulting, or whatever you want to call me I go by many different names depending on who I'm talking to. For over 20 years now I've been working for myself. I specialize in working with B2B clients. We work on creating content, earning media coverage and positioning them as thought leaders in their industry Very nice.

Speaker 1:

I love thought leadership and I actually like B2B work as well, so let's talk first a little bit about your business. You were originally working for other people. What kind of made you make that move? From working for other people so employee to I'm out here being the boss of my business.

Speaker 2:

I grew up in a house with two parents who were self-employed, so I never lived in a house where parents went to work for somebody else.

Speaker 2:

And I think it was just in my blood, almost, to work for myself and it was something I always dreamed about doing.

Speaker 2:

And as I worked at other jobs for other companies, I just I realized I was never going to have the freedom and flexibility that I would have if I could be my own boss, and so I really did dream about the day when I could hang out my shingle and start my own business, and I wanted to get enough experience under my belt so that it made sense, because I wanted people to understand that I could manage and handle what they were, the work that they were going to give me, that they were going to entrust to me. I did work, like I said, in a number of jobs. I worked for a nonprofit, for-profit small enterprise and then I worked at an agency. That was my last job before I went out on my own, and when I did go out on my own, the agency ended up hiring me back as a contractor Nice, a lot more than they're paying me as a full-time employee for some projects. So they were one of my early clients.

Speaker 1:

I think that happens to a lot of us. So, as you move from that employee mindset to being the boss of your business, were there any major growing pains when you worked with clients or any situations you had to deal with either with it yourself or with your early clients?

Speaker 2:

Of course you're always learning and of course early on you have challenges that you don't anticipate and you do have to. I've always leaned on other consultants, in fact other freelancers, to help me kind of work things out, and I have a chat called Freelance Chat where I try to do that and give back to other freelancers because I really believe that's the way that we can all help each other. It doesn't have to be competitive or territorial. It's really about helping each other and supporting each other. And sometimes you have questions that nobody else will be able to answer except somebody who's walked in those shoes Thursdays at noon and I'm like what thing?

Speaker 1:

And then I showed up for my first Thursday and it was done because when they said Thursdays at noon, I thought noon, my time, yeah. So I set a reminder on my calendar and I think I went every week after that for weeks on end because it was just amazing.

Speaker 2:

Thank you, no, I. Today we celebrated five years and so I. At the beginning we had maybe a handful of people that I made promise to show up because I didn't want to be there like chatting with myself, but I have to say that over the years it's grown and I believe that it truly does help freelancers, and I'm so glad because I think we need help, we need each other and we're stronger when we have each other to support when we have questions and challenges. Sometimes you just need somebody to listen, you just need to vent a little bit, so I think it's really important.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and I am big in freelancers supporting other freelancers rather than seeing them as competition, and I think that's one of the things I love about the freelance chat. Yeah, all right, so what were some of the kind of major challenges? Maybe you only had one that you faced, or still faced, when managing multiple clients simultaneously. Now, do you manage multiple clients simultaneously?

Speaker 2:

solo business owner, I don't really have a team. If I need to subcontract, I really avoid doing that. I will refer things like, say, I'm working with a client and they need a white paper written like a technical white paper, which I really don't do, that I write contributed articles and blog posts and things like that. But if you need something really technical, I'd probably refer that and just give that over to another freelancer. I wouldn't subcontract and mark up the rate or anything like that. I would just refer it over because I think that's a little bit, I guess, more seamless for the client, maybe. So anyway, so I am a true solo business owner and sometimes it is a challenge.

Speaker 2:

And I think I used to worry and I hear other freelancers express this as well that I would say yes to too many things at once and then I would have trouble juggling them all. And I've learned that I can make it work as long as my mindset is like I'm geared up to do it. I'd rather have that problem than the opposite problem of not having enough to do. I'd rather have too much to do, work a little harder sometimes, and then maybe, when things slow down a little bit, then I can have more time to focus on other projects personal projects or projects for my business or it's a good fit. I will try to make it work instead of going the other way and turning it down and then being like, oh no, I don't have enough work. But it is a challenge to balance and find the right mix.

Speaker 1:

I don't. How do you're very a forward facing industry. You're putting people out there. You're trying to make them look their best. I'm sure there's sticky widgets you've dealt with every once in a while. But how do you decide which clients are going to be a good fit and which aren't, and what are some of the red flags that you look for?

Speaker 2:

I have been much more careful about choosing clients than I used to be. It used to be oh okay, if you have money and it's something I do, I'll just I'll take the gig. Now I've moved away from hourly work. I only do projects and retainers. I also don't really I really prefer to work with a client on an ongoing basis. That could be. There'll be projects, maybe a few a year or something like that.

Speaker 2:

But when somebody brings me in to just do a one-off, as far as PR goes, it's rarely successful because it really takes some time to get the momentum going, and I'd say I had somebody ask me this question once, like how long was it taken? I said I'd give it three to six months, to be honest, and I would want results within that time and I would want to measure and see what's going on. However, if you hire a PR consultant and you expect results overnight, or an agency or anybody you bring in to do PR, I don't think that's fair and I think you'd be better off paying for ads than going after earned media coverage.

Speaker 1:

Yes, 100%. I think a lot of freelance work is cumulative with the work that it brings, and I know in content I tell people you cannot expect overnight results. You can do paid content and maybe get better results, but content is a long game and I see that in PR as well. It's not that every piece is a long game, I don't guess, because you can do one thing that has really great impact, but still each piece that you add to that puzzle just starts making that fuller picture.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, you pick up momentum and sometimes that's easier. That's the thing about vetting the clients, because sometimes it's not about the PR person or agency, it's about the client. What does the client bring to the table? And that's an important point that I want to mention is that if they don't have content, if they don't have thought leaders, if they're not able to collaborate with you and they just hire you and say, okay, go do this thing and they don't feed into the mix at all, it's probably not going to be real successful.

Speaker 2:

And also, just trying to do PR around a product, for example, reporters aren't really interested in your product. They want to know what your product is doing to help people or sell products. They want to know about a trend or an issue around your products, but they don't necessarily want to hear. There are some industries like I do have a manufacturing client that still announces a new product. Yes, we will get product coverage in the trade publication, but on an ongoing basis. We really need something beyond that. We need to have access to the CEO or to whoever the thought leaders are at the company. We need to be able to ghostwrite for them, interview them, spend time understanding what they're watching, what trends and issues are coming up in the industry, and so then we can turn that into thought leadership articles, contributed articles, blog posts and things like that success stories from customers and we just need access to those.

Speaker 1:

I find myself saying that all the time. It's really not about you or your product or your company. It's about the value that you offer and the problems that you're solving for the people. They don't care about you or your product or your company. They care about what you're doing for them. And if your clients can't understand that, then maybe they're not the right client. If they can't understand that, you're going to have problems because you're never going to live up to their expectations or your work isn't going to.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, they'll just keep hiring the next person and then it'll fail again. And I've talked to prospective clients who'll say you're the fifth PR person we've hired in a year or whatever.

Speaker 1:

That's a red flag. That is a major red flag right there. All right, as your business grew from that very first client who was an agency that you'd worked for, so that was nice Did you find that you needed to start implementing systems or using specific tools to streamline your client relating processes or using specific tools to streamline your client-relating processes.

Speaker 2:

I'm not super tool happy, I'll be honest. I use Google Suite of Google Sheets and Google Docs and Gmail. I use all that stuff, but my business is not so gigantic that I need a million systems and I also work with clients who, right now my favorite client doesn't even really want to report. She doesn't care because she knows what we're doing is working. We keep a like a running list of all the media coverage and we have a media list, we have lists and things that we refer to, but she doesn't care about reporting. And so that's such a nice thing.

Speaker 2:

Because to me, I'd rather spend the time like actually getting the results for the client than putting together reports and spreadsheets and like sometimes you have to do that. But it's nice when that's not what they're focused on. Because, again, if it's working and they're happy that's what I've learned over time is okay. If the client's happy, then we're good, Not to say that you can't check in or revisit or revamp at all, but keeping them happy is my number one priority, of course, and then if that's happy, if they're happy, then we're good. So I'm trying to think what other systems I, what do I do? For it's really I don't, like I said, I'm not super tool crazy. I have. I use MailChimp for my own newsletter. I use Buffer to schedule some social media posts, sometimes for clients and for myself. I have a very small little suite.

Speaker 1:

And this is something everyone who's listening pay attention. I've heard so many freelancers or people who wanted to go out on their own and start their own business say I'm going to do it when I get this or when I have enough money to buy this software or to do this thing. You don't need it. You honestly don't Run lean when you start out and then add only what you need to add. That's how you actually make a profit and pay your bills.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I think, as people buy these tools or pay for these tools and things and they don't really ever spend time learning how to use them right. I see that with clients too, and they spend thousands of dollars, for example, on a media database. They don't even know the login for the media database. I'm like, wow people, you could spend that $5,000 and hire a consultant for a month or two to get you some media coverage. Like, why not do that? Yeah.

Speaker 1:

I see a lot of waste when it comes to systems that don't need to exist. Now, having said that, there are systems that can be really helpful, depending on what you do Like. I use Bonsai and it's good for everything for me. I use it for proposals for contracts, for client management, for passing projects over. When they pay their final invoice, I don't have to ever say it got lost in the mail, it's just right there. So all of that stuff works, but it's what works for me and I did not get that right there. So all of that stuff works, but it's what works for me and I did not get that. I used FreshBooks for a lot of years. I didn't level up any of that stuff until like year 15 because I didn't need to. Let's talk setting expectations. I've found in my client relationships that setting expectations is absolutely crucial. How do you make sure? Do you have an onboarding packet or something that explains to your clients project scope, timelines, deliverables, due dates, all of those things we've discussed?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I've gotten more buttoned up about that too, because I think I used to be very, a little loosey-goosey about that stuff, and sometimes it's fine, but other times you're like, ooh, I should have really talked through this. And so now I do have a form, when we start working together, that I like them to fill out. Sometimes they don't want to do that, and so we'll sit down and just have a meeting and I will, you know, let out as we. I'll just ask them the questions, we'll just talk through it. So, but some of that information, again, with PR stuff, I have to have knowledge of who are their competitors and how are they different and what are their main messages, who are the you know thought leaders that they want to highlight and like all that kind of stuff. So we just talk through all that.

Speaker 2:

And then, with, again, with earned media, there are a lot of expectations and a lot of them are not realistic. So it's, if they want to be in the Wall Street Journal tomorrow, I'm not going to say no to them and walk away because it's not realistic, it's not. It's OK to have the Wall Street Journal on your media list, but at the same time you should be pitching trade publications in your industry and other like lower hanging fruit. That's going to probably get you. You're going to get momentum there faster and maybe you can like ladder up to a publication like the Wall Street Journal, but you're not going to be in there. If they've never heard of you before, they're not going to cover you tomorrow, so true.

Speaker 1:

That is unique to public relations as well, although for content, if you're working with someone and they want to get bylined articles out there and you have to pitch them, that reputation matters there as well.

Speaker 2:

All right, so do you. But he wants to be in like fat fast company or tech crunch or what I'm like. Good luck, I don't know. I don't know the secret there. I don't know how to crack that code for you.

Speaker 1:

It's all about letting them come to you. Honestly, like you said, if you build momentum, they'll start coming to you and say, hey, I've seen this name 12 times in the last five days. We want to do an article with them. It just works, but you have to do the work. People want the fast track and it doesn't work. You have to do the work. Especially with thought leadership. I think it really does matter. That brings up difficult clients, because a client that has unreasonable expectations is going to be difficult every time. How do you handle those situations or any disagreements with clients where they are just being toxic or difficult, or do you just let them go?

Speaker 2:

And I've gotten again. I've gotten much more, much choosier, much pickier, because I used to try to make things work, no matter what, like I was the doormat, the people pleaser, and in my not only in my business life, but sometimes in my personal life I've done the same thing self and your work. As a self-employed person, I think it's okay. I do bend over backwards to serve clients and I'm in a service-based business, so I have to have a positive attitude in serving my clients. Of course, working in a business that was service-based, that my parents owned and everything, I understand the importance of customer service. However, I think there are boundaries and you have to make that clear. For example, I started consulting when I lived on the West Coast. I'm originally from Ohio and I'm back in central Ohio now, but I moved to the West Coast for about seven years and I started my consulting business out there.

Speaker 2:

Seven o'clock at night my time. I'm not going to be answering that call, or you're texting me on the weekend or whatever. I'm probably not going to be real responsive. Now there are certain situations working in PR it's a crisis, emergency, whatever. Sometimes you have to like you have to be right, but normally they don't really the kind of PR that I don't specialize in crisis communications or anything like that. Sometimes I have a client that has a crisis, yes, but most of the time it's not an emergency, and so I feel like people need to understand. And if I have a client who doesn't get that, it's going to be really hard because I'm they're probably not going to be happy because I'm not going to be responsive on a Saturday night.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I have communication guidelines and response times listed in my onboarding packet and I try to stick with it. But, like you said, sometimes it is an actual emergency and I'm open to that. But it's an exception, not a rule.

Speaker 2:

As soon as you do that, as soon as you set a precedent, then, like if you're available at 10 o'clock at night and they know they can just text you anytime, then they'll just abuse the privilege. The same as like giving out, like they have my cell number but I'm not going to even my own phone, or anything like that. I'm just not going to do those things.

Speaker 1:

So yeah, just keeping those boundaries real. So you mentioned the weekly freelancers chat. Is that still ongoing? I know it's on Twitter and Twitter struggled a bit.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, freelance chat. We just celebrated five years, actually, today we celebrated and we started out with a handful of folks coming and I thought, oh, I don't know if this is going to work out or not and maybe I'll just be chatting to myself. But no, it actually has been around now for five years and we have a lot of freelancers that attend. If anybody wants to attend, anybody that works for themselves, whatever you call yourself solopreneur, consultant, freelancer, self-employed professional, whatever it is you're welcome to come and you'll find people there that are very empathetic and supportive and be happy to help you and answer questions, provide advice and everything else.

Speaker 1:

So it's great. It honestly is great. I've learned a lot just by attending myself. So you offer a newsletter and it's free.

Speaker 2:

Yes, just once a month. I don't abuse anyone's email address and I never add people without their permission. They have to opt in by just going to my website, which is michellegarrettcom, and there'll be a box there where you can type in your email address, and it comes out the second Tuesday of every month we will include the link to that, as well as links to connect with Michelle on social media, in the show notes, so go check those out, as well as any other interesting things Michelle wants to share with us.

Speaker 1:

One last question Are you ready? This is the big one. I'm ready. What advice would you give to service providers looking to create lasting, successful partnerships with their client?

Speaker 2:

I think that choosing the client and doing a good job up front of picking a client that you think is going to be a good fit for you and what you offer is a big part of the equation. And then, once you've done that, hopefully it will be a smooth relationship and you can grow that relationship by delivering what you say you're going to deliver, when you say you're going to deliver it, and meeting their expectations and just being there for them. A lot of times clients will share things with the outside consultant that they might not share internally. So I think having a good listening ear for them and just being available when they need you but keeping within your boundaries, of course is really important.

Speaker 1:

And I want to call something out on that Choosing your client. Your clients don't just choose you. You're part of the equation. You have the right to say no, and no is one of the most valuable words that you can use as a freelancer. All right, thank you so much for being here this week, michelle. We've all learned a lot from you and we appreciate your time. Thank you, trita Take.

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