Stephanie Caudle is a freelance writer and founder of Black Girl Group, a freelance marketplace that connects female African-American freelancers with businesses that are struggling with hiring diversity. Caudle said of her platform, “It takes the awkwardness that comes with the Equal Opportunity Employment form out of the process and places diverse talent right at the front door of brands that are looking for freelancers.” Caudle was pushed into entrepreneurship after a job loss. “I looked at it as an opportunity to go ahead and chase my dreams, she said.”
Making Her Dreams a Reality
I graduated from college in 2011. Like many millenials, I jumped from job to job looking for that point of sincere happiness. I began to work as a public relations specialist. During that time, I became super overwhelmed, so I started doing some freelance writing. I had been doing freelance writing off and on for several years as a way to generate more income. I often relied on that side hustle to give my family vacations whenever we needed them. In November, I was laid off from my job in public relations and pushed full time into freelance writing, simply because I had no other choice.
Prior to losing my job, I had a dream that I was going to lose my job. So, I was thinking, “What am I going to do if I really do lose my job?” A few days after that, I had another dream of this platform, the Black Girls Group. I was asking myself, “What does this mean?” I prayed and said, “God, if this is something you really want me to pursue, you’re going to have to show me a sign. I don’t want to create it and have backlash.” The next night, I had another dream and saw the platform unfold before my eyes. I saw the color scheme, I saw the logo, I saw everything. I knew I had to buy the domain and push this forward. Sine then, I’ve just been connecting with brands and freelancers. It’s been a great journey for me.
Managing Business Finances
There was very little overhead to start. My father is my biggest supporter in life. He provided me with my first loan for the business. With little tweaks here and there, I’ve been able to keep the platform running on my own. I’ve been so blessed that there have also been so many other people and businesses that have been champions of this platform, which has lead to them making donations to the business because they believe in the overall mission of it.
I have used credit cards to do little things here and there. Right now, it’s been my personal credit card. The only vendor I pay at this point is my web hosting company, and I pay them upfront. I manage my business finances through QuickBooks.
Business Challenges and Rewards
My biggest challenge has been spammers. One night, I woke up and had 5,000 new signups. I was checking my analytics to see what might have happened to bring in so many new users. When I went into the backend of my site, I figured out that they were all created by bots. That was a nightmare for me and the biggest challenge I’ve faced so far. As business owners, we try to plan for the unexpected as much as we can, but there are always those one or two things that you never think will happen – and they happen!
The most rewarding thing has been being able to help freelancers and help brands connect with those freelancers. I really enjoy connecting people to each other. There are times when I may meet a CEO of a company that asks for my help with something. Now, I can say, “I’m not able to help with that, but I do have this website with tons of talent that can help with your project.”
Business Lessons Learned
One of my biggest mistakes was thinking it was going to be a lot easier than it has been. My father is a business owner. I saw growing up how effortlessly he ran his business and how he never seemed to stress over anything. When I became a business owner, I realized it wasn’t that he wasn’t stressed, he was just able to manage that stress very well. When I began to face my first few challenges, I called him up and said, “It was never this hard for you!” He said, “No, it was. But, I pushed through, and you have to do the same.”
Relationship building has really set me up for success. Within the first week of starting this business, I reached out to some of the biggest brands that freelancers work with like QuickBooks and Microsoft Word. I asked if there were any opportunities for sponsorship. Even though they said, “Yes, but you need to build up your user base a little bit more,” it was smart on my end because every so often they’ll check in with me to see if there is an opportunity for us to work together.
Advice for New Entrepreneurs
Just do it. So many times, we allow the fear of striking out to keep us out of the game. For me, if I had it to do all over again, I would have jumped into this before I got laid off from my job. But, as life would have it, that propelled me into this predestined destiny. Instead of doing it the hard way like I did, if you feel in your heart and spirit that there’s a dream you need to chase, you just need to do it. Just close your eyes and jump in. The worst thing that can happen is it doesn’t work out. But, the best thing that can happen is it turns out to be a huge success.
What’s Next for Black Girls Group
By the end of the year, my biggest goal is to secure seed funding from venture capitalists. I have been applying to incubators like crazy. I’m really looking for an opportunity to increase the funding for my business so I can impact the lives of my community as a whole. There are so many freelancers out there who are struggling in so many areas. My goal is to be the biggest asset I can be to those freelancers. I’m also planning a digital conference at the end of the year for freelancers, which I’m really excited about. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to connect freelancers who don’t have a big community where they live locally to create some sort of support system.