Nicole Castro thought she was going to be a doctor. But after a couple of years in the pre-med program at City College of New York, she changed directions, declaring majors in anthropology and journalism. She didn’t know then that this new path would lead her to the world of PR and to starting her own business that would count healthcare non-profits among its client roster.
Along the way, Nicole took on both full-time and consulting positions in community health, digital media and education where she has learned a lot, made plenty of mistakes and ultimately come to understand what is most valuable to her as a PR professional.
In 2017, Nicole launched Nicole Lauren Consulting as a solo PR pro. She specializes in media relations, content solutions and social media management for her clients, and she was fortunate to see her business grow in 2020, despite losing some clients to pandemic-related budget cuts.
We sat down with Nicole to discuss how she realized that solo PR was the path for her, the valuable relationships she has forged with colleagues in the Solo PR Pro group and how she plans to keep her business going while she takes time away to welcome her first child this summer.
No stranger to hard work
During her undergraduate studies, Nicole loved learning about and retelling people’s stories, and she enjoyed strengthening her skills as a writer — both opportunities afforded to her through her academic majors.
But after she graduated — entering the economic turmoil of the late 2000s with the responsibility of student loans — Nicole was unsure that journalism would be able to support her life in New York City. She began applying to PR positions, but she found that the folks she interviewed with often had trouble understanding how her educational background translated into public relations.
Wanting to clear up any confusion as to her expertise, Nicole returned to school, pursuing a master’s of corporate communications at Baruch College, and doing so while continuing to work her full-time job.
“I finished my Master's in five semesters, and I like to brag about that because that was a lot,” she said. “I was working 40 hours a week, going to classes between six and eight o'clock at night, and then still having schoolwork. So that made me feel very accomplished.”
Nicole spent a year in the development office at New York’s Urban Health Plan, where she first fell in love with social media.
“It was a great role to have because there had never been any leadership in terms of how to manage social media for this organization,” she said. “I was really able to get my hands dirty and sink my teeth into creating the role.”
After her time at the community health non-profit and a stint as an associate at PRSA, a former colleague recruited her to be the marketing manager at a new performance marketing company. Nicole wore many hats there, managing everything from PR and social media to content development and SEO.
First taste of solo PR freedom
Two years later, the company restructured and Nicole was let go. She updated her resume and started applying for new positions, but she knew she also needed a source of income during the transition.
“If you have a job or not, you still have to pay the bills,” she said. “I started looking for freelance opportunities while I was out of work because I said, You know what, at least I can stay active in the field and still have experience as I'm applying for a full-time job.”
She calls this period her first taste of entrepreneurship, and it wasn’t long before she connected with and began contracting for a solo PR colleague. Nicole attended media meet-and-greet shows, traveled to meet with clients and even flew to Las Vegas for CES, the annual consumer electronics trade show.
“This was the first time that I was seeing, Wow, here are people that are running their own companies and have their own clients,” she said. “They don't have to go into an office every day. They're not chained to a desk. This was very different and very interesting to me.”
It was this experience that pushed Nicole to find her own clients, and she did, securing two regular clients that she worked with before one of them offered to hire her full time.
“I jumped at it,” she said. “I was still not secure in thinking I could run a business full time — that had not occurred to me yet. So I took the job as a public affairs manager, and I think it was good that I did it because I was in the role for a year and decided that having a full-time job again was not for me.”
The work dynamic shifted in an unproductive direction when Nicole went from being a consultant to an employee, and she missed the flexibility she had enjoyed working on her own. Another company reached out asking her to come on board as a consultant, at the same time as she was experiencing some family medical challenges that would require her to be available for hands-on caregiving.
Nicole knew that if she made the change back to consulting at this point, it would be for good.
“That's when I finally connected with the Solo PR Pro group,” she said. From there, I started the company. I created an S Corp. I started learning all these really cool things, and it just started turning into a business.”
Finding support from Solo PR moms
Nicole points out that running a business is very challenging, something she wishes she had heard when she was getting started.
“I went through a lot of pits in the beginning,” she said, ”and it can be tough when you don't realize this is what it's supposed to look like. You can feel like I'm failing every day.”
Fortunately for Nicole, she has found a source of support and business advice through Solo PR Pro, as well as a cadre of knowledgeable professionals who will be helping to cover her client load when she takes maternity leave this summer.
“The solo PR group is amazing,” she said. “They helped sort of ease my anxiety in terms of doing this because I was incredibly nervous wondering, How can I still make some money while paying other people to manage my accounts so I don't completely lose my business while I'm out on maternity leave?”
It was through these conversations with experienced moms that she realized she actually needed to pay herself during her time away, even while paying contractors for their services.
“I think as a woman, I was like, How do I justify cutting myself a check?” she said. “Then hearing from other women who are like, No, you absolutely should be making some money while you're out — that was really helpful to hear.”