Ciara Pressler is the Robin Hood of small business education.
Instead of taking from the rich to give to the poor, she takes knowledge from the few and brings it to the masses, particularly small business owners.
“I think a lot of the world of professional development is really hidden and hard to find,” she said. “It should just be easier to access good information.”
With that philosophy as her foundation, Pressler is building her own small business, Pregame, a business development firm that looks more like a retail venture or a gym than a traditional consulting practice.
From its retail space in the Pearl District, Pregame hosts classes each day that Pressler likes to refer to as "workouts," hour-long sessions on subjects ranging from developing an Instagram marketing strategy to how to set and achieve sales goals.
The classes are open to members who can pay monthly or, like most, signup for a 12-month plan, Pressler said. Those members can then drop-in for a "workout" or schedule personal training sessions.
Placing Pregame within a retail setting was important to Pressler, who wanted members — whether they be small business owners or an executive from a larger company looking for personal professional growth — to be able to walk in off the street and find what they need.
The business model takes inspiration from retail tax services firm H&R Block, Weight Watchers and the traditional gym. The first succeeds in displaying information in the open within a retail setting, the second pushes accountability and group support, and the third promotes the idea that positive results come from consistent hard work.
Pressler wouldn’t disclose the size of Pregame’s membership. But it’s successful enough that she’s interested in expanding Pregame retail concept to more cities.
Find ‘the middle’
Twelve years ago, Pressler, an Oregon native, was living in New York City, pursuing an acting career. She took a job working for a career coach who specialized in helping actors and artists learn how to run creative businesses. The experience exposed her to the world of marketing and broader business development tools.
Her next employer, a company that produced events to showcase emerging artists, shut down during the Great Recession. At the same time, the Recession prompted many others around her to start their own businesses.
Many of them came to Pressler for help.
She ended up consulting for past business contacts and for her friends. She started writing content on her blog, became a contributor to the website Huffington Post and holding workshops.
She collected all of the content she’d created in a book called "Game Plan" and devised what would become the Pregame model.
In doing so, Pressler was democratizing the world of high-end business intelligence for an audience far removed from the high end. "I would Robin Hood the information," she said.
“If you want to improve your business and learn something, what are your options? Read a book. Do an online course. Hire a consultant. That is $20 versus $5,000,” Pressler said. “There is nothing in the middle. I wanted to create something in the middle that is affordable.”
Going ‘where the people are’
Pregame isn’t a business accelerator or incubator; it doesn’t take equity in a participating company. It’s designed to be useful and convenient: Classes do not build upon one another, so if a member misses one, it doesn’t preclude them from participating in others. And taking a cue from the gym model, "workouts" will regularly repeat.
Weekly workouts include topics such as developing a sales pipeline, staying accountable, developing strategies for running a team, or strategies for onboarding and upselling. Workouts also include bringing in experts in areas like marketing, sales and product to teach weekly sessions. Workouts are a mix of those taught by Pressler and those taught by others.
With the Peal District location running comfortably, Pressler is beginning to spread her reach, first by embarking upon partnerships with organizations that have small business members or have created communities of small businesses.
Her first partnership is with the city’s tourism bureau, Travel Portland, which will soon begin making Pressler’s professional training content available to its own members. The agency wants its business members to be ready for the spotlight when they are highlighted on a global stage and believes Pressler has the information that can help them.
“We have a similar audience, so it’s in both our interests to have businesses do well in Portland,” Pressler said.
For Travel Portland, the partnership is part of the group’s effort to better meet the needs of its members, which are typically small businesses in or adjacent to the tourism industry, said Tamara Kennedy-Hill, Travel Portland’s vice president of diversity and community relations. The courses will focus primarily on marketing and public relations.
“More than 500 of our 850 members are small businesses,” Kennedy-Hill said. “Many are struggling just to keep the doors open, much less be ready for media and marketing to share their story.”
One of Travel Portland’s members had already been attending Pregame and suggested the two groups connect. “(Pressler) has helped us understand the challenges and understand the points of small businesses and entrepreneurs,” Kennedy-Hill said.
The first course in the partnership is slated for Sept. 13, with a Marketing Essentials workshop. Classes are already filling up, Kennedy-Hill said.
Pressler is in talks with other groups as well. She declined to identify any, but characterized them as membership organizations or business-to-business companies that have created a community of customers or vendors. In the case of the latter, she has found that companies that have created their own communities don’t have the wherewithal to create their own business development education, but they have a vested interest in making sure those customers and vendors have the resources to stay in business.
This fall, Pressler is focused on building a solid partnership with Travel Portland and other organizations. After that, she can start looking at options to expand to other cities, either by creating more standalone retail spaces or by operating within a co-working space or like-minded organization.
“I want to be the Starbucks in the Barnes and Noble,” she said. “If we expand without financing, that is how to do it. I want to be where the people are.”