Bonnie Singleton grew up in rural Wisconsin, in a town so small it made Colorado Springs seem startlingly large.
“New Auburn is a town of 500... and I graduated with a class of 27 students,” Singleton recalls. “Yeah, teeny tiny.
“When I moved to the Springs, it was kind of shocking. I lived near UCCS, and I remember having to make a left turn on Austin Bluffs and felt overwhelmed by just two lanes of traffic — and I cried. I had never parked in a parking garage before. I’m kind of an undercover hillbilly, really. Now, Colorado Springs feels like just the right size for me: It’s not small, but not a huge metropolitan [city]. I’m able to network and connect with others while maintaining some anonymity here.”
Singleton moved here with a degree in mass communications with an emphasis in public relations from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, and a yearning for the mountains.
“I visited Colorado Springs on vacation when I was 23 years old. I’d never seen a mountain before and was immediately enamored with their beauty,” she said. “I was a restaurant manager back in Wisconsin and thought, ‘I could serve tables in Colorado Springs.’ So three months later, I sold all my furniture and moved. That was in 2013 — I’ve been here for eight years now.”
Singleton quickly pivoted from front of house work to representing restaurants as a marketing agent — offering businesses a “hype squad,” as she puts it, for digital presence and brand execution. Today her agency, Pollinate Marketing, works with popular spots like COATI, Principal’s Office, Stellina Pizza Cafe, Kinship Landing, Pizzeria Rustica and Piglatin Cocina.
Singleton also draws clients from outside the hospitality world and has a part-time business partner — Jane Blazer, marketing coordinator for Visit Colorado Springs.
“Jane is incredibly curious and poses questions in such a way that helps me and clients think from a unique, beneficial perspective,” Singleton said. “Jane is a second brain for Pollinate Marketing … both a genuine partner and genuine person.”
Pollinate Marketing collaborates with various local marketers and influencers including Dionne Roberts of Rocky Mountain Food Report and Meagan Thomas of Springs Native.
Singleton talked with the Business Journal about how she’s built a successful public relations business in the Springs.
Talk about how you got your start.
When I got here, I worked for this tiny little design firm called Super Fine Designs. Well, I waited tables at TAPAteria in Old Colorado City — who is now a client of mine — while working part-time for Super Fine Designs. I started literally sweeping the floors, but was quickly asked to handle clients’ social media content due to my public relations [background]. Then I worked for Christina Brodsly, who is no longer in town. I had the opportunity to market Bristol Brewing Co. and Tucano’s Brazilian Grille — which was, for me, a big leap into social media and public relations. Eventually, I worked for Tucano’s Brazilian Grille’s corporate offices in Denver, which has 10 locations across the states.
When did you start Pollinate Marketing?
Well, I claimed the [website] domain and Instagram in 2017. I had been working with [chef and restaurateur] Jay Gust doing social media for TAPAteria and Pizzeria Rustica since 2016. Jay is the president of Ascent Restaurant Group, which manages both TAPAteria and Pizzeria Rustica. He’s also now part of the new Kinship Landing, overseeing Homa Cafe + Bar. I also worked for [Visit COS] … while operating Pollinate Marketing on the side. I grew it on the side, while trying to build my portfolio and pay my bills. I went full-time with Pollinate in 2019. My current partner, Jane Blazer, is who took over my position at Visit COS.
Currently, I have 15 clients, with more on the horizon — most of them are restaurants. I’ve been able to partner with some [culinary] groups, which allows me to work with a variety of great brands.
What was the hardest part about starting your company?
I had a lot of self-doubt around it, initially … and I had a difficult time getting my name out there, understanding how to do that in a world where … [marketing] digital strategy is most valuable to those who don’t spend a lot of time on the internet. If they were nailing social media, they wouldn’t hire me … but also [social media is] not the way to reach out to those proprietors or managers who aren’t using it in the first place. Networking, handling referrals, and selling myself was the hardest part. The other difficult part was understanding my own strengths and weaknesses … what my limitations are and being comfortable admitting my weaknesses.
What are your strengths?
My biggest strength is developing an overall strategy for a client or business — taking a problem and reverse engineering it into a solution. Essentially, the entire wholistic approach is my foremost strength. In other words, I offer digital marketing strategy … under that, I provide social media services, social media promotion, analytics, web design and product photography. I help answer who you are, what you provide, and how potential clients can get to you.
How did you come up with your name?
At the time, I really liked the idea of a freelance mindset, taking what I’ve learned from previous employers and acquired clients. I was able to take those experiences and utilize that education with new clients … furthering my value and providing practical solutions to various marketing problems. Anyways, it reminded me of how bees hop from flower to flower, carrying pollen to grow an ecosystem — or a community, in a sense. A lot of us — those I met when I first moved here — were just kids, and I have seen so many grow from side gigs into full-time entrepreneurs, artists, and business owners.
Did you ever think you were going to have your own business?
No. I thought I was going to be a restaurant manager. I took a gap year before moving here, and I was a restaurant manager. It was this casual place called Grizzly’s Wood-Fired Grill — and I hated it. I was a terrible manager; I just don’t have the personality for it. I love delivering results, but I don’t like to manage people in order to. I’ve grown a lot since, but I think Pollinate Marketing was inevitable, given my skills and strengths — even if I didn’t see it early on.
How did the pandemic impact you?
Most of my clients are restaurants, [the industry] probably hit the hardest in our community. I chose to cut my rates by 50 percent, knowing my clients were hurting … while I continued to help them during a difficult time. Cutting my rates was in tandem with everyone needing updated, accurate information on their websites and social media regarding capacity, current menu offerings and updated hours — as the quarantine status changed so frequently. I think there’s a common assumption to write off social media as silly or frivolous, but the pandemic clearly showed me the impact … and how important it was to businesses in getting their constantly changing information communicated to customers.
For your clients, what did they say was hardest — besides the obvious financial toll?
A big factor was having to change all the time, whether it was hours, offerings, capacity, etc. — they had no sense of security or consistency. The pandemic just created an atmosphere of anxiety and uncertainty. Many venues feared they’d have to close permanently. Also, having to lay off staff was heartbreaking for so many. I tried to help provide resources to their staff, but it was terrible.
What about now?
From the business owners’ perspectives, my clients seem to be very hopeful and positive. Also, Pollinate Marketing is getting a surge of inquiries from potential new clients. As a patron — as a restaurant-goer — the atmosphere is much more upbeat. I heard that after the 1918 flu, there was the Roaring ’20s. … Some are predicting that we may go through the second rendition of the Roaring ’20s, excepting the Prohibition factor, of course.
What’s the future of Pollinate Marketing?
We’re growing. I’d like to move beyond Colorado Springs and further into the Rocky Mountain West. I do have a couple projects outside of the Springs: one in Utah and the other in Austin, Texas. I really hope to continue being involved in the growth of Colorado Springs — but turn it up to 11, man.
Do you have advice for those wanting to start their own entrepreneurial endeavor?
There is this trendy, romantic idea that you should quit your job and go all in … go hard. I don’t agree with that. I think it’s much more sustainable to get your feet wet, play with it, see if you even like it or if it has the potential to grow … build it on the side before jumping in.
What do you love about Colorado Springs?
I’m outdoorsy. ... I love being close to the mountains with the opportunity for a hike. Additionally, Colorado Springs is laid back. When I’ve worked in Denver, I felt as though people were putting on a front, constantly trying to impress others. When I moved here it opened my eyes to opportunities — I remember realizing not long after moving here that I could really make something of myself. Also, this town has been so supportive and collaborative. People in Colorado Springs share their opportunities with others. The Springs offers so much. It continues to grow into its own shoes, but then discovers it needs a different size.