By Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, Fellow
The independent public relations consulting trend shows no signs of slowing down. Fast Company magazine predicts 40 percent of the workforce will be independently employed by 2020. Public relations pros will contribute to the redefinition of the modern work model focused on independence and flexibility.
Perhaps you’ve considered “riding solo” yourself. There is no instruction manual telling you how to get started sitting on the shelf waiting for you. Due to my veteran status as a solo PR pro, sometimes I’m the default human instruction manual. After fielding numerous requests for help, I’ve assembled key startup tips with input from other experienced solo PR colleagues in the interests of efficiency. If there is a common characteristic among successful solo PR pros, it’s how to be efficient.
• Honestly assess whether you’re suited for the solo life. Some people love the freedom to make their own rules and are content with their own company. Other people need to be provided structure, or only thrive as part of a team. Running your own practice requires being self-directed and self-sufficient.
• Get your financial house in order. Set aside enough money to get you through your first few lean months and the lean stretches you may experience. Six months’ worth is wise; three months’ worth is critical. Your income isn’t guaranteed, and just because clients owe you money doesn’t mean payment will be timely. Otherwise, you might be forced to return to employment because your personal capital runs out.
• Hire an accountant immediately. Your accountant will be instrumental in helping you decide whether/how to incorporate, what paperwork to file in which order, how to open business bank accounts, whether a business line of credit makes sense. You are a business and you need to think and act like one.
• Don’t underestimate your expenses. You are now responsible for quarterly tax payments including an extra 7.2% hit for your employer share of social security taxes, health insurance, liability insurance, and consider getting disability insurance if you don’t have another source of household income.
• Don’t go crazy sinking money into depreciable assets, services, or even office space. Stay lean. The first year or two, all you need is your desk, computer, internet access, a phone, and your wits. That’s it. Don’t let anyone talk you into buying anything not directly related to your bottom line.
• Know how to sell your services. If you don’t know, you can learn how through professional development courses and seminars. Don’t assume your business or personal network will send a flood of clients your way now or in the future. Professional development is even more important to you now than ever.
• Build networking into your schedule. It’s easy to let client work take over, and you can soon find yourself out of touch with your professional network and most reliable source of referrals. Join groups, attend workshops and conferences, keep up with trends, technology and best practices by talking with others. Your mental health will also benefit getting out of the office.
• In the beginning when the phone isn’t ringing and you aren’t busy from dawn to dusk, focus on developing your website, social media, collateral materials, blog, and other support tools. Once you are rolling, these tasks inevitably take a back seat to your clients.
• It’s OK to be selfish. Your first client is YOU. It’s time to focus. Put your needs first, and ruthlessly guard your time. Learn to say no if your business won’t benefit. No one else will market and promote you.
• In addition to your local PRSA chapter, join a network of independent PR pros, like the PRSA Independent Practitioners Alliance or the Solo PR Pros Premium membership group. These groups can provide resources including in-depth ebooks, templates, how-to information and downloads specific to your needs, and a ready-made network of supportive colleagues willing to answer questions and provide advice – and sometimes a client referral!
• This last tip is a request from your fellow solo: Please don’t use the “F” word (freelance) when describing yourself. You own a business of one. Position yourself as a committed senior PR professional in partnership with your clients working toward their success, not a temporary hired hand in between jobs.
H/T to Solo PR Premium Members who contributed to this blog: Kristie Aylett, Esther Rege Berg, Greg Brooks, Alysia Cook, Maria Coppola Cummins, Janet L. Falk, Kristine McGrath Gobbo, Kim Alexander Livengood, April Hanley Lynch, Lynn McReynolds, Michelle Scheuermann, Susan Stoga, Orly Greeenberg Telisman, and Cheryl Van Dallwyk Tessier.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, Fellow PRSA, is President of the Falcon Valley Group, a San Diego based public relations consulting firm. Her expertise includes crisis communications, reputation management, and content strategy and positioning for a wide range of businesses and organizations.