A Guest Post by Maris Callahan, Director of Public Relations, Donuts Inc.
There’s nothing like a grueling weekend spent unsuccessfully following up on pitches for coverage of a client’s innovative, disruptive, and ground-breaking new technology release to make you start daydreaming of starting your own firm.
You imagine having complete control over what clients you work with. No one telling you it’s better to just do what the client asks instead of creating an integrated communications plan. Not to mention all the conferences and travel you can write off!
But before you post a viral video telling your boss you’re quitting your job, it’s important to make sure you’re ready for what it takes to be a successful PR business owner.
What’s your niche?
You may think of yourself as a generalist who can handle any and all PR needs that come your way. But let’s be realistic here. None of us are actually good at everything modern PR entails, and even fewer of us have the business operational skills that running a firm requires.
Some of us are great at executive media coaching and pulling together top-tier media tours. Others of us knock contributed content out of the park or have a deep network of B2B broadcast contacts. Then there are those of us who’ve spent the bulk of our career in the same industry and have long-term relationships with the journalists and analysts that cover it.
It’s important to understand what specific aptitudes and advantages you have that clients need and how to present it.
What are you going to call your firm?
Your firm’s name isn’t just something that goes on your business cards—it also becomes your digital calling card. Too often, new business owners make the mistake of committing to their brand name before researching available domain names.
That’s how you end up with unwieldy business website URLs no one can hope to remember.
Thanks to the new descriptive and differentiated domain name extensions, like .agency, .media and .group, business owners have hundreds of options for creating a much more personalized domain name that makes it immediately clear what they do and whom they serve.
For example, instead of the confusing IPS.com or the too long intelligentproductsolutions.com, Intelligent Product Solutions picked www.intelligentproduct.solutions for their consulting firm, a URL that even includes their full name.
When Kim Livengood selected the name for her new PR firm, she liked that www.TheEclipse.agency told the world what her business did.
Now imagine if you were building PR firm specializing in food clients. You could claim FoodNews.media. A travel PR firm could go with TravelPR.agency. The options are endless.
Because these domain name extensions are keyword rich, they can even help prospects find you in online search.
How will you market your firm?
Most PR firm-building dreams are focused on doing the work with clients. And while that is certainly part of the day-to-day, a big part of owning your own business is getting out there and selling your services to potential clients.
Are you comfortable pitching yourself and your skills? Even in firms with a dozen employees, much—if not all—the business development falls on the founder’s shoulders. Do you have experience with inbound marketing tactics including email drip campaigns? You’ll need to be prepared to spend a considerable amount of time getting the word out about your firm and its capabilities.
Do you have a strong network?
Sure, most PR pros have thousands of LinkedIn connections. But I’m talking about the kind of network that will vouch for you to potential clients. A network you can turn to for vendor recommendations. Trusted colleagues who will give you hard-to-hear but so important candid feedback.
Many PR firms rely heavily on strong word-of-mouth to fuel their organic growth. If you have a well-developed network of relationships you’ve nurtured over time, you’ll be able to count on them to keep you in mind the next time they or one of their colleagues needs a PR agency. But if the only time they hear from you is when you need something, you may find it hard to get your business off the ground.
How will you keep your PR skills up-to-date?
Each year brings new technology and new table stakes skills for communications professionals. Five years ago, no one expected their PR firm to have video storytelling capabilities. Today, clients may ask you to lead the charge on their Snapchat channel or to setup executive Facebook Live video streams.
You’ll need to have a plan in place for keeping your skills up-to-date and stick to it. Identify a mix of activities—such as the regular reading of industry blogs and the latest PR and business books— with online courses, and industry conferences that provide the opportunity to learn as you expand your network.
Do you have the right operational business know-how?
Being the head of your own business means you’re also the head accountant, chief technology officer, and HR department. You’re the one dealing with tax issues, invoicing, and budgets.
If you haven’t previously managed business operations including having responsibility for a profit and loss statement, you’ll want to enlist some experienced assistance to make sure you set up your systems in a way that doesn’t give you an unpleasant end-of-the-year tax surprise or ongoing operational headaches.
How much do you need to earn?
If you haven’t previously been managing your expenses through a formal budget, now’s the time to start. You need to determine the base amount you must earn to pay your living expenses plus your business operational expenses each month.
The early months of a new business are full of one-time fees and expenses. You may find it in your best interest to ease into self-employment a little more slowly to avoid coming up short on funds.
Starting your own PR firm can be a life-changing experience. Just make sure you’re going into it with your eyes open.
Maris Callahan is the director of public relations for Donuts Inc. and name.kitchen, where she does media relations, content marketing, and social media. She lives in Chicago with Brad, her significant other, and their chihuahua Henry. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.