September marks eight years since I resigned from my vice president position at a global public relations firm and made a go of it on my own. What a ride it’s been—a growing staff, a beautiful office, more than a dozen awards in just a few years, “rightsizing” in this new economy.
Gray hair (at times)? Check.
Exhilarating and rewarding? Check, check, check.
Recently, I reconnected with an old colleague who is contemplating striking out on her own, and she asked for my advice. So I’ve reflected on what I will tell her—and anyone—looking to harness their entrepreneurial spirit in public relations.
Here are my top five tips:
1. Give yourself a defined amount of time to start making money.
When I started Baer Consulting in 2004, I allowed myself just six months to begin to see some dollars coming in. Not a lot of time, but enough. And importantly, it’s what I could afford to live with. Luckily, in just four months, I scored a big project from a global pharmaceutical company and had to hire a freelancer to help me.
be clear on how long you can go without a steady paycheck.
2. New business is never over—no matter how busy you are.
When you’ve landed an assignment, you roll up your sleeves and dive in to your client work. But as an entrepreneur, that’s not the whole picture. Now that you’re on your own, without a team of “other” people tending to new business, you are responsible for today’s deadlines—and finding tomorrow’s client.
Networking is key to your success, so don’t push it off until you’re “less busy”—I can speak from experience, that day never comes.
Carve out time to network, and hold that time as sacred as you would a client meeting.
3. Build the right client mix.
Remember the old adage, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”? It’s easy for small firms to fall into the trap of landing one big client and growing that business. Don’t get me wrong, organic growth is great, but it’s dangerous to have one client dominate your roster.
I’ve learned this the hard way, and it’s not a mistake I will make again. With a still unstable economy, mergers, and people often shifting roles and responsibilities, your firm could be on life support in a heartbeat if you’re too dependent on any one client for your revenue.
When one client is bringing in 40 to 50 percent (or more) of your revenue, that’s a red flag. Time to focus on bringing in new business.
4. You’re only as good as your last project.
Reputation is everything, especially in this business. Like me, you’ll undoubtedly get most—if not all—of your business through word of mouth and referrals. So make every project count. Over-serve. Invest in your relationship. Bring new ideas to the table. And when you have a happy client, ask them to give you referrals. Better yet, ask them for an endorsement (on LinkedIn, for example).
Know your client’s expectations and surpass them—every time.
5. Get good legal and financial advice.
Should you set up a S-corp or LLC? What are the tax implications for your new business? Which business expenses can you claim as an entrepreneur? Do you need liability insurance? These questions do not offer one-size-fits-all answers, since everyone’s circumstances are different. Also, when you’re on your own, you will no longer be a part of someone else’s 401k plan, so make sure you continue to save for retirement.
Find counsel who understands your personal and corporate goals and circumstances, and follow his or her advice.
The unpredictability and responsibility of running your own consultancy is, without a doubt, stressful, but the personal rewards of charting your own course can be incredibly gratifying. Looking back, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Michele Baer is founder and president of Baer Consulting Inc., an award-winning healthcare communications firm in Montclair, N.J. She is also an adjunct professor of communication at William Paterson University. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.