The joys and frustrations of agency ownership

Are you interested in starting out on your own and launching your own company? Here are some tips to help your transition from employee to boss.


Becoming an agency owner is an intimidating concept for many people.

They ask:

  • Can I afford to go out on my own?
  • Where are my customers going to come from?
  • What can we offer that differs from everyone else?

There’s no simple solution or magic recipe to guarantee success. It takes endless hard work, determination, and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

Here are a few considerations for any PR pro who may be heading down this path:

1. Build a plan.

When I became an agency owner, I flew by the seat of my pants. I sold my home, packed up my car, and traveled across the country on a hunch.

It’s not that I didn’t take the decision seriously, but I honestly didn’t create a plan. I relied on my knowledge, relationships and skills to start it up and keep it going.

As a PR pro, you would never recommend to your clients to go to market without a solid strategy, goals and objectives to measure success. So why should your agency be any different?

I worked on my first agency for close to 10 years, and I believe it was quite successful, but I really have no proof, other than the fact that I had a number of great clients and I paid my bills.

Could it have been bigger? Could our profits have been higher? Why were some years better than others? Those are questions I honestly can’t answer, because I didn’t have a plan to reference.

I closed down that agency about four years ago and went back to working for someone else. During my stint at a larger organization, I was able to glean knowledge from many other seasoned entrepreneurs, including the importance of planning.

2. Learn from mistakes.

It’s human nature to avoid challenges you don’t like, or decisions you aren’t confident about. However, in my experience, those are exactly the areas you should focus on.

Learn from your missteps and take that knowledge to ensure your next plan, program or business excels in that area. When PR pros work with clients, they always provide them with insights into the challenges they faced, what could have been done better, and key lessons or takeaways from a campaign.

Make sure you do this for your own business, too.

3. Work for yourself—not by yourself.

Networking is crucial. Don’t know something? Ask Need some advice? Ask.

Make sure you’re open to providing the same. There’s nothing worse than someone who’s always looking for help, but never giving anything back in return.

Stay in touch with people. Ask them out for a coffee or beer. Be genuinely engaged in what’s going on in their life—personally and professionally—and reach out when they have some positive news in their world. More important, reach out when they have something challenging to face.

Mentors, work groups and business coaches are also extremely helpful to guide you along the way and inspire you to strive for more. Find someone you respect, and who is knowledgeable in the areas you want to explore, and create a relationship with them. If you can find someone who could use your guidance in another area, that’s a win-win.

Hold each other accountable for your progress and take time to celebrate small (and big) wins together.

I’ve been in the agency world for a long time, and I love that I can continue to learn every day. There are always new experiences, new clients and new friends along the way.

My advice is to take the risk—but make sure you’re ready for it.

Do you see yourself as an agency owner? Is anything holding you back?

Betsy Cooper founded The Neighbourhood Agency in 2018. A version of this article originally appeared on the Spin Sucks blog.

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Topics: PR


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