By Dan Dent, PRSA Boston member
I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur. I hardly knew what it took and didn’t think I had it in me. I thought that entrepreneurship was for other people, not me. But several years ago, I was working in a public relations agency when the floor fell out from under the economy. Within days, I was reaching out to my network for job leads, and before long a PR project landed in my lap from a client who said, ‘help me until you get back to work full time.’
That project led to others. Before long I was handling product launches, store openings, website development, executive coaching and media tours. Soon I had a real business, one that could benefit from the services of other entrepreneurs, and that’s when I found out there were others just like me.
Call me an accidental PR entrepreneur. I backed into it, reluctantly embraced it, and yet still find it one of the best things I ever did. Before you land in a similar spot, let me share my lessons learned over my 12 years as a PR entrepreneur.
- Just start. In most case, entrepreneurs are the product—they already know the business. For years, you have been the go-to guy for website design, accounting, public relations, or whatever knowledge and skill you have. So just jump in, and don’t let perfection in your business planning be the enemy of the good.
- Learn as you go. Think of yourself as a graduate of your old work life. You did well there (more or less), and now you are on to bigger and better things. Trust your instincts. Be curious, be ready to learn, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Forbes’ list of “100 Best Websites for Entrepreneurs” provides some informative and helpful online resources.
- Cultivate peers. Just because you work alone doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Find peers in your field who you can compare notes with—and don’t worry about competing with them. Clients will come and go, but your circle of trusted peers will be around for years. One way to connect with peers is to attend and participate in groups like PRSA Boston’s Independent Practitioners Network.
- Learn to say no. It takes discipline, but saying no to projects outside your wheelhouse is a good thing. It will keep you from wasting your time and precious brand equity. Instead of taking on every project, do what you do best and partner with others for the rest. (For more on how to say no to a client, check out this Ragan’s PR Daily article, “How to ‘fire’ an unwanted client.”
- Be a problem-solver. So what if you’re not an accountant, brand manager or event planner? If your client needs talent and trusts you to find it, be a problem-solver. Help them find what they need. Deepening your trust level with clients is the surest way to gain more work.
- Build a virtual team. A few years ago I was in a situation when I didn’t have a team. A prospect pointedly rejected my proposal because he said ‘it would be just you managing it.’ Once I recruited my team–composed of a web designer, research specialist, print production pro and web analytics expert—and managed them effectively, there wasn’t a client problem we couldn’t solve. Try these helpful strategies and software here to better hire and manage virtual employees. In a virtual environment, you also need to create opportunities for team members to just “chat” both formally and informally. Some effective options are online chat rooms (like Skype), project management software (like Basecamp), and video conferencing (free on Google+ Hangout).
- Become a smart saver. You can find plenty of free Internet applications for your business, such as FreeConferenceCall.com and DropBox. You can also take advantage of tax policies that favor entrepreneurs and small office/home office workers. A good place to start is Small Business Taxes & Management. Every dollar saved is a dollar earned when you’re an entrepreneur.
- Launch your website. It will become the most valuable real estate for our business. Find a social media pro to help connect your business with its natural constituency and get your blog up and active to help you differentiate your voice and services from others in the market. In my recent blog article, “10 Vendors Every PR Person Should Know,” I include links to some top website hosting sites.
- It’s not your name that counts; it’s your brand. Your brand is, essentially, the experience you deliver to clients. Are you the low-cost provider, the quality provider, the connected provider? While my first tip in this blog suggests that you ‘just start,’ you also need to make a few strategic decisions about your brand.
- Your age doesn’t matter. Entrepreneurs are born and made in equal measure. While I stumbled into it after 12 years in PR agency life, you could be that guy who’s always had an itch to run the show. Go for it. There are clients eager to work with smart, ambitious and driven entrepreneurs. You just have to go find them.
Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds on Flickr