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Gini Dietrich

What Keeps You Up At Night?

By: Gini Dietrich | June 28, 2010 | 
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A couple of weeks ago, Elizabeth Sosnow, a managing director with BlissPR, a B2B-based public relations firm in New York and Chicago, wrote on PR Breakfast Club, The Secret Worries of a PR Firm Boss.

In her post, her worries include: Positioning more broadly, employee turnover and cultural changes, divvying up the profits, employees who don’t like one another, and loss of clients. She and I bantered a little bit over Twitter and she asked me what I would add to the list.

It’s funny that Elizabeth’s worries are not my own; I don’t even worry about loss of clients (anymore). Each firm is unique, with its own culture and own set of challenges. Following is what keeps me up at night:

1. It was October 13, 2008 and I got the dreaded phone call from the bank. Our line of credit had been cut off. Payroll was due in two days and none of our clients had paid their invoices for September. I remember handling that phone call extremely unprofessionally. I even cried. I did manage to talk them into covering payroll for us, until clients paid their invoices.  So began 15 months of worrying every single month whether or not we were going to make the payroll that was due on the 15th. April 2010 (yes, just a few months ago) was the first month we were cash flow positive and I’m happy to report I no longer lie in bed, awake in the middle of the night, wondering if we are going to make payroll. But I still worry that it’s going to happen again and that is not a position I ever want to experience again.

2. Are we delivering above and beyond what our clients expect? I’ve always been a go the extra mile person, and it was great when I was executing myself. But now that I have a team of experts, who are all great at what they do, I only hear from clients when they’re upset or angry. Even though it’s not often, it’s not a fun job. I don’t like it much. In fact, I pretty much hate it. So I worry about how to create a culture where my team can read the red flags and they aren’t afraid to tell me there is a problem…before the client calls me.

3. Just a little more than a year ago, I took over this blog and began writing consistently. It started out as three days a week, then four, and now we’re up to five days (and multiple times  a day is coming)! But now I worry about whether or not I’m providing value not only to you, but whether or not it’s valuable enough to get prospective clients to call us. Now that Dan is here, we hope to provide an even higher level of value that is targeted directly to your specific needs and grants you exclusivity. But I sometimes lie awake at night and worry we won’t be able to pull it off.

4. This one is going to sound weird, but I worry whether or not our new business proposals are too much. We’re smart. We have a great team. We drive superior results that actually affect revenue. But I don’t think that comes across in our new business proposals. Get us in front of the prospect and we win nearly every time. But if we have to send an RFP, a PowerPoint document, or a description of what we do, we almost never win. We had a managing director who used to say, “To know us is to love us.” I worry about how to get prospects to know us without having met us.

5. And, last but not least, the one thing I spend a ton of time worrying about is my own coaching and leadership skills. I’m busy. Aren’t we all? But I travel quite a bit, I’m rarely in the office five days a week, and when I am, I spend most of my time on conference calls and with clients. My team gets me for an hour every Monday, but that’s the only scheduled time. I worry that I’m not available enough to coach them, to provide them advice that advances their careers, and that they have great ideas, but they flounder because I’m not around to give them the nod. I work with Randy Hall at least once a month on how to better myself in this arena, but I always worry it’s not enough.

What about you? Even if you don’t run a PR firm, what keeps you up at night? What are some of your own worries?

Photo credit: Libsyn

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

17 comments
Kara Vanskike
Kara Vanskike

Gini,

RFPs keep me up at night. Writing proposals is the primary focus of my job; I write approximately 35 a year. In the past three years, our proposals have evolved dramatically - not only in format, but also in content. I go through each RFP and painstakingly answer each question asked then I make sure that each of their points on which they are grading is covered somewhere. (What they ask for and their standards for judging don’t always match up). I lie awake worried that I missed something or that I left something out that could have made a difference in the final score.

I also lie awake thinking about our social media efforts. What can we do to make our Facebook page more engaging, how can we get people to comment on our blog, how do we increase our Google ranking, etc. We’ve made progress over the course of the last few months, but we still have a ways to go.

Maybe we could exchange a proposal critique for a PR critique? :)

Scott Hepburn
Scott Hepburn

Loads of awesome here, as usual. Thanks for sharing this list -- it's nice to know we're not alone!

What keeps me up?

1) Will I add new business quickly enough to survive? Work seems to keep coming, by providence, but money out is chasing money in pretty aggressively. It sure would be nice if the revenue horse could stretch out a lead.

2) Do I have the right team model? I think the ad hoc team of discipline specialists is a popular model and suited to the economic climate, but it's a daily balancing act. New partners every week, new relationships to figure out, uncertainty about whether you're measuring up against other team members, uncertainty about whether you're carrying too much of the load. It's like standing on quicksand.

3) What exactly do I do? It used to be easy: PR was PR, marketing was marketing, advertising was advertising, sales was sales. Now they're morphing, fluidly mixing with each other. It'd be nice to say "I only do this thing, not that," but clients rarely conform to the definitions we try to set.

4) Am I too tethered to social media? I feel constant pressure to blog, Tweet, share, bookmark, comment. Disappear for a week and you risk becoming irrelevant. Maybe that's not true, but it feels that way sometimes. I spent two months without access to my blog, and I think I gave myself an ulcer.

5) How do I un-pigeonhole myself. For better or worse, I have a reputation in town as a "social media guy." That was never the goal -- I just like blogging -- but it has opened a lot of doors. Now I worry that I'm stuck in a box. I'd rather be seen as a valuable communications strategist, with social media as just a tool at my disposal. Anyone know a good PR pro who can help me rebrand? ;)

Jon Buscall
Jon Buscall

@Gini, What a wonderful post (and some great comments).

I lie awake worry about:

1) How to get clients to pay more quickly when the standard in Sweden is "30 days after date of invoice"

2) How to ensure the people I hire don't ruin the reputation I've worked hard to build up over the last 5 years.

3) How to spend more time doing the work I love instead of the smaller, less rewarding jobs I seem to get inundated with.

4) How to transition my business so I can move to France or Italy in the summer of 2012

5) My pension!

Steve Congdon
Steve Congdon

Hola, Daddyo. Nice post. Expect my "11 Habits for Successful RFPs" coming soon to an email box near you! Might be a thing or two worth applying to your new business.

Elizabeth Sosnow
Elizabeth Sosnow

Hi Gini:

GREAT post. I'm so glad that I contributed in a small way to your insights above. I really appreciate your list of top worries and particularly relate to #5. Figuring out how to be a good mentor may be my most important job...and yet it almost always feels like the ball that's most likely to get dropped.

I have yet to come up with a satisfying solution, but here are some my current attempts:

1. Understand that you may be better off helping a few of your senior folks become better mentors themselves

2. Methodically schedule "one on one" time on a rotating basis with every single member of your firm - and do not allow yourself to reschedule

3. Create "learning pods" where important new skills are intentionally built up across teams. For us, these pods are usually a smaller sub-group of different title levels. A subject like "Developing SEO audits" lends itself well to this format.

4. Investigate other professional service firms for inspiration. For example, could we learn something from how a CPA firm brings younger folks up to speed or steal a page from a law firm's training program? I get some of my best stuff outside of the PR industry.

5. Develop a training program that attempts to crystallize your key learnings and/or distill cultural "words of wisdom." Over time, the right program should help everybody better understand who you are as a leader -- and what that implies for the future direction of the firm.

Just a few thoughts...you don't need to hear much from the Peanut Gallery since it's already clear that you are doing a great job.

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

I always love to write these kinds of blog posts because it's a great exercise for all of us in admitting that we actually have some weaknesses, but in also working through taking command of them and growing.

A few things that have come through in the comments that really work for me:
1. Work smarter, not longer. I love this. I wish I'd figured this out 10 years ago. It turns out that I work much more efficiently now that I've told myself I can't work on the weekends. Do I still read blogs, comment, and do my own writing? Yes, but it's on stuff I want to do, not on stuff I have to do because I have a deadline coming.

2. Continue creating a cash advance business, which means clients pay us before we begin work, not after we've finished.

3. Anne is absolutely right! We start our businesses because we're really good at our craft. What we don't know (at least I didn't) is all the stuff that goes into running a growing business.

4. To know us is to love all of us.

5. And no, Scott, you'll never retire...even after you retire.

Daniel Hindin (@danielhindin)
Daniel Hindin (@danielhindin)

Wow! I'm blown away by the wonderfully candid thoughts everyone has shared here so far. This is the type of conversation that is so valuable to us all. Of course, fear normally leads directly to some sort of action. Reading the comments, I'm wondering what everyone is doing to combat these fears.

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

Good thoughts and I'm glad you built off Elizabeth's original post.

#4 also keeps me awake--and I'm in the exact same boat as you. In fact, I have only won one RFP to date (and that was in tandem with a small agency I partner with). But, much like you it sounds, if people have met me and know what I bring to the table, they usually end up hiring me, in some capacity.

Another item that keeps me up at night is simply staying on top of everything. As a new small business owner, I have a huge learning curve. But, I also need to stay current on my blog reading and commenting (Reader is out of control at this point) and my own blogging (post on three different sites, currently). Oh yeah, and I have a young family and a host of other hobbies (my golf game is suffering HUGELY this summer). Keeping up is a huge challenge at me. The key: Working smarter--not longer.

@arikhanson

Jan Beery
Jan Beery

Great blog Gen.
I've set up my business on a cash in advance basis so that area of cash flow doesn't haunt me.
A few things that do...
1. Agreeing with Jason, I'm always questioning if I credit myself and my team with enough value and are we charging appropriately?

2. Are we growing adequately and controlled enough or is it getting ahead of me?

3. Are we staying ahead of or up to speed with what is going on in the market and are we bringing those new ideas to our clients?

4. Am I paying enough attention to what is going on with our clients or is our growth taking me further back from being engaged?

5. Am I remembering why I started this company and taking time to care for myself both physically, emotionally, mentally?

Good exercise!

Lindsey Robertson
Lindsey Robertson

Gini,

I love your honesty in this post! I also love that you are able to identify your fears, like Jason mentioned. And beyond that, it's great that you can put them out there for all to see. This definitely makes me think about the things that keep me up at night and what I can do to work through them.

Thanks for sharing!

Lindsey

Anne Buchanan
Anne Buchanan

Thanks for the candid and honest thoughts, Gini. I'd be surprised if there's a PR firm owner who hasn't felt some or all of those fears at some point in their career.

Here's one of my theories on why this is so challenging for so many of us. Many of us started our own firms because we were really good at PR. We were probably top-performers in our previous lives, made our employers happy, and generally excelled at the practice of public relations.

Well, being good at PR doesn't necessarily translate into being good at running a firm. The same DNA that makes us good at PR (generally a bright, upbeat, can-do attitude) leads us to assume we can build on our own strengths and expand our personal success into organizational success.

Being a great practitioner doesn't always mean you will be a terrific leader or CEO. For many of us, it's a skill we need to acquire.

I applaud your ability, Gini, to focus on what you do well, articulate what scares you and identify outside resources who can help you in your journey as an entrepreneur.

Well done.

Jason Verhoosky
Jason Verhoosky

This is a topic I can more than relate to...
One thing that I commend you on is identifying your fears, learning from them, and furthering yourself to overcome all of them! I always try to look at my fear/conflict list as an opportunity to grow and improve.

As for my own list of things that keep me up at night, here you go:

1) Do I give myself enough value, and am I charging accordingly for my work? As I have previously mentioned, I have had trouble saying no in the past, due to this I have compromised my value on multiple occasions.

2) Can I make it all fit. Work, family, deadlines, etc.

3) Am I offering enough value and information in my blog? Is the message I am sending the message I want prospective clients to receive? I spend a lot of time thinking about this, but I feel that it helps to keep me on track, and moving in the right direction.

Great post Gini! Thank you for giving me new things to think about, and encouraging me to go through my own list.

Scott Phillips
Scott Phillips

Dead on...could not agree more.

I would add to your list...

- Will my client budgets be slashed, causing us to lose income despite strong performance on our part?

- Will I have to put a good person on the street?

- Am I taking good care of my people?

- Will I EVER retire?

-

Scott Phillips
Scott Phillips

Dead on...could not agree more.

I would add to your list...

- Will my client budgets be slashed, causing us to lose income despite strong performance on our part?

- Will I have to put a good person on the street?

- Am I taking good care of my people?

- Will I EVER retire?

-

Abbie S. Fink
Abbie S. Fink

I found myself nodding my head to each and every point made, not only in the blog but in the comments that follow. And since every day brings new challenges as a business owner, every night has another reason to be awake.

Am I doing too much, am I not doing enough. Am I letting things slip through the cracks in this fast-paced, get-it-done-now kind of work environment. Am I stopping to say thank you to the people who have helped me along the way. Do I take the time to enjoy the successes or am I moving to quickly on to the next project.

I suspect you will get a lot of different responses to this post. We all strive to be the best we can be -- and if you're like me, you're never sure you've done your best. And that's the number one thing that keeps me up at night.

Doug Davidoff
Doug Davidoff

I worry about a lot of things. I've learned to categorize my worries into two groups - my daily worries (if I'm not worried about something then I'm really, well, worried); and deep worries. When my deep worries get out of hand it really impedes my ability to perform - and luckily there are only a few things I worry deeply about.

Here they are:

1. Will I have the discipline and ability to perform to the level I need to perform to meet my vision. As a subset of this, I worry if I am being the role model I should be to my team and my clients.

2. Can we really provide the leadership on one end and the tactical support on the other to enable our clients to break free from the quagmire of traditional selling to the freedom and empowerment of Demand Creation.

3. Will I get so consumed with the things we are doing at Imagine that I forget the reason why we are doing them.

4. Can I create the cash flow fast enough to fund the vision and desires we have.

5. Am I holding back somewhere? It's a fine line between between being prudent (which I fully support) and behaving out of fear.

Thanks for the provoking question.

Joey Strawn
Joey Strawn

Great post Gini, sometimes I think the scariest thing is actually saying our fears out loud because, in a way, it makes them more real. Now, I don't run a PR firm, but I do occasionally do some digital marketing consultation on the side, so I have fears too.

- What if my groundswell efforts to find clients doesn't pay off and I don't have that source of income this month, or next month? (Very similar to your payroll fear, funny how money always seems to be 1 or 2.

- What if I get no new readers on my blog this week?; or, Am I not writing effective content to add value to my readers' lives?

- There is so much out there, how do I know that I am focusing on the right trends in my market to best benefit my clients and readers?

It's almost funny how the first step to eliminating fears is putting them down on paper (Internet in this case) because it gives you the ability to put together actionable plans to go about calming those fears.

Thanks for making me think this morning!