It was never on my to-do list.
I was most certainly on the partner track. I wanted my new business commission and my year-end bonus and my BMW.
It never occurred to me to do those things for myself.
More than a decade ago, during a dinner with a client, the topic of starting a PR firm came up.
I was adamant I would never do that. I liked the security of a consistent paycheck and the full benefits. It was easy when I knew exactly how—and when—I would make partner.
But that conversation kept circulating in my head and, one day, an opportunity presented itself. I took the leap.
(The saying “never say never” is so true with me.)
I didn’t go full-force into building a PR firm, though. I freelanced for a while. And joined a virtual team of other experienced professionals (way before it was the hip thing to do). I tested different ideas and theories.
I always expected the other shoe to drop and, when it did, I’d go back to my cushy partner track at a big agency.
But when the other shoe didn’t drop during the down economy, I decided I should take this growing a PR firm thing seriously.
Is it a Coinky Dink?
That’s why I’m always surprised when young professionals know exactly how their career paths are going to go.
They are going to get experience, learn everything they can on someone else’s dime, learn how not to do things, and then go out on their own.
They also have the sense to find mentors who have done what they want to do and aren’t shy about asking for advice, counsel, or help.
Things that never would have occurred to me. If I couldn’t figure it out on my own, why on earth would anyone want to help me?
Clearly young professionals have a thing or two to teach me.
I recently had three young women email me and ask for advice.
The first time I was surprised. The second time I wondered what was going on. By the third, it seemed like a PR professor somewhere along the line had put a bug in an entire class’s ears.
I still don’t know if any of these young women have any affiliation, but the coincidence (or coinky dink, as my Poppy would have said) was pretty funny…and strange.
How to Ask for Advice
I’ll give you the sense of the type of email each of them sent:
I am a new public relations professional. I’m reaching out to you because I am a huge fan of Spin Sucks.
Just like many young and ambitious PR pros, I’m eager to launch a public relations firm in my career. I realize many young PR pros have this dream, but this is a goal I am truly passionate about. I was wondering if you have time for a few questions about freelancing as a PR professional and any tips you might have for starting out?
Your advice would be greatly appreciated! Thank you for your time!
They all were similar.
Here’s what I appreciate about each of them:
- They each made it very clear they’ve spent some time on this blog;
- They were very clear about how I could help; and
- They were respectful of how I could provide them advice (in all cases, via email instead of suggesting an hour-long call).
Want to Build a PR Firm?
Here is what I told all three of them:
I went out on my own before I was 30 and that was a big mistake, in hindsight. I wish I had taken more time in the PR firm world to really understand how one works, how they bill clients, what the new business process is like, and how they report their financials to a board and to a bank. These are the things you have to learn on the fly, if you don’t get the experience on the job, and it’s a very, very painful—and very expensive—lesson.
If I were to do it again, I would have kept the same journey, but I would have taken one more step and gone to an agency where I could have learned the financial side of things and been responsible for growth…on someone else’s dime. I probably would have opened my firm just two years later, had I done that, but it would have saved me about five years of incredibly expensive mistakes.
You are going to prove yourself for a verrrrrrry long time. I’m still proving myself. I walk in the room and people think, “Pretty girl” before I open my mouth. And that always comes with a perception (pretty must mean dumb). It takes a lot of work to show people you aren’t dumb.
As a young woman, you’re going to face having to prove yourself most of your career. Women have come a long way, but we’re not there yet. If you’re inexperienced (just because of your age) and people have that perception, you’ll be fighting another uphill battle.
Take ownership of things. Don’t wait to be told to do something. Read a ton. Keep yourself educated and sharp. Go to meetings with new and fresh ideas. Some will work and some will bomb, but don’t be afraid to speak up. That is the kind of person I promote because I can tell that person is as invested in the success of my business as I am. That’s also the kind of person you’ll want to work with when you start out on your own.
Get experience. Learn everything you can where you are. Get promoted as quickly as possible (once a year is great; twice a year is better). Learn how to lead—not manage. Learn the financial side of things and how to do new business.
We all want instant gratification, but to do that, experience can’t be beat.
Being Good at Your Job Isn’t Enough
That’s my advice: Get experience.
Learn as much as you can about all aspects of building a PR firm.
Learn how to interview, hire, and lead a team.
Make friends with the accounting department.
Go on new business pitches. Network and bring in prospects. Learn how to close a piece of new business.
Manage a P&L. Measure your efforts to real business results.
Understand how the PR firm makes money—and how you can help it generate revenue.
You might be very, very good at your job. That’s not enough to build a PR firm.
You have to also be very, very good at business.
Use your experience to learn how to do that.