I launched my business properly in August. I won’t lie, the first few months were nail-biting. Would people get my proposition? How would I pay the bills? Could I cope with home-working?
As my best friend put it: “You’re a PR consultant who DOESN’T want to do media relations. So what DO you do?”
A fellow PR professional also pointed out that it’s very easy to be clear about what you don’t want to do, less so on what you do want to do, or what your clients are prepared to pay for. (For the record, I focus on PR strategy and evaluation. And, it turns out people are happy to pay for this.)
But I blog before you, having just smashed my business targets for November, taking myself to my planned capacity in just four months.
I don’t want to turn this into one of those “You too can change your life” female entrepreneur, lifestyle-boss posts you see littering Facebook currently. I won’t be posting a picture of myself lying on a sun lounger in a gaudily patterned kaftan. But I am really happy to share the steps it took, based on something my business coach and I call the “100 day, no stress consultancy model”.
The idea is – in your first year, you’ll be super lucky to book 100 consultancy days. That’s about 8 a month. So that’s two days of paid work, plus a day (or maybe two) on admin and marketing.
So build your plan around this, and be comfortable that this is what success looks like. Here’s how I did it:
- Get some external advice. I’ve run a PR agency before. I sort of think I know what I’m doing. But I did check out the UP and OI business start up two day course, thanks to a referral from my Growth Hub advisor. Jen on the UP team persuaded me to give it a go after I was a bit sniffy about committing two days to learn stuff I already knew. I was so glad I embraced the post its and got on with it/
- Find a good coach or mentor. I was lucky to be paired with Chris Hines, who is a legend around these Cornish parts. It was a meeting of minds – he had also been a similar life stage to me when launching his own consultancy. His office is also a summer-house in the garden, which is my dream workspace.
- Set confident day rates. I went in with an idea of the rates I wanted to charge. Chris took one look at my business plan, and told me to up my day rates immediately, almost doubling them. He politely told me to grow a pair – of boobs that is, not balls, as we both agreed that the senior PR scene is already too male-centric.
- If people don’t want to pay your day rates, don’t sweat it. You will find someone else who will, and they will value every £. Chris pointed out that for every prospective client not prepared to pay my rate, my day would be better spent on the beach with my daughters.
- Build a prospect list. I credit the genius of Liz Gadd for this one. Liz is a specialist recruitment consultant from beautiful Portishead. I asked her how many she should put on my prospect list. “Fifty,” she confidently replied. I’ve managed to build mine to 40. I’ve contacted around 80%. At least 20% of these have led to work. It’s the classic Pareto principle.
- Be clear about who you want to work with. Be careful of the Dementors – those clients who suck out your energy and positivity. Work with people who are proud to recommend you, and you to recommend them. For the first little while, this was Fabulous Boss Ladies and Gay Men. I’m happy to report I have a growing client and collaborator base in the Switched On Straight Men category too. I will not discriminate.
- Put yourself out there. In those lonely early months of launching a career as an independent practitioner, you need to think creatively. I picked five likely contacts who might want to work with me, and tailored a proposal for each. I worked respectfully around their busy workloads, and pivoted my offer for each.
- Build, and revisit, your proposition. Mine is Communications Strategy, with evaluation. It’s strengthened by my teaching work with the Chartered Institute of PR, and the icing on the cake is I do this in an Agile way – which is all about people and collaboration. I can pivot for different opportunities – be that a full rebrand, communications strategy for merging organisations, or writing a feature for a teach magazine on Agile applications.
- Get out of Cornwall (or wherever you are based) every now and then. I’ve been away a bit too much in November. But I always get inspired by new scenery, new people, new energy. I get ideas for projects, blog posts, events or c0llaborations.
- Test stuff. I accidentally spent a chunk on LinkedIn advertising just to try things out, but found out that blog content is more helpful enquiries, but not as helpful as direct approaches or referrals. You live and you learn. I’ve only just treated myself to business cards.
- Remember why you are doing this. After an extremely busy month, I was so content to have a quiet Sunday with no plans with my two little girls. Every scary approach or new business email is with them in mind.
I’m not really a business guru. Just someone who has run a business, and helped other people run theirs. But get in touch if you’d like some of my brain space to figure out where to take your organisation.
Also – I’m not TOTALLY at capacity. Still seeking some awesome projects and collaborations for 2017. So long as you’re not a dementor and fit into my target client profile (see point 6).