So … you’re a public relations natural, with a burning desire to strike out on your own? You’ve got a solid reputation, lots of successful campaigns behind you and an eager clientÃ?Â¨le that sings your praises to your boss?
And now you’re totally committed to being your own boss in your office with your own staff … running your own PR firm?
The two most common phrases you’ll likely hear when you share that bit of news are, “Good for you!” and “Oh, my gosh! Are you crazy?”
Yes, it’s tough to make a going venture out of virtually any new business these days, and the U.S. Small Business Administration pointedly declares that 80 percent of entrepreneurial efforts will fail within the first two years.
But, no, you’re not crazy for believing you can beat the long odds. And as a PR professional, you’ll have the keen advantage of knowing how best to plan for, promote and market your new company!
But before you hang out that PR entrepreneur’s shingle, first take care of a few pre-business-formation details. Thoroughly ponder, plan and prepare to ensure your fledgling company enjoys every opportunity it needs to take root, grow strong and flourish into all you could hope it would be!
Talk to your friends and colleagues in PR about your proposition until they can’t stand to hear the sound of your voice. Strike up conversations with members of your local chapter of PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) at your next meeting.
Probe everyone who might have an informed opinion about the state of your local economy, the prospects for snagging new business, the hidden costs and potential pitfalls of striking out on your own.
When you’ve explored every dark avenue, and you still are determined to take the leap into entrepreneurship, do your homework! Here are four must-do tasks that you simply cannot neglect!
1. Write Your Business Plan
Right now, you’re probably not focused on the nuts-and-bolts issues of business management such as capitalization, cash flow, debt-to-equity ratios and employee optimization.
But your business plan — a must-do first step — will get you focused in a hurry. Not only will the effort force you to examine all your likely revenue sources and expense centers, you’ll also look long and hard at everything from what specific services you’ll offer … to what types of clients at how much per hour or per assignment … where you will do business … how will you pay yourself … what capital, supplies, assistance, insurance and licenses you’ll need to get your new PR firm off the ground.
It won’t be as mind-boggling as it may feel at first blush. As a PR pro, you’re already attuned to the step-by-step processes that draw customers to your clients, and that keep your clients from attracting the type of unwanted attention that can sink a business with cruel certainty.
Use what you know to:
— identify likely clients
— estimate a likely annual revenue stream, monthly cash flow needs, start-up and gap financing needs
— determine how many employees you’ll need at what expertise levels to get the job done
— assess your own firm’s “five P’s,” your products, places, prices, promotions and packaging strategies
— set up a business retention program as well as a business acquisition effort.
Use your experience as an employee to establish work flow (and cash flow!) procedures, estimates for billable-hour capacity, cash flow requirements, an employee manual and policies, and other operational and management practices and procedures.
Check out the Small Business Administration offices in your community for a free business start-up kit and a business plan outline that will help you noodle out a mass of detailed business needs.
2. What will you become?
In order to write a sound business plan, you’ve got to choose how you plan to structure your new PR firm. A sole proprietorship? Limited liability corporation? Partnership? Sub chapter S?
Acquaint yourself with the tax implications, pro and con, of each structure, and check out your state’s laws and statutes governing commercial business ventures and professional services companies. Be prepared to hire an attorney and a certified public accountant to make sure you’ve got the documents you need to be legal and tax-trouble-free.
And don’t fail to obtain other professional advice if you have questions about any other business matter, large or small. You’ll need to buy telephone systems, hire a bonded cleaning firm, deal with unexpected vendors and decide whether to lease or buy major pieces of equipment. Learn all you can, but don’t be afraid to admit that you just don’t know what you just don’t know.
3. Self-promote shamelessly!
Use your PR know-how to generate excitement, buzz, publicity and every other kind of positive spin as you make your big first splash in the world of entrepreneurs. Remember the story of the shoemaker’s shoe-less children? Never be too busy to market yourself. Be as thorough with your self-promotion as you’d like clients to know you’ll be with their organizations!
4. Evaluate periodically with a critical eye.
A good PR firm is able to grow and evolve to meet market needs and changing business environments. Stay on top of industry trends, stay active in professional organizations such as the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), subscribe to PR bulletins and newsletters and be open to change when necessary.
Consider asking an older colleague from an established PR firm out of your geographic area to give your progress the once-over once a year, and provide you with critical feedback and advice for improvement.
In the end, your PR firm will reflect the best — and worst — of you, its founder and leader. Be alert to every opportunity to succeed, and wary of weaknesses that could create a fissure in your new little world.
Most of all, enjoy yourself in your role as your own boss. With a little pre-planning, marketing savvy and PR campaigning, there’s every reason why your company should be solid and successful for years to come.