PR pros dish on starting PR biz, fave holidays (part 2)

I hope part 1, Doubts, motivation, advice: PR pros dish on starting biz, of this post was helpful.  If you missed it, I encourage you to read it first, unless you’re burning up inside wanting to know about those holidays!  Thanks, again, to Aileen Katcher, Gayle Falkenthal, Heather Whaling and Sarah Evans for taking the time share their insights and experience. Ya’ll rock! (Banjo fades)

5. For those aspiring to start a PR biz, what’s your advice?

Aileen: Treat yourself like a client.  Know when you need outside expert help (accounting, legal, hr) and use it.

Gayle: Determine your niche and establish strong branding. You can’t be all things to all people. I’m superb with public affairs and advocacy work, but I detest event planning. Most people like to do what they’re good at, so go with it. You’ll provide better work for your clients and create a stronger reputation for yourself. On the practical side, get your financial house in order. You need to have a real relationship with your bank – go inside and meet the bank personnel. Stop doing all your transactions online or at the ATM!  Set up business accounts and credit lines and enough cash reserves to weather the start-up period and tide you over when clients are slow to pay (or don’t pay, and don’t think it won’t happen).  Then network, network, network and don’t be shy about letting people know you are in business. A good referral or inquiry can come from anywhere.

Heather: Three pieces of advice:

1) Find a good accountant who is willing to take the time to answer your questions and help you make smart financial decisions.

2) Surround yourself with good people. Arik Hanson and I started our companies within months of each other. In the beginning, we frequently shared ideas, brainstormed together and offered each other advice. Having that “sounding board” was incredibly helpful.

3) Aspiring PR entrepreneurs need to think of themselves as a “client.” Before I officially launched Geben, I wrote a mini-PR plan for the company. That solid foundation helped me hit the ground running. (And it worked! Within the first month, I signed a New York Times best-selling author and haven’t slowed down since!) In PR, we tend to focus on our clients and forget to do our own PR. But, you have to make time. You’re a business now. If you were your own client, what counsel would you offer?

Sarah: Don’t undervalue your worth. When a potential client or speaking opportunity comes your way, don’t be afraid to let them know what your time is worth. You can always negotiate down from a price, but once you set your price, it’s often harder to go up — especially if you find out later that they were wiling to pay more.

At the same time, think about the value that conference or client might have for you — you might be willing to go lower if you’re speaking to 300 senior VPs, which could lead to future clients or paid speaking engagements.

6. During the process of starting your biz, were you ever afraid or have doubts?  If so, how did you overcome those feelings?

Aileen: I actually had planned on striking out on my own by the time our son reached middle school.  Unfortunately, as I was beginning that long-range plan (while he was in elementary school) my job as marketing director at Baptist Hospital was eliminated, so I was forced into it before I was ready. Doubts – certainly, but then I remembered that I thought my job at the hospital would be there as long as I wanted it.  And, yes, there were times when it scared me (and still are times) but in the words of my first PR mentor, I always try to move “onward and upward.”

Gayle: Maybe it’s revisionist history in my mind, but I don’t recall having a shred of doubt.

I ascribe this to two things. First, my parents were entrepreneurs. My father started his business when I was 12. My parents were extremely open and they told us kids times might be tough for a while until the shop started making money, but my father did just fine from the get-go (although he did work his ay-ess-ess off).

I partially answered this in question #2 of the original but I’ll elaborate. I mentioned that I’d been laid off three times in less than five years, and thought to myself “How much worse could it be?” I truly do remember this. Of my three layoffs, I was treated with extreme respect once, got the security guard escort out the door in another, and last endured a long drawn out one I knew about for months before it occurred.  But whether I was treated decently or not, getting laid off SUCKS. So you really can’t be afraid of anything when you’ve already taken those sorts of body blows. It was a relief not to have to worry about getting hired and then getting laid off for the fourth time.

Where I mentioned as part of question #2’s answer that I picked up clients, I see it isn’t really clear that I kept two (one each layoff) as moonlighting gigs. So by the time I was hitting layoff #3, I already had two small clients. My third layoff was from the American Red Cross, which turned around and hired me back as a consultant on a temp basis two days before my full time job ended.  This was supposed to be for just a few months, but I kept them as a major client for four years. So I already had steady monthly business, enough to just cover my monthly expenses from day one.

I have always been a “saver,” so I had a year’s pay in the bank when I went into business. It gave me a tremendous amount of security. See the question #5 answer where I talk about finances, your relationship with your banker, getting your financial house in order. Even if I hadn’t started with some clients, I gave myself a lot of breathing room thanks to this. I suppose you could say I overcame any feelings of doubt or fearfulness by providing a foundation of security for myself long before I started. I realize not everyone can do so, but it gave me the option of hanging in there for a while if I hit any rough patches. I never did.

Heather: I wouldn’t have started a business if I didn’t think it would be successful. I spent a lot of time working on the business and building my network of potential referral sources before ever going public with the fact that I was launching Geben Communication. By the time I announced the company, I was pretty confident that it was going to work. Prior to going out on my own, I had a great agency job. I wouldn’t have left that job to start Geben unless I was sure it was going to work.

I wrote about this when I first launched the company, but I had been debating for a while whether I wanted to start my own company or not. I was on a HARO (Help a Reporter Out) webinar, where Peter Shankman said, “Don’t let the fear of failure prevent you from crossing the start line.” That was an a-ha moment for me. I realized I needed to believe that I could do this, have faith in my abilities and work really hard. And, so far, so good!

That said, I think everyone has at least a few moments where they wonder if they’re making the right decision. Especially, if it’s your first “entrepreneur experiment.” If you’re a serial entrepreneur, perhaps some of those butterflies are gone. But, at least speaking from my own experience, giving up a steady paycheck and benefits to go out on my own was a fairly risky thing to do — especially because I did it in the midst of the recession. It’s only natural to have a few doubts. What separates the people who think about entrepreneurship and the people who actually become entrepreneurs is the ability to look past their fear of doubt to turn their idea into reality.

Sarah: It was never a certainty that Sevans Strategy would be an instant success. Launching your own company takes time and dedication, yet so many startups fail despite the man-hours and money spent. Before launching, I created somewhat of an ultimatum — if my business wasn’t self-sustaining, after a certain period of time, I’d fold and try a different direction. Fortunately, this has never been the case, our business model to date has been a success and new business continues to come in the door. Last year, Entrepreneur named us one of their 10 Hot Startups, and our business has only continued to grow.

7. What’s your favorite holiday and why?

Aileen: Thanksgiving.  It’s a long weekend, I get to see family and friends, get to cook (one of my favorite pastimes).

Gayle: The Fourth of July. The weather is usually perfect and there is the promise of long summer days ahead. Other than having your American flag up (I do year-round), you don’t have to decorate and you don’t have to buy gifts. There’s no real agenda other than fireworks. You can just eat, drink, and relax. Could our great nation’s birthday get any better? My own birthday is just a few weeks later. July rocks.

Heather: Election Day is my favorite holiday. My first job was for a small agency that specialized in public affairs and political consulting. Election Day was our Super Bowl. I’m a competitive person by nature, so I loved the idea of working like crazy for success or failure to be determined on that one day.

Working in politics helped me learn a lot of valuable lessons as well, like grace under fire and thriving on tight deadlines. But, most importantly, it helped me learn that PR isn’t about accumulating a bunch of clips or awards. If you lose an election, no one cares how many media clips you generated! For me, every Election Day is a good reminder that PR is about finding the right mix of tools and tactics, delivering the right message to the right audience, and inciting action (votes, sales, etc.).

Sarah: Christmas — it’s a time for me to be with friends, family and loved ones.

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5 thoughts on “PR pros dish on starting PR biz, fave holidays (part 2)

  1. Great article. I’m so glad Aileen, Greg and Roy started KVB. It was the best job I ever had and they were the most wonderful people to work for. I miss you guys.

    Lisa Achilles

  2. Very good stuff. I started my own little firm recently, and it is comforting to see successful people talk about facing the same challenges I currently face.

    Enjoyed both parts very much.

  3. Pingback: KVBPR Blog » Public Relations and the People Behind It Part 2

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