I was flattered when everyone’s favorite PR careers mentor asked me to write a post for his blog covering entrepreneurship in communication. For the past several years, Ron has been a trusted advisor of mine. Our visits would always have the same feel. I’d tell him that I really wanted to branch off on my own, we’d kick around a few ideas, and then he’d tell me I’d probably be better off being patient and gaining more experience first.
Finally, back in 2007, when my stint as Director of Corporate Communications at the Chicago Board of Trade was coming to a close, Ron had something different to say. Of course, as usual, I felt I was ready to do my own thing…but this time, he agreed. His vote of confidence gave me added motivation to start my own consultancy, 34Media, and to engage in a strategic partnership with my colleagues at Outside Eyes.
Two years later, Ron has asked me to share what I’ve learned. He tells me that many of the young communication professionals who frequent this space are very much intrigued by the idea of entrepreneurship. I think that’s terrific, but generally speaking, I’d like to pass along the same advice Ron gave to me many times: bide your time and gain invaluable perspective.
Here are a few things to consider if you’re a young pro with an entrepreneurial bent:
Find Your Passion; Follow It – Throughout our lives we engage in new activities, enjoy them, perhaps become obsessed with them for a time, and eventually push them aside for something else. This can happen with toys, games, books, hobbies, foods, exercise and, yes, careers. Communication is a pretty broad field, and I’d recommend exploring its many facets. Manage media relations, write promotional materials, dabble in financial communications, develop internal communications strategies, become an expert in new media, learn all you can about crisis communication…
Perhaps you’ll excel in one of these disciplines…perhaps you’re a natural at every one of them. Odds are you’ll find at least one that you really enjoy – and when you do find that passion, then push as hard as you can to become an expert. If it’s your objective to work for yourself one day, you’ll quickly learn that there are a host of new pressures that you’ll have to deal with on a daily basis. Make it easier on yourself by offering services that you truly love to deliver.
Gain Experience – I know what you’re thinking…is there a more obvious a piece of advice to give a young professional in any field? Probably not, but I ask you to think more deeply about this. Experience isn’t always about time, it’s about situation. In an ideal world, you want to have been in as many situations as possible so you can pass along the knowledge you gain to future clients. Time doesn’t necessarily lead to expertise; it’s what you do with your time that will build your credibility.
Of course, the ‘catch-22’ is that you can’t really put yourself in unique new situations without spending a significant amount of time as a professional. The bottom line is that we all have plenty to learn and those with the widest range of experiences to draw upon are most likely to appeal to prospective clients.
Network As Much As Possible – And then…when you feel like your network is really impressive, network some more. I won’t go into a great deal of depth here, because Ron just discussed networking 101 on June 22. Who you know really does matter, and it matters a lot. Those with the biggest networks are most likely to get “warm introductions” to potential clients…and warm introductions are a major advantage.
Keep networking after you find a job. Keep networking when you’re really busy with work. Don’t be that person who only reaches out to past and present colleagues when you need something. And here’s my favorite piece of networking advice – always offer to help your contacts in any way you can. The more assistance you provide, the more likely folks will be willing to do you a favor down the road.
Save Money – Again, I’ll keep this simple. Earlier, I mentioned that there are new pressures for those who go the entrepreneurial route…and you must learn to deal with them quickly. The most obvious of these is financial pressure. It’s much easier to build a consulting practice if you’re not constantly worrying about your finances. Save as much as you can before you take the plunge.
It takes a different sort of personality to build a successful career as an entrepreneurial communicator. It’s certainly not for everyone. If you have the desire, the passion, the expertise and the contacts to make it happen, it can be extremely rewarding. So bide your time, gain perspective, and maybe some day down the line, Mr. Culp will deliver the same message he eventually delivered to me: “Go for it!”
(Craig Grabiner spent 15 years in corporate communications, including stops at 3Com/U.S. Robotics, JPMorgan Chase and the Chicago Board of Trade, before launching his own consulting practice–34Media.)