Deciding to start a business is a lot like standing on the edge of a cliff and deciding to jump with the hope that you don’t hit the water down below in a way that causes permanent damage (in this case, to your career growth).
You see people you know who’ve made the leap and are swimming down below just fine. They shout up at you and say there’s nothing to worry about. Except, you can’t shake the horror stories of cliff-jumping (a euphemism for failed start-ups) gone wrong.
If you’re thinking about starting your own PR business, that means you’ve made the decision to put on your bathing suit and walk up to the edge in order to assess the risk. Here’s what you need to know to make your decision, along with insight on how to keep your head above water if you decide to take the leap.
The time to do it is now.
How people and brands communicate, is changing. A 2012 article in Fortune describes how in 2010 Nike began pulling its ad budget from traditional outlets, and funneling it to digital communication. This move foreshadowed the rise of organic conversation online and the influencers who lead them.
The barriers between public relations, media relations, marketing, social media and advertising are crumbling. There are still several businesses and people who do not know what this means but understand its importance.
The people who are trying new things and learning from their mistakes, are becoming the experts. Businesses are bouncing back from the recession and are more inclined to budget for communication needs. All these factors are aligning to create the ideal conditions needed to start a PR business in which the people who are able to understand the old and integrate the new, can create a thriving business in which they carve out their own niche.
You’ll need to be able to articulate what you do.
If you can’t explain what you do and what problem you solve, how can someone hire or refer you? Don’t assume that what you do is self-explanatory. The idea of PR and its terms are foreign to those outside of the industry. Have a 30 second elevator pitch prepared so that when you someone asks about your business, you can confidently dish it out in easy to understand terms, instead of stumbling over your words and leaving your listener confused.
Be prepared to work. A lot.
This extends beyond the time you’re going to put in for your clients based on the expertise they’re hiring you for. You should expect and budget time to network, meet with current and prospective clients as well as operational issues such as billing, website and social media management.
Establish credibility and build brand awareness.
The internet is one of the biggest equalizers. Use that to your advantage.
Avoid being too focused on making a profit that you pass up the opportunity to position yourself as a leader in communication (which might not necessary have monetary compensation). Nowadays almost any answer to a question can be found by ‘Googling it.’
By choosing to share your first-hand experience of a specific situation or through a general expertise talk, you position yourself as a credible source and more people get to know your brand in a meaningful way. This allows use to be the answer to someone’s online question.
Op-eds, college classroom visits and weighing in on hot topics via social or traditional media are a few of the ways to establish yourself as a thought leader.
Always ask why.
An important lesson I learned from my business partner is to always ask “why are doing this?” Along the way you’ll be pulled in different directions by colleagues, clients and your own creative ideas. It’s vital to establish goals for yourself and your company in order to be able to answer the why. If your answer is not in-line with your end goal, then that’s a sign you need to re-evaluate and auto-correct.
My ultimate advice is – ideas are worthless without execution. It’s the tagline to my business and a motto we operate by. Anyone can have a great idea, but the people who stand out are not the ones that talk about all the great things they’re going to do; it’s the people who take the initiative to find the resources needed to bring that idea to life. Be the latter.
Ximena N. Beltran Quan Kiu, founder of C1 Revolution, is a digital strategist specializing in online reputation management. Her prior jobs include Walgreens, MLB’s Chicago White Sox, Clear Channel and DePaul University.