By Jessica Fuchs (Ocala Chapter)
Public relations professionals seeking to boost their solo practice – or those considering taking the entrepreneurial leap – may assume there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about achieving success. The “How to be Successful on Your Own” panel of seasoned solo practitioners assured session attendees this is not the case. Karen Swim, Nate Long, Ginger Broslat and Kellye Crane also offered real insight and guidance regarding some burning questions about what it takes to make it as an “indie.”
How do you price your services?
This question was revisited several times during the session, and while having a definitive answer might put aspiring solo practitioners more at ease, the panel advised there isn’t a one size fits all solution when it comes to pricing your services. The beauty of this, however, it that each entrepreneur can structure fees in a way that best suits their needs.
Working on retainer:
Ginger Broslat: Ginger prefers working with clients on retainer and embedding herself in their business, often having a desk at their location and attending their meetings. “I hate time tracking and billing. So, I negotiate a monthly retainer with an estimated number of hours,” she said. Ginger typically opts to set a new client contract for three months and renegotiates after that period.
- The panel agreed that it’s important to define your scope of work clearly and specifically when working on retainer (to avoid endless requests from clients for work outside of what your were originally hired to conduct).
Nate Long: Nate bases his fees on capacity outlined in a strategic plan created with each of his clients. Still others in the room preferred to bill based on hourly rates, or charge clients by project. “With the capacity model you have predefined goals you’re going to accomplish for a set fee. If it’s taking you too long to get something done, then you need to figure out how to work better/smarter,” he said.
All panel members were in agreement in warning not to undervalue yourself.
Karen Swim: “A common mistake [I see people make] is basing pricing on salaries. Independents can be more expensive [on an hourly basis] than employees because clients understand they are hiring someone for immediate results and expertise,” Karen said.
What about before you get to the “pricing structure” part? It’s really scary to take that first step and go solo. How do you find your first clients?
Nate Long: If you’re already working somewhere do an awesome job. “Make a big impact where you are,” he said, sharing that, when he left Visit Florida to step out on his own, he called companies he worked with and told them.
Ginger Broslat: She finds most clients through referrals and relationship building. Being involved in your community and making connections through committees and volunteering helps with this strategy. “I recommend being a woman of faith if you’re going to step out on your own.”
Karen Swim: Similar to Nate and Ginger’s recommendations, Karen suggested earning clients through the natural network of people you’ve worked with in the past (but making sure to have a clearly defined ask when presenting your ideas to work together). She also suggested to “go where the people you want to hire you are.” “Go there and put yourself out there,” she said.
Partnering to get the job done
It can seem daunting when a client asks for a project that requires many different skill sets for completion. Even if you have all the necessary skills ( think: video production, graphic design, copywriting expertise), you might not have the time to complete all the tasks necessary in a timely manner. Each of the panel members agreed that partnering was essential in this instance – you’re creating a team of allies
Ginger works with freelancers who are already in her professional network.
Understanding that it can be scary to lean on someone else, Karen advised to start small. “Don’t bring in a subcontractor and give them an entire project,” she said.
Kellye suggested asking PR peers who they’ve used for specific tasks.
Additional Solo PR Tips from the panel:
- Never work for a conflicting client. If there was ever a hint of conflict – both parties need to be made aware. Always be upfront and transparent.
- If working on retainer, provide a list of tasks/projects completed on your invoices.
- When it comes to finances and legal – it’s important to have professional advice. Have an attorney and an accountant.
- Always set goals with clients.
- Toggl – a free timekeeping tool with a small learning curve.
- Freshbooks for accounting.
- Wave – free invoice-generating tool. Will automatically send invoices.
Q) A system for hourly tracking.
Karen: Get it in advance – has a client bill of rights. As part of the on-boarding has a list of things she needs from them and a process to follow (that’s their responsibility to give me the information so that I can manage their platforms)
Nate: hires an expert subcontractor to interview them on a basis to make sure we’re getting. It’s worked really well.
Q) How do you handle fees with subcontractors.
Karen: I don’t mark up at all.They give me their rate and I pay them. I don’t make them wait until my client pays me.
Ginger: I don’t markup either. Sometimes I tell the client that we have to contract a graphic artist.
Q) How do you “fire” a client?
Kellye: it is critical to the success of your business – you just have to part ways and move on.
Ginger: Sometimes the industry doesn’t work for your strengths – at the end of three months.
Karen: Sometimes it’s easy – an emotionally abusive client. The harder ones are more subtle – maybe you’re bored and you just can’t get excited about it, but you like the checks. Sort of examine why you’re feeling this way – maybe it’s a renegotiation. And make the leap – the moment you get rid of people who aren’t supposed to be there.
Hot topic: How do you price your services?
Q) Do you look at your market place?
Ginger: Ginger works with nonprofits – so she has a nonprofit rate.
Kellye: You can ask your fellow independent contractors. A lot of times people will tell you their rate. Think about what agencies are charging for their work. Don’t sell yourself short.
Karen: When I first started out I would have people tell me – you’re high. Others don’t apologize for their prices – there’s no sad face on your mortgage bill. Nate: Agreed.
Super new people: When you’re starting an independent practice, people think they have to start low because they are new. But you’re not new to the world. It doesn’t matter that your experience was in the corporate world. You’re coming to the market place.
Q) Have you outsourced sales?
Karen: It’s relationship building … outsource tactical things instead of sales. The CEO doesn’t tend to the tactical work and is out. Committing to something is a great way to motivate you to grow.
Karen Swim is the President of Words For Hire, a Public Relations and Marketing Communications company. Words For Hire provides public relations and marketing communications services to small-to-medium size businesses across the globe.Swim has more than two decades of experience in PR and marketing communications, sales management, and strategic marketing. She uses integrative problem solving to customize marketing and content solutions for clients. An award winning sales and marketing professional with a depth of business expertise, clients value Karen’s broad ranging knowledge, and commitment to helping them reach their goals.
Nate Long is a strategic marketing consultant who specializes in digital and social media marketing. He’s helped more than 100 businesses gain exposure, increase sales and build critical relationships with customers, while re-branding companies and their websites. He launched Nate Long Marketing in April 2013 and now primarily serves the tourism, home automation and bio-tech industries with clients in Tallahassee, Fort Lauderdale, Aspen, Denver and Salt Lake City. Known to many by his Twitter handle @thePRguy, Long has been included in the “Top 100 Most Influential Tourism Professionals on Twitter” and Destination Marketing Association International’s 30 Under 30 Awards. While working for bio-tech start-up Vascular Health Sciences, Long drove sales and grew brand awareness through dramatic social media growth and more than 1.4 million PR-related impressions. He pioneered VISIT FLORIDA’s consumer targeted and B2B social media efforts and acted as a marketing consultant to VISIT FLORIDA’s nearly 12,000 industry partners, web affiliates and strategic alliances. Long also owns Florida-based Amplify Entertainment which, with more than 100 online five-star reviews, received the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 WeddingWire Bride’s Choice award in Tallahassee while doubling growth three years in a row. His company performed nearly 150 events last year and has expanded to a team of eight DJs. The company was a finalist for an international EMMA for the innovative Hey DJ! Mobile Request System, which also won an FPRA Image Award.
A passionate and collaborative communicator, Ginger Broslat is a Public Relations and Marketing Consultant who works as an integral member of her clients’ teams. With a strong background in healthcare, economic development, publishing and nonprofit management, she is adept at visualizing the big picture, developing the creative concepts and tactical steps needed to achieve goals. Broslat approaches projects with a strategic end in mind. That practice has garnered numerous Image Awards from the Florida Public Relations Association on both local and state levels. She is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Strategic Public Relations through George Washington University. Broslat also uses her physical weakness with muscular dystrophy as strength to inspire and encourage others through motivational speaking. Lessons from those experiences were published in her book, Fall Therapy.
Kellye Crane is the founder of Solo PR Pro – the premier site for communications consultants – providing the tools, education, advocacy and community resources needed for indies to succeed and grow. A veteran and award-winning communicator with more than 20 years of experience – 19 of them solo – in strategic public relations and marketing communications, Crane has offered strategic planning, digital media, press/influencer relations and marketing communications services to some of the world’s largest companies, including The Coca-Cola Company, IBM, Intel, and Microsoft