In 2012 Annual Conference, 2012 Conference - Tuesday

By: Rebecca Mahony

Becoming your own boss has risks and rewards. Will setting up my own business mean the end of regular paychecks or a windfall of revenue? How will I find new clients, and how can I do all the work myself? Will billing invoices and bookkeeping eat up all the professional PR time?

The decision to become self employed will be one of the toughest you’ve made in your life. You’ll be giving up benefits and regular paychecks, and you’ll have to do it on your own. In the beginning you have to work five hats, fulfilling multiple roles like PR practitioner, business manager, accountant, husband or wife and parent. It takes money to bankroll your operation, and you have to be ready to lose that nest egg.

When you leave an employer the right way, the doors are always open. You may be able to work with them in the future if you open your own business. When Joe left one of his previous employers, he gave eight months notice so they had ample time to find an adequate replacement for his position.

Timing is very important. Many young people want to jump into entrepreneurship. But why not learn with someone else’s money? Failures don’t cost you when you are working for a corporation, because you’re being paid no matter what. He had 10 years of experience in the corporate world when he went out of his own. If you only have one, two or three years of experience, that will limit the type of work you can do. If a company is outsourcing work, they’re doing it to add value to the team they’ve already built. Personal timing must be right too. Is your home life conducive to working out on your own? Do you have the time necessary to build a business?

Establishing billable rates is market driven. You can’t have different rates for different clients. Charging one client $50 and another $100 per hour will come back to bite you. If people compare notes, you’ll be in trouble. Check with agencies in your area to find out what the average rate is. Decide how you want to be perceived by clients and potential clients; you may want to charge a little more than average to position yourself as an expert.

When you’re working out of your home office, and it’s just yourself, you may not be able to get away with charging the same as a competitor with an office and staff. Their rate includes overhead, but yours wouldn’t. Basically, you need a good base rate for each type of work. You can charge $100 for a good strategy, but you can’t charge $100 for a news release.

The only time Joe uses a blended rate is when he establishes a retainer. PR requires long term strategy, so he prefers to work with clients on a retainer basis. He doesn’t like doing project work because you can’t plan for it. What do you do when something unexpected happens?

Delegate and outsource work. Someone can have all the PR skills necessary, but if you don’t have business skills (bookkeeping, invoicing and keeping time) you will fail. For every hour you spend invoicing, you lose an hour of your time. If it would cost you $25 per hour to have someone else do invoicing, that’s smarter than doing it yourself since you can bill $100 per hour for your time.

When establishing your firm, it’s important to get a lawyer. Make your company a limited liability corporation or another type of organization to insulate your personal assets.

Have a clear picture of the product you’re selling. Time is what it’s all about for PR pros. Publix sells soup. You sell time. You have to pay attention to your time, and you need to keep notes about what you’re doing. It also helps you to see how productive you are from a project management standpoint. It’s not profitable if you can’t remember what you did because you can’t bill it.

School your clients from the beginning. The minute your bill is late, call your client right away. You’ll only have to call them one or two more times. You may be worried about losing clients, but if that happens, maybe it’s better you don’t work with them.

Reputation management from day one is very important. You must be able to make deadlines and provide your clients quality work. If you don’t, it won’t be long before the client starts thinking they don’t need you.

Business development or self promotion should be done as part of your non-billable time (which should be about 20 percent of your total hours). You should treat yourself as a client and devote a certain amount of your time to promote your skills or firm. For some people, business development can mean attending luncheons or networking events where you can meet people and set business meetings. For others, business development might mean putting your time in to completing RFPs. However, you have to be careful, because potential clients might think they own the ideas that you propose. Some practitioners put a copyright mark on proposals to ensure they are paid if the client wants to use their ideas.

FPRA is also good for networking and business development. Sometimes you’ll need to work with other people in other cities. You may even have to subcontract work in another community on the ground. Likewise, others may need to contact you to subcontract work. Make those connections before you need them.

If you are trying to get work with corporations, you contact the PR department first. You can also go to an EDC luncheon, Kiwanis or Rotary meeting, and Chamber of Commerce events to meet the right people in the corporate world. If your clients play golf, find them on the golf course. Think of how you can get into their circles and do it.

Plan your strategy around your client’s desired outcomes. When you talk to clients, ask what success looks like for them. Get them to give you some benchmarks before you give them a proposal. You may need to have meetings beyond the RFP. Don’t be so specific in your proposals; give the 30,000 foot perspective.

Read Joe Curley’s white paper, “Meeting the Challenge: Employee to Employer.”

Joseph J. Curley, APR, CPRC has practiced public relations in Florida for more than 35 years and is now semi- retired. He was the co-founder and president of one of Florida’s largest PR firms, Curley & Pynn Public Relations Management in Orlando, which he sold in 2004. Currently a public relations and marketing consultant at his own firm Stingray Solutions Inc., Curley is retained by Universal Studios Parks & Resorts as senior corporate communications counsel, international marketing & PR. He is directly involved in theme park projects in Singapore, Dubai and South Korea. He recently served for six years on the Communications and Public Relations Advisory Board for the University of Florida, which he co-chaired for two years. He is a past national president of the Public Relations Society of America Foundation, and a past state president of the Florida Public Relations Association. In 1993, 2005 and 2009 he was honored with FPRA’s highest statewide awards for outstanding professional leadership. He is a graduate of the Executive Management Program at Rollins College Graduate School of Business. In 2009, Curley was one of two alumni inducted into the Evergreen Park Community (Chicago) High School Hall of Fame.

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