Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of my PR consulting business. When I left my VP position with an ad agency to strike out on my own a decade ago, it was a grand experiment that turned out far better than I ever could have imagined.
So what I have learned in the past 10 years? For one thing, I had no idea I would enjoy having my own business so much. Unlike many entrepreneurs I’ve known, I never had a burning desire to be self-employed. But once I got a taste of running my own business, I discovered it was exciting and energizing having my own clients and handling their communication needs. If a problem or issue arises—and there have been very few—I’m able to solve it directly with the client.
Another thing I’ve learned—or had confirmed, really—is that with technology, you can work from just about anywhere and still provide top-notch service to clients. A laptop, e-mail, a mobile phone and Social Media tools are about the only things you really need.
I’ve learned also the tremendous value of referrals. With only a couple of exceptions, my business has all come from either word-of-mouth or from having one division of a company see what I’d done for another division and contact me.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up the phone and someone would say something along the lines of, “I’m Bill Smith and so-and-so gave me your name . . . .”
Which leads me to another observation: You can’t beat starting out with a huge piece of business coming through the door. That’s exactly what happened to me. Initially I expected my first year to be a struggle and my goal was simply to make enough money to survive until I got established. Having a large piece of retainer business from day one gave me a roaring start and a strong foundation upon which to build for future success. I was exceedingly fortunate and blessed.
A friend and colleague who had launched his own ad agency a few years prior and seen it grow significantly gave me this piece of advice when I first got started: Be prepared for success. It was great advice, and he was absolutely right. If you’re going to take the plunge, focus on being successful, not hoping you’ll be successful.
One thing that I thought I’d miss more than I have is the opportunity to bounce things off agency peers. Turns out that several of them have their own agencies now, and we share advice and resources with each other as needed. In fact, I’ve collaborated with a number of my former agency colleagues on business assignments when they needed help, and I’ve hired some of them to provide services for my clients when I’ve been swamped.
I wouldn’t want to leave the impression that there haven’t been some bumps along the way, and my business certainly is not immune to downswings in the economy. But having my own firm has been a blessing far beyond what I envisioned. It’s been a great ride, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next 10 years have in store.
Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to advertising agencies and businesses.