“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us”
– Joseph Campbell
The first time many people consider PR freelancing or consulting is the day they learn their job is no longer. If you’ve recently been laid off, or are concerned you might be, the time to think about working as a PR consultant is now.
This may be temporary while you simultaneously seek full-time employment, or you may find you love it so much you permanently join our ranks! Did you know:
- 83% of executives say their companies are increasing their use of contingent workers
- Some studies predict that 40 percent of workers in the US will be independent freelancers by 2020
- The independent workforce is already 30 million strong in the U.S. (and growing)
There's no better time to be an independent communications consultant! The on-ramp to consulting may be easier than you think – learn more below.
Important first steps
Where to begin? If you’re facing involuntary independent status, your head is likely reeling a bit, and that’s to be expected. Beyond the traditional job-seeking advice, here are a few consulting-related items to consider in the near-term:
- If you’re still technically employed, plan to take copies of any information your company policy allows, in particular those related to your network of contacts (including business cards and emails) and work samples. If possible, retrieve any personal information you may have on your company cell phone, laptop, etc. You’ll need that information to help secure your new consulting contracts.
- Don’t be ashamed of your status. These days there is no stigma against those that have been laid off, and there’s no need to apologize (even implicitly) as you network. Try to quell those demons.
- Consider your health insurance options. If you’re married, take a look at the plans available through your spouse’s employer. In the U.S. if you’re unmarried, the selection is undesirable, or your spouse is also self-employed, you can usually obtain temporary insurance coverage through your employer’s COBRA plan. This will likely seem expensive, but it is worth doing near-term while you investigate your options further.As a starting point in your research, be sure to review the re-cap/transcript of the Solo PR PRO Twitter chat on health insurance, where we were joined by an expert insurance broker who addressed consultants' most common questions.
- Initially, don’t worry about a business structure, name, or any of those things that might feel overwhelming in the wake of a layoff. You can do independent PR consulting under your own name, and as a “sole proprietor,” with no up-front paperwork required. When tax time comes, you’ll just use the Schedule C form to report your income and expenses.
- Speaking of expenses, start keeping track of them immediately. As you may know, you can deduct some of your job hunt expenses, but you can also deduct expenses if you do any kind of consulting.Just grab a folder and start stashing your receipts for anything professional, such as networking lunches, association dues, and meeting attendance fees. If you meet a colleague at their offices and you have to pay to park, that receipt goes in the folder. Buy some legal pads to write out your consulting ideas? Receipt in the folder! You get the idea… you’ll be surprised how quickly it adds up.
- And then there’s the big question: fees. If you worked with freelance PR pros in your previous position, you probably have an idea of what PR consultants are charging in your area. If not, an excellent resource is the annual Writer’s Market publication. which often can be found in the Resources section of your local library. Though written primarily for freelance writers, Writer’s Market includes a “How Much Should I Charge” section that offers some guidance on hourly fees for PR activities. Keep in mind that the rates for freelance writers are often lower than those for experienced PR professionals.For comprehensive, step-by-step advice on rate setting, retainers and project pricing, consider joining Solo PR PRO Premium and download our exclusive book series “Show Me the Money.”
— When it comes to setting consulting fees, the biggest newbie mistake is failing to consider the extra financial responsibilities you have as an independent. In particular, in the U.S. a full 15.3% of your income will go to the self-employed version of FICA (versus half of that — 7.65% — when you’re an employee). That’s in addition to your tax rate. Add it up, and you can easily find 40% or more of your pay going to Uncle Sam. Now before you go slamming your fist on your desk cursing the IRS, just remember it’s nothing to get upset about if you plan ahead and take this into account when setting your fees.
— Another mistake is forgetting that you now will be responsible for a variety of non-billable work (sending invoices, new business plans, etc.) related to maintaining your business. You might have a billing rate in mind, but when you consider these factors you may find you should be billing considerably more than that. It will of course depend on your skills and experience — just be sure not to short-change yourself! In many ways, the market will perceive your level of expertise based on your fee level.
- And most importantly, equip yourself with the necessary knowledge to navigate the intricacies (and avoid the pitfalls) of formulating contracts and negotiating payment terms with new clients. It’s crucial to become informed on the various types of contracts and arrangements that can come up whether you’re working directly for a client or sub-contracting under another consultant or agency.Solo PR Pro’s free “Get It In Writing! The Consultant’s Guide to Contracts” ebook outlines various types of contracts (e.g., sub-contracts, letters of agreement, non-disclosure agreements, etc), key things to keep in mind (e.g., non-competes, types of recourse for breach of contract, etc) and provides full contract examples.
This is just a quick-hit list of initial considerations so you can get started quickly – often the key to keeping your chin up and building your confidence after a professional setback.
It’s my hope that regardless of what direction you end up heading long-term, the result will be an even more satisfying career that brings you fulfillment and enriches your life. To your success!
Image Credits: Opened door with bright light image courtesy of ponsulak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.