There's truly no better time to become a solo PR professional — and the data backs it up.
If you're considering leaving a traditional agency or in-house communications gig to go out on your own, you probably have a lot on your mind.
Is becoming a solo PR pro the right move for you? How do you know if you're ready? What should you think about and plan for before quitting your job?
Everyone's journey to independent consulting is different but there's a lot we can learn from the many amazing solo PR professionals who have been in your shoes.
We checked in with four solo PR professionals to learn more about how they made the decision to go solo, and what they considered along the way to make the transition a smooth success. Learn from the experiences of:
- Kathy Casciani, Azul Communications
- Emily Myers Duke, Pretty Creative PR
- Brandon Lee, Sequence Strategies
- Elisa Smith, senior communications consultant
When did you become a solo PR pro?
Kathy Casciani (KC): I officially became a solo PR Pro in April of 2022.
Emily Myers Duke (EMD): January 2018 — celebrating five years this month!
Brandon Lee (BL): I first realized it was a possibility for me in the summer of 2021. After an exploratory phase, I wrote a business plan and began building a brand. I launched Sequence Strategies in January 2022.
Elisa Smith (ES): July 2017.
How did you know becoming a solo was the right choice for you?
KC: I had been thinking about it for a long time, but I was just nervous to make the move. I’d gone through two brief periods as a freelancer in my career while I was in between jobs, but it was more of an interim solution until I figured out what was next. I considered going in-house but the right opportunity never materialized, so I kept being lured back into agency life. In hindsight, I think it was because agency life was my comfort zone.
After the pandemic, I was feeling really burned out and I knew my current employer could see it. I started to realize that I was looking for something different. Agencies are great for training and learning essential PR skills, but they can also be a grind. Agency life worked well for me in my 20s and 30s before I got married and had a family, but now that I’m older I value more flexibility and independence. I realized that I was ready to build my own personal enterprise and work my way vs. building someone else’s business.
EMD: I chose to become a solo PR pro after I was laid off from a large agency job in late 2017. I loved that job for 10 years and had been promoted to a division manager position, which required extensive travel. Although being laid off was devastating, it gave me an opportunity to reframe my priorities and stop traveling regularly. My son was 16 months old at the time, and I didn’t want him to be raised solely by my husband while I lived in windowless conference rooms on the east coast.
Becoming a solo PR pro was right for me at the time because it gave me the chance to work part time, from home, reduce our child care expenses, allow more time with my young son and give me control over my time, clients and projects. I also saw a niche for solo PR consultants with my specialties — media relations, crisis communications and community outreach — in my area. I live in Charleston, WV and the PR market in our state is dominated by agencies. I knew there was an opportunity to work with medium to large businesses and community development organizations who may not want to hire a full agency team.
My major considerations were income loss and replacement, making sure my son and I transitioned to my husband’s health insurance and sharing my new role with my network to build business.
I already mostly worked from home with the agency job because I traveled weekly and our closest office was an hour and a half away from where I lived. So, I had an office set up. I was very involved in PRSA’s West Virginia chapter, community and business organizations, which helped me easily build out my referral network. I also knew other creative freelancers that I still team up with for their specialties: photography, videography, web design, graphic design, etc.
BL: The flexibility and freedom immediately appealed to me, but I was still on the fence. Things clicked after I spoke with a few folks who made the leap. Once that belief was established, everything else followed. I’m so grateful to those who encouraged me early on.
Starting solo also meant an opportunity to build a company aligned with my values. My vision for Sequence Strategies is a collaborative consultancy that always puts people first.
ES: I began exploring the solo life soon after I started a family, but fear of failure held me back for many years. I felt I had the right mix of experience to be successful on my own, having worked as a journalist, at a PR agency, and in several in-house PR and marketing communications roles. My career was thriving, and I had a high-profile job as the spokesperson of a major public university. Still, I struggled to juggle my work-life balance with two young children.
I will never forget my a-ha moment. I was on a call with the university president handling a major crisis during a holiday weekend, and my toddler son was tugging at my leg for attention and crying for me to pick him up. I had to shoo him away and ask my husband to take him, and I felt like a terrible mother. When I hung up the phone, I sat on the floor and cried. I decided at that moment that something had to change. With my partner's support, I finally took the leap and have never regretted my decision.
What would you tell other potential solo PR pros considering making the transition into freelancing or independent consulting?
KC: First off, I would suggest starting out at an agency. Agencies provide professional development and training that you can use throughout your career. It is easier to become a PR freelancer or consultant once you’ve spent some time at an agency learning PR fundamentals and building your network.
Ask yourself if you are the type that is a self-starter that likes to work independently or if you work better as part of a team. Not that you can’t find community and collaboration as a solo PR pro, but as a contractor, you’ll definitely be working on your own more than you would if you were part of a larger team at an agency or in-house at a brand.
If you are sure you want to pursue the solo path, take some time while you are employed by someone else to build your network, online and offline. You’re going to need that network once it comes time to build your own client roster. Try to be active regularly on social media and engage with others so that you can build your list of contacts. In-person, local networking groups are helpful too.
At first, you may need to be more flexible about the types of jobs you accept if you don’t have a savings cushion or any other means of support. I would keep an open mind initially until you build up your pipeline and client base. Eventually, you can niche down and be more intentional and specific about the types of assignments you take on. There are plenty of opportunities these days for PR freelancers and solopreneurs, not only working directly with clients but also working as a contractor for other agencies.
And remember, once you have a few clients or projects under your belt, don’t get lazy! You need to remain active on social media outlets to keep your network fresh and your pipeline full. You need to keep putting yourself out there, so if that’s not for you, you might want to reconsider being a solo PR pro.
Last but not least, join a group like Solo PR Pros for networking, ongoing professional development and referrals! It is important to have a group of supportive peers that you can turn to for inspiration and counsel when you are working independently!
EMD: The job you’re creating for yourself will evolve over the years. Allow yourself to change and grow over time.
Know your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to both the work you offer to clients and running the operations of the business. Contract with others to do the tasks you don’t excel at or hate doing! It is impossible to do it all well and in a timely fashion if you’re doing it alone. Set up your ops team and business systems early on so you can focus on the work!
Consulting can be surprisingly lonely. Join business groups for solos, your local chambers of commerce and other organizations in your field and participate in them! Schedule lunch or coffee with a friend or client once a week or so to get you out of the house.
Protect your peace. Set boundaries for your work both with clients and yourself. Enforce your boundaries with scopes of work, contracts, verbal and written reminders when necessary. Working for yourself does not mean working 24/7. I work no more than 25 hours per week so I can protect that time with my son.
Choose projects and clients wisely. Listen to your intuition. If something seems off, it is! Choose things that will bring joy, entertainment, growth, new relationships…whatever those key values look like for you.
Invest in regular continuing education.
Know your target market when starting your business and let it evolve as your business changes and grows.
Believe in yourself! Find a mentor and/or business coach that also believes in you and will help you level up as time goes by.
BL: Speak to as many consultants as you can and learn from their experience. Each has a unique story that led them solo. You also won’t be solo forever! What’s exciting about independent consulting are the opportunities for collaboration and growth.
ES: Here are a few tips I can offer based on my personal experiences:
Tip 1: Give yourself time to prepare. As PR pros, we spend a lot of time building relationships, and there is no better time to tap into your network than when you are considering making the solo transition. Before making a move, I reached out to my mentors and other solos for counsel, and old colleagues for new business connections.
Tip 2: Get your start at an agency. One of the lowest-risk ways to start your own business is to freelance for an agency first. I did that for almost two years, and it provided a steady income and increased my confidence in the skills I had to offer before I went completely out on my own.
Tip 3: Find a great accountant. Another solo hooked me up with her accountant, who talked me through the process of starting my business. (For example, Did I want to be a sole proprietor? Or an LLC? Did I want to pay estimated taxes throughout the year?) These are all great things to be aware of before becoming self-employed.
Tip 4: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Your income will be hard to predict at times, which is why it is crucial to have an accountant. Often, it will be feast or famine, and you have to learn to embrace it and continue to hustle.
Tip 5: Maintaining a work-life balance is up to you. I thought being a solo would provide me with a lot more free time, but the truth is, it’s just as easy to get sucked into working long hours as a solo as it was when I worked for an employer. Make sure you establish your boundaries and stick to them. It’s a constant battle, but you must prioritize yourself and your well-being.
Looking for even more on this topic? Check out this roundup with advice from 22 solo PR pros.
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