Start-Up Advice from 22 Solo PR Pros

Starting a solo public relations business is exciting and a little scary. You know how to do your job, but what don’t you know about running a business? This month we have been tackling some of the common questions and challenges facing those starting a business. We thought we’d ask other seasoned business owners to weigh in with their insights. We asked our Solo PR Pro community what advice they would give to someone about to start their solo business. Their answers felt like a masterclass and will be appreciated by new and seasoned business owners. 

Start Here

My advice is to understand what you’re good at, and create your business around that. At the same time, create relationships with people who are good at complementary skills so you can work together. And…never stop learning! – Mary Deming Barber, Public Relations Strategist

I would get your systems set up first! One thing I didn't do that I wish I had 7 years ago, was make sure I had a dream team of a CPA, bookkeeper and attorney. I would have saved myself a lot of money down the road! – Andrea Holland, CEO, DialedPR

Go with your gut. Sometimes you may have to take a leap of faith – trust your instincts and it will usually pay off. Once I decided to start my own business rather than stay in a bad situation, all the anxiety suddenly disappeared. It worked out better than I could have hoped. 2) If you're coming from the news media you are probably used to being overworked and underestimating your value. You likely have skills many businesses/clients will appreciate. 3) If you're brand new, consider volunteering at a nonprofit to expand your contacts and build a resume. I've had one client 20+ years that began when I did volunteer PR at a large conference the now-client chaired. – Terri Thornton, Owner, Thornton Communications

Delineate your focuses/specialties and have a 10-second explanation ready to go. Doesn’t mean you can’t do more/different – you can – but you want people to easily remember what you do. – Anne Isenhower, Principal, Anne Isenhower Communications, LLC 

Stay True to Who You Are

Don’t launch a solo business because someone else told you it would be good; do it for you and because you want to. If you’re not all in on the idea, you won’t be successful. It’s okay if you’re not all in: this is not for everyone. But if you want to do it, go for it and follow the advice of everyone else here. – Ben Finzel, President, RENEWPR

Spend some time inquiring into who you are at your essence, and have that be present and accounted for at the heart of your business. Think of your business as one possible, beautiful expression of who you are, and give yourself the permission and room to evolve over time. Your expression of who you are as a contribution to the world is meant to evolve, you don't have to have it “all figured out” and “perfect” to begin. Some of the magic to come can only be discovered on the journey. – Deborah Beroset, CEO/Founder, Moxie Creative + Consulting, Inc. 

Know How to Find Business

My advice would be that the fastest and least expensive way to generate leads is to speak locally through workshops.Chamber of Commerce. Local colleges partnerships. And meetup groups. Or do your own. – Jerica Glasper, Marketing and PR Expert

Build a strong referral network and don’t be afraid to use it. Most of my clients have come to me via people I worked with before I went solo. These clients include former colleagues who are now at companies where they serve as PR director or marketing director (or other titles). I also get referrals to former colleagues’ connections. The lesson in this is: Be kind to your colleagues before you go solo because it can pay off in spades down the road!  – Paula McNamara Johns, Founder, Paula Johns Communications

Network, network, network and talk about what you do. You never know where your clients are going to come from. I went to a party at a friend's house and got one of my longest standing clients. He was the art director at an advertising agency and not even the person who made the decisions about marketing/PR, but he introduced me to the people who do. He no longer works for them, but I do. – Lynn Harris Medcalf, MA, APR, Lynn Harris Medcalf Consulting

Come up with a process for sourcing clients and then trust it. I have been doing this for 10 years and while the hurdles were very high to get those first few, now most are referrals. And I still cold pitch now and then, follow up, check in with people, etc. even when a client leaves with none to immediately replace my experience has been if I’m doing the work – good work for my clients and the work to connect with new ones – then things come in, or one month is slow and then it’s crazy for a quarter. I think when you’re starting out it is easy to hit the panic button but as you go along the pipeline really does build on itself once you find a strategy that works. – Kristen Grieco Elworthy, Marketing & Publicity Consultant, Seven Hills Communications

You Need a Tribe

Create a group of professionals – don't have to be PR/comms folks but get a few – who understand the challenges of starting and maintaining a business, specifically service business. They can give you sanity checks and encourage you in ways you didn't know you needed. – Veleisa Patton Burrell, Founder and President, Narrative Evolution

1) Know your value, and stick to it. Always. 2) Remember that you are your brand and you never know who knows how. Operate with integrity. 3) Find a networking group (virtual or in person) that you can bounce ideas off of, collaborate with, learn from. 4) Keep learning. 5) Try to get good at the “business side of being in business” early. It will pay off in the long run. – Jennifer Donovan, Founder and CEO, Nova Communications SF 

Boss Up!

There is working in the business and working on the business. If you don't dedicate time to both, you will not have a business. Organize your schedule and create rules to hold yourself accountable in being a business owner and not a hobbyist.- Ebony Vaz, Founder, CEO, Above Promotions

One thing I learned early on –  an 8-hour work day is entirely different than an 8-hour work day in an office setting/working for someone. It looks more like maybe 5/6 hours of billable time (if you're billing hourly). – Carrie Zukoski, Owner, Open Road Communications

You are in the YOU business. Make marketing a DAILY activity. Networking, speaking, writing, trade association of your target market and then put a spotlight on that activity online. Do you think your clients, peers or competitors will promote you? Nope. Treat yourself like a client. – Janet L. Falk, Falk Communications and Research

Money Matters

Be sure your financial house is in order. Try to have savings to cover six months of bills while you are developing business. It will help prevent you coming across desperate OR taking on demoralizing clients out of the gate. Next, establish business checking and credit accounts even if you aren't incorporated. Keep your records clean. Get a business line of credit if you can, and consider a home equity line as another fallback. Finally, develop a face-to-face relationship with a bank or credit union officer. Yes, a real person. Walk into the building and get to know one. In a pinch he or she might be the best backstop you'll ever have. – Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, Owner, Falcon Valley Group and Public Relations

If there is anything you should spend money on in the beginning, it's an attorney and CPA. They will set your business up properly, review your contracts, and be there for important questions. Few of us get into business because we're great at owning a business. We get into business to share our expertise. A good attorney and CPA goes a long way. Don't be the person in the room who doesn't have business cards at a networking event. And, create a website to link to on those business cards. It's your most important marketing tool.- Kristine McGrath Gobbo, President, Spectrum Public Relations

Running a business requires you to take care of yourself first. Get your checking account, liability insurance and even disability insurance set up before you go Solo. It is WELL worth the money. You don’t know what life will bring you in the future and you need to be prepared as YOU are the number one employee of YOUR business. Beyond that, understand that running a business is a full time job and if you aren’t someone who is good at administrative stuff such as billing and following up to get paid, hire someone to help otherwise the money won’t come in. Finally, always work on the client’s dime – – don’t start work without a signed contract or SOW/LOA and a deposit. – Susan Stoga, Co-Founder, President, Carson Stoga Communications

Read the Show Me the Money series, also really work on how to qualify prospective clients. – Deb Robison, Consultant, Sustainable Endowments Institute

• Get out of debt and stay out of debt before you start, if possible
• Establish your personal brand and then keep it impeccable, online and off
• Take researched, strategic risks
• Cultivate strong professional relationships
• Be dedicated to lifelong learning 
• Do your work and then trust the process – Melissa Vela-Williamson, Chief Communication Architect, Owner, MVW Communications

Bank six months of savings before you jump. You might start with 1-2 clients (one reason people decide to go solo – and great if you have them), but that's the easy part. Finding clients as a business owner is another. A solid stash of cash will let you choose clients wisely and give you a buffer in tough times. – Daria Steigman, Steigman Communications

The Heart of it All

Look before you leap. The grass always looks greener but the emerging solo who navigates with wisdom and patience laughs last. Knowing the rules so you know which ones to break is great but now's your chance to challenge norms that obstruct relationship-building and other creative processes that define your unique approach. Backscratching and referrals both formally and informally are a Solo's BFF; never, ever stop creating allies and growing with new innovators in new directions. Sure, many are exhausted from the term influencer but founders and solos stand to gain the market share by establishing they are a thought leader in their respective fields. Don't even read the rest of this article without consulting a business lawyer on the official contract language. Having your own solo business can entail more nuts than holiday cookies so gear up to draw boundaries, exercise the power of “no,” and cry until you laugh, you're in for a ride. – Kahshanna Evans, Kissing Lions PR

Check out our Launching Your Business series on YouTube for more practical advice. For tips, tools, resources and access to this brilliant community, join Solo PR Pro Premium!