By Christina O’Connell

Amidst the pandemic, we have seen a struggling economy and high unemployment rates that for many young and mid-level professionals, are part of an unknown territory. As major PR leaders such as Edelman and Weber Shandwick laid off staff due to COVID-19 implications, many are searching for new full-time roles. However, now, the volume of applicants is vastly outnumbering the available positions.

From scrolling through my own LinkedIn feed, I’ve noticed colleagues and secondary connections of colleagues who are engaging with posts regarding individuals who have decided now is the time to start their own business. This is something I did myself just over three years ago. Personally, launching and operating my own agency has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life.

If you are looking to tap into the entrepreneur lifestyle, here are some first steps to take in launching your own PR business, including pros, cons and strategies to be successful. There are many components to consider if this is a career path you want to pursue, so be sure to do additional research and speak to other PR/marketing entrepreneurs to hear about their experiences before jumping in.

First Steps & Important Factors To Consider

Develop a business plan and identify your potential target client base

Developing a business plan is the absolute first step – it is the foundation of your business. As well-stated by the Small Business Administration, “you’ll use your business plan as a roadmap for how to structure, run, and grow your new business. It’s a way to think through the key elements of your business.” There are many different plan styles you can work from, but a traditional business plan includes an executive summary, a company description, market analysis, organization and management, service or product line, marketing and financial projections. Check out this informative guide via the Small Business Administration to learn more.

This is critical to develop before you begin reaching out to contacts you are hoping to turn into clients. Gain clarity on what services you will offer and consider WHO your ideal client is. What industry to they work in? Where is your past experience – food and beverage? Real estate? Lifestyle? Identifying a few industry markets to focus on initially is a smart move and sets you up for your agency specializations long-term.

Determine what type of business you want to operate from a financial perspective

Another major consideration in the beginning of this process is deciding the kind of business structure you want from a financial perspective. Options can include formal (LLC, corporation) or informal (sole proprietorship). Consider chatting with an accountant and/or attorney in your area to determine which option is best for you based on your goals, objectives and business plan. Once that is solidified, you will want to also open a business bank account with a business credit card, arrange business accounting needs and obtain the needed permits and licenses that are necessary.

Branding your new agency

Now, a really fun part! It’s time to brand your agency. This will include utilizing a graphic design service for help with the development of your agency logo, colors, fonts and overall look/feel. It would also be beneficial to develop a website and other marketing materials (such as case studies from previous projects) and secure recommendations/testimonials from former clients and colleagues. During this time, I’d also recommend developing a new business deck to promote yourself and the new agency.

Identify your financial plans for collecting payment from clients

This may seem like an easy task, but it is important to set these standards for yourself and your future clients before you take on your first client. Your options for this can include billing clients hourly, per project or by a monthly retainer. In the first year or two of being in business, I’d recommend assessing the hourly, per project or monthly retainer on a case-by-case basis to see what works best for you. Remember to develop contracts with your clients and set up a formal payment plan (whether it be weekly, monthly or by project). When first starting out, this can be one of the more stressful components of the job. Develop a client invoice tracking system and a way to ensure you are getting paid in-full and on time!

Consider collaborating with others and leveraging your connections on social media

Leveraging your network for referrals and partnering with other entrepreneurs or even agencies is an excellent way to generate new business leads. Often times, working with other freelancers is a great option for young professionals just starting out as well.

Another important piece of operating your own business is promoting yourself and your business on social media as a way to generate leads. I wrote a recent post for my agency blog on this topic, it can be referenced here. This piece highlights how to make your social media channels the best they can be for promoting your business, and how you can utilize social media to make meaningful connections and garner new business opportunities.

Continue to invest in yourself

Like in your previous roles, it is important to invest in your own professional development and further refine your craft. This could be through online coursework at a university, attending relevant workshops and webinars, or shadowing someone else in an industry you’d like to represent in the future.

The Pros & Cons

There are obviously pros and cons of any job, and this is the same with operating your own agency. Many people think it is “so awesome to work for yourself” and it is – but there can be challenges of working on your own. There is less financial security when you are an entrepreneur and you have to be more flexible and adaptable than you may have been at a big agency. On your own, you do the roles of an intern up to a CEO. You pull your own media lists, manage the pitching and handle the account strategy, but ALSO billing, operations, hiring if needed and more.

There are also times with operating your own business you may be incredibly busy (70+ hour weeks) and other times you wish you were busier. Unless you have clients on monthly retainers, when you take a vacation day, you likely aren’t earning money. Unless you have a spouse or are under 26 and can still be on your family’s insurance plan, health insurance can also be a huge new expense.

For me, the pros outweigh the cons every time. I love my clients, I love the work I do, and the industry colleagues I get to work with. I love the hustle of generating new business leads, but also can be disappointed when things don’t work out as I’d hoped. Owning and operating your own business isn’t for the faint-hearted – it requires drive, perseverance and a hunger to be successful.

Wishing you much success in whatever endeavors you pursue! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn here.

Christina O’Connell is the founder of Agency C5, a fully integrated marketing communications agency. Christina and her team have worked with clients in industries including startup, hospitality, trade shows, foodservice, healthcare, commercial real estate, retail, manufacturing, finance and non-profit. In her spare time, Christina loves to travel and spend time outdoors. She’s also planning her next scuba diving adventure!