Back in the summer of 2005, I made a lot of changes. After enduring micro-managing bosses (twice in 5 years) and not feeling fulfilled or happy with what I was doing, I decided to quit my job at an ad agency and start my own business. Before quitting, I had saved up some money to take a vacation…to Europe. I had never been and thought this would be the best time to do it. It was scary and exciting at the same time to travel alone, which I soon learned was just like starting a business for myself. But I had support for both and I think that is what you definitely need behind you before starting a big endeavor.
I’ve become very nostalgic this week because the media is hyping up London and the 2012 Olympics and I spent most of my ten days in England (Birmingham and a 2-day trek to London) with my friend Julie who moved there with her UK husband. She let me stay with her family, even though she just had her second daughter just weeks before. Now that I have been through two newborns, I still don’t know how she stayed awake or sane with a house guest who wanted to be a tourist! I also flew to Amsterdam for a few days by myself and other than a little sightseeing and museum tours, I spent a lot of time in my hotel room because I felt really out of my element and was too shy to talk to the locals or make friends. I still regret that, but I also regret some of the things I did while starting my biz, but have learned from them.
When I started my business, I decided to do PR, marketing and event planning. I didn’t really have much of a plan, I just knew I liked these things. My support during the first few months was my former boss, Nancy. When I worked for her in TV when I first moved to Phoenix, she was encouraging, supportive, fun and helped me blossom as a creative writer and producer. She understood her audience, both the viewer and the organizations who worked with us at the station. Ironically, when our paths crossed in 2005, she was leaving her own PR biz to be a PIO for a school district. She still had some clients needing help and she offered to show me the ropes of what she did and bring me on to finish up her projects. Former reporter friends from the station heard I was looking for clients and one got me clients they met while working. This support meant so much to me. I truly believe you can’t burn bridges, and while a select few will not be friends in my past work lives, the majority of the people I worked with are still in my life now…and I think that speaks volumes.
So, what lessons have I learned in those early months of running my own business?
Let’s start with the PROS:
-You can make your own hours! Granted, they sometimes end up being 24/7, but it is nice to know that if I need to get some grocery shopping done or wait for the cable repairman, I don’t have to take time off of work or explain where I am.
–You can find your niche! I started out doing a lot of everything, but soon learned what I really liked to do (PITCH) and decided to just focus on that. As I networked, I found great people in marketing, writing, events, graphics who I could team up with that I liked and could refer to clients who may need that help.
–You are paid what you are worth! I started off charging very low rates, but eventually found my rhythm and began offering competitive rates. And, guess what, the more clients you get, the more money you make! You can only get so many raises or bonuses in a regular job. Plus, my jobs never allowed second jobs, though I never had much time to do anything but work my main gig in the first place.
–You can work with the people/biz YOU want to work with! Yes, in the beginning, I wasn’t picky and there were a few times I wasn’t really excited about who I was pitching, but now that I have a solid business and clients, I can choose who I want to work with. And, because there is a “lid for every pot,” I usually am able to refer anyone who is not right for me to another Indie.
Now for the CONS:
–You can go from rags to riches in a month! I had quite a few months where I would borrow from Peter to pay Paul. I know what it is like to have the credit card company call you…or to send a check to pay the mortgage and hope that a client pays me before the check clears. If there is any lesson I have learned, get a GOOD bookkeeper and CPA and stick to a budget. Put money away in savings for those slow months. But, DON’T GIVE UP when times get rough. Sometimes the lessons we learn during those low times are the ones that make us a success later.
–You will long for the good ol’ days and friends. I admit to still getting a rush every time I walk into a local news station. The people, the energy, the creativity were what drew me to working in the media. Maybe this is why I do PR now…I still gotta keep my fingers in the industry somehow. But, I also remember the depression, the long hours, the low pay and the BS…and I perk up again about working for myself and having control of my destiny.
–You will learn that some people just SUCK! As most any Indie will attest to, you will get screwed over. Clients will refuse to pay you. You will encounter shady people who want to partner with you on a project and they either don’t live up to their hype or they steal your ideas or client. One thing I have been very careful of now is to not become too close of friends with a client. You MUST keep the relationship professional. “Friends” will get upset when you offer criticism or need to make business changes they don’t agree with.
–You can’t do this alone! Yes, you are working for yourself, but you must have support. I remember sitting on my couch crying my eyes out, with the phone ringing from a bill collector and reading an email from a client saying they were ending their contract. I had a few really depressing months, but luckily, I could reach out to friends to get me out of my funk. I spent my first year networking like crazy. I found a great group of PR Indies to learn and share with. I found organizations I wanted to be a part of and grow myself professionally.
Well, this is turning into a novel…so, I’d just like to end this by thanking my husband, my friends, my family, former and current clients and all my colleagues and friends in the local media and PR. I could of never done this without you all.