I never intended to build a PR firm.
I was most certainly on the partner track. I wanted my new business commission and my year-end bonus and my BMW. It never occurred to me to do those things for myself.
More than a decade ago, during a dinner with a client, the topic of starting a PR firm came up. I was adamant I would never do that. I liked the security of a consistent paycheck and the full benefits. It was easy when I knew exactly how—and when—I would make partner.
However, that conversation kept circulating in my head and, one day, an opportunity presented itself. I took the leap.
I didn’t go full-force into building a PR firm, though. I freelanced for a while and joined a virtual team of other experienced professionals. I tested different ideas and theories. I always expected the other shoe to drop and, when it did, I’d go back to my cushy partner track at a big agency.
After the other shoe didn’t drop during the 2008 recession, I decided I should take this growing a PR firm thing seriously.How your career path can change
I’m always surprised when young professionals know exactly how their career paths are going to go. They are going to get experience, learn everything they can on someone else’s dime, learn how not to do things and then go out on their own.
They also have the sense to find mentors who have done what they want to do and aren’t shy about asking for advice, counsel or help.
Clearly young professionals have a thing or two to teach me.
Here’s the advice I recently gave some young PR pros asking about how to build their own firms and take their careers to new heights:
I went out on my own before I was 30 and that was a big mistake, in hindsight. I wish I had taken more time in the PR firm world to really understand how one works, how they bill clients, what the new business process is like, and how they report their financials to a board and to a bank. These are the things you have to learn on the fly, if you don’t get the experience on the job, and it’s a very, very painful—and very expensive—lesson.Being good at your job isn’t enough
If I were to do it again, I would have kept the same journey, but I would have taken one more step and gone to an agency where I could have learned the financial side of things and been responsible for growth (on someone else’s dime). I probably would have opened my firm just two years later, but it would have saved me about five years of incredibly expensive mistakes.
You are going to prove yourself for a very long time. I’m still proving myself. I walk in the room and people think, “Pretty girl” before I open my mouth, and that always comes with a perception (pretty must mean dumb). It takes a lot of work to show people you aren’t dumb.
As a young woman, you’re going to face having to prove yourself most of your career. Women have come a long way, but we’re not there yet. If you’re inexperienced (just because of your age) and people have that perception, you’ll be fighting another uphill battle.
Take ownership of things. Don’t wait to be told to do something. Read a ton. Keep yourself educated and sharp. Go to meetings with new and fresh ideas. Some will work and some will bomb—but don’t be afraid to speak up. That is the kind of person I promote because I can tell that person is as invested in the success of my business as I am. That’s also the kind of person you’ll want to work with when you start out on your own.
Get experience. Learn everything you can where you are. Get promoted as quickly as possible (once a year is great; twice a year is better). Learn how to lead—not manage. Learn the financial side of things and how to do new business.
We all want instant gratification—but experience can’t be beat.
That’s my advice: Get experience. Learn as much as you can about all aspects of building a PR firm. Learn how to interview, hire and lead a team. Make friends with the accounting department.
You might be extremely good at your job. That’s not enough to build a PR firm. You must also be very, very good at business.
Go out and get the experience to know a PR firm’s business backwards and forwards.
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