Almost four years ago, I officially embarked on my solo public relations career and created JRM Comm, a PR and marketing consultancy. I always dreamed of being my own boss, so when the opportunity did arise, I was excited and eager to take on the solo PR world. I have not regretted the move because it has also given me the opportunity to speak to small businesses, PRSSA chapters, and work with outstanding clients.
The thing about being a solo PR pro is that you get to work in your own environment. Maybe that is a home office, a local coffee shop, or co-working space. You also get to work with clients you enjoy and they (mostly) respect your insight and guidance. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have hired you. But, it’s not easy.
Let me be completely honest with you… being a solo PR pro is a ton of sweat and incredibly hard work. Don’t be fooled into thinking that when you go solo, you’ll have clients lining up waiting for you. Even if you have years of experience, you’ll need to prove yourself to clients, big and small.
Just like working for an agency, you will need to focus and put in long hours, at times. When the day comes to an end, you’ll be wiped. Frankly, your day may not wrap up at 5 p.m. There are times when I work well into the night.
You really have to want it… badly. If you don’t like your job and think that being on your own will solve everything, you are going about it wrong. Running my own business invigorates me, BUT there’s been plenty of frustration and bumps. If you just go halfway, you are halfway to failing.
The key to being a solo pro, I believe, is the ability to balance the passion for your work and the life you lead outside of it. I have a wife and two young children at home, so I’m cognizant of the responsibility I have to my clients, but also to my family. If you think communication is important with your clients, it’s doubly important when it comes to being a solo pro and a parent/spouse.
Let me give you a few quick tips for those that are eager to start a solo journey or have been doing it for a bit.
- Honesty- This goes without saying for working with clients, but you need to be honest with yourself as a solo pro. You will drive yourself crazy if you allow the business to take over your mind. Figure out what your “breaking point” may be in your work. You don’t want to burn out in three months. Understand that while you’d like to be a solo PR superhero, even heroes need a break.
- Be prepared for an adjustment period- I can’t stress this enough because even though I’ve been at this for a bit, I’m still adapting to being my own “boss.” If you think you can just jump into being on your own, you can’t. Understanding the financial side of your business is as much work as pitching yourself to a potential client.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help- I was incredibly blessed to have had the guidance of a number of trusted solo pros as I started out. If I had a question or concern, they didn’t sugar coat things, but they also didn’t make me feel as if I was crazy. Your network could not only be key to future work, but for asking questions.
This isn’t about discouraging you from going out on your own. I like to be straightforward since there were so many that were honest with me about my solo PR journey. Ultimately, your chances at success are greater if you know the truth. I’m still learning… and don’t want to stop doing so. My current and future clients, as well as my life outside the office, will be better for it.
Jason Mollica (@JasMollica) is the president of JRMComm, a public relations and social media marketing consultancy. He combines knowledge of the broadcast news industry, traditional public relations expertise and today’s new and innovative social media tools. Jason writing can be found on Ad Age-ranked PR Breakfast Club, Ragan.com as well as across PRSA’s network. You can also read more from Jason at his blog One Guy’s Journey.
Jason, great post. I think that many people working for an agency think that it would be soooo much better being on their own. More freedom, money, etc. But you’re right, while incredibly fulfilling being on your own is tough and has it’s own set of challenges. I used to be on the other side thinking I was under paid and under valued. After being on my own for many years I can now appreciate there is no “better” side, it’s just different and is all about which suits you best. There are a ton of advantages to being employed and self-employed each person just has to figure which are best for them.
Jason- you’re certainly right that it’s important to be realistic about the amount of work required when you’re your own boss (you’re unlikely to have any more days laying on the beach than you had before J). That said, most Solo PR Pros I know would never go back to traditional employment!
Perhaps even more than the family benefits you mention, one of the biggest upsides is being in charge of your own destiny. This means you can seek out the clients and opportunities that excite you, and shun the ones that don’t. You never have to compromise your values or blur ethical lines, and you can be passionate about the work you do everyday, because you’re supporting clients you believe in.
It’s not a life for the lazy (but then again, I don’t know any successful, lazy PR pros!). These are great tips, and it’s great that you mention a love of learning — that’s probably the single biggest “job requirement” for the Solo PR Pro.
Thank you for commenting and, most of all, thank you for being there in the early days of my solo career. You continue to provide encouragement and great insight to me and all pros.
Oh, and I don’t plan to go back to the traditional way of employment!
Jason, this is a great post that came at the perfect time for me. I’m approaching six months and adjusting to what I know will be a great adventure. At the moment I have some frustrations. Do you know of an online group of independent PR consultants that functions as a support group. This isn’t easy and I greatly appreciate your insight.
Sherry, I highly recommend Solo PR Pro (I don’t know if I can post the link – so Google Solo PR Pro). Not only is the community of other solos full of tremendous wisdom, insight and encouragement; but, there are *lots* of resources for solos who become members. There is also a Solo PR Summit every year in ATL that offers a ton of value.
Thanks Jill. I’m going to look into that.
Sherry to add to Jill’s recommendation, the Solo PR Pro group really is a community, that became even more real to me recently when my brother passed away. I had counted on the community for years for professional support, advice and resources but was blown away by the personal support during a really tough time. I could not have made it through without their kindness.
Karen I appreciate that added comment. As I decide what professional development opportunities to invest in during these early days it’s great to have these endorsements. Sorry about your brother. Hope you’re healing well.
Well stated, Jason. I just passed my tenth anniversary as a sole practitioner. Allow me to add: You must be equal parts entrepreneur and PR pro when you go solo. You need to spend as much time tending to the health of your business as you do practicing PR.
Play to your strengths. Don’t struggle providing services if you aren’t exceptional. Don’t work with clients in an industry that you don’t understand or feel passionate about. It’s all too easy when you start to take every bit of business that comes along. But you will be better served saying no and using that time to invest in prospecting for clients that are a better fit and yield better ROI for you. Yes, think of your work as a product, and your time as your costs of production.
Finally, watch a lot of “Shark Tank” if you’re new to thinking like an entrepreneur. Good luck to all as you go solo, it’s a great life!
Jason, you’re right that going solo is not easy but neither is working 70+ hours a week in a soul sucking job with no way to take charge of what you earn or what you do. As you point out no one should embark upon a solo career with a false belief that it will be all rewards with no work. You will no longer be tasked with just doing the work but bringing the work in the door, and all of the responsibilities that come with that. Two great resources that have made my decade long journey a lot easier are Solo PR Pro (learning resources, and a community of support) and MBO Partners (back end infrastructure). Going solo is by far the best decision I ever made but it is not for the faint of heart.
Great comments Karen! In less than a year with Solo PR Pro, I have met so many amazing contacts and actually made income from a couple connections. Not every day of being a solo is perfect but very happy with my decision!