The fundamental reasons for the success of my PR business, which has just had its fifth anniversary, are being flexible, people skills, having the capacity to find positives in all work and people, a hunger to learn, an ability to collaborate effectively and humility.
Success of my PR business? Well, in many ways I feel like ridiculing that assertion. Running my own PR business, as a sole operator, was never an ambition. And sometimes the rapidly materialising precipice of no work and/or no clients and therefore no way to pay the bills has been emotionally exhausting and psychologically gruelling.
But if the bottom line of success is measured in two simple dimensions – making enough money to support my family and enabling me to make a reasonable contribution to society over the past five years (e.g. helping children in the Surf Life Saving movement and through football coaching) then, happily, I can definitely attest this has occurred.
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I don’t think my personality is the best suited in the world to navigate the travails and overcome the endless array of obstacles any business owner encounters, but by the very outcome of money made = evidence to the contrary, perhaps I am being harsh on myself.
In this post I contemplate some of the reasons for how I have been able to sustain my business over five years. In my next post I will talk about further reasons including people skills, the importance of a half glass full attitude, a hunger to learn, collaboration and humility.
Flexibility in PR consulting
If you are an inflexible person, then you will fail as a consultant, whether you work in PR or another field. A lack of flexibility in PR as a whole, not just consulting, will also be your undoing. You will struggle to advance in your career, because in many ways all PR professionals are consultants, including those who work in-house.
Here are some reasons why flexibility is a default requirement to be a PR consultant and/or run a successful PR business:
- There are many different sorts of platforms and activities you will need to have knowledge of and the ability to implement. If your expertise is too narrow, you will reduce the opportunities where you can gain work. Examples include writing, media relations, social media and market research
- Being able to deliver both strategy/strategic counsel and tactics. So you need to have strategic capabilities but also an interest and willingness to dig ditches, do the hard yards, as well as the capability to do so. This interest cannot be faked, because you won’t deliver quality outcomes if your heart isn’t in it and your client will easily detect it – and your client will want passion and alacrity or that is just SO much an EX-client!
- Clients change their minds all the time. Unbelievable, I know, but it’s true… This is the nature of life, so you need to be able to go with the flow, roll with the punches et al or you’ll stress yourself out too much. With any luck (or brains) your arrangement is one where you are paid for your time, rather than getting stuck on that iceberg-fail of all consultancy iceberg-fails, a set fee (but that’s another story)
- Reprioritisation is a normal part of PR consultancy life. And if you are a sole operator like me, then the only person you have to delegate tasks to is yourself. The upshot of this is that your personal life needs to be on the table as a reprioritisation negotiating asset. Your missus or man may not like that too much, and your kids sure as hell won’t, but as Clint Eastwood said, c’est la vie. (Clint may not have actually said that, but he was pretty big in France with all that auteur thing so it’s a feasible connection.)
Bird in the hand strategy
Flexibility came to me in another, unexpected way, too. And this involved the way in which work is structured:
- I started out as being fortunate enough to have direct clients
- Then one or two of those clients asked me to work in-house with them on a secondment basis for a certain amount of hours each week
- Then I sub-contracted myself through a recruitment agency or a PR agency to work in-house for extended periods of time with organisations
- And, finally, I contracted to a PR agency for quite a while as a de facto permanent employee.
All terrific experiences, but it just goes to show you need to be able to evolve into the opportunity. Conversely, of course, there is an argument for not being too flexible as it will undermine your positioning, your value proposition etc. I get that.
But my value proposition included two key elements:
- Be flexible in meeting client requests to assist in sustaining a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship
- Take concrete opportunities that are there in front of you and which are paying dollars, because I didn’t have the confidence to hold out for other opportunities, which may or may not have eventuated. This is otherwise known as the bird in the hand strategy.
If you have been running your own business, what do you think are the necessary factors to be successful? What do you believe to be the greatest challenges in running a business or consultancy? Do you have any advice you can share with me?
PS. A big thank you to the many people who have supported me the past five years, whether you are a client, someone who has referred me some business or who has shared some content I have produced through social media – it all helps!
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