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It’s now ten years since I started my own PR and marketing agency and, even in the current circumstances, things continue to go from strength to strength.
Pre-Brexit, pre-COVID, 2010 certainly seems like a long time ago, so I thought it would be a good time to write down some of what I’ve learnt over the last decade. And as I foolishly wrote a post entitled 5 things I’ve learnt in 5 years of running my own business in 2015, I’ve now got to up my game and come up with 10 lessons…………
1. Network, network, network
I’d estimate over 95% of my client business has come from referrals from people I’ve worked with in the past or personal recommendations. In fact, I can directly link a huge chunk of my revenues over the years to one contact and the people and companies she’s introduced me to. I’m not a pushy networker – this has all come from doing a good job for people, keeping in contact and never burning any bridges.
2. Pay it forward
When I started up lots of people gave up their time to help, from recommending what I needed to do on the admin side of running a business, to providing introductions or just listening. I’ve tried to do the same for people I meet starting up – hopefully I’ve been able to help, rather than hinder their growth!
3. It’s not a competition
Linked to being helpful is realising that PR and marketing is a big field when you are a freelance or a small agency. Clearly you have competition, but the likelihood of coming up against someone you know in a pitch is small. So being open and helping others won’t have an impact on your own success – and you’ll learn as much as (or more than) you give. And meeting with fellow practitioners is great for setting the world to rights and getting out of your own bubble.
4. Be agile
I started with a belief that I’d be offering PR services with a smattering of copywriting and a bit of social media. Ten years on I’m primarily providing marketing consultancy in its broadest sense, with creating content the biggest part of what I do. Obviously do what you are comfortable with, but be flexible, particularly with smaller clients and tailor what you are doing to their actual objectives.
5. Be brave
Setting up your own agency is a risk, but it delivers incredible satisfaction and rewards. While we all need to bring in revenues (have you seen how much three teenage boys can eat in a day?), be prepared to say no to clients you don’t feel comfortable working with. Or, if you have to keep them on for financial reasons in the short-term, look for alternatives that you can replace them with down the line.
6. Be prepared to continually learn
As I said what I do has changed dramatically and it has meant learning new skills and brushing up old ones. Ensure that you are continually learning, both to ensure you stay relevant and to keep yourself sharp and on top of new ideas.
7. Don’t be an idiot
Or, as Joe Glover of the Marketing Meetup puts it “Be positively lovely.” Bear in mind that everyone you meet could be a potential client or help you in some way and treat them with respect and give them time. You’ll feel better about yourself and it could help you in the future too.
8. Learn to let go
Something I find difficult to do, but make sure you switch off from work and recharge your batteries. It isn’t easy, particularly if you are based from home and have a smartphone pinging every time a new email arrives. Develop coping strategies – whether that’s going for a run, spending time with your family or taking the dog for a long walk.
9. Be creative
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, doing the same thing you’ve always done, in the same way you’ve always done it. Like learning new skills, take the time to approach problems from new directions or solve them in different ways. Share and brainstorm issues with people you trust to get their perspective and spark new ideas.
10. Don’t try and do everything yourself
There’s a huge range of support services out there, from marketing and PR software to really good accountants and advisors. Outsource what you can to other experts – bear in mind that you only have a limited amount of time in the day, and in many cases others can do tasks much faster, more cost-effectively and just plain better than you.
Ten years of work equates to over 57,000 hours of hard graft, which is a sobering thought. I’d never have been able to get this far without the support of countless people over the decade – thanks for all your help and here’s to the next decade.