By Eric Hill, Co-Founder & President, MyMediaInfo
At some point in our careers, almost all of us have daydreamed about quitting our job to start our own business. We see the way things are done at our employer and say to ourselves, “If this were my company…” It was that feeling that pushed me and my business partner to start MyMediaInfo. Five successful years later, I thought it would be interesting to learn how other agency owners made their leap. They were happy to share the good, the bad, and the ugly of starting their own business, as well as some great tips that may help as you realize your professional dream.
When did you start your business and were the top reasons why?
Kat May, CEO of Hip Chameleon, used the start of the business as a PR opportunity by launching “January 11, 2011 at 11:11 am, because it got people’s attention and was a fun way to kick things off.” May goes on to say, “We had gone the traditional PR agency route as corporate executives and thought there had to be a better way of serving clients and delivering results. We also each had over 20 years as successful marketing execs and CEOs under our belt, and we were both steeped in social media and web marketing already – so we decided to integrate emerging media with traditional and see if we could offer a really great slate of services to our clients. So far, they all seem pretty happy with what we offer and the outcomes we deliver.”
Shannon Funk, founder of xPose PR, fulfilled her dream of being an entrepreneur by starting her business in 2010, as she states, “Because I could!”
What is one thing you would definitely do again?
If Missy Hurley from Bayview PR were doing it all over again, she would be sure to keep a network of great partners. “One strategy that is working really well for our business is a small but mighty network of partners to provide ancillary services like web development, search engine marketing, design services and video production. Depending on the client need and budget, we have relationships with partners who we can trust to do a great job for our clients. Our reputation can be impacted by the business to which we refer business and it’s essential that we know their quality of work.”
Jennifer Harrison from J Harrison Public Relations Group stresses the importance of getting the right look and feel for your business. She said, “[J Harrison PR] hired an excellent graphic artist to create my logo and give me concept thatwould reflect my business. Never ever skimp on graphics.”
If you could do it over again, what is one thing you would do differently?
If Jennifer Harrison were to do it all over again, she would listen to her instinct when it came to one client in particular. “[I] took on a client that didn’t ‘feel’ right. It felt early on that he was micro-managing and overly concerned about tiny elements he should trust me with. I took the work because a mutual acquaintance asked me to. Eventually I had to let the account go because the company’s bottlenecks were limiting my effectiveness.” Harrison advises others to take on clients whose style meshes with yours and if it doesn’t work out, don’t be afraid to fire a client.
Hip Chameleon’s Kat May also had a challenging experience, but in a much different way. “We started out with three business partners and found that for our business model, that was one partner too many. It just didn’t work out – because when two of us wanted to zig and the third wanted to zag, it felt like we had to cajole and ‘get permission’ from the third partner in order to take a risk the other two of us were willing to take. Certainly, more than two partners can work – but it’s a bit like being married – you all have to have the same goals in mind and everyone has to be equally committed to seeing the business thrive.”
What types of tools have you used to help grow and organize your business?
It wasn’t surprising to hear that Quickbooks is the unanimous choice for startup agencies. MyMediaInfo relies on it as well for a few reasons. We love that it is a SaaS based product, super simple to use and it makes accounting very straight forward. Other valuable tools that were mentioned include HootSuite, Mozy (online backup), Constant Contact, WordPress, and Dropbox (to share files). Also, Harrison had great advice on using Dreamweaver to build websites, “I hated having to learn it but every PR practitioner should have rudimentary skills in building a website, even just to understand the process. This helps with setting up social media sites, fixing little web problems, etc.”
What is your advice for someone looking to start their own agency?
Bayview’s Missy Hurley says, “Have a clear definition of how your business helps people or organizations. It is essential to accurately describe what you do for business decision makers to understand the impact and benefit of your work to win business.”
“Keep your overhead low. Find your niche. Use good tools. Hire great people. Find clients who share a similar PR and/or marketing philosophy to yours. Provide the best possible results for your clients and make no excuses,” said Kat May of Hip Chameleon.
Harrison advises to have not one niche, but two. “Know your niche and then start networking with everyone in that niche. Also, have two distinct niches. For me, that is 1) K-12 education and 2) public outreach for small municipalities. My work never slowed down despite the rotten economy. As one area cools, the other buffers the downturn.”
Finally, xPose PR’s Funk warns that if you think you are starting a business to have more leisure time, think again. “Be prepared to dedicate yourself to this industry – in PR, work hours are 25/8!”
There you have it, great insights from those who have started their own agency and lived to tell the tale. My huge thanks to each contributor (listed alphabetically), Bayview Public Relations, Hip Chameleon, J Harrison Public Relations Group, xPose PR, and my best wishes to all the entrepreneurs looking to make the leap!