As a fashion PR professional, you typically have three options when it comes to working in the industry. You can work on multiple client accounts for a fashion PR agency (either your own or for someone else), in-house for a single brand, or work as a freelance fashion PR practitioner, also known as being an independent contractor. Lucky for you, I have done all three, and there are certainly pro’s and cons to each arrangement. However, this article is about what to do once you have made the decision to go out on your own.
Set up your business
As an independent contractor, you forgo the security of a steady paycheck, health insurance, and paying taxes just once a year for freedom. The freedom to set your own hours, work with the clients you want to work with, execute the PR strategy you believe will be most effective and be paid your full bill rate. While it can appear quite lucrative at first to be paid a full $100 an hour, rather than an annual salary that is less than half what your agency actually charges for your services, remember that those pesky estimated taxes you must now pay quarterly require about 30% of every dollar you make be tucked away. When you add in additional costs like health insurance, cell phone bill and renting a conference room or workspace, well, it adds up quickly! However, nothing beats taking a nap when you are feeling uninspired and staying up until 3 am when you are, and you are of course now able to subtract things like the square footage of your home office and your internet bill from your taxes. It may be worth setting up a few appointments with a financial planner, accountant and your local small business association in order to make sure you are prepared for the proactive organization required for freelance work.
Figure out your services
What are your strengths? Do you have incredible media contacts at all the monthlies or are you every fashion blogger’s BFF? Are you handy with html or great at event production? At the start of your freelance career, don’t make the mistake of trying to be or do too many things at once. Put your own gifts through a brand exercise and clearly identify your brand promise, differentiators and yes, even your 30 second elevator speech. Immerse yourself in the wealth of knowledge that exists for entrepreneurs online like IttyBiz, Design Sponge’s Biz Ladies series and Freelance Switch and learn as much as you can about the business side of things.
Build your brand
Don’t skimp on your web site, business cards or blog. If you are going to be asking people to give you money to represent their brand, show them you understand the value of a strong company image. In this day and age, a WordPress blog can be optimized to function as an affordable CMS tool for all your needs and make it so you can handle all those pesky updates without having to pay out of pocket. Your internet presence, done correctly, can give off the impression that you, madame or miseur, are quite a bit larger that life. After all, no one needs to know just how late you stay in your cupcake pajamas, nor do they care, when you are bringing home the results for the bacon flavored lip gloss.
Consider joining a local networking or business referral group like a BNI, your local Ladies Who Launch chapter create your own. I am really not one to enjoy the early AM schmoozing with bad coffee in hand, but took a friend up on an offer and joined a local group when I first started freelancing. Just coming in as a guest led to my first lifestyle client, a high-end personal training gym, than I worked with closely through the next year.
Also, find strategic partners. In PR, this probably means finding a print and web graphic designer or small design shop, a videographer, editor, photographer etc. Expanding your service offerings is great for business and knowing you have several other people out there pimping your services to potential clients in need can only help. Perhaps you can even split costs on a few things or host an event together.
Without clients, the world stops spinning, flowers wilt and fairies die.
I decided to go freelance when the agency I was working for divided into two new agencies. I was offered a job at one and an offer to work as a contractor for the other, trouble was my favorite clients were split up, going to different agencies! Negotiating with my bosses allowed me to keep working on the accounts I was most invested in as a contractor for both. Incidentally, the former director of PR decided to open up her shop focusing on lifestyle fashion clients, and so I did work for her as well.
Even if you aren’t transitioning from an agency, send emails out to all the PR shops in town and explain who you are, your background, and what accounts you think you could help out on. You could do the same for event planners. Certainly send out an email to your network letting them know of your new plans and don’t neglect Facebook- you never know when your best friend from seventh grade’s mom just happens to to know someone who knows someone. To pick up some quick work, consider signing up for an account on Elance. Offer your press release skills, your bio writing abilities as well as consulting services.
Work really, really hard
Seriously. There is no one that will ever care about the success of your business more than you. This often means working late, going out to events to meet new people when you would rather stay in bed and eat pie, and having to be responsible not only for keeping your clients happy but keeping your business happy, which means time out for invoicing, taxes, and on occasion, running out for printer ink at 2 am. The biggest indicator of success is word of mouth and when it comes to clients, you really are only as good as your last hurrah – so push yourself creatively, stylistically, and keep focusing on client goals and satisfaction and you might find the freelance life a pretty fine place to be.