The path I took to start my own business was probably a little bit backwards. I started doing PR as a freelancer; I would take on gigs from small businesses and in some cases, other PR firms. They would want me to do everything from writing to social media to pitching. For more than two years I operated this way: I didn’t have a real website, portfolio or even a company e-mail address. I was lucky because most of my new business came from referrals, so no one really questioned the fact that from the outside I didn’t really look all that legitimate. The main reason that it took me 2 years to really invest in my business was I didn’t think it would last as long as it has. I took on the freelance work to fill my resume while I was looking for a full time job, I had no idea it would grow the way it did!
About a year ago, I realized that the momentum was still going strong, and shockingly, I still had clients, and was getting more on the regular basis. I decided it was finally time to start transiting away from just being a freelancer. I stepped back, and looked at what I was really good at, and what I enjoyed the most: pitching. I also realized that the majority of my clients had become PR firms that needed someone to spend the extra time to land their clients top tier media placements. The last thing the world needed was another PR firm. So, voila, fifteen media was born!
Essentially, with a business name and the creation of a website, I turned myself from a freelancer into a CEO. If you are thinking about doing the same thing, here are 4 telltale signs you are ready for the transition:
1) You have established that there is a need for your services.
People that have an idea, and invest in it right from the beginning are my heroes. I am not that brave. I wanted to test the water and make sure there was longevity before I spent massive amounts of time and money to start a business. If you aren’t 100% certain a market exists for your services, then you are taking a big risk. Freelancing can help you get your feet wet. By the time I decided to form an actual business, I had a base of clients, so I knew there was a need for my services. Having that foundation definitely made the transition from freelancer to CEO slightly less scary.
2) You are ready to grow.
It is a lot easier to bring on employees under the auspices of a real business identity. Obviously as a freelancer, it is assumed that you are just a one-person shop. If you present yourself under a business name, people realize that you probably have employees. If you ever plan to bring on more people, it is a good idea to transition into a full-scale business. Right now, at fifteen media, it is really only my intern and I, but when the time comes, I could easily hire another person, and my clients wouldn’t be that surprised.
3) You want to be respected.
I hate to say this, but in my experience, this has been the reality: freelancers aren’t always respected, as they should be. When I used to tell people that I was a freelance publicist, they would always ask if I was looking for a full time job. I felt like people thought that I was saying I was a freelancer because it sounded better than saying unemployed. This wasn’t the case at all, I had an ample amount of work, but I still felt that people didn’t always look to me as an expert. By transitioning into a more formal business structure--even though what I was actually doing on a day-to-day basis didn’t change much--I felt like I was finally getting more respect.
4) You want to offer a more comprehensive package.
Most freelancers specialize in one thing, such as writing, social media, or marketing. If their clients want additional services they have to go elsewhere, and you won’t reap any benefits. When you are a business, you can offer many services under one roof, which means more money for you! For me personally, I only do pitching (no writing, no social media). However, if I wanted, I could offer additional options to my clients, and be a one-stop shop. This is one of the best reasons to transition because it gives you the flexibility to expand your business.
I am pretty sure most MBA programs would disagree with the way I started my business. It comes back to the age-old chicken or egg situation. In the case of business it is: do you lay the foundation first and hope costumers come? Or do offer services, build a need and then invest in the brand? It is hard to say, and each entrepreneur’s path will be different. As a freelancer, you get to a point where you have to decide if you are fine with the status quo (and there is nothing wrong with that) or do you want to become something bigger? Obviously as you grow, more problems and challenges arise, but I have to say it feels pretty good to be CEO.
Photo Credit: Darkain Multimedia