The end of the year is a natural time to take a look back and start planning for the future. If one of the questions on your mind is the potential expansion of your solo PR empire, you’re likely considering the evolution from independent contractor to CEO.
The initial decision to start a freelance PR career is often done to avoid agency structure, pace and working for someone else. However, perhaps starting a company on your terms is the way to go. While it’s often easy to identify next steps for clients, applying the same rigor to your own career is an entirely different story. As you muddle through adjustments to your own business model for next year, consider the following factors before moving ahead.
What’s your end game?
Has the vision from the very beginning been to embrace the freedom of freelance life or have you simply been taking work as it comes? A bit of introspection is called for to determine what work environment will make you happiest. Are you comfortable working from home with 3 or 4 clients or do you find yourself limited by your own skill-set and craving the ability to go head to head with bigger, full-service agencies? Are you motivated by the idea that employees will rely on healthy profits for their salary and benefits? Does the idea of supplying a team of fresh-faced publicists with an agency mission statement and shiny Macbooks put a smily on your face? Does a hefty does of “all eyes on me” that comes from being the leader of a company feel exciting, or does that level of growth and scrutiny feel cringe-worthy?
For me, I jumped the gun and looked for freelance work immediately after being let go from my PR job. A few months in I realized I hadn’t thought about my long-term or short-term career goals. In the beginning I focused on the very real, very immediate need to cover my own expenses but once business picked up I took a step back. I realized that though I enjoy working as part of a team and my professional experiences to date revolved around a boutique PR setting, I knew that I never wanted to be in a position where I wasn’t in full control of my job again. Also, I’m an introvert and prefer to take direction, rather than give it, so I’m not interested in leading my own firm or team. Right now, operating as an independent contractor is the perfect path for me.
What is Your Leadership Style?
There is a big difference between inner and outer-directed leadership. Being a solo-preneur doesn’t mean you don’t run things of course – you’re responsibly for getting clients, keeping them happy as well as your own personal brand, website, accounting, billing, invoicing, and taxes, etc. Yet as much as that is, it’s to a scale of one.
One of the biggest changes you’ll face as CEO is the need to consistently and confidently lead employees, clients and partners. Consider what kind of a leader you want to be and how comfortable you are with being responsible for holding a company vision, inspiring your team and handling your own stress as the person in charge. Remember that management and leadership are two different things.
While I like to be involved in every aspect of the projects I work on, as well as the day-to-day operations, I’m more of a worker bee than a queen bee. I’m perfectly capable of giving orders here and there, but I don’t enjoy overseeing things as much as I enjoy actually doing them. Eventually as CEO your job running a PR agency becomes less about the client work and more about the business – is this a role you can see yourself taking on?
What Kind of Lifestyle are you looking for?
Do you like the flexibility of being able to get your work done whether it’s 8am or 8pm? Or do you work best with clear set office hours? Do you enjoy the option of working from anywhere that you can get a Wi-Fi connection, or do you prefer your chair, in your office with your artwork hanging on the walls?
The first few years, okay, decade of your agency’s life is going to be hardcore hustle – and that means business takes priority. After all, it’s hard to start and nourish a PR team, grow a reputation and be on-site and on call for clients if you’re pursuing a location-independent professional life and, if having children or making a relationship a priority is important to you, consider that many agency owners feel as though their agency is their child; a toddler and brand new agency is a lot to juggle at once.
PS: You Can Always Change Your Mind
Whatever you choose to do with your business in the next year, it can be helpful to remember that whether you own an agency or not, you own the right to change your mind. Of course, a PR agency does require a bit more skin in the game, but there are small steps you can take to move toward that eventuality, while lowering your risk. Perhaps you choose to turn your sole-proprietorship into an LLC or S Corp, or hiring one contractor yourself next year, or bring on multiple interns to test our your management preferences and fine-tune your hiring style.
Freelancing can act as a stepping stone toward developing the PR firm of your dreams, a temporary season in between PR positions or the goal in and of itself. The great thing about all your career options is that ultimately you are in control of your destiny.