So you went freelance…now what? If you thought the hardest part would be quitting your day job or trying to balance freelance clients as well as a full-time job then you’ve got another thing coming.
Think about it: agencies usually have a business development department — or at least an individual — whose job it is to identify, connect with and nurture prospective clients. As a freelance PR specialist, you are your own sales team. But there’s no need to freak out. You’ve got this.
The best route to success is preparation; Louis Pasteur said it best, “chance favors a prepared mind.”
Define a Clear List of Services
What do you enjoy most about working in PR? This is one of the first questions you should ask yourself before even going freelance — answering this in the beginning will save you from many future headaches.
As a freelancer, it’s simply impossibly for you to offer the breadth of agency specializations. But this is actually a good thing. Before you start to reach out to prospects, define what type of work you want to be doing within the communications wheelhouse, and build out materials, case studies and pricing that support your new focus.
If you want to use your PR experience to guide digital communication strategy, focusing on tactics that grow a brand’s online presence – like social media management, then position yourself as an expert in that area. If you love training clients to stay on message and totally rock broadcast interviews and segments, you’re a media training coach.
You are always welcome to take the fun odd job here or there (this will actually keep you fresh and inspired), but choosing projects you’re truly passionate about will not only feed your bank account, but also your soul. It’s also a useful way to begin a pointed exchange with a potential client about the very specific ways you see yourself supporting their efforts.
Stay on top of industry changes
Thanks to the trusty Internet, it’s never been easier to see what’s going on with your favorite brands. One PR rep may have cut ties with a long-time client, and another snagged an account you were gunning for. Stay on top of industry news so you don’t waste your time pitching a brand that just secured new representation.
Develop (and work) a dream client list
Everyone has a dream brand they’d like to work with (or five!). It’s time for you to develop a dream client list and start prioritizing your efforts toward the brands you love. As you start to evaluate your list, consider what it is that you love about them. Look beyond the products or services the company offers and look into their core values and culture. Do you love their involvement in charities? Is it their consistently youthful take on a legendary brand name? The outspoken boss lady running the brand? Really figure out what you adore and respect about each business on your list. This insight will come in handy when you start to do outreach.
It’s important to not only think about your outside perspective of the brand but to also understand the people behind the scenes, the business model and financial health of the organization.
Don’t Be Limited By Location
The great thing about freelancing is that you can do it from just about anywhere. Most freelancers think they have to stick to jobs in their cities and states, and this is just not true, plus totally limiting. Some tasks may require you to be present at a client’s location, however, many tasks also can be done remotely. Writing, cold calling, pitching, emailing, and so on can all be done from the comfort of your own home.
As long as you have a track record of success, strong contacts and your own clear process for running your own business, you can take what you learned from your previous agency or in-house experience and put it to use from anywhere. Companies are often open to remote worker positions as long as you are able to put them at ease and to feel confident that you will be available, committed and consistently updating them on the latest news.
While giving an afar client a sales pitch, be sure to point this out and let them know that you also are willing to travel if need be for certain situations like a launch event or an important partnership meeting. Be willing to put on some frequent flyer miles to meet in person during the proposal process to ensure a positive rapport and to get a lay of the land before you both commit to a project or retainer.
Do a virtual background check
Most freelancers have at least one horror story of a client who turned out to be a real challenge. Sometimes, business owners see PR as a last resort before closing down shop, other times they are waiting on a collection sell-out in order to be able to pay their vendors.
They always say that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Be optimistic but also smart, you have to protect your own business interests as well; there is no top notch legal team on call like at large agencies.
Google reviews on the company to catch a glimpse of what you’re getting yourself into. Also look at sites like Glassdoor, which provides anonymous employee feedback and salary reports. Even if no one from their previous PR agency has reviewed the company, it’s important to get a well-rounded review of a business you think you want to work with. Looking at reviews from other employees can be useful in predicting how you will be treated as a freelancer as well.
As a freelance PR professional, it’s important to have a defined new business outreach process and to dedicate yourself weekly to growing potential new relationships while exceeding expectations among your existing roster. It’s a balancing act for sure, but you’re totally up for the challenge!