As new boutique PR agency owner or independent publicist, there are a multitude of startup costs to consider, not the least of which are the tools you use to run the back-end of your business. You may be a solo or small operation, but clients will expect a high-level, agency-type experience when it comes to protocol and deliverables.
Below are the most common software considerations facing a new or freelance business owner operating in a communications field, and my recommendation on whether to choose a free or paid option.
1. Media Contact Lists
A huge part of the value you bring to a client is your established media relationships, so it’s likely that you have cobbled together a media list of your own. If you’re starting from scratch, check out the PR Couture Media List section for an inexpensive way to build your foundation. Our partner, Media Leads, is another inexpensive solution to get small business and consumer friendly editor requests easily.
However, as client’s needs change, pitch angles evolve, and media publications themselves rise and fall, it’s helpful to have a resource that will save you time as you pull say, a list of fitness bloggers in Dallas, or a regional list of wedding publications.
Access to a media database like this, whether you choose Cision, Fashion Monitor, or Celebrity Intelligence comes at a pretty penny for most small businesses. Most run on annual contracts that vary from hundreds to several thousands of dollars a year. One serious downside of these services is that media information can become quickly out of date and doesn’t often follow emerging influencer trends. for example.Your other option is to develop your lists manually through trial,
Your final option is to develop your lists manually through trial, error and Google. Many professionals include their business emails on their LinkedIn profiles. You can also grab a magazine and take a look at the masthead. Search the editor’s name for results that may include their social media profiles, recent stories, personal websites/blogs, and so on.
Verdict: When budgets are slim and you’re short on time, purchase a one-time media list in your more popular vertical. Then develop a manual process to ensure media lists are being continually updated.
2. Graphic Design Software
We’ve all been there: a media contact asks for hi-res images and your client sends everything but high quality jpgs. Remember: it’s your job to garner media coverage for them, but you also don’t want to provide your media contacts with images they can’t use.
Now you have to crop, lighten, saturate, blur and so on to make the best out of the situation. However, unless you also do some heavy graphic design or branding for your clients, there’s no reason for you to spend $600+ on Adobe’s Creative Cloud Suite. You can use Canva to do some mock-ups and create some fun social media branding items for free. PicMonkey and Pixlr are also free photo editors you can use to crop photos, add filters and effects, and much more. PicMonkey has tutorials on its website so you’re not completely left in the dark when trying to make client images better.
Verdict: If you really need the help of Photoshop for your work, then consider the $9.99 monthly package for Photoshop CS and Lightroom CS. Month-to-month payments work better for your budget when you have an unpredictable income.
3. Docs and Spreadsheets
One of the ways you keep costs down for your clients is by keeping your own costs down as well.If you are working remotely or have yet to expand into an office, working days probably consist of moving from the couch to the coffee shop. Freelancers depend on their laptops to be mobile and reliable so that they can work from wherever they are.
Like Adobe, Microsoft offers various affordable packages for monthly or annual access to their Office 365 suite, which also includes cloud storage that lets you share and edit on various different devices. Let’s face it: Word, Power Point, and Excel have ruled our business needs for so long. But here comes Google Docs, Zoho Docs, and Open Office to change the game…for free!
Verdict: It’s nice to have a reliable office suite to depend on — and you definitely have options out there. However, there really is no need to spend a ton to own a license to Microsoft Office when you have equally strong office suites out there at no cost.
4. Accounting and Billing Software
A huge part of running your own PR business is just that, the business. Accounting, invoicing, following up, and filing taxes can be done on a Sunday afternoon if you have the right tools and support in place. If you enjoy playing in the numbers, free accounting software does exist in the form. Wave Apps is great! You can easily link your financial accounts — business and personal — to organize your expenses and incomes. You can also send invoices to your clients with just a few clicks. This is a great program for those who are good at staying on top of their business finances.
However, there are those of us out there who are complete messes when it comes to managing the accounting for our businesses. If you work with many clients and have a hard time deciding what can be expensed, then working with an accountant may be your best bet. An accountant will likely prefer that you use accounting and bookkeeping software like Quickbooks to keep everything in one place. Many software programs also have monthly plans, as well as the option to purchase complete desktop software. Depending on your plan choice, you can pay bills, track inventory, income and expenses for tax prep, and more.
Verdict: Your choice should depend on what you can handle when it comes to bookkeeping for your business. Bookkeeping can take up a lot of your time (and that’s time spent away from getting new clients).
No matter what, free trials and lite versions of tools are a great way to familiarize yourself with certain software before making a big money commitment. Also, before making any kind of commitment be sure your client doesn’t already have their own access or subscription. You’ll definitely save yourself some headaches and cash by asking this important question. If a client does require you to have access to certain programs, don’t be shy to ask them to foot the bill either, or at least split payments on a subscription.