I started EZPR about 8 years ago, with the goal of not having to answer to anyone other than my clients and my own self-loathing, and it’s worked out pretty well. And today it’s even easier than it was back then to start your own firm, especially if you’re slowly going insane working for a person who appears to think CEO means “micromanage and yet somehow take vacations.” What blows me away are the many small yet meaningful mistakes that these people make when they start out – things that I always thought were obvious, perhaps because I’m a genius, or perhaps because they’re extremely obvious but people still don’t do them for reasons I can’t understand.
Don’t Just Refer To Yourself As A Communications Consultant – Pick A Proper Name
Whatever your name is, don’t call yourself [your name], PR Consultant. That immediately pigeonholes you as a singular entity, dramatically reducing the respect and business you’ll be able to compete for. Saying you’re an “independent consultant” makes a lot of people think you’re unemployed, or unable to do the job that you would do in exactly the same position in an agency. Come up with a name that isn’t just “Your Name Public Relations.” It’s even fine to just use your second name. Use your middle name. Use the name of your cat. Choose something.
Also, make sure it’s X Y Z Public Relations or Communications. Don’t just say “consulting.” Consulting sounds like, well, a consultancy, which could be for anything.
For example, a good agency name would be, if your name was Robert Derner, Derner PR. Simple, effective, sounds good. What wouldn’t be effective would be Robert Derner Public Relations (too long), or worse still, Robert Derner, Communications Consultant.
Buy A Domain, Don’t Use Your Personal Email, It’s Embarrassing
It costs maybe $10 to buy a domain name, and most hosts – I like Name.com – will even set up a Gmail account to go with it, so you’ll be able to use Gmail and send and receive emails from firstname.lastname@example.org, or whatever address you have. It makes you sound like you know what you’re doing, that you’re a real business, and that you actually exist, versus someone emailing from their @gmail, or worse still, @aol or @yahoo.com, email. If you’re trying to convince someone to give you thousands of dollars a month to do work for them, why in the world would they trust you if you’re using @gmail.com? What’s wrong with you? Come on! Seriously!
Get A Real Website
It took me years to actually get a proper website. What “proper” means is “not a WordPress or template website,” which is ironic considering this blog is currently on WordPress. When clients look you up, that’s where they’ll find you. I recommend finding someone who can build you one relatively affordably – I use Studio Corvus, who builds on Webflow. The reason I specifically recommend them is because most WordPress sites do not work very well on mobile, while Webflow sites work well on mobile, and your clients are going to check you out while messing around on their phone.
On said website, have your contact information, such as your email address and phone number (I’d recommend getting a Google Voice number that forwards to your real number), and clearly state what it is you do and why you’re good at it. Have clients. Have example results you’ve got. Make it short, sweet and professional.
Get The Software You Need To Run Your Agency (And Look Professional)
For invoicing, I use Freshbooks – it lets you do monthly billing, track expenses, all the stuff you’ll need. Zoom is an obvious one for comms. Slack is an obvious choice when you start to staff up, and clients may want to have private Slack channels to chat with you. I really like Superhuman for email management, but it’s not necessary. I use Notion to keep track of everything from media hits to new business, and it’s super adaptable (though a bit overwhelming at first.)
The most important thing you realize is that you do not need much software to actually do it.
You may notice I haven’t mentioned Cision, or Meltwater, or Muckrack. The reason is that for the most part you will need to learn the contact emails of people once, and past that point you can work them out on your own, mostly by using Google. Cision costs thousands of dollars, and is useful for finding contacts, and precisely nothing else. Trendkite is bloated, ugly, useless software that costs about $10,000 a year and does not work in a way a human being does. Any service that offers to do “media outreach” for you is a scam of spam – one that will be blasting the same email to lots of people, which sucks.
If you absolutely need a database tool, Cision is okay. It’s not great. I hate paying for it. Media monitoring services only give you metrics to mislead your clients, and they charge through the nose. I cannot tell you what they are worth. All I know is that you definitely don’t need anyone to monitor the media for you. Get Google Alerts. They’re fine.
One day a company will come along and offer what Cision does – an updated database of people’s emails who wish their emails weren’t public – at a cheaper cost. When that day comes along, go with God. They continue to add a bunch of other things like “influencer outreach” (meaningless, it’s just the same thing) and “campaigns” (IE: they wrap their press release product into more mail merging stuff). No way do you need all that.
Get Your First 10 Clients At Any Price, And Go Hog Wild For Them
The best money you can make in PR is based off of referrals. I have very rarely if ever had to do outgoing new business because I started my agency with the spiteful intention of righting the wrongs of the PR industry. What this manifested as was great work for every client, obviously, but a whole-assing from day 1 that meant that my very first client, to this day, refers me incredible business. Why? Because I didn’t do the work of someone making a small retainer, I did the work that I believed an agency should do.
Your earliest clients are not stepping stones, they are the foundation of your agency. These are the people who will never forget you – who will go to bat for you for years (or nearly a decade in one case), who will continue to talk well of you, because you were both early at the same time, and you both fought in the trenches together. I’m not saying that later in the game you get to ease off the gas pedal – just that when you start out, you should try and do the work of a full agency, even if you’re not a full agency.
Seriously, happy clients are the best form of revenue you will ever have. This may mean that you let these clients go sometimes – let them leave before they grow to hate you, and they’ll still refer you business.
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