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Category Archives: Career

7 Mistakes that Push Away New Business

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


7 Mistakes that Push Away New Business

When you’re fortunate to have new business come knocking at your door, it’s still far from a done deal. Winning over a client takes time, patience and strategy. In my industry, things always begin with an initial client phone call or an in-person meeting. This casual, first meeting is the opportunity for both parties to feel each other out. Do our visions and values align? Do we share realistic expectations for what can be accomplished with the given budget and time frame? Most importantly, is there chemistry? No, nothing romantic, just a good synergy that will help create a productive working relationship.

Even if all of these things appear to be on target, there are still quite a few ways in which I can push away this new business, if I’m not careful. While the ability to read a client and build a strong connection from the start isn’t something you can necessarily teach, there are a few obvious mistakes you should avoid when trying to win over a new client. Save yourself some future regret but taking note of the next seven items on this list!

  1. Being unresponsive

The first mistake you can make is to be anything but highly responsive to your prospective client. This is the first impression you make. If they call you to learn more about your services, respond to them same day. Even if you’re not able to connect by phone, the least you can do is email them to set up a time for a future phone call or meeting. Carry this level of responsiveness into every phase of working with this client. Chronically late responses are a red flag to the client that you may not be the easiest person work with.

  1. Acting like you have all the answers

In your first client meeting, don’t come in there like you have all the answers. You don’t. You’re meeting this client for the first time and you likely know little about the industry and nothing about their business (more than a website and social media can tell you). I know in my case, people call me in because there are serious internal problems taking place. This is something you can’t know simply by Googling them. Come ready to listen, take notes and ask questions.

  1. Lacking examples of your insight and experiences

While you don’t want to come in acting like you know everything about the client’s particular business, you do want to walk in ready to prove your knowledge and expertise. Offer plenty of examples of past client success stories that relate to the services you may provide to this new client. Real-world examples are not only powerful, they are memorable. Additionally, be prepared to offer some examples of new ideas you have, tailored to the client’s needs. Make them feel like you’re offering fresh solutions and not something canned that you provide to every client.

  1. Pushing a client toward a final decision in your first meeting

Let the first meeting be a no-pressure zone. If you do a good job selling yourself, there is no need to pressure a new client into making a final decision as to whether they want to work with you right then and there. In fact, it’s likely going to be in your favor to have them sleep on the ideas you presented and to get even more excited about them! Don’t be so desperate to close the deal that you end up closing the door on yourself.

  1. Leaving the first meeting with no action plan

Just because you’re not going to pressure the new client into a final decision doesn’t mean you can’t have a clear path for the next steps you will take toward that final decision. You need to leave the meeting with an action plan in place. If possible, leave with the ball in your court. That means it’s on you to get the client a proposal or follow-up with additional information to help them make a decision. This gives you the power to reach out to them on your terms, rather than waiting to hear back from the client.

  1. Not following-up

This loops back to mistake number one and the need to be responsive. Just as it’s important to be responsive, it’s equally important to initiate a response. Give the client some space after your first meeting and after you’ve provided them with a proposal and an outline of next steps. Then, about one week later (or if they specified how much time they need), follow-up! Keep it short and sincere. Ask them if they have any additional questions you can answer. Or if a new idea has come to you, share that with them – along with your enthusiasm for working with them soon. These techniques enable you to stay in touch without nagging them.

  1. Charging a new client for your business development time

Another mistake that pushes away new business is charging for things like your first consultation meeting, putting together a proposal or any other initial communications. If you’re properly vetting your leads, you should be closing just about every new client meeting you take. Your time spent in business development stands to yield far more profit in the long-run than the couple hundred dollars you may make charging your client for every interaction. Furthermore, the practice of nickel and diming a client is sure to make them question your business practices and possibly scare them off altogether. Do your homework, qualify your leads and then invest that initial time at no cost, knowing you have a great shot at making it back ten-fold!

Have you made any of these same mistakes and found that it pushed away new business? Or can you think of something else that is missing from this list? Share your ideas by leaving a comment below!

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7 Things I Will Never Have as a Business Owner

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


7 Things I Will Never Have as a Business Owner

While there are many advantages to being your own boss, there are also certain things you may never experience again (for the most part). Depending upon how you look at it, this could be a win-win scenario. Either way, now six years into running my own business, I’ve realized that there are a few things I will likely never have as a business owner.

A Day Completely Free From Work

The upside to running my own business, I can work from anywhere. The downside, I can work from anywhere. For this reason, my work followers me anywhere I have internet access. And even without internet access, it’s still on my mind. I’m not likely to ever go completely “offline” for more than a day, but that’s because I prefer to stay on top of my work and grow my business. When you’re passionate about what you do, you’re not always craving that next vacation!

Limited Vacation Days

Speaking of vacation, I can time off whenever I feel like it and as often as I want to. It still holds true that my work will be something I carry with me, but I doubt anyone feels too sorry when I’m checking emails from the Bahamas. Being a business owner is about balance. I can take unlimited vacation days, but I’m still responsible for delivering what I promised to my clients. Time management is key.

A Tax Return

I gave up hope a long time ago that I would ever see a tax return. As a business owner, I pay not only at tax time, but I pay quarterly throughout the year leading up to it. It’s important to point out that my clients don’t withhold taxes in their payments, so it’s strictly on me to make sure I am paying the fair and appropriate amount of taxes based on my income. Similar to having unlimited vacation days, I don’t expect anyone to feel bad for my tax situation. After all, if I’m paying more it means I’m earning more. But I have to laugh at the commercials that suggest I use my tax return for this or that. It’s been nearly a decade since the IRS wrote me a check.

Normal Work Hours

For better – and worse – I don’t have set “normal” work hours. It works out for the most part that I’m in front of my computer between 9 and 4, but there will be times I’m taking a 8pm conference call or I’m online at 6am to clean up my inbox. On the upside, I can also go offline for a couple hours in the morning to get in a work out, or in the afternoon to catch a nap. I’m so far removed from the concept of a 9-5 job that I doubt I would last long in that work environment again.

A Fixed Income

As a business owner, my income is anything but fixed. I have a meager paycheck I receive each month from my business for tax purposes, but I also receive distributions throughout the year however I see fit. Every year and every month, my income is up to me. I have to constantly and consistently satisfy my current clients and keep my pipeline full of new clients. In a crazy scenario, every client could decide to discontinue their services and I would be left at square one. On the flip side (and the more common scenario), I take on additional clients each month and grow my income.

It’s not common that many people can increase their monthly “salary” by a couple thousand dollars in a month by providing the same services they’re already providing to others. For this reason and many others, I love owning a business, and owning my income.

Someone Else Controlling My Schedule

Because no single client owns 100% of my time, they do not have control of my schedule. I remember my life prior to entrepreneurship where I would have someone slap a meeting or conference call on my schedule and so long as it was during normal work hours I had no leverage to push back. I had to stop whatever I was doing to be there. Now, when a client requests a meeting, they provide me with several options and I have the ability to select what works best for me. If I can’t make a meeting, my clients don’t know if it’s because of a work conflict or a hair appointment (or more commonly it doesn’t work with my toddler’s nap schedule). I control my own schedule and strategically plan my days to be efficient and convenient.

A Boring Day

As a business owner, there is no such thing as a boring day. Often the excitement comes from exceeding a client’s expectation or receiving a great lead for new business. Other times, “excitement” is the rush of an emergency or crisis that you have to resolve. Even if I carve a free afternoon to go offline from work, I’m not strapped to my office. I can run errands, do something relaxing or spend time with my kids. Every day and every email is different. The hours fly by and I wouldn’t ever want to return to the days of watching the clock!

Are you a business owner? Can you relate to some of the things I’ve mentioned or do you have an idea of your own to add? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

 

How to Stay Focused While Working from Home

How to Stay Focused While Working from Home

It’s becoming more and more common for people to work from home, either full-time or even just a few days per week. If your career allows you to work virtually, it’s likely you’ve found yourself trying to be productive at home only to be derailed by a myriad of different distractions.

For the last seven years, I’ve grown my public relations business while working exclusively from home. During different periods of time, that included juggling work with infant babies at home and trying to schedule conference calls around nap times. The good news is, I survived! And throughout my experience working from home, I’ve developed quite a few tips and tricks to that have helped me to stay focused and productive.

Here are my go-to tips for staying focused and making the most of your time when working from home. Take a look!

Make a Mental Commute

When you work from home you don’t have the benefit of a commute. Maybe you’ve never viewed a commute as a benefit, but think about it for a moment. Physically moving from one place to another gives you the mental separation of work and home. During your commute you can get yourself in a “work” mindset. When you work from home, however, you have to make a conscious effort to change from your “home” mindset to your work one.

One tip I highly recommend is having a dedicated office space that feels separate from the rest of your house. This allows you to “commute” to your office and on that commute you can clear your mental space and walk into your office ready to work.

Stick to a Routine

Sure, working from home gives you extreme flexibility in your schedule, but this can also be a trap. To be effective when working from home, it’s so important to stick to a routine. There will certainly be days where this routine will be disrupted, but for the most part you must establish a core routine and stick to whenever you can.

Pick a routine that fits your personality and workload. Are you more effective in the early morning or do you thrive in the afternoons? Unlike a traditional office environment with a strict 9-5 schedule, you get to set your own schedule. However, once you set one, let it give your day structure and stability.

Set Your Work Hours

Along with setting a routine, you also need to establish your work hours. When working from home, it’s easy for work and personal life to blend together. If you’re not careful, you’ll find that you’re never fully present in either space, because you can’t separate the two. By setting work hours, you’ll know that from 7am until 3pm (or whatever you choose) is the time to focus exclusively on work-related tasks. Outside of that time, you must train yourself to put work aside, stop checking emails and shift your focus to friends, family and yourself.

Resist Chores and Errands

During your set work hours, resist any and all temptations to dive into tasks that are not directly related to work. I’ll admit that when working from home, I’ll throw in a load of laundry, put away dishes and tidy up some rooms as I walk through. These are small and necessary tasks that shouldn’t divert you from more than a few minutes of work time. The tasks I’m addressing here are the ones that can sabotage your work productivity for hours. Tasks like sorting out your closet, reorganizing a room or running personal errands can steal hours away from your day and can reasonably wait until the evening or weekend.

Give Yourself Small Breaks

Although you want to squeeze the most you can out of every work day, you can only accomplish this by giving yourself small breaks. Why? Because no one can be productive 100% of the work day. We all need mental and physical breaks in order to return back to a task and be even more productive than we would be otherwise. Trust me on this one. Allow yourself short, timed breaks where you can get some fresh air, stretch your legs, get a snack or cup of coffee and then return to your desk ready to work again.

Close Up Shop!

Finally and most importantly, when you’re done for the day – be done! Don’t linger around refreshing your inbox and fishing around for people to ask you for something. Disconnect, go offline and enjoy your time off. After all, you’ve earned it! The best part of having a productive work day is that you can close up shop knowing the most important tasks are taken care of and everything else can wait until tomorrow.

Do you work from a home office? How do you stay focused throughout the day? Share your tips and best practices by leaving a comment below!

 

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Bennis Public Relations Turns 7 Years Old – The Best Gifts Its Given to Me

Bennis Public Relations Turns 7 Years Old – The Best Gifts Its Given to Me

Last month was the seventh anniversary of a pivotal moment in my career. However, July 15 came and went without celebration or even reflection – but for good reason. July 15, 2011 is the day I officially became the fulltime owner of my firm, Bennis Public Relations. This was the day I took a major leap, without so much as looking back, and have since forged ahead with a drive and dedication unlike anything I had applied to my life leading up to this moment.

Now seven years as my own boss, I realized there are still a lot of people in my life, new acquaintances as well as close connections, that don’t know much about what I do or how I’ve grown to this point. For so long I’ve fully embraced the mindset I learned in college which was “There’s no ego in Public Relations. If you want a byline study journalism.” And while I still believe that to be true, I do think it’s important to stop and reflect on some of the joys this journey has brought me.

Ironically, over the last seven “birthdays” my business has had, it’s been me who has really received the gifts. In sharing what they are, I hope I can inspire a few others to take the path less traveled and to also understand what it means to be a true business owner.

Gift 1: I answer to me.

My schedule is my own. It’s on me to manage my time to get everything done on my task list in a given day. I’m responsible for organizing the matrix that is my Google calendar and making sure nothing slips through the cracks – or it’s on me.

While I thoroughly enjoy having no set work hours, no restrictions on where I have to be at any particular time, and not having to report to a set office with higher-ups to answer to, this also comes with certain tradeoffs. I have to balance project delivery for all current clients with finding time for new business development to keep things growing. I have to determine how I want to price and package my services so that they are competitive but also profitable. It requires a beautiful dance to make it all work – and I’m fortunate that after seven years, it’s a dance I’ve learned to do well.

Best of all, and what really defines being a true entrepreneur and business owner, is having complete control over the services I offer, how they’re priced and packaged and the direction I want to take my business. There is no corporate office that determines this for me – no one pushing out new services or products and telling me what to sell, no one changing prices without me having a say, and no one messing with my profit margins – except me.

Gift 2: I can pivot and grow how and when I desire.

Throughout the last seven years, I’ve extensively grown the scope of services I can offer clients. I’m not limited to one niche, or even one industry really! I can help businesses with anything that falls under the broad umbrella of “external communications,” which is fancy speak for “How we communicate with our audiences.”

Additionally, I’ve identified the services that best answer specific problems within a business and can make educated recommendations to clients based upon what they need, and help them eliminate what they do not. I’m not limited to selling a specific set of services to a niche demographic. If I want to branch into something entirely new, I can – and I have.

Gift 3: I’ve learned – and conquered – the real headaches of business ownership.

I commend anyone who takes an entrepreneurial leap and lands in the role of blazing their own trail. However, I want to be clear there there’s a significant difference between building your own business from the ground up and being a part of a franchise or MLM. At age 23 I used what little savings I had to incorporate my business and structure myself for future success – and protection from over-taxation! I spent hours educating myself on the type of business insurances I need to buy and the potential repercussion of copyright laws and other similar issues that could at any point impact my business – even if by an innocent misstep. I had to put policies and procedures in place to protect myself from people walking off with my intellectual property, making late payments – or no payments at all, and breaking contracts without cause.

I’m grateful to say that by planning for the worst, I have avoided many of the headaches and hardships other business owners often experience along their entrepreneurial journey. In a day and age where everyone wants to call themselves a business owner, CEO or #bossbabe, I wonder how many have had to navigate the real challenges of being a true entrepreneur, versus how many just stepped into the role of a sales rep for another company that really calls the shots in that relationship. There’s a difference, and one I’ll admit I’m a bit sensitive toward because of how much sweat equity and risk goes into the former compared to the latter.

Gift 4: I can forge partnerships at my discretion.

Another gift my business has given to me is the ability to structure partnerships with others businesses that has allowed me to really take things to the next level – and without having to compromise my independence or give up any of my profits.

My current partnerships expand into the industries of Government Relations, Web Design, Advertising, Media and more. It’s quite a beautiful business model. My partner businesses feed me all their clients who need strategic communication services, I complete the work and charge my fees, and they bundle this into their clients’ total packages. We all get what we want out of the deal, and at really fair rates compared to what big agencies have to charge to cover the overhead of in-house staff.

Gift 5: I don’t have to solicit family or friends to “join” my business.

If you’re a true business owner, not just a sales rep for a larger corporation, your business model should not heavily rely on soliciting family and friends to purchase your services/products or join your business.

When you’re just getting started it may be appropriate or helpful to ask personal contacts to keep you in mind or help spread the word about your business, but that’s not a real business owner’s long-term method for marketing. The growth and development of my business is a lot more strategic than shooting out a bunch of social media posts about “how lucky I am to be my own boss – and it’s a huge missed opportunity if you don’t jump aboard my ship.” Rather, I become a member of networking groups, align myself with industry associations and join boards as a way to gain influence and to get my name out there.

I’m happy to mentor people who come to me for entrepreneurial advice, but I never feel the need to force someone on this journey with me. And because I don’t get a “kickback” for someone starting their own business, my encouragement to a fellow entrepreneur comes with no personal agenda.

Gift 6: I’ve enjoyed 7 years of passive growth.

More to the point of not liking having to hard sell my services, I’m grateful to have not spent a dime on direct marketing or advertising. I simply treat clients well, deliver quality service and most importantly am responsive. Consistency is the best marketing tool you will ever have!

All of my clients have come from word of mouth recommendations and referrals. What I’ve found is this produces highly vetted, highly motivated clients who are ready to get started. This also produces loyal clients. I’m proud to say that my very first client still has me on a monthly retainer.

Passive growth has by no means made me complacent. It’s made me smart. I know that I gain the highest quality leads when I invest in relationships, so that’s where I focus my efforts.

Gift 7: There is no one else that can provide exactly what I do.

Forging friendships with other businesses that could be seen as my “competition” has been one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. These relationships have turned into some of my most lucrative partnerships and source of residual leads. Why would “competition” send me business, you might ask? Because when I put the time into getting to know some of these fellow communication professionals, I quickly learned that we serve very different markets and possess very different strengths.

Furthermore, there’s more than enough business to go around! So much so that I’m grateful to know some other people who can fill in the gaps in a pinch when I have a client who needs something that I don’t have the bandwidth to take on. In my experience, this goodwill has always come back full circle.

And one to grow on…

There’s a quote I stumbled upon early in my entrepreneurial journey, attributed to Frank Ocean that says, “Work hard in silence, let success make the noise.” This puts into words how I’ve always felt about promoting my professional accomplishments. I don’t need to bang my own gong. In fact, I’ve found that many of those who do – such as what likely inundates your newsfeed on social media – are those who are trying to compensate for insecurities about the true success of their business – or whose business model demands it out of necessity.

To that end, I’ve also discovered many people, even those closest to me, don’t fully grasp how far I’ve driven my business in seven years, because I work hard in silence. So to my first baby, the one that made me an entrepreneur, I wanted to give you a little moment to shine and say thank you for the highs and the lows, the risk and reward, and the challenges that turned in triumph. I’m grateful for this journey and to have the experience to truly own my own business!

 

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Top Things Every College Student Needs to Do Before Graduation

college graduation

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of working with some Penn State undergrads to mentor them on the steps they should take right now to better position themselves for a career in the field of communications.

I will tell you that the post-graduation job hunt was rough when I was in school, and it’s just as challenging, if not more so, now. Especially for students who dream of moving to a big city and working for a big name brand, the competition is fierce! I was encouraged to see how seriously these college students were taking their studies and internships and how eager they were to learn more about polishing up their personal brand to make them a desirable hire.

Whether I was talking to a freshman or fifth year senior, studying public relations or film and video, I found myself repeating the same core piece of advice. Here’s what I told my mentees, and here’s what I want to tell you to. Building your personal brand, at every stage of your career, is highly important. It’s one of the few things you can control and actively improve each and every day.

So while you furiously continue to send out those resumes and cover letters, scour the internet and refresh your inbox – here’s what you can be doing to make the most of your time spent waiting for a call-back.

Polish Your Resume

Just about every college or university has a dedicated “career services” office that offers some great advice to get you started in the right direction with building a professional resume. That being said, many of my colleagues and I have run into the issue of career services’ advice being slightly different than what we know to be current best practices.

The bottom line here is to first seek initial help from career services, but don’t stop there! Do your own research for resume advice from respected online sources. Also ask alumni or family friends who work in your field (and who will know what information and formatting the industry wants to see on your resume right now) to review your resume. You are likely to encounter differing opinions, and will need to seek balance, but use your best judgement as to who best understands your industry.

Create a Linkedin Profile

Most college students are on Linkedin. If you’re not, well start there. If you are on Linkedin already, how polished is your profile? There are countless articles on best practices for creating a professional Linkedin profile, so again, do your research!

If I had to quickly prioritize the main areas that can make or break a good Linkedin profile, they would be having a professional-looking profile picture, using your personal summary to really “tell your story,” fully and accurately listing your education and job history and prioritizing your list of skills to increase your SEO.

Treat it like any of your other college projects, giving it your attention to detail, creativity and technical know-how. After all, building your personal brand is likely the most important project you’ll ever work on!

Build (and Organize) Your Contact List

Growing your personal brand is similar to growing a business’s brand in that you need to establish a quality list of contacts (potential leads, referrals or employers). Throughout your high school and college career you have made quite a few professional contacts, whether you realize it or not.

It’s important to take the time to capture these contacts and organize them in an excel spreadsheet. Take an afternoon and list out anyone of influence that you know, or know through someone else. These could be local business owners in your hometown, contacts from a past job or internship, your professors and faculty, or friends’ parents. Don’t discount anyone! Even if they do not work in your career field, think of how many people they know. A contact two or three degrees removed from someone you know personally, just might help you land your dream job.

How you choose to use this list of contacts is up to you, but I suggest sending them a professional email, preferably through Constant Contact or Mail Chimp, announcing your upcoming graduation and highlighting your skills and education. Make a direct ask for these contacts to pass on your resume to anyone they know who may be hiring in your field. Be sure to attach your resume! By making it easy for your contacts to forward this email, you have the potential of reaching hundreds of people who just might be looking to hire someone like you!

Create a Portfolio of Your Work

Now more than ever, college students have all the tools they need to quickly and easily create an online portfolio of work. Especially if your major is one that has great visual components (graphic design, landscape architecture, art, etc.), you simply must have a professional online portfolio of work to be a top competitor in your field.

Wix, Squarespace and WordPress (and many, many more) offer free websites that you can customize and launch in a few, easy steps. Sure, it’s not going to look like a $50k+ website, but that’s not necessary! What’s necessary is showing a potential employer that you are a professional go-getter who is tech savvy and who goes the extra mile. Be sure to link out to this online portfolio from your resume and in email emails you send to potential employers/contacts.

Hone in On Your Career Objective

Does your resume include a clear objective for what you’re looking to get out of your career? If you want to stand out, it’s so important to clearly communicate your “why.” Work to define your career objective, or you can call it your professional mission statement. In about two sentences you should be able to describe your drive to work in the industry and the unique skills you bring to the table.

Best of all, with a clear objective, you will have a strong and polished answer to provide to any potential employer who asks you the common, but often challenging question of “So what do you want this job?”

Scrub Your Social Media

This is a hot topic for our current generation of college graduates. You’ve likely built a robust collection of social media posts and pictures throughout your college career. While the archive of memories are ones you don’t want to forget, they’re better saved offline. You’ll want to dedicate quite a bit of time to carefully “stalking” yourself on social media to remove anything that could even remotely be a red flag for a future employer. Look at your profile through eyes. How do you want to be represented?

Do keep in mind that simply deleting posts and images is by no means a guaranteed they won’t appear elsewhere. You’ll want to also search for your name and any other distinguishing characteristics (such as your college’s name, hometown or major) and see what comes up. If you need help scrubbing some less than desirable search results, or you simply want to move favorable search results (such as awards or honors) up in ranking, I highly recommend Brand Yourself. Seriously, check it out!

Network with Your Professors

This final piece of advice is what I feel is most overlooked by college students and that’s utilizing the network (and knowledge) of your professors. They’re the ones teaching you everything you need to know about your industry, certainly they have a highly influential network. Schedule time to really talk with them about your career goals, ask questions and express and uncertainty or frustration. Office hours are not limited to reviewing class materials.

You will never regret building a personal relationship with your professors who can continue to support you after graduation. On a similar note, be sure to utilize your alumni network. We truly care about you guys and want to see you thrive in the same industry we dedicated our college career to studying. I speak from personal experience when I say it brings us alums great joy to see the next generation succeed!

Do you have other advice to share with college students preparing for life after graduation? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2018 in Career, Education, Life

 

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Book Smart vs. Street Smart: What I’ve Learned about PR Outside the Classroom

Qualified specialist

While I was earning my degrees in public relations and communication from Penn State University, I was already putting these skills into practice for some of my first clients. It’s amazing to look back and realize that real businesses put their trust in a young student who had really just “book smart” PR skills, and little to no real-life application. What’s even more amazing, is some of these very first clients continue to work with me to this day.

Now, I have matched and well exceed the length of that college education with “street smart” PR experience. Over the last six years, I continue to place a high value on forever educating myself on the latest trends and techniques in the public relations field. This just happens to come in a different form than a brick-and-mortar classroom. From networking groups and industry associations, to simply staying up to date on the news, it takes dedication and a hunger to learn, not just degrees upon degrees, to fine tune your PR skills.

Here are the key public relations skills I’ve gained since leaving the classroom and entering the real world, and I would consider all of these to be critical to the success of my PR consulting business!

Prospecting and Qualifying Clients

Early in my business, I would take on pretty much any client who came my way. I kind of had to. I have no idea how to prospect or qualify these contacts to ensure they would be a good fit for my business. This wasn’t something I was taught in my PR classes. I learned how to develop goals and tactics for clients, once I had them, but I wasn’t taught the important early steps like first matching a client’s needs with my services.

I’ve become very “street smart” with qualifying leads. I don’t immediately commit to a meeting or even a phone call until I’ve done a bit of homework and asked some essential questions. This has saved me a lot of billable work hours, and has afforded me a few more afternoon naps.

Growing Long-Term Relationships

Another valuable skill not found in textbooks is the ability to turn one-time projects into quarterly or annual retainers. This has become my bread and butter. Just about every single client that has started off with a small or finite project (website content, monthly blogs, media training session) has come back to then sign on with an ongoing contract worth sometimes 10x more per month than that first contract. The key to setting yourself up for residual business with a client is handling that initial project, no matter how small, with the same passion and dedication you would handle your biggest annual retainer. Often a client is testing you to see if you’re a good fit for a long-term relationship. Don’t fail this test!

Effectively Managing Payments

In the first half of 2017 alone, I’ve billed 25+ clients, many on a monthly or quarterly basis. That’s a lot of invoices to manage! My (oddly reluctant) switch to using QuickBooks couldn’t have come at a better time. Rather than relying on a spreadsheet, or worse, a post-it note on my computer, I diligently log everything into QuickBooks. Invoicing is still a process I must make time to do, but it’s a much more streamlined one. I can see what clients owe me money at any time and how many days has passed since issuing the invoice. My husband jokes I could be a bounty hunter in my next life. And to my tax attorney, you’re welcome in advance!

Monetizing “Scope Creep”

This skill ties back to “growing long-term relationships.” It’s a good thing my clients often come to me for more work! However, it can go south when these clients don’t realize the additional work requires additional time and needs to be billed as such. Fresh out of college, I lacked the business savvy to monetize the “scope creep” of a project. I would bill it as “good will” and do the work without earning an extra cent. I still believe in some good will favors, but I only have a certain amount of good will to pour into any given client.

Rather, I am quick to show my interest in taking on this additional work for a client and let them know upfront that I would be happy to give them a proposal for that additional work. This softly reminds them that the work they’re asking to have completed is outside their current contact. I can do it, but for a fee. I have not once had a bad reaction. Clients often respond “Oh of course, I want to pay you for your additional work.” I’m so glad I’m not still losing money on all that good will I was throwing around!

Knowing When to Let Go

Knowing when to cut ties with a client that is no longer a good fit for your business was never covered in any of my PR textbooks, that’s for sure! This is a skill I am still learning along that way, and unfortunately it still remains a pretty steep learning curve. Because of my ability to prospect and qualify clients, I have reduced the need to let a client go, but it has and still will happen from time to time.

What I’ve learned is, make it about you, not them. Don’t focus on their shortcomings, as tempting as it may be, but rather focus on why your business isn’t in a position to best serve them. Be upfront, keep it short and do it early! Those are my pearls of wisdom.

Having Confidence in a Unique Vision

Lastly, the ability to believe in yourself and not compare your journey against someone else’s is something I 100% had to learn outside of the classroom. This applies to both business and life. I am passionate about being a PR consultant. I don’t want a big firm with lots of employees and overhead. I want the complete freedom and flexibility to take on all of my own clients, team up with power partners when I need it, or run a completely lean operation when I don’t. I want to take unlimited vacation days and hit the gym at 2 in the afternoon, if I want!

I like that no client or colleague owns my time completely. I have a unique business model to which many cannot relate. It’s taken time for me to confidently say “I’m a professional public relations consultant” without feeling the need to hide behind a fictitious and irrelevant title like “CEO” or “Principal” to make it sound like a run a big firm. After all, I advocate for my clients to be transparent and genuine; it’s important I am too.

In your career, how would you compare your book smarts to your street smarts? Which do you value more? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

 
 

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