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!