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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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Life Lesson: Above the Clouds the Sun is Still Shining

The sky above the clouds in Philadelphia on December 12, 2014.

The sky above the clouds in Philadelphia on December 12, 2014.

Last month, I was flying from Orlando to Philadelphia after ending a weeklong “workcation.” As if it wasn’t hard enough coming back home after some relaxing time away, we also had to trade in the sunny skies of Florida for the thick layer of icy clouds above Philadelphia.

I looked out the airplane window as we began our descent and saw what looked like a flat arctic tundra as far as the eye could see. Without the plane’s wing in view, anyone might believe that the photo (to the left) was taken near the North Pole.

The whole scene felt surreal, like what might exist outside the gates of heaven. No, not because of the clouds, but because of the bright blue skies that shined above the clouds. Regardless of actual temperature, the view looked warm, calm and peaceful – and it helped teach me a very valuable lesson that couldn’t have come at a more perfect time in my life.

Above the clouds, the sun is still shining.

That week away was my first real period of extended relaxation since becoming a mother (family vacations just aren’t quite as relaxing with a toddler). I had been looking forward to it for months and coming home – especially to Pennsylvania in December – was the harsh reality that I would have to get back to my less than glamorous responsibilities as an entrepreneur and mom with no reprieve for the foreseeable future. To add to this dismal outlook, my husband was headed straight into his busy season of travel, taking him away from us on average half of the days each month through the end of January.

I wasn’t looking forward to that plane’s descent, the one that would take me not only under the clouds and away from the sun, but back to project deadlines, toddler tantrums, holiday stress and playing the role of two parents. But that final glimpse of blue skies was the hope I needed to remind me that the sun will always be there – even throughout my gloomier days.

Weeks later, this Pennsylvania winter is only getting started and it’s been days (maybe weeks) since I’ve really felt the sun on my skin. It’s tempting to give in to the weight of the clouds and lose sight of the joy that exists just a layer above.

That’s the broader life lesson I think we can all take away from this snapshot.

The clouds you are under right now are likely far more than just the weather. Maybe it’s post-holiday financial stress, work, relationship issues or simply the winter blues. No matter what “clouds” you have hanging above your head right now, be encouraged by the sun that is shining not too far away on the other side.

Just as the sun will eventually burn away these winter clouds and bring us back to the summer sun, our own internal burning determination to melt away the hypothetical clouds in our lives also has the power to bring us back to blue skies and happier times.

Were you inspired by this post? Share your own life lesson that you have recently learned!

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2015 in Life

 

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How Do an Introvert and Extrovert Live Together in Peace?

How Do an Introvert and Extrovert Live Together in PeaceWhen I first met my husband, I immediately loved how effortless it was to be with him. I was content in his company because I could be myself and say whatever was on my mind. Some days we would pack a week’s worth of activities into a few hours and other days we would do absolutely nothing special – and every day together was (and still is) so much fun. To people who know us, they might say we are a good match for one another. We have similar interests, career aspirations and humor. Yet, what many people would never guess is that we are actually opposites when it comes to our personality type. I am an introvert and he is an extrovert. While there are other differences as well, this has been the most noticeable throughout our life journey together.

A common misconception is that introverts are shy and extroverts are outgoing. Not so. What it really boils down to is where you get your energy. I require alone time, solitude and quiet to recharge after interacting with people. My husband, the extrovert, gathers his energy from being around people. A day of solitude is actually draining to him. You can see how two people with opposite personality types can quickly run into a few road bumps when seeking out their energy sources.

So how can we all get along and give each other the space, or the attention we need even when it’s opposite from what we might crave? Here are 5 tips for how I have personally learned to live in peace and balance with someone the opposite of my personality type.

  1. Make an effort to understand each other’s personalities.

I gave you the two-sentence summary of introverts and extroverts, but that hardly scratches the surface. One of the best things my husband and I did was take the Myers-Briggs type indicator leading up to our marriage. We were able to see the differences in how we approach different situations in life and it really shed light on areas in which we may not see eye to eye because of our different personalities. Rather than being frustrated because he didn’t react to something the same way I did, I gained the understanding that he is reacting in a way that is appropriate and acceptable for him. Also, realizing that he is drained by too much downtime and solitude gave context to why he might like to hop to the next activity when I would rather have a break. Really understanding each other’s personalities is essential for living together in peace.

  1. Don’t judge or compare.

With the understanding of our differences, comes the temptation to judge and compare these differences. It also made me self-conscious of handling situations differently than he would. Why would I rather stay home when he wants to go see friends? Why do I feel drained when he’s excited to interact with everyone around him? The answer to this question is that it simply doesn’t matter. Comparing an introvert to an extrovert is like comparing hot to cold, black to white, up to down and wondering why they aren’t the same. It’s maddening if you don’t recognize it and change that way of thinking! In your own relationships, try not to be critical of each other’s need for social interaction or desire for alone time. Rather, encourage it.

  1. Find balance with independent activities.

My husband enjoys things I don’t and vice versa. Rather than give up these hobbies and interests because we don’t share them, we seek them out independently. An example is when we go on vacation. He might spend an afternoon golfing (something I have never had an interest in) while I read a book, take a nap or spend time with someone else in my family. There are still many things we do together, but we are not joined at the hip. We are confident and comfortable with our relationship to enjoy time apart without feeling guilty or conflicted. This has been a very valuable for helping us – an introvert and extrovert – live together happily.

  1. Be in tune to cues and triggers.

While we are opposites, this is not an excuse for my husband or me to be blind to each other’s cues and triggers for stressful situations. I continue to learn from past experiences what may cause him to be uncomfortable, unhappy or angry. These are very different from my own triggers. I can also pick up on non-verbal cues for when he may be in more distress than what he is openly communicating. I then search for ways to change the situation to alleviate the problem before it grows into a full-blown fight. I can say the same for him about me as well (and I will openly admit that I am more likely the person getting stressed out). Taking an active role in trying to understand each other’s personalities has helped us to be a better support system when times get tough.

  1. Don’t take it personally.

Finally and most importantly, come to terms with the fact that you cannot and should not be the sole source of each other’s happiness. Especially in the beginning of our relationship, I wanted to accommodate my husband and his active and outgoing personality. If he suggested something to do, I would oblige even when I needed some downtime. This works for a while, but as we grew in our relationship I felt more and more comfortable expressing my desire for some alone time. We had to learn that these differences were not our failures to make each other happy. Sometimes he will attend a social event and I’ll stay home, and when we come together again we are content and excited to see one another. The bottom line is that opposite personality types aren’t designed to be the missing piece that fills every void. We must still seek out other friends and activities to be truly fulfilled.

Opposites attract – and we are one more example of this truth – however, learning to live together day in and day out while accommodating our opposite personality type has been a continual learning process. As we continue down this life journey together, there will be much more to learn and maybe the best we can do is stay passionate and sincere about wanting to help each other live a life of contentment – in whatever form that contentment is found.

Are you an introvert or extrovert who lives with the opposite? Share how you accommodate each other’s personality types by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2015 in Life

 

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Why Being Positive Makes You a Target for Criticism

target on person

In the midst of so many horrific, unsettling and unnerving events going on worldwide – from Ebola to Isis and many wars and natural disasters in between – it can be hard to maintain a positive outlook on all the good that still exists.

The media has done an excellent job of using all of these stories to sell papers based on shock value. How scary can they make the headline? How much hype can they create within a single article? Unfortunately, the duty then falls upon our shoulders to seek out the truth and to build up our own sense of hope.

Hope – what a powerful word.

Hope, or the lack thereof, can completely change your outlook on life. Even when surrounded by negativity, feeling hopeful can keep that bounce in your step and that smile on your face. However, in thinking late one night before bed as I had just scrolled through some of the latest headlines and was reflecting on some of the conversations I had that day, I came to the conclusion that one unexpected byproduct of having hope is that it can make you a target for criticism.

Anymore, if you don’t give in to fueling the hype machine with your responses to casual conversations about politics, wars, healthcare or the weather, people tend to criticize your motive for doing so. Want to see this point proven first hand? The next time someone asks you “So what do you think about [insert negative topic]?” Respond with, “Oh, I’m really not concerned. The solution is in good hands. And it’s still a beautiful day, right?”

The criticism you’ll receive, either by verbal rebuttal to continue the conversation or by a strange look and an awkward silence to end the conversation, will fall into one of three categories. Let’s take a closer look at what they are.

You don’t care enough

Myth: If you’re hopeful that things are okay or will all work out on their own, you simply must not care enough. Not true. You care, you care a lot. This is why you’ve taken on the challenge of cultivating a positive outlook at a time when it is the default and the easy way out to be negative. Regurgitating the mass media’s opinion takes little care whatsoever. It’s the positive people that truly do care about the greater good by maintaining hope.

You are naïve

Myth: If you’re not worrying, it’s only because you are too naïve to understand the gravity of what’s really going on. Not true. If anything you have a better understanding of the topic than most people which is exactly why you’re choosing not to worry. Either you know it’s something not worth worrying about or you know that worrying does absolutely nothing to solve a problem, even if it is of concern.

You are not doing everything you can to help

Myth: If you’re holding on to hope that the solution is already in good hands, you aren’t doing everything you can to personally help the situation. Not true. Pertaining to 99 percent of the world’s topics of concern, you personally can’t do much more to help than to remain calm and positive. By not contributing to the hysteria or spreading around exaggerated facts to scare people further, you’re doing one of the most important things you can be doing – spreading peace and hope.

It’s a tough topic, but one that I think is very important for us to give some thought to. Are we the hopeful ones being criticized into today’s frenzy of negativity and fear or are we the ones fueling it? Don’t let the risk of criticism stop you from cultivating hope in your own life!

In what ways have you experienced criticism for being positive? Share your own stories by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2014 in Life

 

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