After climbing the public relations (PR) ladder with close to 20 years of success, last year, I finally decided to take the leap from my steady communications manager gig (which included a sweet pension and benefits package) and start my own consulting business. I say “finally” because it wasn’t an easy decision to make. I wavered back and forth dozens of times before making the change. A steady paycheque and regular work hours kept outweighing the benefits of self-employment. Until they didn’t.
I craved more flexibility and balance and that, combined with the unshakable feeling that I was ready to start something of my own, eventually resulted in ‘just another day at the office’ becoming the first day of the rest of my life.
Two months’ notice later with a basic plan for success – get clients, make money, achieve balance – I moved into my home office and went from freelancer to full-time entrepreneur pretty much overnight. Pretty daring right?! I’m happy to say it was a successful first year. While the balance eluded me (still does), I landed great clients, made money, and connected with like-minded people who were happy to show me the start-up ropes!
The biggest thing I’ve learned is that entrepreneurship exists where passion and courage meet determination, and while fortune favours the bold, the road to success isn’t always easy. In the interest of paying it forward to others looking to take a leap, here are five things I discovered in my first year:
- Administrative work is relentless. I seriously underestimated the amount of paperwork and time required to draft quotes, write invoices, pull RFP packages together, etc. At minimum, invest in an online accounting program (and/or an accountant) and outsource where you can so you can free your time up to do client work, or the work that adds the most value to your business.
- Bring in help – long before you need it. In the beginning I refused to turn clients down (still true). That meant I was super busy (yay!), didn’t sleep (booo!) and all but abandoned self-care (see point number 3). After too many all-nighters, I brought some talented PR pros on board to help and that, combined with my ongoing work with Felicity, allowed me to re-discover the joy of being part of a team (collaboration, creativity and fun!) and the value of working together to contribute to the success of a project. This in turn enabled me to keep my current clients happy, take on more work and finally get some shut eye!
- Practice self-care. Along with getting minimal sleep and letting my gym membership expire, I also replaced more meals with mini cans of Pepsi and Goldfish crackers than I care to admit. If I could go back in time I would tell myself to sleep more, make exercise a priority and make way, way healthier food choices – I am pretty sure you can’t build an empire on cola or snacks bootlegged from your children’s lunch boxes.
- Be prepared to sacrifice. Many people told me starting a business was hard work, but no one ever said how much! According to well-known entrepreneur and inventor Lori Greiner, entrepreneurs are the only people willing to work 80 hours a week, to avoid working 40 hours a week for someone else. I agree wholeheartedly! There is something powerful in knowing you are solely responsible for your success so buckle up and enjoy the ride.
- Understand that business models are meant to evolve. Initially, I spent most of my time writing, but a year later, my business model has evolved to include media relations, media training, crisis management, graphic design, social media strategy, photography, website development and more. So, be open to new ideas and give yourself permission to deviate from the plan from time to time!
So what does Year 2 look like? I’m hoping for continued success as I apply the lessons I learned this past year; foster the amazing relationships I‘ve built (with clients and the talented team I work with); grow my client base; pursue new opportunities; and find (hopefully) the elusive balance I continue to seek. Onward and upward!