April 3, 2017
A little voice inside your head keeps asking a question. You hear it on your way home after a particularly rough day at work. Or when you meet a professional you’ve admired from a distance because they have already taken the big leap. Sometimes the voice calls out as you race from your corporate job to pick up your child from day care. Other times, it shouts “Cool!” as you think of names for the website you daydream about building someday.
The voice asks, “Should I start my own business?”
For some, the question represents a dream they’ve had since childhood, when they watched with admiration as adults managed their own businesses. For others, “going solo” seems like the only option after being laid off from that “secure job.” Or the launch point could be another life-changing event such as a divorce or the passing of a spouse.
“While I always wanted to own my own business, it was a layoff that actually made it happen,” says Melissa Libby, who founded Atlanta-based Melissa Libby & Associates during a mild recession in 1992. “Initially I was afraid, so I kept interviewing for a new job while taking on freelance work. But pretty soon I realized I had enough work to make a living.”
Jason Brown, who launched PublicCity PR near Detroit in 2008, found himself starting his own company at the beginning of the Great Recession.
“I was disenchanted with the firm I was at and, frankly, I felt my boss didn’t value the work I was doing,” he says. “So I thought, ‘Why not start my own PR firm?’ My wife thought I was crazy. We had a one-year-old daughter and I suffer from Crohn’s Disease. But here we are, nine years later and still going strong.”
How do you know when it’s time to answer that little voice in your head? For Anne Buchanan, who owns Buchanan Public Relations in Philadelphia, the decision came one day when she chose to stop being afraid and act. Today, her firm employs 12 people and two dogs.
“For a number of years, people had been telling me I should go out on my own,” she says. “It wasn’t a lifelong dream for me, and at the time, there were lots of reasons not to do it. I was a single mom providing the financial support for our family. To leave a full-time job with benefits and take a step off the ledge into the unknown created a fair amount of anxiety for me. But one day, the fear evaporated and was replaced by excitement. That’s when I knew it was the right thing to do. And I felt reasonably sure that if my venture failed, I could find my way back to a corporate job fairly easily.”
If you decide to start your own business, consider these seven tips:
1. Write a business plan. “Solidifying a business plan that is best suited to you — what your clients look like and how you are going to service them — is the first and most important step you need to take,” says Karen Carrera, owner of Carrera Strategic Communications in Raleigh, N.C. “Think about why you are starting your own business and how you are going to grow. You may not have definitive answers immediately, but they will come as you problem-solve. Expect to have many ‘a-ha’ moments. Everyone has different goals and a different vision. Be honest about those things and you will probably exceed your expectations.”
2. Build your support system. Launching a new business is risky. But having the support of others helps you reduce risk, gain confidence and find balance. After losing her husband, Carolyn Reis, founder of Reis Corporate Public Relations in Orlando, turned to her brother and confidant, an attorney, who reviewed her business plan and assured her it was sound. Her accountant/financial planner confirmed that she had the financial resources to launch a business, helping set up her budget, accounting procedures, incorporation and tax filings. Other new business owners find support from a mentor or life coach.
3. Build a network to attract business. At first, you can network with other professionals to understand if you should start a business. If you decide to go for it, you’ll have another switch to pull — networking and marketing to let others know what you have to offer, because starting a business means selling yourself, your experience and skills. Brown recommends building a strong network to create new business opportunities. Julie Dennehy, owner of Dennehy Public Relations in Medway, Mass., recommends that you “Invest in branding your firm with a great logo or graphic identity. If well designed, it will pay off in the long run.”
4. Choose your clients carefully. Brenda Thompson, who runs her own communications firm in Austin, Texas, recommends being selective about whom you take on as clients. “Having a good fit between consultant and client is a major work-life decision, and thus a quality-of-life benefit,” she says. “Choose to work with clients where there’s mutual respect. Having long-term relationships and a continued impact on the success of those organizations is the best job satisfaction there is.”
5. Decide how you will administer your business. Many people launching professional-service firms come from the intellectual or creative sides of their businesses — writers, creative directors, lawyers, accountants or architects. So it’s a challenge, to do administrative work like tracking time, sending out invoices, following up on late payments, negotiating equipment leases and making payroll. If these kinds of functions are not your forte, get help. Hire an office manager. Bring in a bookkeeper once a week to handle your accounting work. Tap a consultant to make sure your IT systems are keeping up with the demands of your business.
6. Be tenacious. Life sometimes throws curveballs. “The best advice I would give someone starting a new business is to build a sense of tenacity to endure the frustrating times,” says Ryan May, who operates a social and PR consultancy in Minneapolis. “It’s not always smooth sailing, and it can be very challenging to balance work with the rest of your life. But for me, the reward has been the freedom to spend more time with my family.”
7. Don’t go it alone. Connecting with colleagues can help you overcome challenges and grow your business confidence. Buchanan, Brown, Libby, Reis and Thompson all belong to a consortium of independent communications professionals, a trusted network in which they can share information about running their businesses and can turn to one another for help on projects. May, who also runs the MN PR Blog in Minneapolis, is active in his local PRSA Chapter. Carrera relies on a network of mentors to help her learn, solve problems and grow. Others connect through networking or by regularly attending local meetups.
So, is it time for you to answer that voice in your head and venture out on your own? Dennehy offers this thought: “Worry less about pleasing everyone and doing what others expect of you, and focus on following your own path based on your true gut instinct. Your inner voice is usually right, but it can be quiet. You really have to listen.”
And as Buchanan adds, “The richness of being a business owner comes from the breadth of clients and issues I get to work with or tackle. It keeps me on my toes and forces me to keep learning and growing.”