by Josh Weiss

A few weeks ago I shared a post celebrating the 5th Anniversary of my PR firm.  The reaction was a bit different than expected.  Along with notes of congratulations, I also received a lot of questions from new or struggling business owners.  It made me wonder what I wish I had known back when I started the company.  Here are 10 things I would tell myself or others starting their business.

1. Throw the Spaghetti on the Wall and See What Sticks. When I first launched, I tried to highlight about a dozen areas of expertise and gave each equal billing when meeting with a prospective client.  In time, I recognized that different PR services “stuck to the wall” for different potential clients.  For example, some of our greatest skills revolve around proactive media relations, product or new market launches, crisis communications, trade show interviews, and award submissions.  But that doesn’t mean each client needs or wants each of those talents.  Stop trying to force certain spaghetti strands to stick the wall and just accept which ones do stay on the wall and focus on those.  Later, after you gain a client’s trust can try to explain how adding new layers can benefit the client.

2. Aim for the Target Not the Bullseye. Initially I had a very narrow target audience of prospects, but quickly realized I needed to broaden my view.  Yes, it’s important to have some specific targets in sight when you start, but don’t miss out on potential clients because you fail to acknowledge the circle of companies around them.  For example, before launching my company I had a lot of PR experience in helping public safety agencies (EMS, Fire, Police) and expected to earn a lot of clients in this industry.  By broadening my target, I was able to add several healthcare related clients and other public safety vendors that respected my past experience.  I now view my firm as agnostic—willing to work with most companies regardless of industry—with a few exceptions for a handful of industries where I simply have no interest or passion.

3. Identify Friendly Foes. When I first launched, I tried to stay away from marketing firms fearing that they might try to steal my clients. Before long, I realized that marketing firms would become some of our biggest supporters and referral partners.  Yes, we overlap on some services sometimes, but for the most part we don’t compete with each other.  These partners have become great friends and have helped build my business, just as I’ve helped build there I also encourage you to find some other people that ARE direct competitors and befriend them.  It’s good to have someone you can talk with to share professional process questions, even if you aren’t talking about specific prospects.

4. Become a Department of Redundancy Department. Repeat what works, over and over again.  The more you do it, the better you get, and the quicker you can accomplish it.  Once we come up with a strategy and media plan that works, we want to copy that success market after market. Don’t feel like you need to show people something new, show them success in what you’re really good at and bring that to them- it’s what they want anyway!  I equate it to a cookie cutter.  A lot of people initially say they don’t want a cookie-cutter approach. I completely disagree… it’s the cookie cutter that provides the structure and the form.  It’s the ingredients and the frosting that should change for each client and/or market.

5. Ooze Passion. Not everyone will get as excited about what you do as you are. That’s okay… but they need to recognize how excited that YOU are.  When they see your passion and excitement, it only makes them more confident that you have reason to be so excited, giving them confidence in your abilities. It’s also why it’s okay to be proud and share your accomplishments with others.  It’s not bragging if you can back it up!  People like a winner, just like the love seeing passion.  People are more likely to recommend you if they feel confident in you and your company.

6. It’s Okay to Say No. Just because someone wants to pay you doesn’t mean you should accept.  I know that’s sometimes hard for a new business, but if you know you’re the wrong fit personality-wise, or if their goals or strategy is different than how you work, save yourself the time and trouble and simply say no. You’ll thank yourself by not having to deal with tip #7 which is:

7. It’s okay to Fire a Client. I’ve only had to do this a couple times, but sometimes it’s necessary to fire a client.  It may be due to personality conflicts, a change in their company strategy or new leadership negating your past successes.  Sometimes it’s simply because they don’t pay on time.  It’s just okay to accept it’s not working well with a particular client, and there may simply be no way to fix the issues.  Yes, firing the client might be stressful to do, but afterward the reduction of ongoing stress is worth every penny you lost. More importantly, it helps you maintain and protect your other clients that you really do like.

8. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help. People want to help you, they just don’t know how.  You need to ask them and tell them what you need. Just be specific when you’re asking.  For example, be direct if you want someone for an introduction to their co-worker or friend at a certain company.  They’ll be much more likely to do it rather than your making a generic request to a friend asking them to introduce you to anyone they know that might need your services.

9. Was it as easy as it looked? No, it wasn’t easy to make it to this point.  But people don’t need to know how hard you’ve worked either because, frankly, they don’t care.  Think of the most successful people you know.  Do they seem like they’re always available to chat and in a positive mood, or do they constantly talk about how busy they are and how hard they’re working?   If you’re always swamped, fix it.  Hire someone to help, or raise your prices while letting some clients go to free up time so you don’t feel so stressed.  But if you look and act too busy, people aren’t going to want to hire you because they’ll think you can’t handle it or don’t have time.

10. Accept That You’ll Make Mistakes. You’re going to make some, the key is acknowledging it and pivoting as necessary to make sure you don’t repeat those same mistakes over and over.  I definitely made my share of mistakes while building my business, but I learned to pivot when necessary while making sure I always had one foot planted in the PR skills I felt most confident.  I believe it made all the difference in success and failure.

I don’t know if these tips will help any other entrepreneurs, and I don’t mean to imply that they work for everyone or that I know something they don’t.  They’re simply reminders that I’d give myself if I was starting my business today.

Do you have any tips that should be added?  Add them in the comments below—I’d love to learn what you’d add.