This is a guest post by Ben Finzel, founder of Washington, D.C.’s RENEWPR.
Today marks RENEWPR’s six-month anniversary in business. Even after 25 years in Washington (more than 17 of them in PR), I’ve learned a lot in the past six months of being a small business owner. While I know I have quite a bit more to learn about managing and building my own firm, here are six things I’ve learned in my first six months:
1) Small is beautiful.
There will always be a place for large, multinational, multidisciplinary PR firms. But there’s also an increasing interest by a wide range of clients in hiring small, nimble, senior counsel-focused firms that can get a lot done without the huge price tag generally required of working with a big shop.
This trend means those of us in small firms have the opportunity to do a wide variety of work, including some targeted activities that wouldn’t make sense for a larger firm. In launching my business, I was hoping that would be the case, but I didn’t really know it was true until I began seeing those kinds of opportunities for myself.
2) Launching a new business is a bit like starting over again.
I’ve learned a lot in my 25 years in Washington (shout out to my colleagues at Edelman, FleishmanHillard and Widmeyer for teaching me so much).
But starting your own business often means beginning again, even if you have a well-developed reputation. You have to reintroduce yourself to the marketplace in the new context of YOUR firm and YOUR point of view. It’s fun, but it can be a surprise to realize that you need to view every day as another opportunity to get your name out there in a new way.
3) Client loyalty boosts credibility.
I’ve worked with many great clients over the years, but there’s nothing like being rehired by a former client when you’ve just launched a new business. I’ve had that experience already and I greatly appreciate it. It’s a real boost to have the opportunity to work with smart people with whom you already have a great rapport and understanding–and the signal that sends about the strength of a new firm is helpful, too.
4) Referrals and recommendations rock.
Like many people in our industry, I’ve worked hard to build a large network of friends and colleagues over the years–and I assumed that my network would be a good source of encouragement and advice as I built my new business.
What I didn’t expect was just how helpful those friends and colleagues would be in referring and recommending new business to me; I’ve gained several clients this year thanks to the kind recommendations of long-time friends and colleagues. This help has been nothing short of amazing and I recognize how fortunate I am to have those lifelong relationships.
5) Partnerships and collaboration are everything.
In building out the initial structure of my firm, I decided that I wanted to partner with other independent practitioners and firms to ensure I could offer a full suite of services. I lined up a great group of former colleagues and have already had multiple opportunities to work with several of them.
I’ve also started to collaborate with other PR firms and affiliated businesses beyond PR. This combined approach helps me win business I might not otherwise get and ensures that I have the opportunity to work with smart people whose work I already know and respect.
6) The boutique PR world can be friendly and collaborative.
In thinking about starting my own firm over the past several years, I had always assumed that the large number of people “with their own shingle” would mean that the boutique PR world was even more competitive than the big firm environment. But I have been pleasantly surprised at the level of cooperation, collaboration and community that I’ve seen from other PR boutiques.
That could be mostly a function of the awesome networking group I joined (hello Solo PR Pros!), but I think it’s also due to the understanding we all share: we recognize that we’re all in this together and that makes us much more willing to help each other.
I don’t know what the next six months or the next six years will bring, but I do know that I’m more convinced every day that launching my own firm was the right thing for me to do at this point in my career. And that, perhaps more than anything else, is the most important lesson of all.