Happy-writer Recently a colleague of mine, who is an independent PR practitioner, was lamenting the state of his business. “I’m not making enough money,” he said, “and my spouse wants me to contribute more to our family.” I could understand his concern. He felt he wasn’t pulling in enough revenue. Where he lost me was his next statement: “I think I am going to give up my independent practice and get a ‘regular’ job.”

If this person had asked me for advice, here’s what I would have said:

Before deciding to give up your own business and essentially abandon your existing clients and future prospects, have you tried to build up your business and expand your revenue?

Do you have a viable marketing plan?

Do you know your target market well, or are you trying to be all things to all people?

Have you increased your rates in the last two years?

Do you charge by the hour or by the project?

Does the marketplace view your service as a commodity or as a valuable offering?

What steps have you taken to put yourself in front of clients and prospects?

Have you been sending out a regular newsletter, filled with useful information that people enjoy sharing?

Have you been blogging? Tweeting? Podcasting?

Is your LinkedIn profile up to date, with strong key words?

Do you use LinkedIn to connect with potential clients in your network?

Do you post helpful updates to LinkedIn?

How many networking events have you attended in the past year? How many meaningful connections did you forge at these meetings?

Are you known as a leader in your field?

Have you spoken at any industry events lately?

How many articles have you written for trade publications this year?

Do you ask your current clients for referrals and recommendations, including referrals within a client organization? [This item was updated.]

Have you made alliances with other practitioners, and outsourced where it makes sense?

Is your website optimized for search?

Have you created information products that can generate passive income for you?

Are you constantly learning new things about your field, by attending seminars, reading blogs and listening to podcasts?

Have you considered that an employer can cut your “regular” job without much notice?

Have you calculated the genuine cost of being on salary, keeping in mind the tax breaks for independents, and the cost of suits and lunches out for employees, among other things?

You see where I’m going, right? I’m not saying that there is never an occasion where it’s a good idea to shut down your own business and join someone else’s. However, I do believe that insufficient revenue is not reason enough to jump ship. It’s important to look at the big picture and the long term.

What do you think? What would you add to this list?

Events for indies
If you’re in the Toronto area, you may want to check out two events for independent communicators in January 2011:

  • The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Toronto chapter’s group of Professional Independent Communicators is presenting a panel on “Getting Paid What You’re Worth” on January 5.
  • The Halton-Peel Communications Association is offering a panel discussion on “Freelancing 101” on January 12.

New resource coming soon!
Please note: In January I am launching a new website just for independent practitioners. If you want to be on the mailing list, so that you can take advantage of the site’s content as soon as I open the curtain, please email me here.

10 COMMENTS

  1. As always, very wise advice, my friend. You are right that he should be sure he’s doing everything he can to make the business is a success before throwing in the towel. Chances are, he isn’t.

    You mentioned asking current clients for referrals, and I would add not just to new clients, but to other people within the same company. Often there are other departments that could use your services, and your client can introduce you to them.

    And besides the fact that a “regular” job is not really any kind of security, just how easy does he think it is to get one?

  2. Nothing comes without putting a lot of work to get it. To some it is simply overwhelming and they prefer an easier way out – go on salary.

    If one doesn’t have their heart in it, they’ve lost the passion and energy to plough on, then all these points you mentioned seem very daunting.

    You covered pretty well everything Donna. Good job!

    Off I go Christmas shopping… see you Peter at WalMart :-))

  3. Been there. I ran my own business as an independent for about 7 years and then “did that,” I “got a real job.”

    During my 10 years at that job, I learned a great deal and honed some skills that are useful today, and I enjoyed a regular pay cheque. Each us has to make decisions based on our own circumstances. At the time I had two sons starting university.

    There is something to be said for having a job where the work is there to do everyday – you don’t have to go looking for it in the same way you do as independent.

    By the time that job ended in 2009 (it was in the manufacturing sector) the world of the independent communicator had changed. The trade magazines, independent business papers that I used to write and edit for no longer existed and my network of contacts was pretty stale. And there was Social Media!

    Some of my independent friends have had great success during those intervening years. They are continuously learning and growing their own businesses by keeping up with the latest developments. As a result they are shining stars in the industry.

    When you work in-house, your perspective is limited by the parameters of the job and you cannot create opportunities to develop your knowledge and skill set in the same way an independent can.

    I am happy to be back running my own business, but it is like starting all over again.

    Before you give up on being an independent, ensure that you mine your network for business. Ask your clients for referrals. Be sure they understand the full range of services that you provide and remind them of your existence on a regular basis using the tools best suited to your client base.

    Look at your business plan and marketing plan, at least once a year, to determine what is working and what isn’t. Then revise the plan and make a concerted effort to follow the plan to get the desired results.

    When you have a “job” you have little control over your destiny within that company. When you have your own company as an independent, just look in the mirror to identify the roadblocks to your success. There is satisfaction and a certain fear factor that keeps you going.

  4. As one very seriously considering doing my own thing again, I appreciate your your comprehensive list of suggestions. Now I just have to figure out what shape that “thing” will take!

  5. I agree with those who see this as a lot of work. It sure is. And if it’s starting to seem like a grind, a lot of work for minimal return, it may be time to get a salaried job — if you can. Or, it may be time to shift your work focus to something that energizes you. The best thing about self employment is when your work doesn’t feel like work, but like something you WANT to do. Then, you’re excited by all the opportunities and your creativity soars. And Donna, your new website sounds like it will be a fascinating resource, and something that will take and give you a lot of energy!

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