Last year, 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 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?
  • Are you exploiting the benefits of content marketing for your business?
  • Have you been sending out a regular newsletter, filled with useful information that people enjoy sharing?
  • Have you been blogging? Tweeting? Perhaps 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?
  • Have you made alliances with other practitioners, and outsourced where it makes sense?
  • Have you joined your local board of trade or chamber of commerce, or a relevant professional association? In my case that’s IABC and the Halton Peel Communications Association, as well as the Oakville Chamber of Commerce. Don’t just join; get active and volunteer.
  • 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?

Of course no one can do everything on my list. And I’m not saying that there is never an occasion where it’s wise 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?

UPDATE: I added the point about joining associations, which I had inadvertently left out of the post.

Network and learn from other indies in Toronto
If you’re looking for inspiration and practical advice on being more successful as an independent, come to our IABC/Toronto Professional Independent Communicators meeting on Wednesday evening, March 7, 2012. For details and registration, visit the IABC/Toronto website.

In the meantime, you can listen to a short podcast with our guest speakers Dawn Boshcoff, principal and trainer, BOSHnewmedia Communications; Cathy Ledden, R.G.D., chief designer, Ledden Design; and Paul Lima, freelance writer and business writing trainer.


  1. Great list Donna. As you know I became an independent consultant a few months ago. So far, it’s going well and if I feel discouraged, I just have to remind myself of my reason for doing this – to spend more time with my kids. That said, I find I’m always “hustling” and by that I mean volunteering, attending networking events, writing on my blog, driving downtown to have coffee with someone who might want to hire me at some point in the future, etc. Luckily, I had already been doing many of these things before I launched my business so I had a pipeline of goodwill built up but if you want to succeed as an independent, you can never really let up on marketing your business. Thanks to your list, I’m going to have a look at my online profiles and make sure my keywords are maximized.

  2. Terrific checklist, Donna! I see some things that I can add to my own list. Louise is right, you never stop marketing. When I had lost a major client last year, I dove into ‘experiments in marketing’ and created an ebook and started a series of podcasts. I also made some major changes to my website which, lo and behold, brought new customers to my door.

  3. Thanks for the comments, Louise and Marnie. So true; you cannot let up on the marketing. Over time, of course, you will have more and more people approaching YOU. When we reach a certain critical mass, the inbound marketing generates a lot more business than the outbound. That’s been true in my experience, anyway. I’ll be blogging more on this topic very soon.

  4. Fantastic post, Donna. Louise, I love your reference to “hustling.” That is the perfect word. I catch myself saying, “I’ve been lucky” when referring to success in my business. It’s not luck, it’s work! And as you said, Donna, that work pays off in repeat business and referrals.

  5. Thanks, Karen. Yes, good luck takes hard work. That being said, I have been fortunate more than once to be in “the right place at the right time.” But I guess you could say that I worked to put myself there!

  6. It takes about two years of hard workuntill the inbound marketing really kicks in. I’m going to print this off and put it on the wall. These are points one should have in front of her eyes regardless whether business is booming or not. It is essential to be ‘out there’ at all times. Thanks, Donna.


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