It’s been 15 years since I started doing this whole PR-Communications thing. I’ve worked for top agencies, gone solo and run in-house programs. I’ve worked with massive brands like Apple and HP to tiny baby start-ups. Industry verticals span from nerdy mesh networking and tech standards organizations to mobile to e-commerce, to consumer electronics, and on.
In May of 2012 the start-up I was working at shuttered. It was unfortunate but these things happen. I looked around and didn’t see one company I was ready to pledge my life to again – except my own. Within two weeks we had a name, emails, and our first paying clients.
I’ve learned a lot the past 19 months – many re-affirming prior business beliefs and practices, others lessons in management, and virtual working, to name a few. For my first post I decided to outline a few pieces of advice I have for anyone looking to go Independent – or dealing with clients in general.
Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Away:
It’s OK. Really. You can say no. This is a difficult lesson for a lot of new entrants into the independent consulting world to learn – often the hard way. You’re starting to build your client base, someone shows up with money but it’s not an ideal situation, yet nothing else is on the horizon – so you take it. And it sucks. These situations never end well.
There is so much business out there if you know where to look, and if one thing doesn’t feel right to you, say no and keep your availability open for the next thing that’s a better use of your time. Saying no is hard for a lot of independents we talk to. In this game, patience and confidence in what you offer bring the best long-term rewards.
Trust Your Instincts (a.k.a. Beware the Flag)
Saying no ties directly into trusting your instincts and acknowledging the flag. Many years ago, a girlfriend and I were discussing a recent relationship of hers that ended. It had been a little rocky at times and when she recounted key concerns throughout the relationship we would say, “flag.” “Flag, flag, flag.”
We’ve all had them. Those alarm bells that ring loud, or quiet when we stuff them away because we don’t want to see them. We joked that sometimes when flags pop up we fold them and put them in our pocket, or examine them, then turn them into scarves. We know they’re there but we try to pretty them up and stuff them away until they are covering our face. At the end of the day, it’s a flag and it’s there for a reason. Pay attention.
When evaluating new partners and clients, think about what kind of relationship you want with the people you work with. Recognize when to say no and walk away when you have flags about a new client. I hear stories every week about the young startups that want $10,000 worth of support for $3,000 and at two weeks notice. Or the app startup that’s wants 1 million pre-signups with a total of $20k marketing budget that includes online acquisition campaigns. When the odds seemed stacked against you – they are. Don’t enter into a relationship where you have a sinking feeling, telling yourself you can “deal with it.” Don’t do it. It’s not worth it.
We’ve dealt with our own set of flags at Radix. Companies that seem great and it’s solid revenue but the longer we draw out discussions and interactions the more that’s revealed. We pay attention to the flags we see. We discuss it as a team and pretty much 100% of the time are on the same page with concerns. We don’t think twice about it. We move on if it doesn’t feel right – always trying to maintain a positive closure. Although that harsh truth about why you’re passing on the business might be too much for some CEO’s to take which ties to…Personality fit, which can often draw flags when evaluating new clients and partnerships.
The Chemistry Spark
I don’t know about you but when I take on a new client I want it to be for a prolonged period of time. Sometimes short projects are good to throw into the mix but, either way, you want a partner, to fight the fight with, not someone who treats you like a cheap vendor. Being in our business takes emotional energy and that means believing in what you’re working on and whom you’re working with.
When we meet with a potential new client we examine a variety of attributes including vision, communication style, team dynamic, leadership style, and articulation of product road map. This all contributes to the Chemistry Spark. One of our current clients and I joke (but are actually quiet serious) about how choosing a Comms/PR partner and vice versa is a lot like choosing a personal partner. You need someone you’re comfortable with, can communicate openly with, someone to share your secrets and big visions, and someone you can have fun with. Focus on the prospects that have teams who treat you as partners, not hired guns.
I could go on but I’ll save that for later posts. Until then, I welcome any feedback or experience with these three categories. So many of our friends are leaving agency and corporate jobs to go independent, let’s share some knowledge with the crowd.