Most people hate public speaking. Call me crazy, but I really enjoy it! Of all the things I’ve done to promote my virtual PR firm and my own talents, getting in front of a group, sharing some advice and showcasing some of my work has by far been the most beneficial way to bring in new business.
Earlier this month, I had the chance to speak to a group of women dynamos in Anchorage, all of whom are a part of a fairly new group called the Association of Women Entrepreneurs.
As part of this talk, I shared by Top 10 Dos and Top 10 Don’ts for running a small business. Of course, I gained much of this knowledge by learning the hard way, but I think the ladies got a good laugh or two out of my mistakes and blunders as a small business owner over the last 10 years. Maybe I even saved a couple of them from a painful experience.
So, I thought I’d share by Top 10 Do’s (with a little explanation of each). I’ll tackle the Don’ts in a future post.
Top 10 Do’s For Owning a Small Business
Get a good accountant – stay on top of the financials and IRS obligations and have someone else handle your billing.
When I first went into business, a colleague who had owned a firm for several years told me not to do my own billing. I didn’t listen for about four years. But then, I slowly came to the realization that instead of doing accounting work, I could be billing more PR consultant work. Once you get more than three clients, let someone else handle the billing. It will more than pay for itself.
Get agreements in writing (client agreement, subcontractor agreement)
I haven’t had a lot of trouble with clients not paying or subcontractors burning me, but I did start putting things in writing, and guess what? Clients and subcontractors took me more seriously. Having everyone understand the terms of the agreement ahead of time is just smart business. That way, if anyone ever has a question, it’s right there in black and white.
Have a website
I didn’t think I needed a website because most of my work comes from word of mouth. What I didn’t realize was the time that a website could save me. Potential clients used to call and ask 20 questions, then ask to meet. Now, they call, and I refer them to my website, then ask them to call back if they are interested in talking further. More often than not, a potential client has already been to my website, has a clear understanding of who KD/PR Virtual is, and they say “I want to hire you.” That has saved me a ton of time. I landed a large hotel chain client this year, and they told me that I was recommended by a local business, they checked out my website, and knew they wanted to hire me right away. That work alone has more than paid for the costs of my website.
Have a dedicated work space with a door that closes, even if you work in your home.
Maybe it’s me, but closing the door is imperative for me to concentrate on the task at hand, and to avoid distractions. Most of my clients know that I work from home, and that I have a Chocolate Lab office companion and two rowdy boys. But it’s not professional when the dog barks or the kids can be heard screaming in the background. You simply cannot be professional without that closing (and locking!) door.
Network, even when you don’t need more sales or new business
After 10 years of PRSA, Convention & Visitor Bureau, Chamber and other networking opportunities, I can honestly say that work comes from constantly being out there. I can run into someone at a Business After Hours, talk to them for 15 minutes, and two years later they will call me with a business lead. I network harder when I need new business, but I never stop it altogether.
Tap into free or paid professional development opportunities
Nearly every free, or low cost seminar I’ve attended has resulted in at least one important nugget of advice or information. Many people think that if it’s free, it’s not worth it. I would argue the opposite when it comes to professional development opportunities. Some of the best advice I’ve received was from a counselor at the University of Alaska Small Business Development Center. I never paid a penny for it.
Mentor others, it comes back in referrals and business.
I can’t even count the number of people who I mentored, then ended up directly competing with me for PR business in Anchorage. Sometimes it hurts. I’ve had “friends” steal clients. But I keep the attitude that “there’s plenty of work for everyone.” I know I’m lucky to be in a small market where the economy is pretty stable and there is a lot of opportunity for all. But I still think you hold your competitors close to your chest and it pays off in the end. And, doing good work always pays off, so don’t sweat the small stuff. Sometimes, I get more satisfaction out of seeing someone I helped along the way succeed, than I do from my own good work. It feels great.
Kill the enemy with kindness
Clients want to work with positive people. They don’t like whiners. My dad always told me, “take the high road.” So, when someone says or does something mean (and yes, the agency business can be a bit cut-throat at times) I kill them with kindness. More times than not, the clients will say “I like your attitude, I want to work with you instead.” Trust me, it works. (I’d like to take this opportunity to thank those who have been mean. I appreciate you sending me the business!)
Tap others in your industry, consider forming a group for networking/biz referral
Ever heard the saying “you don’t need to reinvent the wheel?” We sometimes forget that there are lots of other people out there doing the same thing we do. They might be in other cities or even other countries, but they are one of your best resources. So why not tap them? One of the smartest things I ever did was join PRConsultants Group. I haven’t received very much business from this group, but I have 39 other PR Consultants around the country to tap for ideas, advice and to do great PR work for my clients. Collaboration is smart. So figure out who can help you be better, and team up.
Find others who share your same vision and get them to join you/work with you. Then, trust them.
Without my team of amazing co-workers, KD/PR Virtual would still be what it was when I started a decade ago – an independent practitioner PR firm. I was shocked to find out how many talented people were right here in Alaska who shared my vision for work/life balance and who were more loyal than any other peers I’d worked alongside. When you share a common vision with someone, they’ll prove they’re trustworthy and you all can prosper together. The last two people I’ve added to my team were hired because I followed my gut – I knew they shared my vision. They’re the best subcontractors anyone could hope to find.
I’m always refining this list, so if you have suggestions or personal experiences you think would supplement these, send me a comment.