Top tips for starting as a freelance PR consultant, after 10 years of doing it myself

10 years ago, I set up my own business as a freelance PR consultant.

I had a business plan, I had a potential client, I had enough money to last a few months until I got some more clients – and I had lots of encouragement and advice from former colleagues and PR industry recruiters.

I started with just my mac and my branded mug. I wasn’t entirely sure what the future would hold, but I knew I wanted to do it my way.

And I’m still doing it my way! I haven’t got a team, even though there have been times I’ve been so busy I’ve wondered about launching an agency and bringing in staff. But I prefer to work with my clients directly, at all levels. Together we discuss their business and marketing objectives, then I create their PR strategy and manage it myself – the planning, the writing, the media relations. It’s like I’m an extension of several marketing departments and I love it that way. 

If you’re thinking of going alone, here are my top tips after 10 years.

Get your website and SEO sorted from the outset 

Word of mouth is all very well, but people who don’t have a connection to you still need to find you. I’ve invested in this and it has been worth every penny.

Know your worth

Clients may well be coming to you because you are more cost effective than an agency, and that’s fine. But it’s still important to know your worth. I have over 20 years’ experience in PR and my clients pay me for my expertise, not just as a service provider. Never agree to be paid based on results alone or below the going rate.

Keep on top of cash flow

Finance is not fun, I’ve always hated maths. But keeping on top of invoicing is vital: charge in advance for your time and ensure all costs are quoted and approved in writing. Use good software – I like FreeAgent – and a good accountant for the tricky bits like VAT and Self Assessment. And don’t be afraid to chase for invoices. You’ve earned that money. 

Get good advice

I met with a few old colleagues who had set up on their own, I spoke to a PR recruitment consultant about options in case it didn’t work, I got help from a social media/ startup mentor, I took as much advice as I could before taking the plunge. Everyone’s experience is different but those people gave me the confidence to finally quit my agency role and get going.

Get inspiration

Working alone does not mean you work without colleagues. I don’t have an immediate team I can delegate to, nor do I have a room full of people to bounce ideas around with. But I do have several PR contacts – old colleagues, fellow freelancers, friends who work in marketing. Regular coffees, social media groups, meetings and phone calls keep us all connected, reassured and supported in moments when clarity or confidence is needed.

You have the power

No need to put up with clients who disrespect you because they’re mates with your boss any more. You are the boss now, and you can choose the clients. I know the kind of products and services I can get results for, and I know the ones to pass on to someone else who would do a better job (fashion and finance are not my fortés). I know the kind of people I want to work with and will be proud to represent. 

Change as you go

When I started, I managed a few events, as I had experience in that area. But over time, as the media landscape has changed, there are fewer media events for me, and a lot more content creation. I’ve loved this change in direction as I always wanted to be a journalist and it’s still so rewarding to see your own words in print or on screen (even if by-lined to someone else!).

Enjoy it

Good clients make the job enjoyable. Good clients feel more like colleagues, you can work together to ensure their PR strategy will be on-brand, and they respond well to media feedback and requirements. It’s a team effort and that makes everything all the more satisfying and successful.

That’s it!  One last mention for my husband Colin, for encouraging me to start my own business. He got me this mug 10 years ago when I launched. The handle fell off but thankfully that didn’t seem to be any kind of hidden warning. Here’s to the next 10 years!

Okay, the music’s starting, I’ve talked too long. Back to work.