Key considerations for start-out public relations consultants

Image from Noemifairy.com

Image from Noemifairy.com

I regularly get asked for advice by people interested in setting up a public relations consultancy. Here are a few of my top tips if you want to go it alone as a contractor.

If you were to ask me about setting up a public relations business, my first questions would revolve around why and the type of business you’d like. What’s the dream and motivation? Is your personality fit the right one?

Personality is actually more important than you think. If you thrive in a group scenario, working alone might not be for you. Similarly if you find it hard to get out of bed on a morning, ensuring you have a place of work to go to might be better than a home office. Getting this wrong sets you up to fail.

Whatever your goal, the opportunities are much greater than ever before. Working from home is now widely accepted, as are virtual agencies, which have dispersed teams working from different locations, potentially across different timezones.

Freelancers now also have the opportunity to tap into organisations matching practitioners with contracts, The PR Network being a great example. For mums returning to work after maternity leave, there’s 2to3days.com.

Whether you want this or a formal office with a team will help you decide what legal structure your business should have, which can make a big difference to how you are remunerated, the tax you pay and your liabilities if the business makes a loss. All these things need careful consideration up front.

What’s the business plan?

Thorough planning is critical. I’m regularly astonished by the number of people who come to me without a business plan or having done any research at all, wanting me to share commercial data. The only secret to success is hard work.

Launching on a firm footing requires being clear on your market, your competitors and your services. The information you gather informs your pricing and enables you to forecast sales, helping you understand what you need to sell in order to cover your costs.

It’s a natural progression, you then have to think about the new business pipeline. Where are your contracts coming from both now and in the future?

It’s a rigorous process which has real value because it forces you to be realistic about whether you have the finance needed to tide you over initially and consider what your USP is in the marketplace. What’s the marketing plan? Have you the qualifications, credibility and profile to stand out from the crowd? If not, how are you going to get them?

Ultimately you can give it a go without a business plan, but it’s unlikely you’ll get very far, unless by luck or chance. You’ll also not achieve the profit margin you might have done with a bit of effort up front.

Don’t forget the formalities

Once you’ve reached the point where you’re ready to start work, there are further formalities to address.

Contracts and insurance are there for one purpose and that’s to protect you.

The purpose of terms and conditions that both the consultant and client sign is to set out the programme of work to be undertaken, as well as the desired outcomes to avoid confusion. They provide a safety net if you need to enforce your agreement (for example if the contract is terminated early for no good reason) and minimize the chance of a legal dispute.

If you’re pitching for a public sector contract, having professional liability and possibly employers’ and public liability insurance is likely to be a pre-requisite. Either way you’d be foolhardy to practise public relations without this cover.

You never know when you might receive a claim because a client has an issue with the work carried out - stressful enough whether or not you’re at fault. Having insurance in place gives you peace of mind you can secure compensation to cover the cost of any corrective work to be carried out.

Commit to being the best you can

Finally, my last piece of advice is if you want to be a public relations consultant is to commit to being the very best you can.

Membership of the two main industry bodies, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and PRCA might seem an added expense but the value you’ll receive will more than repay the investment. Both have a wealth of information for practitioners whatever stage of career you’re at and the CIPR offers free legal advice and discounts on member products and services like insurance.

What’s more, membership of one or both bodies demonstrates you are signed up to a Code of Conduct and shows your commitment to continuous professional development – two clear signals to employers that you’re well worth hiring.

This blog first appeared via the Hiscox website in November 2015.

Board Intelligence - what do you need to grow a business?

When running a business, there are certain things that can make a significant difference to the speed and trajectory of company growth. Here are a few of the top tips shared by Pippa Beg, director of Board Intelligence, at today's IoD Women in Business Conference:

- Build networks and surround yourself with people you trust and can seek advice from.

- Have blind faith and be positive where your ideas are being well received by those around you.

- Ensure your Board get the right stimulus and intelligence to perform well.

- Technology is key. Embrace new applications and platforms and develop your own where the need arises. Innovate.

- Challenge yourself to identify what you want your business to look like in ten years time and continually push yourself along the path to get there.



Diversity on the Board - how do we achieve it?

When it comes to diversity on the Board, there is still a long way to go before there is parity between the sexes. So how do we address this? Here are few of the take aways from the interactive panel session on this topic at the IoD Women in Business Conference today.

Taking part were: Melanie Eusebe, founder of the Black British Business Awards; Amanda Bolt, founder of Boardroom Mum; Amanda Mackenzie, chief marketing & communications officer at Aviva and Allyson Zimmermann, executive director of Catalyst Europe.

- Everyone in an organisation has a responsibility to challenge the status quo and ask why there aren't more women on the Board.

- Senior managers need to ensure there are strong female role models available for others to learn from.

- Quotas can be one way to create change but accountability measures are much more effective.

- Cultural change is required. This is not about expecting female leaders to be more masculine in personality trait and having more confidence, but about male management pushing harder for a better balance and recognising the benefits this brings.

- Women need to have stronger profit centre skills in order to be able to compete with their male counterparts.

- Inclusive leadership is required to get more out of the management team, particularly if there is only one woman on the Board who could feel like an outsider.

Apprentice winner Dr Leah Totton talks entrepreneurship

leahDr Leah Totton, founder of Dr Leah Clinics, hasn't rested on her laurels since winning the Apprentice.

Determined to launch a range of cosmetic surgery clinics that would set the standard for providing safe and affordable treatment on the high street, she's now well underway with making this a reality.

When asked, Leah says she knew she was an entrepreneur when she realised she had a vision, she believed she could create it and then actually made it happen.

But even with Sir Alan Sugar as a business partner and mentor, as well as the investment and publicity from winning the programme, Leah has faced the same issues as other business start ups.

Brokering supplier deals, sourcing premises, choosing the right branding and managing staff have all created the same headaches for her as they do for other owner-managers.

Despite having had to navigate all this, Leah says it's a great time to be a woman in business.

"As of 3 March 2014, in the FTSE100 women now account for 20.7% of overall board directorships, up from 17.3% in April 2013. While 9/10 start ups fail, male entrepreneurs face the same issues as female ones so there is little disparity there.

"My view is if you have a dream and can make it happen, go for it."