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The pros and cons of going solo

The Pros and Cons of Going Solo

PR people are “fortunate.” When unemployed, they always have the option to become consultants. My firm has been asked recently to refer more consultants to clients than in years past.

Depending on any restrictive covenants that may bind an executive after leaving a firm, the erstwhile PR entrepreneur can start a consulting business with a client or two already in the pocket.

Consulting, however, is not for everyone. Consultants fall into two groups — those who are seeking consulting assignments until they find a new, full-time job, and those who view it as their full-time profession.

Depending on a consultant’s specialty or industry, fees can range anywhere from $150-$200 per hour for more experienced executives.

Those with less than 15 years of experience are commanding hourly fees in the range of $50-$125, depending on their areas of expertise.

Since the freelance and consulting world is not for the faint of heart, let’s take a look at some of the pluses and minuses.

Obviously, the benefits and/or the deficits of becoming a consultant will vary in degree in relation to the economic state of PR and your own personal perception.

For instance, if you would only consider consulting between jobs as a stop-gap measure, then you may view a minus item as a plus or vice-versa.

The pluses of consulting

1) Choose your clients. Say good-bye to that client who thinks its service or product demands most of your waking hours and can’t understand why Leslie Stahl hasn’t called yet. This is a chance to move into industries that always intrigued you, but time didn’t permit it.

2) Eliminate the hierarchy. You are on your own, unfettered by internal PR firm politics.

3) Dare to be creative. Release that pent-up creative monster within.

4) Welcome praise, accept blame. These are the big leagues. A major screw-up could cost you a client. But a program, strategy or big idea that scores could win you a referral to another client. It’s all about performance.

5) Develop new relationships with editors, reporters, clients and professional groups.

6) Challenge yourself. Whether consulting is something you aimed for or is a last resort, it will test your entrepreneurial mettle.

7) Time management control. Whether it’s the decision to get on a plane and visit a client, or pick up your kid from school, your time is finally your time. No more spending nights, weekends and holidays working just because your boss thinks you should. How you spend your time is completely in your control. Be as inflexible or flexible with your hours as you want.

The minuses of consulting

1) “The buck stops here.” You might be wishing you’d majored in accounting in college! Uncle Sam and your consulting business have become instant partners. And the IRS can be pretty demanding. The key to running any business is staying financially sound. Prepare for the inevitability of losing three of your biggest five accounts in the same week. It happens.

2) Running the show. Often consultants find themselves unwilling or unable to gather the necessary support they need to complete big programs and run their businesses at the same time. There are mailings to do, events to plan and oversee and speeches to write. Without employee administrative and vendor support, running a profitable consulting business can actually absorb all those hours and days you’ve allocated for leisurely pursuits.

3) Me, myself and I . One of the most common complaints I hear from consultants is the lack of professional human interaction. People, and PR people especially, are social animals. Occasionally, the solitude of consulting can turn into loneliness and a yearning for someone else’s voice or opinion. Being your own best motivator can lead to a decline in creativity and productivity.

4) Dealing with distractions. Every day presents new opportunities for undisciplined consultants to become distracted by non work-related matters. The temptation to shut down the computer and pick up the car keys can sometimes be too great for some people on a beautiful day. If you are an in-between-jobs consultant, the job of running your business can take you away from the business of looking for a new full-time job.

5) Overservicing. There is a tendency to spend more time overservicing demanding or large clients. They can call you at home since that’s where you’re working from.

6) Accept rejection. A consultant must also learn to accept the rejections he/she will undoubtedly experience from clients or prospects who prefer larger, more established agencies.

Making the switch from being the client to being the outside consultant can sometimes become a daunting mental transition.

As with any business, PR consulting involves risk. The rest is all up to you and your perception of yourself and your PR abilities.

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