Saturday, December 25, 2004

Barnett's Top Ten Ideas for Transitioning From A Real Job to Gainful Self-Unemployment in PR

By Ned Barnett
(c) 2004

The good thing about starting a small side business is that you can do that and still look for a job - and once you get the job, if you negotiate the terms of your job properly, you can probably still keep working with your clients.

I got my first free-lance clients in 1975/76, and kept getting a few clients (with permission) even while working for several employers - and that process continued for a decade, until I started my own first business in '85. When that business didn't quite work out as I'd hoped (in a nutshell, my partner robbed me blind), I got back on the job circuit, but still kept (with permission) a single client. Then, over the next decade and a half, I kept bouncing between job and self-employment (I'd go back to my business when the job went away), until finally, after 9/11/2001 and the "last great layoff," I decided I was functionally unemployable. However, hope sprining eternal, I occasionally still try for a job (but at 53, nobody will talk to me, let alone hire me), so I keep plugging away at the self-employment thing. And after two decades of trying to make it work, I think I've finally found the secret to success. Perserverence!

A couple of suggestions - actually, my "Top Ten" ideas for folks making the transition to this freelance/small shop business thing:

Barnett's Top Ten Ideas for
Transitioning From A Real Job to Gainful Self-Unemployment in PR

1. Always get your money up front. If you work on the basis of being paid later, expect to have to fight tooth and toenail to get paid at all, and expect it to be late, and expect to get it only after much grief. This won't always happen, but it will happen often enough to make you wish you'd paid attention to me. Unless you get paid, in full and up front, expect to get stiffed at least some of the time. Trust me on this - the voice of experience now going on 30 years of doing this kind of work, and of being stiffed occasionally (OK, I'm a trusting soul and a slow learner). In one two-year stint of self-employment in South Florida, I had a 100% record - every client stiffed me, at least once, for sums ranging from under $200 to greater than $15,000. Ouch. As an adjunct to this, wait until the check clears before you start (as I write this, I'm still trying to collect on a bad check from a client I've worked with for a dozen years).

2. Put together a rate sheet, along with a rationale for why you're billing up front. I've attached mine as another blog at: - feel free to steal from it, or copy it, or ignore it. It's free - and worth every damned cent you'll ever pay for it.

3. Create a website. Mine is a good example, though it's damned long (I like to write, and I have a lot to say - and after more than 30 years of freelancing and gainful self-unemployment, I've got expertise in a lot of areas). But long as it is, the website was not expensive - simply because it's got no bells or whistles. You probably have the skills to create a website, or know somebody who does - but if not, I'll be glad to refer you to my webmaster, who hangs the moon as far as I'm concerned.

4. Blog - but do it with a difference! I don't use blogs as a way of venting ideas of the moment - I use them to publish the kinds of articles that might be printed in trade journals (in fact, some of them have previously been printed in just that way). You can go to my Barnett on PR and Barnett on Marketing blogs and see what I mean. Some of my older, pre-election blogs were political (but always tied to PR), but many are just about PR or Marketing. Some are about experiences I've had. Some are about what Martha Stewart and the U. of Colorado should have done to avoid disaster. Give advice, show your stuff, etc. The point is this - don't use blogs to vent emotions or trial-balloon ideas - use them to publish well-considered PR and marketing concepts that will impress others (especially prospective clients or employers), and use them when searching for new business. I have, and frankly, I'm amazed at how well this has worked for me.

5. Network. Locally, of course, but also on every PR listserv you can get on. Get to know people there, then let them know (subtly or blatantly) that you freelance. Lots of my work is as a subcontractor for other agencies that - in other cases - might have been my competitors. Two of my largest and steadiest clients are other agencies. But go beyond the listservs - also go to the chamber of commerce, the local PR and Ad and Marketing clubs (the main ones and ones specializing in niche markets). Get involved with a local college PR program - guest lecturer, whatever. More on this below (see number 10): volunteer for PR work at high-viz charities (but make sure that the Board knows what you're doing - don't let the in-house PR guy or gal grab credit for your work). Bottom line: Get your name known.

6. Promote yourself as a successful PR practitioner. Send out press releases on everything you do (I wish I'd follow my own advice on that more often). Announce new clients, successful campaigns - even new blogs or trade-journal articles. And post all the press releases on your website press room.

7. Promote yourself as a source. Develop a list of media types and blast email them with news story ideas, etc. Recently I gave a story to Fox News - they asked me my "angle" and I just told them that I thought they'd be interested ... that I had no linkage to the story, except a desire to help. They liked that. But putting out ideas also pays off - tomorrow (as I write this) I'm going to be on Fred Imus's show (Don's brother in Tucson) for 30 minutes talking about public policy PR - all because they liked an idea I pitched them (and dozens of other radio producers). I do maybe four or five interviews a week, and some of them pay off with leads, contacts, maybe even clients - the rest are just fun, and help me feel like I'm really doing something, even when I'm between clients.

8. Find ways of contributing to PR trade publications. Right now, I'm on the advisory board of PR-News (just because I asked, after contributing to their publication more than a few times), and last week, I gave an in-depth interview to PR Week. Don't know if it helps a lot, but it can't hurt - and one interview I gave last summer for Book Marketing Update got me a client, so it does help. Remember, there are a few major PR trades, but literally hundreds of niche-market PR trades (including association journals) - many of them are starved for GREAT copy on focused PR issues. So get the lists - all you can - and start pitching ideas.

9. Speak out - in public. Get on the agenda to provide programs to civic clubs, fraternal organizations, business groups, etc. Put together compelling talk ideas that link your expertise in PR to their specific focus - and when you're there, speaking, network again. Collect business cards (offer them a deal, or have a drawing, or something).

10. Charity organizations - get involved. I once picked up a client by offering a PR plan in a raffle my son's school held as a fund-raising program. A local printer bid $500 for the plan (worth, as I delivered it, about $1,500 - but I had the time, so it cost me nothing), then he retained me to fulfill the plan. It was a sweat deal. But beyond that, offer your services to local groups. Two years of volunteering for the United Way got me two clients the following year, and staffing a Business-Labor-Healthcare Coalition not only got me a client, but it got me a sweet job offer, too. On the other hand, the last time I was hiring, I was overwhelmed with over-qualified candidates, and couldn't decide. Then I went to a local charity event and saw one of the candidates "working" the media for the event (as a volunteer). I liked what I saw, and the next day he was on the payroll. So it can work for freelancing and job development, too.

That's it - ten solid tips for those just out of the job market and into the exciting life of self-unemployment. I hope you enjoy it - and if you have any questions, drop me a line.