5 Questions Before Going From Agency to Solo

Want to open your own PR shop after working for an agency? There's a lot to think about and plan in the process.

Andrew Blum
Andrew Blum

It can be an exciting and challenging switch with freedom thrown in. But you need to plan well in advance of pulling the plug on agency life.

Yes, it's a work/life balance choice where you can be your own boss and have more leeway in choosing clients. However, it's still a business. And there are some important questions you need to ask before striking out on your own.

  • What is your business plan? What kind of solo agency do you want to run? What kinds of clients will you look for? What industries? Consumer? Corporate? Professional and financial services? Non-profit?

    Clients are the name of the game. As a solo shop, they are more important than ever. You need to find them, attract and keep them. You may not be able to take clients with you, unless you brought them to the agency you are leaving in the first place. Some may want to leave with you.

    You need to figure out your industry sweet spot and the kind of PR you can best deliver. And whether you find the client on your own or through a referral, the first question should be what are the client's PR goals and needs. And can you deliver as a solo agency?

    Along with that, you need to decide which specific PR and communications services you will provide. General PR? Social Media? Content marketing? Crisis PR? Media Training? And what will your rates be and what are they are based on? Hourly, project and retainer fees may be required by different clients so you need to calculate all of them from day one.

  • What is the business culture you want to embrace? Do you want to come across as a start-up and appear informal? Or do you want to be a miniature corporate version of the agency you are leaving? As part of this, you ought to figure out your workspace. Will it be a traditional office location, or one of those shared offices that have become popular? Or will you be working out of a home office?
  • What is your budget? Not only will you need to figure out your office and associated costs, but when you go solo you are responsible for the costs of all the tools of PR vendors and publication subscriptions that your previous agency paid for. How many will you need at first and how will you pay for them or bill clients for them?
  • What will be your administrative responsibilities? These include a number of tasks that were taken care of by your previous agency while you got your salary and benefits. There is invoicing, computer and phone equipment (no help desk), accounting, taxes and insurance (health and general liability). These were things you didn't think of as an employee; as an owner of a one-person shop, you will be reminded of them frequently.
  • And what of marketing and business development? How can you do PR servicing existing clients at the same time as marketing for others? Try to make as many clients as you can be long-term clients under contract. Otherwise you will be almost constantly on the lookout for new clients.

    Remember this is your brand. So have all your tools ready: business cards, all online channels where clients can find you or look at the services you offer, write for PR and vertical publications and speak at conferences. This gets your name and your brand out there.

After you have been at the solo business for a while, you might consider hiring someone to help you market if that is feasible.

So as you can see, going solo may be what you want for a variety of reasons, but plan it out and work at it as you go along. It's not for faint of heart but it can be rewarding and a lot fun.

Andrew Blum is a PR consultant and media trainer and principal of AJB Communications. He has directed PR for professional services and financial services firms, NGOs, agencies and other clients. As a PR executive, and formerly as a journalist, he has been involved on both sides of the media aisle in some of the most media intensive crises of the past 25 years. Contact him at ablum@ajbcomms.com or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms