How to Subcontract Your Way to Success

careerchangesign_changecareersA lot of you are transitioning from journalism or another industry to public relations, and are wondering how to gain the experience that will help you land your next gig. Some of you have volunteered as much as you can afford to and need to start bringing in the money while you continue to gain experience.

Subcontracting, or offering a specific service or skill on a project under another person/company’s contract,  is a great way to break into the industry and make money without the added responsibility of being in charge. You may not be ready for prime time but that doesn’t mean you can’t work under someone who is.

So how do you go about subcontracting? Where do you find projects and how do you convince someone to hire you? If you’re a recent graduate who’s looking to get a PR gig, or a mid-career professional who wants to make the leap over from another industry, here are some tips to guide you.

Take Stock. Identify your strengths as well as your weaknesses.  I recently discovered that I’m not really the party planner in terms of making an event look visually beautiful. I am gifted however, with event scripting and planning how an event will flow from moment to moment. So if I got a lead on an event planning project, I would not bill myself as the expert in floral arrangements or banners. But remarks? Run of show? I’m your girl.

My point is, take stock of what you’re really good at, and use that to get your foot in the door. During your subcontracting gig, you’ll invariably learn new skills to add to your repertoire.  Build your skill set with each project so each time you approach someone, you’ll have more and more services to offer.

Create a Portfolio. I  recommend creating a  portfolio and posting it online, and adding the hyperlink to your e-mail signature.  But this document should also come in an easy to email format (preferably an easy to e-mail pdf).  When you’re pitching yourself, you will inevitably hear the words “Send me something,” so  be ready with samples of your best work. If you’re a great writer, have your best clips handy. If you’re a graphic designer, your most beautiful creations. If you’re an event planner, create a portfolio that visually captures the essence of your most memorable events. Done a little media relations? Mock up a case study or two that includes your pitch and resulting coverage.

Analyze the News for Buried Leads-Pun Intended. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it bears repeating anyway.  You should always read the paper and follow the business section, your town’s business journal and any industry publications that pertain to you.  Look for interesting events, developments and projects that will be coming down the pipeline in the coming months.  Do some digging to find out who is doing the PR for a particular project so that you can approach them with your portfolio. Network With a Purpose. Go to events where your dream clients circulate and have your business card in hand and your elevator pitch ready.  You may have to pay a fee to gain entrance to a PRSA, IABC, Board of Trade or Chamber of Commerce event, but that’s where the people who have projects are.

Don’t Discount the Small Fish. Identify small but reputable firms and boutique agencies that work on projects you like.  Boutique agencies rarely employ large full-time staffs, so freelancers and subcontractors are often needed to fill in the gaps.  Likewise, a small firm may have the know-how to pitch a great proposal, but may lack the manpower to deliver everything in-house. That’s where you come in.  You allow them to tackle larger projects, without the hassle of hiring full-time, permanent staff.

Know the In-House Situation. Approach non-profits and ask if the communications department could use a hand. Even when an organization has a dedicated communications staff, that staff is often overwhelmed and in need of extra help.  Once you find a non-profit that you’d like to work with, identify their busy seasons and mark your calendar.  Most non-profits have 1-3 big events each year-dinners, galas, conferences, fundraising events, etc. that are labor intensive. They may need help on their big events, or, they may need someone to handle the routine day-to-day PR tasks while their full-time staff is in event-mode.

Approach a few months before the busy season starts (you can find out about an organization’s calendar by analyzing their Web site and past events). Send a note of introduction, offer to send your portfolio and follow up a week or so later with a phone call.

Even if you don’t get an immediate yes, if your portfolio shines, you’ll eventually get some traction.  Remember, as a subcontractor, your goal isn’t necessarily to get hired on the spot. You want to get your portfolio in the right hands and filed away so that when your specific skill set is needed, you’ll be the first person to get a phone call.

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