How to Grow Your Solo PR Biz

PRSA International Conference 2010Today I sat in on a pretty amazing session at the PRSA International Conference which started today in Washington. Heathere-Evans Keenan, Founder and CEO of the Arlington, Virginia-based Keenan PR talked about how she’s used the virtual model to grow her PR firm. By virtual model, Keenan means she’s used senior talent across the country to go after large contracts and compete with larger firms.

“I’m amazed at how apologetic most small firms are,” Keenan said. “When going into meetings small firms or solo practitioners might sheepishly say, ‘I’m kind of a virtual firm.’ or “It’s just me and a few colleagues…’ But there’s no way that people will feel confident about you if you don’t believe in yourself first.”

It’s not news to me that smaller firms are apologetic. They don’t have the large overhead that the bigger boys do, but they also don’t often have the budgets that the big shots have to invest in software, training, conferences, etc. Most if not all PR service companies target their products (pricewise) to the larger agencies and not solo practitioners, so it’s easy to feel overlooked. But I digress.

Keenan offered five steps to growing your solo PR business:

1. Identify your services range. You may be a generalist but you may be a specialist. In any event, know what you are. Identify exactly what services you are going to offer your clients. Around the 3-4 year mark, Keenan says her business was growing and clients began wanting more services. She started out offering general media and investor relations but eventually had to grow her service offerings which meant bringing on strategic partners who could fill in where she was lacking. Instead of hiring employees directly, she employed the virtual model-finding strong practitioners who could could offer a diverse range of services.

2. Cultivate preferred partners and subcontractors. If you’re looking to expand your business in a specific market, industry or city you have to develop strong partnerships with other pros who can do the things you can’t or can do them when and where you can not. It’s always good to have great subcontractors that you have working relationships with-people you really like, whose work you can count and whose business ethics you can trust. Whether or not that means partnering directly or subcontracting, you need to develop alliances and when you can spread your network across the country or even the globe, your business opportunities will only multiply.

3. Market and Position Your Business. You have to figure out how to market your business. This means figuring out exactly what you do, who you do it for, your unique value proposition. You must package your services and what you charge.

4. Expand into Another Industry. Keenan started out in tech and telecom and moved into healthcare, financial services and associations. This has only meant growth growth and more growth for her firm.

5. Find ways to productize what you already do. Are you a writer? Host a writing workshop. Expert media trainer? Host media trainings. Keenan hosts trainings and fetches $4500/day.

“Small firms are winning viable business,” Keenan says. “Against the Ketchums, and against the Edelmans.”

So chew on that.

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