(Photo from when I went to visit Jenn last year on her farm outside Dallas)
This month marks the tenth anniversary of owning my PR business. When my friend Jenn and I first started our company, it was 2008. (Who starts a business in a recession?! Apparently, we do.) I was freelancing as a publicist, and the newly-engaged Jenn was about to leave her high-profile job at an entertainment PR firm, as her fiancé’s job was relocating them to Phoenix. Her boss at the time would not let her continue working remotely. I’m not saying he was short-sighted. (Ok, I am!)—so the two of us made a split-second decision to partner and form our own PR company.
We met when we worked at PMK, one of the largest and most well-known entertainment firms in the country. For two years, all that separated her desk from mine was a thin cubical wall, covered in hot celebrity news. Although we didn’t know much about running a business, our PR training was similar. I look back now and think how fearless we were, but we were young, (some likely said dumb!) and we could afford to take the risk if it didn’t work out. While I have had my share of things not working out over the years, this story has a happy ending: Although Jenn gave up her partnership a few years ago, we remain the best of friends, and I have just rebranded my company as The Storied Group!
Of course, these years haven’t been without lessons. Scroll down for the ten things I have learned in ten years of owning a business and what I would tell my younger self.
1. GET SERIOUS: When we first started, we would often refer to our company as “our little business.” Hard lesson: People will take your business as seriously as you take it! As it became clear that this was a business I could sustain as a career, I started to treat it the way I wanted others to treat it, and I started behaving like a CEO.
2. YOU CAN PAY PEOPLE FOR THAT: When I lost Jenn as a partner, I also lost my confidant, my sounding board, and the only person on the planet who understood my business from the inside out. Hiring a business coach, who spoke my language, has been the best money I’ve ever spent.
3. CHARGE WHAT YOU’RE WORTH: It has taken me almost ten solid years to do this, but it has been the thing that has transformed my business more than anything else. It took three different coaches to tell me this, but it finally sunk in last time when I paid $2500 for the advice. It was worth every penny! People will often perceive your services or products to be more valuable if they have to pay a lot for them. It’s also impossible to grow a business and hire who you need to hire if you are undercharging.
4. GET COMFORTABLE RAISING RATES: Raising rates is scary—especially for long-time clients. I won’t pretend I don’t get anxiety every time I have to do it, but every business must do it at some point in order to survive. My hair stylist, my accountant, and my landlord are just a few of the people who have charged me more over the years. While I’m sure I wasn’t happy at the time, I understood and paid the increase. A good client will understand, too.
5. MASTER THE HIRING PROCESS: I have hired the wrong person before, and it could have been avoided had I been more diligent—and patient (my tragic flaw!). I felt in desperate need of an assistant, and I wanted it to work with this person so badly, but the person wasn’t qualified; in the end, I had to let her go. Now I never hire anyone without having them spend a day on the job as part of the interview process.
6. UNDERSTAND YOUR FINANCES: Ideally, you will have a great accountant and bookkeeper, and you will be using a good bookkeeping software. But no matter how many people are on your financial team, you should still know how much money you have, what’s going in, what’s going out, and how your company is doing from one month to the next. This is also a life lesson (thanks, Mom!).
6. SAVE, SAVE, SAVE: For the first few years in business, we cashed out every single month—didn’t save a penny! We were so lucky that we never found ourselves unable to pay bills or make payroll, but saving a percentage of money every month in a business savings account has been the best thing I’ve ever done. It helps me rest easy that I have a cushion if a client goes away unexpectedly.
8. CHEERLEADERS ARE YOUR FRIENDS: Your “cheerleaders” are the people in your life who have your back, who send you business, who believe in you, who will make introductions, and will make the journey of getting where you want to go a little bit easier. Go ahead. Make a list now; I’ll wait. It is not a one-way street, though. You must nurture these relationships, stay in contact, help them out, be someone who has their back.
9. JUST SAY NO: Learning to set boundaries is the only thing that will keep you sane. You must do it with clients, with colleagues, with employees, with friends. Become a master at saying no (nicely, of course). You’ll be amazed at how it will transform your life.
10. IT WILL ALL BE OK: It’s hard to own a business. Some months will be amazing, and other months you’ll wonder why in the world you bother waking up every morning. But most worst-case scenarios and business shattering moments only happen in our minds. Download the Headspace app, talk to your coach, do yoga, pray—whatever helps shift your perspective and focus on the present. That’s where the magic happens.
BONUS: If you’re not reaching your target audience or if your website is feeling dated, it might be time for a rebrand. Here is everything I learned from rebranding my business.