Freelancer. Contractor. Consultant. Service provider. Outside vendor. Marketing supplier. I’ve been given all of these titles at one point or another during the last five years. I can also add start-up, entrepreneur and small business owner to the list. It’s been quite a ride so far – I’m blessed to have made it five years in business with only minor hiccups along the way, and now that Todd has joined me in the business (his one-year anniversary with Signature Style PR + Marketing is happening right now too), I can’t wait to see what’s next for the company!
But before you start thinking it’s been all sunshine and roses, let me assure you that it hasn’t been (I’m just a glass half full kind of gal and try my best to focus on the positive side of things whenever I can). I’ve had to learn some really hard lessons, including how to handle a client who’s not paying its bills on time or how to resign a client when the communications became inappropriate and borderline abusive. I have even been challenged, in taking Todd on as a business partner, with how to incorporate a new personality into existing business relationships – relationships that were built around my personality, my style, my habits. Although for the best, change can be uncomfortable and difficult.
Building this business has definitely been a growing experience for me, both personally and professionally – I am not the same person I was five years ago. I sometimes wonder if my family and friends even remember the other me, you know the one before I became Amber Reed, PR Consultant and Partner of Signature Style PR + Marketing. I’m sure my old co-workers wouldn’t recognize me anymore – at least not based on my work habits. Before starting this journey, I was extremely regimented on what time I showed up for work, what I set out to accomplish for the day, what time I left work and leaving work behind when I walked out the door. I rarely worked late or on the weekends, and I tried to not talk about work too much “after” hours. I loved the idea of having my work life and my personal life separate.
Now that I own my own business and am 100% responsible for earning my own income each month (no more bi-weekly paychecks based on an annual salary...and paid time off is a thing of the past), I have found that I have to work completely differently. I work whenever I can find the time because hours worked = income earned. I never turn off my work – I am constantly talking about my business with my family, my friends, new people I meet, etc., because I never know when or where I’m going to meet up with my next client. And, I absolutely never ever get through my to-do list because it’s always growing and changing depending on what’s going on that day.
So as I reflect on the last five years, I wanted to pass on some special nuggets about what I’ve learned that has made me who I am today and what my business has become…
- Never compromise your principles, beliefs and/or morals, not even for a paycheck. Back in the days when I worked for someone else, whether corporation or agency, I was asked from time to time to participate in activities that I did not believe in – I didn’t believe they were right for the client, and I definitely didn’t believe they were right for me. It made me angry and unhappy, and those feelings dominated my work personality. I became known for being stubborn and unyielding.
The truth was, I was trying to stand up for what I believed was right, but because I wasn’t in control of my own destiny (remember, I was working for someone else and had to follow their rules/ways of doing business), it came across all wrong. I often wish I could go back and redo a lot of those moments and apologize to some people I really offended and hurt. Someday, I will.
As a small business owner, I recognize that there is a definite struggle between doing what you believe is right and doing what will earn you a living. Clients often ask, and even expect, me to behave a certain way, such as giving them extra hours at reduced rates because hours worked = income earned, but the truth is, I can’t give into their wheeling and dealing because if I do it once, it’s expected every time – and I can’t set that precedence and be successful.
- Family comes first, no exceptions. When I first left my job and decided to venture out on my own, my husband and I had one rule and one rule only for the business – nothing could interfere with me making our family a priority. That meant that no matter what was going on with my clients, I would pick up my kids every day from daycare on time. And they would get my attention until they went to bed in the evening. It also was important to me that I had the time and flexibility to volunteer at my kids’ schools, participate in my husband’s work events and be there for my family/friends whenever they had special things going on in their lives.
Five years later, this is still my number one rule of business. It’s taken a lot of trial and error to figure out how to best serve my clients and my family, but in the end, family comes first, no exceptions. Want to test this out, call me during dinner time and see what happens (hint: You get my voicemail).
- Each and every one of my clients is unique and special, and I treat them that way. This is definitely not a one-size-fits-all business. Each of my clients has their needs, their own processes and their own best practices. I’ve made it a priority to learn all of these little nuances, and I have taken them on as if they are my own. For example, one of my biggest clients has a very particular (and lengthy) review and routing process. Many of the industry media I work with find it cumbersome and difficult to work within this client’s process and had almost given up on working with my client because of it.
I get it, I do. But my job isn’t to complain about it, it’s to figure it out and find a good working solution for everyone. So over the last five years, I’ve worked every day of every month to insert myself into the process, helping my clients make concessions whenever possible and helping my media friends build in the time my clients need to work together.
I have to brag, one of the things I’m the proudest of in the last five years is that my clients no longer feel the pressure from media who are trying to circumvent the process, and the media no longer feel the constraints of working within the process because I’ve smoothed out most of the wrinkles. Is it perfect? No. Is it better than ever before? You bet!
- It’s business, and it’s personal. Because the majority of my clients have been with me since day one, I am very entrenched in their businesses. I know a lot about them, professionally and personally, and I appreciate them in the same way I feel about my family and friends. I honestly think that’s why most of them are still with me – I’m a good PR practitioner, but so are a lot of folks – I think what sets me apart from the competition is that I know about their business, I know about their products, I know about their customers and most importantly, I know about them. I’ll advocate for them. I’ll defend them. I’ll boast and brag about them. In the end, I’m their number one fan, just like I am with my own kids. They don’t pay me to care about them, I do it because I want to.
I have to admit, when someone told me “Congratulations” the other day on reaching the 5-year milestone, my first reaction was to say, “Thanks, but it’s no big deal.” But the reality is, it IS a big deal and should be celebrated.
So, here it goes…
Thank you to everyone who’s been part of this amazing journey – my family, my friends, my business partner and his family, my clients, my media friends and my mentors. I could have never made it to this point without you. Cheers!
And to all those people Todd and I haven’t worked with yet (or even met yet), get ready because our business is the real deal, and we can’t wait to prove it to you!