Growing a PR agency isn't easy -- but if you do it right, the rewards can be colossal.
I started my tech public relations agency, The Cutler Group, right out of college. PR offers a great opportunity for entrepreneurs who hope to represent companies and causes they believe in. Plus, starting your own business has its own rewards -- you can make decisions on your own terms, build a company from the ground up, become a mentor and have a role in a fast-paced and challenging field.
As The Cutler Group celebrates its fourth anniversary, I thought I'd share some insight into growing a PR agency from scratch. Here are my top five tips:
1. Grow organically and slowly. You can't force growth. The Cutler Group started with clients in many different industries -- we didn't become a tech PR agency until a client referred me to a tech startup. Although we started as a marketing and business development firm, we eventually pivoted to public relations and focused our niche on tech clients. Businesses naturally go through ebbs and flows. Don't try to force growth -- just let it happen slowly, robustly and sturdily.
2. Don't borrow money. Too many startups focus on snagging venture capital, but if you've got a sound business model, especially as a service company, you shouldn't need it. I had just a few hundred dollars to my name when I started The Cutler Group, but looking back, bootstrapping was the only way to go. Technology like Skype and online workspaces means you don't even need an office to start a successful PR firm -- working remotely is entirely feasible. You don't need a flashy desk to keep up appearances. Only grow when you have enough revenue to grow. Don't get drunk off venture capital and risk losing everything. Play on your playing field and grow when you feel ready.
3. Invest wisely in tools to stay organized. You can't do it all alone, and when the time comes, you'll need to outsource some of the trickier tasks. Invest in tools like accounting and task software, and don't be afraid to bring on extra hands to assist with project management. Specializing will help you to focus on whatever aspect of the business you're best at, whether that be landing new clients or seeking out new talent to grow your team.
4. Be extraordinarily selective about who you bring onto your team. Your team is what will help you rise to the top. Hiring employees is an investment that frees up your time to be productive and focus on tasks that mean the most to you. Don't just look at skills on a resume when hiring - your company culture matters, too. You want to ensure your team members are people whom you trust, share your vision and aren't just looking for a paycheck.
5. Provide excellent customer service. Companies like Zappos have made a name for themselves simply by focusing on the customer first, every time. Customer service can make or break any company, and it would be unwise to think of public relations as an exception. You want to offer clients your expertise and insight, but be flexible and receptive to any wants, needs and shortcomings. Show your clients you're willing to go above and beyond to secure their satisfaction.
Growing a PR agency organically takes time, attention to detail and a solid team. It can initially seem like a very challenging dive, and it is. But if you're willing to jump in, you'll learn to swim over time and many moments will be filled with reward.