For more than 30 years, I worked at a large public relations and advertising firm, Runyon Saltzman & Einhorn. My name was added to the company about 20 years ago, when I became a partner. I had a great working relationship with Jean Runyon, who started the firm. I was making good money and was a major player bringing in business. So, why did I decide to leave and start my own firm with just one employee — me?
I’m not alone. The pandemic saw millions of workers rethinking their jobs and wanting to strike out on their own. The Census Bureau reported 5.4 million applications to start a new business in 2021. And most U.S. business owners started their own business.
There are many reasons to leave a big firm and start a smaller firm, and my experience fell into the most common reason — I wanted more control. And to be honest, I felt that I could do most of the work myself, without delegating it to layers of assistants. Plus, I can now set my own fee structure to attract more clients.
So what is it like transitioning from a big firm, with more than 40 employees, to a solo firm? There are pluses and minuses to both structures, but to be honest — it’s wonderful! It will be hard work but rewarding, because you’re the boss making all the decisions. The first thing you have to think about is what to name your firm. Many people, like me, use variations of their name. I chose JE Communications.
Before you start your own firm, make sure you have a good idea that clients will sign up with you. Your main clients should be larger corporations and businesses where you can use your talents and experience. Now that you’re free of the fee structure of your former firm, you can work with clients that really need your help. In my case, my new clients include Sunburst Projects, which provides HIV medication and care to people who need it. Or a company like PRIDE Industries, which helps people with disabilities find jobs. Or the Society of the Blind, which works with low vision and blind children and adults in 20 counties around the state. Or a company that helps foster youth complete college.
What are some of the challenges you’ll have to face? Maybe it will be scheduling business meetings, lunch dates and Zoom calls yourself. I no longer have someone to make my lunch reservations or schedule my appointments. Consequently, there have been times when I have double-booked myself or shown up to a restaurant where there is no reservation — or shown up to the wrong restaurant!
You may need to brush up on your writing skills because there’s no one to help you write proposals. At RSE, there was always someone who could clean up my proposals and make them look nice. That is no more. You’ll also have to create your own invoices and send them out on a monthly basis. I never used to have to worry about that, because at RSE we had a major accounting department that sent out our invoices exactly on the first of the month. Now, I have created a format myself, and every month, I send them from my own personal computer.
Lastly, you need to firmly establish a payment schedule and stick to it. I make sure that everyone pays me before the end of the month — if not, they get a call from me. I have made it a personal rule that collections are vital. If a client doesn’t pay me by the 31st of the month, they’re gone! That’s just the way it is.
Will you feel isolated working alone? Most people have had to adapt to that during the pandemic. But you’re probably already used to working with either the media, or connecting executives from major companies. Set up goals for how many clients you want to interact with each day or each week. I see four or five clients every day. Develop a list of favorite restaurants or coffee houses in all different areas, depending on the client, where it is quiet enough to talk and conduct work.
Now, the most important question — how has it worked out for me economically? Since I was well known in the community before I set out on my own, I had several clients who hired me due to my previous work. To succeed in business, especially if you’re going solo, your reputation is everything. Make sure people know who you are and get a list of references from people who will vouch for you before you strike out. Reach out to your network to spread the word about your new business. The good news is that your overhead will be practically zero, since I work out of my home and meet clients all over Northern California.
There is a certain peace that I feel since I started my own business. The only person I have to worry about is myself. If a client leaves, it’s nobody’s fault except my own. Actually, I think I’ve become better at what I do, and I enjoy it more, since it’s only me to blame — or thank!
Jane Einhorn was a former partner at Runyon Saltzman & Einhorn, now known as RSE, and now the owner of JE Communications.
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