Lessons learned in my first year as an independent marketing consultant
By Karina Wiatros, lead strategist
At the end of 2020, as everyone prepared to bid adieu to arguably the worst global year in recent memory, I was making lemonade.
Metaphorical lemonade, of course.
I started a business.
Last week, I celebrated the first birthday of that business. I began working with my first client on December 7, 2020, and I filed the LLC for Windy Rose Content & PR on December 11, 2020.
I have learned a lot in the last year, but three key lessons really stand out. To make it with your own business, you need to go for it, you need to be ready to build authentic relationships, and you need to believe in yourself.
Lesson 1: At some point, you just have to jump
I had long considered being an independent consultant, but I was too cautious to leave a steady income and benefits. And once I had kids, transitioning with part-time freelance work went out the window. Owning my own content marketing or public relations consultancy remained a “someday” dream.
Then I lost my job. At five months pregnant. At the onset of a pandemic.
In one sense, I was stuck. I had come thiiiiis close to landing a new job – even despite my imminent need for maternity leave – and then the world shut down.
In a more important sense, I had an opportunity. I had time to revisit what about my career I love – what energizes me and leaves me excited both to do good work and to come home and be a loving and attentive wife and mother. I had time to think about what drains me, including in a leader and my clients. What kind of environment would bring out the best in me? What kinds of projects would light a fire in my belly?
After significant reflection and hours spent poring over job postings and agency websites, I realized it was now or never. If I wanted to do work I love in a way that is authentic to me – my experience, my education, my instinct – while bringing my whole self to the table and focusing on my greatest strengths, I needed to bet on myself. And if I didn’t do it now, when would I have another chance like this?
So I began planning. I’m a planner. I think most PR pros are. I thought through everything I knew I needed to and then talked to people smarter than I to see what was missing.
And then I had to do it.
I created a website, talked to an accountant, and looked into the process for filing an LLC and S-corp. I could have spent months getting everything set up just so. In fact, that was my intention. I was going to get my system in place, prepare a few blog posts, make invoice templates, set up spreadsheets, and put together a business development plan.
But as a planner, I knew it could take a while to fill my pipeline, so I announced my new business to my personal network. I figured it was a good idea to get feelers out, and I wanted to hold myself accountable to this decision, but I expected to have plenty of time for planning.
I had my first client by the end of the week. Before even completing my LLC. Before even deciding on an official business name.
And you know what? I’m glad it went that way. I had to trust my own experience that led me to go independent, and I had flexibility to adjust to the reality of being my own entity. I made some changes along the way, but I now have an official website, a business name, an LLC, a logo, productivity and profitability tracking, and a sense for my unique perspective on an industry that is malleable, with no real “right” way to approach any given situation.
You can tell yourself that you’re ready to go independent, and you can plan until there’s nothing left but figuring out your favorite brand of pen, but at some point, you just have to go for it. Trust that you’re ready to advise your clients and do solid work, and trust that you’ll learn the rest as you go.
Lesson 2: Networking > cold selling
What scared me most about starting my own business – even more than having to use what I learned in accounting class – was finding clients. I may be a marketer, but I’m not a saleswoman. I prefer making connections, telling stories, and meeting an audience’s needs over talking about myself, and I’m not exactly aggressive.
Honestly, the thought of having to “sell myself” was a big part of why I didn’t become an independent consultant sooner.
To my great relief and utter delight, I’ve found that I don’t need to be an aggressive salesperson to find clients. I can lean on what I enjoy most – making connections.
Almost every client I’ve worked with so far has resulted from a personal introduction or referral, and I’ve had some great conversations with prospects about their potential needs, whether I’d be a good fit to help them meet those needs, and when we should reconnect.
My past experiences at agencies had me nervous that I would always be worrying about filling my pipeline, and I sometimes felt uneasy about the approach taken to do so. Running my own – much smaller – business has allowed me to connect and focus more on solutions for others rather than selling myself.
Networking has also served as a fantastic way to learn from others. I’ve gotten to know more content marketing, public relations, and SEO professionals in the last year than in the last several years combined, and I’ve learned so much as a result! By focusing on building relationships rather than trying to gain new projects, I’ve learned a lot about the industry and about the current needs within the market.
And as a bonus, I’ve landed a few especially exciting projects!
Lesson 3: Confidence is the name of the game
Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned in my first year as an independent consultant is that confidence is everything. If you believe in your skillset enough to offer your services independently, then you should believe in yourself enough to trust the rate you’ve established and to trust the counsel you’re giving.
Setting a rate was a nerve-wracking task. I did as much research as I could on similar roles in the market, I considered my billable rate in past roles, I talked to other marketers, and I looked at what I needed to charge to both cover my expenses and justify opening Windy Rose Content & PR. Despite the time and care I put into this key decision, I allowed self-doubt to creep in. Would I lose potential clients if I charged too much? Would they value the work I was doing?
It took a few months and a couple of key conversations to detach my rate from my own measure of self-worth and see it as a business essential. In order to maintain a viable business, I need to charge a certain amount.
I also learned to trust what I bring to the table. As I said before, this industry is malleable. Popular tactics change quickly and often. Algorithms and consumer preferences shift. What worked before won’t necessarily work again. What works for another organization might not work for yours. There is no clear-cut “right” answer.
That’s where experience, strategy, and conviction come in. You can’t base recommendations or decisions off of what’s trending. It needs to make sense for the situation, the organization, the product or service, and the audience. And if you’re speaking from a strategic place, you should feel confident sharing your thoughts.
The bottom line
Starting a business can be scary, but it can be rewarding beyond measure. Having the opportunity to live my passion each day, in a way that’s true to me, has been worth every headache over numbers, workload, and deadlines. Windy Rose Content & PR got its footing in 2021. I can’t wait to see where we go in 2022.
Ready to run with us in 2022? Let’s chat about content strategy, social media, or media relations!