Since I started blogging, I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends and even family think it’s what I do for a living full-time. (Probably because I don’t post any pictures of me working in my yoga pants from my home office on Instagram.) And while running a blog can be a business for some people, I actually practice it as a hobby and am a full-time freelance communications consultant. Most of you are probably thinking to yourself, “Well, what the hell does that mean?”
This basically translates to: I work for myself. I am my own business. Words and relationships are my thing.
Not working a corporate 9-to-5 in an office for any one particular company and still making a living seems to confuse people but then when I tell my story I get a lot more, “How can I do that?” responses than the puzzled faces the conversation started with. So for today’s post, I thought it’d be fun to share an inside look into my professional life and how I run my own consulting business.
What is a communications consultant?
A communications consultant is quite frankly, a term I came up with to give myself a professional title. The title isn’t necessarily important and I’ve changed it a few times until this one stuck. Some people in my field may go by: Publicist, Public Relations Freelancer, Communications Strategist, etc. It all depends on your preference and if you focus on a particular area of communications. I am a generalist which means I’m skilled in various fields within my profession, but to put it in layman terms, I help brands communicate their message to people through different forms of media. Some of the types of projects I’ve worked on include preparing media strategies for product launches, pitching stories to media publications for coverage, preparing corporate leaders with skills to rock a media interview, running social media accounts for brands looking to grow their online presence, identifying celebrities and influencers as brand spokespeople, and the list can go on and on.
As a consultant, or “freelancer,” I’m responsible for knowing my professional value and being able to position that value to brands looking for extra help. Often times I’ve won work by presenting the need for my services to a potential client that wasn’t even looking for a consultant to begin with. A lot of this skill was taught from my time at an agency. So I want to be transparent that there are times when I may not have work lined up for weeks and then there are times when the work is piled up so high, I don’t do anything but work. It’s always a challenge but the benefits, at least for me, are well worth it. I get to work from home and spend time with my family and if you follow me on Snapchat, you know I get to work with my fur babes close by. I have complete control over my schedule and can base my life around my meetings and work load. If I want to wake up at 6 a.m. and start working so I can end my day early and go to a barre class, I can do that. If I want to work into the night, I can do that, too.
My view most days. These two love to cuddle up in the chair beside my desk and watch the birds and squirrels that live in the tree outside my office window.
Why did you start consulting?
I started consulting almost three years ago after Sam took on a role here in Florida. I was working for an LA agency managing some pretty big accounts and was fortunate enough to work with leaders who wanted to keep me on, even if that meant working from another state. (This was also the first time I truly felt like I could measure my value professionally, a topic I could spend hours discussing.) I started by continuing to work full time for several months, managing the same client load which quickly became overwhelming with the time difference and cross-country flights several times a month. I decided to begin freelancing and continued to manage one to two clients with this agency and additionally started bringing on my own clientele. The first year was definitely the most difficult but mainly because I was figuring everything out, like: What’s my hourly rate? How many clients/hours do I need to work to survive? Do I want to take on anything that comes my way or be selective? For that last question, I quickly learned that being selective was a luxury. And while it took some time, I eventually made my way there. No matter what level you are on professionally, if you decide to go out on your own the first year will be the most difficult.
What’s a normal day look like for you?
A normal day is far from normal for me and it changes all the time. Most days I wake up and instantly check my email from bed. I currently have a European client that is several hours ahead of me so when I wake up I usually have an idea of what my day might look like depending on what’s waiting for me in my inbox. Right now my days consist of a lot of strategy development, writing, research and media relations. But I’ve had projects that have taken me on the road, managing events or wrangling press at conventions and launch events.
One element that has stayed constant throughout my career is working on deadline. I attribute my time management skills not to agency life but actually to my time as what we call a “one-man reporter.” I was the on-air talent, producer, cameraman and editor for my stories. (Are you starting to put together how blogging became a hobby of mine?) Working with press is a big part of my day-to-day so you can see how transitioning to public relations came so naturally.
How do you get clients?
Acquiring new and returning clients all comes back to one defining factor: People like working with me. When aspiring consultants reach out to me for advice, the first thing I ask them is, “How’s your network?” If people don’t like working with you, why would they hire you? This isn’t me tooting my own horn, it’s just how this business works. People need to enjoy working with you. They need to know they’ll get their money’s worth from their investment. They need to know you can deliver results better than anyone else can. That’s the consultant’s blessing and curse. You’re hired because you are an expert and if you ever fail to deliver what you promise, there’s no slap on the wrist and getting another shot like full-time employees. Instead, you lose the client and possibly even the relationship.
I practice positivity daily. Heck, it’s even in the name of my blog. Ever since I made the cognitive effort to bring happiness to my everyday, including my work, my life and career have progressed to heights I never thought I’d reach at this point in my life. And I truly believe it’s what keeps the work coming in.
How do you get paid?
This is always the golden question. Getting paid as a freelancer can sometimes be a hassle. Every company has a different method for distributing payment and sometimes people can feel uncomfortable talking about money. But let me tell you this: As soon as you become a consultant, that discomfort needs to disappear. Once you work out your budget for a project with a new client (whether it’s a monthly retainer, hourly work or lump sum), you need to also discuss how payment will be distributed. Have this conversation when you’re working out the contract and make sure it’s written into your scope of work. If a company doesn’t have a system in place for how they pay consultants, I typically issue a monthly invoice and ask to be paid within 14 days. I’ve had some companies take two months to process payment after the invoice – that’s three months after the works been done! And yes, there are some people who will try to get away without paying you. I’ve only had this happen once but it literally took me six months to get paid and it was from a reputable company. It comes down to staying persistent and firm. You did the work. You get paid.
Another thing to consider is: How long can you survive without being paid? When starting out on your own, you may go a month or more without being paid by clients – even if you have work lined up right out of the gate. There is no bi-weekly paycheck magically appearing in your back account so ask yourself if you can live without payments for a couple of months. Work up your savings account and have a contingency budget you can tap into in case a client is ever late to pay. Managing your finances is a big part of running your own business and something you should take seriously from the start before making the switch to consulting.
This is real life. I work in yoga pants and normally go bra free (another work-from-home perk!). I thought about getting dolled up for this post but wanted to show you what a real, typical day for me looks like. While I love getting dressed up and sharing a look into my personal style, it is not part of my everyday. In fact, I often tell people that I started blogging so I had more motivation to get out of yoga pants. 🙂
To sum up the big picture, consulting takes a lot of work and a lot of confidence. You have to understand the value of your skills, be able to communicate the need for them to businesses and learn how to balance your relationships with clients to keep them coming back. If you ever find yourself considering becoming a consultant in your respective field, I encourage you to visualize your first year and plan out all of the obstacles you’d need to conquer to be successful. While it takes a lot of work and at times, causes a lot of stress, for me, it is the best move I’ve ever made in both my professional career and personal life.
Still have questions about consulting? I’m happy to talk with you! Leave a comment below or shoot me an email at email@example.com.