By Cyrus Afzali
We’ve all heard the relatively miserable stats on how many entrepreneurs succeed at their ventures. With any type of business, success requires a meticulous approach in regard to building the business from the ground up.
Everyone knows they should have a formalized new business process, just as everyone knows a budget and a million other things are good ideas too. But all too often, a lack of process in the new business arena is responsible for other shortcomings or failures that could have been avoided.
The reason this occurs is simple: most entrepreneurs would say a new business needs as much money as possible coming in, which means spreading a wide net. While this may be theoretically true, this method would cause a fledgling independent PR pro, for example, to fall short of goals. This method means you’re chasing everything under the sun you can find; there’s little attention paid to whether it’s the right fit, which dictates whether you’ll successfully serve the client. This method also often leads to low–budget and low–margin projects to gain traction in the short term, while your resources would have been better used going after clients and projects to promote long term stability.
Differentiate Yourself From The Competition
To avoid this entrepreneurial trap, launch your business with a focus and method that clearly differentiates you from the competition. Don’t try to be all things to all people. To use an example from outside the world of public relations, say you need an attorney. You might first turn to someone like the attorney who handled the closing process when you bought a home. While that attorney is almost certainly qualified in their specialization, they might not be best suited for your current needs.
Likewise, a PR practitioner who’s spent their entire career focused on consumer products shouldn’t be chasing accounts dealing with complicated financial products and services. Starting your practice with a core focus and mission will keep you focused on what you know. This increases the likelihood that you’ll have happy clients, and build a clear brand.
Customize Your Pitch
Once you choose one or a few areas to focus on, start thinking about identifying your ideal clients. From there, determine how your experience aligns with what they might want from you and how you can perfectly illustrate to the prospective client that your expertise is exactly what they’re looking for. This leads into one critical piece of advice: Never, ever go the generic route. And don’t take shortcuts, either. People make this mistake all the time: for example, job seekers won’t truly customize cover letters and will instead just replace elements like the prospective employer’s name. A seasoned professional can tell when this is done and it won’t get you very far; in fact, it’s a surefire way to get tossed into the “round file.
A much better strategy is to customize each pitch letter to give specific details on the work you’ve done and the clients you’ve served. Elaborate on how that experience makes you a good fit for the client you’re chasing. Backing your claims up with work samples, such as media placements and testimonials from past clients will be even more effective. Taking these steps shows focus and the ability to put together clear, concise messages to market yourself and potential clients. It also shows that you’ve taken a keen interest in putting together a proposal and deserve careful consideration.
Getting Off the Ground
Obviously, this process isn’t likely going to happen overnight. In the meantime, it’s almost a certainty that in a new business you’ll take on some work that isn’t exactly what you want, but it’s in the name of building a long term practice that better matches your goals. In addition to being prepared for ebbs and flows as your practice takes off, the best strategy is to realize and develop your core competencies. You may want to hire a business coach or identify a person who can serve as a mentor. Either strategy can be an effective way in getting you to stay focused on operating optimally for the long term.
In addition to seeking out counsel on identifying and going after suitable clients, a coach or mentor can help you put in place systems and processes, such as proper budgeting, that will go a long way toward making sure that you not only have enough money for today, but that you will have enough money to grow the business tomorrow. A successful business will always require continual reinvestment; the key is to make sure that money is spent is wisely and maximizes the chances for solid returns.
Finally, as you grow, do all you can to market yourself. One of the key metrics I’ve always used in judging the competence and success of any consultant is how well they market themselves. Someone who’s done a good job of marketing their business has proven their ability to put together unique messages that showcase why they’re worthy of attention. Over the long haul, that goes a long way toward building a brand. With any luck, you’ll have that greatest of all problems; you’ll have so much work that you’ll either have to expand or become selective and turn away anything that’s not the perfect fit.
Cyrus Afzali is president of Astoria Communications, a suburban New York City-based PR consultancy. His clients include law firms, legal organizations, technology companies and several non-profit organizations. Before opening his PR consultancy in 2004, Afzali worked at several New York agencies as an editor and as a writer at several media outlets, ranging from small, daily newspapers to CNN Financial News