PR start-up: Preparing and honing the path

By Mike Evans and Elizabeth Maclean, Herdwick Communications.

The pandemic has seen many of us re-examine our priorities looking to the future with a different perspective. Health and well-being have been top of the agenda for many of us. This may come in the form of exercise or healthy eating, but this assessment may also be related to our professional life and goals.

This happened to us, colleagues who became business partners. It has meant that we have left our longstanding and secure jobs to set up our own business. We had talked about it in the abstract “wouldn’t it be nice if we ran our own business”, but it never went beyond a light-hearted discussion providing a distraction to the daily toils.  Then the pandemic changed everything. Working from home, felt like we were managing our own business, creating a work ethos that respected the work-life balance, whilst producing some of our strongest work.

Returning to the office in a post-pandemic environment, made us recognise that our partnership had seen us deliver industry-leading work and we could do this better together if we started our own business.

Since the pandemic, there has been considerable growth in entrepreneurism.  The UK offers a favourable location for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and an internationally trusted framework to do business. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) reports that in 2021 SMEs account for three fifths of the employment and around half of the turnover in the UK private sector. This pragmatic structure for SMEs and that many had taken this route gave us further encouragement to become business-owners.

When the decision was made, we took a similar approach to how we manage communications planning which included brainstorming, research and scenario planning.  If you are thinking about setting up your own business here’s a checklist that saw us launch our own business in less than six months.

Talk about your vision

Spend time talking. This included talking about what we wanted to achieve, our vision for the consultancy, our values, what success looked like, whom we would like to advise and how we would launch the business.  This was time well-spent as it made the drafting of the business plan, the development of our offering and financial forecasting easier when we came to put pen to paper.

Know your competitor landscape

Spend time finding your niche and establish your market position.  Map your skills and strengths as well as document what you do not want to do. Look at your competitors’ offering as if you offer the same you will need to pre-dominantly compete on price. Build on your unique experience to differentiate yourself for the benefit of your clients and grow your market share.

Finding a name 

Of all the tasks we undertook the one we thought would be the simplest, and possibly the most fun, became the most time-consuming; this was choosing a name for the company. It is one of the most important as the whole business stems from this point.  We had over 50 suggestions tabled, varying from the names of battleships to Latin words. When choosing a name consider whether it is meaningful to your specialisation, can be easily pronounced or spelt and if the domain name is available.   It should be a task that is listed early in the timeline of deliverables as you cannot register the company or open a bank account without it.

Get perspective

We set up our own strategic communications consultancy as we want our clients to benefit from our experience as we impart our knowledge and insight to create compelling communications to enhance reputations.  Having worked together for more than 10 years we know that our partnership delivers stronger communications.  Even though we applied the way we approach our clients’ work to that of running our own business, we still spoke to colleagues and friends to gain perspective when the key decisions needed to be made. If you are doing this on your own this is even more crucial as you do need to be able to talk through any challenges you face. This can be someone you have worked with and there are several ‘angel investors and start ups’ that offer mentorship. However you approach it, seeking a mentor or getting a second opinion is invaluable to any new business owner, as it provides momentum and the reassurance that you are on the right path.

Get the right professional advice 

Take time to find the right advisors. There isn’t a better source of information to get you heading in the right direction than www.gov.uk. It provides a step-by-step guide, the options available to structure your business as well as the legal framework. Seek guidance from your professional association to further hone and shape your offering. The CIPR provides several invaluable guides, resources and articles providing insight from fellow practitioners available from www.cipr.co.uk.

At the end of the day, you will be laying the foundation for your business, so it is worth taking time to find the right advisers including accountants, bankers, insurers and lawyers.  Ask for recommendations from your network.  If after making your initial choice, you find that you aren’t getting the right counsel do not waste any further time and find another adviser.

Don’t forget your loved ones

Setting up and developing a business will consume time and thought. Undoubtedly, when you are self-employed and Friday comes around you will still have two more days of the working week to go! You do need your family to come on the journey so take time to keep them updated on your progress.

Whilst it can be daunting when you start out, setting up a business is logical and straightforward. Putting plans and structure in place are all good disciplines and should, without doubt, be done, but at the end of the day it may well be your gut feeling that drives you forward. Trust your own judgement.

On a personal note, every learning in this article has come from our own experience of becoming business owners as well as the advice we received from our friends and colleagues. Thanks for the wise words and encouragement. Here’s to the success of new post-pandemic start-ups!

 

Mike Evans and Elizabeth Maclean are Co-Managing Directors at Herdwick Communications

 

Image by andresr on iStock

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