10 years! To say that ROAM Communications has been in business for 10 years is nothing short of amazing. For those that know me, while I founded a city-wide fundraiser called Lemon-Aid with my siblings when I was young, I was never the entrepreneur. I was content with the steady job and pay check, climbing the corporate ladder at a steady clip.
But things change and you never know when one life decision changes the trajectory of the rest of your life. And that is how ROAM was created in July 2013.
There are countless people and businesses that have helped make ROAM Communications what it is today and I hope that I remind them on a regular basis of their impact. But for now, I’ve decided to reflect on the past decade and share 10 things that I’ve learned.
1. Leverage your network. Every piece of business ROAM has worked on has been through a referral, which I am eternally grateful for. It is a testament to our work but in order for that to happen we need to be able to demonstrate that quality. Which is why a strong network is critical. This network can be friends and family, past and present colleagues and clients, neighbors or even members of various associations and organizations you are a part of. This leads to the next point…
2. Make sure people know what you are doing. They can’t hire you if they don’t know you are for hire. As an introvert, it is difficult to engage with people let alone talk about yourself and toot your own horn. But if you can’t tell people what you are doing, how do you expect people to know about it? You don’t need to be braggadocious, just informative about what skills you have and what work you are capable of doing. You never know what it will result in or who might hear and need your help.
3. Focus on quality not quantity. This is true on several levels but I like to focus on the clients and the results. There is no point in spreading yourself too thin with too many clients, especially if you are solo. Figure out what is your own ideal range of clients so they all are getting quality time and attention. In turn, your quality of results (coverage, writing, etc) will be that much better. I’ve never been a fan of the coverage volume game so it is that much more important to secure coverage in the outlets that matter more to their particular audience. Quality over quantity every time.
4. Convince someone to take a bet on you – and make sure to take a bet on someone else. If two of my longstanding mentors and friends hadn’t welcomed (if not pulled!) me into the consulting game, I wouldn’t have known where to start. Working alongside them, helping them out during family leave and being able to test out the waters in that capacity provided a solid foundation and gave me the confidence that I could actually do this! So when the opportunity arose to pay it forward, there was no hesitation.
5. Give yourself runway and grace. One of the first things I tell people who are looking to start consulting is to prepare yourself for several months without a paycheck. Many people forget about that important detail that we get accustomed to when we are working for someone else. When you work for yourself, you have to make sure everything else is paid for and then you can pay yourself. And even then, the checks from clients (depending on your contact terms!) can take weeks if not months from the start of work. This could frustrate anyone so it is important to give yourself enough runway financially and emotionally to actually run the whole course. You won’t know if just a few weeks or even a few months if something will truly be successful. To that point…
6. Know that things won’t always head “up and to the right” – and that’s ok. You are going to hit bumps in the road. With consulting, there is no guaranteed paycheck. There will be months that are going to be crazy business, you’ll be working long hours and the income will be glorious. Then there will be months that are… crickets. Services businesses can be seasonal and impacted by the market. Prepare yourself, leverage the good times in order to brace for the slower times. Take advantage of the slower times to improve skills, spend more time with the family (or taking care of yourself!) and invest in the business. If you are good at what you do, things will reset and balance out over time.
7. Surround yourself with amazing people. I’ve been lucky to meet some of the best people in the business during my time at agency, in-house and during the last 10 years. They have provided me with guidance, helped me gut check when I’m unsure about things and partnered with me on projects when I’ve needed more bodies and brains. I have bi-weekly calls with 2 of my favorite consultants to brainstorm ways we can collaborate and expand our work together. I have a monthly call with a sister agency to see how we can leverage each other’s networks and resources. Just because you are consulting or freelancing doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.
8. When you hire, it is no longer just about you. As a business owner with employees, you can no longer make decisions based on your own preferences. You have paychecks to write, benefits to cover. Your employees are your priority; they are your responsibility.
9. Rising tides float all boats. Just because a lead comes your way doesn’t mean you need to keep it for yourself. It’s a win-win-win situation when you are able to refer work out to fellow consultants who have the bandwidth and expertise in a particular industry/area. The client will appreciate the quality results and have a positive experience; the colleague will appreciate the work; and you will be viewed as an excellent connector. Reciprocity will happen!
10. Never say never. Always stick to your values but you never know when there’s going to be an opportunity to test out new muscles if you don’t try. I wouldn’t have started consulting if I hadn’t gotten nudges from others. It was always an “I’ll never do that” for me. But despite the occasional long hours and the stressful nights every so often, I am SO glad I did.