Part II- Tips: Transitioning From Agency to Contract

After I posted the Tips article based on lessons I learned a few more came to mind so I thought I’d share those as well. I appreciate the feedback and encourage anyone with extra insights to please add to the discussion in the comments.

1. Expand your cell plan. When I listed the items you’d need (laptop, internet, database) I left out the most obvious- the cell phone. Get a good plan, negotiate down the rate because you’re going to need those minutes.

2. If working on a longer term project, get a company email. I did this with every client I had. It made it much easier to make headway with media and other constituents instead of coming from addy. And, when you’re done with the company they can just forward the email on to someone else within the company until it’s phased out.

3. If you’re going to sign up a client for a year and the first few months trial proves successful, get the PR@ address to forward to you as well as anyone else relevant in the company so you can be first line of defense and counsel for incoming requests.

4. I usually give a break on price for an on-going retainer for one-year or 6 month intervals. I would take a base rate of a set amount per hour and then estimate the hours per week/month it would take to execute the agreed upon schedule of activities. Knowing I would work more than those allotted hours I would then calculate in a price break, but still a good sized retainer.

For example: One client I worked with was budgeted for 60 hours a month or 15 hours a week on average. I knew I would really work more like 80 a month or 20 hours a week. I took a base hourly rate of $100/hr x 80 and then gave them a break for $6,000 a month. If I was launching something and it required more dedicated time certain months would be at a higher charge. Obviously this is a personal decision on how you price your services as I could have charged $250 a hour with fewer clients, but this is what I did and eventually took on three clients and at the highest point pulled in $22,000 one month but averaged around $12,000-$15,000. Not too shabby. And this was still while being able to have a flexible schedule to make those 9am trainer sessions at my gym.

5. When evaluating whether to take on a client get a thorough overview of what you have to work with. To be successful, it helps to have good solid material. You don’t want to promote vaporware, do you? What is the CEO’s prior experience? How is the team dynamic? What is the product roadmap and vision? How do they communicate with each other? How viable is the solution to the market? How’s the funding and the business model? The last thing you need is a CEO full of hot air who isn’t able to lead his team or create an environment that they (and you) will be successful in. Make sure there is a lot of “there” there.

6. Don’t underestimate the power of your strategic counsel. For super strapped companies even two hours of your feedback on what they should be doing to get where they want to go is very valuable and well worth the $100-$200 a hour you might decide to charge. And, it could turn into a lead for you down the road when some cash comes in. This kind of counsel can be focused on product positioning, corporate messaging, media strategy, social web strategy, events, etc.

7. If you’ve got some time to kill, give back. Go volunteer to guest lecture at the local community colleges. I used to visit a local college in the bay area twice a year to talk to the students about what it was like to work at a PR agency. I brought copies of ed cal’s, tradeshow calendars, media lists, etc. I gave them real honest insight into what it was like, what they would learn and what companies hired agencies for. It was always engaging and the students appreciated learning practical applications and examples of PR. Something you just can’t comprehend when your definition of PR is shaped only by textbooks and class lectures.

There you go. A total of 17 tips gleaned from my experience as a contractor fresh off the Agency bandwagon. Again, if you have anything to share, please do. Until next time…

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