7 Important Things I'd Do Differently If I Were Starting An Agency All Over Again

Oct 10, 2022

Starting my PR agency over 17 years ago was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t change things about my process! I jumped in without any industry experience or contacts, so there was a pretty steep learning curve. I’ve gone from PR newbie to expert and PR pro — and if I were starting an agency all over again, I’d do a lot differently. 

7 Things I’d Change If I Were Starting an Agency All Over Again 

If I could go back and advise the Jen from 17 years ago, I’d tell her to just go for it, but with some caveats. Here are seven things I’d do differently if I were starting an agency with all of the PR knowledge I have today.

#1: I’d Be More Discerning with My Clients 

You can’t have an agency without clients, right? But so many newbie PR pros take on clients just to get a retainer, even if they don’t feel like the right fit. I mean, how many times have you been approached by a friend about a “great opportunity” to support their business even though you have no interest in what they’re doing? 

Those are all stepping stones in the wrong direction — by taking on those clients, you’re setting yourself up for a harder path forward! You can’t do your best work if you’re not genuinely passionate about your client’s business. Without that passion, there’s no enjoyment in your work, and you run the risk of burning yourself out and not being an effective representative for your client. 

Plus, you can’t level up your retainers, scale your business, and land the clients you want without niching down. Taking on clients across random industries doesn’t facilitate growth in your desired niche: those results won’t matter much long-term, and though you’re gaining experience, you won’t be able to leverage it in your chosen field. When you niche down, you become a true expert and gain the knowledge your dream clients are searching for.

#2: I’d Just Start!

Did anyone else get wayyyy too caught up in branding and curating an online presence when they were starting an agency? I definitely did! 

I spent so much time worrying about having perfect branding and creating a beautiful custom website that it stopped me from making progress while I was starting an agency. And it didn’t have to! 

When you’re starting an agency, all you really need is an email address or some other way for people to connect with you, and you can hit the ground running. Even a super basic, barebones website will do the trick! 

Your focus should be on landing clients (you can do this through your personal and professional network) and generating results for them. Once you’ve gotten some placements under your belt, you can leverage those results as content for your website and start developing a presence from there. You don’t need fancy branding — just a way to show off what you’ve accomplished. 

Related: 4 Essential Public Relations Skills You Need For Continuous Career Growth

#3: I’d Actually Stand Up for Myself 

It took me a really long time to realize that one client doesn’t make or break my business. I let my boundaries crumble as clients were disrespectful and walked all over me. And I’d work all hours of the night! 

But it’s up to YOU to enforce those boundaries in your business. You choose how your business feels, who gets access to you, and when. When you’re starting an agency, you decide on the working hours and set the precedent on when you’re unreachable, like on nights and weekends. 

A client who doesn’t treat you with respect doesn’t get to work with you and make you miserable. Lots of clients have manipulation tactics that they use to twist your mind into thinking you’re always on the verge of being fired so you always overdeliver. But that’s not okay! Clients don’t get to tell you how to run your business, so you have a right to walk away and stop working with them. 

#4: I’d Step Into My Expertise Much Earlier 

Repeat after me: I am the expert! Stepping into your expertise early in your agency owner journey (even if you don’t have a ton of experience) will open up SO many doors. When you believe in yourself, trust your expertise, and showcase it to potential clients, they’ll be so much more confident in your abilities and will be more likely to choose you over other agencies. 

You need to always showcase your expertise during the sales process with new clients. Ask them what their goals are and what they’re looking to achieve, then advise them on the best approach. They might tell you what you should do, but you don’t have to agree with them! You’re actually serving them when you disagree because, in sharing your expertise, you’re adding more value to the conversation. 

#5: I’d Build My Team as I Was Starting an Agency

Breaking out of the solopreneur stage of starting an agency and hiring team members is tough for PR pros. When I took this step, I was concerned about giving away my potential income to pay someone else’s salary. But once I brought on my team, I was able to triple our revenue!

The ability to leverage my team members’ time, generate revenue from their results, and free myself up to focus on my zone of genius was more than worth the investment. I realized that my time was too valuable to not bring on a team! Instead of spending hours each day on tedious business tasks, I could put my energy towards growing my agency and strategizing ways to bring in my dream clients.

If I were starting an agency all over again, I would bring on a team member as soon as possible. Even if that cost would be a loss for the first few months, the support and value they’d give me and my business in the long run are priceless. 

#6: I’d Be More Present in the Process

17 years ago, I felt like I was on a journey to a very specific success level and I wouldn’t be satisfied until I arrived at my destination. I kept chasing an elusive feeling of success, and I let so many exciting moments pass me by while on that quest! 

When you’re starting an agency, there are so many small steps forward to celebrate, from sending your first client outreach email to getting professional headshots. If I had the chance to go back and do it all over again, I’d focus on being present and enjoying every step of the process and period of agency growth. It’s all part of the experience of building a business.

#7: I’d Enter Awards Right Away!

You can’t win an award if you didn’t send in a submission for it! Even when you’re at the very beginning of starting an agency, you should be aware of the industry awards that your agency will be eligible for. There are a lot of them and they’re not that expensive to enter, so put in the time to research and build a list. 

Go for industry-specific awards as well as general ones — your peers are doing the same, and that credibility boost of having an award-winning agency is well worth the submission fees. When writing up your entries, look at what they’re asking for in the submission guidelines and position yourself in the best light possible. You don’t have to wait for something major to happen in your business to enter a competition and win!

Starting an agency is full of tough choices, and suffice to say I made some mistakes when I did it 17 years ago. Hindsight is 20/20, and if I had the chance to go back to the beginning, I’d do a lot of things differently. If you take this knowledge and apply it to your own budding agency, you’ll set up a much easier path to success!