On 8/8/88, I faxed out my press release announcing my new business, Molloy Communications, “a personalized public relations firm that brings out the best in small businesses.” Later that week, the announcement and my photo appeared on the front page of the Arizona Republic’s business section and in the Phoenix Business Journal. It was official.
After graduating from New York University with a degree in broadcast journalism (I had aspirations to be the next Barbara Walters until I realized I had to start that journey in a tiny market like Bangor, Maine), I worked several years as a radio talk show producer in Phoenix. I was responsible for booking guests for 40 hours of talk shows each week. I worked with a lot of PR professionals and learned the business from them. After my radio job, I freelanced for a few months in anticipation of getting a job at a marketing agency or with a company’s PR department. I soon decided that I liked working on my own. So, I hired myself.
No one in my circle of family or friends was an entrepreneur. Working from home was considered by many to be suspect. “She must be in between jobs and ‘working’ in her pajamas,” they’d whisper. I was blazing new trails. Technology was in its infancy back then so my only tools were the phone, a new-fangled $2,000 fax machine from Sharper Image and a Mac since Windows for PCs hadn’t been invented yet and I chose not to learn DOS. We’ve come a long way.
I soon connected with other entrepreneurs and resources to help support my success. As I look back on that first year in business, I remember three pieces of advice that kept me going.
- Fake it till you make it. That’s what the director of the Small Business Development Center told me when I admitted that I didn’t have experience in some of the services I wanted to offer. “No one needs to know that,” he said. “You can do it if given a chance.” Affirmations helped me remember that I could.
- Choose clients wisely. My initial niche was small businesses, frankly because no one else would touch them. They rarely had enough of a budget to work with an agency and there were few sole practitioners in those days. They also needed a lot of education and hand holding and that actually appealed to me. So, I took on a lot of clients and soon began to feel like a PR social worker. Too many time-intensive, small accounts in a variety of industries from auto detailers and retail outlets to hair salons and financial advisors made me feel scattered and unfocused. I learned to define my ideal client, which became business advisors and professional service firms, and refer non-ideal prospects to my colleagues. “You’re turning away business?” my fellow PR professionals would ask. “Yes, and you should too,” I would reply. Even back then, I understood the universal law that “The universe abhors a vacuum.” The more profitable, ideal clients can’t get in if your time is taken up by the others. Create the room and they will come.
- Surround yourself with positive, supportive people. A year after I began my business, I moved to Atlanta and didn’t know anyone. So, I connected with a few other sole practitioners and formed a group. The Flak Pak (“flak” being a derogatory term for a publicist, which established from the start that we wouldn’t take ourselves too seriously) began meeting once a month to share ideas and leads, offer advice and provide that much-needed social interaction since we all worked on our own. After 19 years, Flak Pak continues to meet and has grown to about ten wise, warm and wonderful women. This group has been a trusted lifeline to get us through the many challenges and opportunities of entrepreneurship. (This picture was taken at my business’s “Sweet Sixteen” party in 2004 with fellow Flak Pakers Julie Squires, Elizabeth Fairleigh, JoAnne Donner and Alison Ilg.)
If you are challenged by running your own business or considering taking the plunge, following your passion and becoming an entrepreneur, I hope these tips inspire you. After 20 years, being an entrepreneur is one of the roles that brings me the most joy and pride. It has also empowered me to make my own rules. I’ve decided to declare today a holiday and will take the rest of the day off. It’s good to be the boss.