Going it Alone: 6 Tips for Prospering as an Independent Communications Consultant

By Laura Porter, Independent Writer and Communications Strategist

“I’ve got a great gig for you, only you’ll need to create your own LLC.”

When a recruiter said those words to me in March 2015, I hesitated. Start my own business? I’d been a communications government contractor for years letting others dictate my job location, work, and role. Did I want to become my own boss?

Working for a federal consulting firm was a comfortable situation for me as I always considered myself risk averse. Then the last project I was on ended and there were no other assignments on which to place me.

Everything involves some level of risk, so why not give it a try, I thought to myself. My first major client lasted over two years. However, it turns out relying on one client is not a good long-term approach for building a sustainable career. Today, I consistently support two to three clients at any one time.

How does a communications professional successfully create and build their own business?  I’m going to share with you what I learned after four years and how you too can thrive as an independent consultant.

Understand Who Your Clients Are and What They Need

While a good communications professional should be able to support clients regardless of the topic, having experience and first-hand knowledge of the fields that your potential clients work in gives you an edge.

The significant experience I had previously working with multiple IT departments unquestionably helped me secure new technology clients. They loved the fact that they didn’t have to explain terms like DevOps or AI, to me and that I could jump in quickly.

If you are looking to break into a new field, read up on that industry and identify opportunities for them to better communicate with stakeholders. They’ll be impressed, and it’s more likely you’ll be hired.

Know What You Want to Do and What You Don’t

Previously, I was sometimes placed in positions that made me feel like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Communications is a broad term and when you are relying on others to place you in a role, it may not be something you really enjoy.

It’s important to figure out what you really enjoy doing (and do well) and self-identify opportunities where you can use your skills to shine. For me, I love to write blogs, newsletters, and case studies. I’ve now become a go-to-person for content creation.

Reach Out to Your Network Even When You’re Not Looking for Work

It may feel awkward reaching out to someone you haven’t connected with in 10+ years only to ask them for work. If you make a habit out of grabbing coffee with contacts or reaching out to check in with them from time to time via email or LinkedIn, you’ll have better luck when you do need a favor.

These touchpoints help you remain fresh in their minds if an opportunity comes up where you’d be a great fit. I recently completed a wonderful six-month stint with two former colleagues who I last worked with 10 years ago. Staying connected with them over the years made them remember to reach out to me when they had the chance to bring me on to a project.

Embrace Life-Long Learning

Communications tools from five years ago are already obsolete and the use of social media for brand, company, and personal promotion continually evolves. To remain a successful communications consultant, stay up on the newest trends, understand where communication and engagement is headed, and broaden your knowledge of the latest industry tools and technology.

You should also consider listening to podcasts like Inside PR, follow communications experts like Shel Holz (Internal Communication) Jon Winoker (Writing), and/or Pam Hughes (Marketing) on Twitter, or read books like Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story. It’s easy to stay ahead of the curve if you are willing to put in the effort.

Remain Flexible

Becoming your own boss can be especially tempting for working parents. When I first took the plunge, I had visions of greeting my daughter after school in my yoga pants with cookies and milk and cultivating a new hobby.

While there are days when I can greet my daughter and wear my yoga pants to an actual yoga class, sometimes I work longer hours than I did in an office. It’s important to stay flexible to meet your clients’ demands.

The freedom of being your own boss comes with a few strings, but much less than working for someone else.

Don’t Panic When Things Slow Down

Sometimes a sure thing, isn’t so certain. Clients who initially promise a contract extension may reconsider due to financial constraints or changing priorities. Work might ebb or flow based on the season.

To account for potential downswings, consider taking on extra work during other phases. Extend your network through business events, ask your contacts to connect you to their network, and browse online job boards.

I secured one of my largest clients by blindly applying for a part-time copywriter job online for a company based in Richmond, VA. The client wasn’t necessarily looking to make the position a remote one, but was swayed by my experience, writing samples, and interview.

If you want to join me and the other 16.5 million others who make up the growing gig economy, do your homework, reach out to your peers, and enjoy the ride!

About the Author

Laura Porter is an independent writer and communications strategist with 16+ years of experience working with government and private sector clients. Ms. Porter conducts activities as diverse as blog writing, case study creation, change management, technical and non-technical writing, web and video content creation, and implementing internal and external client communications campaigns. She enjoys working collaboratively with clients to advance their organization’s mission and get their key messages seen and heard by their target audiences. She currently lives in Arlington, VA with her husband, daughter, and Boston Terrier, Pugsley.

Top 5 Tips for Pitching Multimedia Newsrooms

Jennifer Nycz-Conner of the Washington Business Journal and WTOP

Jennifer Nycz-Conner of the Washington Business Journal and WTOP

Why didn’t they respond to my pitch? Why doesn’t this reporter care about my client? Sending out generic pitches to reporters is not only a waste of your time, it also won’t get coverage for your clients. Jennifer Nycz-Conner, an editor at Washington Business Journal and a business reporter at WTOP, knows first hand what goes into pitching the right story to the right reporter. During this month’s IPRA Luncheon, Jennifer provided her top five tips for successful pitching in today’s multimedia newsrooms:

  1. Get to know your prey. Reporters receive countless numbers of pitches every day, so you need to make your pitch worthwhile. Reporters often get emails that read “I see you have written about X, so I assume you will like this story.” Jennifer recommends researching the reporters you’re pitching to determine how often they’ve covered a particular issue. Was the topic covered in one story or several?
  1. Pitch stories that are interesting. Nine times out of ten, sending pitches with photos of your client holding a giant check or giant pair of scissors at an event is not going to generate coverage. There is no true meat behind those stories and nothing that really interests readers.
  1. Choose the best subject line. When you’re emailing reporters, it’s all about the subject line and it will make or break your pitch. Try equating your subject line to a good headline – it should grab the reporter’s attention. “If you can’t put your pitch in a headline, then it’s not a good pitch,” says Jennifer.
  1. Know if and when it’s appropriate to attach files. Reporters don’t want multiple files attached to an email. Opening multiple attachments creates more work for them, so skip the file attachments. Instead, send a brief, two-paragraph pitch with a link to the full press release. If you have photos or videos to include with the pitch, add a link to a Dropbox folder with the files. These steps will save reporters time and help you get straight to the point with your pitch.
  1. Be prepared for a response. PR professionals are used to pitching so many reporters in a given day that they can forget to be prepared when the reporter responds sooner than expected. If you’re pitching a great story, then you and your team needs to be ready for the story to be picked up.

The next time you start to pitch a reporter, keep these tips in mind and make sure your pitch is tailored to the person you are pitching. It should be easy for the reporter to understand the point of your pitch – and if they don’t, chances are your pitch won’t turn into coverage.

Erin White is the vice president of the George Mason University Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. She is also an intern with the Independent Public Relations Alliance and PRSA-NCC.

4 Twitter Tips for Businesses and Organizations

By Sabrina McGowan

The explosion, variety and evolving nature of social media has created both PR opportunities and challenges for businesses and organizations. In an October 1 Independent Public Relations Alliance program, Lisa Nicholls, CEO of Tira! Strategies, offered her suggestions for leveraging Twitter to create greater interaction between you and your followers, and to increase your numbers.

Lisa Nicholls, CEO of Tira! Strategies

Lisa Nicholls, CEO of Tira! Strategies

  1. Define your audience. Customers, members, business partners and vendors are just a few of the people you should be following on Twitter. Professional and industry organizations as well as local businesses will likely produce additional followers for you, too. Don’t forget to follow your competitors for insight on how they’re engaging with your ideal customers.
  1. Build a content strategy. If you want to know what type of content you should share on Twitter, follow other accounts and decide what you like about them. You can also monitor conversations by using the “search” function to find examples of content you like. It’s important that you find the sweet spot between what your target audience wants to hear and what you want to say that promotes your business. So add value through your tweets and give people a reason to follow you. Lisa suggests following the 80/20 rule for your content strategy – 80% follower interaction (retweets, favorites, replies) and 20% offers. Creating a calendar will help you stay on task.
  1. Expand your reach. To get more interaction with your tweets, you need to be visual and creative. Your tweets should encourage immediate action from your followers, so include offers and calls to action. And don’t hesitate to ask for replies. You can increase your followers by putting your Twitter handle everywhere – be sure to add a follow button to your website and email signature, and ask your existing customers to follow you, too.
  1. Use Twitter ads effectively. Did you know that the click-through rate on Twitter is higher than Facebook – 3.6% vs. 0.4%? Twitter ads can be a great tool to increase followers and engagement as well as drive more traffic to your website. According to Lisa, Twitter ads are also great for lead generation. For example, you can grow your list via an ad that asks followers to enter their email address to receive a coupon or other offer. Keep in mind that Twitter ads can be pricey and that the most effective ads use photos and brief videos (under 30 seconds).

The key to Twitter is conversation, so use it to communicate with your followers, and let your personality shine. By focusing on how your products and services benefit your customers, you can help ensure your Twitter success.

Sabrina McGowan is the owner of SQM Communications, bringing creativity and integration to the communications efforts of non-profits, trade associations and forward-thinking businesses. Sabrina is also the marketing chair of the Independent Public Relations Alliance. You can follow her on Twitter at @sabrinaqmcgowan.

6 Tips for Working with Today’s News Media

By Angel White

Washington Post Media Blogger Erik Wemple and IPRA Membership Committee Member Robert Deigh of RDC Communications. Photo credit: Sabrina McGowan

Washington Post Media Blogger Erik Wemple and IPRA Membership Committee Member Robert Deigh of RDC Communications.
Photo credit: Sabrina McGowan

Washington, D.C. is considered the news capital of the world and a great place from which to observe big changes in the media industry, so it should come as no surprise that our hometown paper follows the changes closely – reporting on big players and rising stars alike. In a May 7 Independent Public Relations Alliance program, Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple discussed ways that PR professionals should be engaging with reporters and focusing on the new reality:


  • PR people are a growing part of the press industry. News organizations are becoming similar to corporate America by creating their own PR departments. Often, you have to go through a PR person in order to speak to anyone at the news outlet. The result is the media has become more regulated by the people we are trying to talk to which can result in frustration for reporters.
  • Beats are fragmentary and boundaries are disappearing. Reporters are expected to cover a lot more news these days trying to feed multiple platforms. So, don’t give up if one reporter isn’t interested in your story – share it with another reporter.
  • Deadlines are obsolete. Reporters are working in a 24-hour news cycle, always writing and always on deadline. This reality changes how and when we approach reporters.

Here are Erik’s six tips for creating the strongest relationships with reporters:

  1. Pick up the phone. PR professionals tend to overlook the value of making calls to reporters in order not to interfere with deadlines. Ignore the adage of “don’t call a reporter on deadline” – if you have a reason to communicate with a reporter then do it and be direct.
  1. Write letters. Another effective but underutilized tool is the handwritten letter. Yes, snail mail still exists and reporters pay attention to it.
  1. Use Twitter. PR professionals should be using this tool to message reporters on Twitter – a simple “Have you seen this?” can be an effective way of reaching reporters you know and those you want to know. Reporters also monitor their mentions on Twitter more than email and voicemail.
  1. Pay attention to bloggers. In the past, journalism standards didn’t always apply to news blogs. But, today’s news blogs are held to the same journalism standards as other media. PR professionals should work with bloggers in the same way they work with traditional reporters.
  1. Maintain trust. Don’t ask a reporter to do something considered un-journalistic. It’s expected that they will talk to your competition for a story, so don’t ask them not to. That will only erode their trust in you and make you look defensive.
  1. Engage early. There’s no excuse for a reporter not getting the facts straight, but there are also areas of judgment, interpretation and nuance that go into writing a story. These are areas where you need to engage the reporter early – it will be too late to do so after the story is filed.

The state of the news media today is being driven by the rise of social media and the consolidation of traditional media outlets that affects the way in which we regard reporters. PR professionals who understand these changes will ensure they have the most beneficial relationships with reporters.


Angel White is a May 2015 graduate of George Mason University where she received her bachelor of arts degree in communications​. She is a former vice president of the Public Relations Student Society of America at GMU. Connect with her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/angeldwhite.

Press Release Writing: 12 Tips To Attract the Attention of Journalists

052115Writing a press release may seem like a chore, but it’s really a great tool to use to share information about your organization, association or company. But it’s important to be succinct and clear – journalists spend on average, less than one minute reviewing your press release before hitting the delete button or deciding to get more information or use it.

Tip #1: Use a clear, eye-catching headline. A well-written attention-grabbing headline that shares the most important and newsworthy nugget of information in your press release is key. It’s important though not to be too clever. Being obtuse, silly or anything that renders your news unclear, will get your press release deleted.

Tip #2: Sub-headlines can be helpful. I’ve always been a fan of using a sub-headline, usually in italics below the main headline, to offer additional insight or include source information.

Tip #3: Think carefully about your subject line for your email. In a study last year on journalists and press releases, 79 percent of journalists said subject lines greatly influence whether they open an email with a press release or not.

Tip #4: Get to the point right away. Your first sentence should really summarize in a nutshell the main news you are sharing. This is no time for you to set a stage and build up to your announcement at the end of the paragraph (or even worse, a few paragraphs down). Just spill the beans, please.

Tip: 5: Use Associated Press style. At least give a deferential nod to AP style. Journalists know it and use it. Easy things to fix – state abbreviations in your dateline. There are plenty of AP style tips online.

Tip #6: Use numbers. Statistics, data and numbers bolster your cause and provide context and amplitude. Even if your press release is discussing an interesting situation or observation that is anecdotal but that you think may be a bigger problem, you can sometimes find data in other sources that you can cite in a press release. The point is to give a sense of scope and to verify what you are sharing.

Tip #7: Offer infographics, photos or video if you can. These additional assets can help time-stressed reporters and bloggers access your information and are especially useful if you are reaching out to smaller markets. It’s usually best to have these materials up on your website and link to them in the press release. Do not send them as attachments.

Tip #8: Avoid using a lot of acronyms and internal language. This is where I often see nonprofits struggle, especially if the press release must be “approved” by a committee of people who don’t all work with the media on a daily basis. Internal jargon does not belong in a press release. If you are making statements like, “we had to include this sentence to keep so and so happy,” and not “we had to include this sentence to make the press release more interesting to reporters” – then your release may be set up to struggle at getting attention.

Tip #9: Include a relevant quote written in an informed, conversational tone. While some journalists have remarked that they find canned quotes on press releases to be a pain and never use them, I’ve also seen a lot of journalists use them for sake of expediency. It’s fine to include a quote in your press release. Frame it about the topic, say something interesting, and do not be purely self-promotional.

Tip #10: Don’t regurgitate your boilerplate again at the bottom of the release if you don’t have to – you are just adding to length. If you have a standard news release boilerplate containing information about your organization, association or small business, and you include some of that information in your release copy, then don’t feel the need to regurgitate all of that information again in the boilerplate. You are just adding to length.

Tip #11: Keep it brief. One page is great. Two pages maximum.

Tip #12: Include contact information. Make sure that you include clearly labeled media contact information with a name, phone number and email address for someone who can (and will) respond promptly to any media inquiries or needs.

Bonus tip: Deliver your release pasted into the body copy of an email. This may not be a writing tip, but it is very important. Do not send your release as an attachment. And don’t send only a hyperlink to your press release in an email with a headline and no body copy – this forces a journalist to click and go see the press release on your website. Over the years, I have had clients tell me that releases should be sent as attachments, or only sent as hyperlinks so journalists can “see their branding.” You need for journalists to see your news in your press release and decide to do a story or to keep you on their list of people with interesting story ideas who can make my life as a harried journalist easier. They won’t see your news at all if you send your press release as an attachment or a lonely hyperlink. After they read your news, you can worry about your branding (which should be more about authenticity and less about stunning people with logos).


Photo credit: Image courtesy of Kristen Nador and licensed under a Creative Commons license.


Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. Ami is also a member of IPRA and serves on its marketing committee. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

Prepare Thy Self: 5 Ways to Make Yourself a Better Media Trainer

Peter Piazza of Live Wire Media Relations, photo credit: Jay Morris

Peter Piazza of Live Wire Media Relations, photo credit: Jay Morris

By Nicole Duarte

To help your clients prepare for anything, you must first prepare yourself. In an April 9 reprise of a popular Independent Public Relations Alliance media training seminar, Peter Piazza and Angela Olson of Live Wire Media Relations, LLC outlined five ways PR practitioners can improve their training sessions.

  1. See what the reporter will see

It’s an often-skipped step, but research can make or break your training session. Before you meet with your clients, do a public record search to uncover any potential landmines. An ugly court case, embarrassing social media post, or past professional controversy may be just the ace a reporter will play to shake up the conversation or get the upper hand over your trainees.

  1. Shock and awe

Manufacture the anxiety clients will face in a tough interview to give them a chance to work through it. Managing anxiety and scrutiny is a skill like any other, and proficiency comes with practice. Trainers should use the first moments of their media training sessions to try to rattle interviewees, make them defensive or angry, and try to provoke them into saying something provocative or contentious. Hot lights, a live video camera, and some record of a prior embarrassing moment are all tools to unsettle your interviewees. Once you see them at their worst, you will be better able to help them get back – and stay – on message.

  1. Speak the truth

Your clients are relying on your expertise. Insist they hear it. Many staff media trainers pull their punches, hoping to keep the peace or avoid ruffling feathers, but it’s better if your client is embarrassed for a moment in your presence than humiliated on the Internet indefinitely. Be diplomatic, but don’t avoid telling your trainees if they have any distracting nervous habits, speak too fast, overuse jargon, come across as arrogant or defensive, or display any other behaviors that would make them look foolish or unprofessional.

  1. Play if Forward

Most media trainers do some form of practice or role-playing that simulates real interview conditions. However, media trainers need to apply their own news judgement to these conversations. Help your trainees refine their message points by asking tough questions and then pushing for clarity until you hear the quote the reporter should use. Questions like, “Why should anyone care,” “So what,” and “Prove it,” should elicit quote-worthy answers that move the story forward, and if they don’t, keep pushing.

  1. Add Value

Editors insert themselves to play up drama and tension. Reporters have a point of view and may be biased based on their sources. Both are outside your control. The best way to avoid surprises in how your clients’ quotes appear — or don’t appear — is to anticipate the reporter’s story and craft your message points to add value. Statistics and anecdotes can add context and color. Think about how your issue affects the heads, hearts, and wallets of the audience members, and illustrate your message points with examples and metaphors to which the audience can relate.

Just as organizations rely on their directors to lead with their expertise in their industries, your trainees will rely on your expertise to guide them through the news media landscape. You need to help your clients strategize how they might help reporters write better stories. Keep in mind how journalists do their job to think through how you can you help them do it faster and better. Your clients may be expert sources, but it is your chops and preparation that will ensure their expertise gets recognized.

For more information, see this refresher from Live Wire:  http://livewiredc.com/2013/08/a-quick-refresher-on-the-art-of-media-relations/ or check out the PRSA recap of the last Live Wire event: https://theprsanccblog.com/2013/10/30/teaching-old-dogs-new-tricks/

Nicole Duarte is Senior Communications Manager at the Center for Community Change.
Connect with her on LinkedIn at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/nicoleaduarte

Top 4 Legal Tips for the Independent PR Practitioner

Business name? Check. Website? Check. LLC set up? Trademark? Hmmm. Understanding the legal responsibilities and ramifications of having your own PR business should be a priority for every independent PR professional. Making the move from working in an office to being your own boss can be an exciting and overwhelming time.

IPRA LogoIt’s easy to use the skills and experience you learned in-house to create a business plan and market yourself. However, learning about LLCs, S-Corps, trademarks, and business insurance – well, that can be unchartered territory for a lot of us “indies.” It’s great to have someone like Rebecca Geller of The Geller Law Group as a navigator. She offered great advice and her top four legal tips for attendees at a recent Independent Public Relations Alliance (IPRA) luncheon program:

  1. When you launch your business, consider forming as a LLC. If you’re set up as a sole proprietor, there’s no difference between who you are as an individual and who you are as a business. Rebecca says that can be a huge problem if you get sued – basically, everything you own as an individual (house, cars, savings, retirement) can be obtained through the lawsuit. Ouch.
  1. Keep your business insurance separate from your homeowners insurance. Since many of us indies work from home, you might think your business is covered under your homeowners policy, but it’s not. Rebecca advises that indies get professional liability insurance.
  1. Trademark your business name and logo. Did you know that a company in another state could use your business name if it’s not trademarked? Rebecca has a local client who had been in business for more than 25 years and he had to change his company’s name — after receiving a cease and desist order from another company with a similar name. The entire trademark process takes about nine months, but will help ensure you never have to change your brand and business name and not get sued.
  1. Put everything in writing – and make sure an attorney has reviewed your standard contracts. It’s tempting to customize sample contracts we find online or through other indies. But, legal documents will vary from state to state and online legal tools are generally not recognized by courts as valid legal documents. It’s best to have a business attorney in your state review (and strengthen) your legal documents to ensure your protection. Rebecca advises that standard client contracts should always include a scope of work, limits of liability, and restrictions if you bring in a subcontractor. Other documents you should have on hand include subcontractor and employee agreements, letter to fire a client (heaven forbid), and an operating agreement that covers what happens if you can’t operate your business.

Everything from naming your new business to drawing up contracts can have a big impact on the future of your business. Make sure you understand the legal aspects of starting and running a business – and have an attorney on your team.

Sabrina McGowan is a director on the IPRA Board and owner of SQM Public Relations. You can follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/sabrinaqmcgowan.