Intro to Small Business PR

In 2009, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy estimated that there were 29.6 million small businesses in the United States. Not only do they represent 99 percent of employer firms, they also employ over half the U.S. private sector workforce. Small businesses are a growing force even as we recover from the recession. With those numbers, it is no wonder that the small business industry can provide great opportunities for new PR professionals.

So what is a small business anyway? And why I would I want to work for one?

In general terms, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) defines a small business as an independent business that has fewer than 500 employees.  For new professionals or those transitioning to the small business PR industry, small business can be exciting path to expand your knowledge base of the PR function. Within a small business, you have the flexibility and ability to work on a variety of projects. There is greater access to key personnel, clients and decision-makers, which can ultimately allow you to shine and show your best. Overall, a small business is a great place to learn the intricacies of a business and its operations that would otherwise take years to learn in a large company.

Small Business PR sounds interesting. What is a typical day like in this field?

A typical day for a small business PR practitioner is the same as that of a large company.  Activities can include client meetings, monitoring local and national media, making calls to clients and journalists, writing press releases, brainstorming or doing research. No two days are ever alike; there are always circumstances that can change the course of the day. Your activities and focus can vary from client to client. You could be consulting on PR strategies, creating communication plans, managing promotional events or just generating WOM (Word of Mouth) for a client.

Are there any special skills I need to be a small business PR practitioner?

Developing relationships, listening and having the ability to write and communicate effectively are key skills of a small business PR professional. These skills can carry a lot of weight when dealing with stakeholders and managing day-to-day activities. Establishing and managing positive relationships can take you far in and out of business. As a matter of fact, fostering relationships outside of business can actually lead to new business, so it is always wise to be courteous and respectful regardless of where you are because you never know who you will be working with on a project.

Ok, no profession is perfect. Are there any challenges I can expect?

Working in the small business industry is exciting, but there are some challenges that you may face in your new career as a professional in this field. Many of these challenges have to do with misconceptions of PR.  The main misconception is that PR is expensive and out of reach for a small business. Yes, small businesses may have difficulty competing with larger business when it comes to expensive marketing and advertising campaigns, but a carefully planned public relations campaign can level the playing field since both entities use the same principles of PR. Convincing your client to spend money on a project may entail you investing time and your creative resources to show the benefits of public relations. If you can meander through this roadblock working with small businesses can be an exciting adventure allowing for creativity and “out of the box” thinking. 

As a result of limited resources, another challenge new PR professionals face in small businesses is a lack of mentorship.  Having less than 500 employees, a small business may only have room for one PR specialist.  Being the lone PR specialist on a company’s team as a new professional can be overwhelming without a seasoned mentor to show you the ropes.  However, most businesses will reward initiative and a can-do attitude.  What you lack in experience, you can make up for in enthusiasm and the willingness to learn and try new tactics.  Use your contacts in the PRSA or your professional network to ask for help, and take advantage of the resources the association provides, like seminars and industry-specific section membership.

What kind of non-PR coursework/skills/interests could be helpful?

 There are three areas a new PR pro should consider when they move forward in their careers, regardless of which industry they choose–including small business PR. They are:

  1. Know the business – General knowledge of how your client’s business operates will be useful. Spend some time researching your client and its industry. This will help you in targeting specific audiences within their industry.
  2. Learn technology – Since the world is becoming more technology-focused and technology businesses are increasing significantly, taking a few courses in Information Technology could prove to be very valuable when you are establishing an online presence for your client.
  3. Problem Solving Skills- These skills will prove to be beneficial as you tackle the unexpected details that come your way. 

Small business PR can offer you an opportunity to be flexible and creative if you are willing to put in the effort. So roll up your sleeves and jump in.  We would love to welcome you to the industry.

Diahnn Henderson is the owner of Collaborative Communications, a communications and PR boutique firm, located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.   

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