7 Tips to Launch Your First Start-Up

Starting your first company may seem like an exciting—and at the same time impossible—endeavor. You may ask yourself, “Where should I start? Do I have enough resources to take this leap of faith?” I sat down with Everett Hamilton and Sheila McGee, founders of Octane Public Relations, to discuss how they started their own black-owned and women-led PR boutique agency. After almost two decades, our founders have collected a wealth of knowledge and learned many lessons about managing a company—and about leveraging public relations skills to empower communities and take action on issues that matter, such as HIV prevention or the opioid epidemic.

Our founders shared a few pointers that will lead you in the right direction if you’re looking to start your own company.

1. Evaluate Your Reasons

Why do you want to start your own company? For Sheila McGee, starting her own PR company was the only viable option. After graduating from UCLA with a degree in communications and media, it took Sheila ten years to get into the PR field. When she did, she was certain that she wanted to start her own public relations company.

Everett Hamilton wanted to make a lasting impact on issues that affect marginalized communities. And he has accomplished this and more: The Washington Business Journal recently honored him with the 2018 Business of Pride award.

First, evaluate your own reasons behind starting a PR company. They will set your trajectory for years to come:

  • Think about your set of skills and areas of expertise. How will these skills apply to launch your company?
  • Do you have the ambition and determination to finish what you started? Creating your own company from the ground up takes a lot of work. Be prepared for the highs and lows.
  • What are your expectations? What are you trying to get out of starting your own company?
  • Are you willing to make some adjustments to your current lifestyle? This may involve your finances, work hours, and/or social life

2. Money Management

Having financial savvy is essential to starting any new project. Make sure you know how you will make a salary and keep track of all your expenses. Before launching Octane, both Everett and Sheila worked for one year in Virginia and New York, respectively, to guarantee a steady source of income. Securing this flow of income allowed them to save money for a business license and other expenses.

  • Do you plan to work on the side?
  • Are you considering a bank loan?
  • Will you get help from financial investors?
  • Will you ask your friends and family for financial support?

3. Align Philosophies

Make sure you and your business partner(s) are in alignment about how you want to run your company. Sheila views this partnership as being like a marriage: You and your partner(s) need to be aligned, as this will ultimately determine your work environment.

  • Establish your company’s culture. How will you empower your employees with a shared set of values? Having a strong company culture will instill a positive working environment among your employees. At Octane, we enjoy an open-door policy, summer flex hours, summer team outings, and work-from-home days.
  • Come up with your own shared goals. Make sure your employees are on board with the company’s overall mission and vision.

4. Network Intentionally

Everett personally believes in the power of networking. Whether it’s to connect with others who might have already gone through the startup process or maybe to connect with potential clients, networking can open many doors. Not surprisingly, Octane’s first client came through a connection from Everett’s high school friend.

Join groups and organizations that can offer you more advice and give you tips on starting your own company. After you meet someone, send them a follow-up email, take them out for lunch, or send a thoughtful card. It’s important to nourish and maintain these new and fragile connections, as one great networking opportunity may lead to many others.

5. Know Your Value

Do you know your worth and your company’s worth? This will ultimately translate into the work your company will provide your clients. Even in your first client meeting, talk about money up front. You need to address financial issues head on and understand that the only business opportunities are the ones that have money behind them. Before you accept your first contract, consider these questions:

  • Is this client really interested in my work? Focus on a client that wants to work with you. Don’t chase people with who don’t have a real interest in your business or people that are not ready to buy.
  • Ask for the budget on a contract and make sure that the client’s expectations realistically match your work value.
  • If the budget doesn’t match your work value, can your client make a compromise? Let your client know that they will need to take some things off their list

6. Name Your Company

What should you call your new company? Our founders spent close to six months deciding on the name. Viable name options fell flat when they tried putting them into sentences and other work documents. It wasn’t until Sheila came across a New York Times article about the Albany Dance Company that referred to “high-octane performances” from a ballet ensemble. Octane reminds her of energy, fuel, fire, and feeling motivated. She shared it with the rest of the team and they loved it. Select a name that captures your attention and that of others.

7. Good Things Take Time

Above all, have patience. Good things take time. As Sheila rightfully put it, “Beyoncé did not become an overnight sensation.” Success may not come early, but if you learn from Beyoncé (and our founders) and perfect your skills, it might just come a lot quicker than you think.

  • Create a checklist for all your goals. Keep them updated as you mark each off. This will keep you motivated and grounded as you evaluate all the work you’ve accomplished.

You have what it takes to start your own company. If there’s a challenge along the way, learn from that experience and develop a plan of action. Be confident in yourself and in the career journey on which you soon will embark.

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