Aura celebrated its eighth anniversary at the end of 2016. I’ve taken the opportunity to reflect on eight of my PR business learnings.

I’ve been in the PR business now for 15 years, eight of which I’ve run Aura. Both Aura and I have developed significantly over the years, with big influences from other PR and marketing practitioners across the world.

My voluntary work as CIPR Scotland Chair (2012-2014), Board Director (2014-2015) and Council Member (2014 to present) at CIPR UK has allowed me to expand my PR network hugely. It has motivated me to be the practitioner I am today and to keep on learning.

I set out eight key learnings from my time running my own PR business, many of which intertwine with each other.

#1 Sharpen your pencil! Keep skills and knowledge up-to-date

If I’m not learning, then I’m missing out! The pace of the PR business is as fast as ever, with technology moving practitioners to learning more technical skills and assuming the role of marketing and advertising where the PESO model in concerned. Blogs, software, coding and even social media challenges many practitioners.

I enrolled in continuous professional development (CPD) a number of years ago. It helped me become Accredited, it helped me progress to Chartered Status in 2015 (in addition to an assessment day), and it’s helped me focus on where I need to spend time learning and developing. To keep my Chartered status, I need to carry on with CPD…forever! I’d urge any practitioner to enroll in CPD.

I’ve learned about new tools from being involved in PRStack thanks to Stephen Waddington, I’ve learned about content marketing and writing from Ann Handley, I’ve picked up some tips and tricks in SEO from subscribing to a few awesome blogs (try Moz and Search Engine Land for starters), I’ve learned about new processes such as Kanban from Fred Vincx at #PRFest last year and I’ve been able to put many of these nuggets into practice.

But still, there are many other other things to learn about. In my 2016 Highlights post in December, I also set out my goals for 2017.

I’ve set myself a challenge in January to do Spinsucks’ 30-day Challenge. By going back to basics, it does no harm to refresh, but I also hope to learn new things about other areas. The best part is there is a new community set up for the challenge and we are all working through it together, via Slack. I’m able to post my ‘homework’ and get feedback from other people. People with a different view, from a different country. It’s diversity at its best. Post to follow in February!

#2 Work with like-minded people

Whether I’m working with clients or working with creatives or those in the PR business, it’s important for me to work with like-minded people.

Working with like-minded people fires up passion, motivation and the best ideas come from work together. As an independent practitioner, sitting in the office alone can sometimes be, well, lonely. Like-minded people don’t need to be in the same place; think of using messaging platforms or online video calls. A quick 10 minute catch up, download or question is sometimes all that is needed.

The best work I’ve done has come from working with clients who trust my expertise and advice and who aren’t scared of trying something new. It’s instinctive for me to look at doing things differently, not just for the sake of it, but it to stand out and to do a better job.

#3 Develop or join a PR community

Being involved in a community can be very worthwhile, but it’s about give and take. I’ve been involved with PRStack. I contributed a chapter to the second book. I met people through the journey who I’d never have normally met. Some of these people now are friends and who I respect hugely for what they do. Not all of them work in the PR business. You can learn from different professions, for example start-ups and tech companies.

The other PR community I’m involved with, I formed a couple of years ago, is the independent practitioner community in Scotland. Already I’ve tapped into it to help me with extra resource for client work, but it’s also great to have a social night out with them, as they are in the same boat. We had a night out at Christmas and 20 people came along, some of whom I’d never actually met and some of whom I hadn’t seen in a while. It’s good to have face time in an informal atmosphere as well as in a professional capacity.

PR businessAnd not forgetting #PRFest. A community of hungry practitioners also looking to get ahead in the PR business. I used the community developed from the attendees of the first festival to help inform the programme for the second festival.

#4 Always have a pipeline of new business opportunities

New business is something I’ve always struggled to manage alongside being very busy in my day job as well as take on non-paid roles, such as the CIPR. New business is essential to any business, whether you want to stay the same size or if you want to grow the business.

I’ve developed my own sales funnel which stems from the Kanban concept, using giant luminous post-it notes on my office wall. It’s working. It’s visible every day and it makes me look at it and want to progress prospects to the next stage.

Don’t get so bogged down in work that you look up one day and say “oh shit, once this project finishes I’ve got little or nothing to work on the next few months.” It’s happened to us all, but no-one likes to admit it!

#5 Don’t be scared to ask

Working on your own especially, it’s often hard to formulate ideas or get the ‘right’ answers. If you’ve got a mentor, use them as a sounding board. If you’re part of a community, use them to pitch ideas and get feedback. Don’t be scared to ask for help or for input. By speaking to others you’ll find you get more inspiration and you’ll be better equipped to make a decision or to formulate your idea.

Feel free to ping me an email. I’m always happy to help!

#6 Manage time with precision

Now this is an area many struggle with and I have to be honest, I wasted days in 2016. Days spent on developing content which didn’t get published. Days spent on trolling the net for ideas and inspiration. Managing your time is like managing your bank account. You need to budget!

How many days are you getting paid to work? Are you over-servicing? The chances are you probably are. Are you wasting time writing blog posts which don’t generate any leads? Chances are like I’ve been guilty of, you possibly are.

If you set out your week or even your month, look to use your time wisely. Consider your travel time. Consider what you’ve committed to for CPD. What can be done in the morning before work, perhaps a breakfast meeting? What can be done early evening before you binge watch on Netflix or get to grips with general house work?!

The PR business is demanding at the best of times, but make sure you plan your time, so you can manage it.

Tip: I’ve found Toggl very useful for recording timesheets. It’s free to use for independent practitioners.

#7 Make time daily to read

Reading is the best way to learn. Learn new skills, learn opinions and formulate your thoughts.

I spend time every morning reading the news before I even get up! I spend time reading emails before I even have a shower, but I don’t respond to them. I think about them.

I read books. I don’t read just anything, I tend to read PR, marketing, social media-related books. Here’s a list I crowdsourced last year of suggested reads. Feel free to add to the Google sheet with your recommendations.

In addition, what blogs or emails do you subscribe to? Can you unsubscribe to the ones you automatically delete, please?! Saves wasting time even pressing DELETE! Now, there are many talented bloggers in the PR business. Go and find blogs you like and subscribe to them. You won’t get spammed! You’ll learn something new every time and it may even count towards your CPD! Feel free to subscribe to the Aura blog 😉

#8 Help others

pr businessDon’t always take. Try to give something back. It’s not only rewarding and you feel good for doing it, but you often find you’ll also get something out of it.

I help students every year. They always ask for interviews about the PR business for their dissertations.

I help other independent practitioners who are perhaps struggling in one area or need some tips about a specific area of work.

I also like to make introductions, introducing people to each other if there is a good connection to a project or because they will get on.

I blogged last May about why Sharing is caring, and I talked about why I started #PRFest (initially it was called The PRofessionals until everyone just called it PRFest!). Take a look.

Helping others is good karma anyway!

So in 15 years in the PR business, eight of which running my own, of course there are many other things I’ve learned, but I consider these eight to be the most helpful to share with you. If you read through them again, you’ll see they can be applied to any business, not just PR.

Thanks for taking the time to read my post. If you liked it, please share it!