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Celebrating 10 years as a solo social media and PR consultant

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Today, I celebrate 10 years as a solo social media and PR consultant.

Truth be told, I don’t know if today is the actual anniversary. I can’t remember my “first day” in this role 10 years ago. It really doesn’t matter. What does matter is what’s happened in those 10 years. Because I’m about to fill up an entire blog post–and then some–talking about just that!

This job has been life-changing for me in many ways.

Because of this job, I’ve had the opportunity to watch my kids grow up. To walk (or drive) them to school most days. To attend band concerts and soccer games that start at 4 p.m. (why Holy Angels, why, with the 4 pm start times?!?!?!!). To volunteer at their schools once in a while. It wouldn’t have been impossible to do this if I had a job at an agency or a corporation, but it would have been much more difficult.

Because of this job, I’ve had the opportunity to work with the biggest Fortune 500-level brands in the Twin Cities. General Mills, Sleep Number, Cargill, Andersen Windows & Doors, Patterson Companies, Toro, Trane, Thermo King, UCare, Allina Health and Starkey have all been clients over the last 10 years. It’s an amazing list I would have never dreamed I’d have the chance to work with–and, I’d put it up against almost any agency in town.

Because of this job, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible people, and make some new friends. I think of clients and friends like Kellie Due Weiland who I’ve worked with for the last five years at Sleep Number. People like Sarah Panus who’s been and off-and-on client at Sleep Number for 10 years. People like Andy Jacobson at Trustmark whom I’ve worked with for the last four-plus years now. And people like Brian Bellmont, Jen Bellmont and Shelli Lissick who I worked with on one of my first clients all those years ago. Far too many people to list in a blog post–and I apologize for that. But, there are so many people I’ve worked for and with in the last 10 years that have absolutely changed my life. Thank you!

Yep, it’s been a crazy 10 years. And, it went by FAST! As I thought back to the last 10 years, a few fun facts came to mind that I wanted to share:

  • I’ve worked with 80-plus companies over the last 10 years including Walmart, Walgreens, Mall of America and all the orgs I listed above. Before I started ACH Communications, I have almost zero experience with Fortune 500-level orgs.
  • I’ve written 1,280+ blog posts over the last 10 years. With an average length of 500 words, I’ve written approximately 640,000 words! Given the average novel includes 90,000 words, I’ve written the equivalent of 7 novels!
  • With my partner, Kevin Hunt, we’ve recorded 120+ episodes of the Talking Points Podcast in the last 5 years. With an average length of 45 minutes per show we’ve now recorded more than 5,400 minutes worth of podcasts!
  • I’ve also created and shared more than 350 editions of the Talking Points E-newsletter. I’ve been developing this resource since 2013!

What about ACH highlights? Well, there’s been far too many to list out, but a few that rise to the top include:

  • Training dealers at Toro’s annual dealer event at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina. And, getting the opportunity to play famed Pinehurst #2 with my client and friend, Braden Happel.
  • Speaking before a group of 100+ communicators at Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. A great opportunity made possible by friend, Chad Mitchell.
  • Having the opportunity to work, truly, as a part of a team at Sleep Number for the past 10 years. And, having the chance to work with people like Kellie Due Weiland, Gabby Nelson, Sarah Reckard and Sarah Panus.

Lessons learned? Oh, there’s been a few. But, a handful of the key lessons that stand out to me are:

  • First, don’t over-complicate things. Something I noticed early on in my consulting journey–people were needlessly over-complicating simple things. Like, your web site. Yes, it should showcase your best you. Yes, it should feature your services, client list and testimonials. But, it shouldn’t take 9 months to get it up! I’ve made a habit of adopting a principle that has carried me far in my professional life: 80% is usually good enough. Now, do I sometime give 110%? Absolutely. Probably more than I know. But, in many cases, 80% is just fine. And it’ll save you a whole lot of stress.
  • Second, be patient and learn to say no. Two things I had a really tough time with at first. But, the more I practice them, the better I got at them. Being patient means learning to wait for the right client opportunities and not jumping at the first thing that comes your way (which is really hard as a solo!). For me, that’s meant narrowing my focus to doing social and PR work for larger companies in Minnesota. I don’t work with start-ups. I don’t (typically) work with non-profits. I stick to my focus. And, learning to say no–that’s all about focus, too. I don’t say yes to every coffee invite. I don’t say yes to every client request. I don’t say yes to every person who pitches me a guest post on my blog (come to think of it, I haven’t said yes to this in at least 7 years!). I say no. A lot. And it helps me keep my focus.
  • Finally, never turn off the new business engine. For me, that means treating new business like a client. I budget time for it every week. That means time to blog, time to podcast, time to create the Talking Points enewsletter. Time to manage the Mastermind meetings. It’s all part of new business for me. It’s not easy. It does take a lot of time. But, I believe it’s also why I’ve been in business for 10 years and a big part of why I’ve been so successful.

One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is legacy. It’s a big part of the reason I started teaching at the University of St. Thomas recently. What am I most proud of over the last 10 years?

  • First and foremost, the notion that I started my own business, made it work, and had the opportunity to work with the people and companies listed above. It still kinda blows my mind that I could essentially put my client roster against any agency in town and feel like I measure up. That’s insane!
  • Another thing I’m really proud of, but don’t talk about a lot, are the two Mastermind groups I started a few years ago. One group is made up of senior-level communicators in town at the biggest companies in town. Life Time, Medtronic, General Mills, Toro, UHG and US Bank are just a few of the companies where these people work. It started as about 12 people and has now grown to more than 30. And each and every one of the folks in that group is a valuable contributor. I’ve easily learned as much from that group as they have from each other over the last few years. And, it’s a group they tell me they find invaluable. I’m super proud of that considering the positions many of these people hold.
  • Finally, in the end, my legacy will probably be all about relationships. I have a reputation as someone who’s connected. I get a lot of asks for coffees when people are looking for jobs. And in many cases, I like to help! I like the pay it forward. I like to lift people up when they might be feeling down. And I put a ton of time and effort into nurturing relationships across our industry. Whether it’s with folks on the PRSA board, a new intern with one of my clients or a new prospect. I’m constantly working to build relationships. And I hope that shows.

So, the logical closer to this discussion: What’s next for me? What will I be doing in 5-10 years?

That’s interesting timing. Because in 5-6 years, both my kids will be out of the house. And, in 5-6 years, we will have our home and mortgage paid off. And, in 5-6 years, we’ll be in a spot to live a financially independent life. So, I guess my honest answer would be “I’m not entirely sure.” But, I know this much: I love the consulting work. I don’t see that changing. I’ll probably do this for as long as people will hire me. I’m also finding I love teaching (as I thought I might). It’s a lot of work, but it’s rewarding as heck. I could see myself doing more of that in 5-6 years. For now, I love the mix I have, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

I guess that’s it. That’s me celebrating me (no one else is going to do it for me, right?). And that’s me clinking my glass celebrating 10 years of solo consulting. It’s been a helluva ride. And I hope it continues for a long while. Thank you to all my clients, partners, colleagues, subcontractors and friends I’ve worked with over the last 10 years. And, a huge thank you to my wife, whom, in many ways, makes all this possible. This post is never written without the help of you all. Much like raising a child, it takes a village to start and maintain a healthy solo consultancy!

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Celebrating 10 years as a solo social media and PR consultant

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