PIC panel discussion members

Jodi Echakowitz, Cyrus Mavalwala, ABC, MC, and Carolyn Camilleri say you don’t have to clone yourself to take on more business.

“Solopreneurs” may think we have to clone ourselves to take on more business.

We can’t, but that’s the wrong approach anyway. Instead, we should partner with others to create a diverse team with varied skills and experience, which allows us to take on more business and is actually better for clients.

I learned this at a panel discussion held by IABC/Toronto’s Professional Independent Communicators (PIC), featuring:

  • Cyrus Mavalwala, ABC, MC, founder of Advantis Communications. He has a virtual team, governed by an associate contract and non-disclosure agreement. Identifying and owning his niche of digital communication (including social media audits) led to business growth.
  • Jodi Echakowitz, CEO of Boulevard PR. She also has a virtual team, focused on B2B technology. All members have at least 10 years’ experience, must be able to work independently and work directly with clients. “I’m not here to coach and I don’t have time for hand-holding,” she said.
  • Carolyn Camilleri, a writer and editor who teams up with other members of a loose collective of writers, editors, photographers and other creatives. The collective has a common face but isn’t an agency; each member deals directly with clients.

To guide our own approach, Cyrus recommended asking if we want to be the “employer,” leading a team, or if we’re just looking for the ability to take on more work.

“Take a strategic view of your business, and if you have any weak areas, look for complementary skills,” he advised.

While Carolyn confessed to being “a total generalist,” the others agreed on the value of a niche. It makes winning the business easier, we do what we love for a variety of clients, and we can charge a premium. As Jodi pointed out, “When you focus in one area, people learn to trust you as ‘the’ boutique agency for that specialty.”

The panelists have similar ways to find people to work with. “Networking is huge,” Carolyn says. Jodi stays in touch with people she sees as a potential fit and tries to find opportunities to work together. Cyrus also suggested the power of just saying “yes.” Agreeing to do a presentation with someone he didn’t know led to new business.

The panelists look for people they like and can trust to do their jobs, and skills are the table stakes. Other attributes:

  • Flexibility
  • Good team players
  • Low maintenance
  • Focused on goals and deadlines
  • Able to deliver high customer service
  • Able to respond in a timely way.

Above all, Cyrus said, “Focus on adding value. In good times, anyone can earn a living. But if you relentlessly focus on delivering value, even in tough times your clients will never let you go.”

Later, Nkiru Asika said she was struck by Jodi’s virtual agency model. “Many people are scared of the idea of scaling into an agency because they dread the headache of managing staff,” she explained. “She has freed herself of that.”

Cathy Ledden, RGD, commented, “I’ve been working with experienced team members as a collective since 2008. Sometimes, I fret over hiring regular full-time or part-time staff, but that brings on another level of headache I’m not sure is worth the effort. Hearing from all three panelists encouraged me to continue along this path.”

A version of this post first appeared in the PIC newsletter (PDF download), which I edit.

2Bobs podcast for creative firms
Jodi’s quoted in this piece on hiring independents
View the session in tweets