Welcome to National Small Business Week, a time to recognize the great and many contributions of entrepreneurs and small business owners. This year’s theme — “Dream big. Start Small.” — is one we at Elizabeth Christian Public Relations know well. We started 20 years ago and haven’t stopped since.
Our staff is 20 members strong, a good-sized public relations firm in Austin but a small business by any normal measure. Dreaming big and starting small is the tenet that led our fearless leader, Elizabeth Christian, to her first entrepreneurial venture.
Finding Your Niche and Breaking Into the Market
In 1984, Elizabeth bought the Mendocino Grapevine, a weekly newspaper in Northern California. During her two years as publisher and editor, the 12-person staff earned five California Newspaper Publishers Assn. awards, and the circulation doubled. Since Elizabeth had a degree in journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and had been a journalist with the Los Angeles Times for a number of years, the newsgathering aspects of newspaper ownership were relatively easy compared to the challenges of running a business and meeting a payroll. Her experience at the Grapevine was the foundation of Elizabeth’s business savvy—skills she would put to work when she established this public relations firm in 1995.
For Elizabeth, the decision to open a PR firm was a logical one. Her husband was in office as Mayor of Austin, so she needed to be able to ensure she encountered no conflicts of interest or awkward situations relating to his elected role. Plus, she knew she liked working for herself, and she needed flexibility in her schedule.
“Austin is my hometown, and I know it well. I knew I could create a public relations firm that could fill a niche in this community. Within a very short time, it was a fully sustainable business,” Christian said. “ECPR proved to be the answer for clients who were looking for clients with deep Texas and Austin experience and with strong media backgrounds.”
Building a business takes more than acquiring a building or business cards — it takes networking and an insider’s knowledge. Elizabeth suggests knowing the industry backward and forward and urges that you work for someone else until you do.
“It’s much easier to start a company that grows organically from something you’ve been doing for a while than it is to think of something brand new and try to make a go of it,” she said.
Choose your business venture wisely and embark on the entrepreneurial journey only when you feel that you know the industry inside and out. Recognizing a need, and acting upon it, is bound to be more fruitful than a forced attempt. Let the community and market tell you what it needs—not the other way around.
Stay tuned for Part Two of our Small Business Week blog series, launching this Wednesday, May 6th.