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Lori Ames was the vice president of a boutique New York City public relations agency for more than two decades when unforeseen circumstances inspired her to start her own business. She left the safety net of a regular pay check to forge her own way and quickly found success. Lori has the perfect combination of significant experience in her field, coupled with knowledge of today’s social media landscape, to create the ideal campaigns.
Lori drew on more than 30 years in the publishing and public relations fields, and founded ThePRFreelancer, Inc.. She works with authors, artists, and small businesses to help them with their publicity, marketing, and public relations needs.
MO: Can you explain to our readers how you became an ‘unintentional entrepreneur?’
Lori: On October 10, 2010, my son, three weeks after his 22nd birthday, was diagnosed with an inoperable malignant brain tumor. There was no way I could continue to commute to Manhattan from Long Island – I needed to be with him 24/7. He underwent 4 brain surgeries, 3 rounds of chemotherapy, 4 weeks of cranial radiation, several additional ICU stays, months of therapy. I tried to see a way I’d be able to return to the position I held and loved for so long, but there was no way. He was very upset I wasn’t working, and suddenly losing a bulk of our income was scary on top of his illness. So with his encouragement, I planned how I could and would start my own business. My son’s prognosis is excellent and my business is booming.
MO: How long did it take from the initial idea of setting up your own company to getting your first client? Did you feel like you were taking a huge risk or did you feel confident that your firm would be a success?
Lori: I officially resigned from my job on November 30, 2010 when it was evident there was no way I could leave my son. On December 1 I reserved a URL, on December 7 I was incorporated, and on December 15 I had my first client. When you’re living your life side-by-side with a loved one who is battling for theirs, you never even think about the risks of starting a business. It was part of my survival mechanism.
MO: After working for an established and well-respected agency for so long what was the biggest challenge when you started your own company?
Lori: The biggest challenge was figuring out how to set up work space. For the first 5 months I worked from home because my son had a physical therapists, aides, and nurses coming to the house. But my 5 cats like to send emails and my pup always timed barking with conference calls. Much of the time I would work from my son’s room where the cats aren’t allowed; and I’d do conference calls sitting in my closet. Once he gained his strength back I started looking for office space. My husband suggested I look on Craigslist, and I found the perfect listing right away. The ad mentioned the street, but not the exact address, but it was on the same block as our condo, so I printed out a picture of the office window that was shown in the ad and sent my husband walking up and down looking for that building. Turns out it’s three tenths of a mile from my front door.
MO: I read in another interview that you credit a lot of your success to being nice to people throughout your career. Do you think that being nice and thoughtful can help with career progression?
Lori: Definitely. Nice, thoughtful, and truthful. Never think that your opinion is more important than someone else’s. And think about giving back. I tend to defer one-time consulting fees, or project fees I view as favors, to one of the three charities I support: the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation , the Cancer Center for Kids , or the Michael Magro Foundation . I just sent out a letter of agreement to an author whose book will be published in Fall 2012. In the agreement I wrote that instead of a deposit, I asked that he make a good faith donation of $200 to one of the charities I mention above in order to hold space, and that in turn I would guarantee the quoted fee whether the book was published in 2012 or 2013. He thought it was a great ask, and I raised $200 for the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation in the process.
MO: How is the continuing evolution of e-books changing how you do business and promote the authors you represent?
Lori: All my author clients, except one at the moment, have books that are printed. Yes, their books are also available in Kindle and other online versions, but I have printed galleys and printed books all over my office. What’s affected my business more is that many media outlets have moved online, and the publicity outreach itself is spread across more mediums. And these outlets want content, so authors, to be very successful, have to be willing to create guest articles and guest blog posts, and do podcasts and online radio shows, in addition to more traditional media.
MO: Can you give us some tips for cash strapped business to get some easy publicity during these challenging times?
Lori: Start local and don’t try to be something you’re not. The free weekly papers will run a nicely worded announcement or press release. Hold an event that attracts local attention. For a local deli, I helped organize a grand opening celebration. Giving away free coffee and cookies was enough to be considered an event, so we were able to secure event listings in all local print and online events calendars. No publicity outlet is too small. For one of the local excursion boats, we did one weekend of free bay cruises. People were lined up! Create an event that raises money for a charity. Do good, and the rewards will follow.