By Janet Civitelli
This post continues my series of interviews with people who launched businesses because they couldn't find a job, with the happy outcome that their businesses became successful and they wouldn't accept a salaried job offer now even if they were offered it. This interview is with Sydney Weisman, a partner at WHPR (Weisman Hamlin Public Relations). Ms. Weisman founded WHPR with her husband, David Hamlin.
Sydney, what type of career did you have before you launched your business? My husband and I both had experience working in communications related to political campaigns. Prior to the political campaign work, we had been freelance writing and before that, back in Chicago, my husband had been an executive director for a non-profit and I had been a journalist and then retired from the profession to become an independent publicist.
Describe the circumstances of your job loss, how long you looked for a job, and how your job search went. Following the end of the political campaigns in 1986, we began job searching in LA and across the country. We were in our 40's and we had no plan to open our own PR shop. Quite the contrary, we didn’t want to do so. I had done it in Chicago, with limited success on my own, we didn’t have a client base with which to launch our own agency, and we were relatively new to LA. All those factors were against our considering opening our own PR firm. By mid-’87, after landing interviews for entry level or receptionist type jobs at PR firms, given the depth of our experience, we had no option but to consider opening our own shop.
How did you survive financially while you started your business? We worked as Kelly Girls to support our burgeoning PR firm, which we opened in our two bedroom apartment.
How does your current income compare to your previous income? We have made a very comfortable living for ourselves and our family, and I believe we are making more money with our PR business than we would have working for others.
What skills and previous experience were you able to bring to your business that is helping you to succeed? My husband’s skill as a non-profit executive and mine as a journalist have been the basis of our success as a PR firm specializing in non-profit PR.
What is the best part about running your business? Being “the boss of me,” and working with my husband.
What is the most challenging part about running your company? Maintaining our marketing edge and self-promotion.
What new skills did you need to learn to be a successful entrepreneur? I had a skill set in place, i.e., the ability to stand in front of people and talk about myself (for networking purposes), but I had to hone each skill and adapt it to being an entrepreneur. Perhaps the most important skill I had to learn was how to be a business partner, even though my partner is my husband. When you work alone, it’s very easy to lose track of the need to collaborate and consult with someone else. I had worked alone in my own PR business prior to opening WHPR with my husband, so that was an important lesson to learn.
What career advice do you have for job searchers who may be considering an entrepreneurial path? Be sure, if you become an entrepreneur, to give yourself lots of free time away from your business. If you open an office in your home and you’re by yourself, make dates to get out and meet people every day, or at least three times a week. Be sure to access networking opportunities. Join networking groups and remember it takes a good two years before most networking pays off.
Anything else you would like to share? Have fun!