Elena Verlee didn’t intend to become a serial entrepreneur when she started her public relations (PR) consulting practice after moving to Vancouver in 1997. Beginning with this “temporary” project, Verlee has since become a self-described “accidental entrepreneur” who has built a seven-figure business and sold two companies for six figures each. Currently, Verlee is the founder and managing partner of two very successful PR ventures: Cross Border Communications and PR in Your Pajamas.
Verlee’s successes include:
As a business consultant who regularly advises clients on marketing, I am very familiar with the communications business and the game-changing emergence of social media. But while many PR firms are downsizing or closing down, Verlee’s businesses are thriving. I’m a fan of Verlee’s blog and value her business tips, so I contacted her to see whether she’d share a few secrets.
Never stop learning or innovating
When Verlee started blogging and tweeting in 2009, she was intimidated by the feeling of being a social media newbie. “But I realized that was the wrong attitude," she said. "Everyone has to start with their first blog post and their first tweet.” Two and a half years later, Verlee is one of the most influential tweeters and bloggers on the internet. The result? She now receives more new business inquiries in a single month than she used to all year, and her client base is becoming increasingly international.
Always focus on core strength
Verlee’s core strength is in finding interesting stories about her clients and using them to create publicity via traditional media outlets. Rather than abandoning this and simply jumping on the social media bandwagon, she and her team adapted their skills to social media and created a new revenue stream. “None of us are good at everything, but all of us have a core strength that we absolutely excel at,” she said. A powerful way to differentiate yourself from your competition is to maintain focus on your core strength, while continually seeking new opportunities and situations to effectively showcase these skills.
Establish yourself as an expert
Verlee attracts clients through her reputation, which she largely established via social media. When asked how she used PR and social media effectively, Verlee identified speaking, writing, blogging, and building an online community as the vehicles she used to advertise her expertise. “I’ve had clients call me already convinced they want to work with me and my team - even if there is a waiting list - because they feel like they know me, my working style, and our accomplishments.”
Don’t dwell on failure. Learn from it.
Learning from failure is something that Verlee understands intimately. An e-commerce business she once ran dealt with challenges including packaging that fell apart in the mail, poor inventory control, and an inefficient back end. But those mistakes were an opportunity. “We learned so much, and were totally surprised when someone wanted to buy the company," she said. "If we hadn’t been willing to fail, we wouldn’t have succeeded.”
And as a final note, what does Verlee consider key to her success?
Passion and belief in what she is doing. “When I am promoting a client, I always believe that there is someone out there who really needs their help and would be so relieved to find them. It also helps to work with clients you truly love.”