Business woman covered in post-it notes

Most organizations have a communications function for similar reasons, though size varies widely based on how big the company is, and what the communications department is expected to do. The good news–and the bad news–is that even in small and one-person communications departments, you’re still expected to produce results on par with those that have dozens of communications staff.

How could this possibly be good news? In a word: experience. You’ll have to do everything (or at least manage the outsourcing, if you’re lucky enough to have a budget). So, instead of updating media lists and fetching coffee early in your career, as an in-house staffer in a small org, you’ll do it all. As a result, you’ll be better prepared for the next step, whether it’s another job or striking out on your own. Lucky for you, you likely already have an entrepreneurial mindset as a one-person shop.

How one-person shops are different:

1. There is no one else. Obvious, yes, but with a host of implications. You need more than a little fortitude to thrive in such a position. You must be a self-starter, and provide your own sanity checks. Your co-workers are probably great, but if they don’t know much about communications except how to use “the Facebook,” you need to find trusted advisors elsewhere. Confidence in your own skills and judgment is a must; you don’t have to know how to do everything, but you have to know how to learn. You also have to think creatively (emphasis on think), since you’ll host brainstorming parties of one.

2. Your boss doesn’t know how to do your job. Or she doesn’t want to. (Smart bosses hire people who are good at things they aren’t.) You have to figure things out on your own. Even if you ask your boss, be prepared for “I don’t know.” Be prepared to explain your job, or parts of it, repeatedly (AKA “the press release talk”). Google is your friend. And so are we, the one-person shoppers. Find a few others in your boat, and start rowing together.

3. You have to be comfortable managing yourself. Your boss will still give you stuff to do, of course, but the how will be up to you. For example, you might be tasked to “help us sell stuff on social media.” You’ll need to figure out how to build an audience (and their trust), and still meet your organization’s goals (hint: be helpful–not pushy–and be patient). Much of communications is a marathon, not a sprint. Give yourself time to succeed.

Starting my career–and continuing most of it–as a one-person shop has helped me in more ways than I can count. It’s helped me understand what I’m good at, and what I’m not, which helps answer “what’s next?”. When I was able to hire, I knew what skills to look for–those that would complement my own, rather than duplicate them.

How have you found life different in a one-person shop?