Elise Perkins is the Founder and Owner of ep communications where she works with clients to help build their brands by using a savvy mix of content and influencer strategies. Elise is also a WWPR Board Member and a Woman of the Year Co-Chair (shameless plug: you can still buy tickets for the November 18th event from this link!).
WWPR’s Molly Mitchell sat down with Elise at Un je ne sais Quoi (off Dupont Circle) for the October edition of Power Points . Over croissants and hot chocolate Elise shared her personal story of why she left the corporate race and started up her own communications firm and how she’s never looked back.
MM: What initially drew you to communications?
EP: I fell into it actually. My junior year of college my school ran a very big study abroad program. I wanted to go abroad but there was also this really strong internship program in DC. I went to school in Pennsylvania so it was close by and I thought – as well as my parents – that it would be nice to have some big city work experience before I graduated. So I came down to DC for a communications internship and ended up staying through the summer and when I graduated was offered a full time position. I was lucky because I graduated in 2008 and I had a lot of friends who couldn’t get jobs for a while after graduation even up to an entire year.
MM: How long were you at your first job and what did you learn there?
EP: I stayed at my first job for five years. It was a trade association that represented large banks and insurance companies and that was a really busy time for their clients. And part of why I stayed those first few years was because I didn’t have a choice. It was really hard work. It was stressful. Everyone was working morning, noon, night and weekends you were always waiting for something to pop up. But it was a really great learning experience. Ninety percent of the time I was working on crisis communications plans and it was a small shop so I got to do a lot of work that I probably would not have been able to at a bigger firm.
MM: What made you want to switch to being your own boss?
EP: I was at a point in my career where I felt very strongly about time management – we can simply refer to this as work/life balance. I wanted to spend my days working on projects I felt passionate about, not wasting hours stuck in meetings or traffic. Most DC professionals can relate to the strain of a long commute, and in PR we always seem to be “on.” I wanted to be sure that if I was dedicating a large portion of my life to work, that I was getting something more in return than just a paycheck. I think switching from a financially-driven mindset to a more holistic one happened in my mid-twenties and once it did, I couldn’t get it out of my head.
MM: How would you describe your current role?
EP: I help build brands for businesses and people, using a savvy mix of content and influencer strategies.
MM: Is there such a thing as a typical day when you’re self-employed? If yes, what does it look like?
EP: Every day starts with a cup of coffee, for sure! I am a morning person through and through, and enjoy being able to start my day on my terms — instead of normal office hours — that usually means by 7:30 I am at my computer. Because consulting offers a lot of flexibility, I prefer to work mostly in the mornings and balance the afternoons with ad-hoc client requests, business development or personal items.
MM: What is the most difficult and most gratifying part of your job?
EP: When I first started out, I was warned that it’s hard to stop working when you work from home, and on your own. I didn’t believe it, but soon found myself picking up small pieces of work at nights and weekends. Now, I try to give myself true bookends to the work day/week, and have come to appreciate that even though working from home can be a lot less stressful, it’s necessary to give myself days off.
The most gratifying part of working for myself is truly that I get to choose the people I work with and projects I work on. I’m so glad I decided to take a risk to go out on my own – I’ve always said ‘I’m comfortable being uncomfortable,’ and I think doing things that you don’t think you’re ready for is one sure way to get ahead.
MM: What keeps you motivated?
EP: Well, when you aren’t paid on a regular schedule, keeping clients happy is certainly one strong motivator! But seriously, I find it really special that I’ve been able to create a work life that feeds my creative side and allows me to enjoy my life day to day, and not relegated to nights, weekends and vacations.
MM: You’re active on Twitter and Instagram what’s your advice on how to have an authentic and fun voice online?
EP: Post regularly and interact with people you know personally, and those you don’t but wish to! Social media has allowed us to create relationships out of thin air, and to learn from and engage with practitioners in our field from across the globe. We need to do more of it, honestly. I think people are really hungry to learn outside of classrooms, so sharing articles and tips is a great way to add value to your community – also, don’t be afraid to toss a GIF in there every once in awhile.
MM: From what professional experience have you learned the most?
EP: When I was working in a trade association during the financial crisis, I think that the long hours, unpredictable workloads and sheer terror of being a young professional taught me how to perform well under pressure. Now, years later and on the other side, it’s much easier for me to separate urgent from important and prioritize all of the things I’m tasked with day-to-day. It also taught me that crisis communications was not for me – and I think its equally good to know what you don’t want to do in your career, as much as what you do want to do.
MM: You’re a WWPR Board Member and a WOY Co-Chair. How did you get involved in WWPR and why do you think it’s helped your career?
EP: I joined WWPR in 2013 and immediately became involved in the Woman of the Year event. With any organization, I think you get out of it what you put into it. WWPR has an amazing group of motivated women organizing fun and educational events and meet-ups – it’s a really nice way to learn and network. You should always build your network before you need it, and when I launched my business in 2014 they became a great and supportive group to share my journey with.
MM: Tell me all about the new branding course you’re launching this fall!
EP: The Savvy Soloist: Your Seven-Step Guide to Launching a Consulting Practice officially opens on October 26, but you can grab early-bird pricing until then. This project has truly been a labor of love, born out of my one-year exploration into how I would personally transition from in-house employee to business owner. Once I had successfully launched, I kept getting inquiries from friends and colleagues asking me to share what I had learned, and how I ultimately made the move. I decided that the easiest way to scale what I learned was an online course. I’ve combined goal setting tactics, Q&A with my accountant about taxes and deductions, strategies for getting your first clients and building your network – alongside hours of interviews with fellow entrepreneurs, and tons of bonuses. I’m so excited to finally share it!
MM: What do you ‘gram the most of?
EP: My dog, friends and family or food. In 2017 though, I suspect it will be my new baby.
MM: What are three things that every professional woman should keep in her bag?
EP: Business cards, a pad of paper and pen, lipstick.
MM: What’s your favorite thing about Silver Spring? Any hidden gems?
EP: I live in the Wheaton area and it is bursting at the seams with amazing ethnic food like Full Key, Ruan Thai, Kantutas, and Seoul Food.
MM: What’s your favorite DC restaurant?
EP: I finally made it to Rose’s Luxury for my anniversary dinner and it was worth the wait and lived up to the hype. Lupo Verde is next — Lupo is actually my middle name!. Also not sorry to say that I still love Founding Farmers.
MM: And finally what advice would you give your early professional self?
EP: You don’t need to know everything today; Don’t worry about if people think you’re working hard, just work hard; Make your coffee at home! 😉
To learn more about Elise Perkin’s work check out: http://www.epcommsconsulting.com/