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In Advance of the October 2020’s PRSA IPA VirtuCon, Let’s Review the 2019 State of Indie Business (Part 1 of 2)

By Gina Milani posted 09-24-2020 01:52 PM


The 2020 PRSA Independent Practitioners Alliance’s State of the Indie Profession survey is well underway which makes now a great time to review the 2019 results.  Registration is now open for the 2020 IPA Virtual Conference on Oct. 21 from 1 to 4 p.m. [Eastern].) This is the first of a two-part blog series highlighting JW’s 2019 findings in advance of his new survey results.

The survey is anonymous and confidential and participation in 2019 jumped to 238, a 68% increase over 2018. Respondents included PRSA IPA, general membership, and SoloPR Pro. The 2019 survey came back with some results that survey my co-organizer and analyzer J.W. Arnold, APR, PRSA Fellow, and past IPA Chair, found surprising.

Demographically, the vast majority has been in PR for more than 20 years but working as an independent less than 10 years, and is between 45 and 65 years old. While the majority female, we had a larger representation from men.

Slide 1

A new question added in 2019 was about educational background. The vast majority has a degree in PR or journalism and 90% of participants have achieved their APR.

In the area of professional memberships –– 90% maintain membership in PRSA, between 30 and 31% belong to SoloPR Pros, 20% participate in local indie networking groups in their community. A few members cited belonging to IABC, IPRA, and a collection of local chambers, etc.

Where are we based? Interestingly respondents were fairly evenly distributed across the United States year with suburban inching closer to major metro area locations and a small number of rural participants.

How do we organize our businesses? Some states require independents to register their business. Of the respondents, roughly 50% are organized as LLCs, a little larger group are sole proprietors and a few are S corps. Essentially it backed up the idea that many people choose to organize as an LLC although the protections of each state vary.

We wanted to get a sense of whether people went through the procedures of registering as a minority vendor: 60% registered as small business and 70% minority-owned (veteran/women). An oversight on my part was not offering the opportunity to check LBGT owner-operated businesses - we’ll be sure to include that as an option this year.

It’s surprising and yet not that 90% of us work from home – the big change is we had a few more people in 2018 that leased traditional office spaces and that was way down in 2019.

Another new survey question asked if people carry professional liability insurance. Roughly two-to-one or 60-40 did not carry a policy and it just seemed natural to ask, what is your level of concern? A sizeable number are not really concerned.

Since we started the survey a few years ago people wanted to know how others find clients and how to market themselves. We started with asking how the respondent defines their business. The vast majority identify as independent practitioners. We followed up with a question about services offered and then marketing activities where participants could select more than one.

Slide 2


It was nice to see other Indies passing on opportunities to others and increasing subcontracting

Word Cloud

The word cloud this is year is about one-third smaller than last year -- maybe we’re starting to home in on common terms:  Strategy, content, writing, media relations being the most used. We’ve known for years that media relations has always been a core business function for our members, but here’s where it gets interesting. Does media relations still make up the same proportion of our workload as in the past? The answers fell into two groups - basically the same or much less which may indicate that if we’ve relied on media relations as our bread and butter, this might be changing in the future. JW considers this a key takeaway from the survey this year.

Where are our clients and projects coming from? This year nonprofit eclipsed corporate with government remaining small. Nothing really pointed to a trend though. Looking at client bases we saw a bit of an uptick in national clients, but it’s still a similar in numbers as local/regional clients.

The question everyone is always eager to see the answer to is “How much should could I charge?”

What we charge is very much driven by local factors, someone practicing in Springfield, Missouri, may not be able to command a rate like someone in Sam Francisco, Los Angeles, or Chicago. It’s hard to break out rates by state.

The average hourly rate was $117. This is $11 less than 2018, which was a little less than the previous year. JW says don’t panic, we’re not falling victim to deflation – he thinks it’s just a snapshot of a point in time of 230 people who responded, but it does give us a sense. The lowest rate reported was $35 an hour where last year it was $25. The highest was $250/hr, down from $300 in 2018.

Slide 4 

How does that translate into how hard we work?  Average hours worked weekly is 30 to 50, which is consistent with 2018. We’re spending almost 60% of our time doing PR the thing that we love, with admin being in the 13 to 15% range and training/pro bono and teaching a bit less than that. We’re billing 25.8 hours weekly up 1.9 from lin 2018.

Then we get into billing practices. This one is also a popular question. Slightly more folks billed hourly vs. charging retainers, but in general more than half use a combination of hourly, retainer, and project pricing. Do we give nonprofit discounts?  60% do with an average discount of 28%.   

We asked about packages and menus of services:. Do we offer price lists to clients vs. submitting proposals? Just a bit over 40% did and of those who used that approach said it was successful. It’s an interesting question as we move forward as we’re finding many more of our potential clients are searching for services online for pricing. This might be an interesting area for professional development to explore with speakers who have used this.

In 2019, in terms of market stability, we were more optimistic with almost 20% doing much better.

Slide 5 

Almost 85% contribute to a retirement plan and not surprisingly IRAs are the most common.

We then asked about health care. Wow, without the coverage from a spouse or partner, a lot of us might be in big trouble as 50% of us get our coverage that way. In terms of the other half, some have veterans benefits, a few qualify for Medicare, and when asked to specify “other,” in Texas there’s a health-care sharing ministries run by religiously affiliated hospitals and some get their care that way.  

We’re not aware of any other publications or associations that have data on independent practitioner billing rates, and we are not the same as freelancers which is what makes this survey data so important.

Slide 6 

Part two of this blog series covers J.W.’s more detailed analysis of the subcontracting results.   We’ll be posting that summary directly after this one! 

If you’d like to hear the 2019 virtual conference moderated by IPA’s Professional Development and Programs Chair Wendy Kurtz, you can listen here. The other two topics covered were Smart Solutions to Client Contracts featuring Michael Lasky and Darren Fried, and Weaving Your Narrative with Donna Francavilla, award-winning news journalist and founder of Frankly Speaking Communications.

Remember, registration is now open for the 2020 IPA Virtual Conference on Oct. 21 from 1 to 4 p.m. [Eastern].)  VirtuCon participation is free for IPA members, $35 for PRSA Members,  $65 for non-PRSA members which includes one-year IPA membership if you join PRSA, and we wanted to offer a special price of $15 for those folks who have been furloughed or are presently unemployed. 

Look for part 2 of this to be posted soon!