The initial PR efforts for your fitness studio were likely done in house — along with everything else on your plate as a new business owner. But as your studio starts to gain traction through word of mouth, social media and other tactics you’ve employed to make your business more visible and attractive to new clients, you may start to consider whether or not it’s time to hire a PR agency to take things over.

To take a look at all your options, we asked a few PR experts in the space to give their best advice for small business owners looking to hire on a team to help. Here’s how to identify the right firm, a few options if you can’t hire one full time, and insider tips on finding the right fit for your needs. 

Get Clear On Your Goals

Are you looking to hand over the reigns to a firm that can manage your PR efforts year round? Or are you just looking for someone to help with a short term project, like an initiative or event? If you’re in it for the long haul, are you okay with not seeing ROI for the several months it will take for PR efforts to ramp up? Stacey L. Vaselaney, founder of SLV Public Relations says that getting clear on your goals and being honest with yourself about where you are in the process will help you determine whether or not it’s time to get help. “Your can-do spirit, hard work and laser vision have brought you where you are today,” Vaselaney says, “but realize that even the best leaders can’t do it all alone. You need to go into a new partnership with optimism and a certain level of trust. Moving forward with marketing experts on board, can you be objective enough to hear them out if one of your ideas isn’t considered the best approach, or will you take your marbles and run?” Read: Being able to put your trust in the team you’re hiring is crucial. 

Find a Trustworthy Firm

Once you’re clear on what your needs are, start exploring your options through personal recommendations. “Word of mouth is always a strong starting point, so if you’re able to get a reference from other businesses managers in terms of who they’ve used for public relations, you’ll have an advantage,” says Jason Myers, senior account executive at The Content Factory. “Find out which PR teams are getting good results for others in your field and, if there’s not a conflict of interest, inquire with those agencies to see if they’re willing and have the bandwidth to take on additional clients of your size.” During this initial outreach phase, Myers recommends paying close attention to the correspondence you receive from potential teams. “There are a few things that small businesses can look for when shopping for a PR team, beginning with a timely, courteous, and professional response to your initial outreach,” he says. “Whether you’re emailing an agency that you found online or calling an account rep whose business card you got at an industry function, the manner in which they respond to your inquires may very well indicate how they’ll represent your brand to the outside world.”

Explore Cost Effective Alternatives

If you’re not ready to commit to hiring on a full team full time, marketing and PR authority Leonard Sipes says to try tapping the talent that’s hungry to sink their hands into their first marketing projects. “I suggest working with local colleges to find talent as to writing, PR and audio/video,” he says. “Many classes need real-life projects to work on. Considering that most small businesses do not have the time to develop a marketing campaign, the college route may be the most effective.”

If you do have the budget to hire on a PR professional, but can’t afford the full time retainer, Bob Zeitlinger of Percussion PR says that going with a smaller team can be a great option — especially for small businesses. “One solution is to outsource the PR to a small (boutique) PR firm or even a solo practitioner,” he says. “The perfect scenario would be to hire a one to two person PR firm that has experience in the small business owner’s industry. Small PR firms typically have little overhead – unlike big PR firms – and can provide similar service for a more reasonable fee. While you don’t get a full-time employee, you do get one or two people who are laser focused on driving results for the small business owner. In many cases, their success generates sales leads that ultimately create a self-funding program.”