About seven years ago, my buddy Brian O'Connor and I started getting hired by brands to create content for them. Our numbers got passed around, and a few agencies would contact us and hire us to create how-to content interviewing experts for brands like Gillette, Braun and Ford. Adweek would hire me to write features on business in their branded content sections.
It felt a lot like the traditional service journalism we'd done for men's and women's lifestyle publications. After a couple years of working this way, we thought we could create more compelling editorial lineups and hire our friends to help get it all reported and written.
We assumed we'd just ring up Coke, and let them know we were in business, and we were ready, willing and able to create their content program. So, three years ago, with that in mind, I cold called the 500 biggest companies in the world. Their reaction was consistent across the board. No one cared. Most of the time, I couldn't even get anyone on the phone. Of course I felt a bit frustrated, I knew it would take time. I just didn't know how much time.
We started working with friends, friends of friends and people we'd meet at networking events. It would be impossible to stress that no job was too small. Our goal was to build a portfolio of our work.
Along the way, we learned a few things we hadn't really planned on learning:
How to write contracts.
How to talk about our business.
How to project manage a job.
How to price things.
How to handle cash flow, or lack thereof.
Near constant and relentless networking online and I.R.L. kept the pipeline fuller in the second year. People at larger companies who saw our work were willing to give us a chance. We did test products, one-offs, smaller programs and sometimes these turned in year-long programs.
Other agencies saw what we were doing and asked us to execute larger programs with them, sometimes white labeled, other times in a more upfront role.
Today, we deal with fewer people, but the jobs are bigger, and ironically, the hassles aren't as bad, but even three years in, it feels like we've just started, only now, the stakes are higher.
The point is, if you're serious, start small and start today. Make world-class work, even if you're not on a world-class budget. If you're good, and you solve real business problems for your clients, eventually you'll get seen, but know that you're probably going to have to put the time in.