Chris Brogan

How small businesses get work from big companies

In Ideas by Chris Brogan

Chris Brogan has built his business career on one principle: share and then share some more. He explains how you can do it, too.

I’ve had a very fortunate career. I was ahead of the curve on a particular shift in technology that affected how businesses and people interacted. Because of this, I’ve spent time with a lot of the biggest companies in the world, often meeting their chief executives as well. I’ve met and spoken with Disney CEO Bob Iger and GE vice chair Beth Comstock. Fritz Henderson, when he ran GM, was kind enough to blurb my first book with Julien Smith.

I’m not writing a single word of this to brag. To be honest, every single time I’m in front of people from Coke or Pepsi or Google or Microsoft, I have the same feeling: why the HECK am I here? How did I get here? And is it really that easy to be invited into the offices of some of the biggest companies in the world? (No, it’s not.)

I’ll tell you what I know. The key is to share everything. So many people worry that if you post your “big ideas” on your website that “someone might steal them”. Here are a few truths: your ideas aren’t that amazing just written out, and also you probably (unintentionally) stole a chunk of your idea from someone else, so don’t worry about it. Put your best ideas out there.

My own path went like this:

  • Blogging and no one really noticed.
  • Blogged for a bigger place, paid in linkbacks to my own site. More attention.
  • My blog starts picking up steam. I’m sharing everything I can dream up.
  • Twitter comes out. I’m early to it. More people “discover” me.
  • Guy Kawasaki gives me a big break asking me to speak with him at a Thomson/Reuters event.
  • Book deal because my blog is one of the top 10 marketing blogs in the world (at the time).
  • Book hits The New York Times bestseller list and several other lists (written with my friend Julien).
  • Speeches and consulting roar in.
Disney CEO Bob Iger with Chris Brogan

Disney CEO Bob Iger (left) with Chris Brogan

If I were to give you some advice on changing this up to fit the times, I’d still blog, but I’d add a podcast and a videoblog. Yes, that’s more work. But the facts are out there: people just aren’t reading as much. I’m sorry. Learn how to podcast. Learn how to videoblog.

But that was step one to reaching all the big guys. I’ll stress the important part again: I shared everything I was thinking – all my “best ideas” – and they paid me to come in and share what I meant and how it applied to them. Here are the three things I learned that really made the difference …

Be real

You need to stress your outsider or “regular guy” status but with some “insider” language. In every situation where I worked with a large company, I came in representing the “regular person” perspective but with some ideas and “hooks” to help the company see what they could do with my information.

Sony Electronics USA wanted to do a content marketing product with some of their cameras and video cameras. I said, “Well, you know, as a dad, it’s interesting that there’s so much effort pointed towards ‘mommy bloggers’ all of a sudden. Why don’t we ZIG and do the Sony Summer of Dads, and have kids and dads work on content projects with your devices?” They loved it and bought the idea.

I got the idea across by pointing out my “regular guy” status as a dad and as someone who used gadgets like any other consumer. I didn’t go with the “I’m an expert” method because lots of people come to big companies talking about how they’re experts and super smart and the best in class. I stood out simply because I had a concrete and tangible idea based in the real-world experience of what people might really do with their products.

Make it easy to do business with you

This one is insane to me. I hear little company people telling me all the time how they want to land work with big companies, and yet they make it really hard to connect and really difficult to understand what working with the company means.

Put “serving suggestions” all over your website so that people understand what types of projects they can work on with you. Put contact information wherever it makes sense for a next step. Talk through how a typical engagement works in your web copy. And once you get a call with an organisation like this, be clear about how your process works at all stages.

Part and parcel of this is learning how bigger companies function. I’ll give you a personal example: lots of companies have a relatively complicated vendor management system in place. That means when you or I want to work with them, it’s not like they whip out a credit card to pay us (though sometimes they do). There are forms. There are processes. There are sometimes corporate database sites you have to put yourself into.

Learn this. Ask that question early in conversations: “Hey, what’s the process like for vendor approval there?” This signals to the big company that you’re not some clueless newb. (You might be, but at least you used the secret code words.)

Look for this at every turn.

“You need something that will show a measurable change in business (revenue).”Chris Brogan

I went to the National Entrepreneur Center in Orlando, where Disney (mostly, if not solely) helps school the little guys how better to interface with a big guy (like Disney). So, for instance, you might bake a delicious muffin, but when Disney orders 26,000 of them, what do you do? It’s important for you to think that way and ask yourself that question: “how do I make it much easier to connect with me and do all the other interface stuff that’s required?”

Have something actionable and worthwhile

This is the hardest one. I once got to spend some time with a healthcare company. They wanted to know how they could activate their customer base to get more involved in telling Washington DC what they wanted from a healthcare management perspective. In my meeting, I gave really concrete action steps for what could be done. I showed mini project plans of how we could roll out the experience. I didn’t just brainstorm ideas. I moved the ideas to a point where the actions necessary to accomplish the task were clear.

Many times, the little guy doesn’t deserve the meeting. Not because you’re little but because you don’t really have anything that changes the big guy’s life enough. You need something that will show a measurable change in business. (This almost always means revenue.)

There’s a big reason why I quickly distanced myself from a lot of people calling themselves “social media” marketers or experts or the like. One reason was that most of my brethren in the field were giving advice that had no tangible revenue impact. Having worked inside big companies, I know that most every decision is based on revenue (and share price) or retention (keeping the people happy). If you don’t bring an idea or product or service that impacts those core areas, you really haven’t got a reason to be at the table.

What you need to do

Be helpful: Make really good media that helps people with some solution. Show it to them in video, in a blog post, in a podcast episode.

Be easy to work with: Make it easy to reach you and work to integrate with whichever businesses you can serve.

Make yourself known: Keep up the content marketing and media making. Try not to waste your platform writing something that doesn’t nudge someone further ahead on deciding to work with you.

Note: This article first appeared at

About the Author
Chris Brogan

Chris Brogan

Chris Brogan is CEO of Owner Media Group, a US consultancy that provides strategy and skills for the modern business. He is also a highly sought after professional speaker and is the bestselling author of nine books (and counting). His latest is called Find Your Writing Voice.

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