“This is America; pick a job and become the person who does it.” It’s what Bobbie Barrett, wife and manager of obnoxious comic and Utz potato chip spokesman Jimmy Barrett says to Don Draper in an episode of Mad Men.
It’s a line that resonates for me. In fact, it’s one of my favorite quotes, as I told Ideamensch in a recent interview. See, I didn’t start out a as a writer and photographer, in fact, I graduated USC with a business degree and went to work immediately for MySpace (remember them?) working in digital ad operations. Digital ad operations - that’s a fancy sounding term for what boils down to putting ads on the internet. For me, it didn’t feel creative, it wasn’t fun, but it was the track I had started on and it was safe and well-paying. I was stuck in a cubicle all day and after finishing my work, would pass the time reading blogs like Curbed and Apartment Therapy, wishing I was writing for them.
Today I write for both of the above mentioned publications, have had my interior and architectural photography published on their sites, on Dwell, on the cover of the Los Angeles Times Home & Design section, and have built a thriving content studio in STRUKTR as a result.
After 5+ years of digital ad operations I’d had enough. I picked a job - the job I wanted - and as Bobbie Barrett says, “became the person who does it.”
So how exactly did I become a writer and photographer overnight? It’s a question I’m emailed and DM’d about a lot. The truth is, it didn’t exactly happen overnight. It was the result of strategic thinking, a lot of hustle, and discipline. And that’s why I’m sharing with you the answers to the Top 5 Questions I’m Asked About How I've Grown My Company From A Side Hustle.
So You Wanted To Do Something Different, But Where/How Did You Even Begin?
If there is one piece of advice I could give myself just out of college it would be figure out what I love and then just start doing it. Rome, as they say, wasn’t built in a day. So the sooner you start building your company, the sooner you’ll see it come to fruition. There will likely never be the “right” time, or a moment when “all the pieces fall into place” to get going. I started and those pieces followed.
One day I started applying to any and all writing opportunities on Craigslist. It took one person to say “yes.” I first started writing about music. One opportunity led to another and another. At a certain point I made the switch to design and architecture. Eventually, writing so much about design and architecture, I started taking photos too, and outlets like Curbed, Dwell, and Apartment Therapy started publishing them. I first got their attention through a mix of cold emails, the right hashtags, and persistence - opportunities grew from there.
How Did You Know When To Leave The 9-5 To Go Full Time in Your Side Hustle?
For me, that is something I had to trust my gut on. I believe that sometimes I have to leap before I look. I had a full time job, was writing for several publications covering everything from music, to urbanism, to real estate, to lifestyle, and I simply hit a wall. I had no more time to go after any other or bigger publications (which was my goal) because there was quite literally not enough time in my day to do anymore. I’d work full time during the day - even writing an article or two during lunch - then come home write another article, go to a concert, come right back home and immediately write a review on it, then go do the whole thing again the next day. It was at this point I knew I had to make a change. My writing career at this point wasn’t supporting me totally, financially when I left my 9-5 but I also knew that it couldn’t support me totally, financially if I couldn’t pursue it more vigorously. I leapt, and I left.
Similarly, it was leaping before I looked and leaving the startup where I ran content that allowed me to launch STRUKTR Studios.
How Do You Pitch?
Whether you’re pitching yourself/your company to a magazine, to a brand, or you’re pitching a story you’d like to write to a publication my best practices are all pretty much the same. As a writer, an editor, and the owner of my own company I am well versed it what makes a successful pitch. For me, there are 5 keys to making a great pitch.
Understand The Publication or Brand’s Audience
Keep The Pitch Succinct
Make It Timely / Relevant
Be sure to include, and be clear about, your specific ask.
Include some bonfides. If you’re a writer pitching a story, include a writing sample or link to relevant clips. If you’re pitching yourself/ your company to a mag include great imagery of your product / service, stats, or a quote from a high-profile third-party validator. Pitching yourself / your company to a brand? Include your relevant case studies and your stats on engagement and/or reach.
So You Had A Great Story Idea For "X" Website. But Still, How Did You Get To Write For Them?
I sent an email....I sent a lot of cold emails. Sending an email can't hurt. My philosphy was - and still is, I literally have nothing to lose by emailing that site I longed to write for, see STRUKTR featured on, or be featured in myself. If they say “no”, I'm no worse off. If they say “yes” I have everything to gain.
Wondering what exactly to include in your email? See the above question about pitching, or learn all my secrets by downloading your own exclusive copy of "Let's Do This, Pitches!"
What’s The Best Way Aproach Brands To Shoot Content For Them?
When I was getting started building a portfolio I identified brands that would be a good fit for me (because we had similar audiences, because we had similar aesthetics, similar reach etc). I sent them a friendly email or Instagram message asking them if they wanted to "partner" or "collaborate" on a project which would then be jointly promoted. It's a win-win. I got to build my portfolio and they got awesome content and we both reached new audiences.