News & Views

Opinion / Building a New Business in the Face of a Crisis

by Janaina Borges

Contagious opened its operation in Brazil almost two years ago. By that time we knew that we would face some challenges: Brazil’s world famous bureaucracy, the still very traditional mindset for marketing and communications, the niche awareness of our brand and the fact that the only person on the ground – me – was a complete stranger to the owners of the business.

And then the worst crisis in Brazilian history.

It was a shock but the choice was made, the office was open, the president was hired. We needed to make it work. The first year was not easy but my goal was clear: I had to build a qualified awareness for Contagious in Brazil. More than a hundred meetings later, my goal was on the way to being accomplished.

For our second year the mission got bigger. We needed more than awareness; we needed to make this business financially sustainable. And I’m really pleased and proud that we are making it. The crisis is getting worse but we are growing bigger. And so I’ve decided to use this space to share what we’ve been learning in this journey. I hope you can find some inspiration to run your businesses and agencies – not just in the face of a recession.

Every coffee matters / You can’t run a startup business from your desk. You need to be out there, having coffees, lunches, meetings, parties. You need to talk about what you do, listen about other people’s business challenges. You need to be open. I wouldn’t say it’s about networking. It’s about being genuinely interested in people, thinking about how you could make their life easier, what you could do together, even introducing them to other businesses that have a better fit. It’s about being human, generous and smart, helping the whole market to grow so you can grow with it.

Don’t say no at first / The client wants some quantitative research. We don’t do it. The end? Never! Evolve the conversation. Why are you doing research? What are the next steps? What questions are you trying to answer? Maybe there is a space for your company in this process. Maybe you can partner with someone and deliver something much better. Maybe the best answer is not even some research. As our brilliant global head of business development, Noelle Weaver, always says: you are not trying to sell them something; you are delivering them a solution for a problem they have.

Know when to say no / One of the biggest mistakes new business makes is to say yes to every opportunity. This can give you short-term revenue but it can ruin your equity. Every deliverable you make is like leaving your business card behind. The word spreads. And if you are delivering something which is not your core, chances are: you’ll you get invited to participate in lots of projects that you don’t want to do (if you are lucky and really smart) or risk being discredited by delivering something that is not good enough. Lose-lose situation.

Have a team that knows that they are responsible to bring home the projects they want to work on / In small companies every person is in sales. I’ve worked in really big companies and agencies where it is so easy to sit comfortably at your desk complaining about all the shitty projects and terrible clients you have to work for. Go out and bring a new project home! It’s thrilling to know that you can work for whichever client you want and to sell the things you are excited about doing. It adds to your creative job. It makes your days more exciting. It makes you even more proud of your work.

In Contagious we believe that creativity creates unfair advantage. In Brazil we say that the best creative solutions often emerge in the hardest times. Maybe that’s the combination that is making Contagious Brazil an unpredictable success.