This week’s Small Business Star is Hiscox customer Michael Pilgrim, who defied all first-job stereotypes when he walked into his local newspaper’s office at the age of 16 and asked to be employed. Successful in his mission, he went on to work for every national newspaper under the sun except, oddly, The Sun.

Pilgrim founded Highbrook Media earlier this year, which provides journalism, video and design for clients’ websites and other channels. Below he talks to us about his journey into business ownership.

Moving into different waters

I began working on and off for WPP about ten years ago, starting a slow migration from editorial to marketing, one that always seemed a natural progression. That culminated in me spending four years as Commercial Editorial Director at the Daily Telegraph, before founding Highbrook in April this year. It’s named after a rather lovely hamlet in West Sussex. I started emailing potential clients asking for meetings the week after. I’m pleased to say the reception has been very positive.

Content marketing spending is forecast to increase 33 per cent by 2017. Almost everyone recognises that it is important, but actually achieving high standards in a stress-free manner is tricky. We believe we can help (obviously).

Striving for quality and creativity

One of the main things that makes us unique is that we believe in quality. We’ve teamed up with some of the best creative people to achieve the calibre of journalism you would expect to see in the Financial Times, Telegraph, Observer and Guardian and on the BBC and C4. Unlike other content agencies, we can bring editorial standards and the power of an editorial newsroom to a project. We can operate at scale and at speed – be that producing 1,000 articles or turning round a suite of content within a week.

As a young business, we can spend time with our clients understanding how they work, their brand values, their ambitions. At Highbrook, you only deal with our creatives. In fact, we only have journalists, film-makers and designers. There are no sales managers, middle-people or account directors. This makes us fast and highly cost-effective.

Essentially, we believe in the power of enterprise, investment and technology to improve lives and transform economies around the world. We like to think we can help, in a small way, to spread that knowledge.

It’s not the channel, but what you do with it

Although it’s monumentally important to us to keep up with the latest developments in digital, it isn’t the be all and end all of what we do. Great creativity will flourish whatever the method of distribution.

Obviously social media plays a part in our marketing, but I also believe in making phone calls and in recommendations. Several leads have come from friends of friends, which is very kind. They’ll definitely be coming to the first anniversary party. The personal touch is key. Talking to people, setting up meetings and showing what we can do doesn’t necessarily produce an instant booking – but they build reputation and recognition which I hope leads to work in future.

Risk comes in all shapes and forms

When it comes to managing risks, we’re a young business so the timely payment of invoices is crucial. Being properly insured is also essential, as is having legal advice so you are contractually sound. And on the other side of the risk factor, the content marketing industry generally suffers from a shortage of talent. There are lots of people who talk content, but not so many who can actually create it. Knowing who’s good is essential, but also training and nurturing new people will become part of what we do as we grow.

I’ve written any number of pieces about the difficulties of setting up a business in the UK. They turn out to be entirely true! Just dealing with the tax authorities and getting a bank account set up are time-consuming.

Stay positive, be organised and seek advice

To anyone setting up their own business I’d say – avoid conflict and negativity at all costs. Check everything and chase everything. You haven’t time to clear up other people’s mistakes, so leave nothing to chance. You’ve got enough errors of your own making to deal with, after all.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. There’s a vast amount of good will towards people who are trying to create jobs. You don’t get if you don’t ask, especially if you ask nicely.

1. Source: Content Council 2015 survey

Find out more information about Michael Pilgrim and Highbrook Media by visiting:

For more advice and insight from business owners, visit our Small Business Stars hub