Last year Alyssa and I compiled 1.5 terabytes of footage for a documentary called Hourly America. We traveled 18,000 miles and spent 200 days on the road. On a whim and with a big dream, we quit our full-time jobs with the hope we could somehow make it on our own through writing and freelance work. Fortunately for us, we were able to find a sponsor for our 50 state quest as we filmed our documentary.
How did we, two twenty-three-year-old kids with zero background in film and fresh out of college, travel across America for seven months to film a documentary and actually get paid to do so?
Here is a brief account of how we were able to find a sponsor to help contribute to our documentary. I’ll also include specifics on how much the sponsorship entailed and honest view of what the relationship looked like throughout the entire process.
But first, here is the backstory:
Last February Alyssa and I were quitting our jobs and planning out an extended honeymoon across the country. We were tired of Texas summers and desperately wanted to find somewhere outside of Texas to live for a year or two. While looking at a map of the United States we found five different places where we could see ourselves settling down for a short period of time.
Nashville, Southern California, Boulder, Portland, and somewhere in North Carolina
Alyssa, upon looking at what kind of route we’d have to take in order to get to all of these places, decided we should attempt to scratch off one of our bucket list items of visiting all 50 states. During our first year of marriage? That’s crazy!? But I couldn’t dodge the bravery and awesomeness of my future wife’s request.
“Let’s do it,” I said.
We calculated that it would take us seven months to travel across the lower 48 states and then we could figure out a way to Hawaii and Alaska. Seven months is a long time to just travel and we knew that we’d have speed bumps and hiccups along the way. We both knew that if we were actually going to finish this journey we’d need some kind of push or motivation to continue moving forward when we found ourselves in the middle of Kansas or North Dakota.
So we started scheming possible “missions” for our cross-country trip. At first we thought about serving at different nonprofits or meeting up with people we admire in different places, but neither of those were the right fit or seemed big enough.
Then we found the right quest for our seven month cross-country excursion.
I was going to work a different job in every state.
Being young and entrepreneurial, I’ve always known I wanted to own my own business or work for myself. But for the longest time I wasn’t sure what that business looked like or when I would want to-or could-start it. I had so many unanswered questions about my future and the idea of exploring different jobs across America sounded like something that could provide me with quality experience and unique knowledge of so many jobs, and at the very least a badass resume and adventure during my first year of marriage.
It was an idea that once I had it, I couldn’t shake it. It was the adventure I had been looking for.
You’re probably questioning why we hadn’t thought more about finances before this time. I have no good answer to that question. I’ve always been entrepreneurial and I assumed we could figure out how to make money along the way.
One idea I had amidst the planning process was to start a social media marketing company and build up enough clientele to pay us the monthly amount we needed to travel before hitting the road. I went as far as to recruit two of my friends, build a website, and find our first paying client.
I quickly realized I had zero passion for social media marketing. So instead, I started researching jobs for what would be our first stop in Albuquerque, NM. I thought since I’m going to work all of these different jobs, maybe those could help support our trip. I googled “Jobs in Albuquerque” and one of the first job postings was on a website called Snagajob.com. I had heard of them before at a conference where I met their head of HR, so I was somewhat familiar of their online platform.
Looking through their website, I realized they had job listings in every city/town across America that we were going to travel through. That’s when the lightbulb went off.
What if they could help me line up jobs along our trip? I already have a wedding to plan, RV to buy, and will be traveling across the country, if I can take one thing off my plate that would be awesome. Plus, the support of a big company will help give us clout and will be much easier to find jobs (I’m probably giving myself way too much credit here for forethought, but you get the idea).
I found Snagajob’s head of marketing’s email address and shot him a message. I told him I was about to travel across the country and work a job in every state. Would they possibly be willing to help me find some jobs along our 50 state adventure?
Best email I ever sent, see here for the blog I wrote about it.
He forwarded my email to their enthusiastic head of public relations who loved my idea. Fifteen minutes later I got a call from them and one week later I was on a plane up to Richmond, VA to meet with their entire team to discuss my upcoming project.
I was a little surprised they were so gung ho about our trip, seeing as they didn’t know me from Adam. But it helped that I had met their head of HR at a conference, and she vouched for me and told them I wasn’t crazy. Also, I had been writing blogs for awhile on LinkedIn and other places, so they could read some of my work and tell that I would have the capability of recording the journey or at least writing blogs about it.
They One Upped My Original Request
My original ask was for them to simply find me some of the jobs across the country. I thought it was a pipe dream for them to actually go another beyond that. After all, who I was I but a normal college graduate?
After meeting with their team, they liked me enough to actually make an additional offer.
“Heath, we’re willing to help give you guys a monthly stipend to help you make this trip work. Also, we’re willing to help you line up at least 30% of your jobs, using our online job board.”
(In the end, Snagajob ended up finding me 25 jobs, and I found the other 25 on my own.)
I know, I was surprised too. I was also jumping for joy. While we had a small amount of money in savings, it was by no means enough to support us throughout the trip. We were planning on asking people to donate to our honeymoon at the wedding (which we did here) and then see what kind of freelance writing gigs we could pick up along the way.
But Snagajob came on board to really help this thing move forward. They helped us create an awesome logo, website, and momentum into our journey.
I had some doubts when accepting a sponsor that I mentioned awhile back. I didn’t want my project to be “controlled” in any way and I wanted the freedom to complete this 50 job/50 state quest without the process being tainted by a big company’s shadow. Most of all, I wanted to be authentic and never feel like I had to say something that wasn’t really me (they don’t know I’m writing this blog).
Luckily, we ended up having a really great relationship with Snagajob. Towards the end of our journey we even made a stop at their headquarters to meet the rest of the company. It was really cool being able to meet the entire company that had been supporting our trip (they have around 300 employees). Fifty or so of them piled into our RV to get a peak of Franklin and they even let us take over some of their offices temporarily.
What Our Sponsorship Looked Like
The sponsorship we had with Snagajob was pretty simple.
They would send us a $1,000 a month to help cover expenses like gas and in return I’d write a follow up blog from every job on HourlyAmerica.com so they could share it with their 50 million registered job seekers (yes, they have 50 million job seekers signed up for their service). This is why if you’ve ever read any of the blogs from the jobs I work, I try to make them helpful for someone looking for a job, because this is who their audience is built up of.
In addition to $1k/month, they also would cover additional expenses for if we ever needed to rent a car in certain cities (seeing as we were only traveling with a 29 foot motorhome). Luckily, this didn’t happen often. We only rented a car three times throughout our entire trip: in Portland, LA, and Chicago.
How the Documentary Came About
The real game-changer happened when Jon, my soon-to-be PR buddy over at Snagajob, offered to send us some film equipment to turn our trip into a documentary.
We had no intentions of filming a documentary while we had been planning our trip. Alyssa and I were were just going to blog about our experiences on the road.
However, a year prior to our trip planning I had made a bucket list of things I wanted to do before I die. One of them was film a documentary. In college I had watched my best friend James film a documentary called Bastrop: Rising from the Ashes. It was a film about the restoration of a small Texas town after a raging fire wiped out over 1,600 homes. He used his skill as a videographer to document real stories of individuals who were rebuilding their lives after this disaster. He then used proceeds from the documentary to help continue the restoration process.
After his movie premier, I watched a woman whose home had burnt down come up to James with tears in her eyes, telling him how impactful and meaningful his film had been. Seeing as most of the major media left immediately after the disaster, he stuck around for the longevity of the rebuilding, and it touched her heart.
I recognized in that moment the power of film to change people’s lives. Ever since, I’ve wanted to film a documentary of my own.
The only problem?
Alyssa and I had virtually no film experience to date. When on Earth were we ever going to have the opportunity to film a documentary?
Well, the opportunity came sooner than we thought.
An Unforeseen Benefit of Sponsorship
A question we’ve been asked a few times was, “So many people have big ideas, but you guys actually executed on one. How?”
There were two big factors in making Hourly America a reality, one of them was locking ourselves into an RV purchase. We vested skin in the game and it helped give us a strong incentive to finish our trip. The other major factor was our relationship with Snagajob. We made a promise to them that we were going to visit all 50 states and work a job in each one.
Having made those two big commitments it helped us to persevere through places like the Dakotas and Nebraska, when God knows I wanted to quit and go home.
If You’re Looking to Do Something Crazy or Have Interest in Finding a Sponsor
Here’s what I would say:
- Approach companies with an open mind. I didn’t email Snagajob with a detail oriented plan. I told them I was going to travel across the country and work a bunch of different jobs. By being open minded, we were able to collaborate on the project and make it something of a mutual project.
- Realize you are attaching your name to someone else’s reputation. Before our sponsorship happened Snagajob flew me up to Richmond to meet with their team. Why? Because they were attaching their brand to my name. If I did something crazy, it would look bad on them and vice versa. I wasn’t willing to hand myself over to any company, but I believed in them and the people who I met. I liked them and there is mutual respect. If it was some immoral company and I didn’t believe in their mission, I wouldn’t have signed.
- Make sure there is a clear benefit for both parties. After all, money is being exchanged so make sure both of you are receiving a clear benefit. I knew that my story would be a cool one (or at least I hoped so) for them to attach themselves to. While there was no guarantee people would resonate with us, there was a possibility they might receive more brand recognition by attaching themselves to our seven month journey. We also needed the financial backing and job connections.
- Financial sponsorship is only one element. Aside from the financial piece, having Snagajob as an online job board was invaluable. When I reached out to companies and told them Snagajob was our sponsor, they listened because they had heard of them before. This was super helpful in the beginning of our journey when nobody knew who we were. You can only imagine the phone call I made so many times… “Hey my names Heath and I was wondering if you would hire me for the day. I’ll be in (insert name of town) next week and my wife and I are traveling across America, filming a documentary about hourly workers and would love to spend my day working at (your business). I’ll bring donuts.” (Yes, I did ask this and it worked). I switched up the pitch several times, but the point is this: Having Snagajob attached to our project gave me a lot more opportunities than I would have had otherwise. Because of the relationship I was able to work in larger companies like Domino’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Six Flags (as a Zombie, pretty epic).
Sometimes sponsorships could get a bad reputation for being manipulative or untrustworthy, but really it’s the same as any type of relationship. There are good relationships and bad ones, and you have to decide accordingly. Bringing on Snagajob as a sponsor was a game changer for us, and I wouldn’t change that decision for anything.
We couldn’t have made the trip possible without the support of them behind us. I also feel as though they’ve helped share the message of their online job board with the rest of the country as Hourly America as been featured on the front page of Yahoo!, CNN, Fox and Friends Morning Show, Huffington Post Live, and even Sunrise, the equivalent of Good Morning America in Australia(ello’ mate!).
As for the documentary making process, we have full autonomy over creating our film. I’m sure when the time comes we’ll have the support of Snagajob’s network to help promote the film, but during this time we are the sole producers of Hourly America.
Also, never once were we pressured to “say something” or do something in a certain way. We just made sure to give honest plugs for their support of our journey, of which I do with joy because of how great they have been to both Alyssa and I.
I hope this post was helpful, and please ask me any questions you might have in regards to sponsorships or my experience. Lastly, if you were wondering, YES it costs more than $1k/month to travel the country. We had additional streams of income that I’ve written about here.
Also, I recently launched a free online course for RVers called How to See America on $2,000/month! It’s everything my wife and I learned about how to travel CHEAP and enjoy a lifestyle of full-time RV traveling. Click here to download your free course!