Launching a New Publication from Scratch in One Weekend

Personal development is one of the most consistently popular topics on the Internet. It makes sense: most people want to push themselves further, and we all readily take as much information, guidance, and encouragement as we can carry on the subject. Unfortunately, the majority of self-improvement advice is dished out with wanton disregard for readers and rarely offers genuine value.

There are a number of culprits here. Let’s start with just a handful:

  • Most personal development articles focus on what people want to hear, rather than what they need to hear. These sorts of pieces may offer a quick self-esteem boost, but they rarely help us make progress on our goals in the long-run.
  • Writers on self-improvement commonly use scientific studies as a crutch. Here’s the formula: pick a starry-eyed insight, then find a single (non-peer reviewed) study to “prove your point” and dissuade any doubt. As long as it’s Backed by Science™, it must be true!
  • Often, the narrative of these publications reads more like the sales pitch of a biz-op snake oil huckster rather than a growing community of people looking to make a small but meaningful impact on their little slice of the Internet.

Despite the perpetual interest in self-improvement, there aren’t many publications that buck this status quo. The result is a bunch of half-hearted blogs and Facebook pages that make personal development seem like a habit-forming substance rather than a substantive practice meant to form good habits. Self-improvement shouldn’t have to scrape clicks by feeding off people’s insecurities.

When is enough, enough? After first discovering Medium, I thought I had finally found a place where truly perceptive writers could have a platform to “disrupt” the legacy problems of writing on personal development. But in no time at all, Medium became one of the biggest peddlers of the junk food I described above.

Scrolling through the Popular page occasionally feels like browsing an Onion News Network-style parody site. What’s real, and what’s satire? Is this really the standard we’re willing to walk past?

Here’s where I introduce the new kid on the block: Persistence in Practice, a place where ambitious people can share stories and advice on going the distance.

The title comes from a passage written by Octavia Butler:

First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.

All well and good, but a new publication can’t be launched with just good intentions. You need a plan. As a way to grow my career in writing and content marketing, I wanted to A.) Plan and launch a publication that can have a real impact on a topic I care about, and B.) Document how I ended up planning and soft-launching this publication in a single weekend. This post will cover the latter.

Special thanks to my brother Greg for helping me with strategy and planning.

The Minimum Viable Publication

I’m approaching the launch of this publication in a structured way I learned from an entrepreneurial community in college. What you see above is the Business Model Canvas (BMC), a dashboard that helps you plan your business model. The BMC divides crucial aspects of a business model into nine sections, which makes planning for growth and staying on course easy.

During my time in the Horn Program in Entrepreneurship, I learned how to use the BMC to create and test business models using lean methodology. Here’s a quick rundown of the lean method:

When you spot an opportunity for business, you want to verify it’s something that will survive in the market. So, you research your target customers to learn their needs and prove whether your solution will satisfy them or needs to be scrapped. If your research doesn’t disqualify your idea, it will usually prompt you to pivot the original concept to some degree. Let’s say you’re still vested in pursuing what’s been validated. In that case, you want to start with the most barebones version of your customer solution to minimize wasted money, time, and any other finite resources you will need.

I used this method to plan how Persistence in Practice could become a viable publication that satisfies readers and makes a profit. I didn’t have to look far on the Internet to see self-improvement has a high-demand for more content and that people on (particularly on Medium) want better material.

To ensure Persistence in Practice’s brand image stays consistent, I also thought hard on editorial values that differentiate us in the personal development market and set the standard for promises our brand will deliver.

Our publication will focus on…

Never allowing research to become a crutch

Many personal development publications depend on a source so much that they:

  • Rephrase a study’s findings to fill in for original content
  • Read between the lines and end up delivering pure speculation
  • Use unverified, stand-alone studies to back up bold claims

Persistence in Practice will form strong opinions and draw practical insights from as many trustworthy sources as needed. We want to please our readers like any other publication but won’t publish content that sacrifices originality or credibility for entertainment value.

Growing through reader delight

Persistence in Practice plans to grow a devoted, highly-engaged following by delivering helpful, well-written content.

We’ll delight readers by setting expectations for our content and delivering, for example: matching the message of our illustrated hero images with the message in the copy.

We’ll not only delight readers by writing valuable content, but also by serving as a curator.

We’ll surface fresh ideas on creativity, productivity, health, and so on, from other publications we partner with on Medium. We’ll bundle those contributor pieces in our newsletter and broadcast it to our readers.

Persistence in Practice’s newsletter will serve as a hub of resourceful self-improvement material sent directly to readers’ inboxes. No longer will readers of personal development need to mine the cluttered Internet for the good stuff.

Publishing stories and advice on going the distance

Going the distance requires long-term habit changing and perpetual learning. Persistence in Practice will share information that helps our readers change their habits for the long-haul.

We’ll write content that assists in different stages in personal development. Someone who wants to create lasting change in their life needs to understand how to set realistic goals, how to reach those goals, measure progress, and sustain (if not increase) their rate of growth.

For each self-improvement topic, we will unearth new educational material and create content for each stage in our reader’s journey so they can continually strengthen their habits.

Writing about timeless ideas that are worth revisiting

Great ideas can always be revisited because there’s always something else to say. So, the writing in Persistence in Practice will focus on timeless topics; no just-add-water life hacks.

Since self-improvement deals with changing habit, we’ll revisit topics and expand on them in follow-up pieces as new research comes in.

Making every word count

Persistence in Practice’s writing will be reader-focused, meaning every word will serve a purpose or it will be cut.

The reader should be able to learn from title to conclusion without hitting superfluous braindumps. We’ll strive to keep our writing lean without giving up precision.

We’ll also break text into easily digestible chunks and use whitespace to help the reader scan and easily extract the content’s takeaways.

Presenting insights modestly

Persistence in Practice’s content will be written in a modest, level-headed tone. Our insights will be presented as guidance from one ambitious person to another rather than dictating the information to the reader with an unwarranted authority.

Defining a target audience

The ideal reader of Persistence in Practice falls in the 20 to 30 something age range. This person probably reads a lot of educational content to improve facets of themselves.

We will provide high-value educational content that deep dives into insights that can be applied in our audience’s daily lives. Reading our content will make habit-changing fun.

They probably have a demanding job involving creative work. They might produce creative content themselves in some form and have to report measurable results to prove they’re doing their job.

We will provide our target audience with ways to set goals and set up key performance metrics to track their improvement in order to hit those goals.

They’re not looking to settle down yet. Their lives are very focused on advancing their career, expanding social circles or professional networks, and improving their mental and physical health. These people are looking for repeatable, sustainable ways to improve different areas of their lives while they’re still young and aspiring.

We will revisit timeless content to offer fresh suggestions for improvement so our audience can sustain their rate of change. We’ll also detail systematic ways they can reach their goals.

Improving material with audience development

We want an idea of what content our readers eat up and what content they’re sick of, so we’ll distribute customer discovery surveys through email. We will interview readers to narrow the array of topics readers want to see.

Distributing content

We will publish our content on Medium, where the Persistence in Practice publication is already hosted. But why not self-host? Medium already has a large reader-base, an easy-to-use publishing platform, and it hosts other publications we will want to partner with. Also, Medium has already validated the demand for self-improvement content: our target audience is already there.

Our primary communication channel will be our self-hosted email newsletter, which gives us a communication platform that can easily scale as our readership grows. We will broadcast our publication’s self-improvement content as well as curated content and affiliated resources for our readers to check out. We’ll use an email service provider that allows us to track email performance. This way we can improve our emails’ messages, design, and content to better appeal to our audience.

We’ll promote and repost our content and resources on Persistence in Practice’s Facebook page. We’ve chosen to solely stick with Facebook because it’s the most popular social media platform for sharing self-improvement content. Facebook also factors in people’s interests and shows them related posts in their feed. So people who regularly read self-improvement content will have an easier time finding our posts. Facebook also provides an analytics dashboard we’ll use to study posts’ performance in reach, engagement, and shares. Lastly, it displays posts in a visually appealing way in people’s news feeds so they stand out.

Running the publication

We will set up an editorial calendar to plan out our content and track which stage each piece of content is at in the publishing process. Obviously, a lot of writing and editing will be involved in our day-to-day activities. We’ll also pay other writers for quality pieces on self-improvement to publish on our Medium publication. Then we’ll broadcast the content for the week through our newsletter.

We’ll also reach out to freelancers to design and illustrate hero images. We don’t want to recycle overused, bargain bin stock images that go against our values for quality and hurt our brand image. We will decide on one or two artists who can capture the repeatable style we want to represent our brand. That way our readers can easily recognize our content, and we can predict our costs for artwork.

To monetize our publication and share cool resources with our readership, we will seek out affiliates and promote them in our content and through our newsletter. We will focus on promoting books related to our topics through Amazon’s affiliate program and the occasional affiliate promotion for software, apps, and online educational sources which fit well with our self-improvement topic of the week.

Lastly, we’ll regularly conduct research for audience development. Once we understand what content resonates with our audience and what flops, we’ll adjust our editorial calendar accordingly.

The toolbox

While we’re still working to find a publisher-audience fit that returns a profit, we’ll keep costs low by using mostly free tools and resources.

We’ll keep our writing and editing in Google Docs until polished drafts are ready to be run through Grammarly and the Hemingway app for further cutting and rewriting. We’ll promote only through Facebook.

We will be paying to host our publication on Medium, where we don’t need to worry about converting readers into subscribers but need a platform to grow a readership. We will also need to pay for a premium Email Service Providers, such as MailChimp, to manage our newsletter and send clean, well-designed emails.

Persistence in Practice will need to deliver a high output of quality work like any professional publication, so we will need to outsource writing fit for our publication, as well as pay freelance designers and illustrators for custom hero images.

To account for our revenue and expenses, we’ll need a cost-effective financial tool. We’ll use Quickbooks’ Simple Start to meet our needs, with the exception of a budgeting tool and tax forms for freelance contractors. But we can manage budgeting in Google Sheets and print a 1099 tax form for free and email it.

The free tools:

  • Google Docs
  • Facebook
  • Grammarly
  • Hemingway app

The paid tools:

  • Medium — $75 one time fee
  • MailChimp — $10 per month (free up to 2,000 subscribers)
  • Outsourced writers — TBD
  • Freelance designers & illustrators — TBD
  • Intuit Quickbooks Simple Start — $10 per month

From publication to potential business

Persistence in Practice will partner with related publications on Medium. Publications will pay other publications and writers for content, as long as it’s a good fit for their readers. We will want to repurpose our older content on our partners’ publications for more views and claps (Medium’s form of social currency). Garnering more claps is one way Persistence in Practice will generate revenue as a Medium partner.

By focusing on building a dedicated following rather than going for simply more followers, the monthly dividends should eventually turn a profit.

The second category of partner and revenue stream is affiliates. These affiliates might be other publications or businesses with products and services that relate to our articles or offer more reading material.

For instance, a primary affiliate will be Amazon’s Affiliate Program where we’ll link to book sources. We’ll share these links in our curated newsletter. We’ll promote our affiliate’s cool resources in exchange for the occasional commission for purchases we drive.

Improving myself by launching a self-improvement publication

I wanted to launch this project because I spotted an opportunity to mix my love for writing, personal development, and entrepreneurship.

The demand for self-improvement content seems unlimited, while the publications in the market seem disinterested as to whether or not their content offers readers truly valuable ways to improve themselves. I saw a potentially lucrative business opportunity in launching a publication that gives self-improvement enthusiasts the content they need.

I also wanted to take on a project that teaches me valuable lessons. Persistence in Practice will give me experience with the business side of a publication, knowledge I can apply throughout my career. I can apply this knowledge of the backstage of the publication world in any editorial workplace.

It will help me better understand how to validate what content helps grow a publication, where I can pick up slack for my content managers on the administrative end, and how to turn a profit and delight readers with content at the same time.


Originally published at seancarey.co on October 16, 2017.