Ten tips for would-be online journalism entrepreneurs
- Decide what your ultimate goal for your business is. Is it a) to make you rich or is it b) a lifestyle choice, ie a business that will give you a reasonable income and the lifestyle you want, where you want it? If a) is your sole aim, think seriously about basing your business on something else other than journalism.
- Don’t assume anything you do will be unique. No matter how clever the idea or the underlying technology, someone else can easily set up in competition to you. The internet makes it much easier to self-publish, but it makes it easier for everyone not just you! Being the first to do something is not necessarily good. You will do all the work creating a marketplace that others will then exploit. But if you are in a niche and fairly innovative space, competition is a good thing. It spreads the burden of building consumer confidence in your business model and should prevent you becoming complacent.
- Don’t risk any of your own money in the business unless you can afford to lose it. Launching any new business is risky, journalistic enterprises are likely to be riskier than most. And if you want to maintain some control over your business, also avoid risking other people’s money, at least until you have got yourself off the ground. Instead you could take a minimal salary from the company and supplement it by freelancing or other part-time work. And structure sales targets so that your sales staff are effectively self-funding.
- Avoid investing too much money in online technology, at least at the outset. You might be re-inventing the wheel; you will be rebuilding everything again from scratch within three years, probably sooner as web technology and design rapidly evolves. Unless you are planning to launch something revolutionary, chances are there are existing solutions out there that will do the job for you, either very cheaply or for free.
- Do some or all of your own accounting. It’s a lot easier than you might think if you use the right software packages and it will help you to keep on top of your company’s finances.
- In the current climate, you are unlikely to be able to charge for your journalistic content and, unless you expect very high volumes of traffic (millions of unique page views a month), you won’t make much money from display advertising. One answer is to sell related products or services to the community you create around that content. Be prepared to have to make high volumes of sales on low-profit-yield services or goods. Don’t expect the money to flood in overnight; you will have to build your community first.
- Get good sales people on board as soon as you can. Selling might be an alien culture to you, but you won’t get anywhere without it.
- Never give up on your main idea (even bad ideas can be made to succeed with stubborn determination), but be prepared for many of your supporting ideas to fail. Get used to failure (all entrepreneurs experience it) and make sure you have plenty of ideas surrounding your main idea at the outset and keep having them as your business evolves. You cannot afford to stand still online.
- KISS — keep it simple, stupid. Start with a simple, low-cost business framework that is deliverable using your current skills and build on that as you gain experience. Attention spans online are limited, so simple ideas will be the easiest to get across.
- Beware of false prophets. As an online business, you may find yourself deluged with offers of win:win contra deals where no money changes hands or offers to sell products or services on your site on a commission basis — don’t waste your time with them. The benefits are almost always a one-way street in favour of the other party; stay focused on the deals that put money on your table, up front.
These are just some of my own thoughts based on my personal experiences as founder, owner and publisher of Journalism.co.uk and should not be taken as gospel. I am sure many will disagree with some or all of my points or have better advice of their own to offer. But please feel free to ask me questions in the comments or to share your own advice if you are already an online journalism entrepreneur.
Meet and learn from other entrepreneurial journalists at Journalism.co.uk’s newsrewired digital journalism event, Thomson Reuters HQ, Canary Wharf London 22 November 2017 — book your tickets now