Since the Seattle P-I closed, I’ve been searching for a way to make money doing what I love best: multimedia story telling. So I jumped at the chance to attend the Washington CASH business program last quarter through support from Journalism That Matters. I came into the program with a pitch to develop a business model titled “Just One Story”.
I believed a journalist could make money producing one story at a time, and that with the right formula the story could be a business in and of itself. With it’s own website, unique content, and custom marketing plan, “Just One Story” could be the backbone for any journalist with a passion to tell stories and even develop an community
But it turned out my idea was not as great as I thought.
“Unsustainable,” Washington CASH instructor, James Dunn, said after I gave my 30 second elevator pitch on the first day of class. He then turned to my 50 or so classmates, and asked, “Does anyone think this business will be profitable?” The class of entrepreneurial students, spanning all ages and holding dreams ranging from deejaying to landscaping, was just the intelligent, civic-minded audience I’d hoped to target with my website. But they all sat silent. Not a single nod, nor a raise of a hand.
“You have to have something to sell,” James explained. He explained that no one expects to pay for news anymore. There seems to be no distinction between social media, blogs, email, and expensively produced, thoroughly researched news stories.
It was a shot of reality for me – and just one of many lessons I learned during my eight weeks in this nuts-and-bolts business class. I’d come there hoping to learn something about the business of journalism or publishing a news site. The class didn’t teach this, nor address non-profit or social enterprise business models. However, it did offer lessons for former journalists and other people looking to start a business. Some of the lessons I learned:
- Find mentors. The individual help we received from marketing and accounting professionals in the field was invaluable.
- Crunch the numbers. It’s surprising how much more you actually need to earn as a freelancer to enjoy the same lifestyle you did as a newspaper employee (where expenses were covered)
- Say it. Don’t just write, or think about, your elevator pitch. Defining our business strategies and mission statements aloud constantly throughout the course helped solidify our goals.
- Think like an entrepreneur. Unlike the job coaching classes at the unemployment office, in the Washington CASH program we are encouraged to never work for someone else again. Imagine!
- No Walmarts welcome. Not a single person in the room had dreams of making a low quality product in the hopes of selling a lot of them to make money. Everyone placed themselves as selling high quality goods or services with higher prices.
- The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life you Want, and Change the World by Chris Guillebeau was a book suggested by one of the mentors which was a good, quick read.
In my case, I developed a plan for a pet photography business knowing that it could be the bread and butter for a larger dream of publishing an animal welfare site: Rescue News Northwest. The irony is that the animal welfare news site had the potential of gaining more money than the pet photography business in the long run. After all, Google Ad word searches found twice as many people were searching for animal rescue stories than pet portraits. But the initial funding of my journalism goals through a related “for-profit” business may be the hybrid business model I need to succeed.
Karen Ducey/ KarenDucey.com