Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

The rise of the microbusiness and why journalists should embrace it

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 21, 2012

First off, an important announcement about Inside the Story: the book will go off-sale at 23:59 on Thursday 24th May London time, so this is your last chance to get a copy. I have no plans at the moment to re-release the book, so if you want it, don’t waste time. 

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I write a lot about entrepreneurial journalism round here, and get to talk a lot about it too (see below). It’s the Age of the Online Publisher and an incredibly exciting time to be exploring this space.

But I see a lot of people make a big mistake when attempting an entrepreneurial venture in journalism: they think like a traditional business.That either puts them off starting in the first place, or leads to fatal errors, such as relying solely on an ad-based revenue model for a hyperlocal website, or measuring of success in terms of hits and not loyalty.

Enter the Microbusiness: the smart way to think about entrepreneurial journalism.

What is a microbusiness?

A microbusiness is, in some ways, a unique by-product of the internet age, although of course they existed before then. Generally, a microbusiness is one that is intentionally small. It usually consists of one or two people, working from home or from a shared workspace, being frugal, minimising overheads, concentrating on pleasing a small but loyal customer base and, as a result, being impressively profitable. But we’re not talking about Facebook money; one of the defining characteristics of a microbusiness is the owner aims to make ‘enough’.

In his excellent book Rework*, Jason Fried says you shouldn’t be ashamed to run an intentionally small business.

“Don’t be insecure about aiming to be a small business. Anyone who runs a business that’s sustainable and profitable, whether it’s big or small, should be proud.”

I started a video production micro-business in early 2011. I had all the equipment I needed, after saving up over the previous year. All I needed was a website which I made using WordPress over Christmas of 2010. I challenged myself to launch it in 30 days…in the end it took me only 10. I had a target for the business to make a certain amount of money every month by the end of the year…it reached that goal after just two months and continued to be busy throughout the year.

No office, no investors, no employees and all the associated baggage. It also carries less risk, so you can see why it’s a popular option for the first-time entrepreneur, and in particular journalists and publishers looking for new opportunities.

In fact, the micropublisher is already a thing: to see someone really smart building something great in this field you would be wise to check out Thom Chambers, the founder of Mountain & Pacific, a micropublishing house. It’s just him, making very well designed magazines, and working hard at building a loyal audience.

The space is beginning to get populated by more and more success stories. I’ve mentioned many before: people like Kirby Ferguson of Everything is a Remix fame and even successful hyperlocal blogs (when done well) work best as microbusinesses. Many bigger beasts in the industry started out in someone’s living room, a passion project for one or two driven creatives.

How do you set up a microbusiness?

Well, a lot of it depends on your own design – and therefore having a willingness to ignore conventional wisdom, and really create something that fits around your life and your passions. But if you are looking for a guide, you’re lucky because one has just come on the scene, courtesy of one of my favourite authors.

Chris Guillebeau is the founder of The Art of Non-Conformity and the author of a 2010 book by the same name*. It’s a must read for anyone leading unconventional careers like I do. He’s just published a follow up all about microbusiness called The $100 Startup*. (Disclosure: I get a very brief mention in the book, alongside lots of successful microbusiness owners).

It’s not specifically about journalism or publishing (there is a small section on it) but the lessons are universal. Moreover Chris talks in detail about how he has launched his own information-based products, and there’s some great advice about how to launch a new website, book, or other digital product. A lot of his advice actually helped launch Inside the Story last month with such success.

Courage and Commitment

Last month I was invited to Perugia in Italy to talk about entrepreneurial journalism for Media140, and my talk focused on microbusinesses. You can watch a video of the talk (in English) here, and the presentation itself is below. Check out the “microbusiness challenge” slide which gives you a rough run-down of what you need to do.

It’s pretty self explanatory, but I ended on a note about courage and commitment. These are the two essential ingredients that, above all others, make successful businesses. But they are often misunderstood.

We often think courage involves being fearless in our pursuit of something. Courage is nothing of the sort. Courage is feeling shit-scared, but acting anyway. I can’t stress how important this is. The only people who genuinely don’t feel fear have a pathological condition. The rest of us get on with our work despite how scared we are. You need to do this too if you’re going to start any project that makes waves.

The second is even more underestimated. To be a starter, an innovator, a leader of any kind requires total commitment. This means making a leap of faith, and betting the farm on your idea, not doing it half-heartedly or half-arsed. It means committing to late nights, often working alongside a normal job, working weekends and more. It means at the moment you feel like taking a break you push yourself to work an extra half-hour. At the moment you feel like giving up, you force yourself to give it one more try.

Do you have that commitment? 

*Affiliate links

The Art of the Audio Slideshow

Posted in Adam, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 25, 2010

Last week I was planning on joining a prestigious line up of journalists and social media experts to speak at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy.

Unfortunately it now joins the long list of events, weddings, classes, finances and affairs around the globe affected by the volcano whose name shall remain unpronounceable.  I was due to speak to journalists about the ‘art of the audio slideshow‘ something I have talked about passionately in lectures, training events and Frontline Club events in the past.

Click on the image below to watch the presentation yourself.

Other speakers included Andrew Lyons from London based Ultraknowledge – I have written about their innovative work for the Independent Newspaper here – and here’s a video I shot with them – my first on the new Canon 550D (more on that in a future post).

Can you tell it’s conference season?

Posted in Adam, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 30, 2010

Image credit: Poulomi Basu/Digital Storytelling '10

Some card said on Twitter recently that they feared the Future of Journalism was ‘endless conferences on the Future of Journalism’.

They’re probably right, although if we can help it, the future of news will be defined with action rather than words.

Having said that I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to take part a whole host of interesting events and conferences so far this year including News Rewired in January and Digital Storytelling ’10 in March. There are some particularly good ones coming up too:

Frontline Club :: 6th April

I’ll be joining John Brazier and Anne Wollenberg at London’s Frontline Club to share my experiences of going freelance in the new digital age. It’s an event tailored just for freelancers so if you’re lucky enough to work for yourself or are thinking of giving it a go, then you’ll find it  really interesting. Click here to get tickets.

International Journalism Festival :: 19th – 25th April

I’m really excited about this one: 20,000 journalists from around the world, converging on the beautiful Italian town of Perugia. You’ll find me alongside the team from Media140 for a week of future of news chat, audio booing, qiks, slideshows and possibly even some pizza. I’ll be speaking on the Friday about the power and potential of audio slideshows, and throughout the week Claire Wardle, Ande Gregson, Christian Payne, Kate Pickering and I will be trying all sorts of multimedia nonsense to show off real time web.

Local Heroes 2010 :: 14th May

A one day conference to sort out the future for local news in the UK. It’s being held by The Press Gazette, at Kingston University, London, where I am currently Journalist-in-Residence. I’ll be speaking to news editors from across the country about “why video could be the answer for local news” and the rest of the line up looks excellent. Local journos sign up here!

If you’re going to any of these events drop me a line – it would be great to meet face-to-face!