Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

How to make a niche work for you

Posted in Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on May 18, 2010

You’ll hear me gabber on about a niche all the time these days. Thing is, a niche is one of the keys to unlocking all the money locked in the future of journalism. Niche is the future.

Forget broadcasting to the many – think connecting with the few.

It’s not quite as simple as ‘choose a niche and they shall come’ sadly. You have to choose it wisely, and choose one where there is palpable demand for your news product or service.

On today’s Next Generation Journalist post on journalism.co.uk, I pitch aggregating content as a great way to found a business. Here’s an example of how that could work.

A local hero

Last week I was invited to speak at Press Gazette’s Local Heroes Conference at Kingston University in London, where  I am also Journalist-in-Residence.

One of the most inspiring speakers there was David Parkin – a man who took the plunge and launched into a niche product. Guess what? He’s making it work.

He founded TheBusinessDesk.com, a regional website aggregating and creating financial news. Think the Financial Times, but on a regional scale.

  • new angle on a successful business model – check
  • well defined target market – check

Currently running in Birmingham, Yorkshire and Liverpool (note, not London), the Business Desk hires 10 journalists.

  • a small, nimble operation – check!

It is supported through several means. Firstly, advertising around articles on the website. Because of theBusinessDesk’s niche audience, and its rather well off niche audience, these are advertisers willing to part with some cash. Then there’s the daily mailing list of business news, aggregated by the site, sent to 37,000 subscribers. This too is sponsored. If you knew your brand could reach 37,000 business people in their inbox every morning, you’d cough up some cash right? Thirdly, there’s the events which are organised for the community.

  • multiple revenue streams – check!
  • no total dependence on ad revenue – check!

The Business Desk has also recently launched an iPhone app for its subscribers too. It’s free, but supported by advertising.

  • entering a major new market – check!

David Parkin, quite humbly, revealed the company expects to turnover £1million this year. Impressive.

Now I don’t know anything about the company’s running costs, but I do know how inexpensive a website and mailing list is. And I can imagine 10 staff aren’t costing a huge amount of money.

David Parkin has made the niche model work. Now apply it to the hundreds, upon hundreds, upon hundreds of other niches out there – and you’re in business. If you want to get it right, get your hands on the ebook – out on Thursday 20th May.

Thinking of a journalism start-up? Here’s a checklist

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on November 5, 2009

If the future of journalism is indeed entrepreneurial, we have to start thinking with a business hat on.

It’s a big change in mentality for some journalists. I’ve been to several events and meetings recently where hacks have insisted people will have to pay for news “because journalists have to eat”.

This is upside-down thinking. People don’t buy iPhones because Steve Jobs needs to eat. They buy them because they are an innovative product which satisfies a demand people are willing to pay for.

And so it must be if journalists are to be entrepreneurs. I’ve put together a list of criteria a new business idea might need to satisfy to see it become successful. I don’t think a successful business will need to satisfy all of them, or maybe even 50%. But ignoring these questions means another financial failure…

News start-up checklist

  1. Is it a new idea?

  2. Does it have a defined target audience?

  3. Does it provide niche (i.e. hyperlocal) content?

  4. Does it satisfy a desire that is not being fulfilled by someone else?

  5. Or does it do something better (faster, cheaper, more effectively) than someone else?

  6. Does it actually have income potential, or will it rely on funding?

  7. Does it use the power of crowd-sourcing/community?

  8. Would it be fulfilling for journalists to work for?

  9. Does it publish/exist on more than one platform?

  10. If it has content, is it sharable?

  11. Does it require a lot of money to run?

  12. Does it have boot-strapping potential?

  13. Does it scale?

  14. Does it fulfill a public service?

  15. Is it a legally sound idea? What about copyright?

  16. Would it appeal to venture capitalists, angel investors?

  17. And…does it have a cool name?

That’s what I’ve come up with so far. I think if you answer these questions at the early stages, you’ll have a greater chance of your start up succeeding. What it says is a sustainable business – journalism or otherwise – begins with a solid well-defined customer base.

You need to know who these customers are, and be really clear about why you are providing something they can’t get elsewhere. Innocent Smoothies was begun by three British students in 1999 who realised there was a demand for healthy fruit smoothies, which wasn’t being satisfied by anyone else. It now has a revenue of £128m.

US start-up “incubator” Y-Combinator is looking for new media business ideas which embrace this form of thinking:

What would a content site look like if you started from how to make money—as print media once did—instead of taking a particular form of journalism as a given and treating how to make money from it as an afterthought?

Add more to the list in the comments below if you have any. And while you’re here, read the comments of one reader on an earlier blog entry. Some interesting criticism of the notion journalism is entrepreneurial at all…

6×6: branding

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 17, 2009

6x6 advice for multimedia journalists

The first in a series of 6 blogs, each with 6 tips for the next generation of freelance multimedia journalists.

branding

Even as far back as 2006, the likes of Andrew Neil appreciated the journalists of the future will need to brand themselves well. “The journalist of the future…will have more than one employer and become a brand in his own right” he wrote.  With full time jobs in well staffed newsrooms becoming more sparse, but opportunities outside traditional/mainstream journalism becoming more plenty, this prediction is coming true. So, what can you do to boost your brand?

01. own your name

The first thing to overcome is the embarassment or discomfort of ‘blowing your own trumpet’. For some people the idea of self branding is for cocky self promoters. Well guess what: if you’re going to succeed as a freelancer, some self promotion has gotta be done. Oh, and aim for confident, not cocky.

As a freelancer especially, your brand is your name. Therefore you need to own your name, especially in cyberspace. You should try and own your domain name (www.yourname.com or http://www.yourname.net or http://www.yourname.co.uk).  If you’re running yourself as a business with its own name that’s OK too.

Lisa Barone at Outspoken Media agrees: “It’s always better to have the username and not use it, then need to wait and kick yourself later when someone else grabs it. Having a unified social media username is very important in establishing trust with other members.”

Another unpopular thing to do: Google your own name. How far up does it come? If an editor or potential client needs to find you, you must be high up the rankings. You don’t need to pay for this (although you could); instead you should be putting up authoratitive quality content which gets you those all important links, diggs and retweets from readers.

Brian Clark, in his excellent Authority Rules e-book, makes the point that if “people think you’re important, so will Google.”

02. define your niche

The branding experts tell you if you’re going to have a brand, people need to know what you’re about. And you need to be able to give someone the elevator pitch about yourself too. A niche will give you a vital advantage over general-news journalists. Freelance science journalist Angela Saini for example knows what she’s good at (science) and has successfully built herself a reputation as a science journalist around that, in less than a year.

If you don’t have a niche, don’t worry too much. But just be able to sum up what you’re about: not only will it define your branding, it’ll help keep you focussed on what projects you pursue.

03. have a good great website and blog

As a multimedia journalist your content exists for the web. And so to not have your own web presence is ludicrous. But your website must be great (not just good). It must stand out and most importantly be designed to show off what you’re good at.

So:

  • if your selling point is the great photographs you take, make sure your website has a huge single column on the front page, with a flash platform displaying your best photos at their best
  • if you’re a video journalist, your front page should have an equally large single column splash video showreel
  • if you’re about the audio, think about getting a visually exciting audio player, again at the top of the front page

Here are three original, striking and inspiring portfolio websites to get you going:

6x6-portfolio-carmichaelx

6x6-portfolio-maisiex6x6-portfolio-monicax

A blog is another crucial element for the multimedia journalist, for several reasons. It keeps your website current and up to date; it allows you to build on your brand and show off your expertise with some well written authoratitive blogs; and allows you to build and engage with a community of other journalists and even clients.

Back to Brian Clark at Authority Rules: “Your content actually demonstrates your expertise, compared with a website or bio page that claims expertise.”

04. have a fresh CV and showreel

After your blog and front page portfolio, the most important thing visitors will need to be able to find is your CV/resume and showreel. Have it in the top navigation bar and in one of your sidebars.

Your CV must be in pdf format (or a Google Doc) and up to date. You can chose to have it typed up in the page as well.  Create an image button to make it more attractive. Mindy McAdams says your CV is  vital to prove your claims, so “your real work experience should be easy to find and easy to scan quickly. People will want to check this for verification, so dates should be clear, not obfuscated.”

Your showreel must also be up to date, especially if you are pitching for daily news work. Radio journalists especially: make sure your uploaded bulletin is only a few weeks old.

Upload your showreel and embed it into your web page. That way potential editors and clients don’t need to download large files to be able to see what you do. Vimeo is ideal for video. Soundslides does the job for photographs and audio slideshows. And I use Soundcloud for embedding audio. If you can, use flash to give your showreel some animation. Freelance radio journalist and web designer Katie Hall does this to good effect on her site.

05. keep your networks consistent

An important part of brand management is consistency. The internet is a hugely powerful tool for connecting with people, so it is important you spread yourself across as many social networks as possible: Twitter, LinkedIn, Wired Journalists, Demotix, Current TV and Facebook to name just a few.

But keep them all consistent. Have the same username for each – and make it your name. My Twitter name is AdamWestbrook, as is my Vimeo and LinkedIn profile. My Facebook URL is facebook.com/AdamWestbrook.

And do the same with images. Have one image of yourself (it’s called a Gravatar) and use that for your profile images. One name, one image, one brand.

06. get business cards

All these tips so far have been for branding yourself in the online world. Amazingly the real world hasn’t given up the ghost through lack of attention just yet, and it’s equally important to promote yourself at networking events, conferences and other shindigs.

Business cards are a neccessity. There are many sites offering this service, not to mention high street stores, but UK born website Moo.com has been recommended to me far too many times for it not to be good. They’ll even give you 50 free business cards as a trial.

The final word…

Now I know I’ve pushed for you to brand yourself as your own name as a multimedia journalist. It’s a lot quicker, cheaper and easier than creating an actual stand alone business. But a wise word of warning comes from James Chartand at Freelance Switch:

A personal brand traps you into always being present in your business. You will be at the mercy of your clients and your career…your personal reputation is at stake. One bad day, one slip, a job gone sour, an unhappy client spreading rumors, and your reputation is tarnished.

Next: video for multimedia journalists!