Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Five things that make a great news business idea

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 31, 2011

Entries for myNewsBiz, the student journalism enterprise competition are open and we are starting to get early entries through.

If you haven’t heard of it, myNewsBiz is open to any undergraduate or postgraduate journalism student at a UK university. There’s a prize of £1000 for the best new idea for a journalism business, be it a product, like a magazine, or a service. A runner up gets £500.

But what makes a good business idea?

That’s a difficult question, if you’ve never thought about starting a business until now. If you don’t know where to begin, here are five different starting places for your search for that winning business idea.

.01 Fill a gap

Any concept (entrepreneurial or otherwise) has to service a need that a large enough group of people have, in order to survive and thrive. So a good place to start is to ask ‘is there a product or service which is not being provided right now?

Murdoch’s much anticipated iPad only newspaper The Daily can be viewed in these terms. The iPad’s been around for just over a year, and yes, there are plenty of magazines and publishers with their own iPad apps…but there is no single dedicated iPad news product. It’s a gap. And News International appear to be trying to fill it.

.02 Scratch an itch

Image credit: corrieb on Flickr

Great business ideas ‘scratch an itch’, by which we mean solving a problem that a group of people have. The best place to identify an itch is on your own body. What’s bugging you right now? What do you see which can be done faster? Cheaper? More accurately? More locally or more beautifully?

TheBusinessDesk, a successful online news startup in the UK, clearly scratched an itch its founders had: there was no good source for regional business & finance news. They scratched their own itch, and in doing so created a thriving business.

Scratching your own itch has a big advantage: because it’s your itch, you are best placed to tell whether your solution is scratching it properly.

.03 Improve something

If that doesn’t work, why not try improving on someone else’s idea?

There are plenty of magazines, websites, services we all use which get us grumbling. “This coverage stinks!” “Their infographics are rubbish” “They could have done that website so much better!”

If there’s something out there which is not up to scratch – make your own, improved, version.

That’s part of the thinking behind studio .fu, my online video production company. There are lots of independent video producers out there, but I could see lots of things they were doing wrong.

I improved their offering by just focusing on online video, and by steering clear of an office or (any) staff, I can offer the same thing at a much more affordable rate.

.04 Begin with you

Instead of looking for a business idea straight away, start with you and your strengths and passions.

What do you love doing? If you could wake up tomorrow morning and commit one act of journalism, what would it be? Designing? Writing? Data interrogation?

Once you’ve identified that, you want to wrap a business around it. Look for markets for your passion, and build a business from there. This philosophy sums up the approach taken in my book Next Generation Journalist, which starts with a look at your real interests.

After all, there’s no point in pursuing a business idea you’re not interested in, just because it looks like a workable idea. I have a brilliant idea for an environmentally friendly kettle. But am I going to make it? No. Because manufacturing, retail and, err, kettles, don’t do it for me right now.

.05 Start making something – right now

Image credit: David Haygarth on Flickr

Finally, once you’ve got an idea – or maybe if you still don’t – start creating, right away.

Ideas are one-a-penny, but they don’t count for anything until you’ve turned it into something tangible. So if you’ve got an idea for an online magazine, get the webspace and domain, upload a WordPress theme and get creating.

Why? Because you’ll only know if your idea is any good once it’s real.

If you don’t have an idea yet, then start creating anyway. Whatever it is you feel like. If you think you’d like to start a business making infographics but aren’t sure what gap it would fill or itch it would scratch, keep going. Start designing infographics and put them online. See what the feedback is. Are people biting? This way you can develop your business idea organically.

Only once you’re making something can you know whether it’s got legs.

Remember the deadline for entries for myNewsBiz is the 1st of April 2011 – so you’ve still got plenty of time to put something together.

And in February we’re publishing awesome interviews with some of the top journalist-entrepreneurs out there, packed with advice on how to get your news business off the ground!

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.