The publishing microbusiness: tips to get started

Posted August 2nd, 2012 by in

Do you have an idea for a publishing microbusiness? | Image credit:

Last week I attended a class organised by General Assembly London on how to launch your publishing microbusiness. The session was presented by British digital producer and journalist Adam Westbrook and looked at ways journalists, writers and producers can identify opportunities in entrepreneurial journalism and online publishing. It specifically looked at the microbusiness approach – that is, starting an intentionally small business.

Westbrook describes a microbusiness as “usually consisting 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”. The idea of the microbusiness is to work quickly and with flexibility. It is nimble and experimental. There are generally no investors or shareholders in a microbusiness either, meaning decisions can be made faster, giving you the ability to please your audience or customers. The biggest problem mainstream media has is that they’re too big to adopt change quickly. Because a microbusiness is intentionally small they can be far more flexible in their approach and change as the markets do.

Because audiences are now segmented, there are opportunities to reach out to smaller and more interested readers, viewers and consumers. Westbrook said when he found that talking to smaller audiences online excited him more than broadcasting through mainstream media, he knew he had to explore the microbusiness approach.

Here are the top ten tips on how to launch your publishing microbusiness, as shared by Westbrook at the General Assembly session:


1. Find the intersection between:
– your passion/what you love
– what you’re good at (you need aptitude)
– the market

2. Help others
Your business idea needs to be about helping people. Does it inspire people? Does it give them confidence? Does it make their lives easier? Who is it that you’re going to help?

3. Have a manifesto
Have a view, vision or way of seeing the world that inspires others. Give your tribe/following something to believe in. Have a why – why do people need your product or service?

4. Scale up, then scale back
Turn your microbusiness idea up a notch and make it more ambitious and more exciting. Do something worth noticing. Then scale it down by asking yourself: what is the simplest way of achieving this goal at its rawest level?

5. Build a loyal tribe or following
People who have experienced success with their publishing microbusiness always have something in common: a community of followers built up over a period of time. This is the tribe they speak to and share information with. This tribe has also become loyal and they trust the person they follow because they see value in them or the information they provide. However, there is no shortcut to gaining this tribe or following – you can’t buy them or trick your way into it. This is a long-term gain but once you know who your tribe is you’ll know how to market to them.

“The secret to successful online publishing is to establish a viable, loyal tribe or following,” says Westbrook.

6. Product or service?
Define whether your publishing microbusiness idea is going to be a product or service. Products, such as e-books or online magazines, are more tangible and can have its advantages because it’s separate from you as an individual. Services, such as copywriting or video production, are quick to set up and mean you can offer your skills and expertise for hire.

7. Multiple revenue streams
Have as many streams of revenue as possible so you can make your microbusiness profitable. Can you sell a product, offer a service, charge a subscription fee, gain advertising or sponsorship, provide training, and hold events? Get creative in thinking about ways you can make a living from your profession.

8. Be a boutique, not a supermarket
Do one thing, and do it well. You’re better off focusing your efforts into doing one thing well than multiple things with poor effort. This is about quality over quantity. Nobody will be interested in your product or service if it lacks energy and enthusiasm.

“Do less but do it better. Publish something amazing every month/quarter rather than something average every day,” says Westbrook.

9. Bootstrap in the beginning
In the early days of launching your microbusiness try to do things as cheaply as possible. Avoid investors and debt – as soon as you have investors, you have the obligation of answering to them instead of focusing on your own goals and the needs of your audience. Westbrook suggests investing in assets (equipment, tools) and yourself (skills, education).

10. Have faith
You don’t need to know everything about your microbusiness and how it might evolve when you start. The important thing is to get it going. The perfect time will never come along so it’s best to get the wheels in motion sooner rather than later. You’ll also need the courage and commitment. These are two key ingredients for having a successful microbusiness. Courage means you might be scared of your idea but you do it anyway. And are you willing to commit to your business even through the tough times?


Adam Westbrook has written extensively on entrepreneurial journalism. Here are some great pieces of advice on getting your microbusiness started:
The rise of the microbusiness and why journalists should embrace it

Meet the Micropublisher: an interview with Thom Chambers


Why the future of journalism is entrepreneurial

Posted April 19th, 2012 by in

The future of news is entrepreneurial, not institutional. I believe journalists must become entrepreneurs
– Jeff Jarvis, American journalist and associate professor of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism.

The idea that news, and journalism, is moving into the entrepreneurial space is nothing new. Since the introduction of web journalism and online news, the way in which we create and disseminate content has changed. American journalist Jeff Jarvis and many others have shared this sentiment and spoken about the shakeup of the structure of news moving away from being dominated by large corporations and making way for new and smaller startups. This is not a discussion about the fate of news and journalism but rather one that looks to the optimistic future of it and how it will be built. Today, it’s not uncommon to come across many journalists that once worked for “the institution” but have now moved on to freelance careers or started their own business based on their newsgathering and production skills.

Broadcast journalist and TV presenter Marverine Cole. | Image credit: Clive Blair Photography

British broadcast journalist and TV presenter Marverine Cole says gone are the days where journalists start at a mainstream media organisation and stay on for 20 to 30 years. She sees future journalists with a mix of experience on their CV, with long and short contracts across a range of media. “Jobs are so few and far between these days that it’s inevitable people will have to be innovative about the way they get work and not be so choosy about what they do,” she says.

“The field of broadcast journalism is so much tougher out there now, so being multi-skilled is essential. Generally you’ve got to be a chameleon. It means then that you’ve a better chance of maintaining a source of income in one area if and when a contract ends elsewhere.”

Cole enjoys the variety of work that comes with freelancing. She runs an award-winning beer blog, presents TV news programmes, produces radio documentaries, conducts PR and media training and manages her own promo video company Funf Media with her husband. “It’s a big difference from when I was in a staff post as a Grade 5 Broadcast Journalist at the BBC where I was told what to do, what not to do, and when to do it. The freedom is great and I’m earning a great deal more than a Grade 5.”

Callum Scott, an associate professor at Melbourne University and Deakin University in Australia, has been freelancing for a number of years and teaches creative entrepreneurship to media and communications students. Scott enjoys the dynamic pace of the freelance lifestyle and hunting down the work himself. “I like working as a freelancer because I’m not a team player and freelancing is wonderfully unpredictable, which keeps me on my toes.

“I was simply sick of working for people and having to play by their and the company’s rules. Freelancing affords me the luxury of never having to compromise.”

Scott believes there are many opportunities available for the entrepreneur but warns that “it’s not a game for the faint hearted”. A freelancer needs to learn to think creatively, as well as critically, he says.

Multimedia journalist Adam Westbrook. | Image credit:

Adam Westbrook, a multimedia journalist, blogger and media lecturer based in London, left his mainstream media job in September 2009 to embark on a freelance career and hasn’t looked back since. Westbrook enjoys the freedom that comes with being self-employed and having the opportunity to work on multiple creative projects simultaneously. “Being self-employed I’m in total control of what work I do and who I do it with, and in control of almost every minute of my working day. If I’m not excited by a project or a story I don’t have to do it. I think a lot of people end up freelancing as a stop-gap while they look for a ‘proper’ job, but they’re overlooking an opportunity to use this freedom and control to create something remarkable doing what they love.”

While Westbrook never considered himself to be much of “a business person”, he started exploring entrepreneurship because he was excited by all the opportunities he could create.

“This is a unique time we’re in where anyone can start a web-based business for less than $100 and the audiences and communities that you can create are growing. And when you start at it, you realise that entrepreneurship and journalism can sit side-by-side: they’re both extremely creative, and at their best are about helping people.”

Almost three years into freelancing and Westbrook is not only making a decent living but also living the lifestyle he wants. But despite his own success, he warns that taking the entrepreneurial route is not for everyone. “It’s always a risk, and you have to be comfortable with uncertainty, and the fact that most ideas fail. And that’s not for everyone.

“But if you don’t think you have a business mind, that doesn’t mean you don’t have the potential to create something. Five years ago I didn’t think I had a business bone in my body. If you have an idea for a project that you can’t get out of your head, just start, and start small. You’ll learn everything you need along the way. As Chris Guillebeau says: “Failure is a real possibility. Regrets are optional”.



What are your thoughts on the future of journalism as entrepreneurial? Have you taken the plunge and gone freelance? Did you succeed? Feel free to share your story in the comments section below.