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. In case yuo are running under loss you can always find out the steps to sell your 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