This time last year (or just slightly later), you’ll remember I was angsting about my pitiful failure to sell scythe courses. You’ll be pleased to know that after spending the winter learning about marketing, I have come up smelling of roses. Business is starting to boom, or at least boom as much as it can when the service you’re offering involves a blade on a stick. OK, business is booming slowly, like a geriatric supersonic jet.
(If you want to come on a scythe course, by the way, you can find them here – see, getting better at business 😉
This year’s problem child design is Pen to Paper – the design for earning part of my livelihood through ‘green journalism.’ I made a good start but then I got stuck. Which means that now, I find myself sitting down on my alloted journalism day and not know what the hell I am doing. I find myself spending days putting pitches together and believing absolutely that I will send them out and then not hear back about them. I’m in exactly the same position I was in last year with scything, except that the answer isn’t so easy as working out that I needed to learn how to market… [Sobs. Throws self down on couch.]
Or is it…
As is my wont when out of my depth, I am doing a course (I’m doing hundreds of bloody courses, it’s a disease that I struggle to keep under control) and one of the videos made me think that actually, I know loads of stuff already that it had just never occurred to me to apply to journalism. Actually, my struggle with journalism isn’t a struggle to come up with ideas or write interesting articles, it’s a struggle to ‘sell’ these ideas to people who might want to buy them. And that is a marketing problem!
So, I decided to think about the lessons I have learned from learning to market my scythe courses, and various other projects, and see how they could apply to journalism. It was most useful! Here’s what I came up with:
1) Building up a journalism business will be a slow process
Almost all of the projects that I am doing on my diploma are taking me about ten times longer than I imagined that they would. So I have started to become more realistic about how long things take, and this will take a long time. Especially as I have decided to adopt a ‘no goals you can’t control’ strategy. I was fighting and fighting with myself to make myself care about making money as my primary objective and I can’t. I also can’t control how much money I make, so therefore setting myself financial goals was just making me unhappy. Plus I also realised that…
2) Building up a journalism business means building meaningful relationships with people
For some reason, when it came to scything, I could grasp the fact that creating meaningful relationships with people that will develop over time was key (more than grasp it, I feel like I really understand it), but when I started pitching for journalism, I sent brain children out into the ether without bothering to get to know the people or publication I was sending them to. This is a crazy way of working, especially as I’m much more likely to get repeat work from an editor than a scything customer (though I am not doing too badly on that front).
So, instead of focusing on making a certain amount of money this year, or publishing a certain amount of articles, I have decided that I need to focus on developing relationships with editors. This certainly means getting to know them and their publication but I think it also means stopping thinking about myself and what I can offer, and the things that I am good at and want to do, and starting to think about what editors want, which as far as I can see is original, well-researched content, delivered on time.
3) Style your marketing to your strengths
When I did the Marketing for Hippies course last year, I was utterly relieved to discover that I didn’t need to do too many things that scared me a lot (like cold calling 200 people) to market my scythe courses. I could choose to do things that I liked to tell people about my service – like write newsletters and do demonstrations – or I could do things that scared me only a little bit, like email bloggers I liked and offer them a free scythe course.
When it comes to journalism, the more I know about a publication and an editor, the better I feel, so research is going to be my focus this year. Research will make my pitches better too, because I won’t be pitching things that are inappropriate. I am also looking into other ways of styling my marketing to my strengths, like starting a blog. Yes, I know I already have a blog. Another one. One that isn’t quite so much about the nitty gritty of a permaculture diploma.
4) The sales funnel exists for journalism too
Yes, I did just use the phrase ‘sales funnel.’ Yes, I do feel quite dirty now. The sales funnel is the way that a customer moves through your business, starting by buying something small, low price and low risk. As they get to know and love what you do, they move through to the big stuff – the stuff that only a few, really dedicated people will get. The price, and the risk increases incrementally, and it’s exactly the same with journalism. Few editors will give you a cover story in a glossy magazine when they have never worked with you before, but they will if they have worked with you for a while, if they know that you can deliver what you say you will deliver at the right time.
One thing that Tad Hargrave of Marketing for Hippies (the course I did last year) says is that right at the top of the sales funnel there is a pink spoon. Bear with me here… It’s an ice-cream analogy. Before you buy ice-cream, they will give you a little bit to taste, on a pink spoon, to see if you like it. He suggests that this is what all businesses should be doing, but their pink spoons should be something genuinely useful (like a workbook, or a video) which can be accessed with no pressure to buy (i.e. you don’t have to give your email address or anything like that). It should also be something that after you have created it is no more work for you, so a workbook or a video would be a pink spoon but a demonstration wouldn’t, because it’s work you have to do each time. What the hell the pink spoon is for journalism, I have no idea, but I am sure that it will come to me…
5) Identify and get involved with hubs
In all worlds there are hubs – people and places (real or virtual) where things connect. I am only just starting to work out where these are for journalism, so continuing this is one of my goals for this year. Twitter is a good place to start…
6) Have a niche, and then work out why you are special in that niche
It’s not enough to be a specialist, you have to be a special specialist. I need to do some work this year on working out what my niche is. I am pretty clear on it, but I need to articulate it better. And I need to work out what makes me special in that niche.
So, lots to work on, but at least I have worked out what I don’t know. When you are floundering around in the dark without a clue what it is that you don’t know, it’s awful!