Articles about "Entrepreneurial Journalism"


From left, Doug Jackson of Shared Vision Marketing, Jeremy Caplan from the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, and Harry Lin with IMDb, give advice on startups,

Media entrepreneurs: Five myths can stop you before you start up

Let’s begin with this sobering statistic: nine out of 10 startups that get funded will fail.

Reliable and comparable numbers for news-related startups aren’t available, but it’s a good guess that any journalist thinking of venturing out on his or her own faces huge odds.

Three experts urged attendees at an Online News Association session Thursday to avoid five myths that can derail any news enterprise before it gains traction.

Myth #1: I’ll make money through advertising!

Harry Lin, head of business development for the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), an Amazon subsidiary, said the amount of traffic required for a website to pay the bills through advertising is “ridiculous.” More often than not, he said, startup sites end up running network ads, and after the network and ad agencies take their cuts, the sites are left with 25 cents per 1,000 page views.

“Which is why major media are in big, big trouble,” Lin said.

But some sponsorship models work, said Jeremy Caplan, Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism director of education. One example, the New Haven Independent, draws sponsors for its hometown news because people believe in what the website is doing, he said.

News entrepreneurs can also barter or sell services to small businesses that may need better content, video or photos for their own sites. Another approach is native advertising, which Lin noted is actually a form of advertorial. (This method has been used successfully by BuzzFeed.)

Myth #2: People want what I’m selling!

Doug Jackson, principal at Shared Vision Marketing, said what entrepreneurs believe is irrelevant and they owe it to themselves to test whether a demand exists for their business.

“Do your research on the front end and it will save you a lot of pain on the back end,” Jackson said.

Myth #3: People will work for free!

Your supporters may start out working without pay, only to turn out to be unreliable and fail to meet deadlines.

“What are you going to do — fire them?” Lin asked.

There are sites that offer free content, but the quality is sketchy, Lin warned. Sites such as Crowdspring offer another approach, Caplan said: An entrepreneur can name his or her price for design or writing services, get back completed work and then choose the professional to work with.

Myth #4: No one has ever done this before!

Lin said it’s been his experience that someone — and sometimes many someones — has thought of your idea first.

But competitors can also serve as potential partners, said Caplan. And, he added, it’s useful to know that competitors have validated a concept’s viability.

Quora, a community site for sharing knowledge, offers examples of startup founders recounting how they approached their businesses and discussing their successes and failures, Caplan said, adding that media entrepreneurs can learn which pitfalls to avoid by checking out Quora’s many discussion topics.

Myth #5: This’ll be fun! I’ll balance work and life!

The reality is entrepreneurs can expect to work all day and all week, Lin said, and the financial rewards may be long in coming.

“If you are going to do your own startup, be prepared to be very poor for seven years,” he said, suggesting that journalists uncomfortable with that “go work for the man.”

Jackson agreed. “I think the reality is you work all the time,” he said, but added that while that may be the worst of times, it can also be the best of times as entrepreneurs pursue their passion.

Caplan said starting a new enterprise needn’t be an all-or-nothing pursuit. Some journalists work at a job and build their enterprise on the side. “Yes, it is hard,” he said, but building a successful startup is a credential no one can take away from you.

The ONA session is a part of the NewsU Startup Loft, a series of workshops aimed at journalists planning the jump into entrepreneurship.

Related: 13 ways to get your journalism project crowdfunded | Six business lessons from TMD’s early demise | Debunking 5 Myths of Entrepreneurial Journalism Read more

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13 ways to get your journalism project crowdfunded

While handwringing over financial support for journalism is nothing new, it’s been especially fraught recently. From the Nate Thayer/Atlantic dustup to the possibility that the Tribune papers may be sold to the Koch brothers, everyone in media seems worried about funding the Fourth Estate.

One hopeful sign for such worriers: Crowdfunding has become a way to support journalism projects from one-off articles to the wholesale launch of new publications.

Back in 2008, crowdfunding platform Spot.us launched to support reporting, and has helped publish stories on partner sites ranging from The New York Times to Cleveland Free Press. Since Kickstarter’s launch in April 2009, 816 journalism projects have sought funding on the site, with 36 percent of them succeeding.

It’s not just individual articles that have gotten support. Matter, Tomorrow, The Big Roundtable and Homicide Watch have all launched publications or paid for programs by appealing to the Internet.

But while raising money via crowdfunding can be a big part of a launch plan, it isn’t a sure bet. If you’re looking to try crowdfunding, keep these tips in mind.

1. Choose a topic that works.

Crowdfunding campaigns demand time and publicity. That makes them a poor fit for breaking news, or investigative pieces that require some stealth.

And since you’ll need many people to support your cause, projects with a larger geographic scope are more likely to attract funds.

“You could say one percent of the people that would be interested in a story will fund it,” Spot.us founder David Cohn told Poynter. “If the topic is about Stockton, Calif., let’s say the population is — I’m making this up — 300,000. You’d have to get in front of a lot of eyeballs, and they’d have to be Stockton eyeballs. If you do California, it’s easier to get in front of the same number of California eyeballs as Stockton eyeballs.”

Cohn also said stories about a topic with wide appeal do well: “The number of people interested in environmental issues is even greater than the population of California.”

2. Consider the audiences.

Aside from Kickstarter and Indiegogo, there are journalism-specific crowdfunding sites such as Spot.us, Emphas.is for photojournalists and Vourno.com for video journalism. Cohn advised considering which audience you want to reach: While Kickstarter has a big audience, it focuses on creative projects of all stripes, including music, film and fashion. Audiences reached via the journalism-specific sites may be smaller but a better fit for your project.

But that’s not a hard and fast rule. Andrea Seabrook, a former NPR reporter who crowdfunded DecodeDC, a blog and podcast covering news from Washington, D.C., said by phone that she chose Kickstarter for its credibility:

“My natural audience as a public radio reporter were a bit older and not familiar with Kickstarter, but even when they were like, ‘Wait, what’s that?’ their kids knew it, and it was something they could search for and recognize was credible right from the beginning. … You’ll always be associated with that [crowdfunding] organization, even if you never do a thing with them again — so you need to think about that in terms of your own brand and the credibility of your work.”

3. Read the fine print.

Investigate how each site handles money raised. Kickstarter is “all or nothing” — if you don’t reach your goal, you won’t receive any money. Indiegogo, on the other hand, allows you to accept however much you raise, or opt for all or nothing.

Kickstarter says the all-or-nothing method prevents project creators from having to deliver projects which don’t attract enough funding. The company also believes that its deadlines for crowdfunding projects encourage backers to rally and push a project past its goal line. But you should weigh these potential benefits against the ability to take whatever money you raise, even if you fall short of your goal.

4. Factor fees and other costs into your budget.

On top of the budget for your journalism project, you need to take into account fees. For instance, Kickstarter collects a 5 percent fee from a successfully funded project’s total, while Indiegogo collects 4 percent on projects that meet their goal and 9% on projects that fall short but choose to take whatever funding they receive. Payment processing fees take another 3 percent to 5 percent out of the money you collected.

“And then, if you’re a for-profit like I am, you have to consider taxes that you’ll pay on that income, and the amount of money that the rewards cost, and the postage.” Seabrook said. “Postage is really expensive for sending out rewards.”

5. Establish your credibility.

Anyone funding a project wants to be confident that their money will be put to good use and a project will actually come to fruition. Toward that end, backers will want to know where you’ve been published, just like an editor who’s weighing whether to give you an assignment.

“Don’t just have an idea — make a prototype of it,” Seabrook said. “We had three episodes up by the end of the campaign, and that helps a lot — it gives a sense of the integrity and the worthiness of their money.”

Similarly, Cohn said stories on Spot.us that already had a publisher on board got funded more quickly and often exceeded their goals. “It was a stamp of approval,” he said, “and there was maybe a little bit of excitement for the donors that would get to see the story published in the newspaper or magazine.”

6. Make a professional video.

Getting on camera may seem daunting, but both Cohn and Kickstarter find projects that include a video appeal are more likely to be funded. “Be yourself and put yourself out there,” Cohn said. “Keep it real in that respect. Also, know who you’re talking to. Kickstarter has a fun, creative community, and Emphas.is is more about serious journalism, so you want to talk to that community.”

Seabrook learned from something she didn’t do right: “My video is pretty terrible production-wise. … I showed it to a few friends in the industry before, and they counseled me not to put up my campaign. They said you shouldn’t put up something that is less quality than your own work.”

Because of the poor quality of her video, Kickstarter didn’t feature her project — a better video, Seabrook speculated, could have led to a featured spot on the site and brought in more funding.

“If you get featured it’s a huge bump, because they send it to everybody’s inboxes,” she said.

7.  Create rewards that narrow the distance between you and your audience.

People don’t want to hand over money and have no contact with a project until it hits newsstands months later. If they’re excited about a project, they want to stay involved during its creation, whether that means getting a peek behind the scenes or actually helping to bring the project to life in some tangible way.

Photojournalists and writers can create rewards from what’s left on the cutting-room floor — photos that don’t get used or scenes that get cut from a longform piece. Or consider offering backers a postcard from a reporting destination, exclusive access to a blog that details the weeks or months of work, dinner and drinks after a big reporting trip, or an acknowledgement in a forthcoming book.

You could also go the traditional swag route: Seabrook created DecodeDC T-shirts, mugs and tote bags, and ordered extras for the show.

8.  That said, make sure the rewards don’t take over your life.

Your main goal is to finish your journalism project, not to spend a significant amount of time fulfilling rewards. “My biggest error was promising personal postcards to a huge group of people — 800 postcards,” Seabrook said, adding that supporters are still asking her where their postcards are.

9. Have rewards at a variety of price points.

According to Kickstarter, some people don’t have the money to substantively support a project, but appreciate the chance to chip in something and spread the word. The site recommends including a reward level of $25 — the most common pledge.

10. Choose a campaign long enough to build momentum but short enough to feel urgent.

Kickstarter says 30-day campaigns are strong time frames for projects, while campaigns longer than 60 days tend to languish.The site no longer allows campaigns longer than 60 days.

11. Devise an outreach strategy.

Before your campaign goes live, talk it up with journalists and bloggers who might write about it. Reach out to “social influencers” who can reach interested Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or Tumblr communities so they can help you get the word out. And get friends and family to agree to back the project the moment it goes live. Securing a significant chunk of your funding early will give other backers confidence to sign on.

12. When you launch, get the word out any and every way you can.

“The amount of energy you can put into spreading the word will have a bigger impact than anything else,” Cohn said. He cited the statistic that non-profit news organizations only get donations from readers and listeners after having contact with them seven times.

“You have to be prepared to reach out a few times,” he said.

And be prepared to ask people one by one for support — it’s easy to ignore a mass email. Cohn said that reaching out to individuals sounds really hard but actually isn’t: write up your core pitch, then tailor the beginning and end for each person.

Seabrook said it’s important to give a campaign everything you have.

“If you don’t make it the first time, it’s a lot harder to go back” and ask for money again, she warned. She recommended contacting everyone you know, as well as organizations with which you have an affiliation, such as your alumni organization, and asking them to help get the word out on social media.

“Get people who have a lot of pull and clout on Facebook and Twitter and contact them personally and say, ‘I need a retweet or a repost,’ “ she suggested. “I said, ‘Please, I’d rather you repost and retweet than give me money.”

But, she cautioned, be creative, not annoying: “Be interesting, be funny, don’t say the same thing all the time — show people your wit and your value, especially as a journalist. Put up links people will want to see, and roll out bits and pieces of your project as you go along.”

13. Funding is just the beginning.

Offer your backers regular updates that offer insight into the creative process, or even access to the project itself. For instance, Seabrook has hosted Google hangouts and created a section of DecodeDC featuring interviews that haven’t aired yet and extras from previous episodes. That section is exclusive for high-level subscribers.

Most importantly, don’t underestimate the amount of work your campaign will take.

“It is a full-time job the entire time the campaign is running,” Seabrook said. “Imagine how much work it’s going to be and then double or triple it.” Read more

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8 ways to increase the chances that you’ll get funding for your media startup

Journalism skills and a good idea are essential for bringing your media startup to life — but they don’t entitle you to financial support from a foundation or an investment from a venture-capital firm.

“Assuming that you can get funding because you have journalism skills and an idea is not very persuasive in this particular environment,” said Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab, which funds entrepreneurial projects. Instead, she said in a phone interview, media entrepreneurs have to prove to investors and grant providers why they and their idea are worth it.

So how do you prove that? Here are eight tips:

1. Partner up

Being a jack of all trades and master of none isn’t the best way for journalists to approach entrepreneurship. Instead, media entrepreneurs should build a multidisciplinary team that’s capable of accomplishing their goals, said Corey Ford, CEO of Matter, a startup accelerator and early-stage venture-capital firm that invests in media ventures.

“One or two journalists working together to build something usually leaves a big hole in the team,” Ford told me over the phone. To fill that hole, find developers, business people and others whose skills complement those of the journalists.

“Multidisciplinary teams are going to be more successful,” he said.

2. Know your customers

Aspiring media ventures and entrepreneurs should work to identify their consumers early in the process and ensure that their proposed products are in line with what those consumers want or need.

“You really need to be able to describe the specific customer you’re designing for,” Ford said. He also recommends testing ideas out on potential consumers to see how viable they are in the real world.

“You’ve got to validate your ideas,” Ford said. “Get them out of your head and in front of people.”

3. Figure out your business model

Whatever your idea is, you need a viable strategy for keeping it alive. “You’ve got to figure out how you’re going to take your idea and turn it into a business,” Schaffer said. “Often, that doesn’t receive enough consideration.”

4. Find a good fit

Part of finding funding for your media startup is deciding which investors are the right ones to pitch. “Like any good story, you need to know who your audience is,” Ford said.

Before seeking funding, Ford suggests determining your business goals and finding sources of funding that have similar goals. For example, a business with high growth potential may be more successful seeking venture-capital funding, while a proposed non-profit would do better going after foundation-funded grants.

“Before you raise money, know who you’re trying to raise money from and whether your team goals align with that firm’s goals,” Ford said. “You don’t want investors who are a mismatch to what you want to accomplish.”

5. Show don’t tell

Making a strong pitch on paper may not be enough to win over potential donors. Creating a prototype that shows what you plan to do with a donor’s financing can be more persuasive.

“We find it a lot easier to fund projects when you can see what the vision is,” Schaffer said. She suggested budding entrepreneurs consider launching proof-of-concept projects or websites to help donors see what they’re pitching.

“Once you have that proof of concept, it’s a little easier to raise funding,” she said, noting web entrepreneurs can often launch such sites “with a little bootstrapping and sweat equity.”

6. Do your homework

Schaffer said she’s astonished by the number of applicants who apply for funding without having done proper research.

Media entrepreneurs have to pay attention to what kinds of projects foundations fund and make sure their projects fall within those foundations’ guidelines. She noted that getting considered for funding requires both a strong presentation and an idea that fits the foundation’s current call for proposals.

Schaffer also suggested surveying the competition, obtaining necessary web domains and trademarks and ensuring your team is eligible for programs.

Several organizations already are in place to help with that process. “The reason why we exist is to help foster new organizations,” said Kevin Davis, CEO of the Investigative News Network, a foundation-funded non-profit aimed at supporting non-profit public-service journalism. “We want to help make sure these organizations can take advantage of what’s been done before.”

7. Show you’re worthy of investment

“You’re going to want to be able to answer questions like how much money you need and how you’re going to spend it,” Davis said by phone. “You have to be able to show your plans, show your contingencies and demonstrate you are worthy of that investment.”

Ford said as an investor he wants to know how much money an entrepreneur needs to get to the next point, what that next point looks like and if an entrepreneur will be able to use investment funding to get there.

8. Plan for the long-term

Keep in mind that money from buyouts disappears quickly: Investors will demand returns, and foundation funding may run dry within a few years.

“Foundations are not equipped and are generally unable to provide sustaining support,” Davis said. “It’s a short-term revenue solution.”

Whatever your source of funding, it’s temporary. To survive, entrepreneurs should be thinking of how to create sustainable ventures even as they’re launching their businesses. Read more

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How journalism educators can ‘train students for jobs that may not yet exist’

When I began my current job in the journalism school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, my director told me I had a particularly daunting mission: “train students for jobs that may not yet exist.”

I’ve tried to keep her voice in my head over the years and keep my courses on pace accordingly. But as the business models of journalism have grown ever more strained, I realized I wasn’t doing enough to give my students assignments and inspiration to stoke their entrepreneurial fire, to drive them to envision the apps, sites, platforms and functions we’ll all use 10 years from now.

After all, if journalism is to thrive, this generation of students will have to create things that do not yet exist.

At other schools, entire courses and programs are dedicated to entrepreneurship in media and business plan creation. We don’t have that luxury. Also, I’m a believer in spreading valuable lessons throughout as many courses as possible.

In advance of adding new entrepreneurial elements to my introductory and magazine courses this fall, I test-drove some ideas with students taking internship credit this summer. The students enroll for credit while working at internships across the country. Faculty generate different assignments for the students who enroll with them, often involving readings and research papers related to the experience.

The students responded with a creative vigor I’ve never seen in previous outings with interns, making it a good case study for other journalism educators trying to help students gain entrepreneurial skills.

The idea was simple: develop a five-page pitch for an entrepreneurial idea somehow related to each student’s internship. They could propose a new service, business, website, mobile app, device, platform … whatever.

I asked for a connection to their internships, but it could be fairly loose. For instance, a student interning at a PR firm might have a hotel chain as a client. She could propose an “American Road Trip” app that maps people across cool places in the U.S. and lets them rate hotels along the way.

I didn’t want them getting too tripped up on style vs. substance, so I gave them pretty basic pitch requirements:

  • Create a specific idea, including basic branding, such as a name for the app or service.
  • Determine the audience and what needs the new idea fulfills for that audience, or what problem it solves.
  • Brainstorm potential revenue streams. (They didn’t need a specific budget, but I asked them to discuss what streams they’d rely on: ad-support, subscriptions, paid downloads, etc.)
  • Gather primary research on at least three sources connected to the idea. This could be in the form of focus group with potential customers, interviews with coworkers at the internship, surveys of other entrepreneurs in the same sector, etc.
  • Gather secondary research from at least three sources. This could include articles on entrepreneurship, blog posts related to the idea, etc.

The group began by selecting videos from Stanford’s entrepreneurship program for inspiration and picked specific points to remember as they worked through their ideas.

We then did a series of Google+ hangouts to discuss their ideas, brainstorm and find holes in their plans. G+ hangouts are an ideal tool when you need to connect students in far-flung places, offering free videoconferencing for up to 10 people at once. The tool allows students in internships from the midwest to the coasts to benefit from hearing one another’s thoughts.

The students came up with excellent, fresh ideas and are polishing their pitches right now. We’ll hangout again to go through the outcomes. For those who are back on campus in fall, we’ll meet with an alumnus working in venture capital to hear how funders might respond to their pitches.

I’m not an expert in building a bottom line, but a few of the ideas appear to have long-term potential. Even without projecting into the future, the students say the experience has been positive. They appreciated the chance to take their internship experience and hone an idea all their own. They began walking on entrepreneurial legs they hadn’t yet realized were under them.

I hope someday they’ll run. Read more

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How startup sites can take advantage of emerging revenue streams

As journalism entities move beyond ads in pursuit of new revenue streams, events have proven a popular target. People who won’t pay $15 for a digital subscription, the theory goes, may pay $20 instead for wine, cheese and a panel of journalists.

Staging events isn’t a simple endeavor for small organizations structured around news. But for many up-and-coming media organizations like GeekWire, an independent tech news site and online community in Seattle, events are an important part of increasingly diverse streams of revenue.

Rebecca Lovell

During a live chat this week, we’ll discuss events and other emerging revenue streams with Rebecca Lovell, Geekwire’s chief business officer.

Lovell, who oversees the site’s advertising, events, sponsorship and other business initiatives, answered chat participants’ questions and shared thoughts on a variety of topics, including:

  • What separates successful events from those that flop
  • Lessons learned about new revenue streams
  • How to overcome challenges that growing news startups face

You can replay the chat below.

Interested in learning more about generating revenue for startups? Consider applying for Poynter’s Revenue Camp for Entrepreneurial Journalists.

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3 ways entrepreneurial journalists can successfully pitch their projects

Ever tried telling your life’s story in a minute? Melting years down into seconds is tough. Summing up a long-simmering passion project can be equally hard.

Whether you’re pitching a new journalism project to a friend or to a financier, you often have to pack your message into a few fleeting moments. To persuade people to invest, collaborate, or even just try out a site requires a special kind of compact communication.

Journalists have ample opportunity to present new ideas. Some 2012 journalism conferences, like the Unity 2012 Convention, feature sessions expressly for startups. Beyond online competitions, like the Knight News Challenge, journopreneurs are increasingly finding alternative outlets for presentations ranging from library talks to Hacks/Hackers Demo Nights.

Whereas slides were once expected, a backlash against traditional PowerPoint presentations among journalists and funders alike has opened the door to more inventive approaches. Here are tips on three approaches for anyone preparing to pitch a project.

Illustrate the impact of your project with evergreen multimedia

Video is a powerful pitch tool. When investigative journalism project Matter raised more than $140,000 in March on Kickstarter, its primary tool was a great video about the need for better science coverage. Similarly, Honolulu’s Civil Beat has used a sleek video to convey the value and impact of its news site.

Honolulu's Civil Beat Introduction Video

The mini-vid has become a new persuasive craft form. Most of the best such videos, like great presentations, answer the following key questions: What’s the problem you’re solving and why is it important? How does the proposed solution work and what’s distinct about it? Who’s leading this and how can others get involved?

Creative pitch videos can take on myriad forms, from animated explainers of the sort popularized by Common Craft and GoAnimate, to simple Webcam recordings and fancy micro-documentaries. Excellent pitch videos are often more informative than slick. One example is this video by Blank on Blank, which publishes otherwise-lost interviews. Here’s another from Colorado’s I-News Network, which received a Poynter entrepreneurial journalism prize in 2010.

Those that are less successful, like this one for MyNetworkOne, often try to stuff too much in, or misfire at humor. When you’re prepping your own video, start by picking a few pitch videos that inspire you. Make a list of their key attributes. To get you started, here is a sampling of 20+ demo videos I gathered into a channel on Vimeo as well as a separate playlist on YouTube. Both include non-journalism projects to illustrate a range of styles.

Make the most of spontaneous pitch opportunities

Sometimes visuals are impractical. When you bump into someone at a conference, you often have to pitch quickly with words alone. No slides. No videos. In these personal pitch situations, it’s crucial to have persuasive snippets ready to go. Here are four components to help get your idea across quickly and effectively.

  • The first ingredient is a brief value proposition that sums up your projecThe Value Propositiont in one to two sentences. “For parents with school-age children, K12Update is a subscription news and photo service that provides a daily stream of photos and news shared by their children’s classroom teachers.” Trim unnecessary details. Don’t get into mechanics until asked. Just clarify the basic value — what it’s useful for.
  • The second key ingredient is a brief founding story or other anecdote that illustrates both the need for the service and its utility. “At the PTA meetings, parents kept saying they wished they saw more of what their kids did in school, like the art projects they were producing. Now they say they feel more connected to what’s going on in the classroom.”
  • The third step is where it’s easy to stumble. Don’t spend time on further details until you stop and listen for clarifying questions. If there’s an empty pause, probe for questions. “What’s your first impression?” or “Does that make sense?” or “How does that relate to your own experience?” Those kinds of questions let the person you’re pitching to signal what s/he is most interested in. That, in turn, increases the chances you’ll find a point of mutual interest.
  • The last part of the personal pitch process is the follow-up. Given that we’re exposed to hundreds of ads each day, we grow accustomed to blocking out messages or quickly forgetting them. That’s why advertisers insist on ensuring recall by running the same ads seven times. When it comes to personal pitches, follow-up with a brief email. Keep it to five sentences or fewer. Refer to something specific you discussed and remind the recipient of your idea, its name and its value. Include a relevant URL and a single phone number and email address. (Don’t give people multiple contact numbers and addresses because that burdens them with figuring out which one to use.) Close with a specific question if you have one (i.e. Would you be interested in serving as a pilot tester?) to simplify their response.

Stretch beyond PowerPoint

When you’re in front of an audience, demoing your product or service is often the best way to illustrate how it works. Getting an audience member up front to participate — or just having all those present try it out live — can be engaging. Number-crunching spreadsheets don’t always have to make an appearance, though mastering key facts and figures around your business helps bolster your credibility.

For elements that are difficult to demo live, check out tools like Projeqt, Jux, Hype and Prezi, which can help you create a free, immersive presentation. Or try other resources I’ve gathered into this Delicious.com stack of new storytelling tools.

If you must use slides, leave behind default PowerPoint templates by working with more design-friendly slide tools like Apple’s Keynote or Web-based tools like SlideRocket. Google Presentations, part of the Google Docs suite, offers a new range of clean designs after a recent upgrade. Include a single prominent image or a few key words per slide.

Guy Kawasaki suggests a 10-20-30 rule: 10 slides, 20 minutes, 30-point font. When you see slides like this one, this one, or these, you’re reminded that visuals can be confusing, distracting, or superfluous. Keeping each slide simple means the audience can focus on you and your message.

In live settings, refer to a Twitter hashtag to spread the responses beyond the live audience. Alternatively, use a tool like Todaysmeet.com or backchan.nl to set up a private backchannel that those present can use to ask live questions or comment on your presentation. That ensures people don’t have to sit on their hands or wait passively for you to finish talking to engage with you. To further draw out those present, try using Socrative.com or PollEverywhere.com to offer up live polls or trivia questions, or to probe for live feedback.

After public demos, gather the most noteworthy comments, Tweets and images into a Storify summary, like this one, to further distribute the impact of your presentation and to serve as a digital scrapbook. Keep a private list of takeaways from each presentation you make. Note that a particular joke got no laughs, or that your first example generated lots of nods of agreement.

Try to keep a record of every question you’re asked after pitching. Questions provide a valuable window into what people are most interested in, and can highlight elements of your pitch that might be unclear.

The late, great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich said that he kept careful track of each performance early in his career so he could consistently improve his stage presentation. Whatever pitch you’re giving, chances are it’s not your last. Keeping a presentation journal can help you consistently refine your message.

Jeremy Caplan, director of education at CUNY’s Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, will be teaching in Poynter’s Revenue Camp for Entrepreneurial Journalists. You can apply for the camp here.
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Tips for journalists preparing to launch a startup site

When you’re getting a journalism startup off the ground, you face a number of decision points. Who do you partner with? How do you bring in revenue? How do you get the word out about your project? We’ll discuss these and other key questions facing entrepreneurial journalists in a live chat with paidContent founder Rafat Ali, who is now working on his new startup, Skift.

In a live chat, Ali answered questions on specific decisions, including:

  • Fundraising strategies
  • Whether to provide original content on your site, vs. curating and aggregating
  • Hiring staff

You can replay the chat below for tips and insights.

Interested in learning more about generating revenue for startups? Consider applying for Poynter’s Revenue Camp for Entrepreneurial Journalists.

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Howard Owens: Newspaper paywalls create opportunities for startup news sites

“In every market where a newspaper puts up a paywall, an opportunity is created for an entrepreneur to start a local online news business. … A key rule of disruption is to target the customers undervalued by incumbents. Clearly, any news site that puts up a paywall is telling the community, ‘there’s a lot of people in this town we don’t value.’ That creates pure opportunity for the disruptive entrepreneur.”

Howard Owens

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Practical tips, resources for entrepreneurial journalists with legal questions

Entrepreneurs leading new journalism ventures confront numerous legal questions. How and when should I determine the appropriate legal structure for my business? What contracts should I use with partners, employees and investors? What legal issues should I be prepared for and, as a journopreneur, who can I turn to for low-cost or pro bono guidance?

I’m not a lawyer, and this post isn’t intended to offer specific legal advice or replace the professional insight of a lawyer. The resources below are offered simply as a starting point for anyone launching a project who anticipates having to grapple with legal questions as the project develops.

Seeking pro bono help

One of the best places to begin, if you’re starting up a media-related project, is the Online Media Legal Network at Harvard’s Berkman Center. The center describes itself as “a network of law firms, law school clinics, in-house counsel, and individual lawyers throughout the United States willing to provide pro bono (free) and reduced fee legal assistance to qualifying online journalism ventures and other digital media creators.”

Not every journalism or media startup will qualify for OMLN’s free legal assistance, but you can quickly assess your eligibility with this FAQ. OMLN considers a number of factors, including your available resources. If paying legal fees would significantly deplete your organization’s resources, you could still be eligible for pro bono help if you’re a for-profit with under $75,000 in annual gross revenue or a nonprofit with an annual budget of $250,000 or less. (More details here.)

Law for journopreneurs 101

If you’re looking for information first, rather than professional legal guidance, the Citizen Media Law Project, also sponsored by the Berkman Center, has outstanding resources. The online legal guide has clear, well-written sections on everything from forming a business to dealing with online legal risks and securing your intellectual property.

The section on choosing a business form for your new organization is particularly helpful if you’re not clear on the relative benefits of, say, a sole proprietorship versus an LLC or some other legal structure. Download the Citizen Media Law Project’s one-page overview summarizing the characteristics, tax implications and various pros and cons for legal structures journalism entities might consider.

To keep up with new resources, tools and information, follow this Quora discussion about legal resources for startup companies.

Free contracts and templates

If you’re more focused on contracts than on sorting out your legal structure, check out Paperlex — a new startup that helps you manage common contracts. Though the full service is still in beta, micro.paperlex.com offers free freelancer contracts, talent releases and non-disclosure agreements.

Founder and CEO Alison Anthoine says she plans to add additional contracts for photographers, videographers, designers and developers. She describes Paperlex as a Web-based contract management platform for news organizations.

“My goal is to empower small businesses and entrepreneurial journalists not to have to rely on lawyers to do all of their legal work,” Anthoine said by phone. “There will always be things you need lawyers for, but a routine agreement isn’t something you should have to call your lawyer about.” Contractual.ly is an alternative platform aiming to take the pain out of managing contracts.

The incubator YCombinator has an excellent startup library of documents and tip sheets. For those considering early-stage Angel funding, YCombinator also provides free equity financing documents, so you know what you’re signing away when you bring in investors.

The term sheets were developed in partnership with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a firm specializing in startup law, among other things. The firm teaches a live legal issues course at General Assembly, a New York coworking and education hub, and has a term sheet generator that will assemble a venture financing term sheet based on questions you answer online.

Additional resources:

  • Docracy.com provides a range of other free legal documents, including consulting contracts. If you want to make sure a name you’re considering is not already in wide use, try Markify.com, which searches existing trademarks and domains.

  • If you’re wondering about the kinds of contracts you’ll face if you seek out venture capital funding, check out the National Venture Capital Association’s free model legal agreements. The NVCA.org site also includes a good overview of venture capital, as well as stats and research.
  • Chris Cameron’s ReadWriteWeb collection of useful legal resources for startups includes some relevant blogs, articles and tip sheets.

Join Jeremy Caplan, Mark Briggs, Bill Mitchell and Wendy Wallace for Poynter’s Revenue Camp for Journalism Entrepreneurs, May 18-19. You can join by webcast or in person for the workshop in St. Petersburg, Fla., with additional coaching available. Read more

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Cheap & useful tools that can help entrepreneurial journalists be more efficient

When it comes to tools, entrepreneurial journalists have the advantage of being free. Free of the obligation to use a news organization’s clunky software packages. Free from layers of tech bureaucracy. And free from having to get approval to try new tools. That freedom, of course, comes at a price. No longer is someone else footing the bill for your digital toolkit. That makes a different kind of free all the more attractive. Free tools.

Fortunately, software developers have turned the world of tools upside down in recent years. Gone are the days when you had to fork out several hundred dollars — or more — for a suite of communication/productivity/office software. If you’re running a small, straightforward project, you can get by with easy-to-use software tools that are free or just a few bucks a month, and most work seamlessly across platforms and devices.

Here’s a quick guide to some of the most useful, easy-to-use tools for any journalist developing a project without a big budget or a lot of time to invest in learning new tech.

Tools for storing & organizing information

Once we’ve wrestled down mounting piles of email, most of us start our day with ideas, notes and lots of random stuff to take care of. That’s why the most crucial information tools are those that let you store information, organize it and act on it. The most flexible, powerful resource I’ve come across for all that is Evernote.

Here are some examples of how journalism startups can use it:

  • In addition to organizing Web research, reporting notes, source info and other raw material, Evernote helps for recording ideas in audio, picture and text form. It also lets you arrange major projects or clients in discrete notebooks. You can share those notebooks with your team so everyone can add notes and access information whenever they need it, from any device.
  • Every account comes with an email ingest address, which means you can just CC Evernote on important contracts or other emails that you’d like to organize in a project notebook. I regularly CC Evernote on contracts I sign and send by email, and documents I know I’ll refer to later (travel details, receipts, etc.).
  • Gathering quick snapshots with Evernote’s mobile apps enables you to remember people, places, notes scrawled on scraps of paper and other loose tidbits that might otherwise fall through the cracks. You can access Evernote from any Web browser or through free software and mobile apps.

Here’s an example of an Evernote notebook with about 50 recent Web clippings I’ve made of tips for startups.

Google tools for creating content

Microsoft Office was once a must-have for any journalist, but Google Docs has basically made it obsolete.

For free, Google Docs provides far more functionality. Not only does the Web-based Google suite include excellent Word processing and spreadsheet tools, but the recently upgraded presentation service, Google Presentations, now rivals PowerPoint, though with fewer bells and whistles.

Here’s my overview of Google Docs, and here are a few Google Presentations that will help you see how they look when posted online:

The most under-appreciated tool in the Google Docs suite is Google Forms, which has allowed startup organizations of all sizes, including ProPublica, to create free embedded surveys that process results automatically into a spreadsheet for analysis, charting and publishing. (Here’s a free template I created as an example of a simple, free Google form for keeping track of invoices. You can freely duplicate it and adapt it for your purposes). Here’s how startups are using the Google Docs suite:

  • To collaborate internally on content-in-progress from disparate locations without worrying about e-mailing attachments back and forth.
  • To publish Web-based documents, spreadsheets and presentations to share through social media or to embed on sites/blogs. Instant easy publishing means new means to reach and impact readers, advertisers and potential investors or donors.
  • To distribute surveys to gather reporting information and client feedback.

Tools for handling invoices

You can create simple invoices with a word processor, but if you want to track your payments more professionally, you may want to try something different.

InvoiceBubble is a free and simple-to-use option I’ve tested and recommend. It’s a simple Web-based service that lets you create and send invoices and track client payments.

FreshBooks is a more fully-featured service that’s much more expensive ($20/month), but if you invoice a small number of clients, you can use the free version with much of the same functionality.

Tools for distributing files

Sending stuff across the Web has long been a nuisance. You can’t email files larger than 25mb, most of us can’t afford to spring for a private server, and it’s not always clear which sites are reliable for distributing your important files.

A few services have succeeded recently at streamlining the process of sharing big chunks of content, such as photo, audio and video files, and large design files. Ge.tt lets you upload material to a private storage page that you can then share access to through a short link.

WeTransfer is another useful service. It doesn’t require you to log in, and you can send any number of files that total up to 2gb to up to 20 email addresses at a time.

If you prefer a solution that is anchored to your computer, Cloud App (Mac only) puts a little cloud icon on your menu bar.

Any file you drag onto the icon is then uploaded automatically and the short-link to that file is posted directly to your clipboard.

And if you’re not yet using Dropbox, it’s become one of the most popular free file-sharing tools in addition to serving as a great way to back up your files.

Tools for backing up your work

When it comes time to protecting your work, a large local hard drive can provide a serviceable initial backup. Alternatively, Mozy, BackBlaze and Carbonite, among others, will back up all the stuff on a given computer to the cloud.

It’s also worth thinking carefully about how best to backup your Web-based social and blog content. Backupify will back up your WordPress files, your Tweets and even your Google Apps.

Here’s a list of some more of my favorite tools. What free or low-cost tools do you rely on for your projects? Share your favorites in the comments section.

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