START WITH WHY.
This is the first installment of this series, in which I’m going to share just what it takes to start your own online magazine. The most important steps take place before you buy that domain and sign up for hosting (which we’ll get into in the next installment). The first thing you want to do is figure out why you want to do it and what you’re going to write about. This will give you to what you need to open for business. Here’s why I’m doing this.
Step 1 is the thinking piece. It is the foundation upon which your success – or your failure – is built. Skip it at your own peril. This is a charge for divergent ideation (brainstorming), evaluation of ideas (emergence), and convergent ideation (selective focus). It is where you begin to establish and clarify your vision, so you can select the right vehicle to reach the next waypoint on your journey.
WHY DO YOU WANT TO DO THIS?
Answering this question isn’t as easy as you might think (though it’s close). Take a spin through the web in pursuit of information on starting up your own magazine or website, and you’re bound to be sorting through a bunch of nonsense about making money online. Affiliate this. SEO that. Forget about the money for right now.
Look, I’m not saying the money isn’t important, and I’m definitely not saying making money at this is impossible – it is – but if you’re in this for the money, I’ll tell you right now, you’re reading the wrong series and you’re headed for disappointment. There were over 58 MILLION WordPress sites out there these days. (source: WordPress) Something like 100,000 new sites are launched every day. That’s a LOT of competition.
Gearbox has yet to make a profit. And this is entirely because I’ve not tried to yet. I guess what I’m trying to say here is there’s a lot of people on the internet who make their livings selling the dream of easy money online and I don’t want you to get caught up in the largely false hope their easy money schemes suggest. I want this to be something you love doing so you can focus on the kind of quality that ultimately leads to profitability. For the vast majority of us, it ain’t happenin’ overnight.
INTRINSIC VS EXTRINSIC REWARD
If you already know the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, bear with us as we bring everyone up to speed. Extrinsic rewards are external; often tangible, they are things like money, fame, and gifts. Getting paid to write about cars is an extrinsic reward. Getting keys to a new car to review it is an extrinsic reward. Getting an all-expenses-paid trip to an international auto show somewhere is an extrinsic reward. Make sense?
These are all wonderful things and entirely possible if you stick it out and do remarkable work, but careful how much you base your sense of value on such things, as they can be fleeting. In a “feast or famine” industry such as this, I think it’s best not to develop an appetite for steak so long as there is risk of a Ramen budget. Another way of putting this might be to call it “bootstrapping;” pull yourself up by your bootstraps and press on toward the objective with what you’ve got right now.
This is where intrinsic rewards really shine. The satisfaction of a job well done; when a mentor or hero acknowledges your work, or when you interview someone and see all the comments he gets on his home forum when he shares a link to the story you wrote, or when someone’s mom emails you asking where she can buy copies to send to friends and family. Intrinsic rewards are internal; they’re things you feel. It feels pretty good to get media credentials and special access at that motorsport event you go to every year. It feels pretty good to get invited to the private release of a new model. And it feels pretty cool to tell people you’ve got your own magazine.
Long term success demands both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, but I mention this here because it’s part of the WHY question you need to start with. I know people who do this for a living and travel all over the world on the corporate dime to do their jobs and I know people who, like me, still rock the day job, for whom writing/publishing is a side hustle-slash-dream. The ones who do it because they love the work are generally happy. On either side, the ones who are just in it for the money are almost always stressed out, unhappy, and on the verge of quitting.
Food for thought: If we’re not making any money at this, it should be fun.
PS: Welcome to the halfway mark of this article.
WHAT’S YOUR SITE GOING TO BE ABOUT?
Once you’re clear WHY you’re going to start your own online magazine, it’s time to sketch out HOW you’re going to do it. Yeah, yeah. You’re probably going to buy a domain, setup hosting, and install some kind of CMS, but we’ll get into that in the next installment. You’re also going to try to do things a little differently than everyone else. That’s called developing your unique selling proposition or USP, but USP is more about marketing how you do what you do. First, you want to figure out WHAT you want to do.
Confused? Sorry. Let me simplify by asking you a simple question. What is your site going to be about? Here’s some ideas to show you what I mean.
- Do you want to get to know gearheads all over the world and share their stories in the hopes it promotes greater global unity among automotive enthusiasts? (Then join Gearbox and skip the rest of this series! Hey. Always be closing, right?)
- Do you want to cover the local motorsport scene? Just autocross? Just drag racing? Just car shows?
- Do you want to document your off-road adventures and camping trips through the rough country?
- Do you want to write about a specific make or model? A specific place? A specific time in history?
- Do you want to explain some kind of advanced, technical wizardry unique to what you do ?
- Do you want to showcase your own work – motorsport, photography, video, etc.?
SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED
This is where things start to take shape. Knowing what you want to cover and how intrinsic motivators will keeps you going in the early days, when the money is non-existent and the to-do list is long is what keep you focused and productive. The question now is, how do you pull it all together and come up with a name for your site? You break out the “innovation funnel” and pull that shit out practically out of thin air.
DIVERGENT IDEATION (BRAINSTORMING)
I’ve loved this term since I came across it over on Tim Kastelle’s innovation blog. Divergent basically means spreading out. Ideation is the act of generating ideas. So we’re talking about brainstorming here. Grab a pen and paper and start writing down words that represent what your site will be about. Makes, models, people, places, products, processes – the works. Keep writing random words on the page until you can’t think of anymore or something jumps out and grabs you so hard you no longer care about anything else.
This is where your future brand starts to take shape. Go through the list again and circle the ones that mean the most to you. Which ones best reflect what your site’s going to be about? Hopefully, you’ve got just a handful. If you’ve got more than a handful, try narrowing things down some more. Whatever you choose, I’m telling you right now – it’s going to evolve over time. You can’t be all things to all people, but you can be something to a lot of people.
Take your small handful of words and chew on them a bit. Maybe pull up a thesaurus and see what else means the same thing. (I use the one over at thesaurus.com.) As you look at these words, you’re going to start seeing connections between them. This is where all that time spent thinking about WHY you want to do this starts showing its value. Test the words you’re thinking about against your reason for starting the site. Which ones make the most sense?
CONVERGENT IDEATION (THE SELECTION PROCESS)
The pieces should start falling into place now. You’ll have this word circled, but it won’t gel with your rough mission, so it’s out. You’ll love that word, but will know of another website already using it, so it’s out, too. But if you put these two together, it’s got a nice ring to it. And the more you think about it, the more excited you get about it. Congratulations. You’re almost there.
Keep these scratch papers where you can find them, but put together a short list of ideas for your site and give yourself a couple days to think them over. Run them by family and friends; get their opinions. Ask them what they’d think a website called XYZ would be about. You’d be surprised how inspiration can strike like a bolt of lightning at this point. Gearbox Magazine was originally going to be a Mitsubishi-only production, until my wife told me she thought Gearbox was cool because all cars have gearboxes and you could read about owners of all kinds of cool cars. POW. That’s how it happens.
WE’RE OPEN FOR YOU
In the next installment, we’re going to buy the domain, set up hosting, and install a content management system (CMS). It all starts with knowing WHY you want to do this, WHAT you’re going to cover, and WHAT you’re going to name your site/magazine. This is the thinking piece, the foundation upon which your success – or your failure – is built. Skip it at your own peril. Establish and clarify your vision so you can select the right vehicle to reach the next waypoint on your journey.
ANY QUESTIONS ON WHY & HOW? FIRE AWAY IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.