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I didn't know that part of the reason that I was offered the newspaper was that a competing magazine had been created and advertisers for my (soon to be) newspaper were being enticed away partly because the competitor was a glossy and partly because the standard of the newspaper had dropped because the former editor had lost interest. So I had to compete on the two fronts: improve the standard of the newspaper and stop the hemorrhaging of advertisers.
Improving the standard of the newspaper was quite easy because I think I am good at layout and writing. So I did not contact advertisers until after the my first edition. I changed the font style, tidied up the articles, dropped things I thought were boring, contacted regular submitters and introduced new ideas. The new first edition came out to positive reviews and on the strength of that I hit the wooing trail.
I was lucky in that I took control towards the end of the year when advertisers were due to renew their annual contracts anyway, so with the evidence of my first edition they had some idea of the direction the newspaper would take.
I had worked for short stints in telephone sales in the past, so I knew how difficult it could be, the more so since I had worked for 'shyster' companies that invariably had lousy product with limited reach. Some salespeople warmed to that challenge, I didn't – I hate lying. I had a good product, I knew it, so I approached my own potential advertisers with a good deal more confidence than I had shown in the past.
A word of warning: be disciplined in tracking your advertiser contact stages. It's easy to lose track of who has paid and who hasn't. Excel is great for that job. Sort out your advertiser listing alphabetically, have columns for contact (phone or email), a Yes/No column for continued advertising, a column for ad size (if you're starting from scratch determine a space/price ratio, how much per month, etc, have a column for invoice sent (with date) and a final column for paid). Don't ever – ever – tick that final paid column until the revenue is in your bank. Three months down the line, if the advertiser has agreed to pay and you've ticked the paid column but you have not received the money then you'll a have a devil of job finding out who hasn't paid and the last thing you want to do is go back to an advertiser asking for money you have already received. If they pay by check and not BACS make a note because the payee details don't always show on accounts. If they pay by BACS ask them to state their business name as reference for the payment.
I was all anxiety when I made my first call to an advertiser. What if they said no? Well, the bottom line would be if they all said no I would fold the paper without being burned – so what did I have to lose? Fortunately the first call was a yes. I put the phone down feeling great and started filling in my spreadsheet. I lost about 5 out of about 35 advertisers straight off the bat. Even so I had enough revenue to keep going. So the yes's were in, but, as I inferred above, a yes is not an actual payment. Three months later I was still phoning some of the advertisers for payment and in that time I lost another three with no chance of getting the money for the advertising space they had already used. But still I reckoned I could turn a profit. I called some new potential advertisers and a couple of them replaced the defaulters.
The big challenge came with the big payer, the local council, which published their council minutes every month. It was worth a lot each year and to lose it would have meant the end. But the council had seen how I had improved the paper and my competitor had put up a blind bid for the minutes which proved to be much greater than my bid. The upshot was I won and the paper continues.
It's scary, it's fun, it takes some work, but I have come through the first five months. I am a media baron.
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