Communicate Influence

What journalists need to know when they start their own business

journalist to entrepreneur

What journalists should know when they become entrepreneurs

Are you a journalist who wants to start a business? We talk to Jeff Koffman, CEO of Trint, and Jill Boulton, founder and owner, Visorcat,

What advice do you have for the journalists who have a great business idea and want to take it to market and run their own business?

Jeff: One of the things about being a startup entrepreneur is that everybody has a brilliant idea.

Ideas are easy. It’s the execution that’s hard. It’s the product market fit (a term that I’ve never heard of before) that matters.

You need to ask: Is this really an idea that the world will want and will pay for or that you can actually find a way to support financially? A lot of ideas maybe are good ideas but they’re not financially viable.

Make a business case for your idea

You’ve got to make a business case for your idea and you’ve got to believe that your business case is real. As well, be very harsh on yourself, ask some hard questions, and give yourself a reality check. You need to know your idea is a product or a concept that the world needs, wants, and will pay for; because you’re going to be running a business.

Journalists need to get over thinking that ‘business’ is a dirty word

Some journalists think that ‘business’ is a dirty word. Get over it. Journalism is a business and business creates jobs. Trint has created jobs. Jobs are what our economy runs on.

It’s so easy to say I’ve got an idea. It’s not so easy to validate the idea and prove that you’ve actually got an idea that the world needs, wants and will pay for.

Journalism a good background for starting a business

Jill: A career in journalism, especially freelance, will stand you in good stead. Journalists are largely self-sufficient, tough, and confident individuals who can find out what they need to know. They’re also good at delivery, if they have a deadline to work to! So go for it! Define your goal and work persistently towards it, and you will get there.

How did your training as a journalist and experience in newsrooms equip you to be an entrepreneur? Did it help having contacts in the media?

Jeff: Being a war correspondent is really good training for being a startup entrepreneur because you can’t panic when you’re in a war zone. I also learned that going to very difficult places under deadlines was how to make decisions quickly and live with the consequences.

Jill: I think training in journalism is a brilliant foundation for a lot of jobs, and it definitely helped me start a business. It’s good for when the pressure is on, less so when a lot of planning is involved, so I’ve had to learn that! It’s good for researching business subjects too.

Identifying salient features useful in business

Jill: Working as a newspaper reporter in the early years gave me a little knowledge about a lot of subjects, which has been useful. Journalists are able to identify salient points and then present that information succinctly. That’s a valuable skill in business, as is the ability to talk to anyone, either face to face or on the phone, which seems to have gone out of fashion as a communication tool but is an underrated medium for building trust.

Regarding contacts, it helps to know how journalists work, and give them the information you know they want. I have just written and sent a 200-word news release for a trade magazine. He asked for 200 words so that’s what he got (well, 222 including a headline) – all carefully crafted of course!

Most journalists are known for their curiosity and questioning. This can be really useful when you need to access information or find a different approach if you hit a wall. How did these two things help you?

Jill: ‘Hitting a wall’ resonates with me more as you hit lots of walls when you set up in business for the first time.

Journalists are very good at climbing over walls or knocking them down, or finding their way around them. I am not sure curiosity was my saviour here – it’s more my belligerence!

Be self-sufficent, admit what you don’t know

What’s your advice for journalists who want to start their own business?

Jill: If you’ve had a career in journalism, especially if you’ve worked freelance, then you’ll be good at starting a business. Journalists are largely self-sufficient, tough, and confident individuals who can find out what they need to know. They’re also good at delivery, if they have a deadline to work to! So go for it! Define your goal and work persistently towards it, and you will get there.

Jeff: Nobody survives in journalism if they don’t admit what they don’t know. Anybody who fakes it in journalism is going to get caught out. Always admit what you don’t know and ask for help with those tasks.

Sheelagh Caygill

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