Making it Work With a Small Staff + other ONA notes

It was 30-minutes before our ONA panel, and everyone wanted to be our best friend.

“I’m going wherever you’re going,” said one women stopping mid-conversation.

“Where’s the party?” yelled one of the guys manning the sponsor tables in the hall way.

As much I’d like to say it was because they saw our handsome faces in the conference program, it was likely more about the three 12-packs of Harpoon IPA we were carrying through the halls on the way to our panel.

I’m often critical of conference panels. Talks on theory don’t do much for me. I love actual examples, systems, numbers and next steps. And beer.

Which is why I was excited to speak at the Online News Association’s annual conference in Boston last weekend. I partnered with my Omaha-based counterpart Danny Schreiber of Silicon Prarie News for “Making it Work With a Small Staff” a panel about a growing sector of the media ecosystem: bootstrapped journalism startups with less than 10 employees.

We took great pains to include lots of actionable advice from the point of two people who are in the trenches. Our panel even got a bit meta as it was originally supposed to be a four-person panel. So we had to, um, make it work with a small staff. We did this by shifting our original structure of the panel and by creating a friendly environment by handing out a few beers before we began our talk.

We discussed how Technically Philly and Silicon Prarie News make money, how we sell sponsorships, who we plan on hiring next and how we keep tabs on our growing communities. We goes lots of questions on our events business and many people remarked on how our editorial advice sounded familiar.

We gave out a handout that I’ve included below that includes links to the actual sponsorship materials, invoices and other raw materials that we use at Technically Philly.

The full video:

Excepts from the handout:

Business takeaways:

  • Establish a workflow for invoices.
  • Have goals. Do you want to bring on your founders full-time? Hire three writers? Launch four sites?
  • When selling, always have reference material. Examples: a sponsorship one pager for a large event. For a small event.
  • “How can we get involved?” = “We want to buy something from you.”
  • Focus your efforts on products and services that yield maximum return per hour invested. Spending an hour selling a $50 advertisement? Not efficient.
  • Many online publishers are constantly approached by vendors. Avoid them.

Editorial takeaways:

  • Schedule tweets/Facebok posts with CoTweet or Hootsuite.
  • Keep a strict editorial calendar with weekly features and departments to ensure there site never looks stale. The simpler the better (i.e. a Q and A, link roundup, a weekly picture, unedited video content).
  • Alerts, RSS and Google Reader are your friend. Have Google News, Crunchbase & Twitter mention alerts for all companies, places and people that you cover.
  • Never send three reporters to an event when one will do. Let the community fill coverage gaps if needed.
  • If you can write something in bullet points, write it in bullet points. Not every story is a narrative.
  • Freelancers can be a great way to relieve pressure on your staff or a huge waste of time and resources. Choose your freelancers with care and provide them with tools to succeed.
  • Have an ethics policy and keep it public. Refer to this when faced with controversy.
  • Be absolutely ruthless with your time. Don’t meet in person when a phone call will do. Don’t call when email will do.
  • If you do meet with someone, send an agenda containing the topics you want to talk about. This helps the other party prepare for the conversation and keeps you on topic.
  • Your reporters may also sell ads. Disclose this. For most outside of the journalism community, this is enough. Example of disclosure.

Other ONA notes:

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