Want to start a magazine? I might be able to help. Creative Boom celebrates its 10th anniversary today, so I thought it was an excellent opportunity to share my experience with you.
My magazine has undoubtedly come a long way since 24 July 2009. Back then, my husband Tom and I bootstrapped the site and used the skills we had to get up and running. It was a little hobby. A passionate side venture, running alongside my PR business.
But all that has changed. Today, over 700,000 people from all over the world read Creative Boom every month with over 230,000 followers on social media. We've attracted advertisers as big as WeWork, Squarespace and Adobe. As a result, Creative Boom is now my leading venture.
More importantly, I've been able to support thousands of emerging and established artists, designers, illustrators, photographers, animators and filmmakers – the very people I've always wanted to celebrate. It's been epic.
But how did I get here? And what have been the biggest lessons learnt along the way? Luck has played an enormous part. Hard work, too. The following pointers might help those of you hoping to launch your own magazine.
1. Don't spend a lot in the early days
Start small and avoid spending a lot of money, to begin with. That's my first piece of advice. If it takes off, you can always invest later.
When I came up with the idea for Creative Boom, my husband Tom was hugely supportive and got me up and running on Wordpress with an affordable magazine theme. It wasn't until a few years later that we began to design and build something bespoke. And we've continued to invest since then, finding new ways to improve and grow.
One thing I will say is to keep things simple and straightforward. Know your audience and your purpose. Don't try and do too much. Keep it niche, as a focused approach will save you time and money in the long run.
What has been worth the money? Design. Purchasing the '.com' for Creative Boom was expensive but lucrative. And investing in SEO.
2. Have faith in your idea, even when no one else believes in it
Some people (kindly) laughed at me when I told them what I was doing. But those raised eyebrows and little cynical chortles only added fuel to my fire. I was determined. I loved art and design; I wanted to support others, and I thought Creative Boom could be a huge success. I passionately believed in my venture. That passion kept me going when others assumed I would fail.
Don't doubt yourself either. Even if you think there are loads of people already running great magazines. It doesn't matter. Find something you're passionate about. Believe in it with all of your heart and go for it. What's to stop you? Only yourself.
3. Stick to your own values and voice
It might be tempting to look at what others are doing, especially if they seem to be more successful. But their path is entirely different from your own. Copying them will only make you lose sight of your own magazine's purpose.
Whenever I've gone through times of self-doubt or lacked confidence in Creative Boom, I've naturally looked at other publications and felt a little depressed by them. To combat these negative envious emotions, I've come back to my mission statement: to celebrate, inspire and support the creative community. I've also considered who my audience is and why they might like Creative Boom.
By having confidence in who you are, what you're striving for, and who you're talking to, you won't get lost amongst the competition. You'll stay strong and keep your niche audience happy. There'll be plenty of people who love what you're doing.
One extra tip – based on any survey results or website stats, create a persona of your audience. Give that person a name, an age, an occupation, a location. Hell, even find a stock image of a person. Then type all of that out and print onto an A4 sheet of paper. Stick it above your desk, so you're always writing for that person. Mine is Sophie. She's 32 years old. Lives in London and has just gone freelance as a graphic designer. Now you try!
4. Understand the legal implications of running a magazine
Back in the youthful days of the Internet, very few of us understood the rules and regulations behind publishing. Some rules have since changed, so it's an ongoing battle to stay on top of what is legally sound.
My advice? Wise up before you hit publish. Are you allowed to use that image (even if you've downloaded it from a "free stock site")? Have you sought permission from the person you want to write about? Have you used the correct credits where due? Are you sure you're able to lift copy or re-use something on Instagram?
Do you have insurances in place to protect you should anything go wrong? Have you set up a limited company, separate from your own freelance business, specifically for the magazine? Thus, protecting your entire livelihood should someone come after you?
And if you attract advertisers, do you know the rules set out by the Advertising Standards Authority? Are you also clued up on GDPR?
It's lovely setting up an online magazine, it really is. But there are many things you need to be aware of before you leap.
5. Tell the whole world that you exist
You've launched your magazine. Congratulations! But does anyone even know about it? Start with the media databases that PR agencies and PR freelancers use. Vocus/Cision, Gorkana... find out how to get listed as a media title and ensure you're in the right category. Provide a general email address where people can send press releases and submit stories. Provide a phone number at your own risk, as from my personal experience, the phone never stops ringing.
Then reach out to all the PR agencies in your home country. Keep the email short and sweet. Say something like, "We're a new magazine about X. Our audience is X. Please keep us in mind for any future press releases relevant to our readers."
Because the hardest part of starting a magazine is finding stuff to write about. And then understanding the workings of the media industry – it begins with building great relationships with PR people and press offices.
6. Don't make advertising the priority
I honestly never started Creative Boom to make money. It was a hobby; a mission. It's probably why the magazine has remained relatively ad-free over the last ten years.
Coming from a journalism background, I've seen the impact of the Internet on media over the last 20 years, and it hasn't been pretty. Like you, I've been trying to avoid the increasing onslaught of advertising as it tries to seep into every aspect of our lives.
An annoying pop-up, a flashing display ad, sponsored articles that are just pointless – I've tried to avoid these on Creative Boom. I apologise if that hasn't always been the case, but there comes the point when you do need to be realistic about making a living.
It's about striking the right balance. On Creative Boom, I'm strict about what we do. If it's a sponsored article, then it has to be relevant to my audience and helpful, too. If it's a display ad, it's going to be a JPEG or PNG only – no animation I'm afraid.
And pop-ups? Video ads? Hosted banners? Forget it. My audience is the priority. I don't want to alienate or annoy them - they're the most important thing in the world. Yes, it might be tempting to grab the money, but you have to consider how your readers might feel and what impact an ad might have on your credibility.
7. Money is nice, but it isn't the only benefit
With the above in mind, money isn't everything. There are many other reasons why you'll benefit from starting a magazine. You'll build a network, have something interesting to talk about, make great industry connections, raise your profile, learn about others – the list goes on.
Creative Boom has taken me around the world. I've met some incredible people; worked with some huge brands and have been invited to lots of talks and events. It's all been rather lovely. But the best thing? I've boosted my skills and experience. The mistakes I've made (and there have been plenty) have been invaluable lessons.
And everything I've learnt via Creative Boom, I've applied to my clients as well as my own business. In a way, my magazine has forced me to push my skills forward continuously. And that has helped me to survive.
8. Don't be afraid to reach out to people you admire
Even when I had an audience big enough to approach leading artists and designers for an interview, I was pretty shy about doing so. I suppose I didn't want to bother them. But actually, people are more than happy to oblige — especially the more famous names.
And once you feature a few prominent personalities, the rest will naturally follow. For instance, our interview with Milton Glaser opened many doors for us. The emails flooded in from creative people and agencies all over the world.
9. Go out there, meet people and be proud of what you're doing
I've always been pretty reluctant to shout about Creative Boom. Probably related to that old British habit of not wanting to "show off" or be a self-obsessed bore. But the last ten years have eventually taught me that it's ok to celebrate what you've achieved, no matter how small.
Avoid self-deprecation when you tell people about your magazine. Be proud of it and yourself. Remember it's not just something you're doing to make you happy; you're also helping to advance your career, make great connections, etc.
I know if I'd just run a PR agency, people's eyes would've glazed over. But by having Creative Boom, it's an interesting extra — a topic of conversation. You also become "useful" to people, as you might be able to help them. And believe me, most will return the favour in future.
10. Don't be afraid to change things or know when to call it a day
I've never understood why people, mainly Brits, frown upon failure. There's this weird stigma in the UK that if you've messed up, it's a bad thing.
I've failed loads of times with Creative Boom. So much so, I've nearly thrown in the towel on many occasions. This is where change has been my friend. I've had to swallow my pride, admit things aren't working and look to change things for the better.
In your case, know that "change" is positive. Your magazine is going to experience a lot of change if you're going to make it a success. Embrace the upheavals. Listen to any valuable feedback and act upon it. Also, listen to your gut. You'll know when something isn't right. Your magazine's success depends on your willingness to adapt.
And if your magazine's not working despite your best efforts to improve it? There is no shame in shutting it down and trying something else. Overall, pat yourself on the back for even trying in the first place. No time or effort is wasted if you're doing something you love and learning from the experience.