Ten things I learned bootstrapping a local news site

By Michael Shapiro

Coming up on Friday, I have the opportunity to participate in a panel about bootstrapping a local news site at the Local Independent Online News Publishers Conference in Nashville. I’m looking forward to sharing some of the ins, outs, ups and downs of starting a local news site.

I came to local news through what one might consider an alternative route. I began my career as an attorney, but wanted the opportunity to work closer to home. I had always been active in my community. As I began to explore my options, I realized that something was missing in my hometown of New Providence — high quality, objective local news. Like in many communities across the United States, our local print paper began to regionalize coverage as financial pressures mounted. My wife and I decided to start The Alternative Press, now TAPinto, to help fill the gap.

As with any enterprise, there are many things you know, more that you think you know and even more that you don’t. TAPinto was no exception. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1)Put ethics at the core.

When building a startup, or any business, there are pressures that creep in from every angle. There sometimes can be an impulse to do things that are short-sighted to make a quick buck. It’s critical, however, to put ethics at the center of everything that you do. We made a decision early on to take the long view that if we were going to build something sustainable, we had to have a strong set of ethics and make the commitment to hold those who we engaged with to the same standard. Trust is so critical and we understood that early on.

2) Be strong, but flexible.

Building an online news platform has a lot of moving parts. You have to figure out how to fill in the gaps in competencies and find quality people to help you do it. Along the way, those people will make mistakes, and that’s okay. It’s okay to give second chances, but eventually, everyone you work with must provide value. If, after some coaching and open communication, you see that value is not being delivered, you need to be able to take action.

3) It hurts, but sometimes you have to pull the plug.

Lesson two brings me here. It’s the worst feeling, particularly the first time you have to do it, but sometimes you have to let an employee or vendor go. We learned that the longer you let it ride the worse it gets. Again, after having an open conversation and genuinely working toward improving performance, if a vendor or employee isn’t cutting it, cut them loose.

4. Free has a cost.

Be wary of people, even close friends or supporters, offering you things for free. Sometimes there is a genuine desire to help and other times there is a hidden agenda. Being aware of what the real cost of free is is so important, so you can avoid being put in an untenable situation later.

5. You have to spend money to make money, just make sure you’re spending smart money.

Take a look at every expense. You’re going to miss the mark sometimes. We did. It’s a learning process. Understanding what sorts of investments are yielding a return is key. Be honest with yourself and look at the data.

6. When hiring, be thorough.

Sometimes you get stuck in a bad situation for a reason out of your control. Sometimes you end up in a bad situation because you didn’t do your due diligence. When hiring ask for references, do interviews, sometimes several, get second opinions and ask for work samples. Most importantly, take a step back and reassess. It won’t always save you from lesson three, but it will help cut down on those instances.

7) Don’t let the business work you.

This is another tough one. As a founder, the impulse is to do everything. It’s hard to let go and delegate certain tasks, but it’s critical for success (we all do it). Put a structure and systems in place so that you can work on the business, not in the business.

8) Time is valuable.

Your time is valuable and nonrenewable. Taking lesson seven seriously is a critical piece to understanding how valuable your time is.

9) It’s a rollercoaster, hang on.

Starting a business is a rollercoaster. There will be ups and downs. Sometimes the downs take you really far down. The key is taking a breath, refocusing and moving forward. The success of a business hinges, in large part, upon your ability to solve problems and overcome challenges.

10) Feedback is good, too much feedback can be a drag.

Feedback is helpful, but too much from the wrong places can make you second guess what you are doing. Developing a sense for what sort of feedback will help you advance the business and what are just well-meaning, but ultimately not useful opinions is key. Find a set of trusted advisors who will help you tune out the noise.

Michael Shapiro is CEO and publisher of TAPinto.net, a network of more than 80 independently owned and operated local news websites in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Florida. This post originally appeared on Medium at https://link.medium.com/vdaHf0uh20, and is re-posted here with the permission of the author. 

 

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