Some industries have formidable barriers to entry. You don’t see people lining up to start aircraft manufacturing firms in their garages, for instance. To start Boeing from scratch, you’d need to invest billions before your first plane ever rolled out of the hangar.
On paper, at least, media is the exact opposite. To start a successful media firm, all you really need is talent, determination and a willingness to outwork your competitors.
Look closer, though, and you’ll see that the media landscape is rife with pitfalls. If you’re starting a media business today, here’s what you need to keep in mind as you work to build it from the ground up.
- Remember That Content Is King
Most cliches have a grain of truth. “Content is king” has a veritable sandpile of it. From the outset, your fledgling media company must invest in top-quality content that complements your overarching business model. Whether you’re producing hard-hitting documentary videos, longform written journalism or hot-take political analysis, you need to do it better than the competition. Expect to pay a premium for quality — and to be rewarded handsomely for your gamble down the road.
- Look for Overseas Opportunities
Expanding a media business overseas is a lot easier than setting up a new smelting plant or even warehouse in an unfamiliar country, at least on paper. Though it takes time to develop a trusted network of international content creators, salespeople and decision-makers, human investments are typically a lot less capital-intensive than physical infrastructure investments.
Start where you’re comfortable — stable, English-speaking countries, like Canada and the U.K. — and branch out from there. As you scale, lower-cost English markets (such as India) can provide valuable back-end support.
- Learn How to Step Back
Starting a media business is a hands-on affair. In the early going, you’re sure to find yourself wearing multiple hats at all levels of the organization — from the content-creation trenches on up. Once you’ve achieved escape velocity, though, that needs to change.
One of the key factors that separates firms positioned for success from firms destined to fail: founders’ and/or top-level employees’ willingness (and, frankly, ability) to step back and delegate to trusted subordinates.
Put another way: If you’re keen on micromanaging your employees, start a retail business. The people you’ll need to support a successful media firm aren’t likely to accept what they perceive as limitations on their creative freedom or unreasonable demands from higher-ups who don’t really understand what they do. Right or wrong, it’s the nature of the beast.
Know What You’re Getting Into
Saying that the media landscape is challenging these days is like saying that it’s hard to become President — it’s not exactly old news.
Savvy media folks have understood the industry’s challenges for years, but there’s finally a consensus emerging that the old ways of doing things are done and gone forever. The old school isn’t going to sweep back into the picture on a white stallion and make everything better.
And that’s actually great news. The first step toward recovery is, after all, acceptance. If you’re looking to make your mark on the media world, you’ve practically got a blank slate at your disposal. Here’s to doing great things with it.