Welcome to the fourth post in my small business blog series 'Show & Tell'. I am thrilled that Caroline Rowland, founder of 91 Magazine, has agreed to share her considerable wisdom as part of my Show & Tell series. Caroline's journey from blogger to indie magazine publisher is really inspiring and has been so heartening to watch.
Winter's Moon stocks this gorgeous magazine & am delighted to say that the studio features in their S/S 2018 issue - which I was just so chuffed about.
How long? I began blogging on Patchwork Harmony in 2008 as a hobby, but soon realised I wanted to take things more seriously. I launched 91 Magazine as an online publication in 2011, and finally left my full time job in 2013. So I guess I really started making a living from it around then.
Who? It's me, and I have a fab team of freelancers who work on the magazine with me.
Products? There are two sides of my business - 91 Magazine is an independent interiors and lifestyle magazine that publishes twice a year in print and digital form. Patchwork Harmony covers my freelance editorial services - my writing and blogging work.
How it’s sold? 91 Magazine is sold directly though the website, but it is also sold in lots of stores in the UK and abroad. .
Did you create a business plan before you started out?
No, I really didn't! As I said my blogging career initially started as a hobby so there was no 'plan' there at all. With the magazine, I did 'think' about things a bit more, but there was no proper business plan. I always knew that I'd love to get it into print, but it was more of a dream than a plan, so I'm thrilled that we managed to get it there.
How did you fund your business at the beginning?
When I started printing the magazine, that was when I really started to need actual cash to fund something. The way we funded our print run was to take pre-orders. We already had a good readership of the online edition, so people knew what to expect. This, along with some ad sales, paid for the print run. We still have this business model two years on. It would be impossible for me to fund it otherwise so I'm very thankful to our loyal readers that they are happy to pay in advance for their copy
What small thing that you do has made the biggest difference?
I'm not sure if it's much of a small thing anymore, but social media definitely makes a big difference. Instagram has been invaluable for spreading the word about the magazine. Not only via our own feed but lots of our lovely readers share their pics of it and that obviously has a ripple effect. Working on building a good mailing list is also so useful for reaching our readers.
What have you learnt the hard way about your business?
The magazine was initially free to read and after a year or so I decided to start charging a small fee to download it. It was a hard lesson to learn that people generally don't want to pay for online content. We've been conditioned to expect it to be free. I very nearly packed the whole thing in as I couldn't see how I could ever make money from it. I then took a year off from it and when I came back to it the time was right to start creating a print version and things have really taken off. Despite the mainstream belief that 'print is dead', it seems to be the opposite for the growing market for independent magazines. People actively want these in print. The other thing I've learnt is that while you may pour everything into your 'baby' not everyone that will carry out services for you will care so much about it. I've had lots of problems with printers and it's so frustrating when you spend months making a product as perfect as it can be, for printers to make errors at the last stage.
What piece of advice or guidance were you given has been the most useful?
I read an article around the time I was starting to print the magazine that was saying to start small when it comes to indie publishing, making small steps as you go. That is exactly what we've done and it seems to be working well so far. We've progressed from managing all our distribution ourselves on the first issue to using a distributor for UK sales, and now we've just started using one to look after distributing it internationally. it's exciting to see it grow with each issue. We have more than tripled our print run from when we started.
What sources do you use for business advice / learning / support?
I've really got into podcasts in the last year or so. I love listening to them when I'm either walking somewhere, cooking or washing up. I listen to Sara Tasker's Hashtag Authentic,
What She Said by Lucy of Wanderluce blog, Kat Molesworth's Blogtacular series and I've recently been tuning into a new one called The Fringe of It by Betty Magazine's Charlotte and Liv of What Olivia Did. All are inspiring creative business women with lots of snippets of great advice and support.
If someone gave you a small lump sum to invest in your business right now what would you spend it on?
Tricky one! I've been dreaming about publishing some books under the 91 brand, so unless a publisher commissioned them, then I would invest the money in self publishing them.