In 2007 I left my job as business editor of the Yorkshire Post to launch www.thebusinessdesk.com, with £300,000 start-up capital. We have now expanded into the north-west, and are in the black
- We don’t have the costs of newspapers, so we don’t need paywalls
- We email business news to 18,000 people, who can see the full stories on our website for free, if they sign up
- Advertisers value us because the click-through response to their ads is measureable
I am a regional newspaper journalist – I was business editor of the Yorkshire Post until 2007. But, after 14 years in the trade, I got this feeling that I was working in a dying industry, and that was very depressing. I worried that my career would end up on the scrapheap. But, I started to think that there was a different way to deliver news, not least because news happens not daily, but hourly, or more frequently.
I started looking at other models, and decided that the web would be best approach. It seemed possible, to me, to build a community that would be attractive to advertisers.
It took two years to raise the money for the launch. We worked out that it would cost £300,000. That might sound like a lot of money, but the model we created was based on having to attract the right audience. We had to be credible and had to build a brand.
In summer of 2007 we raised the money from some wealthy individuals in Yorkshire and, a bank loan. I had thought about what skills I had as a journalist, and what value could I add. And, news-writing skills aside, contacts seemed to me to be my main asset. I had a good network, and I thought those people would give me a chance, if I sent them news every day.
We launched, in September 2007, and were ignored by the newspapers. We put up posters in the business district, gave away a lot of mugs and beer mats in restaurants and bars, we used bus-shelter posters and so on. We made a lot of noise for a small organisation. But to get advertising from world brands, then we needed to build our brand quickly.
I recruited two colleagues from the Yorkshire Post business desk, a graduate to help with administration, and took an office in the centre of Leeds. We had a database of contacts, and we emailed them on the first morning, with our email news. We send out an email alert at 8.30 in the morning, under the catchphrase, ‘tomorrow’s news today’. We emailed those people, but then they had to sign up with us on the website. You can only read a paragraph or two before you have to sign up. It is free to use, and always will be.
We don’t have the costs of a newspaper, so we don’t need paywalls. We deliver the news to people every day – and its available on all devices like Blackberrys and PDAs.
We now have four banner ads. We have started to cover property and to run awards and other events.
Losing money could not go on for too long, of course. We had 18 months to get into the black. We also used seminars, and other events to bring in revenue.
The next market we looked at was the north west (of England), where we recruited Chris Barry, who had been working for Manchester Evening News. We launched in the north-west in 2008, and we are now making a profit from both sections.
Advertisers were reasonably easy to tempt from elsewhere because we could promise measurabiltiy, and a clear return from click-through advertising. The Yorkshire Post could not offer anything similar from their website.
We now have 28,000 registered users and send out daily emails to 18,000 people. The quality of those people is far more important to advertisers than the quantity – our readers have an average income of £100,000.
At the time that we launched, Jaguar was launching a new car. I had a contact in the company, and they took a punt on us. They liked it, and came back to us. Now the big four accountancy firms, the banks and an airline advertise on our site. In terms of what we charge, to have a banner on our daily email for two weeks, we charge £2,500 – it’s a lot cheaper than a newspaper.
Where do we go from here? Once we had that niche audience, we thought we could sell other things to them. If they trust you and they trust your journalism – if you are not sensationalist – readers will spend time with you. Our audience spends about 3 minutes on our website every day. That sounds like not long, but our advertisers recognise that it is pretty good.
Lifestyle will form a new section of the site. We have covered cars, executive gadgets and so on. We want to do travel – mainly because I have not been offered a freebie since I left the Yorkshire Post. Funnily, the PR agencies are very stuck in their ways. It has taken 18 months to persuade some to deal with us. But, if you break good stories, people pay attention.
We list commercial property, for which agents pay. There will be the potential to advertise high-end residential property. Jobs worth £50,000 a year and above are also listed.
It is about building an audience, building a community and getting them to trust you.
We now employ the equivalent of 10 full-time staff; five journalists, four advertising people, and two admin staff.
Some other ideas; we did a mail-out, sponsored by an accountancy firm, immediately after the pre-budget report. We videoed their experts and got a key-points briefing out within 15 minutes of the Chancellor sitting down, and a more detailed analysis shortly afterwards.
We also organise round-table events, which we video and put on the site. People will watch an excerpt for two or three minutes, if they are well made. We post them on YouTube and embed them in our site.
Being valuable, and useful to your audience, is the key. We are very close to our readers and an I am not ashamed to say that we are a cheerleader for business within Yorkshire and the north-west. If the business community is successful, then we will be successful.
A year ago, people were saying to me, don’t be gloomy and pessimistic like that idiot Robert Peston – so we ran a good-news campaign. We don’t ignore bad news, but we went out to positively find good news, which was quite a positive experience in itself – finding news, rather than waiting for a press release.
It has been a very interesting two years. This model could work elsewhere, so we are looking at expansion.
I did make a mistake recruiting advertising staff from newspapers, who always sell negatively. All our sales staff now are from recruitment industry. They sell positively, not against the opposition. We are seen as positive.
David Parkin, former Yorkshire Post business editor, launched thebusinessdesk.com in November 2007 backed by a group of professional investors and entrepreneurs. Bringing the highest standards of regional business information to the internet and mobile devices, it is the only website dedicated to Yorkshire business news. It launched in the north-west in September 2008