Turning your site into a business

The gang at GrowthSpur, of which I proudly call myself a member, is having another of its introductory sessions for hyperlocal and niche site operators.

We think journopreneurs – and people who just want to operate great local sites, whether or not they claim the “j” word – are one of the key parts of the emerging local information landscape. If you’re interested, drop a note to Mark Potts or to me.

The 5,000-buck hyperlocal design

It happened again: I heard a tale of a laid-off journalist who spotted an unmet need – a community that was no longer being covered the way it should be. So she decided to launch a neighborhood blog. Terrific!

Then came the thud: She’s already hired someone to take care of all the technology and design. For only $5,000. And she’s thinking like a businessperson – she bargained him down to that.

I joked about this a little the other day. But, really, it’s not funny.

Journopreneurs have a tough enough time doing all the things they need to do to launch a site, and figure out how to make a living at it. I want to scream when I see people so intimidated by Technology (cue dread-inspiring music) that they blow cash they could use on freelancers, marketing and another month’s mortgage payment.

I don’t blame the design and tech shops – they have a tough life, too. But if you want to be a hyperlocal or niche-site operator, learn the about technology. You don’t have to write code (God knows I don’t) – but you at least need to understand enough to know you don’t spend $5,000 on something you could easily do for $500.

I offer some-more practical advice – not just more harrumphing – over on the GrowthSpur blog. (Fair warning: There’s a pitch in there for GrowthSpur’s partnership services.)

How easy is this stuff?

A self-deprecating aside from long ago: When I first ran a semi-big local website, sophisticated content-management systems were just becoming available. Big chunks of the site were programmed by hand, using HTML code written by producers.

Those hand-coded pages were then shipped off to our distant web server by a direct-transfer process known as FTP. To make life easier, we kept a spare computer forever linked to the server – when a producer had something to load, they’d just hop over to that empty desk, slap their file into the computer via a floppy (kids: ask your parents) and voila! Done.

Of course, an always-live connection to the server, in the wrong hands, was a guaranteed way to crash the site. And mine were the wrong hands. Don’t get me wrong: I had a lot of skills in journalism, management and business. But I had (and still have) horrible skills at coding.

How horrible? The site’s very good executive producer quietly passed the word: If I ever sat down at that live computer, someone was to run over there and slyly, but quickly, get the keyboard out of my hands.

I tell this story to make a simple point: You do not need to write code to run a website. In 2000, I needed a great staff of producers; today, all you need are some free tools. Another post of mine on the GrowthSpur blog has some basics about that.

If you’re serious about being a journopreneur, you need to be able to do this. It isn’t hard.

This blog, for instance? Launched it in the course of a weekend. Costs $9 a month for hosting (only because the $6 a month host I had previously was too dodgy for my liking).

The basic design is a free (the favorite word of any journopreneur) theme for WordPress called Bueno, from the fantastic folks at WooThemes. (Full disclosure: I did buy $70 worth of themes from them for some other sites, including my wife’s – and their free forum support was so great I tossed a few bucks at the founder’s favorite charity.)

Oh – and every bit of work on this site was done by that guy who wasn’t allowed to touch the live keyboard at a big website. Heh.