Launching a digital magazine can be a powerful way to expand your audience and profits. In this interview Adam Force shares the systems, tools and steps he took to launch Change Creator, his digital magazine. This interview is full of valuable, in-the-trenches tips that will save you a ton of time and money!
- To check out Adam’s magazine: www.changecreatormag.com
- Adam’s recommendation for outsourcing: Upwork
Transcription Episode 88: Starting A Digital Magazine…Here’s What You Need To Know
Welcome to the Project Ignite Podcast, a podcast designed to skip the hype, skip all the BS, just give you guys real actionable tips, strategies, things you need to grow your digital business.
This is your host, Derek Gehl, and today we’re going to be exploring what it takes to start a digital magazine and brand and we’ll be also exploring a little bit of social entrepreneurship along the way.
Now, today’s guest is the founder of Change Creator Digital Magazine and Podcast which is dedicated to developing and empowering social entrepreneurs. He has a pretty extensive entrepreneurial and business journey. The last 15 years is full of some pretty incredible accomplishments, including things like developing digital marketing strategies for some of world’s largest brands like Colgate, Dove and Excedrin.
He’s co-founded his own record label, he’s DJ’d alongside some of the biggest names in the dance music industry. A super interesting entrepreneur whose brain I’m really looking forward to picking about how to start a digital magazine .
Without further ado, I’d like to extend a huge welcome to Adam Force.
Adam, thanks so much for being here today to discuss how to start a digital magazine.
My wife and I were out in Costa Rica and like a lot of other entrepreneurs, this travel experience, being out there in this really remote area away from the city life. We were living in New York and Philadelphia, we had to get away from that hustle for a little bit.
It just gave me the opportunity to really have this new connection, sit with my thoughts and I know it sounds a little cheesy, but it really makes a difference. You realize just how precious everything is, how things work together and I was like, “We’ve got to protect this.”
You think about all the things that are going on in the world and the thought that starts getting into my mind was, what problem can I help solve. I’ve had all these years of experience doing business strategy, marketing, design, user experience, how can I use these things to build a business that actually contributes something to the world?
When I came back, I was on a mission to become a social entrepreneur and this was a bit more of a new concept. It’s been around for a while, I don’t know how many years. Maybe 30 years or something like that, that is starting to get more popular, but at the time there was no classes about it, there’s not really any books about it, not even a lot of literature.
Recently, it’s really been picking up a little bit more, but it’s still very new.
With that being said, I found one book, Making Good and it was co-authored by this guy Billy Parish. You’ll see that he was on the second issue of our magazine, the cover.
Finally, I dabbled in things like hemp water bottles. That didn’t get me very far. Got really complicated with understanding plastic productions modes, and all these different things. I even spoke to hemp experts and all these different things.
There was a young kid that actually got pretty far and won this contest for this idea of a hemp water bottle and he got stuck with a certain part of the process. I found a solution and it just got really complicated, so I gave up on that. It wasn’t my field of expertise and I got into rainforest protection.
Then I built a website for conscious news and these are all during times where I was in the position like I think a lot of entrepreneurs have. Where do I go? What do I do? How do I start? It just became a lot of question marks for me that I had to solve.
I was always doing stuff. Reading, listening to podcasts, trying to get myself to … I knew I had to continue to develop my own personal skills and working in the professional industry for a larger corporation is very different that working as a start up.
I had a lot of new things to learn and I was a big fan of self development and things like that. Long story short, I was listening to a podcast and somebody was talking about how to start a digital magazine.
I’m sitting there listening and he says this great success story and his audience, this is a magazine for entrepreneurship, business entrepreneurship, but they were asking him, “can you interview and talk to more social entrepreneurs?”
This is because his audience was the younger generation and the younger generations are more and more interested in meaningful work. Doing things that have purpose, putting people before profit and this is when the lightbulb switched on.
I was nowhere near thinking I should start a digital magazine and then it hit me that this is something I can wrap my head around with my past experience. From that point on, I started diving in and Change Creator was born.
Look at Mallika Dutt, she was just in our last issue. She is this incredible woman with tons of courage. Her story is amazing and she is in India. She is helping … They have a big problem over there with human rights violations against women and young girls and all these things. It’s a culturally bred type of thing and she had to figure out a way, how to change the system.
The other part of the definition of a social entrepreneur is that they are changing how a system works. It’s not just building a business and you’re doing a charity or something. It’s actually changing the way a whole culture functions, right? It’s a really big challenge and you see people who are doing big things.
Mallika Dutt for example was using pop culture media. She made a music video and it started making waves all around the country and started shaping the way people think about human rights. Now she’s been on this crazy mission and she’s impacting cultures all around India.
Guess what? Until the actual root cause that is causing poverty is addressed, you’re not going to actually change the poverty situation. You’re just going to alleviate pressure from it for a little while. You follow what I’m saying?
You’re basically changing the course of history.
If you’re looking what they said, what is it? A video is worth, I don’t know. What was it? It was something like 180 million words or something like that. Just to give the idea. How much more of an in-depth experience it really can be and why starting a digital magazine can be so effective.
If you’re getting premium content that is curated specifically for a certain type of experience, so you have great content curated, so you’re not surfing all over someone’s website to find all these different articles. It’s all there in a cohesive experience, with a layer of depth and interactivity and you don’t have to think about it. You’ll get notifications that tells you when it’s ready and then it’s like Christmas morning.
Vendors, getting prices for different things, designers, and I made a huge excel sheet to say what’s it going to cost me for six months of full production. What’s it going to cost me for twelve months of full production. Do I need to do crowd funding? How much do I think it’s going to cost for an article?
I did a whole cost analysis and I had to go through … I vetted ten different designers to see … It was very important to me that it’d topnotch quality because that first impression is really important and people want that sexy feel and plus, it’s your brand image.
This is the face of who you are, so it’s incredibly important that you put the time and effort into those details. Otherwise it reflects poorly on you as a brand. For me I started using … I guess I narrowed it down to what the bare minimum was I needed to get started and once I had my cost analyzed, I started learning about content calendars.
I had to figure out how to populate the magazine and then I had to figure out, how do I even get someone to agree to be on a cover of a magazine. Where I don’t have a website yet, I don’t even have a logo yet and I’ve never published any magazines for them to refer to and so it really came down to selling my story to people.
It helps when you have a cause that they can get behind, so when you align to the right people, they’re more interested.
Before we get into that, the tool I used, that I found very, very helpful at the start was Upwork. Giving them a shout because it’s a really good platform and you can build a team of people there and you can also submit a query to say, here’s what I’m looking for and here are the qualifications that are required. You could say, have you ever written in a magazine about social entrepreneurship, for example or have you ever launched a product?
Whatever your needs are, you can identify them and if they have those qualifications, you could set up time, Skype with them, talk, and you start vetting people. I’ll be honest, I did not do actual discussions in vetting at first. I would just find people with certain skillsets and I came up with content plan and I would start making requests to get articles out there.
For me, I have learned about storytelling as a strategy because when I’m building actual content marketing strategies and PowerPoint docs for pitching and all those things, I always end telling a story.
When I approached the content plan, a couple of books and lots of articles later, I finally got the confidence to populate it and it was really about telling a story. Not only with the magazine, but with each edition as it progressed. When I looked at my content plan, it was really like, all right, so this is the first issue, what content makes sense for the first issue?
Article one through article ten, built on each other and told the story as you read the magazines. That was my personal approach and I never knew, was I doing this content plan the right way? Was I doing it the wrong way?
For me, a lot of people I also contacted were through Twitter. I would go to Twitter and start direct messaging people like crazy. Actually from my first issue, that’s where two of the articles came from. I didn’t pay them, but I gave them exposure in the magazine, so you make mutually beneficial agreements.
Right on my first cover, I had Jake Orak. His story is just awesome. He makes these crazy design bags which was inspired from his travel and there was a culture, I think it was Guatemala.
He was out there and there was a culture that was being pushed to extinction because of industry and so they made out these great handmade design, I don’t know what you call it. These knit like patterns, it’s called Ethnotek bags and he was like, let’s keep this culture alive. To save that culture, he came up with these business to sell bags and designs, even covers for your iPads or whatever by using their materials, their raw materials that they made.
Now, they have someone to sell to and it’s now these awesome business. He had a really cool idea, cool business, and a cool story. It was stuff like that. I started there and strategically I worked my way up. I would build magazine by magazine, the types of people that I was bringing on board.
You’ll start seeing some of that with our next issue that’s coming out with Neil Patel. Yeah, it is a pretty robust magazine and it will also save you a little time and money when you’re not paying for ten full blown articles.
You’re connecting to social entrepreneurs, learning from them, because they have a mindset that’s a little bit different, so you’re learning that execution of how they’re doing, how they’re solving big problems.
I had to make a decision where I wanted to play and I decided to be competitive on price because I’m not trying to make my money just from the magazines, so I didn’t want to create a roadblock. I wanted to make it very acceptable and when we kicked it off, we started a one year at $8.99 for the first thousand people.
Then we bumped it up to $19.99 and I think this will give us enough to be sustainable while in parallel creating other solutions that will be at higher price points and be more in depth with instruction and support and things like that.
Ad identifier, id and I was like, what is this and trying to figure it out. Every time you put it back into review, it’s like another two weeks. My whole launch plan got moved. I went from January, all the way to March because of those delays and I was like, damn. I’m all about getting something out the door and not waiting until it’s perfect and I wasn’t.
I was ready to roll with that first issue. I just got hung up in iTunes.
You have to basically do this whole setup process, put your keywords and your descriptions, so you have things to populate an app store. It’s similar in some of that respect with the podcast, but there this review process and all these different options and tweaks.
The support with Apple is not, it’s not like can sit there and chat with somebody and be like, hey, here’s what’s going on and can you tell me. They would just come back to me and be like, “Oh, this is a problem.” I would write back and be like, “Oh, well here’s why. Can you tell me …” Then they would just … They had no … They would never really answer your question and so I’m trying to figure it out.
It was just this real big brutal process then, but finally, now I get it. Now I know it and you’ve got to set up your pricing right.
I had big issue too where earlier on I had all these people sign up for 8.99 and I was like, all right, well it’s time to change the price. I go in and instead of creating a new pricing layer and then deactivating the 8.99, I updated the 8.99, so guess what happened?
There was some success there. Some people did it, some people did not and so there’s some challenges with that model, but it does help. Obviously you want those people who are promoting and doing things like guest posting. This is important when you want to start a digital magazine.
I was aware aware of a lot of these things for distribution upfront, but I got so hung up with trying just to get the first issue established and building a team of writers on Upwork and doing all the stuff.
Being a one man show trying to start a digital magazine, I didn’t get all my distribution squared away upfront, so I had a slow start to be honest. Even now, I’m always working on my distribution strategy and I even brought on a marketing consultant to start supporting me because I couldn’t dedicate the time I needed.
There’s the time you spend to the product that you have and then time you spend to the actual distribution and growth of it. I was struggling there for a while for sure. Now, you’ve got to start focusing on a couple of channels that work and so things like Instagram are good, Facebook paid ads have been good, and getting out on other people’s networks.
That’s probably why too I like to share my story, connect with people on podcasts, and I find it to be a viable channel to talk about what’s going on and get the word out.
For everybody that’s listening, wanting to start a digital magazine, it’s a new channel that’s not as saturated as podcasting and I think it’s a great way to potentially build audiences. Now that you’ve been through that process, if you had to say here’s the three most important things you need to know going into this, what would they be?
You need to start establishing big names to be taken seriously. For example, we’re in discussions with Arianna Huffington, Tony Robbins, Blake Mycoskie, and this is stuff coming down the pipeline, but you can only do that strategically at the right time. It’s a step by step process of who you’re reaching out to and when.
I think those are things, design, understanding your cause, planning your distribution, and the given is always start building your email list as soon as possible after you decide to start a digital magazine. Because if you have a thousand people on your list, when you launch the magazine, you’re in good shape.
This way we can control the data collection and I’m trying to have it communicate with the app store so that you can fulfill it at the app store, but you don’t have to purchase it there. If that doesn’t happen, I have a solution where you can read it on desktop, so you can get a full big screen, because I’ve had people ask me for that.
Sometimes the apps, they’re just too small. They don’t want to read it on the phone, but that can become a responsive design so that even though you’re not on the app store, you can still pop it on your phone and it restructures its size and it acts just like the app.
It’s really how you structure your email. I spent a lot of time on what my email was saying and keeping it short, concise, but powerful with key points. Like I said, reaching out to the right people and then doing this thing. It’s a really important piece.
At the time I was reaching out for my initial covers, I didn’t have a website to reference for them and I didn’t have my logo or anything. Finally I did get the logo first and foremost. I was like, ‘Hey, designer, I’ve got to get this done.”
What I did was, I made a prospectus which is a contributors handbook, like a guide for anyone that’s contributing, whether it’s podcast, writing for the magazine, and so when I reached out to them and I got their attention with the first email, I would do a follow-up and I would send this prospectus and that was well designed. It had our logo and stuff.
I gave them something that gave a presence of professionalism. The email has to speak intelligently and smart about what you’re talking about, that’s the first impression. Then I had the prospectus with the follow-up, so it showed we were serious, we were professional, and they were buying in a little bit more.
It really outlines everything I did when I decided to start a digital magazine. Whether it’s creating a vision, creating a business plan, and I like Derek on your side, you talk about the why. That’s the first intro of our startup guide, is establish your why. Do your self inventory and it goes step by step. These are all the steps I’ve taken which if I was going to discuss that here, I would have take up the whole interview with that.
It’s a lot of information. I might have made it sound very simple and quick to get going, but there was a lot of … When I said establish your audience, that’s one piece compared to business plans, visions, all these things.
I carried a notebook around with me Derek and I would be writing in it all day. This little tiny notebook went everywhere with me there’s a lot to it. You can check that stuff out on the website. It’s free, I put blood, sweat, and tears into those guides. Especially that start up guide. That is everything I can share based on my experience and you don’t have to go fishing around all over the place, it’s there.
If you haven’t done so already, please head over to iTunes. Subscribe if you haven’t, leave us a rating, leave us a review. Guys, that’s the fuel. I love reading those reviews. That’s the fuel that gives me the momentum to keep making this podcast as the best podcast I can make it. Giving you guys as much value as possible every single week, in every single episode.
Now, it’s time to take the strategies that Adam so generously shared with us today and apply the final essential ingredient and that ingredient to make it work for you is action. Go for it, take action, apply what you’ve learned today, and stay tuned for more info packed episodes of the Project Ignite Podcast.
This is your host, Derek Gehl, signing off.