Like a lot of social entrepreneurs out there, we weren’t necessarily looking to enter the field. In fact, we weren’t really thinking like entrepreneurs at all. We were thinking like creators, writers, publishers. We saw the potential that social enterprise held and, as journalists, we knew that someone had to get the word out in a big way. And so we set off down that fanciful path belonging to poets and dreamers and women who clearly have no idea what they are getting themselves into.
We quickly realize what we are getting into. Our dream of producing an edgy and informative print magazine for and about social entrepreneurs is out the window. After crunching the numbers, it becomes evident that producing even one issue is going to require either a lottery win or an investment by someone with deep pockets and a strong belief in our cause. Since neither of us has any spare change to buy a lottery ticket, we go looking for people with money.
After many phone calls and a flurry of emails, we discover there are lots of people who had a strong belief in our cause. Of course, none of them have deep pockets. They do, however, have lots of good advice, which can go a long way when you are determined (and have nothing else). So armed with our good advice we embark on Plan B – anonline publication dedicated to social enterprise. We just need some good writers (check), some good content (check), and a kick-ass website to share with the world.
Panic sets in as we come to the conclusion that we know nothing about building a website and can’t afford to pay someone else to build one for us. If we want an online publication we are going to have to do all the technical stuff ourselves. This means creating the site, finding a host, inputting the content, and doing the back-end tweaking to make sure everything works properly. We contact every tech nerd and computer whiz we know, trying to glean whatever information we can. We are not above begging for help.
Our first ever issue of SEE Change Magazine is launched. There is much back-patting and congratulating. Then it dawns on us that we have to do it all again in another three months (we’re a quarterly publication, for now). And we need to start marketing ourselves, and tweeting, and Facebooking, and there is still that pesky task of drawing up a business plan. But we can think about all that later. Right now, we savour our first small victory. People are subscribing. Sponsors have come on board. We are a real publication!
We may be a real publication, but now the realities of business rear their head. Sponsors are asking questions. Stipulations are being made about who cheques can be issued to. What type of business are we? (And believe me, everyone’s got an opinion about that!) What is our legal business name? Do we have a business registration and license? How many hoops must you jump through to get a business bank account? (Note: there are seven (7) hoops of various sizes that must be properly cleared before you are allowed to give the bank your money). We wonder what happened to our dream of creating an amazing publication. What happened to the fun and excitement, those heady days of Month Five? And why are the guidelines about starting a business so obtuse?
Worn out from our adventures in the land of legalese, and already under the gun to get our next issue underway, we decide that the best course of action is to take on an intern. Because what can be more helpful when you already have too much on your plate than taking on an intern? Now, that may sound like sarcasm (who, me?), but the truth is our intern was a big help in getting us more firmly entrenched in the social media arena. Apparently, you just have to be there. As a publication, as a new business, as entrepreneurs, this is one area of marketing that can’t be avoided…no matter how much you may try.
Our second issue is out, our subscriber base is growing, new contributors are coming on board, and we’re invited to be a media sponsor at several events. Things are progressing nicely. We’re smug; we’re resting on very tender laurels. It’s obvious that something is about to go wrong…and there it goes. Our website grinds to a halt. Pages that should take seconds to load take minutes, or just don’t work at all. Hair is pulled out in frustration. Teeth are gnashed. We have to switch our website to a new hosting company. But all is not lost. We find the most helpful tech guy on the planet and our little SEE Change universe rights itself once more.
Months Nine through Twelve:
Our subscriber list grows big enough that we need to start sending out our newsletters from a paid service that ensures deliverability. New advertisers join our site. We start getting invited to prestigious events. We know that our instincts were right – that we are fulfilling a need and helping to spread the word about a new way of doing business. We’d still love for some of those deep-pocket supporters to show up but we’re not holding our breath. Instead, we are doing what all good entrepreneurs do: we’re finding creative ways to achieve our goals. And one of these days we’ll get around to writing that business plan, too!
Learn more about how SEE Change Magazine got started in this radio interview for So Fine Canada on April 28, 2011.
Nicole Zummach is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of SEE Change Magazine. She has worked in the publishing industry for more than a decade, and has spent most of her career researching and writing about civil society and the nonprofit sector. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org