Why our focus is on business journalism, content marketing, and communications
FAQ: Content Connective founder Shaun Lowthorpe explains the company focus on business journalism, content marketing and communications
Why did you start Content Connective?
I was working for a large media publisher and had been overseeing a project supporting fast-growing business owners called Future50. During that project, I met and interviewed a number of company founders and started to get inspired by their business stories to the point where I was thinking ‘I’d like to try that’.
I had also been influenced by the ideas of Charles Handy, who I had interviewed at his home about his book, The Second Curve.
Something about what he was saying and also about his career path really resonated with me. I felt he was describing me perfectly, so while having lunch with him and his wife Liz at their home in South Norfolk, I mentioned my dream of working for myself and they both told me to go for it.
On the flip side, the industry I loved was changing at a rate of knots, some of that was really exciting, but I’d seen a lot of good colleagues lose their jobs, and I was becoming jaded. On a personal level, one of my mentors who had guided me in my early days as a journalist died, and I was also becoming less convinced by the people at the top of the company, and whether they really knew what they were doing. Throw in scandals such as phone-hacking, and it felt time to make a positive move and do something else.
What is the business about?
There are three strands to what I’m trying to do all of which are rooted in my news industry experience. These are: business journalism, content marketing, and communications.
This revolves around freelance writing and editing or working with publishers on projects and launches, as well as ‘brand journalism’. Here I look for opportunities to work with publishers and news organisations on a contract basis for bespoke projects. I’m keen to spread my net far and wide and work with people at a national, regional, and hyper-local level as well as internationally, too.
This is my client-facing work with business owners, organisations, or agencies on developing brand storytelling for their own channels and communications. Print and long-form content is the particular focus, and I have successfully helped clients create their own customer magazines. I also worked on the development and launch of an e-learning platform for start-ups, and I worked on scripting and presenting podcasts too for the local chamber of commerce. This has consistently been my most successful strand to date.
Having worked as a journalist I have an excellent understanding of what newsrooms look for in stories and have put together a course helping people to ‘think like a journalist to promote their business’. I run free sessions at my local business library and in late 2018 am going to roll out the first set of paid-for sessions based on the ideas I have developed. It isn’t just journalism which is in flux, but the whole PR industry too, particularly with the rise of social media, and increasingly I am helping organisations who need to communicate directly with their audience develop processes around their external communications with stakeholders and the public, as well as internal communications and training with staff.
Why have you set up as a limited company?
I’m very interested in collaborating with others and particularly growing Content Connective through joint ventures. I set up as a limited company to give me the opportunities to scale if I needed it. I also thought it would make an important statement about the scale of my ambitions to people I wanted to work with. Interestingly, I have since read that this is a good approach to follow in books such as the Entrepreneur Revolution by Daniel Priestley, so my instincts must be on the right lines! I have also been encouraged to think this way by Neil Foley from the Business Growth Club, an excellent support group for business owners which I have got involved in.
What have been the biggest challenges so far?
The biggest challenge has been defining a clear proposition to take to market and explain to people what the business is about and how it can make a difference to them.
At the start I was a bit woolly and trying to offer as many different services as I could, but realised I needed to be more focused so that customers could understand what I was really about, and I hope the three pillars I’ve outlined do this.
My skill is in storytelling and bringing an editorial approach as opposed to what I would describe as an overly ‘puffy’ or sales approach. I’m all about putting your customers at the heart of your storytelling and content strategy, as well as you and your staff.
Although I am a writer, in fact, I bring much more to the table when working with clients including commercial knowledge and a ‘strategic brain’ around developing content strategies for businesses.
Explaining some of that can be a tough sell to organisations traditionally looking to hire staff for defined roles, but I think the world of work is shifting and there is increasingly a place for businesses such as mine who are nimble and can come in and do a job on bespoke projects – and without all the ‘on-costs’ too!
Operationally, the toughest challenge came after I lost my biggest client shortly after the end of my first full year of trading. It very nearly blew the business out of the water and forced me to focus much more intently about what the offer was and how to develop a diversified revenue stream, which is why I settled on the three pillars of business journalism, content marketing, and communications.
Coping with that was the moment I truly discovered the difference between writing about business and running one! In some ways though, tough as it has been, it may have been a blessing in disguise as it forced me to really get to grips with the business, get back out there and network and add some more eggs into the basket.
Have you turned your back on journalism?
No, not at all! The reality is that most of my work is around content marketing, but an important part of my ambitions is to keep writing business journalism. I am very interested in the hyper-local space and am looking for opportunities to develop my own micro-publishing projects or work in partnership with others to develop theirs. As part of this I write a running blog and am interested in developing this and other niche sites. To date I’ve not spoken much about this side of the business, as larger media players have a habit of stamping on your ideas when they get wind of them, whereas I’d be interested in collaborating with them, but actually I’ve decided to be more open about this as I have to believe in the strength of the proposition I wish to bring to market.
What sort of businesses are you looking to work with?
A lot of my content marketing work comes from people who already know me and typically these tend to be what I would call ‘Future 50’ type businesses. They are usually owner managed with between 10 and 20 staff, but with no dedicated marketing or content capacity in-house. Typically, they want to invest in quality content and marketing but aren’t interested in a full-service agency approach, and so welcome the more hands-on bespoke service I offer.
On the communications side, I have worked with larger companies and organisations and have also partnered with PR specialists to deliver media training, and to carry out interviews of senior managers for thought leadership pieces and external communications.
Naturally on the business journalism side, I’m keen to work with publishers looking for an experienced business journalist, or who need some fresh editorial thinking. I have a particular skill and experience in helping publishers launch new products and also revitalising what I would call ‘distressed assets’ through redesigns.
What are your future plans for the business?
As well as consolidating the business around the three strands of business journalism, content marketing and communications, I would also like to increase our capacity to deliver services by building a team utilising the skillsets of many of my former journalism colleagues, whether it’s reporters, designers, sub editors or photographers.
Although it has felt like a lifestyle business to date, I do have ambitions to scale up, and even exit one day.
I can’t say at this stage whether that will be through engaging them as freelancers or associates, or through employing people as much will be in the hands of how the market responds, but I certainly want to build something.
Geographically much of my work to date has been in Norfolk, where I am based, and I am keen to extend my client base across the UK and even further afield, and look for new ways to add value to my customers and their businesses.
I’m also interested in the future of journalism in this rapidly changing media world, and how I can help bring on the next generation of journalists into an industry where newspapers or the media as I knew it no longer exists. That challenge around building the ‘new journalism’ is something which excites me most of all.
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