My Digital Publishing Incubator: Exploring Internet Business Models

17 strategic questions that your next digital publishing business plan must answer

I got a call last week from a colleague who has been thinking about launching his own digital publishing business for several years. Like most of the people who come to me for help, he has assets. Over the years, I’ve discovered that assets are very helpful in making a new launch successful faster. He is a well-known expert in his field with many important and influential contacts that can help him launch his new venture. He has content having successfully published a number of best-selling books closely related to his topic. He has a database of email fans and followers. He has a network of potential employees, contractors and advisors including me. And while he does not have a publishing or media brand, it won’t be difficult to turn his well-known byline into one, with the right marketing plan.

Creating a plan for success

Launching a new digital publishing business starts with a proven business model and a well thought business plan.

Each year I have the privilege of helping 10 to 15 publishers develop business plans for new products and new companies. Most of my new clients are referrals from current and past clients who like my process. My process starts with an analytically driven five-year business plan. While I’ve used many marketing channels over the years, most of the plans I write these days rely heavily on the web, search engines, and social media. In 2012, it’s possible to launch a successful media business without spending any money on direct marketing or advertising. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not free. Launching a successful digital publishing business typically requires an investment of at least $300,000-$500,000. This continues to seem pretty reasonable to me compared to the millions of dollars it can cost to launch a business using traditional paid media.

While every media business I’ve ever helped launched is unique, the questions that need answering are pretty much the same. Those answers form the backbone of the business plan and illustrate how the business will succeed in what is always a crowded marketplace.

Here are a few of the strategic questions I always ask:

How much does the management team know about the topic?

How visible is the management team with the audience?

How visible is the management team with potential sponsors?

What are the key topics and how does the audience search for them?

What is the demographic profile of the target audience member?

What other media, big and small, currently covers these topics?

Who are the mentor and partner organizations for your venture?

What is your mix of premium content formats?

Will sponsorship revenue play a small or large part in your mix?

Are there existing media properties that will help build your audience?

Do you plan to use paid media to build your audience?

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Do you have existing subscribers, fans, or followers?

What is your organizational plan and structure?

What functionality will be required for your website?

What is your technology infrastructure and management?

Will you sell, fund, or raise investment capital?

What is your optimal launch schedule?

Pulling it all together

With good answers to questions above, we can build a business plan that will meet the needs of both management and investors. The business plan is typically delivered as a PowerPoint deck divided into a number of key sections that might include: management team, audience profile, revenue mix, content plan, marketing plan, technology plan, five-year forecast, and investment requirements. If you’ve attended our Digital Publishing Bootcamp or our Content Marketing Workshop, this should all sound familiar.

If it doesn’t, please join me in New York City this July for the next public version of our Digital Publishing Bootcamp. Our team would love to help you explore how you can build a successful digital publishing business using our process and models.

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /


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