How to launch a business or project you love – Sophie Cross, Freelancer Magazine

Sophie Cross, Editor of Freelancer Magazine
At the end of 2020, Sophie Cross had an idea. A good old fashioned magazine in a time where the prevailing wisdom is to go digital. In a few short months, Sophie conceptualised the magazine, targeted an audience, smashed her £12,000 target on Kickstarter, created and edited the magazine and had it land on doorsteps around the world. How did she do it? This is the story.

Key takeaways on launching a successful magazine

  • There’s no value in ideas. There’s only value in implementing them.
  • Having a community supporting you and providing feedback every step of the way is priceless.
  • How to define success for yourself: Any way you bloody well want to!
  • Marketing is about conveying as much as you can about your thing without giving them your thing.
  • Find the people doing it best even if they’re not in your industry. Especially if they’re not in your industry.
  • Marketing is more about what you do over how you do it.

Idea Conception: Coming Up with a Good Business Idea Accidentally on Purpose

  • Freelance life doesn’t have to be solitary. Find your tribe. For years, Sophie had been dabbling in various ventures, looking to see which idea would stick. Nothing did; but, at some point, she was involved in a number of communities, which provided her with valuable feedback to home in on the intersection of…
    • …what people want
    • …what she is passionate about
  • Don’t just listen to the things that resonate. Listen to everything.
  • Rants, moans, grumbles: Opportunities to solve problems
  • Be not boring.
  • Look for the contradiction.
  • How to come up with an idea for anything:
    • Community: Hang out (but don’t be creepy)
    • Listen: No, really listen. A bit harder.
    • Find problems: Problems make prizes.

The Launch: Kickstarter, Baby!

  • Don’t keep your ideas a secret. People don’t expect you to have it all figured out at the beginning. In fact, engaging with your community and collecting feedback is the best way to help you shape your idea into a viable business.
    • If your idea isn’t feasible, you’ll want to find out sooner rather than later.
  • Let go of the outcome.
  • Launch Marketing Checklist:
    • Prove a product/market fit.
      • When you launch something, your M.V.P. (Minimum Viable Product) is your M.V.P. (Most Valuable Player).
    • Get a firm grip on your costs, budgets, and pricing.
      • Charge more and make it better.
    • Have a plan, a pre-launch plan, a plan B, and a party.
      • First impressions count (at least) double.
    • Get the community involved.
      • Community=Connecting people to one another
    • Create a sense of urgency.
      • If you don’t give people a deadline, they’ll decide to do it tomorrow—and tomorrow never comes.
    • Build momentum.
      • Your marketing is the only thing people see before they decide if they want to buy from you or not.
      • Make the most of being small.
      • Creative freedom=Competitive advantage
    • Get social.
      • Use positive social proof.
      • People prefer people to logos.
      • Don’t make a posting Make a doing plan.

The Mag: Making It, Marketing It, and Our Business Model

  • Your number one marketing focus: Make a brilliant product.
  • Be a fan of your own thing! (i.e. Sophie became a mag fan.)
  • Find examples of successful businesses or products in your niche.
  • Sophie and Ange’s process for making a mag:
    • The theme
    • Feature ideas
    • Slot in the regular features (and tie them to the theme)
    • First draft page order for articles and ads
    • Research and approach featurees
    • Interviews
    • Write up the interviews and articles and put them through Grammarly
    • Send Ange copy and images
    • Ange designs the spreads
    • Design amends
    • Ange pulls the whole mag together
    • We spend half a day together to go through the final amends
    • Send to print, AKA squeaky bum time
  • Common problems with other mag business models:
    • FREE=People don’t read it
    • NO READERS=The ads don’t work
    • NO ADS=No ad spend
    • NO MONEY=No mag
  • Sophie’s business model:
    • Paid for
    • Recurring payments
    • Direct sales
    • Audience first
  • Sophie’s marketing strategy:
    • Primarily word-of-mouth
      • Don’t ask: “How can we get people to share it?”
      • Ask: “How can we make it more shareable?”
    • Focused marketing channels that are organic and content-layered
      • Choose only the channels that your audience use.
      • Consistency and commitment are more important than the channels (i.e. Don’t spread yourself too thin.).


Q and A on launching a successful magazine

Q: What has been the biggest hurdle that you had to overcome while working on the magazine, and what did you learn from it?

A: You’ve got to keep going, and creating a business that you love is the best way to do that. For the most part, it’s just practical challenges like mags not turning up at the post. But it’s easy to get through these minor problems because the community has been so loving.

Q: When you were building a financial model, how did you come up with a guestimate for subscriber numbers that you budgeted towards?

A: It was tough at first, because it was just a matter of plucking a reasonable number off the top of my head. But over time, the biggest factor was the cost of things. Of course, you tend to underestimate costs. So, I started thinking about the worst case scenarios, asking, “Okay, what’s the worst thing that could happen?” Using Kickstarter forced me to come up with those minimum numbers and anticipate potential issues.

Q: Would you use Kickstarter again in expanding on any part of your current business?

A: I knew at the beginning that Kickstarter was the way to go. I’m so pro-Kickstarter now because of the functionality. I’d grow the business directly now if I can, but I’d definitely go back to Kickstarter if we need to.

Q: Why did you use Twitch to stream the launch party?

A: Since the first edition was about creativity, I started thinking about where all the creative people were. My DJ said that he had moved his streaming on to Twitch, so I decided on it. I think there’s a huge opportunity in using Twitch since live streaming is all the rage now. Twitch is also budget-friendly, and I wanted to remove as much risk as I could.

Q: What was the biggest surprise/challenge in producing content for print? How did it feel when the magazine arrived from the printers and you got the smell of the ink straight from the press?

A: The biggest surprise for me was how easy it was. We were just taking people’s stories and packaging it up in a way that hadn’t been done before in this space. The feeling of getting the magazine was unbelievable, but the funny thing is, I didn’t get the magazine before everyone else because I was so focused on getting it out. The first time I got it was when I first realized that Twitter had blown up and my step-mum stepped in with the magazine in her hand. It was insane. I can’t describe it.