I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the groundwork of starting and building a business. Understandable, since I’m kinda in the middle of the building part right now.
I’m pretty secure about the services I’m selling – the marketable skills of writing, editing and media relations consulting. But when it comes to the back-end of actually running a business that’s financially solvent and in legal compliance with the IRS and other government entities, I’m not quite as confident.
But it dawned on me recently that I know a hell of lot more about the logistics of starting and sustaining a business than most people. And I owe all of that knowledge to Business First.
I worked for that wonderful weekly business newspaper for almost 10 years, from 1998 to 2007. It was my first career job, and I was so green when I got there my nickname should have been Kermit.
I moved over to the “dark side” in 2007, to PR and corporate communications, to advance my career, not because I was unhappy with the paper. Quite the contrary. I still count many of the folks who are still there after all these years to be good friends.
In fact, as soon as I mentioned to a couple of them that I was thinking about freelancing for a living, they started throwing me work. It’s been so nice to write for them again. And I can’t lie … seeing my byline in newsprint gives me the spine tingles.
Anyhoo, I feel like I owe a huge debt of gratitude to BF for everything I learned while I was there. It wouldn’t be too far off the mark to say that any modicum of success I’ve experienced so far in my new venture is a direct result of that job.
And not just because it’s a great publication, which it is. Not just because each issue contains a cornucopia of useful information for businesses of any size or industry, which it does. And not just because I’m writing for my old friends again and using this blog post to suck up to them so they’ll give me more work, which I am.
(OK, that’s last bit’s only partially true. But hell, if it works…)
No, it’s mostly because Business First was an amazing training ground for me, on every possible level.
Of course, the biggest benefit of my many years at BF is that I am a MUCH better writer because of the editors I worked with at the paper. They are one tough bunch. I am always shocked at how few questions editors at other publications have on the stories I file with them. Years of getting hammered by the BF team trained me not to miss much.
During my time in the BF newsroom, I learned how to successfully work with all different personalities and vastly different work styles. I grew a thick skin and learned to not take criticism personally. I learned that no matter how good I think a piece of my writing might be, another pair of eyes – and another perspective – will always make it better.
On the flip side, I learned how to ask questions. In fact, I learned how to be relentless in asking questions. I am not afraid to pose even the toughest queries these days, because I figure the worst than can happen is that the person I’ve asked will decline to answer. And then I’m just back where I started.
Thanks to BF, I’m comfortable talking to CEOs, civic leaders and millionaires. In fact, I’m pretty comfortable talking to anyone, in any situation.
(If the publisher, Tom Monahan, reads this next part, I’ll get a big fat “I told you so” from him the next time we run into each other, but here goes.)
A big reason why I am an effective networker today – which has become HUGELY important to my business development efforts – is because I was forced to do it at what felt like a thousand “Breakfast with Business First” events. Enough practice and you get good at something, whether you like it or not.
I think the format has changed these days, but it used to be that BF would host a networking event at different venues around town, starting at 7 a.m. BF invited readers to come and network with each other, but also get to know the reporters and editors who put out the paper.
I loathed those events, in large part because I am not a morning person. But also because in the early years, it was uncomfortable to put myself out there like that.
Today, I can admit that a lot of great story ideas came out of those events. I got used to – and even came to enjoy – starting up conversations with random strangers. And, in my new business, I have capitalized on contacts I made through those events. One or two have actually given me work already.
(Yes, Tom, you were right. I hate you.)
Something else I can now see as a gift that I hated at the time is the know-how I gained from editing sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer’s columns. I stand by my opinion that he is a horrendous writer, but he really knows how to sell. I find myself following his advice all the damn time, since I have to actively sell myself in order to make a living.
I also had the privilege to write or edit hundreds of stories over the years about successful local companies in tons of different industries. Maybe it was only by osmosis, but I definitely absorbed a lot of their acumen. I can still recall what different business did right that helped their success, and what others did wrong. I also learned a little bit about a lot of things – from manufacturing to health care to restaurants.
I interviewed a slew of business counselors over the years and picked up the basics of formulating a business plan and a budget. Because I maintained the paper’s calendar for a number of years, I am also aware of a gazillion networking groups and other business resources, which has proven to be very handy in my new career.
Finally, you might remember a little column I wrote for the last seven years I was employed at the paper. Having to come up with something worthy of newsprint every week helped me master the art of meeting deadlines, which is an invaluable skill as I juggle multiple clients and projects. It also forced me to be creative, even when I didn’t feel like it.
Oh, and then there’s the fact that the column was a seven-year long journey of self-discovery that turned out to be better than any therapy.
So all told, I truly believe that I am only here at this place in time, writing this blog post on my laptop as I sit on my front porch basking in the balmy spring weather, because of the arsenal of skills and wisdom I gained at Business First.
So let this serve as an ode to the hardworking news staff who (still) puts in way too many hours to bring you Louisville's business news.
They’re a damn fine group, and I’m lucky to know ‘em.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After 10 years, she's still just saying.