I’m a journalist. I’m also an entrepreneur. Not saying I’m good at either here, just stating facts.
While everyone looks to business school graduates to grow great companies, it’s journalists who actually go to school to learn the skills necessary to be successful entrepreneurs.
Kara Swisher recently said, “Journalists need to start being entrepreneurial like everyone else.” I would argue we journalists are more entrepreneurial than your average bear, and that includes MBA’s.
Why journalists make great entrepreneurs
Journalists make great entrepreneurs because of the cold realities of doing business. “Everyone has a plan until he gets punched in the face,” as boxer Mike Tyson is famous for saying. Business theory and business practice are two very different beasts. No one takes more lumps, and is more used to things going wrong than a journalist.
Rejection is part of the job
If you aren’t being rejected you aren’t taking risks. If you’re not taking any risks you’re not an entrepreneur, you’re a manager.
Journalists put themselves in harm’s way and get into uncomfortable situations for a living. You can’t sit in your aeron chair and report from the frontlines of a conflict at the same time. You have to get uncomfortable to get the prize.
Nothing is harder than asking for someone’s hard-earned money.
Journalists make good entrepreneurs because we’re used to rejection. We take take rejection in stride.
Your customer is probably a bootstrapped entrepreneur or small business owner who’s risking his kid’s college tuition on new and untested products. If you’re just starting up in business then chances are pretty good you’re not selling to the Fortune
500, or publicly traded companies. Any hesitation to buy is because he or she is in the same situation you are–just hoping to make it.
It’s a numbers game
There are millions of small businesses in the U.S., and hundreds or thousands in your market. Journalists need to find sources for their stories, but it’s rare that only one person is capable of giving expert feedback on a human event. If you’re counting on a single customer to make you’re year, it’s like expecting a single source to hold your story together. Not gonna happen.
When you’re on a tight deadline you need to find the right person fast. This is why it’s essential for journalists to have a beat, and to continually cultivate new sources.
As an entrepreneur your deadline is running out of cash. Whether you’re concern is making next month’s payroll, or hitting investor milestones, you need to have a way to keep money in the door. Those are customers.
While a journalist has a beat, you have a prospects list. You’ll blow deadline if you’re wasting time with prospects who won’t convert. Knowing whom to talk to is key.
Journalists ask good questions
Getting in front of the right people is hard enough, but it’s equally important to engage constructively and deliberately. The best way to do this is to ask questions.
The slide deck above is about customer development, and it inspired this post. What jumped out at me is how it emphasized asking questions in the right way. As a journalist this is now second nature.
Journalists are trained to ask people open-ended questions. A yes or no question will get you a “yes” or a “no.”
- How much
- When was the last time
- What does it feel like
- Who can…
Are all questions that can’t be answered in a word. Give people a chance to open up and they will.
Journalists wear many hats
I was fortunate to enroll in the Digital Media program at the Columbia Journalism School. While I was a student
- Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe Illustrator
- Final Cut Pro
- Pro Tools
were my some of my best friends. We spent way too many late nights together in the editing lab.
Techie and non-tech journalists are responsible for story sourcing, pitching, reporting, writing, editing and even a little self-promotion. It’s all in a day’s work.
Founders have to wear just as many hats. If you’re the CEO of an early-stage startup your job entails
- company strategy
- Accounting and finance
- Human resources
- Customer relations
- Procurement and operations
just to name a few.
They don’t teach you this in business school. And to the extent you are acquainted with the process, it’s another thing to be accountable for all of these activities on a daily basis.
Journalists are excellent communicators
Communicating with the public is at the heart of any successful business. You may learn presentation skills in business school, but to be an effective reporter is to be a man (or woman) of the people.
It doesn’t hurt to be able to write well (and fast). These are the essential skills of the journalism trade.
The ability to tell your story better than your competitors–and to the right audience–is what will set you apart in business. If you’re able to master storytelling you’re at a distinct advantage.
To be fair, there are only four graduate journalism programs in the U.S., while there are hundreds of business programs. And if journalists were really so good at business, the profession might not be in such disarray.
But on-the-job learning only happens when you’re working. As an MBA candidate you learn about working. As a journalism student you experience the real world every day. This looks a lot more like running a business to me.