Why the business I have isn't the business I thought I'd have

By on February 7, 2012

Laura AmicoThis is one of a series of blog posts from the first ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows describing their experiences and sharing their knowledge with the community. Fellow Laura Amico, along with her husband, Chris, is the founder and editor of Homicide Watch D.C. in Washington, D.C., a website that covers every homicide in the nation’s capital, and includes news, obituaries, profiles, court documents and memorials.

Chris and I spoke at Mark Pott’s New Media Entrepreneurship class at the University of Maryland on Saturday and if there is one lesson I wanted those new entrepreneurs to walk away with it was that business plans change.

Sometimes they change in small ways — such as how and where you grow — and sometimes they change in big ways, like, say, what your product is.

A year ago I had just been accepted into Knight’s News Entrepreneurs Bootcamp. Homicide Watch D.C. was doing well: traffic and engagement were growing, we were getting good press and when I talked to sources they were starting to recognize the site.

With Homicide Watch D.C. just four months old, a lot of people looked at what I was doing, saw public service journalism, and assumed that we would be pursuing grants for funding. So did I.

Then I became a product person.

As Homicide Watch gained traction, crime reporters across the United States were asking me, “How can I do that kind of reporting, too?” At the same time, the continued growth of the site was showing proof of concept. Together this meant that what I was doing was working, and other people wanted to do it, too.

Suddenly, when I took another look at my site, I saw not just public service journalism, but a reporting platform that worked and was in demand. Where before I saw my reporting and my audience as the product I was delivering, I started to see that the way I did my reporting and how it was presented was a product, too.

That changed my business plan.

Instead of seeking grant funding, I decided to seek newsroom partners who wanted to set up a Homicide Watch site in their communities. Chris and I would license the hosted software platform and provide editorial coaching and support to the reporters working in the framework.

With a licensing and editorial support business plan, I suddenly saw our future grow from one site to a potentially unlimited network of sites.

The business that I have now isn’t the business that I thought I had a year ago. It’s better, it’s bigger and it’s even more exciting.