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Opinion: Lessons learned as sbjLive hits toddling twos

A Wider Lens

Posted online

As I’ve heard many parents express it, the hours have been long but the years have flown by. I hear this most often when kids hit the toddling twos.

I really relate to that sentiment. SbjLive premiered in September 2016, so we are about to cross the 2-year milestone.

The intent behind sbjLive, a sister media outlet to Springfield Business Journal, was to tell the stories of the people behind the business – their successes, failures and lessons learned – with the hope that others could learn vicariously from the experience.

No other business journal that we could find is doing anything similar, so we have had plenty of successes, failures and lessons learned of our own while developing sbjLive. 

Lesson 1
Just six months prior to starting sbjLive, we launched Hightide Communications LLC, another sister company to Springfield Business Journal. Starting a startup in the midst of starting another startup, is not a path I would gladly choose again. It made for some frantic moments trying to optimize staff and financial resources, constantly shuffling priorities for the greatest good. After a few weeks, I realized the common denominator was simply project management. It really was much more an emotional hurdle than one constrained by resources. Living in the moment with the project at hand was critical to my sanity, not to mention those around me, and ultimately to the tasks we were completing as a team. But take it from me, don’t do it.

Lesson 2
Starting an off-shoot of an existing brand like SBJ has unique challenges. We not only had to consider our own brand reputation but also had to think about the whole news organization.

We have business coverage in common, but how we cover business differs greatly.

SbjLive is a completely separate editorial team telling feature stories rather than news, and we have a sponsored-content model rather than traditional advertising. For many in the news world, sponsored content is an anathema because it walks and talks like news but has a sales intent behind it.

We made a few initial decisions critical to clarify, including launching as a separate website, clearly labeling all sponsored content, maintaining a 50-50 ratio of editorial-to-paid content and producing sponsored content as informative and free of sales bias as possible for the benefit of our sister news publication and our own viewers and clients. I have learned this is a daily consideration and will continue to be so.

Lesson 3
We are a startup with the salaries, benefits and general overhead of an established company. Selfishly, after 10 years with the company, I didn’t want to abandon my 401(k) or other benefits, and I didn’t want to ask the same of any existing employees who would come work for the new company.

First, I will say, there is a stark reality for why a startup tipping the scales at 2.5 full-time employees would never have a robust 80 percent employer-paid health insurance package or several weeks of vacation time. Not only did this put a very quick push on a solid revenue model that could have us in the black, it required several hours of planning with lawyers and accountants to figure out how we could work for a separate legal entity but maintain our benefits from SBJ.

We manage the legal and financial relationship through a management agreement and monthly management fee. It’s hefty. And, it’s worth it. While it complicates things, we are able to attract talent like veteran photojournalist Mike Coonrod as a result.

Those are just three of the lessons I’ve learned as sbjLive heads into its toddling twos.

But I’m lucky – I have the benefit of a searchable archive of more than 500 stories of people who are going through similar issues as us. I hope you have gleaned even a fraction from those who have so graciously shared their advice, trials and tribulations with us. Thank you, and please stay tuned.

SbjLive CEO Mar’Ellen Felin can be reached at SbjLive is a video media outlet and spin-off of Springfield Business Journal.


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