15 Minute Freelancer

87. Behind the scenes at Magazine Street! (takeaways for freelancers)

December 02, 2022 Louise Shanahan Episode 87
15 Minute Freelancer
87. Behind the scenes at Magazine Street! (takeaways for freelancers)
Show Notes Transcript

This week I take you behind the scenes at the Magazine Street conference. 

(You may remember my interview with Nikki Simpson, organiser of Magazine Street, back in Episode 75.)

I share my top takeaways from a few of the many brilliant speakers who shared their stories of creativity, resilience and problem-solving – relevant to all freelancers, not just those in the magazine industry. 

  • A cocktail-loving couple who demonstrated the power of listening to your audience
  • A brand new magazine creator with a simple idea that's already inspiring others 
  • A remarkable turnaround story that goes from Dragons Den rejection to international title and the lessons learned along the way
  • How a mountain biking community defeated a website hacker
  • How understanding your audience can help you grow your reach
  • What we can learn about writing from producing news reports for 9-year-olds.

Vox-pop quotes from other attendees and speakers will be included in the 15 Minute Freelancer newsletter: 15minutefreelancer.substack.com

Mentioned in this Episode:
International Magazine Centre: https://internationalmagazinecentre.com/
Magazine Street Speakers: https://internationalmagazinecentre.com/magazine-street/
Episode 75: Create your own conference! (With Nikki Simpson) 

Say hi to Louise:

Louise Shanahan is a freelance health and medical copywriter. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.

LinkedIn: Louise Shanahan
Twitter: @LouiseShanahan_
Website: thecopyprescription.com

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Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-size guide to being your own boss and building a business that works for you. I'm your host, Louise Shanahan. I'm a freelance health copywriter and on this podcast I take you behind the scenes, so you can borrow from what's worked and what hasn't as you grow your own freelance business. We'll also have some practical tips and tactics from special guests along the way, so you can skip a few steps on your own freelancing journey. So without further ado, let's get started with today's episode. If you enjoy it, hit follow so you don't miss the next one.

Louise: Hi, everyone, welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, Louise here, back with a solo episode. It's been a while hasn't it? I hope you've been enjoying the recent stream of conversations about freelancing I've been having with my wonderful guests. I've certainly enjoyed hearing other people's perspectives on the specific challenges that they've been facing, and I hope you have too. Speaking of getting a different perspective, today I want to take you behind the scenes at the Magazine Street conference, which was a fantastic event about the magical world of magazine publishing, which took place at the end of September. 

If you're a regular listener, you may remember that on Episode 75, I spoke to Nikki Simpson who is the founder of the International Magazine Centre, and the organiser of the Magazine Street event. We talked about how she created the event and it was just amazing to see it finally come to life and be there in person. And I can tell you, it was a massive success. If you're a regular listener, you may also remember that I did say I was planning to record a vox pop-style episode of this podcast live at the event. Well, that didn't quite go to plan. I did speak to many lovely people at the event, I went round with my mic, I asked them questions about their favourite speakers, I got their top takeaways and it was great. So that I could share it with all of you, and you would feel like you were there. But unfortunately, it was a little too realistic with several 100 people chatting in the background. And when I listened back to the recordings, I just felt like the sound quality was not quite where I wanted it to be. I know you are a very generous and forgiving audience. But I really wanted to do the event justice and not make you sit through 15 minutes of background noise. So we live and learn don't we? There's always a lesson to be had. It's good to get out of our comfort zone now and then isn't it and now I know what to expect next time I do something like that. 

But I still wanted to share my takeaways from the event because I think you will find these really helpful. I think they're super relevant to running a freelance business, even if you don't work with the magazine industry. In fact, one of the things that I really enjoyed about the event was learning about an industry that I know virtually nothing about and seeing creative people approach challenges in different ways. I'll also share some of the quotes and snippets from the interviews that I did in the newsletter for this podcast, you can check those out there too. So it's not wasted, it's still there, you can still see them. 

Okay, so let's dive in. First of all, it was just amazing to be back in a room with people again, this was my first event since the pre-COVID times and it was such a joy to be around actual humans talking about work that they love. I did have a slight social hangover afterwards, but it was totally worth it. There was such a brilliant sense of community and people were just bursting with creativity and ideas. I'll share a few of my favourite speakers with you. 

First we started with Sandrae Lawrence, who created the Cocktail Lovers magazine and podcast with her husband Gary Sharpen. I mean, they had me at cocktail lovers. They started out blogging about their favourite cocktails and their readers kept asking them to start a magazine, so they did. And I just think that's a great example of how creating content that you love attracts other people who share your passion. And it's an example of listening to your audience so that you can then give them something that they really value. 

Next up, we heard from Alex Longston from command+I, I am not sure how to say that. One thing that I really liked about the conference is that there was a mix of speakers who are very established in the magazine world, and also opportunities to hear from newer creators who were maybe in the earlier stages of their journey. Alex had only published two issues of his magazine at this point, and here he was up on stage telling us about it and his talk was one of my favourites. command+I is a beautifully simple concept, they present colour samples inspired by the landscape photography of Alex's business partner Cameron. And I think this started as a joke, he said, I think they were driving in Scotland somewhere and they joked about pressing Command + I to check the colour palette of the view that they were looking at, and it sparked the idea for the magazine. And as designers will know, command + I the shortcut for the Eyedropper tool which helps designers find the exact colour shades of whatever it is that they're looking at. So it's such a lovely concept and the lesson here is really that simple ideas can be really powerful. Even after one issue, their magazine had already had quite an impact. Alex told us a story about how a cafe owner decided to redecorate their café using a colour palette from the magazine, from issue one. And George Clarke from Channel 4’s Amazing Spaces ended up filming there somehow. So let that be a nudge, if you have an idea, just go for it. You never know what could happen. 

We also heard from Laura Bartlett, who is the brains behind House of Coco luxury travel magazine, and this was a real turnaround story. After being cruelly rejected on Dragon's Den, and even facing bankruptcy, Laura was fired up to work even harder to make her vision a reality. And her story was just brilliant, she now has an international title with a social media empire. I mean, who doesn't love hearing about an underdog winning out in the end? 

Laura shared the lessons that she's learned along the way. Like, the best way to get what you want is to help other people get what they want. So as business owners, what might that look like? Maybe we're negotiating a contract with a new client, or we want someone to share our social media posts. If we can frame that as a win for them, then they're more likely to help us, do us a favour, or take action that helps us, in return. 

Her next lesson was to choose your audience carefully, make sure there is an audience for what you want to create. And that's a huge lesson for freelancers there, isn't it? Laura also talks about being adaptable and resilient, and not doing everything yourself. I think she said she thought her first attempt had been unsuccessful, because she was trying to create all the content herself and now she has a team. And that really hit home for me because I have a tendency to think that doing everything myself is easier than getting other people to help. But actually, it's not. Actually the sum is greater than our individual parts when we put our brains together and share the load. I think my main takeaway here was just to keep going after what you want. If you hit a brick wall, you just have to find a way around it or over it or through it or under it. No one is going to do it for you, it's up to you to find a solution. But when you do wow, won’t it be worth it. 

This adaptability theme really ran through all the talks. And it makes sense, right? The magazine industry has been forced to change so much over the last decade, as readership has moved online and technology has changed how people consume and interact with that content.

I really enjoyed Kilian Schalk’s presentation on experimentation, and he talks about parsing the technological opportunities that are in front of you to find the right solution to reach your audience. And for us as freelancers, this idea of testing assumptions is so important. It can be really easy to assume that, oh, all my potential clients are on LinkedIn, or all the other freelancers I know are on Instagram, so maybe I should be there too. But it's worth pausing and asking yourself, Is that really true? Kilian shared his insights from working with magazines to look at audience data and find out who are the real people behind that data. And audiences are a living moving thing, and if you want to reach your community, you need to know who they are, where they are, and what they care about. 

And when you do connect with the right people, the effect can be extremely powerful, as demonstrated by Mark Alker from Single Track World, which is an online and print magazine for the mountain biking community. But they are so much more than that. Mark told a truly bizarre and horrifying and hilarious story well, hilarious in hindsight, maybe, about how his website was hacked, and his community rallied behind him to the extent that they ended up taking down the hackers forum. And Mark himself had to negotiate a standoff with some guy from Evil Zone. I mean, that just sounded crazy. I think if you Google this, you can find the whole story and it really is worth having a look at. He also talks about the financial impact of COVID on his magazine and website, and how the community again rallied around to help. And the lesson here is clearly the power of community, isn't it? And don't we see that all the time in the freelance community, freelancers are such an awesome group. You know, I am 100% sure that if somebody was hacked in our community, then everyone else would jump in and try and help. Whether we could help, I don't know, but we would try. 

I will say that if you are facing a challenge, maybe feeling a bit lonely or a bit unsure about something then there's always somebody willing to give you a hand or some moral support. And I think that even if you enjoy working alone, which you know, most of us probably do, or we wouldn't have chosen this route. It's still important to make an effort to cultivate community and find your people. And you might run your business alone, but you're not an island. I'm sure there's a song about that.

Another speaker I wanted to mention was Anna Bassi, who is the editor of The Week Junior, which is a magazine that makes sense of news and current affairs for children. I found this really fascinating as a writer, how do you take these often complicated, sensitive, nuanced topics and make them digestible for nine-year-olds. Anna says that the ingredients that they go for are hooks, hope and heroes. They make sure that each article has a strong hook to capture the reader's attention. They explain the situation in clear terms, while emphasising that there are people there who are working to solve the problem. And that helps the child not to worry too much, which I thought was really sweet. I wish all of our news was presented like that. And it also talks about being forensic about fact checking, and about their main goal being to inspire curiosity in young people. And obviously, there are clear crossovers with copywriting here. Even if you're not a copywriter, you will be writing copy at some point I'm sure as you promote your business. These are solid principles to apply to our own work. As a copywriter, I know I always want my copy to be honest and upfront with readers to inspire curiosity. And while we talk about pain points and describing challenges, the reader may be feeling to them lead them into our solution, we also want to leave them better than they found us don't we? We want to give them a reason to hope, to give them a small win, even if they don't choose our product or service in the end, or at least that's my copywriting philosophy anyway. 

Obviously, this was an event about magazines, and it wouldn't have been complete without some form of magazine-style format to capture the day. And that's what Joanna Cummings and Simon Esterson did. But wait, they didn't just create a magazine about Magazine Street, they did it in a day, they literally put together a magazine in a day. Okay, I think they may have done a little bit of planning beforehand, and a little bit of editing afterwards. But I just got my printed copy and it's beautiful. It was a lovely example of how to surprise and delight. 

I can't go through every single talk from the day so these are just a few that really stuck in my mind. But they genuinely were all excellent. And of course, I need to give a massive shout-out and congratulations to Nikki who organised the event and is a real force of nature. There was so much positivity in the room and I think that's in no small part down to how hard she works to bring together people and serve the community that she loves. 

So a little bit of a different episode today but I really wanted to share these takeaways with you and I hope you've enjoyed it, do let me know. I'll share some snippets of the interviews that I recorded in the newsletter as I mentioned, and if you've not already subscribed, you can do so at 15minutefreelancer.substack.com. And if you'd like to find out more about International Magazine Centre and upcoming events, go to internationalmagazinecentre.com and I'm sure there's a page on Magazine Street where you can find out more about the speakers in the magazines that I mentioned. 

Until next time, happy freelancing.


If you've enjoyed this episode of 15 Minute Freelancer, please consider leaving a review or sharing it with a freelance friend. Hit subscribe or follow so you don't miss the next one and remember, you get even more bonus content when you sign up for the 15 Minute Freelancer newsletter. All the links are in the show notes and at 15minutefreelancer.com Thanks and until next time, happy freelancing.