Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you get into journalism and launching SoGlos.com?
After starting her career on the local paper, SoGlos.com’s editor Michelle Byrne went to City University for its postgraduate newspaper journalism course; while I went to the Cardiff University School of Journalism, specialising in public and media relations, about six years ago.
Michelle has since worked for the Guardian, the Evening Standard’s website and Time Out Dubai magazine. I embarked on a short career in PR before hopping the fence and cutting my teeth writing for a magazine in Dubai called What’s On.
Firmly rooted in arts and entertainment journalism, we decided to head back to our home county of Gloucestershire about four years ago. While planning to look for jobs, we quickly realised there wasn’t any kind of Time Out-equivalent media in the area and there was a gap to fill.
With the aim of doing justice to Gloucestershire’s arts and entertainment scene, we set about launching our own publication and, with the market moving the way it was, decided to make it 100 per cent online.
After a year of research and development, SoGlos.com was officially launched in July 2007. Today the online magazine attracts 67,000 unique readers a month. It’s the county’s leading guide to arts, entertainment and leisure, and it is one of the UK’s only successful examples of professional independent online media.
You’ve been up and running as a site for more than two years – what’s your business secret?
SoGlos.com is very search engine-optimised, we have good levels of email newsletter subscribers and we’re active on popular social networking websites.
But it’s the old adage “content is king” that’s been by far the most important factor in our success. From day one we’ve been committed to providing readers with professional editorial of national media standards. This is something readers will struggle to find online elsewhere in the county, and means that we have a loyal, targeted and ever-growing readership which is very attractive to potential advertisers.
We have a fantastic bespoke content management system which is purpose-built for covering arts and entertainment. It’s very intuitive and is constantly being refined. We work directly with a developer, rather than using an agency, which can be time-consuming, but this is great for making the most of our content. I now know the site back-office like the back of my hand, even though I’m far from being a developer myself!
The launch of our Google-powered Gloucestershire Interactive Map in 2008 and embeddable what’s on widgets earlier this year have also been great for showcasing existing content – and demonstrates what an innovative media SoGlos.com is.
We’re also very passionate about and proud of SoGlos.com and Gloucestershire as a vibrant county. Two-and-a-half years on, six- and seven-day working weeks are still the norm.
What advice would you give to any journalists or independent publishers looking to launch a new business online?
John Thompson’s 10 tips for would-be online journalism entrepreneurs are excellent. The only advice I would add is to choose a specialism which you are both experienced and interested in, carve yourself a niche and be patient. And, if circumstances allow, throw yourself into your new venture with full force.
One online/digital tool you couldn’t live without for your work and why?
We’ve spent four years developing and refining our bespoke CMS and couldn’t run SoGlos.com without it. No off-the-shelf solution could ever come close to providing a publishing platform which meets our exact needs and we’ve drawn-upon a huge range of influences from Time Out to Upcoming to get it to where it is today. It’s more important to us than any third-party tool, although I’d fight to the death for my iPhone!