My journalism major capstone class was exactly how one would expect it to be. It was the perfect bookend to all my writing, editing, developing and designing classes in the Department of Journalism, Media & Computing at Creighton University. The fact that it was taught by my favorite professor was an added bonus.
What I liked about the class would be too long for this blog post, so I’ve condensed it. I got to meet and network with cool professionals, like Bryan Ott, Andrew Norman and Daphne Eck. These three prove that success is not a straight path. As my first and only business class, this class challenged me to learn and apply new business knowledge. In this way, it has prepared me for the future, whether that is marketing myself as a journalist/writer or as a physician with a clinic or practice.
What I didn’t like about the class can be summarized in short. It would have been interesting to have more freedom to choose products and services for the class’s centerpiece project that were not restricted to apps and websites. However, I understand that this is a journalism class and should have something to do with media. If we have to create an app, it would be cool to hear from a person who developed an app.
Top three takeaways:
1. Do your research. Whether its for your honors thesis on hair cells or a business plan for your food app, you have to do research. This is a life skill that can be applied to a variety of situations.
2. Build a team. Find people who you can work together with on projects.
3. Have a passion. People are most like to get behind you if you are passionate about what you do.
Daphne Eck is a lot like her website – sharp, creative, friendly and conveying. On her website, Eck features many of the projects she has lead, collaborated and worked on since she began freelancing five years ago. She has been involved with a lot of notable projects, such as the OmahaGives! fundraiser, TED-Ed program and the I Voted Today campaign, to name but a few. After working in the non-profit business, Eck found that she was getting burned out and needed some natural breaks to rejuvenate her creative side. That was when her husband, a freelance animator, suggested she become her own boss.
Five years later, its been a roller coaster of a ride, but Eck says she loves what she does. What she does exactly is as diverse as one can imagine. As a writer, she plans the content strategy and copywriting and editing. She also helps business rebrand and discover the voice for their companies. To help her, Eck often brings in freelance graphic designers and project managers. She says this helps her to feel like she’s working with a team again, before she was self-employed. Eck also enjoys the benefits of being self-employed when projects are done. She often takes vacations for months at a time to recharge.
As someone pursuing a career in medicine, I doubt I will ever have the ability to take long vacations at a time or to set my own schedule. I think I will be hard-pressed to see all the patients I have each day. But I like scheduled work. It helps to keep me focused and on track. Unlike Eck, who is self-motivated from growing up on a farm, I like some incentive from others. Nonetheless, it’s reassuring to know that whether one works for a company or works for themselves, there is still a degree of teamwork involved.
Andrew Norman has a disarming affect on people, which is probably what has made him great at interviewing some of the biggest names in music over the years. Maybe it has something to do with his small-town origins in western Nebraska or his warm laugh and the casually rolled-up sleeves of his hoodie. More than anything, it’s his open recognition of his fear of public speaking. He said he used to be sick for days before presentations. Now he makes multiple pitches for grants and sponsorship as the Executive Director of Hear Nebraska, a nonprofit he founded to cultivate Nebraska’s music and arts community to promote globally.
Of course, his journey from western Nebraska to Hear Nebraska was not without many challenges. He often faced forks in the road: one path lead to money and leisure and another path lead to hard work and challenges. He worked as the managing editor of Omaha alternative newsweeklies Omaha City Weekly and The Reader before earning his master’s in environmental journalism at Michigan State University. After graduating, Norman considered two internships in Washington, D.C.: a well-paid internship writing press releases for the Environmental Protection Agency or a non-paid internship covering Capitol Hill for Congressional Quarterly.
He chose the internship that would most challenge him and began queuing outside of the Senate Chambers to catch Senators for quotes. One time, Norman was collaborating with another person on a story and had to get a quote from a well-known Senator. When he was called to ask his question, he froze with fright, but was able to get his question off, though he didn’t really get an answer from the spinning politician. As he describes it, he took a leap off the diving board, just like when he joined The Reader or went to D.C. He continues to take those leaps carving out a position in his non-profit as the Executive Director. His greatest advice then is take leaps off the diving board; do things that challenge you.
I don’t take elevators very much anymore. Whether I’m at work, in school or at home, there’s always a stairwell that’s more convenient, more active and quicker to climb. Though stairs may be more tiring to climb, pitching someone your business idea in the span of an elevator ride is definitely more challenging.
Like climbing the stairs, you’re definitely out of breath by the end of your 60 second spiel. You’re so focused on covering all your bases (i.e. your market, pressure point, competitive advantage etc.) that you have to be careful to not stumble over your words, talk too fast or worst of all – get lost completely. Nothing says “I don’t know what I’m doing” more than having to start your pitch over again. You have to remember that you’re selling yourself as much as you’re selling your product or idea.
When I began drafting my elevator pitch, I watched a lot of pitches from the University of Dayton and the University of Utah. I especially took notes on a pitch for a travel companion website called TravelBlender and another pitch for an item identification app called Mach 3 ID. Like in the Mach 3 ID pitch, I wanted to bookend my pitch with an anecdote. For my app FreshShelf, that anecdote consisted of a busy working mom trying to preparing dinner for her family.
Finding the statistics that were memorable and expressive was the next step. A quick search with key terms revealed that the average American family of four throws away more than $2,000 in spoiled food. An app like FreshShelf would save families that money. Furthermore, 69 percent of moms in the U.S. use smartphones, which makes an app like FreshShelf accessible to those who most need it.
After weaving these statistics into the pitch, I practiced, practiced, practiced so that when it came time to deliver my pitch, I wasn’t never. I did get caught on one part, but I quickly recovered and finished on a high note. I definitely learned that practicing in front of others is the best way to be confident with your pitch. A good elevator pitch can take you to the top floor.
Four years ago, I followed along with a four year-old as he taught me the Creighton Fight Song during New Student Orientation.
The White and the Blue! Colors two, it is you we defend.
He was two stories tall on the big screen at Morrison Field, which made him both literally and figuratively Creighton’s biggest fan. The video of him on youtube embodies the spirit of Creighton’s loyal fans – particularly his family members or friends who recorded his beautiful rendition.
Fearless for you, our might to the fight we will lend.
Though Creighton is not the biggest school in the Big East Conference, there is a dedicated fanbase for Creighton athletics, especially for Bluejays Basketball. Fans turn out in droves to pack the Century Link Center for Creighton Men’s Basketball home games. Some, like Bryan Ott, can count on one hand the number of home games they’ve missed.
Ott remembers going to the Civic Center to watch games with his dad when he was growing up. When he studied public relations at Creighton, he made sure to always be in the front row at all home games – even if it meant quitting a job at the World Herald. After graduating and starting work in public relations at Gallup, Ott wanted to sharpen his writing skills and so he began a blog about Creighton basketball before there was any real, dedicated coverage of it. He found other people who were also interested in covering Creighton basketball. They met together and by luck each brought to the table something unique. As a team (and later an LLC), they found that they could offer coverage of all Creighton sports, which was in demand by a sizeable consumer population. They bought a domain name, and White and Blue Review was formed.
So: wave, colors, wave. We will fight on for your glory.
Ott attributes some luck to the formation of White and Blue Review. Sure, the sports blog had a competitor, but he did not have the passion that the WBR boys had. Ott and other WBR contributors have something that is invaluable in business: grit and passion. White and Blue Review works hard to cover all of Creighton’s sports, with the extent purpose of boosting the school they love.
White and Blue! We will fight til the fight is won.
Knowing what you don’t know is just as important as knowing what you do know, especially when starting a business. When it comes to microeconomics and business strategy, I remember from macroeconomics senior year of high school that the downward-sloping curve on a supply and demand graph is the demand curve. Of course, I also know the ultimate goal of a business is to provide goods and/or services that can turn a profit. (But is that all? Steve Denning of Forbes has a different take.)
These tidbits of a priori knowledge were small consolations when I read Michael Porter’s tour de force article in the Harvard Business Review. The article–which was a summary of Porter’s 1980 book, Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors—describes a five-forces model for business strategy. Porter argues that a business must develop a business strategy–a formula for competition, goals and ways to achieve those goals. His five-forces model focuses on five competitive forces, which when taken together, give a global overview of market position and determine long-term profitability.
For mobile app designers, the most influential forces are threat of substitution and supplier power. Similar mobile apps compete amongst one another, especially when multiple apps offer the same services at varying price points. To introduce a new app, one needs to be either innovative or inventive to make consumers switch from another app or need the app. With only two widespread mobile operating systems, Android and Apple, there are few places for the apps to be displayed. A solution could be to graduate to new operating systems, such as Windows and Google.
Mark your calendars for the Saturday after Thanksgiving. After digesting your turkey feast and bargain-shopping for your must-have gifts on Black Friday, make sure finish your shopping by patronizing your small, local brick and mortar stores on Small Business Saturday.
However, nonprofit news may not need a kickstart. Hundreds of nonprofit news organizations have sprouted up nationally and globally. Kevin Davis of the Investigative News Network predicts good news ahead for nonprofit news organizations in 2015. There are many success stories for nonprofit news organizations. Nonprofit newsrooms also enjoy lower cost and easier maintenance overall.
Michele McClellan of the Reynolds Journalism Institute keeps track of the growing number of local news sites. What better site to take a look at than a budding independent and nonprofit news web site in Phoenix, Arizona!
Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting is focused on accountable political investigative journalism in Arizona. The website is dichromatic (nothing fancy), but easy to navigate. After all, AZCIR focuses on hard, fact-finding investigative journalism not graphic design. AZCIR’s audience – those interested in investigative journalism like other journalists and policymakers – accept the lack of dynamic content for the meat of the investigative pieces.
A post at the top of the page was uploaded as recently as last Friday, January 23, which is appropriate for a website with one reporter and a handful of faithful contributors. Posts seem to be added every few weeks, which allows the piece to be thoroughly fact-checked and have multiple edits. The finished piece is well-written and professional reading. However, there is no place for user discussion or user-generated content. Nonetheless, AZCIR has a creative commons license, which allows readers to use the material with a few qualifications.
To produce this product, AZCIR asks for readers to donate to the center, which also accepts foundation support. The fundraising policy of the site outlines the center’s policy for donations and foundational support. This is a new, successful business model to fill the needs of the community.