In the Oscar-winning documentary, “Free Solo”, climber Alex Honnold incredibly scales El Capitan in Yosemite. There was no straight path. It was crooked, jagged and looked insane.
Sometimes the niche media business can seem like that–no clear path. Every publisher can tell us a story about being down in the trenches, working hard to keep going, reaching to success in surprising ways. And then everything changes again–the market goes up and down, the economy shifts, advancing technology disrupts.
So it’s always inspiring to hear from other niche publishers who have persevered. We asked Ben Lando, Publisher and Editor-at-Large of the Iraq Oil Report, to share with us how his organization overcame some significant roadblocks to find success.
Ben: “Two crucial events impacted our operations starting in 2014: the oil price crashed, which led to our oil company clients curtailing spending. Simultaneously, ISIS took over broad swaths of Iraq, creating uncertainty in the country.
This couldn’t have happened at a worse time, or a better time. We were on an upward trajectory, posting record sales and profit in 2015. The events caught up with us, however, reducing company revenue over the following two years – the only two years of operations in which we were not profitable.
This gave our business model a useful stress test, which allowed us to then take three crucial steps:
These steps helped us come out stronger on the other side of our revenue dip. Our revenues grew nearly 8% and profits 65% in 2018.”
Ben: “We have a growth agenda that we are at the early stages of executing. We are an independent, employee-owned company that to date has been self-funded, essentially reinvesting any profit back into the company to drive growth. We’ve proven our business model, and we are ripe for expansion. We’re dipping our toes in the investment waters, looking for the right strategic partner to achieve three specific, simultaneous goals:
First, creating a sales team. We’ve sold nearly all of our subscriptions and advertising via word of mouth. We have never employed a sales person, let alone a team. Our estimates are that our various subscription products are selling to between 20% and 50% of their respective markets, which means we are leaving potential revenue on the table.
Second, we want to free up capacity to develop new products that will appeal to our existing clients, and help generate new clients.
Lastly, having honed our business model in Iraq, we’re going to replicate it in other geographies.”
More about Ben: Ben Lando is founder, Publisher and Editor-at-Large of Iraq Oil Report, the best source for news, analysis and information from and about Iraq. He built a network of local and international reporters and researchers to cover stories about Iraq’s energy, politics and security.
Ben has briefed public and private investor groups, diplomats and American and other political leaders about Iraq. He has reported from a dozen countries on energy, political and security issues, and has been published in The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and Time Magazine.
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