I left a traditional path into a reporting career the week before I graduated with my Bachelors of Arts in journalism. I was afraid, and I was unsure of what I was doing – but I knew that I wanted to do more than tell stories. I wanted to enter into the stories I told, and I wanted to take part in them.
Call it a new journalism-esque itch, or a hint of professional ADHD, but I wanted to take on the business of the stories I’d been writing about. And, I was terrified that my four years of journalistic training would have nothing to do with my future, terrified I had wasted my education – terrified I should have gone to business school.
Thankfully, my fears were unfounded. The skills I had learned about crafting a story were absolutely relevant to crafting an enterprise. As I’ve worked to build a business, I’ve found my reporting skills to be invaluable to me. Here’s a bit of what they have taught me along the way:
1. Find Your Sources
When you’re starting an enterprise of any kind, there’s a whole lot you really don’t know. But that shouldn’t be your focus. Your focus should instead be on who does know – who can you go to to find what you need? How can you become an expert in the knowledge you lack?
I spent weeks learning from artisans on the ground that explained processes and practical issues I hadn’t understood. I dedicated time to learning from experts that had grown social enterprises from their grassroots beginnings to multi-million dollar businesses. Just like when you’re reporting for a story – the knowledge you need is out there, you just have to find the right people to give you the answers to your questions.
2. Keep Accurate Records
I learned quickly that the accuracy needed in reporting was also necessary to business. You can’t guess at pricing or wholesale policies any more than you can guess at statistics or numbers for a story. You have to do the work to know exactly what kind of numbers, facts and statistics you’re dealing with. What failures do you have to report? What successes? What went right? What went wrong? And, what numbers do you have to back it up? The only difference is whose numbers you’re talking about – I had spent time reporting on everyone else’s successes and failures, and now it was time to focus on my own.
3. Create a Network
When I set out to write on global water issues, I began to curate a spreadsheet of experts and field workers I could call on for quotes and facts whenever I needed them. When I wrote on the development of mobile technology in Sub-Saharan Africa, I, similarly, had a group of mobile start ups and developers I could call. And, the same goes for business. Who are your trend experts? Who do you know that knows about the legalities of business in your field? Who can you call when you need product photos, or advice on the development of a new line or product? My network has proved to be everything to me.
4. Dig Deeper
Staying on the surface of reporting is never satisfactory – not to good reporters, and not to their audiences. Growing a business takes the same kind of scrappy determination to get to the bottom of something. I learned that there should be significant growth in my knowledge of the issues my enterprise was addressing, just like there should be significant growth in how well I addressed them, in my team, and in my connections on the ground. Staying shallow wouldn’t work. I needed to know more and more about the nuances of what I was doing, why things worked how they did, and be able to show an increased depth of understanding of how to address the issues I said my business would when I first started it. This could only take commitment to research, time spent familiarizing myself with issues and solutions and a deep dedication to the story of success I planned for my business to tell. I learned all of these things writing enterprise stories that took lots of hard research and dedicated time.
5. Craft a story
Every entrepreneurial journey is a story – the determination of a person or a team of people setting out to meet a goal, and the challenges they faced along the way. That story, like any story, has to be told through the curation of facts and figures, important decisions and singular moments – and the power of human will. As a reporter, I was taught that if I wanted to stay relevant in my field, the story of my work had to be told across multiple platforms – in print, online, through social media, photos and video. And, I’ve learned that there is no success in business without a compelling story told across multiple platforms. That, in and of itself, is the key to investors, to customers and to finding relevance in the marketplace.