Start a Community Newsletter
By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #66, 2005.
An English couple explains what they can do to help you perform a community service and earn a good income at home.
Last September, I attended a business meeting in New York City. There, I met a British couple, Nigel and Sue Botterill (Nigel is the one with the big grin sitting on the right arm of the couch in the photo above). They were there to learn about how to publicize their "My Mag" business opportunity in the USA.
No sooner did this engaging couple start describing their business than I realized it was very close to an idea I'd had for years. However, they had improved on my idea (which I had never written down or told anyone, by the way!) in several significant ways.
The more they talked, the more I kept thinking, "This could work!" And of course, it has worked in Britain, where over 600 families now are part of the My Mag family. You can see the My Mag office staff holding up just a few of the local directories they now publish (plus more on the floor and on the wall behind them) in the photo above.
The My Mag Story
Let's go back in time to 1995. Sue Botterill, who until then had been working as a bank manager, gave birth to her first child. Like many of us, this caused a revolution in her thinking. In her own words, "Overnight I discovered a maternal streak that no-one who knew me would have ever guessed existed!" Making the switch to stay-at-home mom, Sue was happy at home when babies number two and three came along as well.
Then in 2002, husband Nigel decided to start his own business. The loss of a regular salary persuaded Sue that she should do something to augment their family's income.
However, for her placing the kids in daycare and after-school care was not an option. So she put her financial expertise to work in thinking up a job that had:
- Huge demand
- Was low maintenance
- No stock
- Had no employees
- Clients come back month after month
- Other people respected
- Low cost to start up
- Little or no risk required
- Rapidly paid back the initial investment
Sue decided to start a local directory. It would be used just by the 2,000 or so people in her small community. It would include ads along with editorial features, restaurant reviews, community news, theater listings, useful phone numbers, and so on. In short, it would be a cross between a Yellow Pages and a church newsletter. It would be published monthly (the only ongoing cash cost), and ads in it would cost very little, since it had such a small distribution. Plus, with such a teeny-tiny market niche, Sue would not be stepping on any local publications' toes - at least not enough to inspire them to a frenzy of competition!
Almost immediately, Sue's little directory took off. She made $3,500 profit from the very first issue! Over the next few months, working a few hours each day, she managed to increase that to $4,800 a month. Amazingly, she had plenty of time with her children, and even for herself, which now included perks such as complimentary beauty treatments from satisfied advertisers.
That would have been the end of the story if Sue hadn't talked to some of the mothers at her sons' school. It turned out that other working mothers were also frustrated by having to leave their children in the care of others in order to earn some money.
So Sue got together with Nigel to come up with a plan for making her experience and success available to others. While on vacation, they came up with a product design for a franchise that had a low capital startup cost (only $1,495 as of right now) but that still offered the support required by someone who has not run their own business before.
Less than 18 months after launching My Mag in the UK, Sue and Nigel helped over 600 people set up their own magazines.
My Mag in the USA
Sue Botterill with her kids
Now the My Mag program has been rewritten for the US market. I asked Nigel how this would work, and he told me that each new My Magger would get one or more contiguous zip codes of their very own in which to market ads and distribute their directory.
You only need Microsoft Publisher and a software bookkeeping package (they recommend SAFE Instant Accounts). Everything else you need to get started is included in the package they send you.
I asked Sue and Nigel to send me a set, just so I could see it all for myself. It includes four workbooks in binders:
- Setting Up Your Magazine. A six-week timetable (follow this to publish your first magazine). Defining your area (they suggest you not plan on distributing in areas with no new development and mostly elderly residents, as they are low spenders). Naming your magazine. How to set up your home office. How to find the right printing company. Secrets to successful distribution by hand. How to use 12 binders (one per month) to organize and set up your production system.
- Marketing Your Magazine. Everything you need to know about how to identify and sell to your target advertiser market. What to say. Who to sell to. How to get paid to eat out in restaurants! It's all excellent, common-sense advice that I know will work from my own years of dealing with advertisers.
- Producing Your Magazine. How to create your magazine's visual "look." Exactly how to set up the Microsoft Publisher templates to lay it out. How to create ads for your customers. A letter to include with your first edition. What you might not know already about various graphics formats. How to prepare your magazine for the printer. How to deal with (and prevent!) advertiser complaints. If you have any knowledge of Microsoft Publisher (or any other layout program), using this guide should be a breeze.
- Administration and Finance. Since Sue was a bank manager, she knows what you need to know! How to keep "cash positive" even in your first month. How to set up your bookkeeping system. How to collect from slow-paying advertisers. How to plan and prioritize. How to keep track of your tax-deductible expenses.
In addition, you get a CD-ROM with every Microsoft Publisher template you'll need to follow the layout instructions in Producing Your Magazine, plus another CD-ROM with more than 207 ad examples you can use as a basis for creating your own ads for customers. (Although lots of customers will already have their own ads on hand, being able to create ads for those who don't is a big sales plus.)
Finally, although there's no obligation to do so, just about every My Mag publisher has chosen to join the "My Maggers Club." Club membership normally costs $100/month, but the first 30 to sign up in the USA will get free membership for the first six months. This includes a monthly telephone sales clinic, a monthly telephone conference call, 24/7 technical support via the My Mag Members website, free articles and original cartoons for your magazine, free word puzzles and "mindbenders" for your magazine, and lots more. Check out their website, www.my-mag.com, for all the additional bonuses they are offering.
"An Obvious Fit"?
I was amazed when I found out Nigel and Sue were offering their My Mag program (which costs over $6,000 in England) for only $1,495 to the first 30 Americans who sign up. This has got to be one of the cheapest start-up costs of all time for a turnkey operation like this.
So many homeschoolers already lay out and publish little local support group newsletters. So many homeschool teens and pre-teens have run little "fan" magazines of some sort at one time or another. It wouldn't take much to translate those skills into an actual business following the My Mag template.
Back to the seminar at which I met the Botterills. Not only did I recognize that this kind of income opportunity is perfect for some (though of course not all) homeschool families, but the Botterills felt the same way. Upon realizing that I publish Practical Homeschooling, Nigel told me, "The people who read your magazine are the same kind of people who, in the UK, become My Maggers. The family and the community are a very important part of their lives. So we believe there is an obvious fit."
The only showstopper here might be energy and sales ability. If you are terrified of meeting people and asking them to advertise, or if you absolutely don't want to spend the hours at the computer required to lay out your directory, send out invoices, etc., then My Mag is not a good fit. But if you like the idea of getting more known in your community and helping to build more "community spirit," My Mag may be your mag.