Why I Left The UK’s Largest Privately Owned Media Company To Start My Own Business

I spent almost 4 years working for one of the UK’s largest privately owned media companies, but left a good secure job to start my own business.

Haymarket media group founded by Michael Heseltine in 1957, has a global presence with internationally recognised brands that include Stuff, FourFourTwo, What Car?, PistonHeads, Campaign, PRWeek, MyCME and FinanceAsia.

Working out of the Hong Kong office and focused on the business media titles and APAC markets, I managed the subscriptions sales business for the titles FinanceAsia and AsianInvestor, later also taking on Campaign Asia.

During my experience working at Haymarket, I really enjoyed the great sense of drive and creativity encouraged by the management and seen in the employees. Haymarket is one of those special places where people are stimulated and inspired to be really passionate about their work, business and clients.

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Left of picture Lord Heseltine, middle Jame Dibiasio Editorial Director at Haymarket Financial Media, me on the right.

As a senior sales and marketing professional I had the opportunity to build and manage my own team and grow my business line.

Business was good and after two years we had a rock solid, winning team that delivered great results and distributed essential business content products to satisfied customers.

However, one of the most challenging things about my work besides managing my team, delivering our monthly sales figures and increasing them annually, was having enough depth and diversification of content, based on the client’s often very specialised and sectorial needs.

So here is why I left the UK’s largest privately owned media company to start my own business

These specialised preferences are particularly in demand across a wide range of buy side and sell side financial sectors and local regional markets.

Fortunately form my team we did have great products, with good editorial coverage that provided a lot of insight into the markets and news that we covered. Equally our titles and products were well respected across the financial industry as influentially recognised brands.

Having the right products for your clients

Even though I gad great products, my clients also had needs for things that we didn’t cover and couldn’t supply. Eventually I noticed a few gaps in the market, that some of my clients had frustrations with, especially when they needed to source and procure news and research information.

Creating the right product or service is important but you have to take a few things into account, such as is there a market? What is size of that market? What is the potential pool of customers you are estimating and are there any competitors already out there? Chances are what you may have thought of isn’t completely unique and you will be up against competitors.

This is why its important to test your assumption’s before you launch your idea into full swing.

Related: Important Tips To Validate and Test Your Business Ideas

Getting the business model right or tweaking the existing model can have either great success or simply bottom out. Sometimes this can be referred to as pivoting when you change the direction of your business product or service to fulfil a demand or change course if something isn’t working right.

In my current business my partners and I are always looking at the model and direction of the market and our services. You have to be prepared to make corrections and adjustments when necessary, so its important to keep looking at alternatives and new options, but sill maintain direction and have a common vision or goal that you are driving the business towards.

Related: What is Pivoting in Business Explained

Developing your product

Products in the media space, particularly “content publishers” producers of magazines and websites news articles, continue to evolve. They go through rebrands and change over time in line with the consumers requirements and audience need. Often this is affected by the technology available at the time.

In publishing for example you have to consider your business model, do you deliver paid content or free content that’s driven by advertising? Perhaps you have a mixed or freemium model. No matter what your product is or the industry, you need to know where you’re going to generate the revenue from, to do that your product must be viable.

When developing your products you need to define the purpose. Is it helping someone solve a problem? Does it enable them to do something they couldn’t before? Why will someone use your service or product?

With information and content based products its all about delivering information, research or media such as video directly to your audience fast and effectively. The content must be high quality and of high value to keep them engaged and continue to use it.

customer-development

Do you build for now or the future?

Therefore whatever you potential product or service is, you have to decide on how you are going to deliver it. It could be an app or a web based online service. It could be a food product or absolutely anything, but you will need to find the best way to reach your customers and fulfil your service.

You also need to decide on whether what your building is for today or tomorrow, do you build something with the minim set of features that serves a need or do you build something scalable that can expand easily or do more in the future. One way to find your feet is by testing online.

Related: How to Create a Lean Startup Business

Pretty much no matter what industry or service everybody has a website, and that could be a good starting point to test your idea or business and get feedback from your potential customer base. This will help you get feed back and test your assumptions to see if your product is even viable.

You can also see if your prospects engage with a minim set of functionality or offering or if you will need more of the product or service to satisfy them. You can also eliminate some risks and keep the business lean whilst you build.

Related: How To Develop An MVP (Minimum Viable Product) For Your Startup Business

Changing your offering

I have seen a number of products and publications evolve in the media space, because of rebrands and content changes or technology advancements. Online and mobile technology have drastically changed how people consume content and information, we are seeing “the slow death of print” which affects reader preferences. Business models and products grow or have to adapt.

Publishers and content media business have to decide how they monetise their products. For example should they deliver paid content or give away free content that’s driven by and monetised by advertising.

These changes continue to happen, an example of a recent product evolution in the financial media space has seen a new title emerge, called “Global Capital” published by Euromoney Institutional Investor. This new product is a mix of several of their existing titles, which have been refreshed into a new branded premium product.

So the question here is, do try to provide enough specialised content to please everyone and go broad, or do you stay niche and very focused on one specific area?

For an existing business or a media organisation its possible test the market to see if a new idea or product is viable and then start branching out into other niche content streams. Haymarket also recently did this with a new financial title when they lunched “The Corporate Treasurer” a few years ago.

This new title originated out of an existing product called FinanceAsia. The new product provides a more niche area of content covering risk management, cash flow, corporate governance and trade finance analysis for APAC CFOs and treasury teams. This has worked out very well and the title has grown rapidly along with the brands success.

Sometimes however, launching a new product can go wrong and some business do struggle to get off the ground.

Products can flounder and get dropped quickly if they fail to take off in the market. As always research and a deep understanding of your audience or market is fundamental before you make such a manoeuvre or launch a new product. Getting early adopters can help before the new product goes fully live.

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Understanding your clients needs and relationship building

I learned a lot from my clients during my four years of service at Haymarket.

By talking to them, taking the time to get to know them personally, and having hand shake discussions, I was really able to understand my clients business needs in depth, which enabled me to provide a better service and generate more business for the company.

Building relationships is a long process and there are no short cuts. It does take time and effort. You must be consistent to create trust and build bonds with your clients, but the benefits for both are highly rewarding and valuable to you growing your business and providing them with a better service.

Related: Product And Customer Discovery For Startups

Researching your market

I used the experience I had learned and the information I had gained from talking to my clients to better understand the financial publishing space. I was able to develop a plan and identify the market landscape across the different financial sectors and types of products used across them.

The client’s product range or inventory covered research, data and news information services. There are quite a few number of key products that are used by almost every financial institution and almost a mandatory requirement in the industry.

During my research process my clients were more than happy to share with me the product range they used and other useful competitor information, naturally you should always be doing your competitor and SWOT analysis to study the shape of your market and stay ahead of your completion.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, your clients or prospects will be the ones that make or break your business in the end, so you must ask them questions to understand what their needs are and what they currently use or need.

Understanding the problems

After years of selling high value trade news products into an immensely competitive market, such as the financial sector, I also was able to learn and develop my own research from my clients to understand what the most common pain and preference points were in the selection, purchase and management cycle.

The regional financial news market is big business and there are a ton of great providers and business titles out there. Sometimes this can actually be information overload for a buyer or selector such as financial analyst or business user trying to source a product, “too much information.”

Some of the big players in the market have been in business for a very long time and are extremely well established, their brand names are synonymous with the industry like; Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters or the FT.

But what I had learned from my clients was that they didn’t just buy from one brand only. The myth of brand loyalty had been crushed and I understood that my clients were purchasing a wide and diverse range of products that suited their specific business needs.

I also quickly learned that post 2008’s global financial crisis, money was tight for financial professionals, and more so for the big financial institutors, many of who had just gone through government bailouts

One of the first things to get slashed was spending budgets for news and trade media products. Subscriptions were reduced and when I was selling these products during that period there were a lot of rejections, it was a very tough year for everyone in the financial industry.

Another issue faced was the employee churn in the financial sector, especially across expat professionals operating in the APAC region. When you are selling a renewable licence or subscription product there is nothing worse than finding out your client has left the company or relocated just before their renewal is due.

On the flip-side the clients also have a lot of cost/product wastage if their company purchases a product for an employee, who then leaves and the product is still active but goes unused because no body really knew about it.

One of the big problems my clients faced when buying products at corporate level, was that they often had to get approvals from their senior managers or even go through an internal procurement channel. This can become even more perplexing for a client when they have to do this for multiple products, purchased from different providers in different locations.

This slows down the sale cycle but also causes frustration for the end subscriber who just wants access to the information ASAP and is often required for their work.

When I engaged with heads of procurement at financial institutions a common problem was evident, price verses demand. On the opposite side for those smaller organisations with no procurement function, they had no centralised view of what they spent on subscriptions or news services, and tracking costs were ineffective.

The amount of times I have head clients say “ I don’t know what we subscribe to as a business” or “It would be really useful to know what we subscribe to as a business across the organisation”

These are premium information products that across a business with more than one office or a company that has a wider operation, can easily amount into hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.

Product selection process

Common factors for financial information product selection is based on a few things like; type of content, depth of information, data, research, insights and such.

There is a lot of sectorial coverage such as; ECM, DCM, risk, regulation, treasury, securities, asset allocation, alternatives insurance etc. You can really dissect it down and will find a speciality publisher or content provider for each area.

Another factor for selection criteria is audience engagement and brand loyalty. Some if not most publishing businesses engage with their clients and audience across multiple areas such as events, conferences, webcasts besides print or electronic media.

Market conditions are another big factor, cost constraints and lack of budget especially in the B2B marketplace can really affect your clients ability to order product, when the markets are down, so is the product consumption.

I did some further research and to this end, DemandGen’s 2014 B2B Buyer Behaviour Survey found that you need search, content marketing and social media to streamline the B2B purchase process for your prospects.

2014 B2B purchase process

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As major investments, B2B purchases require more in-depth research and support.

  • 68% of respondents used more sources to research and evaluate purchases, relatively flat with 2012.
  • 58% of respondents spent more time researching purchases, up from 48% in 2012
  • 53% of buyers relied more on peer recommendations, up from 19% in 2012
  • 37% of buyers spent more time researching solutions on social media, up from 20% in 2012.
  • 51% of buyers performed a more detailed ROI analysis before finalising their decision, up from 30% in 2012.

B2B purchase process takes teamwork.

  • 55% include 1-3 people
  • 37% include 4-7 people
  • 8% include 8+ people

Buyers pay more attention to budgets for B2B purchases.

  • 34% of respondents’ purchases were initially unbudgeted and allocated funds after building an internal business case, down from 48% in 2012.
  • 14% of respondents pre-approved their purchase budget at the beginning of the fiscal year.

Actionable B2B Marketing Tip: B2B purchasers do their homework before contacting vendors. Make sure that you provide the quality content they need to answer their questions, show that you’re a thought leader, and help them make the business case.

Identifying opportunities

I finally Identified a clear opportunity in the market, price was a big concern, clients don’t just buy one product or order only from one brand but need a range of news and information services and other research products for their business.

There was no central efficient central place to order these products like an Amazon for finance, and often no prices publicly available as a benchmark when budgeting for product inventory. You had to contact multiple providers to get prices and place orders. A massive headache if you have multiple offices and a few hundred staff, like a bank or asset manager.

Often financial institutions were not centralising what they were buying across the firm, business units buy independently and often an organisation will have multiple orders of the same product at a significant “single rate” cost.

The other problem with this is that all those single same products had to be renewed at different dates based on when the individuals in the organisation had actually complete the order.

This means a bank for example could have several hundred various products that are renewed over the year on a weekly because the expiry dates are all over the place. Now how inefficient is that and how much money is the bank losing on invoice and transaction fees every week, especially on premium products over USD 500+ per subscription.

Why weren’t customers buying = Frequent Responses:

  • Too expensive
  • No budget
  • I think my colleague already has a subscription or access
  • We share it
  • I think my company already subscribes
  • I or we use a competitor product instead so wont be taking yours
  • He/She left we don’t use or need it
  • I don’t know how much we spend as a business
  • Do you know how many people already subscribe at my company?

Why should they buy = What should we be able to provide them with:

  • You can order all the products you need through me (subscription agency services)
  • I can save you time
  • I can lower the price and negotiate discounts
  • I can break up the payments (monthly invoices)
  • I can consolidate and batch your invoices, FX your currency
  • I can proved records manager for you so you know what you subscribe to as a business
  • You actually shouldn’t actually be sharing (digital) copyright/usage infringement, so lets work out a cost effective way forward
  • Your company doesn’t subscribe but individuals do within it
  • The content or coverage is actually very is different to the competitors
  • Conduct surveys to identify what they really need or where already using

The Aha moment and a good business idea

School-boy-and-blackboard

  • Create a one-stop ordering and brokerage service for financial professionals my senior partners CEO and Chairman took this to the next level with their idea for a front facing platform (no more trolling multiple websites or Google aimlessly)
  • Give the clients a single point of contact to help manage all their new orders and renewals seamlessly
  • Offer them a portfolio with depth and range that they needed, so they didn’t have to hunt around waisting time, again my senior partners brought an amazing library and ordering system to the table.
  • Not just a subscription agency but a speciality financial trade information brokerage for financial news services
  • My business senior partners “CEO and Chairman” later enhanced this further to an ultimate offering include access to financial research, data products, news fees and even a calendar of events
  • Don’t hard sell to them, the clients are the experts and they know what they need already, let them select but provide the right offering
  • Give the clients tools to track their inventory and orders across the whole organisation
  • Create a tool to help gather information on what products are used already across the whole organisation
  • Leverage multiple orders into corporate licences to reduce cost to save more money
  • Provide a single point of invoicing across all products (client pays my company and we distribute all the different payment to the publishers and providers)
  • Batch invoices together into single monthly payments save time
  • Overall increase efficiency and service for the clients and the publishers

Turning a good idea into a great idea

So my basic idea was good, but on my own there was no way it was going to ever be this diverse or potentially this strong. Also my senior partners liked my basic idea and brought their own fantastic ideas to the table combining it into the present business. More than just that, they seeded the business and made the ultimate true sacrifice to build a business. I manage the sales and market development, but a business ultimately needs to comprise of vision, leadership and experience which my CEO and Chairman have and bring to the company, to run the business and operation.

Finding the right partners can make a huge difference to the type of business you can create and build, it takes countless hours and tiring dedication to progress and make it work. We all believe passionately in what we have done so far and their is a long road ahead on the journey.

Our business has continued to evolve and grow; we are now the largest private independent subscriptions broker of third party financial information products in the region. We are serving some of the most prestigious brand names in finance.

Our management team come from the industry and have wealth of experience and expertise to offer and share with our clients, which is evident in the technology we have developed especially for them

Related: How To Launch A Successful Business – Full Training Guide

We now provide our clients with a complete web based subscription and licence procurement manager. Our platform has been especially developed for the way financial institutions need to buy and manage their access to specialised financial news and information products.

Our other service range from advertising, news content distribution and client product dissemination. Such as delivering our clients research and data directly to our audience.

For the publishers and providers we work with, we provide a new efficient sales channel into alternative markets and a convenient way for them to manage their new sales and renewal process leveraging our electronic platform that interfaces directly with the client, effectively providing the pipework for the industry.

For more information or question about Asia First Financial Intelligence or investment opportunities , please visit our website www.asia-first.com or drop me an email on rsantoro@asia-first.com

Do you have a new business idea, or thinking about launching a new business and what do you think are the best ways of testing and launching it?

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  • Thomas McKinley

    Thanks Richy! Very comprehensive and interesting. There’s some really good sales tips in there as well!

  • Richard Santoro

    Thanks Tom, I think sharing information helps everyone learn a little more!