Last fall, Indiegraf debuted a new program to address “bootcamp fatigue” among journalist-entrepreneurs. The past few years have seen an explosion in training opportunities for founders who want to learn how to launch or grow an independent news outlet. But for publications with small budgets run by journalists who are often juggling other jobs to pay their rent, they need more than advice about what to do: they need help from people who can roll up their sleeves and help execute.
Our answer to that problem was the Indie Growth Program, a 3-month program for news publishers who are ready to grow with a small grant of $2,500 and campaign-specific audience and revenue support.
Eleven publishers have since completed the program. As we invite new applications for the Indie Growth Program, we want to share their results. For an investment of only $500, publishers doubled their email newsletter subscribers and generated an average of $1,500 in new reader revenue. And 88% of publishers highly ranked their overall experience.
Sound too good to be true? Read on for details of how the program works and results. Or just apply already here.
The idea behind the Indie Growth Program is simple: Indiegraf helps early stage news operations grow their audience and build out reader revenue models. The short-term program allows publishers to test drive Indiegraf’s technology and services before they commit to a long-term partnership with us.
Here is a broad breakdown of the program:
- Goal: Increase email subscribers, drive reader revenue, gain audience insights, test new value propositions
- Indie Capital: $2,500 in grant money to help grow current subscriber list
- Growth sprints: Our team helps execute an email growth campaign and a mini-reader revenue campaign
- Product sprints: Our team will help conduct audience research and a product audit, so you get actionable recommendations
- Technology: Test our reader revenue tech and strategic support by using a landing page we build
The Indie Growth Program was created during Indiegraf’s 2021 company retreat when our team took a deep dive into what support early stage founders need to accelerate their growth and set themselves up for long term success with Indiegraf. In contrast to our training program, the Indie News Challenge, the Indie Growth Program does not feature weekly seminars or cohorts and instead focuses on executing successful campaigns by adding resources to publishers’ bandwidth. This allows publishers to spend time producing journalism and building communities.
Eleven publishers started the Indie Growth Program in November-December and completed the program early this year: Sioux Falls Simplified, Harbinger Media Network, The Ingleside Light, New Jersey Urban News, The Frisc, The Local, Wings, The Flatlander, Gameday London, OR360, and The Wren.
Here are 5 takeaways from the first 11 Indie Growth Program participants:
1. These publishers collectively doubled their email audience during the program, growing from 10,005 to 20,107 subscribers (+101%). Each growth campaign included lead ads funded by $2,500 in Indie Capital grant money. Some publishers did even better than the program average: Sioux Falls Simplified, for example, grew 138% to exceed 2,000 subscribers ahead of the publication’s one-year anniversary.
2. Participants that were in “pre-launch” mode also gained significant growth from the program. Wings, a southwest Washington state local news site, generated its first 1,665 subscribers during the program. The Wren also gained its first 1,000 subscribers in the Kamloops region.
3. Publishers collectively earned $17,416 during mini-reader revenue campaigns, more than tripling their $5,500 combined investment into the program. Wings raised the most of any Indie Growth Program publisher so far, almost $3,700 on a one-time reader revenue campaign.
4. Between the Indie Capital grant money ($2,500 each) and in-kind staff support (approximately $2,500 in value per publisher), participants benefited from a combined $55,000 in Indiegraf resources. And that’s hopefully just the start! Our goal is to continue working with participants after the program concludes, whether we continue supporting growth campaigns or help rebuild their website using our latest reader revenue technology.
5. Among surveyed participants, 88% highly ranked their overall experience with Indiegraf and 75% said they are closer to reaching sustainability than before the program. What is the most beneficial part of the program? These anonymous publisher survey responses shed some light:
- “For us, given that we began with a small following, the lead generation was probably the most beneficial for us. We added several hundred newsletter subscribers, and we hope to turn many of those folks into financial supporters down the road.”
- “We will use the insights for audience development strategies going forward. It’s been one of our big bottlenecks and we can’t wait to try some new ideas.“
- “Indiegraf provided an assessment and attainable goals for continued growth.”
These same participants also shared several ways to improve the program. While the email growth campaigns were successful, the reader revenue campaigns did not reach our intended goals. Publishers also want more help growing in new channels and more actionable audience research.
This feedback will benefit future publishers, because we are only successful when program participants are successful. That is why our team shares in the growth victories and learns from each missed campaign goal. We learn a lot from each publisher we work with, not only in terms of specific challenges but also through working in new markets. Each participant brings in a new perspective that helps the program (and Indiegraf) evolve.
We’re renewing our push for Indie Growth Program participants because we have seen how much of a difference it can make for small publishers. If you’re interested in benefiting from this continually improving program, visit the program page and submit your application. You can also email the publisher success team to schedule an introductory meeting.