From Idea to Real Business


We have discussed becoming a publisher (sales) and reaching the intended public (marketing) for your new venture as an entrepreneurial journalist, and now it’s time to get down to the fun part: making your idea a real business entity.

There is a big difference between an online publication that is a hobby and an online publication that generates revenue. Besides learning about sales and marketing, you must take a few steps to establish your publication as a company, and here are a few of those items that you’ll need to take care of:

1. Company name. Pick something that will either be clearly representative of your publication or something so off the wall (Yahoo! anyone?) that it’s memorable and unmistakable. Ideally, you should achieve both goals with your name – clarity and distinction. Take your time with this and play around with taglines (remember AT&T’s famous tagline? “Reach out and touch someone.”) and pitches (back in the 80s when this tagline was in use, AT&T pitched itself as the only company that would put you in touch with anyone, anywhere, nationwide) to see how catchy or clear your name is. Building a name for your company in your market – establishing a brand – is a difficult thing to do, but once you have done so, the last thing you want is to have to rename it because you found something better or because another business – or, worse, a competitor – has your name or something very similar to it.

2. Domain. Once you have a few solid name ideas, and since we’re talking online business, you’ll have to check that the URL you want is available. You can do this at Also, do a Google search for your name and see what comes up. Always go for the .com. and if that is not available, try modifying your name slightly (actual name or just the URL) in a way that makes sense (add a “the” o “your” to the name, for example) before considering buying a .net. If you have a couple of names and you can’t decide just yet, it’s worth paying the $10 each to buy a couple of .coms for a year and see. Your company name and domain are the face and address of your business, and if nobody can see, find, or remember you, then you won’t be doing much business.

3. LLC, Inc., and DBA. To be an official business entity you have to file to become a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or a full corporation (Inc.).  The LLC will protect your personal assets from being liable as part of the company, but will still allow you to treat whatever revenue comes into the business as part of your income when it comes to taxes. The LLC can be a good initial step for a nascent entrepreneur, but, like my business advisor says, “go big or go home – even with incorporating,” suggesting that filing for an Inc. right away is the best option regardless of company size. If you want to do business under a different name other than your company name, you can file for a DBA (fictitious business name). This works nicely when you have several properties under one LLC or corporation, and want to do business under different names for each branch of the company.

You can find out what you need in order to register your LLC or Inc. through your Secretary of State (If you’re in California like I am, you can go to California SOS Debra Bowen’s site. You can download the forms there and mail them to the state along with the applicable fees.

4. Lawyer and accountant. There are two things you cannot learn to do yourself unless you want to go back to college, and that’s law and formal accounting. Learn sales, marketing, and even tech and design on your own, but seek legal advice and get a great accountant. Both of these professionals should specialize in your field (media, preferably online media). A lawyer and accountant that specialize in online media will offer unbiased counsel, make sure you’re a righteous business entity in that industry, may suggest business strategy, and can even introduce you to key players that take your company to the next level. A great way to minimize costs of legal and accounting fees is to make your lawyer and accountant part of your Advisory Board.

Another thing you may want to do but certainly don’t have to, is the sometimes grueling but, in my opinion, very enlightening Business Plan. A Harvard graduate entrepreneurial friend of mine hates them, but you will definitely need one if you’re looking for outside capital for your business (to show current and projected financials as well as your marketing plan, among other things). I found it very insightful for nailing down goals and deadlines as a freelance writer and small business owner, keeping in mind that the business plan is a live document that is constantly changing and adjusting to the development and direction of the business. Just approach it like your most important writing assignment – no pressure.