2016 was an interesting year for me. I entered it feeling lost and I'm leaving it feeling lost but somewhere in the middle I found some things that were really important. Running a magazine is really hard. I've talked about it on Instagram but I wanted to share a bit more with you about what life has actually looked like on this side of the screen for the year.
2016 was our first full year in business. We started the year with Issue 5. The issue still had a lot of focus on things that didn't really pertain to the heart of Holl & Lane. It was also only released as digital. Around the time of releasing that issue, we were having a lot of internal team dialogue about the future and direction of the magazine. I knew in my gut that we should be more focused on the stories, but I allowed outside influences to convince me otherwise. So we continued on. And each time someone asked me about the magazine, I only spoke of the stories. Which in itself was a big wake up call to me - but one I still continued to ignore.
Eventually, we determined that Issue 7 would be the last issue that featured so many topics and that we'd scale it back to just being about the stories, interiors, and food. Issue 7 was also our very first printed issue (a whole other topic in itself, see below). Even with that change, I still felt in my gut that it wasn't right, but I was afraid to change it.
2016, if I could sum it up in one word, was fear.
At some point we realized our mission was truly the stories - to share these beautiful stories as far as we were able. But we were scared again. Would our readers understand, would they stop coming to us, were we essentially screwing ourselves? But I knew that it's what needed to be done to make this magazine as honest as possible. So, our November issue, Issue 10, was the launch of this new, more focused direction. And since then I am feeling confident again in what we have built. At times I feel embarrassed that it took 10 issues to get it right, but then on the other hand, I'm glad to have a clear line of how we got to where we are.
Life as an Editor
This year has been a rough one for me personally in regards to my time, energy, and motivation. Working on the magazine while working a full-time job is more taxing than I ever imagined. I had hoped to be going in a direction to make this magazine my full-time job, but I've recently learned it's much further off than I knew. And that fact was a really big blow to me. I started questioning everything and wondered what the point of it was. But my husband asked me one simple question, "How would you feel if you quit?" And my answer was, "miserable".
But life has been hard on me and on my family. I've missed out on moments spent with my husband and son. I've had to say "I have to work tonight" more times than I care to admit. My son is used to seeing me with a computer on my lap. And all of those things have been really hard on me. I've made it a priority to put my family first in the new year. To allow time for both my family and myself, and to not feel like I always have to be working. I now have an AMAZING team in place who has taken the weight of the world off my shoulders and I feel as if I can finally relax a bit and just let things run.
Growth (or Not) + Costs
We continue to see growth over each issue. I'm now printing more copies than I ever have before. This year has seen us ship as far away as Australia, and has made loyal fans in the UK. But still. Growth is slow going, and if you've ever built something yourself, you know how tough that can feel when others might not quite see the value in it just yet. It can feel a personal affront, even if it isn't.
I know that things take awhile to build, but in the meantime I also have to worry about keeping us afloat in a financial sense. Each issue to print comes out of my pocket first. And then I essentially get reimbursed for it when they sell. No sale, no reimbursement. As you can imagine, functioning in this way is highly stressful. I am paying for printing and shipping costs (which in 2016 cost $6000 to print just 3 issues, and are projected to cost close to $10,000 in 2017), along with normal operating expenses (such as the programs used to design the magazine, and background programs like subscription services). We made the decision to scale back to quarterly (from bimonthly) just recently to reduce our costs, and also to give us time to breathe in between each issue. I can only hope that this reduction will help us to grow as a business as well, in a financial way. Because as much as I love doing this magazine, if I can't pay the costs, there is no magazine to do.
But on the positive side, as I've mentioned, we have seen growth with each issue. We are not printing thousands of copies, but I'm okay with that. Right now it makes financial sense to be small and scale appropriately. I'm scared between issues that this will be the one that bankrupt's me, but somehow we still manage to get through it.
What I've Learned
The biggest thing I've learned this year is to just temper my expectations. Some issues will do really well, some issues won't and that's the nature of the business. I've gotten into a few indie publishing groups and to see that some of the big name indie magazines also struggle with the things that I do, it makes me feel like I'm doing okay.
I've also learned to really listen to my gut and take charge on what I believe is right. Some people may not agree, but at the end of the day, this business is my responsibility and I have to make the decisions that I believe are right.
And finally, I've learned that there are people out there who are eager to help you if you just ask. That starts first and foremost with my team. These three amazing ladies keep things running along in ways that blow my mind. I'm so thankful for them to be by my side each day. Early in the year I also swallowed my pride and set up a Go Fund Me because it was either ask for financial help from those who love H&L, or I would've had to shut down. I'm so thankful for the people who were willing to give whatever they were able to keep things going. I'm terrified of ending up in that position again, but if I do, I have to remember it's nothing to be ashamed of. Lastly, you, the readers - you're always so supportive of everything we do. Your excitement is contagious and your willingness to help us spread our mission is so valuable to us.
What the Future Holds
I'm looking forward to 2017, and the new opportunities that may come with it. These are my big goals for the year:
- To take some time for myself and not work so much - to spend more time with my family (and hopefully even expand our family!)
- To take graphic design classes so I can improve the feel of the magazine. I don't have any formal training and though I know my skills have improved throughout these 10 issues, I know there is still a LOT of room for improvement
- Refine the brand identity and promote the crap out of it!
- Build our subscription list and expand our reader reach
- Conquer my fear of exposure by participating in podcasts and events (I'm such an introvert!)
- Get the business to a point where I'm not so concerned financially which leads into...
- Pay myself and my team (even if it's only a little bit a month)
- Redesign the website - maybe even with professional help!
THANK YOU to those of you that have stuck by us in what has felt like a very tulmutuous year full of changes and confusion. I promise that 2017 is the year you're going to see H&L move from a baby magazine into something more resembling adulthood. We know who we are now, we know what our mission is, and we're excited to share our message with the world.
Wishing you an amazing 2017,
Sarah, Editor in Chief