How to build an online media company on a start-up budget

Eyitemi Popo ayiba magazine media

Before launching Ayiba Magazine, I searched online for existing African-authored content sites targeted at young Africans and was scant to find any doing what I had in mind.

I launched Ayiba with the goal of providing a platform that showcased African change makers around the world who were disrupting tired narratives through media, technology, and innovation.

I didn’t just want to start a blog, instead I wanted to build a network of writers that covered content from across Africa and the Diaspora in a way that connected our generation.

If we look at mass media outlets that cover Africa, we have the BBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera, amongst others, but none of them are African owned. I have always asked myself why there are no prominent African owned media outlets that cover content from across Africa.

A long-standing argument in development has been that all the books written on Africa are authored by old white men. Well, we’ve entered a new Digital Age and the same thing remains true about a large percentage of the content found online.

Of course that is increasingly changing, but it’s due to sites like Ayiba, channels like Arise TV, and others in the new media ecosystem. I believe Ayiba is important for the media landscape because our readers are our writers. We create content to inspire young Africans that is written by young Africans.

What sets us apart is this authenticity and the fact that we constantly strive to cover content from all over Africa – not just the usual suspects of Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa.

Over the past three years, there are five key strategies that have allowed our platform steadily scale. All of them relate to content creation because as the say “content is Queen.” Or do they say King?

Anyway, from day one, we have focused on generating diverse and quality content because we know that is how we will one day grow to millions of readers. A girl’s gotta dream!

Our strategies are:

Building a well-managed virtual office:

Since our team lives across three continents and four time zones (and is often moving between locations), we have had to create virtual processes for everything we do.

We’ve refined and streamlined our digital work environment using a combination of platforms, including Slack, Google, Facebook, and Dropbox.

Building a diverse team:

When recruiting, we don’t limit our search. All that matters is that the talent is tapped into global media and has a voice.

It’s because of the diversity in our team that we manage to cover stories from all over the world and are able to land features with so many diverse subjects.
Ayiba Team_medium

Training new talent:

We can’t always expect to find the best ready-made talent. Sometimes we have to nurture the talent we seek.

Our editorial team is committed to working with our contributors to produce quality content that meets the standards Ayiba has set for itself and that our readers have come to expect.

Creating content partnerships:

A major aspect of the Digital Age is the sharing and redistribution of information. Ayiba contributes to this by republishing and cross-publishing content, as well as cultivating distribution channels for our content.

We would like to see more collaboration in the African new media ecosystem.

Designing an aesthetically pleasing site:

Your content can be ace, but if your site looks amateur, readers will be less likely to stick around. WordPress themes are inexpensive and can easily be customized to meet your needs.  

I highly recommend them.

Of the points listed, talent acquisition has certainly been the most challenging hurdle. However, since we recruit talent from both the Diaspora and the continent, this increases our talent pool.

In the Diaspora, we reach out to our founding team alumni networks at Mount Holyoke College and Yale University. In Africa, we use Opportunity Desk to post our internship and fellowship programs. The internship program is for all roles outside editorial and runs for three months at a time, while our editorial fellowship is for up to six months. Ayiba emphasizes training homegrown journalistic talent.

Our environment is fast-paced, yet focuses on quality of content rather than quantity. Our editors work directly with our interns and fellows to improve their craft, providing a partnership from which both parties benefit. Some fellows choose to stay on after their fellowship, which has been great, but most leave to pursue other great opportunities. However, all benefit from an experience that has improved their writing ability.

One tip I can give on recruiting in a start-up is to make sure that whoever you bring into your team buys your weakness and sells you their strength. This means the team needs to be balanced by whoever you decide to bring on board. Each individual should neutralize the weaknesses of the team as a whole with their strengths. That’s the best way of keeping a lean team that delivers.

Ayiba covers-urban to formationWe recently published our first print issue, which was well-received. In fact, it was invited to exhibit at the first African Art Book Fair at the Dak’Art Biennale in Senegal. It was a challenging and time consuming process, but the whole team learned a lot. The best part is that we were able to create and distribute our print issue to five continents with less than $100 spent on the project.

We did this by:

  1. Recruiting talented design students who were looking to expand their portfolios to include magazine spreads.
  2. Using a pay-per-issue print service like Blurb, so we didn’t have to order in volume or handle delivery.
  3. Using creative commons like Flickr for stunning high quality non-copyrighted images.

If you are unable to recruit designers, I would advise purchasing template bundles from sites like Creative Market or Themeforest and modifying them to suit your aesthetic. Adobe InDesign is quite easy to learn and YouTube is a great resource.

In under two months, my team with little experience in print publishing, pulled together a beautifully designed 60-page print issue on a shoe-string budget. This is an example of the importance of having a flexible and committed team that is willing to take risks and accept new challenges.

As we look to the future, Ayiba would like to continue building on our original series. We have had a lot of success with our Afropolitan Diary, Start-up Stories, and Becoming series. We believe this is because they focus on personal narratives.

Most recently, we interviewed Fadumo Dayib, the first female presidential candidate for Somalia, for our Becoming Series. By telling this one individual story, we were able to more eloquently and profoundly highlight larger social and cultural issues in Somalia than we could have with a hard-hitting op-ed, for example.

Going forward, we would like to build on our nuanced storytelling and diversify the mediums we use to create these stories. In the coming year, we plan to build new partnerships that will make creating video posts a possibility.

Ayiba was started with a team of two and funds from an Indiegogo campaign that raised exactly $1,090. Today, we have a team of eight spread across three continents and are seen by organizations like the Financial Times and Seedstars World as an outlet that connects them to artistic and entrepreneurial talent in Africa and its Diaspora.

My point is don’t let insufficient finances be an excuse for not starting a business or fulfilling your life’s work. It only takes hard work, perseverance and a little creativity to build something from what is seemingly nothing.

Girls Talk London: Rebranding what it means to be a young woman in the UK

All across the world girls and young women are looking for spaces to express themselves and have their voices heard. While the issues may be different, digital media is providing the platform for young women to create what they wish they could see. Vanessa Sanyauke and Remel London, diaspora women based in London, have come together to create Girls Talk London and talk about the issues facing young women in the UK.

Vanessa and Remel shared with us how they’ve gotten corporate leaders to see the value in their organisation, the networking tips they’ve used to connect with high profile guests like Adele’s stylist and the best African restaurant in London.


Why is Girls Talk important to young women in the UK?

Vanessa: At present in the UK there is not one single talk show that targets young women. We do not have a platform to talk about trending topics that affect us or hear from guests that are of interest to our everyday lives.

Girls Talk is made for the everyday young woman in the UK and the hosts have open and honest conversation about current social media trends and have special guests and experts on fashion, beauty, work, relationships & life who give the viewer life hacks and tips to implement in their lives.

This show rebrands what it means to be a girl in the UK and the hosts are non-judgemental advocates for women’s issues and rights.

Remel: Young women need positive role models and I think that we showcase exceptional talented women from different walks of life and industries that they can aspire to be like.

How did you build the business case for corporate partners to see the value in Girls Talk?

Girls Talk London the organisation, connects FTSE 100 businesses with female talent-young girls and professional women. The business case is that a great deal of our corporate partners have less than 20% of staff who are women and even less at executive board level. We are the middle-woman and bring talent to them and help them to increase diversity.

The UK government has introduced reporting measures which starting this year that requires any business with over 250 employees to report the salary and bonuses of male and female staff. This is another incentive for businesses to really address the gender pay which is currently at 19%.

The fact that the government is putting pressure on businesses to treat their female staff better helps businesses see the benefit of working with us.

How have you gotten high profile people to serve as guests on Girls Talk?

We have built a reputation of professionalism and excellence in all that we do so most speakers can see that we are organised and they will be looked after when they speak at an event.

Also, most high profile women are tired of being the only women in the roof and are actually passionate about doing all they can to get more women in their sector so selling the benefits of speaking at our events is not always that hard for us.

What networking and relationship building tips can you share with our audience looking to connect with high profile people?

You need to show that you are professional and organised so we’d encourage having a website or information packs which provide detail about your work and mission.

For speakers and sponsors always show your gratitude for their time and be able to explain what you can do for them. Be confident and concise-high profile people always have limited time so try and avoid long emails and conversations by being clear and straight to the point.

What are the hardest parts of getting Girls Talk off the ground and how are you looking to fill in the gaps?

The hardest part in getting the talk show off the ground is building an audience. It takes time to grow so we are focusing on our mission, content and produce a show to the highest quality.

We fill a gap in the market because we cater to all young women in the UK as our hosts come from all backgrounds including African, British and Asian as well as having a Dean as a host we are able to reach out to male viewers too.

In addition, our show helps improve the lives of our viewers because interview guests who are experts in business, careers, fashion and beauty. It is not just about a group of women gossiping!

If you had the choice between a powerful mentor and significant business funding, which one would you choose and why?

Vanessa: Oh this is a tough one! I would say a powerful mentor because knowledge is priceless and if you have a powerful mentor the money will surely follow with their direction and support.

Remel: I personally have a lot of plans and ideas of how I would like to continue to support young women and create opportunities for young people so I would choose business funding. 

What’s your vision for Girls Talk and what can we expect to see in the next 12-18 months?

Remel: I would love to see Girls Talk go on an international tour visiting different countries to inspire girls all over the world but also interview inspirational women from all over the world. 

Vanessa: My vision for the show is for us to expand our audience —we want an international audience and we are looking at partnerships and sponsorships already for series 3 so watch this space!

Fast Five with Vanessa

Vanessa - Girls Talk LondonFavorite Afrobeat singer? Tiwa Savage

Best African restaurant in London? Wazobia on Old Kent Road

Makeup must have? Blusher

Favorite woman in business? Oprah

Topic you’re most excited to talk about on this season of Girls Talk? I am really excited about the interview with Adele’s stylist and also our show on Kim Kardashian and Amber Rose and the sexualisation of women on social media.

Fast Five with Remel

Remel - Girls Talk LondonFavorite Afrobeat singer? Moelogo

Best African restaurant in London? Sweet Hands

Makeup must have? Concealer!!!

Favorite woman in business? Oprah Winfrey

Topic you’re most excited to talk about on this season of Girls Talk? Social media  

What Zainab Balogun taught us about branding and working for free

On January 14 we got the chance to connect with Motherland Mogul Zainab Balogun to learn more about building a career in the media and entertainment industry. Click here to see the full recap if you missed the chat.

Zainab is a media professional, TV presenter, producer, budding actress and media entrepreneur. She is currently a presenter for the daily entertainment news show EL Now and original talk show called The Spot on EbonyLife TV. She also appears as a presenter and associate producer on Jumia TV, a teleshopping show. In addition to her presenting responsibilities she is a brand ambassador for Dark and Lovely international hair company.

Zainab dark and lovely

We learned 5 critical things from our chat with Zainab that budding media starlets, early career professionals and brand new entrepreneurs alike can learn from:

Special bonus! Zainab shared the best piece of advice she received when first starting out in her career.

Special thanks to Zainab for joining us and for everyone who participated.

If you want keep up to date with future events hosted by She Leads Africa, join our community and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Sheila Afari: Mistakes and hardships were my best teachers

Sheila Afari is a young pan-African entrepreneur who launched Sheila Afari Public Relations at the age of 26 after recognizing the opportunity to promote African brands across the globe. Sheila wants to create one of Africa’s leading boutique agencies, and with clients in Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa, she is well on her way to pan-African domination. In this piece, she shares with SLA her entrepreneurial journey and some advice on how startups can develop a public relations strategy that turns heads. 


You resigned from a marketing manager position to start your own business. How were you able to make the transition from a steady job with a guaranteed paycheck to the uncertain world of entrepreneurship?

Having been an entrepreneur before taking on the marketing manager position, I was aware that I was able to create something from nothing. The plan was to work to get more business skills and leave. Fortunately for me, I had no debt or people dependents, so I was fearless and able to make the transition being comfortable with my odds in the risk vs rewards scenario. I also had a degree to fall back on as well as invaluable skills to offer if things have not worked out for me. And since I had no large monthly overheads/expenditures, I was able to offer my services for free and do jobs at low paying rates to build a portfolio and show my worth.Sheila Afari By Xavier

What are the branding and marketing tools that you have used to grow your company and differentiate it in the marketplace?

From day one, I decided that I wanted my PR agency to take on a bespoke approach to the clients we service. With that in mind, growth came from referrals as clients were happy with the services they were receiving. Word of mouth is known to be one of the most powerful marketing tools, so I go out of my way to ensure that every client is happy. I’ve spent the past 3 and a half years very hands on in shaping the business and overseeing the work done for each client.

I believe my agency stands out in the marketplace because of the below reasons:

  • We have a continental focus and reach outside of South Africa
  • We work with traditional and non-traditional media platforms
  • We incorporate a social media drive to all campaigns and projects
  • We have a bespoke approach to each client
  • We have a strong brand development focus
  • We operate under unconventional business hours
  • We believe in ethical business practices; integrity, honesty, exceptional service and team work

Sheila Afari PR LogoAs a lot of our clients are entrepreneurs and don’t operate with an “8-5” mindset, there’s a need for an agency that can keep up with them and service their needs in “real time”, which is what we do. We are available 7 days a week and after hours for our clients.

From a branding perspective, I’ve stayed behind the scenes and that has positioned the business as somewhat exclusive. People won’t often see me unless it’s business related and they’ve done their homework. The work we do is better known than me or the company’s name, so if clients haven’t come via referral then they have done their homework and sought us out.

My 2016 approach to branding and marketing will change somewhat as the company has grown. I’m tackling different industries, and there will definitely be a concerted effort with B2B marketing and advertising/visibility in key industry platforms.

Sheila Afari By Xavier

What advice would you give to startups that are looking to develop a PR strategy but don’t necessarily have the funds to hire an agency to work with them?

1) Draft a PR Plan. Even if it is just a one pager, you should be able to answer the below:

  • Who am I/Are We?
  • What am I trying to achieve in the market place?
  • Where do I want to be in the next couple of months, 1 year, 5 years, 10 years?
  • What do I want to be known for?
  • Who are my competitors?
  • Who do I strive to be like?
  • What is my unique selling point? i.e. What do I bring that is different from my competitors as well as different from who I strive to be like?
  • How can I get my message/service/talent across authentically?

Then take a blank piece of paper and understand that your PR plan is a blank canvas that you can do anything with. Don’t try copy your competitors or the people your strive to be like. Pave your own way. Come up with fresh creative ideas and map out a way to get there.

2) Get online! Make sure that you have a strong online presence. With the digital age, and Google being one of the first platforms people go to search, you need to make sure you have a presence online and can tell your story the way you want it to be told.

To start off with, get on the below platforms (may vary slightly for different industries):

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • YouTube
  • Soundcloud
  • LinkedIn

3) Identify 5 people or platforms you deem important/relevant to giving your brand publicity and start making your way through the list.

4) Understand that contacts aren’t necessarily secret and content is king. Pick up a magazine, call the telephone number there and ask for the contact details people relevant to your field that you need to get in touch with. Also understand that media platforms need content, so “pitch” your story with an understanding of who their target audience is and how your story will be of interest to them.

5) Don’t give up. You will need multiple interactions in order to build your brand. Every attempt you make at building your brand’s presence all adds up and you will surely see results even if they may appear barely visibly.

Sheila AfariWhat is the one thing you know now that you wish you knew when Sheila Afari PR launched?

I wish I knew that mistakes and hardships would be my best teachers. I spent so much time “playing it safe” out of fear of not being perfect or not keeping clients happy, that it took me quite a while to learn a lot of the things that have helped my business grow exponentially. Had I allowed myself to make more mistakes at an earlier stage, I believe my company would have been where it is now about a year or two ago.

Twitter Chat with Zainab Balogun: Brand building in the media (Jan 14)

Zainab Balogun

Missed this event? Make sure you don’t miss the next one by joining our community today.

Are you interested in building your brand in the media and entertainment industries? Do you want to apply the lessons that tv presenters use to create opportunities and build loyal followings? Join us on January 14 for a twitter chat with media professional Zainab Balogun on how to build your brand in the media and entertainment industry.

We’ll cover these critical topics:

  • How to identify opportunities when you’re just starting out
  • Should you look for opportunities with big brands or look for independent and online opportunities first
  • How to find mentors and advisors in the industry

About Zainab Balogun:

Zainab is a media professional, TV presenter, producer, budding actress and media entrepreneur. She is currently a presenter for the daily entertainment news show EL Now and original talk show called The Spot on EbonyLife TV. She also appears as a presenter and associate producer on Jumia TV, a teleshopping show.

In addition to her presenting responsibilities she is a brand ambassador for Dark and Lovely international hair company.

Missed the conversation? Read what Zainab taught us about branding and working for free.