Win! Free! Sex! 10 Secrets to Start Your Business

Photo of Norah Casey

Hopefully that headline grabbed your attention. It might even be more effective on Twitter.

It contains many of the keywords designed to hook you on magazine covers, according to Norah Casey, owner and CEO of Harmonia, Ireland’s largest publisher. Casey is also one of the potential investors on Ireland’s version of The Dragons’ Den TV show, and has invested around €180,000 in start ups so far.

She was speaking at last Friday’s Cornflakes & Commerce event organized by the NCI (@ncirl) in Dublin to launch the college’s new program of post-graduate degrees.

Printing over 4 million magazines a year, Harmonia’s mass-market titles include U, Irish Tatler (@irishtatler) and Woman’s Way. Specialist publications include Food & Wine, and Ireland of the Welcomes. The company also does trade and employee magazines on contract.

On hand to give advice to budding entrepreneurs, Casey spoke generally about the magazine market. Although publishers are still struggling to find viable online revenue streams, magazine readers have a different relationship with their periodicals than newspaper readers, she said.

Many readers hold on to their magazines and will track down back issues if they lose a copy, Casey said. Meanwhile, digital editions have progressed in sophistication and can complement printed versions very well, she said.

Ireland is a very small market, Casey noted. In addition to finding ways to break in to the nearby British market, Casey said, “You need to be very clever about brand extension.” Harmonia has done this by establishing or sponsoring things like the Women of the Year Award, and similar events for spa salons and beauty events. Meanwhile, the company has started printing Irish Tatler Man.

Social media “is phenomenally important to us,” Casey said. But “in a business, you have to be quite disciplined,” she added. It is no use if Twitter or Facebook goes silent during someone’s vacation, so Harmonia has two people planning and producing material, Casey said.

Casey’s 10 tips

1. Do your homework: “I can’t stand it when people haven’t done their figures,” Casey said about some of the less-prepared guests on the Dragon’s Den. She said to determine and define the market, and to do a competitive analysis.

2. Prepare to work hard: “Every single cent in my business is hard won,” Casey said. “Your life is going to be your business in the first few years.” She also suggested not taking on partners or employees who do not share your commitment, and using every opportunity in your professional and personal life to grow the enterprise.

3. Work on your business model: “There is no such thing as a great product that doesn’t have a customer,” Casey said.

4. Get everything free: Cash-strapped start ups need to be resourceful, Casey said. Use social media and viral campaigns. Go to local enterprise boards. Ask key leaders for mentoring advice. Barter. Echoing Paul Cooling’s recent advice, Casey said to use interns, especially for projects.

5. If you fail, move fast: If something is not working, drop it, Casey said. Learn from your mistakes and move on.

6. Decide on how to fund growth: Casey said she avoided venture capital and opted for bank loans to fund her business. This “clean money” to her because of potential interference in editorial matters from board members. “There are few barriers to entry for people with an opinion,” she noted. Casey also advised thinking very carefully about asking friends and family for capital.

7. Review your strategy: If you plan to sell your business, Casey advised identifying potential buyers and staying close to them. Entrepreneurs need to be honest about their goals. “Lifestyle businesses” work for many people, but Casey said they are “not investable” in the Dragon’s Den.

8. Maintain harmony in your life: Casey said entrepreneurs should ensure their business is founded on solid values. Recalling days as an employee where she had to drag herself in to jobs she disliked, Casey said she strives to make the Harmonia offices “a place people will always want to come in to.”

9. Money is not a dirty word: Echoing Paul Campbell’s comments, Casey said people in Ireland can still be uncomfortable discussing money. “I work hard to make money and enjoy the things in my life,” she said.

10. Never stop learning: “Never put up the books,” Casey advised. You can use management theories to test your business model no matter how small you are. On the other hand, Casey noted that Spock had the PhD but Kirk led the crew.

11. The bonus tip was not to engage in the “politics of envy.”

Photo is via Liam Hughes (Irish Fireside) on Flickr. Permission to reproduce is pending.

2 thoughts on “Win! Free! Sex! 10 Secrets to Start Your Business

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