Start an online magazine by following these 9 steps:
You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your online magazine. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Check out our How to Start a Business page.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening an online magazine?
You could literally start your online magazine without spending a penny. That doesn’t mean that you should—but you can. It’s possible to build a website for little or no money, or publish on WordPress or Blogger platforms at no cost. You can promote your magazine for free via such social media venues as Facebook and Twitter. You could write all of the content yourself or get others to write for no cost except links to their own zines or blogs. Also, you could shoot your own photos and lay out your magazine with free graphic design tools.
Since your skills are probably sharper in some of these fields than in others, your magazine might not look or read as professionally as it would if you hired expert writers, graphic designers, photographers, illustrators, web developers, and marketing experts.
All of these subject experts can be hired on a freelance or project basis, for rates that might not exceed a few hundred dollars per issue. As your business grows, there might be a point when you decide that the time is right to hire full-time employees to handle some of these responsibilities.
What are the ongoing expenses for an online magazine?
Most of your expenditures will go to the creatives you hire, most likely on a freelance basis, to regularly supply your magazine with content. The cost for this can be as little as an exchange of links and a promo plug to several hundred dollars per article, or more. Naturally, you can expect a higher quality of content (and less time spent editing) if you pay a higher amount for professional writing talent. As with anything, you get what you pay for.
You might also get to the point where you’re able to explore online advertising opportunities or to hire marketing communications professionals to promote your magazine. This cost will vary by the talent you hire and the scope of work.
Who is the target market?
You’ll know your customer profile as soon as you’ve identified your magazine editorial slant. Many publishers start with their own lifestyle interests, hobbies or career fields, because these are topics they know well.
Furthermore, your customers will likely be readers and very involved in the digital world. (Although magazines with a greater mix of visuals and video content can be geared toward non-readers.)
How does an online magazine make money?
Most e-zine income is from advertising. You can either chase down the ads yourself or rely on an advertising app like Google AdSense. Google will figure out the ads that fit the theme of your digital magazine and place them as viewer links. In this pay-per-click model, every time a reader follows the link to the advertiser’s content you’re paid a fixed amount. The larger your traffic volume, the more clicks you are likely to generate, thus increasing your ad revenue.
You can also contact advertisers yourself, but this approach would likely succeed only if you have a niche theme that can cater to companies selling related products. For example, a long-distance running e-zine based in Ohio could run ads for different running shoes stores in Cleveland and the surrounding area.
The more you narrowly you define your subject matter and audience, the easier it can be to appeal to advertisers.
How much can you charge customers?
Most online magazines provide free content. Revenue is generated through advertising. Ad programs like Google AdSense will pay you on a per-click basis for ads that you allow to be hosted on your digital real estate. Check out this thorough explanation of how Google AdSense works.
On the other hand, once your e-zine has achieved wide acceptance in your area, you can explore the possibilities of a subscriber-based revenue stream. For example, noted tech guru Marco Arment got subscribers to pay $1.99 for each biweekly issue of The Magazine, his general interest e-zine, and turn a significant profit even while paying his writes $800 per feature.
How much profit can an online magazine make?
Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, who bills herself as The Adventurous Writer at TheAdventurousWriter.com, has this to say about the earning potential of her online publication. “Currently, I’m earning almost $300 per day from Google and about $70 per day from Amazon.” Pawlik-Kienlen’s earnings are all through Google and Amazon’s ad programs, giving a sense of what kind of revenue is possible for a successful e-magazine.
Marco Arment, publisher of The Magazine, says that his 25,000 subscribers yields a profit of about $35,000 per month after he pays writers, editors, copy editors, illustrators, photographer and others.
How can you make your business more profitable?
The e-newsletter you publish to promote your magazine can be a separate profit center if you offer links to advertisers with products or services that complement the theme of your magazine. Also, consider putting premium content behind a payroll for subscribers only. If this proves popular, you might choose to, at some point in the future, make your e-zine available only to paying subscribers.
Another profitable venture might be to host seminars, workshops or other events, thus creating networking opportunities for your readership that reflect your editorial focus.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Online Magazine Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your online magazine is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate an online magazine business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
In most states, it is necessary to obtain a copyright license for a magazine. This article includes information on how to register your magazine with the U.S. Copyright Office.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
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How to promote & market an online magazine
Use social media to increase awareness and generate excitement for your publication. Also consider advertising in e-zines, blog posts and websites that draw similar demographics.
How to keep customers coming back
Draw both readers and advertisers from the online communities that are relevant to your publication. Send out e-newsletters to alert subscribers to new content and to encourage sign-ups. Also, encourage subject experts who have their own audiences to write for your e-zine, since they’ll promote their work to their own audiences.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
Start An Online Magazine In Your State
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Is this Business Right For You?
The successful online magazine publisher has a skill set that includes the talents of a writer, editor, web developer, webmaster, advertising salesperson and business person. Your goal is to develop a niche audience and content to regularly fit your theme.
You should be highly motivated and driven to continually provide fresh, rich content that will make readers come back for more and also recommend it to their friends.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at an online magazine?
Your online publishing business will involve the following responsibilities.
- Write or commission content that fits the theme of your e-zine
- Find or commission photography and artwork that complements the look of the magazine and the featured content
- Edit submissions for punctuation, spelling, tone and clarity
- Implement a social media strategy to tease reader interest in current or archived articles and pull them to your site
- Strategize new ways of monetizing your publication, either through ad programs such as Google AdSense, paid circulation or your own space sales efforts
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful online magazine?
Since content is king on an e-zine you must either be a good writer or at least someone who recognizes good writing ability in others. You should understand search engine optimization and SEO keyword placement. It’s also important to be able to collaborate comfortably with writers, photographers and other creatives and to be fairly well versed in digital publishing.
What is the growth potential for an online magazine?
Your income rises with traffic to your site. As your e-zines grows in traffic, it becomes of greater interest to ad programs such as Google AdSense. And at some point you might consider putting a paywall in front of at least some of your content.
Not sure if an online magazine is right for you? Try our free Business Idea Generator and find your perfect idea.
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Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
How and when to build a team
There are many different types of jobs associated with employment at an e-zine. Initially, you’ll probably wear every hat, but as revenue and your job responsibilities both increase, you will eventually need support.
Your first outside hire should be to cover responsibilities which are either beyond your comfort zone or a time drain. For instance, if you’re more of a tech expert than a content strategist or writer, you might want to keep the web development and webmaster duties to yourself and hire an editor to write and edit SEO-rich content, and also to recruit freelance writers and photographers.