It's been 22 years since I graduated with a degree in Journalism. Back then, the world was starting to see the impact of the digital revolution. The printed press was still king, but technology moved fast and soon disrupted how we consumed news.
It affected my own career, as I switched to PR and marketing in 2005, leaving a dying broadcast media industry behind. But it also led to a wealth of opportunities. The web allowed me to start my own business in 2007, and social media made it possible to bootstrap and build Creative Boom, a community and a brand that today reaches a million people worldwide each month.
After more than two decades of journalism and marketing communications – during a turbulent and interesting period of the 21st century – I wanted to pull together the main principles that have guided my career thus far.
- Not everything has to be about money. You can build something purely out of passion. Creative Boom was a beloved hobby for many years and acted as a testing ground for my other PR business. Since its inception thirteen years ago, it has had many functions and has never been a wasted project.
- Build the community before you even think of building profits. I've seen too many blogs or websites fall too quickly after only chasing the money. Even a decade ago, I could see pop-ups and flashing advertisements would soon turn people off. Creative Boom has deliberately taken a leaner approach to advertising, rejecting anything that might alienate our readers. I've enjoyed listening to my audience and allowing them to help shape my platform along the way.
- Balancing business with providing real value is a win-win for both clients and readers. With the advertisements or partnerships that you will notice on Creative Boom, you'll see they are subtle, appropriate and relevant. We always want to think about what our audience will find helpful. It naturally leads to engagement and results for our clients.
- Develop your own platform. It's a guiding principle that was probably more important back in 2009 but still stands strong today. Social media networks like Facebook and Twitter might have proved beneficial to Creative Boom in the early days, but we were never in control of what they did next. Changing algorithms have hurt those who relied on them too heavily. Meanwhile, we've always stuck to content development and email subscriber lists – a decision that has led us to reach seven million creative professionals every year.
- Champion privacy and celebrate doing things differently. We used Google Analytics to track audience behaviour for many years but switched to Plausible in 2020, a privacy-focused alternative. Instead of seeing this as a potential disadvantage for advertisers, we proudly share that we don't have detailed data on our audience because we respect them. And guess what! Our clients love our ethos and are happy with the stats we supply. (Side note: We never really used Google beyond the stats we have now, it just didn't sit well with us.)
- It's all too easy to look at others and see what they're doing well. But the key is to focus on your USP. Don't get distracted by the competition. Be proud of what sets you apart from everyone else and lean into it. Consider what makes you unique and build on that. Creative Boom might be a trade publication for the creative industries, but its friendly tone keeps it more about community and creativity than the corporate world of work. As one reader puts it, "We're the Wall-E publication of the creative community".
- Celebrate diversity. Creative Boom has always been about championing the underrepresented. It was its founding principle. Over the last 13 years, it's clear we've become an important platform for emerging creatives. It wasn't something we shouted too loudly about at first, as we felt it was only natural to support people from all walks of life and wherever we could. Now we shout it from the rooftops. It's my personal mission to take the platform's original ethos even further and see where we can really make a difference.
- Change is scary and won't always work but will always bring essential lessons. We've tried many things over the years, but nothing I'm ashamed of. No design update, content idea, or new section has been wasted. All mistakes or blips have brought insight and value, leading to what Creative Boom is today. In future, it will continue to change. Change is healthy and shows progress.
- Redefine success. To some, it means big profits, while to others, it's simply about being able to do something you love for a reasonable living. When you exist in an entrepreneurial world, it can sometimes feel disheartening to see others doing so well. But none of us can comprehend what is going on behind the scenes. Balance is important, and we need to recognise that we're all on our own paths.
- Hard work might have become a dirty term in recent years, but it's been one of the guiding principles of my career. Sacrifice has been a constant theme. There has been no overnight success. And to some external eyes, my venture might not be "there" yet. These things take time. But I derive such meaning from my work and immensely enjoy serving the creative community that hard work is a pleasure. I know I'll be able to look back on this chapter of my life and feel proud of what I've achieved.
In closing, I feel that although Creative Boom turns 13 this July, it's only just getting started. There are many adventures on the horizon, and I'm looking forward to seeing where they will take me. Meanwhile, the wisdom I've shared today gives you an insight into the lessons I've learned so far. These guiding principles will likely change over time. It will be interesting to see just how much when I'm celebrating Creative Boom's 20th anniversary, seven years from now.