question

I publish a magazine for children about food, called Ingredient. I began in 2011 as an ardent bootstrapper, and now want to invest more resources, particularly to expand circulation but am not sure where to sink my funds. Do I hire a circulation professional to conduct a direct mail campaign; invest in a better website with more robust SEO; advertise on social media; something else; or all of it? I need help ­prioritizing and getting the best ROI possible.

Jill Colella

Ingredient Magazine

answer

I have served for a few years on the board of a publishing company based here in the Twin Cities and understand the importance of circulation, even though that firm doesn't charge subscribers. Clearly your business generates its revenue largely from subscriptions.

I find it a little ironic that in skimming the publication (which is pretty cool), you don't sell any ads, yet advertising is on your shortlist of ways to spend your own funds. Depending on the current circulation of the magazine, and how much data you have about the demographics of those families, you may have the potential to generate your own promotional budget via ad sales.

If ads have been off the table because of some part of your mission, that may be impossible. However, organizations like the Milk Marketing Board or Egg Council might be interested and offer up promotional messages that can still align with your mission. Further, if you can partner with groups like these, there may be ways to piggyback on those efforts to increase visibility and ­ultimately circulation.

Based on what you ask and what is on your website, it seems that now is not the time to be asking tactical questions. Instead, engage a consultant who has specific experience in building circulation for magazines with an online presence. That person will help you strategize not only what tactics will help boost your business, but more importantly the goals and objectives that will set the stage for overall success.

About the author

Mike Porter is director of the Master of Business Communication Program at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.