Times They Are A-Changin’

(Turn and face the strange)
Don't want to be a richer man
(Turn and face the strange)
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can't trace time

Yeah, it’s a little cliché to start a column with a song lyric, but I’m a cliché kind of guy. Playing sports made me a sucker for a good cliché. This old Bowie track is pretty dead on for what’s happening with my world at the moment.

I didn’t get into this to be a rich man. I’ve been lower-middle class my entire life. It kind of suits me. I’m not a fancy person. I don’t need anything extravagant, with maybe the exception of how I’m entertained. I have a collection of movies that would make Roger Ebert proud, but I bought them all when I was flush with money from car sales. I was wicked good at it. Most of the time people came in with a stack of internet information and my job was just to try to get them what they wanted. It was an easy gig if you are an honest person. It gets muddier the more dishonest you are. I was good because I was transparent. I’d like to think that my trademark transparency has carried over to my role has the fella who runs this magazine. It has. What didn’t make the trip with me was my salesmanship.

I’ve written of my sales woes in the world of foster care. Here’s what I thought would be the crux of my sales pitch; I’m the product of what those working in foster care are working towards. I was a kid in the system who aged out to homelessness but pulled myself by my bootstraps and fell into what society deems as normal. Wife, kids, the whole nine. Then I thought, I could help folks in foster care gain brand recognition. People knowing who you are and what you do makes life easier. And I had hoped folks would recognize the magazine’s ability to help them gain new donors and new volunteers on the nonprofit side of things and new customers for those who provide services. Hasn’t exactly worked out that way.

I have yet to crack the code. But I’m a foster kid. I know, I’m supposed to say “alumni”, or “survivor”, maybe my go-to “former foster kid”? Little tangent here; I’m a foster kid. I will always be a foster kid. Like you are always a Goonies, or always a member of the military. It doesn’t go away. I’m not going to forget. It impacts all aspects of my life. It has always been a part of me, maybe a little amplified because of the magazine, but I’ve always been aware of what and who I am. I’m a foster kid. Okay, tangent over.

As I was typing…I’m a foster kid. In times of crisis I do not cower, I do not run, I do not hide. I hit that thing head-on. I adapt and I adjust. That’s how you get the title “survivor”. I’ve approached the business in the same manner.

For nearly 8 years, 7 and a half wonderful volumes, 71 issues, I have presented a monthly print issue of Foster Focus. I have done this on my own without the luxury of grant money, an angel donor or venture capital money. Advertising and subscribers. That’s it. And half the time, I was without at least one of those things. It hasn’t been easy. She’d never say it out loud, but I don’t think my wife is a big fan of the struggle. She stays supportive but she liked when we had money. Who could blame her?

The first year, I went out of pocket nearly every month. I used my car sale money to fuel my dream while the world caught up with me. It worked. Year Two I picked up a few advertisers. Subscribers have always been the way to cut the print costs way down. This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, more subscribers means more money to hand to the print house. On the other hand, it increases the amount of money the print house expects. Around Year Three I figured out that a digital version of the magazine would cost me less to produce and could increase my subscribership at the same time. It was a big win for the magazine and gave a cushion that allowed print to carry on. It was still really tough but nearly as tough as selling cars to make magazines. Plus, it allowed me to work for myself. No more 11-hour days at the dealership for this guy! Nope, it was 17-hour days in front of this stupid computer ever since.

The benefit of working for myself was the time I could allot to the magazine. Without the day job I could chase this dream down like a bloodhound. And I did. The results were more advertisers and even more subscribers. Bear in mind, I had no idea if this thing would hit. I expected a year in publication, a handful of subscribers and maybe a high five as I made my way back to the rest of the world. That didn’t happen. This thing is pretty big. There’s a lot to do. I do most of it well. Gaining more advertisers continued to be my Achilles’ heel.

In Years Four and Five I took consulting jobs and speaking gigs to make the print money work. Around Year 6 magazine started to show up late while I scurried to find more advertisers. Short term ads help keep the ball rolling. Then Year 7 showed up. 6 more years than I anticipated, mind you.

Year 7 brought exhaustion. My poor health (a lifelong issue) aside, I’ve gone hard at this for about as long as my 10-year-old daughter has been able to talk. I’m beat. I take the occasional road trip to blow off steam and regroup, but those trips are foster care heavy. No real relief. I can fight through that. I’ve had friends die while I have had the magazine. Friends I made because of the magazine. A lot of them are gone now. That weighs on me. Business friends, story subjects who have become friends, they come and they go. I don’t really like change. I like to keep my friends. On occasion, not often, I’m used as a stepping stone. I’m okay with that, but when they go, that stinks. I’m not a fan of being left behind. I have no trouble lifting up all of the folks around me. I want all of us to do well and cross the finish line together. Not everyone echoes that sentiment. That can wear on a guy too. I’m not a superhero for cryin out loud! I have a couple feelings left ha-ha Joking aside, all these things pile on a person and have worn me down.

Again, foster kid over here, I can handle all of this. What I can’t handle is embarrassing myself. I don’t like to look bad. The lack of a sustainable stream of income to support the print side of the magazine is what finally broke me. It had to end.

I needed to relieve the stress and strain that the pressure of finding money for print had created. I needed magazines to stop coming late. I needed to stop looking bad. It’s not how I want to run my business. I also need a shot of adrenaline. I need my excitement brought back to a place where I can be effective.

With that, I have ceased the print version of Foster Focus. I’m sad about it sure, but I know this is the right move. Around Year 5 the digital subscriptions eclipsed the print. I stopped pushing the print version as hard as I had, I was preparing for this moment. There were bulk subscriptions to consider and as much as I love having the tangible print version, I knew taking a loss in the short term would mean longevity overall. So, that’s what I did. I adapted and adjusted. Because of that, we’ve got a brand-new format to go over before I hand you off to read the issue.

The new look of Foster Focus will look the same to digital subscribers, but in dazzling Technicolor!

I love black and white. I loved it more because it cut down the cost of print. Without the restriction of print, I can introduce color to the digital issues. Exciting, right? It is to me. I’m going to roll it out slowly. By mid-year, the whole thing should be in color. There should be new design changes and brand spanking new logos for all the columns, as well as the Writer’s Marketplace and Waiting Faces sections. The website will get an upgrade too. But the most exciting part for me is that I’m not abandoning printing entirely.

There will be 4 Special Print Editions of the magazine that will be published in Foster Care Month, Social Worker Month, Adoption Month and a Year in Review issue. Four times a year I get to hold my work in my hands. That means so much more than you can imagine.

Digital subscribers can subscribe to the special issues in addition to the digital. There are now multiple subscription options. You go subscribe to the combination digital version/Special issues. Just the digital version. Or just the Special editions. Sure, it means 12 digital issues and 4 print issues a year and that means more work for me, but it’s work I’m happy to do.

And I’m still going to figure out how to sell foster care on the idea of advertising. I’m goal oriented, I’ll figure it out. But the great content the magazine provides should get even better. The look should get even better. The website should get even better. My mood will get better. This change is meant to make everything better. I think it will work. I hope.

So far, the response has been positive. I’ll find out even more when this goes out in the world.

I’ve appreciated all the support and 7 plus years of print is nothing to sneeze at. Someone pointed out that the bulk of today’s magazines have shifted to the digital format. Am I better than them? No. And they have giant staffs and years of advertising relationships. If they had trouble pulling it off, it’s safe to assume that I’d have some trouble myself.

Change can be a great thing. Let’s see if it works out that way this time. Enjoy the issue…now in dazzling Technicolor!