UpStart is a column covering the business side of Mission Local. 

I’ve just survived my first week as a saleswoman—urging local businesses to buy memberships in Mission Local and promoting ML with readers, too.

It hasn’t been pretty.

All my life I’ve avoided my family’s business. And now, here I am, in business and, of all things, selling. If my dad were alive, he’d be having a good laugh.

Quick background: I started Mission Local as a project at the UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism where I am a full professor, where I hold an endowed chair. But my real passion for the past six years has been this site. So when the school announced last year that it would stop year-round funding Mission Local (as well as the other hyper-local news sites), I decided to spin it off.

So now, we are a start-up. Except, after listening to Alex Blumberg’s podcast StartUp that launched Gimlet Media (more on this in a later column), I feel that UpStart suits us better.

Yes, we have big plans, big dreams. But we’re starting small—hyperlocal, in fact.

Now that we’re no longer a training site for grad students, we’re able to cover the news more consistently. That’s paid off. Readership is up 31 percent since May 1.

We can still improve. However, good journalism costs money.

Even with a bargain-basement rent, it takes about $10,000 a month to run Mission Local. That’s bare bones, and I’m unpaid. Ideally we should be making double or triple that because the more we make, the more and better journalism we can deliver. Also, we need to show potential investors that ML is a credible model for local journalism.

But for now, here’s my math:

300 business memberships @ $360 = $108,000 / year

300 reader memberships @   $120 = $36,000 / year

TOTAL         = $144,000/year

More on the numbers in a later column. But first, a word about selling.

Wow. It is tough. I send emails, make follow-up phone calls, email again, phone again, pay visits. The staff thinks it’s funny when I am aghast that someone doesn’t get back to me. And the truth is, I am aghast because when I get emails at Mission Local, I get back to EVERYONE. IMMEDIATELY.

As a result, I feel like I’ve earned a call back. But, in sales, I’m learning, all I’ve earned is the opportunity to call again.

Gayle Pirie from Foreign Cinema, who said last week that she would support us, laughed and said I was “intent.”   It made me stop and laugh as well. It’s true, I do get this close-the-deal mindset: I think, if I make just one more call, that would do it. Because, sometimes, it does. And sometimes it doesn’t.

The good news is that we sold seven memberships last week. Two of those businesses still have to sign a contract, but their word is good and, besides, I know where they live. The bad news is that we have loads more to sign up and we’ll have to pick up the pace considerably to impress anyone and to stay afloat.

The other good news: Selling is hard, but people can also make it lovely. “We want to support what you are doing,” is something I hear repeatedly. Okay, in my more jaded moments – at the end of a long day – I think: So just show me the money.

Because supporting us makes perfect sense. (Sorry, I can’t help myself. I’m selling.) Local journalism benefits local businesses and readers. You can’t read Mission Local without knowing more and caring more about the community. And advertising in ML is the most cost-effective way to reach that community.

Businesses sign up here. Readers here. Questions? Write to info@missionlocal.com. I will get back to EVERYONE. IMMEDIATELY.

UpStart #2 Feeling the Love (or Not)
Upstart #3 Carlos and Me

Upstart # 4 After the Fire

More next week.