“I’ve never seen more ignorant people about business than journalists,” Roland S. Martin said at the start of his talk to 25 journalists at Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Diversity in Digital Media. “And that includes those who cover business.”
At the end of the fourth day of a jam-packed, weeklong program, participants straightened in their chairs. It was time for some tough love from the award-winning journalist.
Martin launched his daily digital show, #RolandMartinUnfiltered, in April of this year and broadcast live from Poynter after his talk. He is also the host and managing editor of TV One Cable Network, a senior analyst for “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” the author of three books and an international speaker.
His main gig? He said he is the “biggest shareholder of Me, Inc.”
In other words, he is a full-time entrepreneur. Here are five tips about business from Martin’s talk to help journalists wise up.
1. Your employer doesn’t own you. You own you.
Martin urges journalists to derive value not from the big-name company they work for, but from the work they do there. Because in the business world, “You are nothing more than a line on a spreadsheet.”
When it comes to loyalty, entrepreneurs prioritize themselves, not their company. This can be as simple as not including your company name in your Twitter handle or as intricate as balancing multiple side hustles.
“We’ve been trained this perspective is selfish,” Martin said. “It’s not.”
To begin the shift in thinking, it helps to think of your employer-employee relationship as a client-vendor one. Review your contract. Do that work well. And then pitch other so-called vendors to diversify your revenue stream.
Simply put: “White male executives can’t control you if they don’t control your money.”
2. The first day of your new job, start planning your next job.
“When journalists get a pink slip, they freak out,” said Martin. It’s because they haven’t played the long game. With layoffs an unfortunate reality in the news business, it’s impossible to count on staying in one place for long. Journalists with an entrepreneurial spirit are constantly planning the next thing, Martin said.
Part of that is building your audience so they follow you from job to job. The other part is creating relationships with people at your current job. Befriend people in sales and marketing. Think of sources as potential partners or investors.
“You have to be fully aware of what you represent when you talk to people,” Martin said. “As you build your career, think down the line. Today, I’m interviewing. Tomorrow, I may be pitching.”
.@rolandsmartin keeping 💯 on being an entrepreneurial journalist. As a young media business owner, I’m more amped up to stay the course (and get paid). Thanks. #PoynterNABJLeaders pic.twitter.com/eWtiBcteCU
— Ernest Owens (@MrErnestOwens) December 5, 2018
3. Work the room.
“You don’t know who you’re going to meet at any given time,” Martin said. “Most people are not ready when opportunity strikes.”
Being an entrepreneur is a 24/7 mindset. There are no off-hours when you work for yourself. According to Martin, any time you walk into a space, your goal should be to make as many genuine connections with as many people as possible.
“Don’t start with ‘Who can help me?’ That dictates your motive,” Martin said. “The reality is — you might meet someone and that might not manifest until 10 years later.”
This assertive networking is not as hard as it seems, even for introverts. “How you cultivate and mold relationships is the same as how you approach sources,” Martin said. “It’s the same skill.”
4. Condition yourself to think like a CEO.
Inflow, outflow. CEOs are constantly calculating that dynamic — and journalist entrepreneurs should, too. When you work for a larger company, Martin explained, you lose sight of what it takes to maintain office supplies, replace equipment or send multiple people on assignment.
“Most journalists, when they go to the entrepreneurial side, fail,” Martin said. “Don’t bring your big company philosophy to your small firm.”
Know the costs, including how you value your time. Know the benefits. Considering both, make shrewd decisions — no matter where you work now.
Was reppin #APhiA @apa1906network on #rolandmartinunfiltered yesterday at the @Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla. #rollinwithroland #bringthefunk #livelifeloveit pic.twitter.com/XihjYdZony
— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) December 6, 2018
5. Focus on the big opportunities — even if they’re at small companies.
Martin said he believes the key is to get a seat at the table. Executive producers are executive producers, regardless of whether they are at CNN or a start-up.
“I would rather have a big opportunity at a small company than a small opportunity at a big company,” Martin said. “Focus on the opportunity, not just the company.”
While Martin primarily spoke about generating wealth and climbing the career ladder, he also emphasized the importance of regularly assessing yourself. Because, in the end, understanding your values, goals and skills will help you identify the right opportunity when it comes your way.