You CAN Build a Media Organization Without Sacrificing Your People
While I started TechRaptor on a whim in 2013, I had already seen a taste of the gaming industry, how it operates, and I wasn’t a fan. Writing for some smaller sites was fun and how I really got into the content side of gaming, but the more time I’ve spent in this industry, the more I’ve been frustrated with some of the way it operates.
With TechRaptor, I’ve believed since 2013 that transparency with my team, my partners, and even the rest of the industry was important. Having seen the impact of a lack of transparency outside of media, I believe that keeping my team appraised of big changes, or just overall day-to-day things helps them feel more connected and involved. I’ve certainly had my fair share of misses on communication, but I started this site at 23 and it’s been nothing but lessons and victories since day 1. Growth is important.
Fast-forward 10 years, and we’re nearing $400,000/yr in revenue with rapid growth. I have 4 full-time staff with 1-2 more planned and a goal of 10 by the end of 2023. I work a full-time job, and at this point TechRaptor is basically a second full time job – but I’m having a blast and there’s nothing more exciting than our growth and the opportunity to create jobs for talented writers.
With all that said, I believe that a shift is needed in the Gaming Industry, especially media. Let’s talk about that.
The Unsustainability of Media Conglomerates
Capitalism can be brutal, especially in media. Once VC or Private Equity gets involved, there’s a good chance things are going to change – and not for the better.
Rate cuts, layoffs, and a focus on getting the most out of writers with the lowest possible cost is rampant. Companies shift from parent organization to parent organization, and the writers who make up the blood of the sites are the ones negatively impacted, despite being the driving force behind revenue. After all, they’re eating into the profits to line someone else’s pocket!
In the last few years, things have ramped up – with large companies such as GAMURS, Gfinity, and more snapping up as many editorial sites as they can get their hands on. Usually, not long after these acquisitions, you’ll see these sites get rate cuts, layoffs, or a downturn in the culture they’d become used to.
There are far fewer independent sites, and far more profit-driven media conglomerates. Even with smaller sites, there’s a mindset that remains – “how do I grow the fastest by paying the least?”
People Before Profits
I recently spoke in an interview with OpenWeb about what I saw as a trend that the industry needs to pick up.
Taking care of your people is one I’m really hoping picks up.
The advantage to my journey in games media, is that I’ve had the freedom to focus on growing the site, and the people within it because my day job covers my income. With each step, or each upscale of TechRaptor, I’ve raised pay. I’m not in this to make money, I’m in this to build something that matters.
From Day 1, I had a vision for the site. It was never about the money, if it was, I would have started a completely different business and I would have taken money out of the business by now. In fact, until 2022, I’ve taken $0 from TechRaptor, the only reason for that being I’m required by S-Corp rules to do so, but only enough to cover our annual taxes.
I wanted to build a team. I wanted to build a brand. I wanted to make an impact.
I’ve always believed that the pay needs to be as fair as possible. To try and accomplish that goal, looking back we’ve had some absolute garbage systems, even though I tried to pay as much as possible while keeping some for growth and infrastructure. A glimpse:
- Pay Per View (with and without thresholds)
- Pay Per Article & Per View
- A tiered system in which you got paid based on # of articles.
- Pay Per Article Based on Type
- (I guess full-time bi-weekly counts too?)
Those early ones were…not good. Compounding that, because I work full-time and pay would sometimes take upwards of 10 hours to calculate – I was often late. It wasn’t until we switched to Pay Per Article that I was able to utilize a platform like OutVoice that paid my team the moment we hit “Publish.” That was a game-changer.
You can grow a media organization without sacrificing pay.
You might, like me – have to get creative until a time that you can pay better rates, but you can get there. Something I’ll explain below, is that during that time – transparency is KEY.
I’m immensely proud to be able to say most of are rates are higher than some of our competitors who are 5-10x our size, while remaining profitable enough to spend on continuing development and events. That said, I still want them higher.
It’s doable – so why can’t the larger sites? Are corporate profits really so important that we need to mistreat the people who make those profits possible?
Do right by your people. Pay them on-publish for articles. Don’t withhold pay for opaque reasons, or refuse to pay them when they leave because they “didn’t meet the threshold.” Don’t make them invoice you. Don’t do “net 30” or “net 60” because you can’t properly forecast.
I urge companies to do better.
You Need To Be Transparent
No one likes being left in the dark. No one likes surprise layoffs.
Which is why transparency is important. It’s a core part of what I think makes TechRaptor a great place to be. Here’s how I’m transparent with my team:
Full Financial Visibility
My team can see our financials in our Wiki. I share the details of any contracts I sign that have a financial implication on our finances, and explain how those types of investments will impact the site.
Transparency With Changes
I don’t make (many) unilateral decisions. I regularly post updates in Slack about what’s in the works, and I send e-mails when there’s larger plans in mind. I may own the site, but my decisions impact many more than myself.
Transparency with Pay
I frequently forecast our revenue, based on a number of factors, to determine when I can raise pay. My #1 goal is to not have to pull back, so raises are carefully planned and rolled out. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t keep my team up to date on where we are, what the next pay raise could be, and more.
I’ve been grateful that we’ve never had to pull back on pay, and I’ll continue to work as hard as I can to ensure that continues. Since 2018, TechRaptor has raised pay incrementally over 15 times, with an ongoing goal of doing it quarterly.
Honestly, Just Share It All
Everything I do is visible to the team, and I like it that way. My door is open, and I’ll own my mistakes. It’s my job to be a good leader, and focus on developing the site for the team, not myself.
For some executives and business owners, not being transparent makes them feel safe, so they won’t have to address things with their team. For me, I want it all in the open, and I want to be called out if I can do better. Being challenged is critical to growth, both as a business and a person.
Be more transparent with your people. I promise you, it’s worth it.
Provide Benefits That Matter
Games Media already promotes burnout. Between long hours needed to complete games, site owners willing to take advantage of excited new writers, and shit rates driven by shareholders – we’re rapidly seeing more talented writers look to move to PR or development for their own well-being. Can you blame them?
Not every gaming site can provide full benefits early in its life. But if you have full-time staff, or even freelancers – there’s a few things you can do to help combat burnout and help your team.
To start, with our full-time team initial benefits are:
- 15 Days of PTO
- 3 Mental Health Days
- US holidays off
- Flex Time (Work 60 one week, 20 the next, and shift hours that work for you.)
- Annual CPA fees covered
- Future: Training Budget, Annual Subscription to your game platform of choice, 401k/IRA, Internet Stipend, and other ideas the team may want.
While I can’t offer full health insurance yet, I definitely plan to. Once we’re at 10 full-time employees, I hope to roll that out and longer term I’ll encourage my team to unionize. Rather than fight that, I’d rather work closely with my team to ensure they’re happy and healthy. Period.
It took a LOT of mistakes to get here, that’s unavoidable
Starting a gaming site in 2013, that blew up a year later while I was 23, I was destined to make mistakes. I made a LOT of mistakes. Good intentions aside, I wouldn’t consider myself a good leader until 2017 at best, and it took making those mistakes to help me realize how I needed to change, and how I needed to change TechRaptor.
There’s so much that isn’t accounted for when you’re that young, and looking to build something, especially in games media:
- Server Infrastructure
- Structure and Organization
- Hiring and Firing
- Internal Communication
I got lucky on the Server Infrastructure part, but it took years for me to get the structure of our company down to where it’s easy to figure out where things are, and what to do when you’re just joining the team.
Pay has been the hardest. Growing a site under 1,000,000 pageviews per month is tough because the money isn’t just flowing in and you can’t offer the best rates because you’re not established enough to guarantee the views to even break even. I feel pretty decent about our Feature rates and Guide rates, but News and Reviews still have a way to go. It’s my #1 priority.
Hiring and firing are not easy, as you’d expect. Our hiring process is based more on skill and voice than existing bylines, but it’s still not perfect. I aim to always promote from within too, but that’s not always possible. Firing? I have handled some of them so poorly, and I definitely own up to some of them being more myself, than the people being fired. We’re building better process around how we bring feedback to writers so that it’s not a surprise, and so that they have a better chance of improvement, but it’s still my least favorite part of this job.
Internal Communication, I think, is the most critical part of running a business. I think my details about transparency above cover most of it, but I want to re-iterate – keep your team in the know on what’s going on. Period.
I’ll never stop making mistakes, and neither will editors and site owners elsewhere – what matters is reflecting on said mistakes and driving for growth and improvement as a person, to take better care of your team.
People-First Organizations Are The Future
I firmly believe that post-COVID, people-first organizations are the direction that the gaming industry (and business in general) needs to go. Retaining top performers is more about catering to their life needs than pure monetary gain.
Flex time, flexible working hours, and understanding that sometimes life just happens is crucial to the well-being and mental health of your team. I also think that being flexible with PTO when there’s health issues involved is worth it.
Sure, the business may not be as productive for a period, but pushing your team to their breaking point is actively worse for your growth than some extra time to heal.
Granted, salary is justifiably still important, but doing everything you can financially and benefits-wise is critical to ensuring that your team is happy, and that you’re building a transparent, and people-first organization.
I don’t expect every company to make this a priority, but the ones that do – are going to thrive.
Some additional threads and links on this from me:
- Tweet Thread Regarding FanByte & How I Build TR
- Thread from Me on COVID’s Impact on Ad Rates
- Tweet about updating former staff profiles to make sure their portfolios look good
- I’m Excited to Grow This Thing
- Stop Stealing Other Sites’ Guides & Take Care of Your People
- Interview: TechRaptor’s Rutledge Daugette on Being a “Positive Voice” in Video Game Journalism
- Interview: OpenWeb Partner Q&A
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