OLD Media Moves

Lesonsky took an Entrepreneurial-like gamble on covering small businesses

November 7, 2012

Posted by DeanRotbart

The small business beat was quite tiny when Rieva Lesonsky first began researching it professionally in 1978.

Like so many women who came after her – both in journalism and in business – the odds of her succeeding on such an untested employment path weren’t great.

Yet Lesonsky, during a career at Entrepreneur magazine that spanned 26 years, built her personal journalism stature and that of the entrepreneurial beat from a newsroom backwater to a front-and-center topic.

Indeed, the mantra of both presidential candidates this year was support of America’s small businesses and their owners.

From her home in Irvine, Calif., where she runs her virtual office, Lesonsky, 60, can only smile.  She is not only that rare journalist who gets the chance to define a beat and watch it become mainstream, she has successfully navigated that other frequent journalism obstacle course: To do it, not just report on it.

For the past 4 ½ years, Lesonsky and two of her former Entrepreneur editorial colleagues have put their money where their laptops are: into creating their own small business rooted in their journalism expertise.

“When you cover entrepreneurs for that long, someday you just say to yourself, ‘I can sit on the sidelines and observe it, or I can live it.  I can be it,’” Lesonsky tells me during an hour-long radio interview that she and I recently conducted.

Lesonsky is the founder and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a custom content company that provides news, features and how-to articles aimed at small business owners and entrepreneurs. GrowBiz Media’s clients are frequently giant companies, such as AT&T, American Express, Dell, HP, Microsoft and State Farm. These companies turn to GrowBiz Media in search of quality content that will help them better connect with the small business community.

Among other editorial services, Lesonsky and her colleagues generate blog content, newsletters, web articles and the like.  They also operate their own small business-oriented website at www.SmallBizDaily.com.

Recent headlined stories by GrowBiz Media include: “What Fears are Holding Your Small Business Back?”; “Women Entrepreneurs Helping Other Women Succeed”; “Are Older Workers Better for Your Small Business?”’ and “Hiring Temporary Employees? Read This First!”

Back when Lesonsky was still senior vice president and editorial director at Entrepreneur magazine, she was selected as a recipient of the 2003 Business News Luminary Award – an annual honors program that functions akin to a “Business Journalism Hall of Fame.”

As my bimonthly media newsletter, TJFR Business News Reporter, noted at the time, Lesonsky “has the distinction of being one of the only women ever to hold a top editor spot at a business publication.”

That distinction holds to this day, although there are some newsroom leaders, such as Gillian Tett at the Financial Times (assistant editor and former U.S. managing editor) and Joanne Lipman, who ran the now-defunct Portfolio magazine, who have risen above the glass ceiling.

Lesonsky – based on the West Coast, focused on small business, and looking at the world from a woman’s point of view – has always brought an unconventional editorial perspective to her work.  Her timing, as she notes, was excellent, given how many other women were just joining the ranks of small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Back in 1990, three years after Lesonsky assumed the editorial helm at Entrepreneur, the magazine had a circulation of 300,000.  Under Lesonsky’s leadership, the number of subscribers almost doubled (and has remained roughly the same since she left).

Lesonsky says that one of the biggest challenges of running her own business is working outside the give-and-take dynamic of a traditional, fully staffed newsroom.

“I think that’s a hard adjustment going from an office environment to more of an entrepreneurial endeavor,” she observes.  “It can be really crazily isolating.”

Like Lesonsky, her two partners in GrowBiz Media also work from their homes.  Maria Valdez Haubrich, whose title at GrowBiz Media is chief liaison officer, is a former executive editor at Entrepreneur, where she worked for two decades.  Karen Axelton, chief content office, likewise, was a 20-plus year Entrepreneur staffer and one-time executive editor.

When Lesonsky is not on the job or traveling for work (if ever), she tells me she welcomes the chance to get lost in a good work of fiction or serving as the “designated shopper” for her close friends who are raising tween girls.

Lesonsky, a New York native, says she went into journalism in the hope of changing the world.  First at Entrepreneur, and now at GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky is living that dream.

“We took the world of small business and words, essentially, and crafted a business out of it,” Lesonsky explains.  “So I get to do everything that I love with people that I love, my partners … and do it the way I want to do it.  And it’s just really been terrific.”

If you’d like to download or steam my full broadcast radio interview with Rieva, you can find it at www.MondayMorningMemo.com.  The audio is already one of the most popular that I’ve posted, since I began audio-blogging my weekly program in June 2012.

Look for daily updates about influential journalists on Twitter: @newsbios.

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