Listen to advice, but most importantly, listen to yourself. Finally dream big and strive to be the best. ~ J.T. Solomon
TheBlackManCan is in New York, NY to interview J.T. Solomon, Editor-In-Chief and Publisher of The FIRM Magazine . Check out what this EXTRAordinary Black Man had to say about his experience as an entrepreneur.
TheBlackManCan: JT, What led you to create The FIRM Magazine?
JTS: Well I had the idea for F.I.R.M. since my Sophomore year at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. I had been a reader of VIBE, The Source, and Black Enterprise for a long time, but I was felt like something was missing. Vibe and The Source had everything you wanted to know in the entertainment world and Black Enterprise had all of your business needs. But I didn’t see why both of them couldn’t be combined to form one publication. So I drafted a business plan for a magazine that would not only entertain my readers, but would educate them on everything they needed to know to help them mentally, physically, and financially prepare for the future. But I put it on the back-burner to pursue my Masters in Publishing at Pace University in New York. After they visited my Shakespeare class at Morehouse to recruit, I had a better understanding of what I needed to do to get this magazine off the ground.
I worked on it a little more in my “Creating a Magazine” class where my professors, Vaughn Benjamin and Betty Rockmore (who also worked in the publishing industry during the day), gave me excellent advice on how to clean-up the business plan draft I had created in college. I learned the publishers role, editorial work-flow, production and distribution, and online publishing at Pace and was ready to put my plan into action. But again, I put it off because of job opportunities after graduating Pace in 2007. I went on to work for Reed Business Information, American Media, and Conde Nast Publications mainly in Production and Distribution.
It was only after getting laid-off in 2009 that I was able to pick my draft back up and fully devote all of my time to making my dream happen. I was confident about my knowledge of the industry and where it was going and now had the experience to back it up. I realized I would have to choose between being comfortable and achieving my dream. I chose to achieve my dream and have been working on F.I.R.M. since then.
TheBlackManCan: Why did you decided to focus on Fashion, Investments, Recreation and Music?
JTS: I decided to focus on Fashion, Investment, Recreation, and Music by accident. It was a great acronym, but it needed to fit what I wanted to accomplish in the magazine. Then I had an epiphany – The things that make most people happy fall under these four categories. Looking good, living good, having fun, and great lyrics and a beat can a big difference in your life. But I wanted the magazine to be more than just entertaining. So in establishing the entertainment side, I also found an opportunity to educate people while they were being entertained.
Fashion for instance is not only about the clothes and trends of today, but also how to wear them. Appearance unfortunately IS everything. From the moment someone meets you ( and sometimes before an introduction), they are subconsciously or consciously forming an opinion about you based on what they see. You want to make sure you make a great first impression and you don’t have to do it by wearing every designer label known to man. You just have to develop your own style and dress for the occasion. Also, I discovered that this was the perfect time to educate all of those people who had an intrest in fashion but may not be model material. Let’s face it; everyone is not a model. But models need clothes, stylists, make-up, and a lot more in order to be the person we see on magazine covers and runways. I feel that through interviews, columns, and editorial pieces, I could reach someone who may have thought their dream of working in the Fashion industry was over simply because they weren’t model material.
When people think of investments, they automatically think of money, but its so much more. I wanted to educate people on the other things they should be investing in like real-estate, credit, friends, time, politics and even their communities. We tend to put these things off in our pursuit of wealth and find that they are tied-in as well. I also wanted to educate those who might want to go into these areas the same way I did for Fashion.
Recreation is another category that covers an array of things such as food, travel, film/theatre/art, sports and lifestyles. In order to grow we have to expose ourselves to different things. Most people don’t even own a passport. I admit that I have never traveled outside of the United States (but will be doing so soon). i wanted to expose my readers to different cultures, places and things to broaden their scope of the world. We tend to live inside of a bubble; oblivious to the things going on outside of the familiar. after reading recreation, it is my hope that my reader will be exposed to something they didn’t know about before or at least open up to doing new things.
Finally, music is the biggest category. There’s a song for everyone. Unfotunately because of the radio, most people listen to the same songs. There are so many talented artists out there with great music that we dont hear everyday. I wanted to expose my listeners to different music in hopes of broadening their scope on music. I also wanted to take the time to educate thos that are interested in the music industry, but might not be the artist. Not everyone can perform music and not everyone should. But just because you can’t perform it doesn’t mean you can’t write, produce, or market it. The industry needs songwriters, producers, instrumentalists, and managers as well. Also there are bills like the Performance Rights Act that every artist should know about because it affects their trade, but don’t because they are so focused on the money aspect. I want my readers to get this information from my magazine.
TheBlackManCan: How did you develop a passion for writing?
JTS: To be honest, I was involved in a shooting incident while I was in undergrad. I was a bystander that got hit by a stray bullet. I was angry and didn’t know how to realease the anger about the situation. It happened on campus and i felt like the administration at that time did nothing to help me. I had worked hard to get into Morehouse, paid money I never had to attend (at that time it was only $25,000 a year compared to the $40,000 it costs now), and earned good grades. I wanted to know how it was allowed to happen to me on campus. I had no one to talk to or relate to and writing it out in a notebook became a release for me. I started to write in it everyday, sometimes at the expense of my school work. Then one day after hearing a poem I had written, one of my classmates asked why I was a computer science major instead of an english major? Money was the only reason I was a computer science major. I heard that they got paid and coming from a single-parent struggling household, that was good enough. but after the incident, it wasn’t enough anymore. So I switched my major and have been on this road ever since then.
TheBlackManCan: How has print and online publishing changed over the past few years?
JTS: Some people have said that print is dead. Don’t believe that. People like the feel of a magazine in their hand especially when their battery has ran out. Magazines, unlike newspapers, were not built on a “news now” structure. They started off as ways people could capture timely events and read up on their favorite hobbies and trades. I believe the fall of print magazines had to do with the cost of production and distribution and the intricacies that go into creating cost-cutting plans that will help to get the product out without breaking the publisher/publishing company. Since magazine postage is determined by weight and advertising, big books like Vogue and Interior Design cost a lot of money to be mailed. I think people see now that it is cheaper to create online magazines than it is to create them in print. Also they are much more accessable to a wider range of people which the internet made possible. Some people say that print is dying or dead. I believe that it has only become secondary to the internet. You just have to figure out what the people want and how to deliver it to them. The new generation doesn’t like paper ( me included). It clutters up everything and is not needed with so much access to the internet.
TheBlackManCan: FIRM magazine is geared toward the 21-35 year old demographic, why did you choose this target audience?
JTS: I wanted to target this audience because it is the decision-making and defining period of our lives. It is where obtaining that credit card can affect our ability to purchase a new home. Where wearing the wrong clothes can keep us from landing the right job. Where eating the wrong foods can cause us a lifetime of stress and problems. Where living in a bubble can evoke feelings of regret later down the road. This demographic is the tipping point of our lives and I believe F.I.R.M. can make the biggest impact at this stage.
TheBlackManCan: How has the growth of social media been important to the growth of FIRM Magazine?
JTS: It’s funny you should ask this because I was just telling someone else that most of the writers I get I have never met or don’t see on a regular basis. In fact, two of my writers in the music department have been working with each other for several months now and have never met each other until I brought them together for an after-work event recently. I interact with them through text, email, Twitter, and Facebook. It has made starting this business easier. I am able to build my brand using Facebook and Twitter and reach people I might not have reached if this magazine was solely in print form. You can hit so many people at the same time without costly marketing which makes things easier. Not to say marketing is not needed, but now you can do most of the initial footwork yourself.
TheBlackManCan: What are your future plans for FIRM magazine?
JTS: I plan to bring F.I.R.M. out in a print version a couple of times a year and also launch a couple of conferences, events, and community initiatives. I got a couple of other things up my sleeve too, but you’ll have to watch and read to find out. Trust me, F.I.R.M. Magazine is going to do publishing in a way that no other magazines have done it before. We are the new face of publishing.
TheBlackManCan: What words of advice would you like to leave for the youth of today?
JTS: Shoot for the stars…and if you miss…get a bigger gun and blast them all out of the sky and take your pick. You have to try a couple of things in order to find the business that works. Don’t be afraid to try something outside of your comfort zone. Listen to advice, but most importantly, listen to yourself. Finally dream big and strive to be the best.
You can reach J.T. Solomon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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