Alexa Seeger

Who’d Have Thought? 30 Years of Pivoting Leads to a National Masonry Magazine

bettyYoung (1)

Betty Young started her own company, bsYOUNG & associates ltd, 30 years ago. During that time, her business has evolved from an advertising firm and publishers’ representative firm to a publisher in her own right.

As an advertiser, she began working in the masonry industry and quickly learned the industry’s language and needs. Today, she publishes SMART | Dynamics of Masonry, a national magazine that fosters industry innovation, collaboration and education.Q

As the daughter of a civil engineer, specializing in masonry, I was familiar with the magazine. It wasn’t until I was interested in journalism and entrepreneurship that I realized just how special SMART | Dynamics of Masonry was. Young was kind enough to let this little high school senior follow her around and pepper her with questions.

Now, a little older and hopefully a little wiser, I took the opportunity to reconnect with Young and dig deeper into her experiences and her innovations, to get an idea of how this powerful woman went from selling ads for other publishers to running her own national magazine. And of course, I wanted to know what advice she had for me.

SPARTANINNOVATE: Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur? 
YOUNG: Yes, I do, and I guess the reason I do is one day I needed to find a new job. The company I was working for was not a safe place to be, and I was having two kids about to go to college. So I thought I had to find a more secure job. I looked and looked and looked and looked and looked for three months, and I couldn’t find anything I wanted to do. My friends and associates said ‘Why don’t you start your own business?’ and I said ‘I can’t do that, I don’t know how.’ And they said ‘You know how, just do it.’ And so one day, I thought ‘I have to do it, I guess so I will.’

I asked my mother for a small loan to help me make the car payment etcetera until I got back on my feet. I paid it back in a few months with interest. I thought that was the positive sign to go ahead and start my own business, and I did it. So, what I did was figure out what do I have to do to make this work, because if I had never gone through that step, it never would have worked. I had a strategy and a plan, and I implemented the plan, and within the first six months I was going gangbusters, and I haven’t stopped since. That was 30 years ago.

How has your business evolved during your 30 years?
We’ve stayed the same company, the same company name. We have changed what we’ve done as the clients have come and gone and changed. My interest, my focus has changed a bit also. We started as an advertising agency and a publisher’s representative firm, and now we’re just a publisher. You know, it’s kind of the same street, but it has some bends in the road. We’re still doing all the same things as we did as a marketing-communications firm. The elements are the same, but the mix is a little different.

In building and growing SMART | Dynamics of Masonry, what risks have you taken?
If you want to be an entrepreneur, you’re not in it to be a volunteer. You’re not in it to be a do-gooder; you’re in it to make money. And if you don’t know how to make money and if you don’t know cash-flow management, there’s a lot to running a business. You can’t just have an idea and think it’s going to be fun and the sun will shine every day and you’ll become a millionaire. It doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to be willing to take those risks and be willing to do what it takes to solve those problems. That’s not the fun part, but it’s essential if you plan to stay in business very long.

What attracts your experts, or your “great minds,” to work with you? 
The reason the magazine is called SMART | Dynamics of Masonry is because using the dynamics of masonry is a very smart strategy. Early on, Dan Zechmeister, the man who hired me to do the Michigan Masonry Institute of Michigan originally, he has a great mind, a very great mind. He’s introduced me to others in the field who are also incredible people. So, that’s why I call us the ‘great minds,’ because everyone we work with is absolutely top of their niche in the [masonry] industry.

They all like to work together. We have conference calls, and a lot of them haven’t met each other, but they respect each other greatly. They get into conversations, this engineer in this state, that engineer in that state are talking, and they have a lot in common. But maybe, one sees it a little differently than the other one, or the other one brings a new idea that this one hasn’t done before, anyway they feed off each other and it’s amazing.

How do you set your magazine apart?
What attracts the readers to the magazine is that we have experts in the field writing for us. There is no place else to get information like we publish. No place. There’s an engineering magazine for the engineers, but it doesn’t talk about masonry. There’s a masonry magazine, but it’s for bricklayers. It’s not suited for architects or engineers. Our magazine is the only one that markets masonry to architects, structural engineers, general contractors, educators of those people, owners, facilities planners. We target all the decision makers in the industry. We target that audience so they want to use more masonry, because we teach them all that’s new. Every advancement in the industry is introduced through our magazine.

Now, that wasn’t part of the original plan. The original plan was just to educate them. But as we grew, people would send us their new products or new ideas or new initiatives, and we would publish it. Then more people would do it. Now, we’re all about the efficiencies of masonry and the advancements of masonry. There’s nobody out there doing that, they don’t even know it exists. We have no competition.

The tagline for our magazine is ‘where industry leaders gather and speak,’ and that’s exactly what it is. If somebody has something wonderful to say, they can write it in our magazine, so anybody else in the industry can come and read it. Every other magazine has writers who know how to write but don’t necessarily know the subject matter. Our people know the subject matter, but not necessarily how to write.

We work together as a team so, when we have an article published, it’s really excellent. Everyone respects that. Once they read one magazine, one article even, they want to read more, because there’s nothing out there that quality. That’s part of it.

The rest of it is that people can talk to each other through the magazine, and they can now tweet each other with magazine articles. It’s really become an open door to introduce industry experts to one another and even if you’re not an expert, even if you’re a newbie, you get to rub elbows with the writers. You get to know them, and we publish the phone numbers and the email addresses, so if you have a question you want to ask that writer, you can.

Not all of this was planned when we started it, but it’s evolved. I’d home that would be the case with every entrepreneurship venture. Ten years ago, there weren’t as many advancements in the industry, but when the economy went down, people had more time to start thinking of new ideas. We’re flooded now with advancements in the industry. Eighteen years ago, when we started, there was one every now and then, whereas no, there’s a whole magazine full of them, every issue.

As SMART | Dynamics of Masonry has evolved, how are you actively fostering innovation?
Because I’ve been in the industry for a long time, I have seen other things, in development and how they’ve approached fundraising— I call it selling advertising, but they call it fundraising. Right now, we’re putting together a commemorative issue for the Nation Concrete Masonry Association, because they’re celebrating their 100th anniversary. The commemorative issue will talk about the innovations from the last 100 years. Any member companies that have an innovation, meaning they came up with it first, we’re commemorating them, and hopefully we’ll get lots of companies who’ve come up with innovations. It could be little things. It could be big things.

I take some of these ideas from organizations and nonprofits [like a commemorative issue] and put them into what we’re doing. That makes it kind of fun. Last year we rebranded the industry, we had a competition. This year is the commemorative issue. Next year will have to be about modeling I guess because it’s ready to take off.

When the Building Information Modeling for Masonry initiative took hold, it was just about the time when the magazine went national. With the Building Information Modeling for Masonry initiative, I said ‘we will be your media sponsor, and we will give you a free article in every issue.’ We’re getting those software developers and people in the industry together that are creating the ideas, and saying ‘well, now we need something that does this,’ and figuring out what it takes. They come up with a plan and they implement the plan, same concept as when I started my business.

So, all these tip-top people who are working in modeling masonry are communicating to each other through the magazine, and everybody else gets to read about it and learn from it. This year, 2018, is the last year for the funded BIMM initiative, so all the products they’re making for the architectural designers to use and for the masonry contractors to use— there’s two sets of software— those will all be put together.

We will continue to write about mason contractors and how they use the software and how they can be so much more efficient, cost efficient and time efficient if they model the project. It’s a different set of modeling for designers. Designers, if they’re doing a brick building, they want to show brick. There isn’t any software out there to do that. We had to find a person that could do it, fund that person and have that software made.

These initiatives are things that we’ve done that no one else has ever done.

What are you doing to serve your audience better?
We’ve been online for ten years. We have a flip-the-pages digital edition, which I prefer. But a couple of years ago, they came out with a different type of digital edition, without flippable pages. Each article is a PDF, so instead of having a 48 page magazine, there’s a 12 page or 16 page magazine. If I wanted to send you a PDF of an article, I could just send you that one PDF.

People like to read the printed edition. We have 10,000 circulation. We have two people that don’t want the print edition. Everyone else likes the print with the digital. People like to sit and read the print edition, throw it in their briefcase and read it at home in their easy chair. They’ll read it at their leisure. They can take notes.

They also like to share the information with somebody else on their team, whether it’s one of their employees or staff or mason contractors. Or, they want to take it to a meeting where the design and construction team get together, and they talk about doing it this way, the what if’s. They can reference an article, saying ‘in New York, this how they did it, so why don’t we take a look at that and see if that would work for us too.’ You can take your tablet with you to the meeting, and you can bring up the flip-the-pages or the PDF and pass it along to the other people sitting there. Everybody wants the digital edition to share, and they all want the print edition to read. So we offer all three.

Then we found out people wanted to use social media. This came to me after listening to enough of Donald Trump and his tweeting, and I thought, well, how would this work for us?

My art director could do it, and he put it together, and we got instant success, instant success. Now, if we tweet to AIA Detroit, then they have anybody that goes to see what’s up [on AIA’s feed] today, and then they can say ‘hey, I need to get that to …’ and it just keeps going. We keep adding different associations, and now we’re going to do even more. My daughter has a Facebook account, an Instagram account and a LinkedIn account, so she was feeding those things on occasion. She’d see a cool brick building, stop the car, run over, take a picture of it and stick it on Instagram, and people love that. People think they’re fascinating.

As your business continues to grow and evolve, always looking to the future, how do you define success as an entrepreneur?
The real answer should be if you make money, but there’s lots of other ways to define it too. A writer wrote to me a couple of weeks ago, and she said that she was a freelance writer hired by another masonry magazine to cover a certain topic. She was googling the topic, and she stumbled across our magazine. She though our magazine was, I think she said, ‘dense with information.’ It is, we have a tremendous amount of really awesome information. The content is incredible. The very fact that she is a freelance writer, and she found our magazine to be the most useful tool to her to find information about masonry, that’s success.

The fact that new executive directors, they are both excited about what they can do with the magazine, not only to get it to their members’ customers, but also to attract new members, because they see that as a perk. ‘Oh, I can get it to my customers? Oh wow, that’s cool.’ That’s success. Basically, when we were in Michigan, any time anybody would walk into anyone’s office— related to masonry, of course— our magazine was always sitting out. That’s success. It’s everywhere. We haven’t penetrated the everywhere’s nationally yet, but in lots of areas we have. We are the resource. We are not ‘one of.’ We are it.

Where do you see the media industry going?
Everything is different today. People’s lives are so complicated now that they don’t have time to read. Like a SWOT analysis, there’s a gazillion opportunities out there, I think, but the threats are what do you do when you see your industry crumbling? Some magazines decided to just do digital, but then they found they couldn’t make any money. Advertisers didn’t do digital, because you can get figures, but you can’t do demographics and all that stuff. Online only wasn’t the answer.

But for newspapers, it might be. There’s so many ways you can get the information, but for our information, there’s no other good way to get it. We do all the getting of the information, and we present it. For the people who want that information, there’s nowhere else to get it. So, I think it will live for at least ten years. Lots of things are going away and have gone away. You just have to adjust.

Once you establish your brand, people know you’re a reliable source, and if they need your information, they know where to find it. You’re going to always need to read and gain information. Whether that’s done in a magazine or there’s something else to supersede it, you still have to get the information to people. There’s always going to be something tomorrow that I think of, that I haven’t thought of today. It’s challenging, you have to be on your toes 100 percent of the time to stay ahead of the curve.

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
To make their lives as well rounded as they can be. I learned a ton of what I know today through volunteering in associations. I did a lot of that in my professional associations, which I think is essential. I also did a lot of that through church, which was probably not essential, but fun and worthwhile, rewarding and valuable. I was able to learn in their environment, which was multi-generational. Little kids, medium sized kids, big kids and old people all working together to achieve whatever we were doing. I did the newsletter for the junior high group, and that was probably my first publishing experience. That gave me all the fundamentals of what you need to put in a newsletter or a magazine.

It’s essential to volunteer and to have at least two activities in your life besides your job and your family, so that when you come home to talk at dinner, everybody has something different to contribute and you all learn from each other. I think that’s essential. Don’t just work a hundred hours, but be active in your community. Have diversity in your life.

Where do you see entrepreneurship going? What’s on the horizon?
Everybody is from a different country now, everybody speaks a different language. You have to respond to the community. If you want your company, product or service, or whatever you’re doing to be successful, as the world changes to a global society, you’re interacting with all of these people. Open your mind to that, instead of saying, well I’ve always lived in this community, I’ve always done this. That’s not what tomorrow is going to be. Tomorrow is going to be, ‘open the doors and see who can come in.’ It’s a whole different attitude.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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