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Financial Planning and Budgeting for Small and Medium Sized Magazines by Mindy Abramowitz

By Mindy Abramowitz, CPA, CGA

Of the many tasks that the staff (or volunteers) of small or medium-sized magazines must wrangle, financial management is one of the least glamourous, yet most indispensable to the success of the enterprise. Lapses in oversight and management can result in cash shortages and unnecessary panic at tax time or when grant applications are due. Fortunately, a diverse range of affordable software applications are available to assist with some of the repetitive and time-consuming aspects of bookkeeping and financial management. Many of the bookkeeping applications on the market offer an option to download bank and credit card transactions and integrate with other third-party applications you might use to track sales, staff time and expenses. These standard features automate a lot of the data entry required to complete your accounting. Spending less time recording data means you have more time to make informed decisions and plans for your organization. Here are a few other considerations to help introduce financial planning and management efficiencies.

Integrate Bookkeeping and Budgeting Functions

A budgeting tool is a common feature of most commercial bookkeeping applications and most of them allow you to budget on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis to suit whatever reporting frequency works best for your organization. The obvious advantage to building your budget directly in your bookkeeping software is that it eliminates most of the manual effort involved in preparing budget reports. Assuming your books are up-to-date, producing a report should be as simple as selecting a budget versus actual report from the application’s menu choices. From there, you can customize the report to set appropriate date ranges, the basis for comparison, and other useful criteria. Or, export the report to Excel or any other compatible spreadsheet to carry out more complex analysis.

Create Discrete Budgets

Depending on the size of your organization and the nature of activities it carries out, you might find it helpful to create budgets with various benchmarks and measurements in mind. For example, for a print magazine, a production budget that sets out the anticipated revenues and expenses for the magazine on an issue-by-issue basis might prove most meaningful. An online publication might benefit from budgeting for content acquisition and publication separately from its other revenue-generating activities.

These discrete budgets should tie to the organization’s annual budget. Think of them as nesting budgets. The figures detailed by the editorial budget should match the corresponding section of the overall financial planning document for the magazine as a whole.

The names for this type of budgeting differ from one bookkeeping application to another, but make sure your software has the ability to subdivide your budget by class, customer, project or fund. Please bear in mind this budgeting feature is usually restricted to paid applications and might entail an upgrade to a more robust plan or software edition. However, you’ll probably discover the value of the time saved and improved functionality will exceed the incremental software cost.

Define Clear Responsibilities

Who creates the budgets in your organization? Who makes financial decisions? Who records financial transactions? Who reviews reports and monitors financial performance? These roles likely overlap in organizations with a small number of staff and volunteers to do everything that needs doing, but it is still important to be aware of these tasks and whose responsibility they are.

The budget should reflect the magazine’s strategic plan for a fiscal period. For it to do its job, it is crucial that you develop and communicate a plan for its execution. People should be made aware of what budgets or parts of budgets they control and what authority they have to carry out their duties within the budget framework. For the budget to work as a roadmap, people have to follow it and evaluate whether it is doing its job.


One of the chief complaints about the financial planning and budgeting process is that budgets become obsolete too soon to be useful. Circumstances differ from what they were expected to be and the budget loses its relevance. However, it might be helpful to think of the budget in more flexible terms. Plans change, so do budgets.

Once you have established your systems for budgeting and reporting, use the information you now have at your disposal. Run budget vs actual reports regularly so that you know what is going on in your organization’s finances in time to address any areas that are not meeting the targets set for them. After you have identified problems and successes, consider how best to correct course. Does the budget need updates to better reflect the evolving realities in your business and publishing environment? Should you delay, accelerate or otherwise revise your plans to avoid running out of cash at critical times or to take advantage of positive trends? Is the magazine heading where it should and, if it is not, why not? What has to happen to align the present reality with the desired outcomes?

An effective budget and management practice should be responsive and flexible. It should help focus and streamline the financial activities of your organization by providing the means to assess whether they are accomplishing their goals and by revealing strengths and weaknesses in the current plan of action. For many organizations it is a matter of shifting the emphasis from data collection to strategy and analysis. Or from an operational perspective, it might make sense to break down plans or budgets into manageable components. Explore the tools that will permit you to dedicate less time and attention to the mechanics of tracking and reporting financial information. Automate data entry where possible to increase the availability and timeliness of your data. Delineate clear roles and protocols for evaluating the plan on an ongoing basis. Refine and recalibrate the organization’s goals on the fly instead of reviewing them from an historical vantage point.

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Canadian Forest Industries: Surveys the Nation

Canadian Forest Industries had known for several years that Canadian logging contractors were struggling financially. What they could not pinpoint—and no one else in the industry could either—was exactly how much they were struggling. It was common knowledge that most contractors had taken rate cuts to help the forestry industry through the 2007–2011 recession in U.S. housing. When the industry finally recovered from 2012 onwards, it seemed that contractors were being left behind but there was no hard data.

Canadian Forest Industries‘ audience is comprised of independent small- to medium-sized businesses, who simply didn’t have the resources or associations to collect the comprehensive data required. So the magazine decided to tackle the project themselves: they thought it would provide several months’ worth of exclusive online content to drive traffic, followed by a formal report. In a best case scenario, the CFI team hoped their findings would make an impact on the debate about the profitability crisis happening between the industry, the government and the contractors.

Content: The Breakdown—1 survey, 236 responses, 56-page final report, 15-part web series.


Group Publisher and Editorial Director Scott Jamieson and Canadian Forest Industries Editor Maria Church led the charge in launching the exhaustive readership survey to get feedback on the current state of the forestry industry in Canada.

After receiving the final data, the CFI editorial team combed through it for themes and angles, ready to analyze the results and turn the data into multiple forms of content. When they started reviewing the data and brainstorming how to share it, it became clear that a multi-media, multi-step approach was best.

The team did a gradual content rollout from June to October 2016. This slow trickle helped build momentum around the survey results and garner feedback, and allowed staff to manage the survey workload around their regular duties by staggering the work.

They began by launching a weekly 15-part web series with each short piece focused on a key finding from the survey, such as “Real world logging profits,” “Machine operator earnings,” “Operating cost trends,” and “Fleet replacement plans.” Each installment was promoted to CFI‘s 16,000 e-news subscribers and on their Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Canadian Forest Industries also ran a longer regional report every few weeks on Canada’s main forest areas to show their audience how their region was doing relative to prior years and other regions. After releasing the 15 themed reports and regional reports digitally from late June to late September, the team created a three-page summary article for the magazine’s October 2016 issue. Additionally, they produced a video segment that featured CFI editor Maria Church and anchor Tamar Atik sharing key findings from the survey data.

The CFI survey results were also shared in industry presentations at OptiSaw 2016 in Vancouver, and another at the Truck Loggers Association AGM in 2017.

Finally, the CFI team produced a 56-page final report. This combined all 15 thematic reports, the five regional reports and an executive summary in a single volume, along with quotes from loggers across Canada. It was released in October 2016, in conjunction with the October 2016 summary article.

Helpful Tip: Reach B2B readers during their slow season.


Scott Jamieson and Maria Church worked together to create the survey, and then solicited feedback from a few logging associations, with the Truck Loggers Association in BC acting as a main partner. The CFI team threw everything they could think of into the survey questions and then used timers to whittle it down to a 15-minute survey. They also worked with third-party research firm Bramm & Associates to vet the survey, to ensure that their questions would produce usable data. All told, it took CFI under two weeks to produce the entire survey in English and French.

After launching the bilingual survey in early April 2016 (typically a slow time for loggers as they are not running their operations), the CFI team reached out to potential participants through email; online links on the magazine’s English and French sites; and LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook in both English and French. It was in the market for six weeks, resulting in over 230 complete replies to the detailed survey questions. As noted in the 15-part web series, survey respondents “were distributed according to the geographic breakdown of the forest industry, with 50% in Western Canada, 25% in Quebec, and the rest found in Ontario, Atlantic Canada, and central Canada. Within BC responses were almost evenly split between the BC coast and Interior.”

The research firm had a final report to CFI by mid-June. The editorial team then spent a week reviewing the results and planning how they’d roll them out to their audience.

Reaching Out: Email, shares, links.


Initially, the magazine was worried that the length of the survey would limit the number of complete replies. They decided to reach out to their target group directly through CASL-compliant emails, social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram), and popular industry websites.

Fortunately, the group of logging contractors that CFI was reaching out to were highly motivated. The contractors genuinely wanted to know the state of the industry. The survey also received a vote of support from the largest logging association, Truck Loggers in BC, who encouraged members to take the time to complete it.

Time management was a major challenge for the CFI team on this project as they were adding a large assignment to an already busy editorial staff. Using a third-party research firm to vet the survey and create the initial report was crucial, both for credibility and workload.

Jamieson also notes that executing a successful survey requires a skilled editor who is comfortable manipulating data and finding the story in the numbers.

Jamieson says: Manage the workload. Roll out your content. Then re-purpose it for the main report.


Research is one area where magazines can make a meaningful impact on their market, especially for business media markets and brands. Industry magazines are one of the few organizations within a sector that can provide an unbiased perspective on pressing industry issues. To help finance these projects, Jamieson recommends finding sponsors to pay for the research. For CFI‘s survey, Hultdins, Stihl, Tigercat and Ponsse were sponsors and the work was supported by the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC).

Jamieson also recommends talking to stakeholders in your community to see what information would be most useful, testing the surveys with them, and giving a lot of thought to how the information will be used. For example, in the CFI survey the print magazine was a relatively minor player, with the majority of content produced for online, digital and social channels. He also recommends using free charting software online that can turn numbers into graphs and charts in a few minutes to avoid getting bogged down in the graphics process. The production department can then create high-end versions of the graphics chosen for print.

CFI released a follow-up survey in April 2018, which they hope will allow them to start analysing industry trends in the data. Using a similar content marketing strategy as for the 2017 survey, CFI plans to increase their use of social media for the 2018 survey outreach and eventual results sharing. The magazine’s ultimate goal is to produce a similar survey every two years.

See the full report here.

This Showcasing Success case study was made possible with the support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation.

Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC)


Briarpatch: Sowing Seeds for the Future

In 2017, Magazines Canada announced a new fellowship program designed to give journalists a paid position at a host Canadian magazine and the opportunity to gain valuable experience, broaden their professional network and explore stories that inform, engage and deepen the conversation on issues that drive our country forward. Briarpatch Magazine, a bi-monthly publication headquartered in Regina, Saskatchewan jumped at the chance to host a fellow.

The magazine—which focuses primarily on politics and culture—operated with a full-time staff of only two, and the pair knew they could benefit from having a fellow on board for the four- to six-month term of the fellowship program.

“It was exciting to think of all that we could tackle with a third staff person! The financial contribution that Magazines Canada made to the fellowship meant that we had some support to do what we couldn’t have done on our own humble budget—hire and fairly pay an additional staff member for a summer of intensive work,” says Tanya Andrusieczko, the Briarpatch editor at the time.

4 months, 1 Fellow, 1 topic, 3 stories.


In 2013, Briarpatch published Laura Stewart’s story, “A Voice for the Grasslands,” which explored threats to grassland ecosystems. After securing the fellowship in 2017, Stewart was delighted for the opportunity to collaborate more fully with the magazine. With the editors’ guidance, she worked on expanding her original piece into an ambitious series of feature articles investigating climate change, resource extraction, grasslands, and treaty relationships in Saskatchewan.

Articles written during her fellowship included “The Thin Roots of Prairie Protection,” diving into the implications of the provincial government’s decision to privatize public pasture lands; “Science After Harper,” exploring the gradual defunding of scientists’ research; and “Saskatchewan’s Earthbound Climate Action,” examining climate change skepticism among residents of an oil-producing region of the province.

A Magazines Canada Fellow can work in any area of magazine publishing but Stewart chose to mainly involve herself in Briarpatch‘s editorial and production processes during her fellowship from the beginning of May 2017 until the end of August in 2017.

“Laura also took on editing and fact-checking work for the two issues we worked on over the summer,” says Andrusieczko. “[She] contributed her superb fact-checking skills, so we had help publishing the nuanced, well-informed discussions we always strive to have. It was a treat to have a scientist’s eye for detail and nuance in our storytelling.”

Cultivate talent. Nurture growth.


Before applying for the fellowship, Stewart had approached Briarpatch about the opportunity with story ideas already in mind. Briarpatch offered feedback to best fit their audience and this helped tighten the focus of her fellowship application.

After being announced as the host magazine, the Briarpatch team guided their fellow in researching stories tailored to their audience, revisiting issues she had previously covered and stretching her writing skills. They also worked with Stewart, who had previously enjoyed the freedom of writing longer pieces for online outlets, to adhere to the stricter word counts their print publication demanded.

“The first time I wrote about the grasslands, I wrote from personal experience about my own immersion in the subject,” says Stewart. “Coming back to it after having been out of province for several years, with the benefit of journalism training and the support of the Briarpatch staff, I was able to see the topic from other angles and bring in other voices for a quite different treatment of the story.”

Dig deeper into the story. A Fellow can help with heavy lifting.


The fellowship afforded Briarpatch the chance to delve into a single story with more depth and continuity than their staffing and budget would normally allow, cultivate a deeper relationship than one-off contracts typically allow, and offer a living wage to a writer. From the reader’s perspective, Stewart’s commitment to the subject meant they could come back for the next installment, giving them a sense of investment. Win-win for everyone.

Andrusieczko says: "Host a Fellow. Make sure your Fellow is meaningfully embedded into your team."


As host magazine for the inaugural Magazines Canada fellow, Briarpatch is an enthusiastic supporter of the fellowship process. Benefits for the host magazine included being able to make time for dedicated research, collaborate on fact-checking, and have fulsome discussions at storyboard meetings.

“Small magazines in particular can benefit from this program. It’s great to work with a fellow over an extended period of time on ambitious projects,” explains Andrusieczko. “We found we had the most rewarding experience when we shared the tasks and looped in the fellow on the day-to-day responsibilities.”

After finishing her fellowship, Stewart continues to write for Briarpatch.

Watch this short video that looks at the collaboration between Laura Stewart and Briarpatch: You can also find Briarpatch at

This Showcasing Success case study was made possible with the support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation.

Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC)