Planet London launched in 2011. However the initial brand and concept was created in 2009. It was in 2011 however that Katie and Naomi were approached by a friend highlighting how there was a real gap - that many LBQ women were turning up at empty venues, or clicking on dead links trying to find out what was on in London. It was a time pre-Facebook and when most nights consisted of a DJ.
The scene was based, quite similarly to now around monthly nights. Although many of those nights were in the City - in a time before all the expensive high rise flats. A time when bars in the City were closed at the weekend, and so available for good value private hire. These days the City is open all weekend, and a blanket ban on promoted events has meant this is no longer an available space.
Planet London started as a basic HTML site with a Google events calendar, manually created and amended by Naomi. Edited by Katie. It was a labour of love.
Over the next few years, it grew based on the experiences within the community. Katie and Naomi didn't just host a website, they also went out in the community and attended the events. They met with the event organisers and talked to LBQ women out on the scene. They listened to what was working, and what perhaps wasn't and then would see if they could offer any support to fill the gap, to solve the problem.
What is deemed as the reason for making Planet London so successful is the combination of listing every event so that as a lesbian, bisexual or queer woman; you personally could decide what you wanted to attend. It didn't try to talk you into a particular event or style of event. It proudly provided a neutral space for asking advice, promoting events and reaching an audience.
Planet London started as and remained wholly a free resource. Katie and Naomi ran the website for 5 years part time around full time jobs. Eager, friendly, welcoming and dedicated women joined as Planeteers and enjoyed many experiences in exchange for an article to spread the word. Without the many Planeteers and contributors, the website would have remained a single voice not able to truly represent the widely diverse community of LBQ women in London.
We are proud that many of our Planeteers have been given references in exchange for their support and have gone on to get internships and paid work off the back of this experience and support.
Over the 5 years, the website evolved and developed to what it is today. In an attempt to be sustainable and supportive, a number of different services and products were designed to provide both improvement and support to the community whilst providing some income to cover running costs. The fees have always been reasonable, with the aim being to cover costs rather than to make thousands. The priority has always been affordability rather than profit.
Everything remained optional, to ensure that it was accessible to all. Perhaps this is sadly part of the reason for its failure to be sustainable fo far. But if the failure of the website was not making hundreds of pounds out of the community at the cost of the quality of events; of keeping a reasource that everyone could use; of not charging extortionate prices to the few to cover the masses - well at least those involved can retain integrity and know that the community was truly at the heart the whole time.
Katie and Naomi have always championed payment for artists and acts at events. When asked to put forward acts and told there was no budget available, rather than just put forward names they would educate and inform. When running the Ultimate Planet Awards ceremony in 2014 and having a limited budget - they offered a fixed fee for all - no hierarchy at all. And although the budget wasn't there, all acts got a nominal fee - but they also all got a personalised video of their act which could be used for promotional. Truly showing that the community came first, Katie and Naomi put £4,000 of their own money into the event in the lack of a UK-based sponsor.
This year; unable to pay money for contributors, we instead have come up with a perk system so that reviewers get access to lots of discounts and offers. However it is difficult to compete with magazines such as DIVA who have a budget available to pay for content. And increasingly we are seeing this national magazine, that is popular in the home counties, covering more and more scene content in London.
However you cannot run a website on fresh air alone. The website and wider brand is, perhaps unfortunately partly responsible for its own failure. For no matter how little income was coming in, they continued to financially support the community. Frequently sponsoring events (including Wotever Film Festival, Fringe!, Big Gay Lifestyle Show, The Short and Girlie UK Tour) and projects (supporting many crowdfunding campaigns) with hard cash; providing in-kind support; paying for adverts in G3 and Diva Magazine and through giving massive discounts and freebies to those who asked.
Did you know?
Despite having so much 'community good news'. Despite sending out many press releases. Despite talking with various editors of LGBT press. In 5 years Planet London has only had about 1 mentions in any press and Ultimate Planet about 3. Most of which have been unavoidable or because there is a benefit of the press mentioning us, i.e. because they won an award and needed to mention the name of the award or where Katie or Naomi were featured within another project such as Outcome.
In 2015 Katie and an amazing team produced the UK's first globally distributed LBQ web series She's in London. Something to be celebrated. 1 UK LBQ press out published an article online (but only as an exclusive) - the only other press coverage was outside of the UK. When it was released we were saddened by the amount of requests of how to view it for free. A project that cost of £5,000 to create, and that was on a platform where you could watch it for just $4.99 (around £3). In addition to this, there was very little public support of the project. Those who watched it privately messaged their support. Such potential for a great project that just didn't get the support. Why?
When looking back, perhaps Planet London was a victim of its own community focus. Many failed to see it as a business. Seeing it as a community project. Then there was the other end of the spectrum - people who thought it was a big corporate business with lots of money and so thought we had loads of money to invest. Sadly there was little in the middle.
We've always put our money where our mouth was and supported the community directly. We're really proud of this.
We now come to today. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a general ease of access to create your own artwork, to promote directly yourself and the space and need for Planet London is lessening. Whereas Planet London always prioritises supporting the community; it seems that most others prefer to throw their money towards corporate organisations and other companies rather than supporting the community at its heart. This is the world we are in...
Did you know?
Katie and Naomi have always put the community first. Over the last 5 years they have taken no money from the website to cover their time. They have always paid acts they work with. They have supported the community first. Whenever possible Katie and Naomi would always use an LGBT supplier over a mainstream supplier. With any options, money would go towards the community first. Truly trying to lead by example.
Katie and Naomi have tried to move the website forward. Spending over £1,200 in redevelopment in 2014 to update the website. To continue building the site to fill new gaps as they come up. There are wishes to create a bespoke space that allows the community to utilise the Meet Up style space that is so popular in the community, but without the huge costs (did you know that most Meet Up organisers spend up to £20 per month to run their meet up group - and there are over 20 lesbian meet up groups). However with no income it is unlikely this will come about as the development fees are in the region of £2,500.
Key services to fill gaps
|Events Calendar||To have a reliable space that lists all of the local events so you can find out what is on for FREE|
|Flyer Design||Helping to create a brand and design the various artwork to promote the events and business within the community|
|Banner Design||Creating a banner so that when women attend an event in a hired space, that the brand of the event is visible, rather than just the venue's name getting promotion|
|Advanced Events||Offering more detailed events for a small fee of £20 per event or £10 per month. Allowing up to 3 images, advanced details, links to buy tickets|
|Ticket sales||Many event organisers don't sell tickets in advance as the fees are so high. We reviewed the costs, and put together an option that undercut most of the ticket sale sites. This allows advance tickets to know how many will attend, and also allows event organisers to collect emails for their customers|
|Social media training||2 hour training sessions on using social media to help reach more customers|
|Membership||Offering member benefits that save you money day to day so that you can have more disposable income to spend on your social life and supporting the community|
|My Pocket Planet App Loyalty Card||A digital loyalty card to help LGBT businesses and event organisers and venues to reward loyal customers and encourage repeat business|
In 2016 Naomi went full time - to allow more time to support the community. With a variety of skills including but not limited to design, web design, marketing, social media, administration, brand development, event management, team management, event promotion, editing and proof reading - she was excited to be able to have the time to really support the community even more.
However after a month of meetings, of discussions and of jumping in feet first; it has become clear that perhaps a change of direction is required. Even with rock bottom rates, and a great reach and knowledge of the community; the preference is to pay Facebook for sponsored ads or to use generic websites such as Anything for a Fiver or mates who are offering their services for free as they expand their skills. I offer advice and watch those people implement those ideas with other people. Of course, the usual offers of words of thanks and in-kind exchanges of promotion are offered - but this doesn't pay the bills. We just can't do everything for free all of the time.
Did you know?
We only have 1 event organiser or bar who regularly financially supports Planet London. There are only 5 other event organisers who have ever spent money on services with Planet London. There are over 50 event promoters in London at the moment.
Below we detail our finances over the last 5 years. We have always been honest and transparent about our business. We are proud to have invested £5,296.72 into grass roots community groups such as Wotever Film Festival, Fringe!, The Short and Girlie Show UK Tour, L Fest, Pride in London to name just a few. In addition, in a position where we often get offered free tickets, we have still spent £1,415.83 on event tickets where we have reviewed the event - yes we don't just review events where we get free entry!
So what is next? Well we continue to push forward with the website, truly believing that we are still a resource that is needed and wanted. However it is likely that time spent proactively on the site will be reduced and the site will be run more reactively.
Additionally, unfortunately unless the website becomes more sustainable the community support will suffer as there is no longer money available to invest. We are still hoping to make the website sustainable in the hope that we can continue to give 100% to it; but it is likely that we will no longer be able to support the many community ventures who have benefited from our support in the past.
But we're not giving up! Two of our amazing Planeteers - Michelle and Alexia are doing some fundraising. They met through Planet London, and love what we offer. They have come up with some different ideas to raise money to help keep Planet London going. They've done this off their own backs and are really committed. It is for women like Michelle and Alexia that I am determined to keep the website going. To them we're so grateful!
We've built an amazing membership that saves women money on day to day spending; to increase their disposable income to spend socialising in the community. We still continue to put the community first; from the women in it to those promoting the events.
We had a small donation late last year when we had to step back due to Katie's health. That covered someones time whilst we sorted out Katie's health and I had some time to grieve the loss of my Mum. But this doesn't go far. I also don't like to ask for handouts. I would much rather people pay for services; where there is a fair exchange of money for services. I don't expect something for nothing. I love that people supported our campaign; but again it was a one off. We have built a membership scheme for women in the community and a wealth of services for event promoters and small businesses. They represent extremely good value.
We hope to be able to continue to support the community - we have built a solution through the membership with a community lottery which includes a community chest to feed directly back into the community.