In these fast and furious times of real-time bidding and Big Data, we often forget that there are still some strengths within our old business models that can be developed or revived.

While we tell ourselves that classifieds are “dead” and keep heading for new shores, just type in this word in Google search. You’ll see that classifieds are still alive, just no longer possessed by us. They are, instead, growing strong with players like eBay.

To be honest, it was our fault that we lost them.

They were lousy printed, expensive to buy, hard to access for readers and advertisers, and never pampered with innovation. While we neglected them, companies like eBay developed them with strengths we never promoted.

Now our online competitors tell the audience that classifieds are connecting people in their communities. They are writing thousands of success stories every day. We always saw classifieds as a business model. But they are more of a community thing – and that makes them a business model.

So, at Verlag Dierichs, we changed our focus to become a community organiser first – and grew a business model on this as a second priority.

We established a bonus club for those who pay us (subscribers) and integrated those classifieds, which were dying already, for free. Combined with free photos for our subscribers, we grew a diminishing section from a half page per week to a rock solid six pages a week again.

Now, instead of eBay classifieds or Kijiji being the market leader for used furniture in our area, we are. Don’t laugh at this – this is community and a sign of relevance for it.

People who sell stuff with classifieds often have an interesting story behind what they are selling. They collect things, want to get rid of something weird. We started telling those stories on an editorial on the front page of our classifieds sections.

Those articles really can compete by relevance with many stories in the regular editorial section – and they underline your role as a relevant player in the community.

Relevance is the second keyword beside community. Classifieds with free pictures for subscribers, growing volumes with 20+ pages at the weekend, simple and competitive price models grew our classifieds again.

And pigeons go where pigeons are – so we got the commercial advertisers back in those sections. Car dealers rubbed their eyes when they say there is something besides those online portals. They came back to our company with money. Real estate companies wanted to be back in this marketplace. Farming grew as a brand new section we never had before.

Remember Janis Joplin and “Me and Bobby McGee”? One quote says: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” I think this describes pretty well our situation.

Classifieds as a big money source are gone. But we have the freedom to be creative on this topic – because it is very alive and relevant to the people in our communities. So be creative: Build bonus or community clubs, keep things simple and attractive, and analyse your market for opportunities.

The formula is this: Classifieds = community = relevance = money.