Longevity in business (and self-publishing)

A few posts ago I discussed the second annual “Share the Love” video contest that Outskirts Press held for our published authors on Facebook. This month we have been collecting submissions from our Facebook fans for our 3rd annual Fandemonium Facebook Anthology.  In May, we will announce the winner of the 3rd annual Outskirts Press Best Book of the Year award. This summer we will find out whether or not Outskirts Press is awarded its 5th placement in a row on the Inc. 500/5000 list of fastest-growing companies. And in October, we officially celebrate our 10-year anniversary.

All this goes to show that there are many ways other than “anniversaries” you as a business owner can use to celebrate longevity in your respective industries. And communicating longevity is important, because longevity speaks volumes to potential clients, customers, and consumers; deep down most people understand that a business which has succeeded for a long time in this dog-eat-dog world is a company they can have confidence working with.

Yes, there are always exceptions to prove the rule, such as the case of Vantage Press, a sort-of-competitor of ours that “ceased business operations” at the end of 2012 after a long and storied history. Sadly, when they closed, their authors were left in something of a lurch – with many authors not receiving royalties due to them and authors in the middle of the publishing pipeline being left out to dry without refund.   I’m an author myself, as well as a business owner, so I empathize with all sides involved. No company plans to fail, but it’s not the customer’s responsibility or obligation to bear the brunt of that failure if it happens. Being prepared for that possibility is the responsibility of the executives at every company.  That’s why, at Outskirts Press, we have a cash-flush savings account devoted solely for our authors exclusively for this purpose, so that all outstanding royalties would still be paid to them and any remaining authors in the pipeline would receive refunds.

Of course, all business owners work extremely hard to ensure it doesn’t come to that.  Every day we  share a new comment from one of our authors and many of our authors voice the same common sentiment — that they feel “lucky” to have discovered Outskirts Press. That is always gratifying to read, and what may feel like “luck” to them is the result of a lot of preparation and hard work from all of us at Outskirts Press.  Like most successful companies, we are prepared for the worst, but plan for (and anticipate) the best.

And speaking of best, over the course of the next few posts, I’ll write more about the 3rd annual Fandemonium Anthology, the 3rd annual Best Book of the Year awards, the 5th placement (hopefully) on the Inc. 500/5000 list, and our 10-year anniversary.

Guy Kawasaki Step 9 & 10 to Enchantment

It’s been over two months since my last post summarizing Guy Kawasaki’s presentation at the Inc. 500/5000 conference I attended last October, during which he offered an informative session about cultivating and maintaining “enchantment” in your customers or clients. I have been discussing how his concepts are applicable for us at Outskirts Press so perhaps they can also help you apply the information to your own entrepreneurial efforts (starting a business, running a company or yes, even marketing a published book). Thankfully, one of Guy’s tips toward enchantment did NOT include being more timely in completing a blog series…

Step 9 is to enchant up. 

Guy summarized this step pretty rapidly with “Deliver bad news early.”

Step 10 is to enchant down.

Here, the gist of the step was to empower the employees of the company, help them master new skills, give them autonomy, and empower them to take action.

Admittedly, these last two steps (and even 7 & 8 to a lesser degree) are shorter on information than the first steps in this blog series, but that’s not entirely my fault. Certainly, I’m guilty of waiting too long to write this, and have not retained as much information in memory as I could have, but the first 5-6 steps were also given much more time and attention in Guy’s presentation by Guy himself. By the time we got to step 7, he realized he was nearly out of time and quickly glossed over steps 8, 9, and 10.

Even so, it was still the best presentation at the conference, in my opinion. And if such a celebrated speaker can experience a moment of mis-timing, perhaps there is hope for the rest of us as we speak and present.

Here’s hoping I attend the upcoming Inc. 500/5000 conference this year in Washington D.C. to see if another presenter reaches or surpasses the bar set by Guy last October.  I’ll go if Outskirts Press wins its 5th placement on the Inc. 500/5000 list in a row, something less than 1,000 total companies have ever accomplished.  We’ve applied and now we simply have to wait until August to learn of the results.  2012 was our best year ever, thanks to our wonderful, supportive authors our talented personnel, and the continued explosive growth of self publishing in general, so I’m cautiously optimistic…

Guy Kawasaki Step 4 to Enchantment

Okay, back to the Guy Kawasaki speech at  the recent Inc. 500/5000 conference, where Guy offered an informative session about cultivating and maintaining “enchantment” in your customers or clients. I am in the middle of summarizing those points and discussing how they are applicable for us at Outskirts Press so perhaps they can also help you apply the information to your own entrepreneurial efforts (starting a business, running a company or yes, even marketing a published book).  And, in the meantime, you should get Guy’s book, “Enchantment” for the total skinny.

Step 4 is to tell a compelling story.  This involves using salient talking points and “planting many seeds.” By this, I presume Guy is referring to nurturing potential clients with access points to the story, and this is somewhat related to Step #2, which was to achieve trustworthiness by establishing a rapport with the customer or client. If the compelling story you share holds relevance for the customer or client, they are that much more liable to like you and trust you because they recognize similarities between your story and their own situation. Ergo, you must be the solution to their immediate problem, because at one point in time, you were in the same position they are in now.

Compelling stories personalize businesses and companies.  It’s been said before that people like doing business with other people, they are forced to do business with companies.  Companies can be cold and driven by heartless concepts like profitability and analysis whereas people at companies can be sympathetic, empathetic, supportive, and nurturing.   Of course businesses need to stay profitable in order to remain in business, but customers don’t want to think about that. They want to know how the people at that company are going to help them.  Knowing the stories of the people in that company, or the story behind how the company was started, can help enchant those potential customers or clients to that company by better knowing its people.

I feel that many of our authors at Outskirts Press find our story compelling, because it’s easy to recognize similarities.  Unlike all our major competitors, Outskirts Press was not started by identifying a changing landscape in the publishing industry and putting techno-geeks on the case to create a website capable of publishing thousands of books a day for pennies and therefore making money on volume.  It’s hard for anybody to identify with that!  How can a CEO who initially started open source programming software be asked to empathize with writers? How can a CEO who was previously the president of a security and antivirus company understand what a writer is going through? How can a computer science and electrical engineer possibly understand the nuances of publishing a beautiful, award-winning book? Sure, they can all program an automated piece of software where you submit a Word document, and ten seconds later your book is vomited onto your computer screen… but is that what a real author wants?

The compelling story of Outskirts Press is one of our biggest competitive advantage in the face of fairly daunting competitors, each of them run by CEOs who don’t have an ounce of writing passion in them. I am a writer. I know what it means to be frustrated by the publishing gatekeepers, to be up all night in the wake of a creative burst of energy, and to wrack my head against writer’s block.  That artistic passion and fervor for the art of writing is apparent in everything we do at Outskirts Press. Authors who take their books seriously recognize that. It’s very compelling to them.  It helps them become enchanted with us.

What is your compelling story?  By identifying it, you just may discover what your biggest competitive advantage is.

Four-time Repeat as an Inc. 5000 Company

I met a lot of great people at the Inc. 5000 conference that I attended a couple weeks ago in Arizona. The Inc 5000 is an annual list of the 5000 fastest growing private companies in America.  As a four-time repeat honoree, I figured it was probably about time I attended on behalf of Outskirts Press self-publishing in case we didn’t make it on the list next year (for mathematical reasons, it becomes increasingly harder to stay on the list, even if your company continues to grow, as Outskirts Press has). How surprised was I to discover that it’s not even necessary to be on the Inc. 5000 list to attend. Many of the people in attendance represented companies with aspirations to be on the list, and were seeking advice from the speakers and other attendees on how to accomplish the feat.

In fact, the more I talked with people, the more I discovered Outskirts Press was in rare company to have been on the list 4 times in a row.  In fact, we will become part of quite an exclusive list if we do make the list again next year. Cross fingers.

I also discovered that it is necessary to attend to receive your actual physical award for your accomplishments. I just figured they would mail it to us. Nope. You have to go in person, apparently, if you want your award. Now I wish I had gone the first time, too, when Outskirts Press was number 268 on the list, since the Inc 500 awards are different from the Inc 5000 awards (ironically, they’re physically smaller — probably because with one less 0, they don’t need to be as big). While standing in line for our photo ops, we had quite a laugh about that! (Yes, the champagne was flowing).

Next time, the #1 way to enchant your clients, customers, (or in our case, authors), according to Guy Kawasaki, who was my personal favorite speaker at the conference.

Inc 5000 Conference Overview

Before I continue with the last two categories of awards in our Self-Publishing Achievement Awards (marketing achievements and marketing milestones), I’d like to briefly cover the Inc. 500/5000 conference I recently attended in Phoenix. Among the speakers were Nick Woodman, the CEO of Go Pro; Captain Mark Kelly, Commander of the space shuttle Endeavour’s final mission; and my personal favorite among all the speakers, Guy Kawasaki, founding partner of Garage Technology Ventures, who covered 10 steps to enchant customers.

Over the next few days and weeks (and probably months), I’ll discuss each of the 10 steps Guy discussed, and examine how I feel our self publishing company Outskirts Press delivers within the parameters of those steps — what we do well and what we can focus on improving.

If you are an entrepreneur, manager, business owner, or author, examining how your service or product fulfills these 10 steps of “enchantment”  would be an equally excellent exercise.  Then, jump over to Amazon and buy Guy’s book. <– Shameless plug but based upon his speech, I’ll bet he’d do the same for me.

Is Outskirts Press the most successful self-publishing company?

Is Outskirts Press the most successful self-publishing company? Certainly it depends upon who you ask, and by what parameters “success” is being judged, but Inc. Magazine seems to think so, if their list of the top 5000 privately held companies in America holds any merit (which many would argue it does). For the fourth year in a row, Outskirts Press finds itself on this very prestigious list, which ranks the success of private companies (as defined by profitable growth) across a three year span of time.  I won’t delve into the mathematics or business logistics for why accomplishing this feat four years in a row is difficult and, instead, I’ll just post the press release.  We couldn’t have this ongoing (unprecedented in the self-publishing industry) success without the continued support of our amazing authors and our talented production, sales, accounting, IT, and marketing folks. Thank you!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Outskirts Press Makes Inc’s 5000 Fastest Growing List for the Fourth Year in a Row 

Inc. Magazine again named self-publisher Outskirts Press one of the fastest growing private companies in America, marking the self-publisher’s fourth straight year on the prestigious Inc. 5000 list. 

September 4, 2012 – Denver, CO – Outskirts Press, the fastest growing, full service self-publishing and book marketing company, was again recognized  by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest growing privately-held companies in the country when it landed on the Inc. 5000 list for the fourth straight year.  

Inc., Magazine’s annual list represents an overview of the most robust companies in America, despite the current, less-than-robust economy.   Whatever these companies are doing, they’re doing it right.  Their median growth rate was 97%, they created more than 400,000 jobs, and they grossed nearly 300 billion dollars.

Placement on the prestigious list is based on revenue growth from 2008 through 2011, and Inc’s tally reads like a roll call of America’s business powerhouses.  Over the years the list has included such notables as Intuit, Go Daddy, Timberland, Microsoft, Patagonia and Oracle, to name a few.

“We’re honored, of course, to be included once again in such a stellar collection of entrepreneurial stars,” said Brent Sampson, CEO of Outskirts Press.  “Inc. Magazine’s acknowledgement of our continued expansion is a testament to our commitment to  our quality, customer service, and value, and just goes to show what is possible when you bring highly-talented authors together with highly-talented publishing artisans.”

Outskirts Press first appeared on the Inc. 500 list in 2009 as the 268th fastest growing company in America.  In 2010 Outskirts Press was on the Inc. 5000 list again at number 1266 and again in 2011 at number 3088. For the fourth year in a row, Outskirts Press ranks in the top 5000 at number 4530 and continues a healthy annual growth rate of twenty percent.

Outskirts Press’ four straight years on the Inc. list shows the company’s continuing vanguard status in the self-publishing industry, an industry that is itself doing more than its part to buoy up the economy.  87 percent of all books produced today are put out by small presses or self-publishing companies.  The number of non-traditional books produced in 2011 increased by 169 percent, while the growth of traditional publishers was only 5 percent.  In fact, 8000 to 11,000 publishers enter the market every year, and most of them are self-publishers.

Within this competitive field Outskirts Press has maintained its sturdy and stable growth and continues to be the top company authors choose when they decide to go the high-quality, full-service self-publishing route. Learn more at http://outskirtspress.com.

About Outskirts Press: Outskirts Press offers high-quality, full-service self-publishing and book marketing services for writers and professionals who are seeking a cost-effective, fast, and flexible way to publish and distribute their books worldwide while retaining 100% of their rights, 100% of their profits, and 100% of the creative control. www.outskirtspress.com.

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Outskirts Press, Inc., 10940 S. Parker Rd. – 515, Parker, Colorado 80134

http://outskirtspress.com  1-888-OP-BOOKS

Inc. Magazine ranks Outskirts Press #1266 on Fast 5000

Every year Inc. Magazine recognizes the 5000 fastest growing private companies in America.  Last month they published their findings. Outskirts Press was ranked #1266. Getting on the list once is hard enough — the majority of companies don’t appear on the list twice.  Well, actually, most companies don’t appear on the list even once, but that’s a different story.

Lists such as these average a company’s growth percentage across a number of years. What makes this interesting is that a company’s  annual revenue can actually increase year after year and at the same time, their overall average growth percentage will naturally decline.  This is what happened at my company, Outskirts Press.   2009 revenue was the highest it has ever been but the exponential leap in revenue over previous years was smaller. Not surprising really when an average company is considered successful if it increases revenue by 10% year over year and companies appearing on the Inc 500 in 2010 have average revenue increases between 20,000% (#1 Ambit Energy) and 600% (#500 AtTask). 

20,000% ?!? How is that even possible, you may ask.  Well, a growth percentage like this is usually the combination of 2 things:

1) A new company that barely qualifies for the Inc 5000’s minimum revenue threshold in the first year, and
2) Receives an infusion of cash from investor(s), bank(s), or venture capitalist(s) in the remaining years.

This is what happened for Ambit, which earned $1.6 million in 2006 (their first year in business) and then received substantial investments which brought their 2009 annual revenue to $325 million. In fact, their whole business model is based upon finding rich people to invest in their company.  Whether or not that is a sustainable business model is a topic for a later day.

But this is what makes repeating an appearance on the Inc 5000 list so difficult.  It’s difficult to continue inticing investors into giving you money. Eventually those investors are going to expect companies to earn it.   A company must continue growing at exponential rates either by receiving money or earning it.

In fact, if you look at this year’s Inc. 500 list in the September 2010 issue of Inc. Magazine, you have to scan all the way down to #18 to find a company that was on the list previously.  Of the 500 companies listed, only 101 appeared on the list previously — 20%.  These are probably the companies that are actually making money from customers, rather than having money handed to them by investors.   I wonder what the Inc. 500 would look like if these companies were ranked according to the actual amount of money they earned from their customers, and not from their investors…

But that’s a topic I’ve spoken about in the past, so I won’t dwell on it much here, although I might dwell on it more next time.