How to successfully work from home

Time magazine recently ran an informative and instructional article about the “remote worker.”  Whether you are an employee working remotely (or wanting to) for a large business, or you are an independent contractor working remotely for a family-owned business, or whether you are a published writer building your author platform in your spare time, Time magazine’s suggestions here are worth making note of (and incorporating into your routine). More and more companies are embracing the notion of telecommuting; workers are happier and have the opportunity to be more productive if they work smarter, and not just harder.  After all, they’re gaining the time they might otherwise lose to a daily commute (say good-bye to rush hour traffic). They can save money on work clothes and day care and, let’s face it, it’s just plain “cooler” to be able to work from home.

But working from home can have its disadvantages and downsides, so the productive, savvy worker recognizes these and overcompensates for them.  From the article: “Some telecommuters do, in fact, turn into slackers, take advantage of their situations and… don’t form strong emotional bonds with co-workers (no chance for after work cocktails, obviously), and they don’t get the all-necessary ‘face time’ with senior management. Even so, there are ways to win over your boss and be a successful, wonderfully productive remote worker…”

Here are the top 5 tips from Time magazine’s article:

1. Get organized – demonstrate outstanding organization and attention to detail, along with the ability to prioritize and consistently meet goals while exhibiting an overall sense of professionalism.

2. Check in frequently – In the corporate world, if you aren’t seen or heard frequently, you are often not thought of for new opportunities.  Telecommuters can overcome this disadvantage by checking in on a consistent, scheduled basis. That way you stay “top of mind” and demonstrate your work ethic.  Email, use instant messaging, and don’t be afraid to use the telephone.

3. Push yourself to network –  Direct from Time’s article: “Just doing your job isn’t enough to be successful as a remote worker. You need to build your soft skills by networking in person and via social media with co-workers and other people in your industry. If possible, [attend] training programs and holiday parties, and participate in as many networking events and conferences as you can. Building strong relationships can be a challenge for a telecommuter, but it is often just as important as being a good worker.”

4. Take breaks and get fresh air – Without formal meetings and lunch breaks, it becomes important to devise your own productive schedule; and productivity can depend upon a sustainable pattern.  Mimic working at a office by starting work at a consistent time every day (8am works), taking a break or two, an hour for lunch, and stopping at a consistent time every evening.  If “work” were fun it would be called “play” so it’s important to train your body and mind to perform as if you were in an office.

5. Respond to emails quickly – Direct from Time’s article: “This is a simple tip — and an important one. Make replying to… e-mails a high priority. Get back to them promptly so that they trust you’re working, not sleeping or playing video games. And when you respond, be clear and concise. Cover all of your bases to avoid unnecessary back and forth.” If multiple e-mails are required to take care of an issue that could be covered in a 30-second conversation, pick up the phone. If it takes you 2 business days to respond to emails, there’s naturally going to be someone, somewhere, questioning your commitment.  And once confidence is lost, it’s hard to gain back, especially remotely…

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.

Changing the name of your blog

At some point during my previous blog postings I was discussing the process of picking a template for this blog and placing some of the widgets along the side.  In doing so, I think I’ve arrived upon the WordPress blog template that I like the most, although the one element I don’t like so much about it is the “Leave a comment” link at the top. It wouldn’t be so bad if you could actually leave a comment, but as I referred to in a previous post, I’m not positive I have time to do comments justice, so they are turned “off.” My Board of Directors keeps telling me I don’t even have time to do a blog justice, and they’re probably right.

 As a result, the “Leave a comment” link that is so inviting up there at the top but doesn’t actually do anything is kind of annoying.  As George Castanza said on Seinfeld, “Why must there always be a problem?”

I also referred to the fact that, when “naming” my blog, WordPress advised me I could change it any time I wanted. Of course, I further detailed my inability to find the procedure by which one changes the name and came to the conclusion that I was simply stuck with my original blog name, which, when I registered this blog with WordPress was: CEO Self Publishing Start-Up

Lots of keywords? Yes. Grammatically correct? No.

Well, by browsing the “help” and forums of WordPress (hence my stumbling upon that “Write a Book” link” which I mentioned in a previous post), I was able to learn about the General>Settings page, although I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took me to find it on the screen even when I knew precisely what I was looking for.

But I digress. The short story is that I simply added the word “of” to the name and now the name of my blog, at least today as I’m writing this,  is a more grammatically-correct, and still keyword-filled: CEO of Self Publishing Start-Up

What does “keyword-filled” mean? It means those are the keywords I envision the intended target audience of this blog typing into a search engine and then finding my blog as a result.

For instance: CEOs and executives may be interested in some of the things I write because I’ll touch upon things like social media confidentiality, trade secrets, M&As, recession-proofing your business, and the like.

And people searching for “self publishing” may be interested in some of the things I write because there is a lot of confusion and misunderstandings about the term; savvy authors exploring all their publishing options are wise to get as many different perspectives as possible to make an informed decision.

And people searching for the phrase “start-up” may be interested in some of the things I write about because I’ll talk about running a company with a 3-year growth percentages of 1000%+, balancing work and a personal life – what personal life? – and managing the obstacles that presents themselves – and the solutions that are required – when you outgrow your credit card processor and your website hosting company all in the same quarter, for example.  

Although, on one hand, Outskirts Press was never in “start-up” mode, per se, because that implies angel investors, securing VC rounds, losing control and board seats, etc – and none of that applied to us, which makes us relatively unique and is also something, perhaps, people searching for “CEO” and “start-up” might find interesting. On the other hand, EVERY company should always view themselves in “start-up” mode to some extent — because every day should be an agressive struggle to improve and thrive.  On the first hand again, it may be selling ourselves “short” to refer to Outskirts Press as a “start-up,” because… well, for all those reasons I mentioned above.   I think maybe I will replace it with a reference to our Inc. 500 placement, which has the potential to attract the same keyword searches– and therefore the same audience– as “start-up” anyway, and is more accurate. And cooler, too.

Now that I think of it, I may want to add “Best-selling author” to the name of my blog, too, but that presents a whole host of considerations, which I’ll get into later…

The trouble with blogging – part two

Another reason I’ve personally been reticent about blogging is due to the dilemma I have with preserving confidentiality, and this is probably something any CEO, or company employee can understand.   In other words, what is okay to say, and what isn’t?

On one hand, the more personal, confidential, or private something is, the more “interesting” it is, so part of me wants to divulge stuff that will make this blog popular, or at the very least, interesting.

On the other hand, I have a responsibility to our authors, our people, and our board of directors to avoid saying anything that would jeopardize them (and by that, I mean, anything that could “cost them money”).  In my position I learn things about the industry that isn’t common knowledge. I know about deals before they happen. I have an intimate knowledge of our own trade secrets and unique competitive advantages – the things that make Outskirts Press the fastest-growing self-publishing company and the only Inc. 500 company in our industry.   Revealing ‘insider-y” information on those topics would make this blog fascinating to other entrepreneurs and CEOs, and certainly our competitors, and maybe even our authors, but revealing them could also jeopardize our value proposition.

If a CEO doesn’t reveal SOME of that stuff, what’s the point of reading the blog? I mean, the whole point of reading a blog by a CEO is that you expect SOME level of details not attainable elsewhere, right?  But, on the other hand, how does a CEO blogger reveal interesting things that aren’t TOO confidential?

I’m not saying I have the answer. I’m just saying it’s something about blogging that troubles me…

President/CEO of Outskirts Press launches new blog

What better day to launch a new endeavor than on New Year’s Day, when New Year’s Resolutions are top of mind?  One of my personal New Year’s Resolutions in 2010 is to get more involved in “social media” and find the time to participate more actively on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.

The great thing about holidays is that you don’t have to provide much blog content, other than to say “Happy New Year!”   Check and see: “Happy New Year” is the most prevalent subject header for blogs and tweets today, because it’s a fast and easy “tweet” or blog posting.  Well, I won’t look a gift-horse in the mouth, so “Happy New Year!”