In a wonderful guest column recently on BLR CEO Dan Oswald’s blog, Bob Brady—who founded Business and Legal Resources (BLR) in 1977 and was its longtime CEO—waxed boldly about grabbing opportunity: “Don’t be afraid to take chances. Not everyone is cut out to start a business, but everyone should be trying to move on to new career and personal opportunities. If you think you want to try something, even in your existing job, show some initiative. Figure out what it would take to get started. Make a plan.”
Fittingly, that became a theme at the recent SIPA Conference, where Brady was inducted into the SIPA Hall of Fame. Be bold, take chances. Time and again, publishers talked about taking the leap, not being afraid to fail and building a transformative culture.
In a session titled Building a Content-Aware Organization, Wayne Cooper, managing director of Greenhaven Partners, spoke of an early initiative where they sent out 25,000 direct mail packages and got three orders back. "It was a disaster," he said. "But that was a signal to the team that it's okay to fail. That was truly transformative for us. Don't be shocked if there's an idea that didn't work."
Soon, many ideas did work for Cooper. The culture had been put in place. "Fail cheaply," he said. "See what the market thinks. You don't have to commit to an ongoing service. You can do a one-off, and if it gains traction" you can put more resources into it.
In that same session, David Foster, CEO of BVR, began his presentation by addressing that same topic. “Most of us wait too long. The question is which opportunities do we take?”
He went on to present six steps to building a content-aware organization. For me, Foster has a lot of street cred on this topic. He told me years ago that he didn’t believe in having “editors”—in the traditional sense. He wanted product-managing, take-ownership, revenue-generating publishers. It’s a theme I hear many other organizations now moving to.
1. Expand your definition of content. Everything you touch is potential content. Licensing solutions, toolkits , subscription data bases. Slice and dice products, combine large bodies of content, create a digital library of all of your books.
2. Increase your content acquisition staff. This should include reaching out not just to customers but potential authors. Everyone should be in content acquisition—marketing, sales, whoever has outside contact.
3. Change your pricing to increase distribution. Capture more content through greater readership. As a business strategy, you should always trying to be widening your price points.
4. Bring your customers into the content flow—more publishers are relying on some version of contributors’ network to add user-generated content as a way to enrich the growth of their available resources.
5. Don’t build a product, build a division. How much revenue do I need to have a full-time employee to develop this?
6. Set your content metrics at the beginning… before you hire or add resources. Let me invest in this and guarantee so we don’t have one new blog but five new blogs.
Expanding your content is just one way to grab opportunity but in this business it’s a big one. Let’s give Brady the last words on the subject.
“Get started, sooner rather than later. You need to be ready with the skills required. But you don’t have to be perfectly ready. You have to know how to control risks and make sure you don’t hurt someone else or lose more than you can afford, but your plan doesn’t have to be ‘bulletproof.’ No plan is. You need to manage risk, but if you avoid risk, you will have a tough time achieving success.”
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…