Publish or Perish

Jim Blasingame

Professors at institutions of higher learning have long known the cold, hard truth about their profession: publish or perish.

Of course, they have to create and conduct the course of study identified in their contract, and in their school's curriculum catalogue. No question it's important for them to deliver quality instruction and thought provoking challenges to their degree-seeking charges.

But for many professors, especially those in the top universities around the world, the fundamentals in the foregoing paragraph are threshold issues, above which they must rise with critical content that measures up to the scrutiny of their particular discipline's community.

What's this got to do with you and your small business? Perhaps more than you know.

Welcome To The Information Age
What would you say if I told you that whatever you sell is not really the business you're in?

There was a time when the railroad companies got into trouble. The problem was, they thought they were in the railroad business. If you're confused, don't feel badly - they were, too. You see, the railroad owners didn't realize they were really in the transportation business. And when other transportation alternatives became available, some railroad companies lost their competitive advantage for a while. Some lost everything.

Now, what if I told you that, regardless of what you sell, you're really in the information business?

If you've been listening to my show, and/or reading my thoughts for very long, you know how I feel about what it takes for you to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace jungle in which you and I operate. You know that with very few exceptions, anything you offer the marketplace is essentially a commodity. You know it is likely that every product or service you sell can be purchased six-ways-from-Sunday within a 5-minute drive, if not walk, of your business's front door. So, how in the world could any of us little guys have a snowball's chance of carving out our piece of the marketplace pie?

The answer is to deliver our commodities in a way that sets us apart from EVERYBODY, including - no, especially - the Big Guys. We've got to add so much value that our customers can barely bear the weight of our service. I call it providing your customers with service "within an inch of their lives." One of the ways to deliver this kind of service is with information.

The Publisher Is Dead--Long Live The Publisher
The publishing industry, perhaps more than any other, is being turned on its head. That's good news for those of us who are not heavily invested in the traditional publishing paradigm, because the things that are doing the turning, new technology and the Internet, are making it easier than ever for you and me to publish.

There is a whole new world of possibilities literally at your fingertips. But we first have to break down a mental barrier: We cannot get hung up on the traditional definition of the word "publish." We think the local newspaper, or a magazine, or someone in the book trade, have a corner on publishing. Well, let me disabuse you of that notion with a little help from Webster:

Publish--To make generally known; to make public announcement; to release to the public.

Traditional publishers collect information, assemble it in a convenient form, and distribute it to interested parties. You have always been able to do that, too. You are an expert in your field, and you know things that can benefit your customers. But the convenient form and the distribution part have always been the sticky wickets. More than anything else, the document creation and distribution processes of publishing have been the primary barrier for many would-be publishers.

There are thousands of publishers in the U.S. alone. Some are big, some not so big. Some so invested in the old publishing paradigm that they won't make it. But with the advent of new technology, and help from the Internet, there will soon be millions of new publishers, and I want you to become one of them.

You've Got Mail
There are many ways this new breed of publisher will manifest, but the way I want to talk about now is through the use of email. That's right - email. I want you to consider using email as a tool to help you gain and maintain a competitive advantage by becoming the publisher of your company's newsletter. I want you to do what publishers do: collect information, assemble it in a convenient form, and distribute it to interested parties.

Until recently, this was such a time-consuming and expensive process; sending published information to customers and prospects was prohibitive for many small businesses. Few of us had the time or resources necessary. But electronic publishing has changed all of that. Here are some reasons:

1. Electronic communication by email has no limit on content space - you can send as much or as little as you want. Magazine articles are typically limited to a few hundred words because of page limitations. And who would subscribe to a one-paragraph newspaper? But your electronic newspaper could get the job done nicely with only a few words, or if your content is compelling enough, thousands.

2. Direct expense is so small that it's difficult to measure. Even if you buy a $50 email program (many are free), you have your time, your computer (which you already own), the dial-up connection expense (which you already have and which doesn't increase because you send email), and a little electricity.

3. In traditional publishing, the turn-around time can be hours, as in a newspaper, to years, as in book publishing. With electronic publishing, turn-around time from creation of content to distribution is the click of a mouse. When the information you want to send to your customers by email is ready to go, just hit the "Send" button.

4. Because you can imbed links in your email distribution, your recipients can be interactive with your content: You can feature links to special offers, to a survey, or to a helpful web site (perhaps yours), just to name a few examples.

Here's How You Start
1. Start asking your customers, prospects, and visitors to your web site to opt-in to receive your email communication by giving you their email addresses.

2. Begin collecting information you find in industry publications and from other sources as content and proof sources. Blend this information with your opinions and what you have learned. Voila! You have the makings of an article. Remember to provide proper attribution when using other peoples content. It's not only the ethical thing to do, it actually adds credibility to your content.

3. At first, send this information to yourself to see how it comes across on the receiving end - both the content AND the architecture of your newsletter. Then send it to close friends and customers who are willing to give you critical feedback. After you've road-tested your newsletter, send out your first edition. It may to be a little rough around the edges in the beginning. What do you think the first newspaper looked like? It will get better.

4. Don't wait until you have a certain number of subscribers. When the content is ready, send it to whomever you have on your list. Even if that's two people.

5. You don't have to send a lot of information. Knowing you can send a paragraph or a short list instead of a thousand-word article should motivate you to get started. This might come from Arthur's Auto Shop News and Views in October: "Just a note to remind you to check the anti-freeze level in your vehicles."

6. Don't try to be on any kind of schedule at first. But as soon as you can, get on a monthly or quarterly sequence. Also, if something time-sensitive comes up, don't wait for the next publishing cycle to send out that news. Letting your customers know you're thinking about them makes them think about you.

7. Use the Internet to help you with research.

1. Don't spam anyone. Make sure you send "Nickie's Knit Shop News" ONLY to people who have "opted in". That means they gave you their email and said it's okay to send them your information. Also, be sure to offer an "Unsubscribe" option

2. Promise and deliver privacy. That means you don't share or sell your email list with anyone else, unless you have told your recipients upon subscribing that you might do so. Promising and delivering privacy will build your list of recipients faster.

3. Know how your email program works to ensure that when your content goes out, all of the names and email addresses on your list are not shown. In my program (I use Eudora Pro) there is a line titled "Name". If I don't put something in that line, all of you would get a LONG list of email addresses on top of this newsletter. Since I have named this list "The Small Business Advocate Community," that name, rather than yours and everybody else's, appears in the "To" line on this email.

Here Comes The Whine
I don't want to hear it! Don't tell me you don't have anything to say! I'm not interested in your excuses for not reaching out to your customers with tips, advice, and helpful information. If you're knowledgeable enough to operate your business, then by definition you know more than your customers about your products and services that they use, and they will benefit from you distributing that information. And you know what happens when you provide benefits for your customers, right? $$$$

Take A Lesson From...
• Railroads: Accept that regardless of what you sell, you are really in the information business.

• Professors: Recognize that the products and services you offer are threshold issues, above which you must rise with critical content that measures up to the scrutiny of your particular discipline's community, your customers and prospects.

• Publishers: Collect, assemble, and distribute information to your customers and prospects.

I hope I have piqued your interest and motivated you to consider becoming the publisher of your company's electronic newsletter. If I haven't, let me offer this observation: What happens to your competitive advantage when the competition beats you to the punch in accepting that they are really in the information business?

Write this on a rock... I am not going to say that if your small business doesn't publish you will perish, but I do believe if you publish you will prosper.


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