In a business makeover, business experts volunteer their time, usually at the request of a small-business organization or support group, to offer advice and guidance to a struggling entrepreneur or small-business owner who otherwise couldn't afford their services. Is the advice any good?
One person who thinks so is Christopher Anderson, founder of Artists in Residence Inc. (AiR) in Columbus, Ohio. Anderson was the winner of a business makeover competition sponsored by Back on Track America, a coalition of small-business organizations and corporate sponsors formed last year to help businesses recover from the economic fallout of the September 11 terrorist attacks. AiR produces a series of videotapes--they currently have 38 titles--that give viewers a behind-the-scenes look into the studios of award-winning visual and performing artists as they create their work and talk about the challenges of pursuing a career in the arts. To date, Anderson has marketed the AiR series exclusively to schools and public libraries.
As a result of winning Back on Track America's competition, Anderson was introduced to a variety of business and publishing experts. Who were they, how did they advise him, and was the advice worth it?
First, Nancy Michaels, CEO of ImpressionImpact, a marketing firm based in Concord, Massachusetts: "I really liked the ArtinRes Web site," says Michaels. "My goal has been for the rest of Chris' printed material to reflect the same quality and image, and I'm helping him narrow in on AiR's target market." Says Anderson: "Nancy encouraged me to consider submitting tapes for review by specialty arts and crafts publications, such as Ceramics Monthly, which I otherwise might have overlooked. Nancy's focus is on getting free publicity, wherever you can find it."
Next up was Anthony Kaufmann, president of Abaris Books in Norwalk, Connecticut, a publisher of specialty art books for the library and museum market. "Tony said I should consider pursuing the retail market more aggressively," says Anderson. "This would entail changing my current packaging to meet the standards of Barnes & Noble and the other major bookstore chains. The AiR series may have a mass market appeal I haven't recognized." Kaufmann also suggested that Anderson convert his business to a nonprofit corporation, so that he can get government grants, appeal to foundations, and get tax-deductible donations and underwriting for his videos. While Anderson is mulling this advice, he says, "Despite the educational nature of the videos, it may cost several thousand dollars to get tax-exempt status from the IRS for my company. Currently my priorities are adding to the range of artists in the library."
Next at bat: Susan Wilson Solovic, a Missouri-based communications consultant and author of The Girls' Guide to Power and Success. "Susan stressed the importance of identifying AiR with who I am," says Anderson. "She suggested I make sure that everything I send out reflects my belief in the educational importance of AiR. Susan also assigned me to put together 10 different 'elevator speeches' stressing how the AiR series could benefit the listener."
Finally, here's some advice for Anderson from yours truly:
- Legally speaking, make sure the subject of each video signs an AiRtight (sorry!) release form before you begin production. The release should allow you to publish the video "in any medium, now known or later developed," and make any editions, revisions or changes you see fit. As new markets develop for your videos, you don't want to have to keep running back for permission.
- Buy a copy of The Self-Publishing Manual by Dan Poynter. This is the "bible" for people publishing their own books, audio cassettes and video programs, and it contains detailed, step-by-step advice on what you must do to reach the mass market.
- Join the Publishers' Marketing Organization, a nationwide organization of small presses. Their annual Resource Guide alone is worth the membership fee.
While Anderson said his "head was swimming" with all the advice and support he got, he feels that it was very worthwhile. "Winning a business makeover provided me with a wonderful opportunity to let experts explore my vision and give insights that might never have occurred to me. My advice: Don't cold call, whatever you do. Take time to prepare questions specific to each expert, and mail [your] product and marketing materials well in advance of your scheduled meetings. The better prepared they are, the better advice you will get."
One more thing: Since this column is all about building better businesses, it behooves us to create a "business makeover" offering of our own, where some of America's top small-business experts will help readers with their most pressing problems. Every three months, we will select a company to receive a "makeover" from a changing panel of experts. To have your company considered, please send a description of your business to: "Succeeding in Your Business," Attention: Business Makeover, 2490 Black Rock Turnpike, # 354, Fairfield, CT 06825-2400. All submissions will be kept confidential unless selected. We will make our next selection in November 2002.
Cliff Ennico is host of the PBS television series MoneyHunt and a leading expert on managing growing companies. His advice for small businesses regularly appears on the "Protecting Your Business" channel on the Small Business Television Network at www.sbtv.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.