For family businesses considering recording their histories, the first and most important step is to determine what its purpose is. Once that's established, you need to decide the following:
- Form. The purpose will likely determine whether the book is going to be a memoir, history or chronicle. The difference in the three forms is subtle but important. A memoir is a personal reflection, usually written by the founder. The stories the writer tells reflect the underlying themes and values he or she thinks are important.
A history is a more objective approach to the growth of the business and requires extensive interviews with family members, long-term employees, business associates and people who've made contributions to the business's development. It means searching through company records, minutes and documents to make historical references as accurate as possible. It contains fewer personal observations and is more often used for employees and customers than as a value statement for the family.
Finally, a chronicle is a story of a series of events-sometimes business milestones, such as the day you reached the $1 million annual sales mark, and sometimes family milestones, such as the first day a member of the third generation began working for the company. The chronicle can be written from a number of perspectives and combines some of the elements of both a memoir and a history.
- Documentation. Once you've determined the purpose and the form, the next step is to pull the pieces together. Documentation and visual materials are important as you put the book together. The facts are especially important when you include a timeline as part of the history.