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Planning to Publish

Adapted from Starting and Building a Nonprofit and The Small Business Start-Up Kit

For both businesses and nonprofits, publishing can be a great way to communicate and develop a bond with your target audiences. In the for-profit world, publishing newsletters or reports can help establish your business's credibility and enhance its reputation (this is particularly true for those who provide professional services such as accountants, lawyers or real estate agents). For nonprofits, publishing is often an important, if not essential way to convey information about the organization's mission to its supporters.

By its nature, publishing involves using a newsletter, downloadable report or some other medium to convey substantive information, not just promotional material. While promoting your activities with marketing techniques is important for every business or nonprofit, not every organization is suited for a publishing operation. When deciding whether publishing is right for your business or nonprofit, start by considering two primary factors: whether you have the necessary resources, and whether your business or nonprofit has substantive information to convey. Let's take a closer look at these issues.

Evaluating Your Resources

Many businesses and nonprofits -- especially fledgling ones -- find it difficult to marshal the resources necessary to start publishing. Even small publishing ventures require a decent commitment of time and money. Writing and editing are time-consuming tasks (even for professional writers), and you might need to hire a designer for the layout work if you plan to distribute a hard-copy version, not to mention covering the print costs.

You'll simply need to evaluate your priorities and your resources and then decide where publishing fits into the bigger picture. If your resources are thin and publishing isn't vital to your business or your nonprofit's mission, you may want to put off your publishing plans until you're better prepared. If publishing is a central or important way to further your mission or business goals, then it should bump upward on your priority list.

If you're on the fence about whether you have enough resources to start publishing a newsletter, remember that newsletters are distributed periodically, meaning that your readers will have the expectation of receiving a new edition at regular intervals. If you can't commit to whatever time frame -- typically weekly, monthly or quarterly -- then don't do it at all. Starting to send a monthly newsletter and then having it disappear after six months will give a much poorer impression than never offering a newsletter in the first place.

If you really want to publish but can't commit to a publishing schedule of some sort, you'd be better off considering a single-issue publication, like a guide, report or website, so you don't create an expectation among your readers that another issue will come out on a particular date in the future. Or, consider sticking with marketing copy rather than substantive information. Putting out regular flyers or emails highlighting your products, services or special events is much easier than a substantive newsletter, and might be all you need.

Don't call promotional emails "newsletters." Plenty of businesses wisely skip publishing and instead focus on marketing communications, including promotional emails. This is a fine strategy to adopt, but here's a tip: If you offer promotional emails to your customers such as notices of upcoming sales or specials, don't call it a "newsletter." It's irritating to sign up for a newsletter at a business website and expect substantive information, only to receive coupons or "10% off" notices.

Determining What Your Content Will Be

Even if you have all the money and resources in the world, your business or nonprofit shouldn't jump into publishing unless it can generate some substantive information that will interest its intended audience. Unlike marketing, publishing efforts should go beyond merely promotional materials to feature informative content related to the focus of your business or nonprofit.

Marketing and Publishing Can Overlap
While publishing is quite a different activity from marketing, the two are not mutually exclusive. Remember, "publishing" means conveying substantive information to the public -- for example, producing a newsletter with articles about water conservation or creating a website with photos and detailed instructions on installing vintage plumbing fixtures. "Marketing" means conveying information about your venture with less emphasis on substantive issues. Examples of marketing include distributing brochures with basic information about your business, running ads in a local paper to promote an event, or putting up a one-page website with your nonprofit's mission statement and information on how to donate.

Publishing efforts usually create marketing opportunities. For example, if your ecological organization publishes a quarterly newsletter with articles on land preservation policy, you can (and should!) also include promotional information asking for volunteers and financial support. And of course, the substantive information itself is a powerful marketing tool. An upholstery supplier that posts detailed how-to information at its website will certainly attract visitors interested in learning about doing their own upholstery. The more helpful the information, the more likely those visitors will turn into customers and will pass on your useful content to their friends and family, creating an even bigger pool of potential customers.

Start by considering what type of content your publication or other type of media should logically feature. In the publishing world, determining your content is often referred to as defining an editorial mission or an editorial focus. Some businesses and nonprofits will have an obvious editorial focus for their publishing efforts. For example:

  • A nonprofit aimed at educating the public about the history of the Zuni tribe in Arizona would focus its editorial content on Zuni history and culture in Arizona.
  • A nonprofit focused on finding a cure for pediatric leukemia could publish analyses of recent research studies, information on available treatments and therapies, and articles about the latest medical breakthroughs in the fight against pediatric leukemia.
  • A real estate agent in San Diego could publish a monthly newsletter offering trends and analysis of the area's commercial real estate market.
  • A yoga studio could publish a quarterly newsletter featuring articles about the health benefits of yoga and tips on improving postures.

Other businesses and nonprofits, however, might have to stretch to come up with an editorial focus for a publishing venture. For example:

  • A nonprofit dedicated to delivering home-cooked meals to AIDS patients may have trouble coming up with ideas for articles or a publication, because its activities are totally focused on delivering meals, not on any substantive topics.
  • A photography studio might not know what it would feature in a newsletter or website, other than basics about its services (such as hours of operation, costs, packages, and so on) that would be better suited for marketing materials, not a publishing venture.

If you have a hard time coming up with an editorial focus, it may mean that publishing isn't the best way for your venture to spend its time and money.