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A Bootstrapped Start-Up Publishing House Helping Small Businesses and Organizations Showcase Their Ideas

Night Owls Press (www.nightowlspress.com) is a boutique editorial services and indie publishing firm based in San Francisco, CA. We are passionate about providing writing and editing services for small businesses and organizations around the world. A rotating staff of writers and fact checkers helps us crank out e-books, reports, feature articles, and web content on a wide range topics related to business, social entrepreneurship, innovation, nonprofits, social media, and leisure.

Hatching Night Owls Press: From Travel Fund to Full-Fledged Business

Night Owls Press was born out of a series of conversations with friends over cerveza and fritanga while backpacking through Nicaragua in November 2010. At the time, I was eagerly applying for jobs at home after working on overseas projects in Asia for 5 years— but found it was a struggle in the recession. I had gone on numerous interviews and applied for many posts— many leading to dead-ends.

With my professional experience, there were solid job offers on the table. But many of the jobs didn’t feel right. There were offers for analyst posts at foundations and NGOs, and even an interesting but dangerous USAID post in Afghanistan. I wanted something different, something that I had a personal stake in.

I took some time off to travel and ‘figure things out’, and did freelance writing jobs to bootstrap myself. It was in Nicaragua that I teamed up with Andrew, a long-time resident of San Francisco. Andrew worked in the financial industry for 15 years, traveled the world for several years, and suddenly found himself catching the entrepreneurial bug. He got me hooked on the idea of starting a business. Why not? I thought—especially in this economy.

Together, we hashed out a plan to start a company that could be ramped up fast, would take advantage of our writing talents, live on the cloud, and keep us financially afloat through our travels in Central and South America.

Before we started Night Owls Press, we had little formal experience in publishing and had worked in different fields. But I knew we could carve out our own opportunities. Most of my professional life was spent developing opportunities for entrepreneurs and improving the business environment in other countries. I decided I wanted to indulge a passion in helping small businesses, individuals, and institutions communicate their own visions to the world.

With less than $400, Andrew and I bought a domain name and set up our web site (www.nightowlspress.com). We used Elance.com to get our first clients (took a job for around $200 to create a short report for a consulting firm) and to hire a web developer to help us re-design our site. The money we made from these small jobs was rolled back into the company.

Since then, Night Owls Press has grown bigger than we ever expected and we decided to make San Francisco a home base and officially launch (as an LLC, joint-venture) on May 2011.

Building the Nest and Going Forward

Currently, we manage about an average of 3-4 projects a month. Some of our most interesting projects include:

  • An industry report on the U.S. TV home shopping industry for a Japanese client
  • Series of narrative-driven feature articles on venture capital investing and start-ups for a Michigan entrepreneur
  • E-book on social media for an L.A.-based publisher
  • Web content for an Australian corporate training company
  • Travel e-guide and blog for a South American apartment rental company
  • E-book on management techniques for a health care consulting company in Denver, CO
  • Blog articles on social media and internet security topics for a Canadian start-up

Our diverse writing and editing chops, and targeting to small business and organization, are what set us apart from a lot of other editorial services companies.

We hope to bank on the popularity and rising trend of e-books and digital content that has changed how people consume and produce features and books. According to Forrester Research (http://www.forrester.com/rb/Research/ebook_buying_is_about_to_spiral_upward/q/id/57664/t/2), nearly $966 million e-books were sold in 2010. The future looks brighter. In their forecasts, they predict that the industry will nearly triple to almost $3 billion by 2015.

Our core creative focus is on nonfiction titles related to business, social entrepreneurship, innovation, social media, and lifestyle topics. At the same time, we want to branch out to specific niches including producing a series on parenting topics, as well as a small fiction line-up for young-adults and children covering short novels and graphic novels. Our first in-house publication, Working in the UnOffice: A Guide to Coworking for Indie Workers, Small Businesses, and Nonprofits is to be released July/August 2011 (www.CoworkingGuide.com). It will be a collection of interviews with small businesses and nonprofits working in collaborative workspaces and coworking sites, and an analysis chronicling the rise of coworking among entrepreneurs and creative types. It will be our first title as an indie press!

The journey so far has been a wonderful learning experience. The good news: We’re not in the red and are financially solvent. We are un-tethered, working mostly on the cloud— which keeps costs down and gives us personal freedom and let us indulge our travel interests. The challenge is to take what we’ve learned and expand our customer base. Here’s what we’ve done to start off right:

Essential Tips for Start-Ups

  1. Take advantage of social media and get to know your target clients: Utilize all the major social media channels. We write for our company blog (nightowlspress.com/blog) and maintain a fan base on Twitter (www.twitter.com/nightowlspress) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/nightowlspresscom). Organize social media targeting in different levels– don’t just blast your address book with a mass, impersonal e-mail. For example, tailor different marketing/outreach strategies for people you know personally (e.g. close friends and family), small groups (your yoga or cooking class or weekend volunteer group), and the general public (e.g. Twitter followers and Facebook fans). Talk to the first group— friends and family— in person. Send e-mails to the groups and ‘CC’ everyone. Thank individuals in replies but ‘CC’ the group— which applies a little social pressure on those you haven’t heard from. Drop Facebook comments and Tweets to everyone else.
  2. Embed yourselves in the communities that you serve. As Night Owls Press expanded from freelance editing services to indie publishing and e-books, we decided to launch a book project targeted to small businesses. For example, we learned about coworking for bootstrapped businesses as an interesting way to save money and network. We decided we wanted to research the phenomenon and share our findings. Our first in-house publication ‘Working in the UnOffice: A Guide to Coworking for Indie Workers, Small Businesses, and Nonprofits’ is to be published later this year (www.CoworkingGuide.com).
  3. Look into crowdfunding options to get visibility and create buzz. RocketHub (http://rockethub.org/) and Kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/) are the most popular places to get maximum visibility for a project. In the future, Night Owls Press hopes to put its more creative, fiction projects on the crowdfunding circuit to generate interest and buzz.
  4. Learn how to let go and lighten the workload: As much as possible, we try to do everything ourselves to save money— this D-I-Y approach can be explained by our name. Owls are traditional symbols of wisdom, with numerous precedents in literature and cultural folklore as being guardians. At Night Owls Press, we believe in serving as personal stewards on our clients’ projects. While most freelance writing service firms lack a personal touch, often factory farming the work out to faceless writers around the world– we take a more direct approach and get our hands dirty on every project. But over time we learned that shouldering all aspects of the day-to-day of a company was overwhelming and the quickest way to crash and burn for newbie entrepreneurs. Balance is key.

We learned our lesson and now have contract writers and editors whom we have hired through word of mouth, through Elance.com and Craigslist. We advise other start-ups to outsource non-core functions (like website design, IT/tech help, routine editorial/copy work). Outsourcing some of our editorial workload has made it possible for us to focus on the things that matter and bring in income— such as planning projects and attending to clients needs.

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One Response to “A Bootstrapped Start-Up Publishing House Helping Small Businesses and Organizations Showcase Their Ideas”

  1. Thanks for the great information. Our company just started managing our onlin presense so this kind of postings realy help.

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