CIPS CONNECTIONSINTERVIEWS by STEPHEN IBARAKI, FCIPS, I.S.P., ITCP, MVP, DF/NPA, CNP
Successful Writer, Researcher, Publisher who is listed in Marquis Who's Who of American Women
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Carol Anne Carroll, of Carol Anne Carroll Communications.
Carol Anne Carroll is a writer, researcher, and publisher based in Northern California. Her published work includes three books, 500+ articles and more than a dozen training courses, as well as business and marketing materials. With clients ranging from individuals to Fortune 500 companies, Carol specializes in writing effectively and teaching others to do the same. She is a member of the National Coalition of Independent Scholars, and is listed in Marquis Who’s Who of American Women.
A complete listing of Carol Anne Carroll Communications’ services can be found at www.carolannecarroll.com.
Her recently released book, “Start Your Own Home Business in No Time” (Que), offers concise, easy to follow, action-oriented information including writing a business plan, financing, finding customers, and handling issues like licenses, taxes, and accounting.
Q: Carol, thank you for taking the time to do this interview!
A: You're quite welcome.
Q: As a point of introduction, describe your journey into writing, research, and publishing and the decisions you’ve made to get to where you are today.
A: I always wanted to write. As soon as I could read, I was making up poems and stories of my own. But to most adults, when a kid says, "I want to be a writer," they think fiction, i.e. Stephen King. So I was urged to do something "practical". I tried doing practical things, including working as a secretary, but in the end, I knew I had to write. I even tried burning all of my notes once, kind of like a nicotine addict flushes his cigarettes. But I couldn't stop writing. I couldn't not write. Eventually, I learned to stop fighting what I was meant to do. The writing, the publishing, the training and research, that all comes out of letting happen what (I think, anyway) was meant to be.
Q: Detail your company, Carol Anne Carroll Communications – Writing and Beyond, and the types of projects you undertake.
A: I specialize in non-fiction writing, anything from articles to press releases to books and manuals. I also have a strong teaching and training component to my business, so I do a lot of seminars, training people to write better and how to self-publish.
Q: What aspects of your own education and experience did you find the most useful in your own very successful career?
A: I didn't go through what you would call 'the normal channels'. I didn't go to college (although I probably studied more than most people do, and I am still an avid learner). I didn't set my sights on a teaching position, or start working at a newspaper, or any of the normal things people are supposed to do in order to become a writer. Instead, I asked myself, "What can I do in order to create a writing business? What can I do so that I get to write for a living?" Answering those questions, and answering them in a way that meant I was doing what no one else was doing, were probably the most useful things I have done (and continue to do).
Q: What is unique about your book, “Start Your Own Home Business in No Time”? What differentiates it from the other books on the market?
A: I don't assume you went to college. I don't assume you can afford an endless parade of consultants, or that your ultimate goal is to be the next Donald Trump. I bring a reality to starting a home business that other books don't provide. You may want to start your own business (at least in part) to give yourself some flexibility, so your kids see you more often, so you can go to their soccer games on Tuesday afternoons. You may never want to grow your business into a multinational corporation. That's OK. Nor do I assume you're going to never make a mistake. In fact, an entire section on the publisher's web site provides troubleshooting guides for a wide variety of problems, such as having too much work or not having enough work or money.
Q: Share your most valuable guidelines from the book.
A: 1) Plan, plan, plan, plan, plan. Before you give notice at your present job, you need to be prepared, financially, emotionally, and logistically. I go into explicit detail, so you consider every resource you will need before starting.
2) Stay honest with your clients and yourself. I don't believe in gimmicks, marketing tricks, or anything else that makes you feel smarmy or your client feel used. I don't think anything like that is truly successful. And as a business owner, you need to honestly assess your business all the time -- from how many prospective clients you are seeing to how much work you can get done to how much money is really coming in.
3) The home business is about you and your goals. So while someone else might make a large amount of money in one particular type of business, that doesn't mean it works for you, too. Likewise, how and to what extent your business grows should have your personal imprint on it.
Q: What are the greatest challenges faced by someone starting a home based business and what are the solutions? What is the greatest myth about self-employment?
A: The greatest challenge is realizing that all of a home based business is up to you. That means you determine the goals, you define what works, you decide whether to accept certain types of business. But it also means you are the one responsible for ensuring the business' success.
I think the greatest two myths are the two extremes. One myth assumes anyone with a home based business is just sitting home watching soap operas (when in fact they are probably putting in about 60 hours or more each week). The other myth, at the other end of the spectrum, is that only very gifted people can successfully run their own business, that the rest of us should just be grateful for a nine-to-five job we abhor. People who believe this second myth tend to talk themselves out of starting a business before they even work through a simple business plan. They usually have plenty of skills to run the business, but because they believe you have to be among some special class of people, the belief in that myth becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Q: Can you give us two real life case studies where you provided effective solutions?
A: Case 1: I worked with a nonprofit group that needed a lot of grantwriting done, but couldn't afford to hire a grantwriter for every single application. A lot of the grants were relatively small, perhaps only ten thousand dollars. (That's a lot of money, but not much when you consider the work that goes into some applications. Grant applications can be as long as 25 pages or more.) So I worked with their existing staff, creating a series of templates. Each template was designed to address a specific type of grant. Being in the health care field, sometimes they qualified for health grants, but they also qualified for many educational grants, youth oriented grants, social service grants, and so on. This allowed existing staff to make the most of their time, as they could now start with a template and merely make a few changes to tailor it to the specific grant guidelines, thus allowing the agency to apply for more grants than they would have otherwise.
Case 2: In another instance, I helped a client self-publish her own book. When I met her, she was a new mother (and a stay-at-home mom for the first time, too). She was starting her business and knew she needed a book to supplement her services, so we sat and talked for several hours, going over possible scenarios, her ideas, etc. I worked with her, off and on, over the next year, providing editing for the book, referring her to a reputable book designer and printer, and answering her questions about self-publishing. She has now completed the book, and is selling it in stores and online.
Q: What is the most important consideration when creating material for the web (versus print) and what are your top ten tips for creating web content?
A: 1) Be brief. Anything over 500 words probably doesn't belong online unless the audience is highly specialized and anticipating the additional length.
2) Be careful. The Internet is akin to shouting something in the public square. Speak ill of someone or something, and the offended party will find what you said. If you wouldn't want everyone to know it, don't say it.
3) Don't be too casual. Remember, everyone will have access to this work. Yes, your blog sounds great to you and your friends, but prospective clients or employers might think you are too lax to consider for that hoped-for project.
4) Get to the point. Flowery language is for other venues.
5) Provide links, so readers know where to go for more information.
6) Soften any harsh words. Something said in person will sound colder when put into the impersonal world of cyberspace.
7) Don't copy. Not only is it wrong, but why read your stuff if you're just saying the same things as everyone else? Let your creativity shine.
8) Understand your audience. Web sites tend to attract broader audiences than many types of print and broadcast media. Do you need FAQs for newcomers? Think of how to appeal to all levels -- novice, amateur, journeyman, and expert.
9) Use your best language. No shortcuts, no smiley-faced icons, and no slang. Stick to standard usage as much as possible.
10) Keep your graphics professional, too. Make the investment in a professionally designed web site, so your terrific prose has an attractive background to match. If your site design is in sweat pants, your tuxedo prose will be for nothing, and web surfers will go elsewhere.
Q: What are the most compelling issues facing business professionals today and in the future? How can they be resolved?
A: 1) What are we going to do about large corporations? Most people I talk to appreciate the corporation's stability and excellent benefits, but gripe about the lack of innovation and excessive bureaucracy. I think the next increase in productivity will be from radically changing (if not dismantling) larger companies, perhaps turning them into something more like mutual aid associations or purchasing organizations comprised of smaller businesses.
2) What are we doing to encourage entrepreneurship? When you look at what our society awards, being a small business owner isn't one of those things -- which is odd, since in the US particularly, you have this rugged individualism that is part of the national psyche. As a society, we tend to tell people on welfare that they need to help themselves, yet we encourage the average job seeker to completely rely on prospective employers rather than starting their own company. We need to combine these attitudes in a healthier way. That is beginning to happen, but just beginning.
3) Another key issue is the lack of support for microbusinesses. If you look at the Small Business Administration's definition of a small business, it's revenue in the millions of dollars. I know a lot of small business owners who think, "I wish I were that large!" Hey, even Hewlett-Packard started in a garage. We need to do more to encourage very small businesses. It not only makes economic sense, but would provide us with a deeper sense of community as well (since fewer people would be commuting and would get to know other business owners where they live and work).
Q: List your best resources for business and technology professionals.
A: 1) Small Business Administration www.sba.gov
2) IRS www.irs.gov
3) Que Publishing quepublishing.com
5) BNI www.bni.com
6) I have a number of others, but many of those are specific to a particular industry or field.
Q: What book(s) are on the horizon for you?
A: Right now, I'm pulling together a book on self-publishing. (This book on starting a home business began its life as a self-published book. As I sold out my print run, the publisher approached me, and asked me to update and expand the original, self-published version.) I have some other book projects in the planning stages, but nothing I'm ready to announce just yet.
Q: You are a successful writer, researcher and publisher and your clients range from Fortune 500 companies to individuals.You must have some favorite stories to share with us – perhaps some humorous ones and others with lessons.
A: I think the important lesson (and one that is humorous to boot) is that you can't always predict what pursuing your business will mean. I visited a restaurant where I am holding an event, and the owner was wiping up some whipped cream. She said, "You know, a lot of running a restaurant is taking care of stuff like wiping up whipped cream off the floor." I had to laugh -- that is so true in my own business as well. I interview people, but sometimes, that means just letting people talk, letting them vent about what a horrible time they had just making it to this point in the day when they could talk for 10 minutes -- and then they can talk about the subject at hand. So you need to be prepared for those tasks that surprise you a bit.
Q: What kind of computer setup do you have and how do you integrate technology into your work?
A: I made the switch to a Mac about a year ago, and I love it. I don't like to talk about what technology I actually use in great detail, however, because I think that is a bit risky, security-wise.
Q: What drives you to do what you do?
A: As I said, I can't not write. I was born with the passion to do what I do. Running my business means I'm doing what I was put on this earth to do.
Q: If you were doing this interview, what five questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?
A: Q1: What does your book say that other books on the topic don't?
A1: (See my answer above.)
Q2: How can I order your book?
A2: Visit quepublishing.com, or ask for it at your favorite book store.
Q3: Do you consult in the area of home based businesses?
A3: Yes, on a case by case basis. If I can't help, I can refer you to someone who can.
Q4: What would you do if you weren't doing this?
A4: Uh, nothing. Being miserable. I've tried not doing this, and it doesn't work.
Q5: How can people contact you if they have questions or want more information?
Q: Carol, thank you again for your time, and consideration in doing this interview.
A: My pleasure!