When I founded Boardroom Inc. in the basement of my home more than 35 years ago, I started with just $5,000 and a dream. Today Boardroom is one of the world’s largest publishers of consumer newsletters, as well as one of America’s largest publishers of hardcover nonfiction books, reaching many millions of readers.
The strategies I have followed over the years have helped my company to be successful in good times and resilient in bad times. They also have enriched my personal life. In this difficult economy, these strategies are more important than ever…
Seek out the top experts, and get their advice. Learning from the experts is what Boardroom is built upon — our publications make the world’s best advice readily available to readers. I am passionate about getting expert advice because I have done this all my life.
Whenever I need to learn about a subject, I read every book about it that I can find. I learned graphic design, sales skills, even how to be a swimming teacher and a top-notch long-distance runner — all from books.
I also go directly to the experts themselves with my questions, and I have taught my children to do this as well.
Example: When my son, Sam, was trying to decide which colleges to apply to, both he and I wanted him to get the best advice possible. Max Birnbaum, author of a top-selling college guide, had been one of my high school teachers, so I called him and set up a meeting for the three of us.
One of the colleges Max suggested was Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania. Neither my son nor I knew much about this college, but it had an excellent academic reputation and was small enough to offer students a friendly, personal environment. Sam decided to turn down several bigger, better-known schools to attend Haverford — where he thrived, got a fine education and enjoyed more direct contact with professors than he would have had at a large college.
Think big… plan carefully... execute perfectly. In 1993, after the first World Trade Center bombing, I became concerned about my employees’ safety. A number of experts I consulted believed that New York City was likely to be targeted again. After meeting with my company’s executive team, I decided to move our offices out of New York City.
We spent two years researching and planning to make sure the move would be successful. A search committee and real estate consultant worked hard to find the optimal location — one that would be an easy commute, either by car or public transportation.
We found the perfect building in Connecticut, very close to the train station and shopping. We hired a relocation specialist to help us manage logistics — not only for the office move but also for employees who might want to move into homes closer to the new site. We designed a package of financial incentives to encourage employees to stay with us through the transition.
Our planning paid off. On a Friday, we closed the New York office. The movers, transition team and computer team worked all weekend — and on Monday, the computers in the new Connecticut location were up and running, and all employees’ boxes were by their new desks. Out of 75 employees, all but two stayed with us.
Follow up and follow up again to be sure that it’s done right and on time. We have more meetings than most companies, but all that communication prevents problems. By checking in with each other regularly, we avoid surprises and can make quick adjustments when we need to — saving ourselves time and costly mistakes.
We also have weekly phone meetings with our major vendors. Even when things are going smoothly, these check-ins allow us to follow up and make sure that nothing is overlooked. We can catch potential problems before they become big issues.
Never accept “no” — and make it easy to say “yes.” I make it a point to try to turn “no” into “yes” by being persistent, finding creative ways to get people’s attention and asking myself what they would say “yes” to.
Early in my career, I sold advertising space for the phone company. When I believed a company would benefit from a boldface listing in the phone book, I didn’t just tell them so. I would bring a mock-up of the proposed ad to the sales call so that the customer could see how it would make his/her business stand out from the others. I sold more listings than all the other salesmen in the office put together.
Many years after founding Boardroom, I wrote to an executive at a major publisher to propose a new marketing venture that I believed would help us both. When I received no response to any of my letters, I got a 24-by-36-inch piece of poster board from my art department, handwrote a giant-sized letter and had it delivered to the executive by messenger. He replied to that letter, and we began a very successful business relationship.
Keep it simple. There is a tendency to make things way too complicated, adding bells and whistles without adding efficiency. I don’t believe in using a complex system when a simple one will do.
Example: I keep track of my busy schedule using a simple paper calendar that I designed. It consists of one sheet of paper that fits in my shirt pocket. My assistant prints it out for me — one month appears on one side of the paper, the next month on the flip side. I can see my schedule for each month at a glance.
Seek constant, incremental improvement. For the past 20 years, we have used an employee suggestion system that we call I-Power. All employees, at all levels, are asked to contribute at least two suggestions per week on how to improve their own effectiveness, their departments’ effectiveness or the effectiveness of the company as a whole. Every idea — good, bad or indifferent — gets a response and a reward of at least $1. Good ideas are implemented as quickly as possible.
This system of continuous improvement has dramatic benefits. Productivity and job satisfaction are high. Employees feel valued. The ideas generated have saved us substantial amounts of money.
Example: Soon after we started the I-Power system, an employee suggested that we make our books slightly smaller so that they would weigh less than four pounds, thus qualifying for a lower postage rate. That one idea saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
Show appreciation. I am always on the lookout for opportunities to show people how much they matter. This applies to employees, vendors, freelance writers, friends and family.
When I see an article that makes me think of someone I know, I clip it and send it to the person with a note. When we pay writers or vendors, I write personal notes on the payment slips. Sometimes I enclose little gifts. At Boardroom, we celebrate the anniversary of each employee’s start date. On my children’s birthdays, I not only give them gifts — I also send flowers to my wife.
People contribute so much to our lives. It’s important to say thank you.
Never compromise integrity. We stake our reputation on accuracy and integrity. I have excellent editors — and after all these years, I still personally read every page of every issue of our newsletters.
I have an attitude of healthy skepticism. No matter how well-known a source is, if he/she has nothing substantial to say, we won’t run the article. Our readers trust us, and I do everything I can to continue to earn that trust.
Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Martin Edelston, founder and chairman of Boardroom Inc., which publishes Bottom Line/Personal, Bottom Line/Health, Bottom Line/Wealth, Bottom Line/Retirement, Bottom Line Natural Healing, Bottom Line/Women’s Health and numerous books, including The World’s Greatest Treasury of Health Secrets, Stamford, Connecticut. http://www.bottomlinesecrets.com. He is author of I-Power: The Secrets of Great Business in Bad Times (Boardroom Inc., 800-678-5835).