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I knew I was signing up for a lifestyle change when I left the somewhat comfortable but confining world of the Fortune 500 in 1994 to join a small and thriving management consulting company. Instead of driving to the office every day, I found myself driving to the Denver International Airport on Monday morning, usually not to return home until the following Friday. One of the consolations during the following eight years, in addition to an incredible learning experience, was the thought “There’s gotta be a book in here somewhere!”

My specialty, Flow (or Lean) Manufacturing, is a descendent of what used to be called Just-In-Time–a powerful philosophy and methodology for process improvement for both manufacturing and non-manufacturing companies. Flow manufacturing techniques, which originated in the U.S. and matured in Japan, are being introduced today in most companies around the world. There’s no shortage of consultants and published materials about this subject, and I paid attention to the strategies of the most successful consulting companies.

Without exception, every flow manufacturing leader had written at least one book, and usually several, on the subject. The training and consulting firms that I most respected had made writing and publishing one of their core competencies, and they had usually established publishing companies to support and complement their training and consulting practice. So when it came to launch FlowAlliance, my own training and consulting company, a writing and publishing branch was a foregone conclusion. After a copy of Dan Poynter’s The Self-Publishing Manual jumped into my hands at the local bookstore, the decision was sealed and Flow Publishing was formed.

 

Pitching the Prospects

Today, 11 months later, Flow Publishing has a grand total of three products in our catalog–two books and a Palm Pilot software tool. All three are targeted at our core market, business professionals implementing flow manufacturing methods in their companies. Our flagship book, Fundamentals of Flow Manufacturing, was published in September 2002, and it’s gaining recognition as the book on Flow Manufacturing. At a worldwide Deere and Company management conference in October, the company gave a copy to every attendee as an implementation guidebook. Over the next year, we’ll be adding several new products, including a flow manufacturing Operators Manual, a family of shorter “tip sheet” booklets, and new software tools. An audio version of Fundamentals of Flow Manufacturing is also in the works, as is a Spanish translation.

So far, our marketing strategy has been to contact our prospective book buyers directly, via my monthly electronic newsletter or by sending out postcard announcements. My newsletter mailing list currently exceeds 1,000 names, and my co-author Gerard Leone has a similarly sized contact list. Our present and past clients are excellent prospects as well. New people sign up daily for my free newsletter, and of course they quickly are notified about the Flow Publishing offerings. Reviews in trade journals will be appearing in the next few months, which will help get the word out to people beyond our current list of names. Amazon carries our two books. Getting more attention in the press and media is our next goal.

 

What Worked

So does Flow Publishing support my consulting practice, and vice-versa? The jury is still out, but these are the conclusions I can draw so far:

 

  • Having a book with your name on it helps to open doors that might not otherwise open.

 

      Even in today’s multi-media world, having a physical book commands respect. I’m able to get access to people at higher levels in an organization. For a consulting business, getting in at the top is critical.

 

  • Training and consulting is still very much my core business.

 

      The field is crowded, though, and a strong publishing branch is an essential differential.

 

  • The publishing business is a nice source of additional income.

 

      As our catalog grows, the revenue stream from publications will help counterbalance the ups and downs of the consulting side of the business.

 

  • The perceived quality and value of the training has taken a leap up,

 

      because our books and tools are fully integrated into our training and consulting programs and curriculum. Workshop participants receive a copy of

Fundamentals

      and our other materials,thusevery student is a new book sale.

 

  • Being a published author is leading to other media exposure opportunities.

 

    I’m currently working on an article for a respected manufacturing trade magazine; articles and reviews of the book are beginning to appear, and I am launching a series of workshops sponsored by one of the top manufacturing professional organizations in the U.S. This would probably not be happening without my book.

The merging of writing/publishing with training/consulting is clearly a core strategy for FlowAlliance. What about publishing companies with a core competency wanting to add training and consulting services? It seems to me that add-on services (training and consulting) and related products (like audio CDs and software tools) can mean the difference between an enjoyable hobby and an actual wealth-building livelihood. One week of consulting, or a two-day training class, equates to a whole lot of book sales.

It’s not an easy field to play in. However, if you know your subject well and enjoy public speaking, then opportunities are probably already happening for you.

 

Richard D. Rahn is President of FlowAlliance (www.flowalliance.com) and Flow Publishing (www.flowpublishing.com) in Boulder, Colorado. He can be reached at richard@flowalliance.com or at 303/494-4693.

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