Stretching the boundaries: When it makes sense to reach beyond your niche

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ottawa renovates cover
Our Ottawa Renovates magazine. If you budget $2,000 per issue and no one responds, is it still a worthy investment? In fact the answer could certainly be "yes" when you take a longer view.
ottawa renovates cover
The latest Ottawa Renovates magazine

We’ve participated in a consortium publishing Ottawa Renovates magazine for the past seven years, and the latest issue just went to press. This magazine is an anomaly in my business. Unlike all of our other publications, which focus on business-to-business markets, Ottawa Renovates serves a highly specific and truly business-to-consumer audience.

It’s enduring success traces back to its inception.

We’ve belonged to the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA) since shortly after I established the business in 1988-89. Initially, I published a local newspaper for Realtors, then expanded with the launch of Ottawa Construction News. At the time, I thought it would be a reasonable decision to join local builders’ associations, including the GOHBA.

There was a nasty multi-year recession beginning in the early 1990s that lasted through 1996/97. My new business struggled, but I held on. At one point, I thought of cutting my GOHBA membership (then the organization was known as the Ottawa Home Builders’ Association), but decided to give the membership at least one more year. This proved to be one of my wisest business decisions.

The GOHBA’s directors decided they wanted to publish a newsletter and out of the blue I received a call inviting me to bid the job. “How much competition do I have,” I asked. “None,” the board member responded.  “You are the only member in the relevant category.” In fact, the association was adhering to its own motto: Be a member — Do business with a member.

We’ve been publishing the GOHBA Impact since 1991. It is our longest-produced continuous publication. For a while in the mid-1990s I sold most of my company assets to a competitor, but the purchaser didn’t want the Impact, so I continued publishing it as a very small and low-key business. We don’t link the Impact from this website because it is the GOHBA’s publication, not mine, and it is their decision about whether to make it available and visible to non-members.

Fair enough.

In the course of working with the association and its members, the then-chair of the GOHBA Renovation Council approached me in 2009 and asked me to bid for a renovation magazine publication.

“I don’t do magazines, and I don’t do business-to-consumer publications, so I’ll pass,” I told the individual, with whom we had published a successful feature in the Impact previously. He insisted. I declined, remembering the dangers of stretching too far outside of business competence and focus.

Then, I received a communication out of the blue, totally unsolicited, containing the complete details of a competing proposal.

Of course, it would be highly unethical for me to have requested or sought out this information, but I realized the decision to provide it to me represented a clue that the association really wanted me, and no one else, to produce the magazine.

I called an individual who I knew had knowledge about magazine design, business-to-consumer markets and the association, and he introduced me to a third person, with knowledge of local magazine publishing and sales. We had an initial meeting and I pulled out the brown envelope with the financial data.  We decided to work together on a joint presentation.

Needless to say, we won the work, and the magazine has continued, twice yearly.  A few years ago, we incorporated it as a separate business legally.

I learned some lessons from this experience.

Sometimes opportunities drop in your lap. The best way to handle these situations if they are outside your conventional scope is to seek alliances and bring in the necessary talent to make the stretch

Stretches open opportunities. With knowledge of magazine as well as newspaper publication, we have produced some other specialized titles over the years

Relevant association memberships (with client focused associations) can be highly profitable. I have never completed a return-on-investment evaluation for my GOHBA membership, but know the numbers would be outrageous.  Dues and attendance fees after all are perhaps $2,000 a year, while the publications produced under the association’s auspices and through relationships there generate revenues two orders of magnitude higher.

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