On Wednesday (and I am really sorry it’s taken me this long to get round to writing this, but however great the news, Nosy Crow day-to-day life goes on and I am a part of that), Nosy Crow won the Nectar Business Small Business of the Year award, which is the most prestigious of Nectar Business’s five small business awards.
As I said when we were shortlisted for this award, there’s something really exciting about winning an award that isn’t limited to publishers, and that recognises publishing as a viable and exciting business that can win against competition from across a remarkably wide range of businesses – as you’ll see from the different kinds of businesses represented in the list of winners. Publishing is too often seen as a business dinosaur, squeezing itself between authors and readers in a way that is both greedy and unnecessary. Its days, say some commentators, are numbered. Of course, I don’t agree with that view at all – and have written about what a modern publisher needs to do here – but it’s good news when that’s recognised by impartial business experts like the judges of this award.
All of the winners and judges
Nectar Business made it a really memorable day, starting with an hour or so of business questions posed by a moderator to the winners and the judges, including Karren Brady. We’d all been asked for the questions we’d ask Karren Brady in advance, and I asked how she’d measure success for a small business like ours. She suggested we measure five things:
1. Profit: “without that you haven’t got a business”
2. Growth of the customer base
3. Customer satisfaction
4. Employee satisfaction
5. Owner satisfaction
Of course, we can put a number on our profitability, and if we treat revenue growth as a proxy for growth of our customer base then we can put a number on that too. (We don’t, currently, sell directly to consumers, so we have to assume that, if our sales are growing, we’re reaching more people. And our sales are growing: according to Nielsen Bookscan data last month, we are now the 16th biggest children’s publisher in the UK, and we are also growing our international sales.)
What’s harder is to put numbers on satisfaction. In terms of customer satisfaction, it is a pretty much daily source of pleasure to me to find on Twitter unsolicited comments from parents, grandparents, teachers, booksellers and librarians saying how much the children they’re engaged with are enjoying a book or an app that Nosy Crow has published. And the ratings for our books and apps on sites like Amazon and the App Store are useful indicators of customer satisfaction too.
Karren Brady’s comment about employee satisfaction made me think that we might need more formal ways to engage with our staff. Maybe it’s too easy to assume that if we spend a good proportion of our time in our open-plan space talking and laughing and sharing Minstrels that everyone is chipper. Of course, part of the advantage of there not being many people is that there’s no risk of any real distance between the “boss” and the “workers”. We’re all in the same room every day, and know each other well. But still, I made a note to myself to think about it a bit more.
That Karren Brady raised owner satisfaction as something worth measuring surprised me. I’d never have thought to include it in a list of things to track or consider. I am not the only owner of Nosy Crow, so I can’t speak for the other owners, but I can say that I am happier running “my own” business than I’ve ever been in my long publishing career… and I was lucky enough to have had a pretty enjoyable corporate career before Nosy Crow.
I guess another really really key thing for us to measure, if it’s ever possible to do, is the satisfaction of our creative talent – our authors and illustrators – but that’s one of the things that makes publishing special and, while it’s useful to draw general business lessons from someone like Karren Brady with her wide experience, it’s important, too, to remember the specifics of the business you are involved in.
This idea of emotional metrics, or of an emotional component to business, was something that all of the winners talked about. We all had an awareness of the importance of how people felt about the things we make and sell. Even the Young Entrepreneur of the Year winner, whose company makes food packaging and mainly for delis and independent coffee shops, spoke about the “affordable luxury” of the shop-bought coffee, the emotional decisions that customers are making when they choose to buy from an independent coffee shop, and the way that a distinctive take-away cup can be a badge telling the world of the decisions they’d made. Mask-arade is all about fun and personalisation. Two Fingers Beer is all about fun too, but with the added emotional sales-driver that they give all of their profits to Prostate Cancer UK.
The three other winners, us included, were about parents and children. Tiffany Rose makes and sells special occasion maternity dresses so that “women can look and feel elegant, stylish and confident during their pregnancy”. Holly and Beau makes and sells children’s raincoats and umbrellas that change colour when they’re wet – all about the fun. And as for us, well, as we say on in the about us section of our website, we care about making and selling books and apps that encourage children to read for pleasure. I have written about the responsibilities of working as a children’s publisher here.
Lunch with the judges and winners – champagne had been drunk which perhaps accounts for the quality of the photography
One of the great pleasures of social media and blogging is that we can listen to parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers and children from all over the world. Just this morning, I saw tweets from a happy parent referring to our new app: “Adam has started his day by asking for jigsaws – Nosy Crow’s jigsaw app!… He does tend to kill IRL (in real life) jigsaws, so to be honest this app is godsend.” And this past weekend, I was in correspondence with a child who was asking about forthcoming titles in the “Zoe’s Rescue Zoo” series “because I only have two more to read now and they take me three lots of one-and-a-half hours each night to finish. I have the Pesky Polar bear and the Cuddly Koala Left to go. I was wondering though if any more of them are going to be published if I could suggest some ideas because my dream is to one day become an author! I’m so glad that you replied to my email as soon as I saw it in my in box I ran to my mum and read it out loud!” Publishers can, for the first time, feel their emotional impact. It’s great!. That our emotional impact is on children is a responsibility and a privilege.
Of course we want to have a business that’s financially successful. Apart from anything else, our business success is key to our sustainability. But we want to make books that children enjoy – books that make a difference to children and, because they make a difference to children, that make a difference to the adults around them too.
Thanks to Nectar Business for the award; for the recognition that publishing, and, specifically, children’s publishing is still an exciting business place to be; for the opportunity to meet Karren Brady and the other winners; and for the prize of cash and nectar points. We’re using the money to fund a rights-selling trip and we’re putting the nectar points towards our next author and illustrator party. After all, without our authors and illustrators, we wouldn’t have a business at all.