Lessons Learned from an Accidental Author

Jim Horan

By Lynne Beverly Strang, Late Blooming Entrepreneurs 

Jim Horan never expected to own a business or write a book. Much to his surprise, he ended up doing both in the second half of his life. 

As explained in this 2013 blog post, Horan started The One-Page Business Plan Company in 1990 when he was nearly 40. His goal was help entrepreneurs construct their business plans with a single page. Seven years later, the Berkeley, California-based innovator published The One-Page Business Plan® at age 45. It became an Amazon bestseller, spawned five more books and triggered a host of new products, including an Entrepreneur’s Tool Kit, workbooks and cloud-based software. It also led to consulting and speaking opportunities with a long list of corporations, associations and nonprofits.  

In this interview, Horan – the keynote speaker for this week’s Nonfiction Authors Association Fall 2017 Writers Conference – provides insights on his “accidental” publishing experience. He also offers suggestions for other entrepreneurs who aspire to write a business book.

What led you to write your book?

Actually, the idea came from other people, which is often the case with good ideas. Back in 1990, I thought my career was over when I was booted out of the corporate world at age 38. I was depressed and had lost most of my confidence. I realize now I wasn’t a loser. I was just temporarily lost.

I began picking up consulting jobs with organizations that didn’t have a strategic or business plan. All entrepreneurs need a network because no one builds a business alone. We need a place to go and learn from other aspiring entrepreneurs. I belonged to multiple entrepreneurial support groups, which is what kept me going.

In 1994, I took my idea for the one-page business plan to my mastermind group for feedback. Great idea, they said. You have something. Now go out and speak about it. When I said I was afraid of public speaking, they told me to get over it. So I started speaking to chambers of commerce and professional organizations, among other groups.

After about five speeches, audiences started asking if I had a book. That question terrified me! I’m the guy who got Cs and Ds in English. I asked my support group what I should do. They recommended that I go to the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA). I liked the idea of self-publishing because I am not into asking permission and I wouldn’t need a literary agent to represent me.

BAIPA had me test three editors. The third one, Rebecca Salome, liked my writing style and gave me the confidence to move forward. Rebecca became my book coach and the editor of all six of my books. After three years, I published my first book in 1997.

How has writing a book benefited your business? 

It was like an “on” button. Publication of the first book really ignited the business. Things began to happen at a much faster pace. People seemed to like the fact that I had come up with a simple solution to a common problem. It can take weeks or months to write a business plan. As a result, many people give up. Entrepreneurs, business owners and executives not only bought my books, they wanted my consulting services. They asked me to keynote conferences and lead workshops. Eventually, they wanted my cloud-based software.

You advise authors to view their business books as a starting point. What does this mean?

A book is a great way to become visible and introduce yourself as an expert. Nonfiction authors may not think of themselves as experts and teachers but that’s what they are. Writing a book makes you special. Once business executives and owners read your book, they are much more likely to enlist your professional services and buy your other products.

The key to turning your book into a business is to hang out in the same places as business people. Be curious and ask questions. What makes their business successful? What’s their next or hottest idea?  They will begin to ask you questions, which is magical. It gives you the opportunity to talk about what problems you will solve, and how you solve them.

What’s enabled your book to succeed when so many haven’t?

It certainly helped to have a simple concept and a foreword written by business guru and author Tom Peters. But more importantly, I always did something with my book for 23 years. Constant marketing remains critical. I still do something with my books every day and encourage all authors to do the same.

A big factor was leveraging the power and magic of associations. Just about every industry has one. A turning point occurred when the CEO of GAMA International called and said, “My industry needs One-Page Business Plans. Would you create a special edition for our industry?” That CEO and his association put us on the map.

Could you have written a book when you were younger?

No. I didn’t know who I was back then. When I was in my 20s and 30s, my world was small. I lived within the four walls of corporate America and had very little involvement with my local and professional communities. There were topics I could have written about but I didn’t have the audience.

What advice would you give to others who want to write a business book?

Get started now. Don’t wait or play it safe. Do it your way and break the rules. You’ll find it energizes you, which will energize others.

Join a support group for authors. They need your support and you need theirs.

Find an editor who captures your voice – and who encourages you to keep going and finish the book.

Go to new places and meet new people. Listen to what they want and need. They just might tell you who needs your products or services. Keep in mind that the best ideas come from the marketplace.

And finally, remember that business is first and foremost about people. Pick up the phone and call people in your tribe. They’ll introduce you to people in their tribes. That’s how you go from an aspiring entrepreneur or author to a successful one with a sustainable business.

About Lynne Strang

I'm a freelance writer who helps organizations and individuals meet their marketing and communications goals. I am also the author of "Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs: Eight Principles for Starting a Business After Age 40." To learn more, please visit my website: lynnebeverlystrang.com.
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