After years of planning and saving, Julia finally opened Sweet Success, the store of her dreams, selling chocolate treats to people who shared her passion for candy. Because finances were limited, she poured her money into sugar and cocoa, not advertising, believing that word of mouth and reputation would increase her business. When friends stopped by, she offered discounts and freebies to encourage them to return. Her staff consisted of family members and friends who needed the work. Julia closed her doors within six months, her business bankrupt.
As you read this scenario, you were undoubtedly thinking, “Of course Julia went bankrupt; she didn’t train her staff correctly; she didn’t advertise; she didn’t charge enough; she didn’t follow a sound business plan.”
But were you also thinking that your yearbook program could be enhanced were you to follow the same business model that Julia so clearly ignored? Do you promote your product? While you probably accept advertising, do you also advertise? Do you choose your staff carefully or take all who apply? Once you have a staff, do you take the time to train them and then offer regular refresher courses?
Following are ways to bring sound business practices into your own yearbook program.
Good businesses know what they want and then set goals to achieve their vision. For instance, a car dealer knows he won’t increase sales by closing his eyes, tapping his heels three times and wishing really hard. Instead, he will study data, develop a plan, enact the plan, and revisit and revise the plan. The same technique holds true for your yearbook program.
Set SMART goals. A goal is not to “increase book sales.” A SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) goal is to increase book sales in one year from 50 percent to 65 percent. Once that goal is set, then an action plan can be formulated to achieve it.
Choose your staff. Every potential staff member should go through an application process (even if, ultimately, you will take every applicant). This not only allows you to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your potential employees, it sets clear expectations for every staffer.
Train your staff. Every job requires training. Your best opportunity is for staff members to attend a summer camp. If this is not possible, then a staff retreat before school starts will allow students to begin their training, learning not only how to produce a product, but how to work with others - both crucial skills.
Communicate with your staff. Good businesses establish clear expectations of behavior. This includes everything from sharing goals to arriving on time to appropriate behavior. Communication is also reciprocal and on-going.
Pay your staff. One way I honor my students as employees is by paying them to sell business ads. They earn 10 percent of each business ad they sell. The yearbook program also sells enough business ads to pay all costs for students to attend summer workshops.
(Your Program, Not the Book)
While selling ads is important, making sure that those who count (the administration, teachers, student body, community and staff members’ parents) are aware of all that your students are achieving.
Keep the administration in the know. Schedule times for the principal to visit your class. Let him/her know how much you enjoyed that late night work party in a quiet school; tell him/her how hard the custodians work after hours; make sure students covering events take the time to greet him/her at that event. Always be pleasant and visible.
Thank those who help. This is not only sound business, it is good manners. Write notes to the custodian for cleaning up after you, to the secretary for checking schedules, to the teacher for allowing you to distribute that survey, to the businesses who purchased advertisements. Have a group photo made into “greeting” cards at your local copy shop with the message “Thank you for your support.” Send it to everyone who helps you (advertisers, parents, senior photographer) so that they see the faces of the students they have impacted.
Perform community service. All good businesses give back in some way or another. You can perform community service in many ways: share outstanding ad photos with businesses; take “publicity” photos for the administration when they need them; allocate a minimum number of yearbooks to distribute free to students (chosen by their counselors and delivered discreetly) who would otherwise never be able to afford one.
Your business is only as successful as your product and your people. If you want to be respected, do a great job.
Make appointments. Good businessmen call ahead. While this is not always possible, making appointments for interviews and ad sale follow-ups show that you are not only professional, but you wish to be treated as such.
Check your facts. Make sure that your quotes are accurate. Find out actual costs of supplies. Ask questions before jumping to conclusions about anything from a staffer missing a deadline to a broken camera.
Only promise what you can deliver. If you tell the DECA teacher that you are devoting three spreads to his program, you better do so. If you promise your students that they will receive their books on May 15, meet your deadlines.
Which reminds me — meet your deadlines. Of all the business practices that make the most sense for yearbooks, this is it.
The best advice I ever heard from an administrator was this: “Feed the teachers or they will eat the children.” This philosophy works even better for yearbook staffers.
Plan bonding activities. Businesses hold retreats and company picnics. Yearbook staffs should do the same: organize a bowling competition with the newspaper staff; meet at a staffer’s house to watch a favorite movie; host deadline celebration parties.
Celebrate successes early and often. Successful businesses learned long ago that a paycheck alone does not keep employees happy. Public, sincere recognition of a job well done offers rewards beyond money. Did Sarah write a great lead? Read it to the entire class. Post Nathaniel’s amazing photo for all to see. Choose a Staffer of the Week.
You are your staff’s greatest advocate. As you celebrate all the joys and successes of being part of this incredible business of running a yearbook, know this:
The success you achieve is not measured in Pacemaker awards or profits. Rather it comes from the students who major in journalism or design their own Web pages; it is seen in the photos they take of their own families years from now; it is their ability to set and achieve a goal. It comes years later when they tell their own children, “If you take only one class in high school, make it yearbook.”
Herff Jones Special Consultant
Smoky Hill High School, CO