How a Walk in the Rain Led to a Dream Come True
In 1994, James Byrd and Susan Daffron were living in Southern California doing the standard yuppie thing. We both had reasonably good jobs, but they were unsatisfying, partly because neither of us fit the SoCal mold (we don’t tan and we hate crowds). But we figured that as a programmer and tech writer, we really had to be in a big city to find a job. So, we felt like we were on the slow track to nowhere, working for companies run by dishonest people (who probably should have been in jail…but that’s a different story). Every day, like most people, we made the 1.25 hour commute on the very scary freeways to our jobs since it seemed like the only thing to do.
To remain sane, we regularly took vacations to get away from the city. Both of us yearned for mountains and needed periodic “tree fixes” to de-stress. For us, being off in the trees is where we felt most at home. On one trip to Idyllwild, California, a tiny town in the San Jacinto Mountains, we were walking around amidst the trees letting them work their magic on us as we tried to forget about life down in the city. It was raining, and as we walked along the residential streets, we noticed a few nice houses. I mean really nice houses.
Idyllwild’s local economy was fueled by tiny tourist shops and resorts, yet we knew from the ads we’d seen that real estate was extremely expensive. We were struck by the notion: what do these people DO that makes it possible to live up here in such nice homes? And how could we do the same? Then it dawned on us. We could do our work from just about anywhere, as long as we had a phone line and a modem.
Back then, the Web was new, but we realized then and there that telecommuting was the answer. If we ran our own business, we could live anywhere we wanted. We could leave Southern California with its smog, freeways, and “beautiful people.” It was such a freeing thought that we couldn’t get it out of our heads. We read every business book we could find, and two months later, we formed Logical Expressions.
It All Started in a Two-Bedroom Condo
As with every business, you have to start somewhere. We wrote a business plan and Susan quit her job in January 1995 to run LE full time. At that time, we offered technical writing, design and editing services. In August, James quit his job and began doing contract programming work. All of our clients were in Southern California, but we used e-mail, fax, FedEx, and the occasional meetings to work with our clients. Because our clients were used to not dealing with us face-to-face, we realized that our dream of moving away from the Southland was within our grasp. So, we used our vacation time to explore various areas of the West with lots of trees and mountains. We found Sandpoint on one of those journeys and fell in love with the Inland Northwest.
Living the Life We Imagined
Our next project was selling our condo and getting ourselves and our business moved, which was no small task in a terrible real estate market. But again, we researched. We read everything we could about selling a house and sold our place in May of 1996.
We bought an unfinished log home in Sandpoint and moved our cats and all our computer equipment to a tiny rental ski chalet on Schweitzer Mountain where we lived and worked while the house was finished. To our clients, the transition was virtually seamless with the exception of different telephone numbers.
Publishing Our Own Magazine
As we became more involved in the community, we realized that we wanted to share some of our knowledge with people in the area. In Southern California, there was a successful and widely adored computer magazine that we both used to read. We thought that with our editorial and computing background, we could create a similar magazine.
We did some research and discovered that there had been a magazine like that in North Idaho called ComputorLink, but it had been shut down. So we forged ahead. We sold ads, wrote articles, and put out the first issue of Computor Companion in the Fall of 1999. It was extremely well received and we heard from people in Spokane that they wanted it there too. So we expanded our distribution.
Susan was the publisher, managing editor, proofreader, advertising salesperson, distribution driver, and graphic designer. You could say that she had to wear so many hats that she had to duck to get through the door. She had to pull together all of her publishing experience to produce the magazine reliably, issue after issue.
In 2000, Susan decided to make Computor Companion available on the Web. To that end, James developed a Web-based content management tool named the Logical Web Publisher. This tool provides the framework for every online publication we’ve created since then. The Logical Web Publisher is similar to the blog software of today, but at the time we developed it, blogs did not exist as we know them today.
Unfortunately, the “dot-bomb” and 9/11 economic crash of 2001 drained away most of the local advertising dollars and some of the advertisers themselves. Much to the disappointment of our readers, the September/October 2001 issue was the last one to go to press. However, Computor Companion lived on online for more than a decade and many useful articles are still available at SusanDaffron.com.
Writing for Local Newspapers
Not long after we moved here, Susan started volunteering at the local animal shelter. During that time, she was exposed to both the light and dark sides of animal rescue and adoption. She learned that animals are often adopted by people with unrealistic expectations of pet ownership.
To help reduce the number of animals returned to the shelter and to improve public awareness of pet care issues, Susan started writing a column named Pet Tails for the Bonner County Daily Bee in 1998. The column ran in the Bee through 2000, and then it was picked up by The River Journal in 2003, where it continued through 2007.
In early 2001, Susan started writing a different column for the Bonner County Daily Bee called Tales from the Mousepad. The newspaper provided a venue for sharing computing tips with the community, and it also provided free publicity for Computor Companion through Susan’s biography at the bottom of each article. Susan wrote around 300 Tales from the Mousepad articles from 2001 to 2007.
In addition to the Tales from the Mousepad articles, Susan’s Logical Tips e-zine included a blog-like introduction that she called Not Necessarily Nerdy Musings. In the musings, she wrote about day-in-the-life stuff that related to our experiences running a home-based business in North Idaho. As it turned out, many readers appreciated the musings as much or more than the computing tips!
The comments Susan received from readers in response to her musings inspired us launch another e-zine called Sandpoint Insider in 2004. The Insider featured information about Sandpoint and our experiences here. The Insider Web site included photos of the area on a weekly basis. Subscribers from around the world who had lived in Sandpoint or wanted to live in Sandpoint frequently commented on how the stories and pictures reminded them of home or fed their dreams of moving here. We ran the e-zine through 2007, and the articles live on through the Web site.
All of this writing was quite a grind. The Logical Web Publisher made it easy to keep the sites updated, but pumping out new content every week was still a challenge. At one point, we were writing content regularly for four active online publications:
In addition, we operated two other publication sites based on our vegan lifestyle and James’ most technical articles:
When we decided to start our Publishize newsletter in 2007, something had to give. Giving away free content is nice, but doesn’t do much to pay the mortgage. On the other hand, all that writing built an excellent foundation for what would come next.
As anyone who operates any kind of consulting business knows, there’s a fine line between being self-employed and being unemployed. Most consultants experience a demoralizing feast-or-famine business cycle because it is difficult to focus on marketing at the same time they are trying to complete a project.
Additionally, being a consultant is a lot like being an employee, because your income potential is limited to the number of hours you can put into billable work. Fortunately, with two of us doing the work and often for different clients, we were able to maintain a reasonably stable level of income, but by 2005, we were ready for a break from the grind.
Most consulting businesses must either grow or die. Growth is required in the form of employees and/or products that give you a way to make money while you are working on getting new customers and projects (or vacationing). Given our desire to remain location independent, we decided to grow by developing and selling information products, and get the support we need from virtual assistants.
Expanding into Book Publishing
We realized that we had a virtual gold mine in all of the content we had produced for our various publications and the knowledge that was behind it. We also saw that our experience and interests gave us the advantage of multiple potential income streams: computing, pets, and veganism. The key was to produce books and information products related to these topics.
Even experienced writers can have a tough time breaking into the traditional book publishing market, and when they do, the financial rewards are often disappointing. Rather than take the traditional route, we decided to add book publishing to our business model. We could have gone with a subsidy (or “vanity”) publisher, but Susan’s extensive experience in the publishing industry and the availability of inexpensive print-on-demand services made that approach unnecessary and undesirable.
In 2006, Susan published our first printed book, which was a cookbook titled Vegan Success. The book is available on Amazon.com and other major online book stores in addition to the Logical Expressions Store. Thanks to print-on-demand technologies, we were able to publish the book for a small up-front investment (under $200) and avoid having to keep a garage full of books that might never sell.
Developing Publishing Tools
When she published the cookbook, Susan learned how frustrating it can be to collect and organize dozens of articles and new content into a coherent manuscript. James was tasked with providing a solution that would make it easier.
We had actually been thinking about creating a software program that would help us with our many writing tasks for quite some time. We talked about our ideas with a fellow author who was a classic “index card” writer. With this technique, you use colored index cards to record different kinds of ideas, and then you organize them into an outline. The concept behind the method is sound, but it is a manual process that is not supported by typical word processing programs.
We decided that we wanted a software program that gave us the advantages of the index card methodology, but with a computer interface that could easily generate a standard word processing document.
And so IdeaWeaver was born. Believing that IdeaWeaver would be something that other writers would enjoy using, we released the first commercial version of the program in the summer of 2006, and followed it up with a fall release that incorporated changes requested by the initial users.
Susan was able to use IdeaWeaver for our second book Web Business Success. Web Business Success was assembled from our many Web business and Web design articles, along with a lot of new content. Susan was able to use IdeaWeaver’s organization tools to make sense of all this information and produce a manuscript much faster than would have been possible with a word processor.
Publishing Information Products
The books were a good start for recycling and re-purposing our content, but we knew we had a lot more to offer. In 2007, we produced various tools under our “what is your time worth” campaign. The idea was to sell the tools we use for productivity in an electronic, downloadable form.
We released a series of templates for Microsoft Word dubbed TimeSaver Templates. We also released an inventory management spreadsheet for Microsoft Excel, a collection of custom mouse cursors, and a software component that helps Web site owners protect certain files on their Web site from being downloaded without authorization.
We had finally figured out a way to make money on all of the expertise we had been giving away free for years, and in a form that had more value to our customers. We learned that a lot of people would prefer to just pay you to give them a solution, rather than tell them how to create their own solution.
Eight Books in Eighteen Months
Once we had book publishing figured out, Susan didn’t hesitate to move forward with more projects. In 2007, she dusted off her Happy Hound and Happy Tabby book projects, which had been lingering on her hard drive in massive Word files for a couple of years. She moved both projects into IdeaWeaver and was finally able to organize them to her satisfaction.
Never missing a beat, Susan launched into her biggest content recycling project of all: She took the hundreds of articles she had written for Logical Tips, and compiled them into a series of four Logical Tips books:
- Logical Tips for Mastering Your Computer: Quick Shortcuts, Tips, Tricks, and Techniques to Help You Use Your Computer More Effectively.
- Logical Tips for Mastering the Internet: Quick Shortcuts, Tips, Tricks, and Techniques to Help You Use the Internet More Effectively.
- Logical Tips for Mastering Microsoft Office: Quick Shortcuts, Tips, Tricks, and Techniques to Help You Use Microsoft Office More Effectively.
- Logical Tips for Mastering Microsoft Windows: Quick Shortcuts, Tips, Tricks, and Techniques to Help You Use Microsoft Windows More Effectively.
Again, IdeaWeaver was indispensable for this task. By January 2008, she had self-published a total of eight books in a mere eighteen months.
Helping Others Self-Publish
In late 2007, a fellow entrepreneur saw what we were doing with self-publishing and wanted to learn how to do the same thing. He already had a series of e-books, and he even had a few books published through a traditional publisher, but he wasn’t interested in repeating that experience. He wanted to turn his e-books into print books, and he wanted to do it himself.
A light went on for us. We realized that a lot of business owners, consultants, and subject matter experts of all kinds could benefit from adding self-publishing to their business model as we have done. As usual, we were ready and able to share our hard-won knowledge.
In November of 2007, we started our Publishize newsletter, which led to Susan’s book of the same name. Publishize is a word we made up that combines the words “publish” and “publicize,” as in “publicize your business by publishing books and information products.” The book has advice on all aspects of self-publishing, from authoring content to promoting your books with a Web site.
Our involvement in self-publishing led us to create the first virtual conference for self-publishers. The Self-Publishers Online Conference brings together publishing experts who share their insights about the ever-evolving business of publishing.
Building Customer Relationships through the Internet
We are always exploring new ways to connect with our market place and provide better service. We’ve also created membership sites to help us connect with groups we are interested in. We started an organization called the National Association for Pet Rescue Professionals (NAPRP). Members get access to a membership Web site that provides tools to help pet rescues and shelters save more animals’ lives.
That led to two more books from Susan, Funds to the Rescue with 101 fundraising ideas and Publicity to the Rescue, which explains how humane organizations can use the power of publicity to help more animals.
In response to even more questions about self-publishing, we also created training courses at SelfPubU and a mastermind group called the Book Authors Circle.
Completing the Transition to Book Publishing
With all the transitions over a lot of years, two things have been consistent: location independence and writing. Our ability to produce content is the one consistent thread that runs through all the things we’ve done with Logical Expressions. Now we have opted to focus exclusively on book publishing, which like our other businesses can be done from just about anywhere.
Logical Expressions is now officially a book publisher with several books published by other authors (the 57 Secrets series) and a fiction imprint called Magic Fur Press, which has released three novels so far:
We are continuing to release new books every year and hope to continue to “Live long and publish!”