Organization Name: Chicago Center for Literature and Photography (CCLaP)
Executive Director Name: Jason Pettus
Year Established: 2007
Contact Information: http://www.cclapcenter.com/
Product/Service: CURRENT: Electronic books, reviews and critical essays, social events, manuscript editing services, and an interview-based podcast. COMING: Paper books, performance events, classes and workshops, merchandise, eventual brick-and-mortar location.
Unique Features/Competitive Advantage: Nonprofit-oriented but with an underlying commercial business structure, CCLaP works much more directly with its fans and members than traditional non-profits do to determine not only the center’s agenda but which types of artists to most heavily feature; and by generating its revenue through commercial products and services instead of nonprofit grants, the center is free of influence from pressure campaigns by conservative watchdog groups, allowing it to fulfill its mission of supporting edgy and independent artists much more fully. By currently being a mostly electronic organization with only one paid employee, both overhead and production costs are nearly zero, allowing the center to try such press-friendly experiments as “pay what you want” electronic books and a Twitter-based story series, ironically generating a bigger audience than normal and a healthy financial profit, despite only 25 percent of the books’ readers being paying ones.
Biggest lesson learned in the last year: That success in the small-business world doesn’t gradually rise like a curving line on a graph, but rather in random starts and fits, which also doubles as “most surprising lesson learned in the last year.” Many times we can toil on a project for months without even the least external sign of success or recognition, the very reason that so many non-business people call entrepreneurs hopeless dreamers when times are tough; what I’ve come to learn is that these might very well be the times when you’re creating the long-term respect in the backs of the minds of random strangers who will eventually bring a big boost to your organization, like a high-profile journalist or venture capitalist, and that it’s this quiet time of simply getting the work done that precisely creates this long-term respect in the first place. It’s why overcoming self-doubt is such a hidden but important aspect of being a small-business owner.
Best advice for someone starting out: Dream big at first, and get a good mental picture of what you see your business looking like when running at full steam; then cut that dream down to a tenth of its former size, and first try getting that running smoothly before attempting anything else. As I’ve learned the hard way, by announcing small goals and then doing a little better than promised, you will gain an immense amount of respect and loyalty from your customers, no matter how modest those goals are; but by announcing an impressive goal and then not quite reaching it, you will garner almost nothing but ridicule.
Past activities: On November 29 Jason hosted a lively CCLaP event at Stage 773, with Nathan Rabin & Ben Tanzer. Author of the bestselling memoir The Big Rewind and now essay series My Year of Flops, Rabin and other “AV Club” staffers are regulars of the NPR and cable-talk-show circuit, as this former offshoot of the satirical publication The Onion has gained a life of its own in the past few years, and has become an outlet for some of the smartest and funniest critical essays currently being printed in this country. All of these subjects and more were discussed, first in a traditional one-hour sit-down interview in front of a live audience, then while taking those audience members’ questions for another half-hour. Cultishly loved local writer Ben Tanzer, whose four publications include the CCLaP books Repetition Patterns and 99 Problems, performed a brand-new 15-minute story on the subject of bad movies to open things up. After the event Rabin was available to sign his books, which were available for purchase in the lobby.
For information on the latest CCLaP events, check out: http://www.cclapcenter.com/events/