Your company has reached a major milestone, a new CEO is being appointed, or maybe a significant anniversary is coming up.
Press releases are fleeting, and your boss wants something more concrete, something to hand out to clients, stakeholders, investors, and employees.
The execs have landed on the idea of a company history book — one that can commemorate the company’s story and achievements for a lifetime.
Here’s the kicker: You’ve been tasked with writing, editing, and managing the book. It also needs to be polished and perfected as soon as possible, and although you get the appeal, you have absolutely no idea where to start.
Well, top up your coffee and take a breath, because you’ve landed on the right page. This article is a fool-proof, tried and tested survival guide to writing a company history book.
The professional ghostwriters and editors at The Writers For Hire have seen a ton of corporate businesses come through the door, and we’ve learned some crucial golden nuggets along the way.
This easy-to-follow guide will go over the content needed for your book, the form it should take, the people you need to interview, and, most important, how you can make your book stand out from the crowd and even generate high-ticket clients.
Why a Company History Book?
Let’s take a look at three core reasons why a company chooses to write a corporate history book, and the benefits it can bring to an establishment.
1. Brand Storytelling
Writing in Forbes in January 2019, Celinne Da Costa declared brand storytelling “the future of marketing.” In this overly digitalized world, showing a company’s human side is crucial to its success and longevity. As Da Costa puts it, nowadays, “humanity is becoming the new premium.”
People are craving human connectivity now more than ever.
More than sales numbers, quarter milestones, and successful leaders, what really stands the test of time is a brand that connects itself to the age-old practice of storytelling.
A company history book is one of the best ways to incorporate your company’s human side.
It’s a way for a company to show its core values, its mission, and the humbling journey of founders with a big dream that then turned into a reality. These are the things that deserve to be recorded.
2. A Growth Tool
A company history book is an excellent way to generate leads, grow interest, and expand reach.
There are many different ways to incorporate your company history book into a lead generation system.
Setting up a landing page for your book where clients, investors, stakeholders, or prospective employees can see your professionally completed work not only sparks interest, but also accelerates the company’s professional presence.
When you build a product that highlights and declares the company’s expertise, you are in turn cementing the company and its story into a tangible and attractive form.
3. The Ultimate Corporate Welcome
Picture this: A prospective employee walks into the office and is told to wait at reception. Maybe it’s one of those days when everyone is swamped and they are left waiting longer than you had anticipated.
They see your company history book, leaf through a mixture of some of the best company moments, and perhaps even match a friendly face in the pictures to the job interviewer with whom they were emailing.
Instantly, the company becomes more alive.
The same can be said for anyone who walks in the door.
Having a professionally produced representation of the company ensures that new clients, employees, or business investors understand what the company is about before they’ve even met the team.
Aside from this, a book is the perfect corporate gift for those momentous occasions.
Now that you understand some of the many reasons companies choose to record their story in a book, let’s focus on the how.
12 Steps to Company History Book Success
1. Set the intention of your book.
Dream big here. Don’t just limit the book to something that will make a great coffee table asset. (Although it does that, too!)
Make sure you’re clear on your company’s intention with the corporate history book. Is it to expand growth within the company? Is it to share the company’s morals and values with a wider audience? Is it to commemorate a change in management or procedure?
Whatever the intention, allow that to lead the book’s progression. Of course, you can have more than just one reason to write a company history book. But when the project feels too big to even start, it’s a good idea to remind yourself of the book’s intention, and why it’s important to get the book done as envisioned.
That brings us onto our second crucial point.
2. Consider hiring a ghostwriter.
In the same way that you hire vendors and outsource different content that isn’t available in-house, you, too, should consider hiring a professional ghostwriter to do the heavy lifting of this project.
Professional ghostwriters are experts at managing large manuscripts, writing impressive amounts of text under seemingly impossible deadlines, and organizing many of the different files, images, and information needed for your company history book.
You should consider hiring a ghostwriter to do the writing, interviewing, and managing of your book. Not only will they take the load off your hands, ghostwriters and editors will ensure that the product you’re handing over to the big boss is of the highest, professional quality.
Even if you’ve already started the project and have reached a standstill, ghostwriters are comfortable with joining projects at any given stage.
While corporate companies tend to produce technical in-house writing, business ghostwriters are wizards at transforming complex information into a relatable, compelling, and action-led story.
3. Establish project goals.
Before any writing gets done, you’ll want to ensure that you sit down with all of the project collaborators and shareholders and set out realistic and agreed project goals.
This sit-down needs to cover the following project aspects.
4. Define Your Target Audience
Your book is going to look different depending on your target audience. Is this an in-house book for employees only? Or do you intend to self-publish and reach a wider audience?
Narrow your target audience down and specify who the book’s target audience is. This will then drive the book’s writing style and content, as well as the most suitable format it should take.
5. Be Realistic About Your Book Completion Date
We generally recommend that clients allow for at least six months to a year for the book’s publication.
Ghostwriters are certainly known for reaching impressive deadlines but take it from us: A book is worth spending the time and effort.
The last thing you want is for the book not to turn out as planned because a deadline seemed more important than the book itself.
Here’s what Flori Meeks, one of our top corporate history book ghostwriters has to say about the length of time and what is needed from clients when working together:
“Project length depends on how frequently the client can meet with us, how long those meetings are, how many additions and revisions the client wants, how many people we are asked to interview in addition to the client, and how much research we need to do to complement the client’s interviews.
A project might take even more time if the company’s journey involves a lot of complex details. I worked with one client who told us about technological advances that impacted his company, a couple of company inventions, the purchase of other businesses in different industries, management and franchise challenges, and the day-to-day challenges of working with their children. Getting all of those details right–and making sure they’re understandable and interesting to readers–can add time to the writing process.”
If you do have a shorter deadline that can’t be moved, then choose to narrow down the parts of the company’s history you’re going to focus on. Short-form company histories are a thing, too. It all depends on what you need. When you find the right team to work with, they’ll make sure your vision comes to life.
6. Visualize the finished product.
Despite what you may have heard, there is no cookie-cutter approach that must be followed when writing a company history book. In fact, some of the most popular books out there have taken advantage of newer digitized formats.
Check out these 10 different book examples from The Writers For Hire, ranging from family-centered memoirs to self-help entrepreneurial reads that offer crucial advice for start-ups.
Maybe you’d prefer to have your company history laid out on your website. Or perhaps you’re a family business with a rich and century-long family tree that you’d love to investigate.
Consider exactly how your book needs to stand out and represent your company in the best way possible. And make sure to pinpoint some book examples that inspire you.
Allow yourself to get creative and excited about the finished product. High-vis photography from different generations, personal touches such as recipes from farm-run businesses, or invaluable advice from some of the top leaders in an industry are only some of the elements that take a company history book to the next level.
7. Agree to a review process.
With the book’s deadline in mind, agree on who exactly is going to be responsible for allocating feedback on the book’s progress, and how often this review process is going to occur.
Consider project goal posts, set clear and realistic deadlines as to when feedback needs to be received, and ensure that everyone who needs to see a draft has had a chance to review it before moving on to the next section.
8. Gather book materials.
If the book meeting goes according to plan, you’ll leave feeling fired up and ready to get cracking. Take advantage of this momentum! Start gathering all of the critical data that you need to include in your company history book.
Begin by tracking the many different ways your company has told its story in the past: Think of press releases, in-house newsletters, photographs, and recorded interviews. Speak to the old-timers that have been there since the beginning and figure out which department has access to archived and historical data.
Ask for help from the marketing team and track down those who remember the company’s journey in detail. Once you’ve mapped out how much content is available, as well as who can give you first-hand accounts of the company’s history, it’s time to start recording the information in the form of an interview.
9. Conduct interviews.
First-hand accounts are always a popular media form. The more personal you can make the company’s story, the better. But don’t just stop at the higher-up execs and leaders.
Think outside the box and locate employees who have been around for an extended period of time.
Have you had the same receptionist for the past 15 years? How about the maintenance guy who has fixed more photocopiers than he can count? What about the building manager who may have helped the offices move and who progressed as the company did?
Most corporate history books focus on upper management. But don’t overlook those who have been around just as long, but in smaller roles.
The insights and reflections from employees who have been dedicated to the company for years will make your book really stand out.
Create an online schedule that you can follow and, bit by bit, arrange to meet with the people you’ve agreed to interview. Have clear-cut questions prepared but be open to allowing the subject matter experts and other interviewees to lead, focusing on making the story as understandable and relatable as possible.
A business can often get indoctrinated into explaining aspects of the company that only insiders would be able to comprehend. There may be some tweaking done to the interviews when it comes to writing them down, or you may want to hand out some guidelines for the interviewees to consider before recording.
Here’s what corporate ghostwriter Flori Meeks has to say about what makes a really great interview:
“One of the best ways a client can help us is to make themselves accessible for detailed conversations with us. We want to hear more than the “what” and “when” of their company history; we need the “how” and “why,” too.
We want to hear their stories, including their insights on missteps.
We need details that make the information they share valuable and fascinating for readers.
When clients make time for conversations, it also gives us a better feel for their voice and personality so we can do a better job capturing it in their book.”
Never conducted an interview before? Don’t let that put you off. You don’t need a Master’s in Journalism to figure it out. But there are some core skills that ghostwriters use to make an interview a successful one — the first time around. Check out these top tips.
1. Double check recording software.
Whether it’s a Zoom conversation or you’re using a voice recording software, double and triple check your technology before conducting the interview. This is an easy mistake that first-time interviewers can fall victim to.
Right after a meaty interview with a high-level executive, the last thing you want is to realize that the record button wasn’t switched on.
Especially when conducting interviews with employees whose time is more sensitive, it is worth spending 5 to 10 minutes before the interview starts making sure that everything is set up, that the audio on the device is being recorded, and that you’ve conducted a sound recording test.
2. Pre-send interview questions.
Over the years of conducting hundreds of interviews with all different types of businesses, we have found that pre-sending interview questions can help make the interviewee feel prepared and more engaged with what’s being asked.
Emphasize to your interviewees that the conversation is going to be transcribed in written form.
The writing process is going to be a lot easier if the interview is high-quality, with less jargon and filler, and with more crucial detail. Pre-sending interview questions can be a huge time-saver, and it can help calm the nerves of anyone who feels a little audio-shy at first.
3. Source relevant examples.
If you’re still not feeling confident about conducting interviews, take a look at some business leaders who you really admire, leaders that align with your own company’s field of work and morals.
Check out some of their top-rated interviews and see what sort of questions allow them to open up and express their company’s story.
The best way to get inspiration is to see how it has been done before. Here’s 100 must-see interviews with some of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs to get you on the right track.
10. Create a company history timeline.
Now that you’ve gathered as much data and interviews as possible, not forgetting online digging and internet deep dives, it’s time to get the story structured into a chronological order.
Barbara Adams, another one of the top corporate ghostwriters at The Writers For Hire, gave us some great insight into what this process looks like:
“Let’s face it, when it comes to reading a corporate history, no one wants to feel like they’re doing an archaeological dig. An introduction followed by a decade-by-decade exploration is probably most effective. I like what I call a “modular” approach – the history in narrative form with sidebars about the company’s key (or most colorful) personalities, products, [and] achievements.
Any way you can break up the content into snackable pieces is helpful to the reader, as is including lots of large photos. It’s also very effective to put a timeline in each chapter. That way, you can incorporate all the key activities of a year or a decade without making the reader search through the narrative for the information. I don’t mean to suggest it’s an either-or; you can use the timeline to get important dates and initiatives in front of the reader, then expand in the narrative about what happened or why it was important.”
11. Write a sample chapter.
Once you’ve gathered a ton of material and you’ve conducted key interviews, it’s time to get started on the writing process.
You don’t have to do this in chronological order of the company’s history. Start off on the section that you feel the most confident writing about.
Don’t get ahead of yourself and write 15-20 pages before anyone has had a chance to review what you’ve done.
It’s crucial that the reviewers and editors are all on the same page with how the book should be written, as well as what format and style the book is going to take.
Another important aspect of the writing phase is how to incorporate edits and revisions.
Set up a clear review process. Are you going to use Track Changes and encourage the reviewers to do the same? Or will this be an in-person review where the edit team gets together and breaks up the review into sections?
Knowing how to integrate edits and feedback is a skill in itself. If this aspect of the project seems daunting to you, consider going to a team of professionals who can take over the writing, editing, and final review process of the project.
The writing schedule should move at a pace of about one chapter a week, with the review process continuing as you originally decided. Again, if the pre-planning of this project has been executed properly, the writing process will have been scheduled according to what’s realistic, along with usual work responsibilities.
12. Don’t let your book be forgotten.
Writing a corporate history book is not for the faint-hearted. Collecting a large amount of data, as well as finding the time to write down all of the information you have required, is a big feat. Know when to reach out for professional help and choose a team of trusted ghostwriters and editors with a proven track record.
Investing in your corporate history book is something that can lead to invaluable rewards. You want to have a book that best reflects the endurance, strength, and intellectual knowledge of your company.
As Barbara Adams explained, writing a company history book should be an exciting and rewarding process:
“I’m a long-time information junkie, so any project that requires research is fascinating to me. I enjoy digging into the corporate “time capsule” — the archive of old photos, newsletters, annual reports, newspaper clippings, and so on — to understand how the company grew and changed over the decades, especially against the backdrop of what was happening in the community and the world month-to-month and year-to-year.
It’s also exciting to find out what the founders had in mind when they started the company and to see how those goals were met or exceeded. For example, when I wrote about a century-old business recently, it was interesting to see how the company’s current community relations and sustainability policies can be traced directly back to the interests of the founder. In that way, writing the history wasn’t just about delving into the past; it was also about learning how the past created the present (and the future).
Of course, the best part is putting everything into words – bringing the company to life for readers so they see what sets it apart, where its value is, why it’s a great place to work, why customers embrace it, and so on.”
Remember to keep your book’s intention in mind and consider the finished product as your main motivator. A corporate history book lasts a lifetime and is the best way to record a company’s expertise, cementing its story and legacy forever.