Donna Cavanagh is founder of HumorOutcasts.com (HO) and the partner publishing company, HumorOutcasts Press which now includes the labels Shorehouse Books and Corner Office Books (HOPress-Shorehousebooks.com).
Cavanagh launched HO as an outlet for writers to showcase their work in a world that offered few avenues for humor. HO now features the creative talents of more than 100 aspiring and accomplished writers, producers, comics and authors from all over the world. (source: www.independentauthornetwork.com)
In this Startup Savant interview, Donna shares her experiences on how she developed Humor Outcast into a worldwide media conglomerate, where writers can freely tell their stories with humor with little to no censorship at all. To know more about Donna, be sure to follow her on Twitter!
What ignited the spark in you to start a business? Where did the idea for HumorOutcasts come from?
I have a journalism background and was a syndicated humor writer for years. I had a bi-weekly column with Journal Register papers. My work appeared regularly in First magazine and other national publications.
When the print sources began to dry up, I turned to the internet and posted my work on Yahoo (associated content then) and other websites. A conservative element started to invade those sites and conservative writers flagged work causing it to be removed.
I wanted a place where writers could go and spread their wings without censorship or as little censorship as possible. The small group of writers who liked this idea and joined me. We considered ourselves outcasts so we became HumorOutcasts.com. I didn’t realize it would be shortened to HO. Oh well, we are now all HO’s.
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I love the freedom to create and take risks and try new things. As an entrepreneur in the writing profession, I like that I can push the envelope and offer my writers that same chance too. More than anything, I love to see the site grow and the opportunities for my writers to grow.
How do you generate new ideas for HumorOutcasts to keep growing? Is there a secret that you have figured out over the years?
I brainstorm with my writers or my husband. I post on our closed facebook group ideas and I listen to my writers’ feedback. I talk to people who are entrepreneurs. I take webinars and read articles to learn as much as I can learn about being an entrepreneur.
I make sure my writers represent all types of humor as humor is so subjective. If I only have political satire or “potty” humor, I lose a large audience who might not laugh at these types of humor. I seek diversity and that is what keeps our site fresh. I also mentor writers and welcome them into the HO fold when they are ready.
As a business owner, what is your greatest fear and how do you keep it under control or harness it?
Not hitting my financial goals. Humor is tough because it is so subjective. So I have to promote a lot to get my ad money in. Three years ago, I started HOPress-Shorehouse Books, a partner publishing company for all genres.
We now have published more than 40 titles. Being a book publisher has helped me bring the site and new authors into the limelight. This fall we launch Corner Office Books for professional and business books. I’m always looking for ways to increase our visibility and our writers and authors’ visibility. I stay positive and focused and believe in my heart that I will succeed at this.
Who has been your greatest influencer along your entrepreneurial journey? How did they shape Humor Outcasts?
Because I sort of fell into being an entrepreneur, I didn’t have entrepreneurial idols. If I had to pick now, I would say Oprah. Because I am building a media conglomerate. I want to build a place for writers, broadcasters, video artists, cartoonists, comics, etc.
What do you feel is the major difference between you and other entrepreneurs? Is there something that has guided you along the way?
I think I am so stubborn and as one person told me, a bull. I’m hoping she meant that in a good way. I am always looking for ways to connect with people and get everyone from readers to VC people to look at us.
I never miss an opportunity to tout my writers. I speak about the site and the publishing house, I teach humor at workshops, I write books. I come up with fun promotional ideas. My latest book How to Write and Share Humor: Techniques to Tickle Funny Bones and Win Fans is on a world tour. I’m not on the world tour…my book is.
People from all over the world have taken pictures of the book at famous sites from the Golden Gate Bridge to Mt. Rushmore to NYC to Buckingham Palace. It will be in Australia, Iceland and Asia this month. It flew first class home from Europe yesterday. And yes, I am jealous of it.
Have you faced any failures with HumorOutcasts? How did you overcome it?
I wanted to make HO a paying site for writers and I have not been able to accomplish that—yet! I look at startups that have gotten some type of funding, and it frustrates me because everything is out of my own pocket.
I feel sometimes that I am behind in that I have not reached that goal and it truly bothers me. The only way to overcome that feeling of doubt and yes…sorrow…is to keep going and keep helping writers and keep putting out humor because we all need humor. It is as essential to life as breathing.
What was the best piece of advice you have ever gotten from another business owner? The worst?
The best piece of advice? One step at a time. Be patient and keep going. The rest will fall into place.
The worst piece of advice? One “entrepreneur guru” wanted me to hire people to go to the site and click on the posts numerous times per day, so that it would look as if I got a million hits per day. Not only is that totally unethical, but that is a waste of my time and dollars and it does not help my writers. I don’t like unethical people.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs in Pennsylvania who have a business idea but don’t know where to get started?
I would plan and talk it out with someone you trust. Don’t just blab to anyone because for some reason, people like to deflate other people’s dreams or belittle them. Keep faith in your dream and goal.
If you have money, you are way ahead of the game so maybe hire the experts who can catapult your company. If you are on a tight budget, take little steps, do your own publicity, always get yourself out there joining groups both locally and online. Become adept at social media. A tight budget is not a business killer. Sometimes it is a great motivator.