When I started my first publishing company I had never written or published a book in my life, every step on the journey was a step into the unknown.
I had done some research and identified my niche market and target customer. I had also researched suppliers and retail outlets, made presentations to a few nationwide chains and even managed to get a couple of big pre-orders.
I decided to do as many of the tasks as possible myself. At least until I knew my business was going somewhere. So I:
- Researched each title,
- Co-wrote each book,
- Designed the series covers and the company branding,
- Prepared the artwork for each title,
- Checked the proofs at the printers and I organised distribution
- Self-funded the whole business
I took on the role of salesman and travelled the country selling the first 4 titles into shops and retail outlets myself.
Each week I would decide which part of the country to target. I stayed in youth hostels or slept in the back of my car instead of hotels, ate in cheap cafes to keep my expenses to a minimum and would not leave any town I had targeted until I had sold the minimum order I had set myself.
My point is you need less than you think you need and you can do more than you think you can do.
This was before the birth of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It was a time when you went to bookshops and libraries to research and if you wanted to connect with people you got on the phone, emailed or went to meet them in person.
Today, in 2016, it is easy to network, much easier to do research and spreading the word can be instantaneous. Advertising is a fraction of the cost it was and it’s easier to operate virtually than ever before.
It is a good time to start a business, especially an online business.
Partners and investors
When I first had the idea for a publishing company a number of wealthy friends wanted to become early shareholders and inject funds from day 1, but I turned each one down.
It was important to me to validate the idea and get the business up and running without the pressure of knowing I was spending my friends hard earned money.
When I eventually took on a partner, the first thing he did was get a company car with new car phone, stayed in hotels and, consequently, spent more than he sold.
He quickly became de-motivated, lost enthusiasm and felt like a failure because he wasn’t making any progress. He realised he was trying to sell something he was not inspired by and the customer could tell. His only motivation was the desperate need to escape the job he was in.
You have to believe in what you’re doing to do it properly.
Throwing good money after bad
One of the most common mistakes businesses of any size, and especially new ones, make is thinking they need more than they do.
- Boxes of business cards that were never needed
- Brochures that were printed but never given to clients
- Merchandising that was never given away
- Exhibition stands that were never used again
- Hiring unnecessary staff
- Mailing lists that are useless
- A bigger office/premises than necessary. In fact, not necessary at all.
The list is endless. We all order more than we need and too much of what we don’t need.
My first early mistake was having too many books printed of each title. I had based print quantities on a few assumptions. I had also allowed myself to be lead by my own enthusiasm.
Luckily for me (though if I’m honest it was more luck than judgement) two of the first 4 titles proved extremely popular and I hade sold 10,000 of each in the first 6months.
How to Do More with Less
Here are 12 simple rules for starting out lean and mean:
- Bootstrap everything. If you can do a task yourself do it. If you can’t, ask yourself ‘do I need it yet’? Bootstrapping is the process of launching a business using only what you can afford with the skills you have at hand.
- Resist the urge to pay yourself for as long as possible.
- Don’t try to offer everything to your customers; focus your core product or service. You have plenty of time to expand your range when and if the time is right.
- Use ‘free’ first. In other words don’t signup to expensive third party software, analytics and website add-ons on day one. There are plenty of free options out there you can use until you start making money.
Always take the ‘free’ option, if it works
- Learn to say ‘no’ quickly. When you first start out you are so desperate and keen to make a sale that you can easily be suckered into sales on the wrong terms, and you under-price your product or service.
- Don’t waste time on tasks that are not a priority. You will overstretch yourself, de-motivate yourself and quickly resemble a headless chicken.
“So often people are working hard at the wrong task. Working on the right thing is more important than working hard”
- Don’t let your enthusiasm lead your decisions. Enthusiasm is essential in business but enthusiasm makes bad decisions.
- Don’t seek perfection on day one. Once your business is out there in front of customers you will soon realise that some of your early assumptions are no longer correct. You quickly go into a period of bug fixing, product tweaks and modifications based on customer feedback, supplier feedback and market conditions.
- Maximise social media. First of all; you can’t cover all the different social media avenues out there. There is just not enough time in the day.
Note: I am not a social media expert but what I have learnt is:
Choose 2 or 3 social media channels to concentrate your efforts on. Depending on where your potential audience hangs out, this may be Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat or Periscope etc.
I personally have found Instagram much more effective and rewarding than Facebook. For example to build a following on Facebook you have to spend money on Facebook advertising. In fact, I would say you have no choice.
- Start building your email list now. Building an email list takes time and effort; it is invaluable as it represents real people who are interested in what you are doing or trying to do. These people need to be looked after and nurtured.
- Don’t believe your customers! Customers don’t always do what they tell us. Often entrepreneurs test out their early assumptions by doing customer surveys. Big companies use customer focus groups and high street polls without testing customer intentions. They might tell you that they’re interested in doing something, but will they put words into action?
- Eliminate uncertainty. At the beginning of any new business venture there is always a high level of uncertainty. At this stage you are making lots of assumptions about how your new idea/product/service is going to work. These assumptions need to be quickly and clearly defined and tested. By doing this you reduce uncertainty and the risk of failure.
At the beginning there is a definite trade-off between time and money and the chances are you don’t have much of either, so make sure you use your time wisely.
Finally, I want to leave you with a quote.
“What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.” Bob Dylan