What I Learned at An Empowerment Breakfast About Running a Business

Quick note: I wrote this back in September 2012 and never published it.  I’m going to do so now, but I don’t have time to reply to comments since life is hectic at the moment with published deadlines staring me in the face.  I’ll keep comments open if anyone wants to have a discussion, but I can’t reply to any of them.

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I attended an “empowerment breakfast” for local businesses in my area over a year ago.  Since my author friend was one of the speakers, I decided to go along (and I could since as an author, I am representing my business).  I went because she didn’t know anyone who was going to be there, and for those of you who’ve been in that awkward situation, you know how nice it is to have a friend to talk to.  😀

Overall, it was a huge waste of time.  Maybe not for some businesses, especially those that had something in common or could use the other’s services.  But I thought the whole mingling thing was pointless.  People were rushing around to hand out business cards or sign up people on an emailing list.  I kept thinking, “This is what a lot of authors do.  They run around in a haphazard fashion, pitching their book to everyone without bothering to check if that person is even in their target audience.” These business representatives were assuming that because I breathe, I must need their services, and that simply wasn’t true.  Just like some authors assume that their book is the perfect fit for people ages 0 to 100, male and female, of all religious beliefs, of all economic classes, in all countries, of all backgrounds, etc.

It’s like throwing out a bunch of darts and hoping one will stick.  That’s the way these business representatives were acting today.  I asked them, “Do you like to read?” All of the ones I talked to said no.  Then I asked them, “Do you like to write?” I had one guy who said yes but would never do anything with it.  So I didn’t bother pitching my books or this blog.  I have business cards set up for my books (these go to historical romance readers) and this blog (these go to anyone who is considering self-publishing and would like to have some guidance).  I did hand out two business cards because the person asked for it, but I knew the cards would end up in the trash because they didn’t even like to read or write.  And likewise, a lot of authors get ignored because the people they’re pitching to have no interest in their type of book.

However, the main speaker was worth going to the empowerment breakfast.  She spoke to entrepreneurs (and as self-published authors, that’s what we are), so she offered some insight that I found useful and wanted to pass along.

Things that will kill your business:

Lack of focus.  Doing too many things at once.  While we might have a ton of things we want to do, it’s best to narrow it down to a couple of manageable tasks.  I think you need to designate how much time you can sit at the computer to just write.  Word count goals may or may not work.  My rule of thumb is no distractions and 500 words per 30 minutes. But if the story isn’t coming (and sometimes, it’s not), I revert to one hour at the computer with no distractions.  Then regardless of word count, I quit.  Social networking needs to have a limit, too.  Pick a certain amount of time you will spend answering emails, writing blog posts (if you have a blog), and updating Twitter, FB, etc.  You need a life outside of the Internet.  😀

Not enough of your own money to invest into the business.  When you’re using other people’s money, it’s harder to “care” about the outcome, but when it’s your money, it’s personal.  This is so true.  My husband and I fought debt for years even though we had some help along the way.  But when we had to use our money to pay it off, we haven’t been back in debt since (except for our mortgage payment).  So make sure you have enough of your own money on hand to cover expenses (editing, cover art, computer/word program, stock photos, website fee, copyright fee, taxes, etc).  I never think it’s wise to go into debt to publish a book.  If you can’t afford to pay someone to make a cover, learn to make one yourself.  If you can’t afford an editor, find someone who excels in editing and offer a trade–you’ll do their cover if they edit.  There are creative ways you can do this without spending a lot of money.

Not investing in yourself.  This is a hard one, but it’s the foundation for which makes our business possible.  Without us, there are no books (unless you have a ghostwriter).  We need to be well enough to write the book. We need good sleep, to exercise, and to eat right.  Yeah, I know.  Basic, common sense stuff.  And yet, it can be hard to remember.  (I struggle more with this than any other issue when it comes to running my business.  I have the workaholic tendency.)

Not setting realistic goals.  Know your limitations.  Things to keep in mind is that writing books is a marathon (not a sprint).  It takes a lot of time and hard work.  There are no shortcuts if you expect long-term payoffs.  And everyone’s situation is different.  Don’t expect your situation will be exactly like someone else’s.

Not setting any goals.  On the other hand, you don’t want to go out there without any goals.  Every author’s goal can be different.  There’s no reason why your goal can’t be as simple as publishing a book for your enjoyment.  You don’t have to write in order to reach others with your book, and you don’t have to be a huge seller to be happy.  Or maybe you want to teach others how to do something or entertain.  This isn’t a one-size fits all endeavor.  Maybe the goal is to have the book you want to read.  Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s wrong to have that kind of goal.  It’s your life, not theirs.  On the flip side, you can set goals to make money, too.  Some authors may want spending money, some to pay bills, or some to make a living.  Whatever your goals are, writing down a plan on how you’re going to get to the goal.

Not meeting your target audience’s expectations.  If you are writing in hopes of selling your books, you need to think about your target audience.  Have a focus.  What will your target audience expect?  (Hint: bestselling books in your genre of choice can provide you with key themes that attract your target audience.  See the post about Will Smith for more details.)  The key is to know what your audience is expecting and be sure to deliver it.  Most 1-star reviews occur because the book didn’t deliver the experience promised to the reader.  In addition to the story, this experience includes book length, level of heat or violence, and price.

6 Comments

  1. Elke Feuer says:

    Great post! My biggest challenges is doing too many things at once. This is a very bad idea when you can’t afford staff to delegate things to. 🙂

  2. Great post, Ruth. And great point about the business cards. I’m thinking of getting some of my own. I’ll have to be careful who I give them to though if I get them.

  3. Excellent points Ruth… particularly in what you say about investing in yourself.

  4. patachilles says:

    Very good points, Ruth. I’ll just add about target audience, I suggest you do more than just THINK about what your audience expects, you need to research your audience. Talk to people at book fairs, reading clubs, etc and get a true feeling for what they look for in a story. Some writers I know (I’m an illustrator) imagine what their target readership wants without doing any grass-roots surveys — I think they are afraid what they hear might not jive with what they want to write.

  5. Cat Lumb says:

    Reblogged this on Cat Lumb: The Struggle to be a Writer and commented:
    Some amazingly good advice in this article that I had to share, if only to keep them close to hand. I especially liked this little gem:

    “While we might have a ton of things we want to do, it’s best to narrow it down to a couple of manageable tasks.  I think you need to designate how much time you can sit at the computer to just write.  Word count goals may or may not work.  My rule of thumb is no distractions and 500 words per 30 minutes. But if the story isn’t coming (and sometimes, it’s not), I revert to one hour at the computer with no distractions.  Then regardless of word count, I quit.  Social networking needs to have a limit, too.  Pick a certain amount of time you will spend answering emails, writing blog posts (if you have a blog), and updating Twitter, FB, etc.  You need a life outside of the Internet.  :D”

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