I’ve pointed out in the past that I pretty much had no idea what I was doing when I hit publish on my first book. I mean, I managed to get it up on Amazon but beyond that I was delusional, believing that books sell themselves, that all I had to do was bring my product to market and the rest would be riding the gravy train. (I’ll pause for a minute for all the authors out there to finish laughing.)
It didn’t take long to realize I had not only become a published writer but I had also unknowingly launched my own business; a business that exists in a market that I didn’t understand and requires skills that I did not have. If I had to do it over again I would because I’m actually really enjoying this process, but there’s definitely a few things I wish I would have thought through first.
Most of this occurred to me as I was reading Taylor Pearson’s article, “Why Product Market Fit is Overrated (and what to focus on instead).” In it he hit on several key points that I think a lot of women don’t factor in when they start a business, especially one with very low start up costs. It’s so easy to jump in the game that we often don’t exactly know what game we are jumping into.
Once my book was out there I started to look for blogs who might review it and I was shocked by the sheer number of self-published romance authors. Do you know your market? —the number of people in it and how those people were doing business? Most of us start with the idea stage, we’ve got a cool product, then skip the research and take the leap. In hindsight this is both good and bad. On one hand we don’t know what we are up against so we are more likely to take the leap, but not knowing can also make the first few years so much more frustrating. No matter what the business its always wiser to do the research first, not necessarily to squelch your dream but to give you a better idea of what will be involved in working in that field. Even for home franchise business (like selling makeup or kitchen goods at home parties), it’s good to know how many other vendors of the same line are in your area then look at their online presence.
I didn’t ask, is this business a good fit for my life? I’m a mom first, a job that I’m slowly being phased out of, but one I still hold at least part-time (sometimes full time). Running a business, especially in the first couple years can be time consuming. Everything is new to you. I’ve spent countless hours reading how-to books and articles and listening to podcasts so I can learn more about my business. So far I’ve made it fit, squeezing writing time in between driving my kids around and dealing with standard teenage issues, but there are times I’m cramming in a blog post or rushing to meet a deadline, burning the midnight oil to make it all work.
Another part of not knowing the business in advance was not asking what will I be doing on a daily basis? Being a self-published author is half writing but also half marketing, especially online. This is another area where ignorance may have worked in my favor because I’m not naturally drawn to social media. I’m much more of a lurker than a poster, preferring to see what everyone else is doing and keeping my own rather dull life out of the spotlight. That has changed. I still don’t take photos of my meals to post them but I’ve worked to steadily to remember to include others in my business life; what I’m working on or my latest passion (hello, Taylor Pearson and End of Jobs), generally sharing my journey (like this post!) It’s probably the hardest and most unexpected part of being an author for me.
Do I know my audience? It’s another important factor to consider when deciding if a business is right for you. Social media and marketing becomes so much easier if you know who you are trying to reach. You need to understand and relate to their problems if you are going to solve them with your product. As Taylor Pearson points out, one of his business ventures failed because despite the fact that it was a hot market he didn’t really understand the needs of the clients.
Equally important is, do I know at least ten people in the industry? The old saying, “it’s who you know” still holds true. It’s vital to be involved in your industry, even better if you do this before you hang your “open for business” sign. You are going to have millions of questions (not exaggerating here) and you will need several people to turn to for answers. Being connected also helps you to know industry changes, something that can change almost daily in self-publishing. It’s never too early (or too late) to get involved with industry groups.
The most concise and profound question from Taylor’s article is: “How do you want to spend the next four years of your life?” Because your answers to the questions above will show you what it will be like to spend the next couple years building a business. No matter how prepared you are there is a steep learning curve, and you will be deeply invested, emotionally and financially in making your business work. The more you know about it before you start the better.
One final note, while I now realize that I jumped blindly into my business and I’m paying the price, running to catch up, it’s never too late to ask these questions and in doing so improve your current outlook and knowledge. You will never get it all exactly right. Part of the fun (?) is learning and growing and challenging yourself.
So I’m asking any Chicks in Charge to share their story. How prepared were you to start your business? How has that affected your business? What do you wish you knew in advance? Share in the comments below so maybe we can help other women entrepreneurs learn from our mistakes–pay it forward.