Owning a business is a lot of work. For most indie publishers and authors, the business aspect of publishing a book is a nonstop grind that starts early, and I’m not quite sure if the word “end” is ever applicable. The teams are small and, sometimes, so are the returns on investment, but the impact of the work is exponential. Knowing that thousands, if not millions, of lives may be changed by one book far outweighs the effort required to get it to market. That is what keeps indie publishers and authors toiling from sunrise to sunset.
But what happens when the business of publishing becomes an unexpected barrier to reaching that level of impact? How can you reach millions when your infrastructure is barely configured for you to reach 1,000? Have you considered how your knowledge of business may either propel you toward your goals or hold you back from them?
Recent data by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Lending Tree cite that “18.4% of private sector businesses in the US fail within the first year. After five years, 49.7% have faltered, while after 10 years, 65.5% of businesses have failed.” This is not to alarm you or cause a massive upset. Instead, it’s to remind you of the importance of minding your business. No, not in the way of keeping to yourself, but of knowing the foundational elements that will ensure your company not only survives but thrives in its early years and beyond.
Here are five ways to master your market as you mind the integral aspects of your business.
1. Work on Your Business, Not Just in It
How often have you found yourself overwhelmed with a growing to-do list filled with tasks that spill over into subsequent days and even weeks? Have you ever found yourself celebrating a win only to quickly be reminded of the many other things that require your attention and are far from completion? Do you know the difference between working on your business versus working in your business? When you work in your business, you are focused on executing daily tasks, putting out immediate fires, and managing short-term deliverables. Working on your business means long-term planning and strategy. Carving out time to work on the strategic elements of a business allows you to see where you’ve been, where you’re going, and who/what it will take to get to your next milestone or ultimate destination. It offers the space to clearly understand what tools and systems are needed and what resources may be inflating costs and not yielding value.
2. Build a Team That Mirrors Your Company’s Values
All businesses should have a clearly defined mission, vision, and set of operating values. As a collection, they articulate what the business is about, why it was established, and how it will exist in the world. It also tells potential employees what’s expected of them as extensions of the brand. You may have heard the sage advice to “hire slow and fire fast.” If not, it’s worth noting and taking heed. People are often a business’s most valuable asset as they determine how and when the work gets done. Building a team that mirrors your organization’s values means being deliberate, meticulous, and intentional in recruiting, interviewing, and assessing talent. Make knowing and aligning with your business’s values part of the hiring process and not an afterthought. This ensures that the culture you create is not by default but by design.
3. Know Your Numbers
Businesses exist to make money. They may have a noble mission, but being for-profit means making money is a core tenet. One of the biggest barriers to business success is when leaders do not have a solid grasp of the company’s finances. As the leader, you must know how your company makes money and how your operation spends and invests that money for the benefit of producing a product, service, and to make even more money. Aspects like your company’s net income, profit margin, cost of goods sold (COGS), and customer acquisition costs are directly connected with its success and long-term viability. Being uncertain about your company’s finances means being unclear about your company’s future. Once you’re working on your business and not in it, it is easier to identify financial barriers that impede success and ways to overcome them.
4. Promote Your Brand Through Your Books
As indie publishers, we are in the business of producing and promoting our authors and their books. Equally important is positioning and gaining awareness of our brands even as we promote our books. Our imprints are brands with their own market equity, and we should be strategic about creating, growing, and maintaining that equity over time by having a deep understanding of our brand’s identity, including personality, tone of voice, and values.
5. Make Obtaining Feedback Urgent, Consistent, and Necessary
You cannot be effective as a business leader with outdated information about your business and the market in which your company operates. That’s why obtaining feedback from every author that engages with you and your organization is one of the highest priorities for long-term success. Find ways to integrate feedback loops into your onboarding process, hiring/removal process, and before and after a title’s release. Up-to-date data enables you to act swiftly, respond with clarity, and anticipate issues before they derail the brand you are building.
A Solid Foundation
There are certainly many more considerations when starting, growing, or maintaining a business, but these are five of the most important. They are the foundation upon which many other business practices are built.
You may have started your publishing company to amplify the voices of others and support them as they make their mark in this world. Or maybe you had a dream to contribute your own experiences and ideas through published books. Your company may have started from an entirely different place and with an uncommon mission. Regardless of what brought each of us to this point, we have the ability to shift thinking, introduce ideas, expand minds, impact culture, and so much more through the work we do. But that work also requires us to understand and master the business elements that may be the deciding factor of accomplishing our mission or completely missing our mark.