Literal thinking: writing a book can work wonders for startups and entrepreneurs

For some entrepreneurs, writing a book may be something to consider once they’ve made it. But writing about startup life needn’t be the preserve of the retired

Literal thinking: writing a book can work wonders for startups and entrepreneurs

Profile-raising is undoubtedly one of the key activities for a startup when it’s looking to take its first steps towards greatness. Whilst social media has enabled many small businesses to get their name out there for a comparatively low expense, a hefty investment in marketing and PR will eventually become a necessary evil for the more ambitious of enterprises. Whether it’s acquiring the services of an established PR agency or going all out for the best-looking website, cash will need to be splashed.

However, there is another avenue available to entrepreneurs. It’s worth considering that the numerous business books released over the years were not written solely for the benefit of the reader. In itself, book-writing is arguably one of the canniest ways that a business owner can raise the profile and credibility of both themselves and their enterprise at any stage of their journey. “It’s a noisy world out there; just about every industry is crowded,” says Mindy Gibbins-Klein, managing director of Panoma Press, the publishing company. “Everybody has got websites, everybody is on social media and everybody is blogging. It’s very hard to stand out. But without spending more money on sales and marketing, you can actually raise your profile in a very solid way.”

Gibbins-Klein is also the founder of The Book Midwife, a coaching service for businesspeople who are keen to get themselves published. She is of the belief that inexperience or inability needn’t hinder an entrepreneur’s ambition and effort to get their name onto bookshelves and the Amazon top-sellers list. Nevertheless, she says it’s essential for entrepreneurs to pick a topic that they’re comfortable writing about and which is also both relevant and marketable. “You do need to have a very strong concept and understanding of what your book is about: where it adds value, who is going to benefit from it and who the readers are,” she adds. “And the publisher, if they’re investing, has to see that there’s a decent market. They have to know how and where they’re going to sell books and how many. They also want to see that you understand your market.”

Of course, most entrepreneurs will tell you that building a business is a time-sapping affair. But whilst this may discourage business owners from making their book-writing dream a reality, a publisher will generally assist in making it more manageable than it otherwise would be. “Time is an entrepreneur’s most precious commodity and they should be spending it on their core business – not trying to figure out ISBNs, layouts and how Amazon works,” says Gibbins-Klein. “If you are are self-publishing and not working with a publishing company that is doing everything for you – getting your books into shops, representing you internationally and launching you properly to the media – you have either got to do all of those things yourself or you’re going to miss out.”

Technology has also made things a lot easier for time-poor entrepreneur-cum-authors. “The great thing about tablets and iPads is that you can write on the go,” says John Fisher, managing director of FMI Group, the brand engagement agency, and the author of five books. “In the old days you had to be in an office at a computer but it’s a lot easier now because every time you have a bit of downtime, wherever you are, you can still be getting on with your book.”

Fisher wrote his first book, How to Run Successful Incentive Schemes, prior to establishing the FMI Group when he was working as marketing director for an insurance firm. “I was running incentive programmes for a large salesforce and doing that for two years meant I collected a lot of information about best practice,” he explains.  “I then realised I possibly had enough for a book and I had in fact gone and looked in book shops only to find out there wasn’t anything about how to construct sales incentives.”

He successfully pitched the idea for the book to Kogan Page and it has been reprinted three times in the space of fifteen years at home and abroad. It has also been endorsed by the Institute of Directors and listed in The Sunday Times Book Club. Fisher has gone on to be regarded as a trusted and credible business writer by Kogan Page, which released his fifth book, Strategic Brand Engagement, in November 2013. 

Fisher is eager to stress that penning a book brings no guarantee of success, adding that due consideration must be given to demand before one jumps into something that will entail a hefty time investment. “If you’re going to pitch something to a publisher, you need to realise that the book is going to be 50,000-75,000 words long so you need to spend time writing out a synopsis to see if there’s enough meat in your topic,” he says. “It has to be quite broad and it has to appeal to lots of different types of businesses, otherwise you’ll end up with 10,000 words, which just isn’t enough for a book.”

There’s certainly no substitute for seeking advice and feedback beforehand, something that Jane Sunley, founder and CEO of Purple Cubed, the people and performance specialists, attests to. “It would be awful to spend hours and hours writing a book only for people to read it and think ‘that’s a really bad book – why would you bother?’” she comments. “You will need to speak to a few people about whether it would really be of interest.”  

Sunley has had two books published thus far, the first of which – Purple your People: the secrets to inspired, happy, more profitable people – marked the ten-year anniversary of her company’s foundation. Whilst initially intended as a resource for Purple Cubed’s employees and clients, Sunley was convinced to seek a publisher for the book and duly found one in the shape of Crimson Business. The warm reception that greeted her first book led to the publication, in January 2014, of Sunley’s second title – It’s Never OK to Kiss the Interviewer… and other secrets to thriving, surviving and high-fiving in work – this time through Lid Publishing. It reached number nine in WH Smith’s best-selling business books and Sunley was asked to write a chapter in 20/20: 20 great lists from 20 outstanding business thinkers, released by Lid to mark its own 20th anniversary.

As far as Sunley is concerned, the personal and commercial benefits that her books have brought her have been matched by a notably positive impact on her workforce. “It’s really good for the team to work in a company where either the owner has written or co-written a book,” she says. “People want to know that where they’re working has an identity or a purpose.”

Sunley believes there’s no point writing books unless you’re going to sell some. “There’s got to be an end result just otherwise it’s not worthwhile doing it,” she says. However, she adds that it would be naïve indeed for an entrepreneur to expect a book to significantly benefit their bank balance. “Some people do very well and sell 50,000 but that’s pretty unusual for a business book,” Sunley explains. “You really shouldn’t go into things thinking you are going to put your feet up and be able to buy an island unless you’re going to write a bestselling novel.”

Gibbins-Klein put things in more perspective. “The average entrepreneur probably buys five to ten business books every year,” she says. “If they’re only going to buy ten books and you are competing with thousands to be one of those ten that somebody buys, you’ve got to be a bit realistic with the figures. Anybody in my industry gets excited if a book is going to sell 10,000 copies.”

More often than not, it’s a less direct form of financial impact that can make all the difference. “The real return will come when somebody understands what you have to offer, understands the value, and is willing to spend money with you because you packaged it up in a hard-hitting, thought-leading business book,” Gibbins-Klein adds. “If there’s one piece of business that’s worth £10,000 and you get that deal because of the book – and that happens again and again – that’s where the ROI comes from.”

Why print isn’t dead

Mindy Gibbins-Klein, managing director, Panoma Press

A lot of people think they’ll just do an ebook because it seems faster, cheaper and easier. Whilst it is easier to publish an ebook, it’s not faster to write. It may be cheaper in the sense that you don’t have to print books but you don’t get the ROI. If the reader were to think about an ebook versus a print book, they’d be more impressed with the print book. I ask this question everywhere I go and every time I speak. Everyone agrees that the real credibility builder is the book in print and then they laugh at themselves for even thinking that they’re just going to do an ebook. It’s not the same at all. 

Adam Pescod
Adam Pescod

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