Last month I kicked off my business blogs with some of the questions relating to what I needed to get started and succeed.
What is my vision?
What are my objectives?
What is my business plan?
This month I’ll discuss the next step: identifying the other people whose interests, decisions, and participation is critical to my success.
Who is my client?: This question is the trickiest. When selling a product or service, it’s quite possible to have primary, secondary, and sometimes even tertiary clients, all with conflicting demands for what they expect from you. Identifying the various layers of your clients is a key part of anticipating potential obstacles before they crop up.
For instance, as an engineering consultant I am hired by government agencies to perform specific tasks. While we are hired mainly on technical merit, our prices still have to be competitive or the agency can bypass our bid in favor of the next qualified applicant. These government agencies – which determine hiring, firing, project scope, and pay our firm’s bills – are the primary client. At the same, the projects we build have to serve the end-users: the people who drive on the roads we design. They pay the taxes that fund the government, and they rightfully have a say. These are the secondary clients. In engineering, the tertiary client isn’t an entity or a person, but what I loosely term the greater good. Designs need to be safe, but they also need to be cost-effective. Sure, an engineer could design to safeguard against just about every situation, but that would be exorbitantly expensive. Similarly, an engineer has to consider the overall advantages and disadvantages of the design itself. It’s quite possible, for example, to design intersections that essentially reduce any chance of red-light running, or that allow pedestrians their own dedicated walk phase exclusive of any cars in motion – but then motorists would be stalled in enormous traffic jams, and noise and air pollution would rise significantly. Even though no specific person holds the designer accountable for these tertiary-level decisions about balancing efficiency or safety against cost, it’s still an important component of getting the job done right.
Difficulties arise when serving one client conflicts with the needs of another client. As I’ve been watching recently the publishing industry and its changing trends, I’ve noticed discussions indicating that there appears to be confusion on the part of some authors about who is their primary client and their secondary client. On first glance, it might seem that the publishing houses are the primary client: they pay the advances, they set the schedules, and they profess to know what’s best for the books and the consumers. I suspect that the book advance, which has been around in the industry for quite some time, has played a major part in fooling authors into this backwards mindset. In fact, it can actually create a perverse incentive against seeking to write better books, because the author just has to please the publishing house, which has already paid for the book. As long as the publisher is happy, no direct monetary incentive exists for the writer to get involved in personally understanding the client wishes of the book-buying public. If the publishing house gives the author good advice about what the customers want, then maybe the author does well. If not, though, the author’s distorted focus on the wrong client can be catastrophic to a career.
This is all changing, however. With the internet, 24-hour news cycles, and email allowing quicker and broader responses by the end-users, the engineering industry is seeing shifts in how we have to react to the individual client. The same dynamic is affecting authors and the publishing industry, too. E-publishing is proving the publishing houses are actually the secondary client – it’s the book consumer who is the primary client.
Once I determine my clients and how they will affect my product, there is a second step in the identification process.
Who do I have to keep happy?: As an engineer, I have to please the agency that hired me and the specific employees within that agency who oversee the project.
What about when you’re writing a science fiction or fantasy book? First of all, there are so many subgenres it could make my head spin, so I need to pick one as the main focus. In the case of my book, I identified my core client immediately, before I ever started writing – female science fiction fans who read books. As an offshoot of that, I hope my book might also interest fantasy fans, women who generally read in other genres but enjoy good stories, and hopefully some male readers who like character-driven storylines. The broader the audience I try to serve, though, the more complicated the marketing, writing, and even packaging becomes for me as a new novelist. In my case, I’m adhering to the KISS model – Keep It Simple, Stupid – for how I’m going to market the book. My core target audience has to be the focus.
Who do I need to assist me to reach my goals?: For me, the choice to eliminate the secondary client – the publisher – for my first adventure into novel-writing was quite easy. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t people I’ll need to reach out to for help in achieving my goals. In my day-to-day career as an engineer, I already have established a core group of knowledgeable people I seek out for assistance, including my designers and my subconsultants. For my book, I’m building a new support group that includes an editor with an incredible work ethic, a graphic designer with an excellent eye, and a group of friends and family who have offered to read, type, or catalogue as necessary to keep this ball rolling. No matter what I’m doing, engineering or writing, I believe it is essential to surround myself with people who are intelligent and conscientious and who understand just how much quality matters.
Who has a successful business model I can emulate?: Over the twenty years of my engineering career, I’ve had the pleasure of working with successful small businesses and large corporations. From both I learned different approaches to marketing. Corporations are great at instilling a system in their employees with loads of training on project management, business development, marketing, loss prevention, and quality control. I made sure I paid attention, and all those great learning experiences are now in my personal toolbox. Small businesses often are less structured and rely more on personal accountability, but they also have flexibility and speed that larger companies can’t match. This is my book, of course, so it’s all on me in the end. That’s why ultimately I’ve approached the process with the goal of giving my first novel the best foot forward into the fray once it hits the virtual bookshelves.
Obviously a new writer has a different road to hoe than an established author like Suzanne Collins, the author of The Hunger Games, but there are some things I learned from Scholastic’s approach to marketing the books to its target audience. I’ve also kept on an eye on what’s been done to push Ready Player One, a first novel by Ernest Cline, screenwriter for Fanboys. From The Hunger Games, I’ve determined that it’s important to saturate every available media platform – Facebook, Twitter, fansites, media. In other words, be seen. Of course, that’s not always so easy as a face among thousands of new novels coming out this year. That’s why Cline’s appearance on the panel “Speculative Fiction: Space Odyssey, Alien Encounters and Future Worlds” made such an impression on me at San Diego Comic-Con. He was seated between some of the best in the business, with a new book, and no doubt it’s garnered him some great visibility he otherwise wouldn’t have had. Cline’s book is out this month and has held on the bestseller lists for scifi and fantasy books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
At this point, I’m still watching and learning. Next time, I’ll discuss where my marketing focus is aimed.
A graduate of Duke University, Tricia is a registered Professional Engineer who designs transportation systems as a consultant. In her free time, she shows horses and maintains a website for Star Wars EU fans that creates a safe place for women and men to discuss literature and all things pertaining to geek culture. She is currently writing her first full-length original novel, a space opera based around the heroic journey of a young woman who finds herself in the middle of a deadly terrorist attack by an invading alien force. For information on the book, please check out TriciaBarr.com.
A new excerpt from the novel will be posted later this week.
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