by Florrie Binford Kichler
Ten Tips for Tough Times
Don’t turn that page—this is not another doom-and-gloom piece advising you to go off the grid until gas drops to $2 a gallon and the stock market rebounds to Clinton-era heights. On the other hand, tomorrow may be only a day away, but Annie had her Daddy Warbucks to foot the bill. Like you, I have invoices to pay today.
I’m a glass-half-full kind of person, and even I have to admit that current economic conditions have me a little—well—concerned. If you find your business hours increasingly occupied by thoughts of belt-tightening instead of new-title acquisition, then the following hints (in no particular order) may help you keep your forward momentum in the current sluggish business climate.
1. Monitor cash flow and receivables—daily. You can bet that your creditors are watching theirs. Of course you should be keeping tabs on cash flow and receivables on an ongoing basis, but that becomes even more critical when sales are dragging. Concentrating on your financials is not nearly as much fun as choosing a new cover graphic, but choosing a design becomes moot if you can’t afford to pay your designer.
2. Watch expenses—but not at the expense of quality. Managing expenses is not quite the same thing as cutting expenses. Cutting often means an across-the-board slashing without regard to implications for the organization as a whole. When business picks up, the cost of regaining the customers you lost due to broad cutbacks on customer service and editorial and production quality may be far greater than the short-term money saved. Managing implies taking a good hard look at overhead and operations and making intelligent decisions as to how you can save money without compromising the high standards your customers have come to expect.
3. Review your business plan. The environment you anticipated when you made those forecasts last year may not be the one we’re in. Although year-end is looming, it’s not too late to revise your numbers to more accurately reflect what’s happening now. If you find you have a little more downtime on your hands than normal, why not fill part of it by retooling that plan?
4. Continue your professional education. When business slows, it’s tempting to work longer and harder at the expense of working smarter. Don’t fall into the trap of ignoring what’s happening in your industry because you’re “too busy.” Paying attention to what’s going on in the greater publishing world and learning best publishing practices will help you weather the slowdown and keep you in prime position to rev up when the economy begins to recover. Subscriptions to online industry news journals Publishers Lunch, Shelf Awareness, and PW Daily are free, and attending IBPA Publishing University educational webinars gives you great value for a low cost.
5. Hire an intern. If you need help but are reluctant to hire due to economic uncertainty, get in touch with your local university or community college and look into adding staff at no cost by taking a college student on as an intern (see “Internships Are a Win–Win for Publishers and Students” by Frank Gromling in the January 2006 issue). I’ve worked with two interns and they’ve both been wonderful—eager to learn, prompt, dependable, and energetic. They learn the publishing business and get college credit, and you get the help you need without cash outlay.
6. Start a blog. You’ve been meaning to, right? There are plenty of free blog hosts, and now is a great time—while you have the time to devote to the startup. Before you begin, I recommend that you read other publishers’ blogs to get a feel for what’s appropriate and interesting. And while blatant marketing is a no-no, mentioning your books as examples is certainly permissible. If, for instance, you publish reference books and wish to comment in your blog on changing formats for them today, you can go ahead and do that.
7. Talk to your customers. What new products would they like to see? How can you reach them in new ways? How are their businesses weathering the downturn? How can you both make it easier to do business? Your customers may not be placing orders in the volume or time frame you’d like, but you can stay in touch by reaching out to learn more about their challenges. People prefer to do business with people they know. When recovery begins, they will remember who cared about them during the lean times.
8. Keep marketing. During a slump, cutting back on marketing is tempting. After all, if nobody’s buying anyway, why should you shell out all those bucks to persuade people when they’ve already made up their minds? Chances are, though, that you still do have some customers who are ordering. If you stop marketing, you risk losing not just them but potential new ones. Assuming that “nobody’s buying” is dangerous. Budgets may suffer, but libraries must still serve patrons, and schools must still educate children, to cite just two examples. Your task, even more challenging in difficult times, is to persuade them that your titles are the best value for their shrinking dollars.
9. Explore new ways of slicing, dicing, and repurposing your existing content. If investing in new titles is prohibitive right now, examine your current content. Can you sell your books by the chapter? Create audiobooks? Create e-books or, if you already have them, convert them to additional formats? What about large-print? If you have illustrated titles (and the rights to use the artwork in various ways), consider creating notecards featuring it or offering poster versions to bookstores. Think outside the book.
10. Take advantage of your IBPA membership.
Attend your local affiliate’s meetings. Sharing problems, solutions, and new ideas with other publishers in your same situation is invigorating. You will gain new information and new energy for facing the challenges ahead.
Check the more than 30 benefits your association offers for discounts and savings in areas where you need to manage expenses.
Visit the online Independent archives. You will find a treasure trove of hundreds of articles on every aspect of the publishing business by industry professionals who have faced exactly what you are facing now and survived.
Try a marketing program.Instead of paying $3,000 to mail your catalog sheets to 4,000 libraries, why not invest just $215 in a cooperative mailing that reaches those same 4,000?
History tells us that our economy will rebound. Until that time, the best remedy we can apply is to continue marketing, selling, planning, managing, writing, and producing content to the extent of our resources—keeping a vigilant eye on the current marketplace, but never neglecting to look toward the future.
As independent publishers, we should continue doing what we should always be doing—in the best of times as well as the worst.
My virtual door is always open. Please share your comments, thoughts, and ideas by emailing me at email@example.com.