Creating a Business Philosophy

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraigfile0001495644511

Self-publishing means running a small business.  For me, it’s been a trial by fire.  Fortunately, as in many small businesses, I had a bit of a slow period, starting out.  This bought me a little time to figure out what the heck I’m doing.  After all, I was an English major, not a business major.

When the business started picking up, I made a few good calls.  One of them was to get an accountant. Another was the realization that I definitely needed to subcontract for skilled help with everything from website design to formatting to covers.

I spoke with another small business owner recently and she gave me a tip that really struck home for me. I was explaining that occasionally I felt scattered—sometimes because I’m asked to do things that seem worthwhile opportunities but don’t really work with my general “big picture.”  These are distractions that are disguised as opportunities. Sometimes they seem like a good way to get exposure—but the amount of work and effort that I know I’d put into it would be so much more than I’d get out of it.  These have taken myriad forms over the years—non-fiction pitches from traditional publishers, group blog invites, invites from trad. publishers to contribute to anthologies, invitations to teach writing courses, and panel invites from conference organizers.

I’ve turned them all down.  I knew they were going to take me on a tangent.  But I felt…guilty.  As a parent, I think guilt is a way of life. But it didn’t feel good, professionally.  I followed my gut, but I wondered if maybe my gut was just chicken or something.

This business owner told me to create a business philosophy or manifesto for myself.  And then follow it.  Let it guide me in my decision-making.  And, when I’m presented with an opportunity…or distraction… that I should measure it up against my philosophy and feel confident enough to say: this doesn’t fit the plan.

Rejecting opportunities means opening up time to follow the path that I feel is more productive.  A chance to focus my efforts.  And as I work to develop my own business philosophy, I know that it’s going to basically revolve around writing books while curating material for other writers.

To anyone who actually took business classes in school, this may seem like a no-brainer. But it was fairly revolutionary for me…create an official plan.  Reject opportunities that aren’t in line with the plan.

If anyone else is thinking about coming up with a business philosophy , I’ve found some interesting links on the topic:  Mike Vardy’s Lifehack post, “10 Insanely Awesome Inspirational Manifestos” and Jocelyn K. Glei’s post for 99u, “5 Manifestos for Art, Life & Business.”

How do you stay focused on what’s important to you, as a writer?

Image: MorgueFile: Gracey


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36 thoughts on “Creating a Business Philosophy

  1. “Distractions disguised as opportunities.” OMG, yes. that’s a perfect description.

    In this internet age of intense and immediate access to everything… even real opportunities can ultimately be distractions. There are too many of them, and if one is available only for a short time, there are five or ten things just like it that will crop up tomorrow.

    It is perfectly reasonable to set aside a little time every week or month (or year) to explore options. Keep a list of those “opportunities” in a “someday maybe” file, and take a peek at them once in a while.

    But chasing opportunities is like herding cats. Lots and lots and lots of cats.

    1. Camille–Too many of these opportunities, yes. And each one requires a quick analysis and a decision. It’s really tiring…and I do think having a plan in place (and maybe even one of those gmail ‘canned responses’ in drafts) will help with the time issue.

      Herding cats…yes! Exactly like it.

      1. Elizabeth (and Camille)… Distractions disguised as opportunities, and herding cats. Omigosh. Have you been WATCHING me??? ;-)

        This is so helpful. We “artistic types” can so easily be drawn into interesting, shiny things, that don’t support the business plan. Elizabeth, I’m going to write a short summary of what my goals are, and stick it to the bottom of my monitor. Thanks so much for this, it was really well-expressed for my kind of brain.

        1. Belinda–I’ve read before that writers and distraction (and writer-editors and distraction) go hand-in-hand–that it’s the very fact we can be distracted and go off on creative tangents that makes us good writers. But…yeah, these types of distractions don’t help us stay focused on our writing goals, that’s for sure! Good luck with your goal-setting.

  2. Thank you for this. I have fifteen months’ experience in the self-pub business, and have just arrived at the same conclusions. I know now that I’ve wasted much time on those “distractions disguised as opportunities” when I should have been writing hard, and finishing my second novel. Perhaps we newbies all need to go through that “trial by fire” and find our own business model at the end of it. I always enjoy your posts, Elizabeth.

    1. Jan–It’s not really a waste if it helped you reach a conclusion. And after that first novel, there’s that feeling like we *can’t* pass up promo opportunities. But they can be damaging, if they slow us down from writing. Thanks for visiting, Jan!

  3. Maybe I need a philosophy?
    Am I building an Alex empire of books? Probably not. I write too slow. So other ventures work for me. (And I’d said no to contributing to an Audiomachine project once already – figured doing it a second time would be a bad idea.)

    1. Alex–You’re one of those who could do well with a philosophy, I’m thinking. Because your interests lie more in connecting and helping other writers…and in more than one art form (you enjoy music, too). But you also seem to have a good sense of what you want and where you’re heading, so you might already have one, even if it’s not formalized.

  4. Elizabeth – I think you have exactly the right idea. In order for your business to succeed, you need to decide what is a part of your business picture and what isn’t – and stick with it. I’ve had similar kinds of requests, and for the same and similar reasons I’ve turned them down. You’ll do a much better job with your business if you focus on it and present the world with a coherent picture of what that business is.

    1. Margot–“Coherent” is a great word. Yes, I think I had a *sense* of what I was aiming for before, but writing it down made it official. It really made all the difference to be purposeful and thoughtful about it.

  5. Not every opportunity that knocks at our door is for us either. We can’t do everything or be everything or it makes us weak.

    Great article, Elizabeth.

  6. This is terrific, Elizabeth! I imagine that the business manifesto needs to be adjusted over time, too – especially when you’re starting out low-budget (and low on titles in your list) and then a decade later you need to adapt. I also imagine that the core of the philosophy stays the same, if you did a good job of identifying it early on. Definitely food for thought for me!

    1. K.B.–I think you’re exactly right. As it goes along and business goes up (and possibly down) I think it will be important to reassess the details (if not the main core of the philosophy, as you put it).

  7. I have also fallen prey to those distractions disguised as opportunities. I like the idea of creating a business manifesto. Thanks for the timely post, Elizabeth. :)

  8. Oh, I love this post, can relate to it as a fellow English major–and as someone who has had four different entrepreneurial ventures in the last thirty years. Conclusion from those ventures: it’s not an opportunity if you can’t take it. This is a little different than yours, and I like yours better. In my version, you can still burn the candles at both ends by keeping too open a mind for possible ways to expand.

    Writers, with a few energetic exceptions, can’t do this and still write well. Those opportunities truly are distractions. Right now I “ought” to be doing blog tours and other bits of writing, such as short stories, as part of laying some marketing groundwork. But writing the second novel, and learning to write a novel more quickly and efficiently than I wrote my first one, is taking up all my mental energy as it is. When all is said and done, writing the best second book I can is Job #1. The rest is wasted if I don’t get that done. Job #2 is writing the best third book I can, so that I’ve got something that looks like a series to market. By then, I hope I’ve got the chops to write at least two 350-page books per year, plus handle some of the more rewarding “opportunities.”

    So, to take your advice, my philosophy at this stage of the game is: Write Two More Books First.

    (And, oh lord, I hope it’s the right one!)

    1. Meg–Four different business ventures? Wow! That’s fantastic that you took those on. And thanks for your thoughts on keeping focused and not being *too* open to ideas (to the point they distract us from the core business itself).

      I think writing the second novel probably should be your main goal, for sure. I’m really not even promoting anymore (in terms of blog tours, etc.)–just blogging and tweeting links. Writing more books is definitely the best form of promo–feel good about your decision!

  9. Elizabeth–
    No one even a little bit familiar with all that you do is going to find fault with your business decisions. And it’s useful to remember that those who invite others to seize on a great “opportunity” are not, as a rule, philanthropists.

  10. I’ve never thought about doing a writing manifesto before but it’s a brilliant idea. I know the guilt that you’ve felt. I wrote while my son was growing up and I felt like both suffered. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    1. Clarissa–I think guilt is an affliction that parents really can’t be cured of. Now I just try to limit my work time to specific times during the summer–so I’m sort of clocking in and clocking out as if it were an old-fashioned job. But there’s always that residual guilt…

  11. Plan? We’re supposed to have a plan? I’m somewhat kidding. Husband asks about my plan from time to time. I sort of have one in my head, but it’s too fluid. I can see I need to make it more concrete and actually write it down like I do my goals. I learned a lot here. Thanks!

  12. What a wonderful idea!

    I agree with you :) I think most of us are easily distracted by the “shiny” of new opportunities and we often take on a lot of things that amount to very little long term. The dilemma is knowing which opportunity to consider and which to reject. Being able to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of what you’re trying to do and where you want to be helps. We also need to acknowledge that we will still make mistakes in our decision making process and not to beat ourselves up over it.

    I have been feeling a bit overwhelmed lately with the number of things I have to do this summer. I just redid my To Do list three days ago and only put up the stuff that mattered the most. This list is pinned to my study wall and is in my Evernote, so I have it everywhere I go. Whenever I start to feel pressured, I just look at this list and prioritize.

    1. AD–Exactly! Because so often I’d say, “Hmm. Well, maybe I *should* consider writing a coffee table book of barbeque restaurants in the US. It would tie in with the hook for the Memphis BBQ series, after all…” But it was completely the wrong opportunity. Having the plan in place would have meant that I’d not even have wasted time thinking about it.

      I’m glad you editing that to-do list! I revisit mine a lot, too. Doesn’t it make you feel better to pare it down a little?

  13. Hi Elizabeth – thanks another excellent post … I’m slowly moving forward in all things – so this will be really useful ..

    Cheers Hilary

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