What an entrepreneur can learn from a literary conference

April 20, 2012

By Leo Valiquette

(Reader’s Note: Post first published on Francis Moran and Associates)

Back in March I blogged about the striking similarities between an entrepreneur who is trying to bring technology to market and a writer who is attempting to publish a novel. I referenced the fact that I would soon be attending a literary conference, Ad Astra, as part of my business development and self-improvement efforts.

Ad Astra was in fact this past weekend and it is timely to write about the lessons learned from that experience in light of Alex’s post yesterday about the value of face-to-face contact in the age of social media.

Writers, like engineers, programmers and other creative types, often toil away in seclusion. We think we are staying in touch with the world, and the industries or markets in which we hope to sell our products, by using those ubiquitous social media tools. We can follow and contribute to Twitter streams, discussion threads, post comments on walls and read curated newsfeeds. But this is still akin to drifting over the landscape in a hot air balloon and shouting down at the masses below “how’s it going?” when what you really need to do is drop anchor and go see for yourself.

Attending local networking and industry events can only take you so far. It is the nature of such events to be limited to the local community, to the peers, support and resources with which you are already familiar. But if your intent is to bring your product to markets outside of your own backyard, this is likely not exposing you to the full range of resources and insight you need to do so successfully.

Which brings us back to Ad Astra, or, more appropriately, industry conferences in general, which provide that valuable opportunity to get face time with influencers, investors and potential partners from a variety of geographies and backgrounds.

This was my third time at a literary conference and it became quite evident that there is an incremental and cumulative benefit from the effort. In many instances, I was engaging with specific authors and publishers for the third time. I am becoming a familiar face. In a few short hours, I strengthened relationships in a way that I never could, and haven’t, by relying on social media alone. Authors, publishers and agents, like seasoned entrepreneurs, successful executives and big name investors, all have their followings as well as their inner circle entourages. In both instances, sitting back and letting your fingers do all the talking through social media is likely to leave you lost among the great unwashed masses.

If you want to be more than follower #1,358 in someone’s Twitter stream, you need to put yourself in front of them. But with any effort to build a professional relationship through networking, you have to be respectful of their time. You also need to treat the other individual as a person and chat them up a bit – have your elevator pitch ready, but don’t breathlessly blurt it out as soon as you make eye contact.

And while a strong pitch is key (and a subject for another time) don’t worry if it isn’t poem perfect and you trip over your tongue. It’s better for your passion to shine through than to come across like a slick used car salesman.

Have realistic expectations about who you should talk to and how the six degrees of separation can come into play. This is an opportunity to expand your peer group as well as forge relationships with individuals who can open other doors for you. Don’t forget that, while you are looking for people who can provide some measure of value, you should also be looking for ways that you can reciprocate.

Most importantly, if you are serious about your business and getting that ____________ to market, this is a commitment of time, effort and money that you must be willing to make. It may not be feasible to head to a conference once a month, but, regardless of your market segment, there are no doubt a couple of events a year that can give you bang for your buck. You just have to do your research ahead of time to know whose path you would like to cross.

Image: Event now

Yeah, I am trying to get a product to market

March 6, 2012

By Leo Valiquette

(Reader’s Note: Post first published on Francis Moran and Associates)

For 12 years I have worked as a business journalist and marketing and public relations professional. In these roles I have engaged with a horde of entrepreneurs, executives, investors and other ink-stained wretches who would rather write about corporate stars than movie stars.

I could write a book or two from what I have learned about what it takes to get a product to market and succeed as an entrepreneur. But attempting to do such a thing without having actually lived that roller coaster ride for myself seems like presumption of the worst kind.

On the other hand, I have been tinkering away for decades on a variety of ideas that I thought could have commercial potential. They’ve kept me up at night. They’ve led me to beg off on Sunday dinners with the in-laws. They have even led me to take a personal health day or two back when I had a J.O.B.

Last year was a bit soft for a freelance word smith, so I took advantage of the opportunity to get serious about whipping one of these ideas into a reasonable prototype. I pulled in a couple of beta testers who provided invaluable feedback that helped me to fix the glitches. I attended a couple of industry conferences where I could engage with potential business partners and investors to understand what they were looking for in an attractive opportunity.

I’ve even researched the pros and cons of various go-to market strategies, such as bootstrapping. The world has changed a lot in recent years with the rise of social media as a toolkit for marketing, customer engagement and business development. My industry, like many others, has been transformed, providing new opportunities for nimble newcomers to get to market without having to win the support of those old-school investors.

However, I’ve decided to hedge my bets. Last month, I pitched my concept at both an investor and potential business partner, even as I continue to weigh the pros and cons of going it alone. Next month, I will once again be attending a notable industry conference in Toronto called Ad Astra, hopefully wiser and better prepared than I was when I first went a year ago.

This has been my dream since high school and I have certainly been going at it with serious gusto over the past year-and-a-half. Nonetheless, it’s taken me a long time to consider this effort an exercise in entrepreneurship – which is rather odd, considering that it is a process to develop and bring to market a compelling product that will drive sufficient revenue to sustain a business.

My product is, of course, a novel. Or, more accurately, a manuscript that I hope will become the first of many novels. By investors and business partners I mean publishers and agents. And you’ve probably already figured out that “bootstrapped” is a ringer for “self-published.”

To achieve commercial success as an author is a victory in brand-building to rival anything done by the Apples of the world. Just ask J.K. RowlingStephen King or George R. R. Martin. Their names have become tickets to print money. They can even get away with ignoring their editors and publishing tomes the size of cinder blocks.

But for every icon such as this, there are thousands who fail to make the grade. Their products never get to market because they remain unfinished, untested, or are rejected by publishers and agents who believe that the product, as solid as it may be, is simply not unique or distinctive enough to provide them with an adequate ROI.

Then there is the majority who do get to market, but achieve only a moderate volume of sales. Their product sells well enough to remain in stock and warrant a contract for more, but the entrepreneur (I mean, author) isn’t getting rich by any measure. This is called the midlist, and, like many other product categories in the world today, has benefited from the long tail effect of online retailing.

So based on consideration of some of these facts, yes, I guess you could call me a start-up entrepreneur working on getting his first product to market. As with just about any entrepreneur, my road is long, mostly uphill and there is no guarantee what I will find at the end.

So why do I bother when I can make a living doing all of this other non-fiction writing and communication work?

Because I enjoy it and I have a passion for it. There is a certain, self-affirming, emotional high that comes of it. To have the fortitude to keep going through all the personal, professional and technical challenges involved with getting a product to market, an entrepreneur must be driven by more than just the promise of a pay day. They have a vision greater than the sum of product features and specs.

I’m sure if we locked a group of successful authors and entrepreneurs together in a room, they would say the same thing – you do it because you love it. The money is a fringe benefit.

Image: WorkFlowWriting.com

On Twitter