Ahead of our special Business Strategy Meeting on 24 January, three experts share tips for better strategic planning
1 Why should small publishers consider strategic planning?
Simply punting your books out there and just hoping readers will find and buy them is setting yourself up for failure. Your publishing passion, flair and creativity need to be balanced by solid business prudence, practice and planning. Even then, things rarely go 100% to plan, so it’s important to have a Plan B too! Tim Davies, Westchester Publishing Services
All businesses need a plan whatever their size, and all businesses begin small. Initially it is about what you want to publish and where you see the market—then, crucially, how to get to that market effectively and in what time scale with what budget. The smaller the company the more flexible you are, but you still need a robust framework to operate within. It is very easy to put off doing the more mundane tasks and ignore the parts of the business that you find less enjoyable and boring, but which are invaluable to the success of the books and the company. Kate Beal, Muswell Press
Publishers should think very clearly about what they stand for, their values, the authors and books they’d like to work with and the readers they’d like to reach. They need to have very clear messaging about their uniqueness and then communicate this to all players in the industry—booksellers, authors, agents and others. There are a lot of publishers out there, so think clearly about your place in the landscape. Sam Missingham, Lounge Books
2 Where are the most important areas of publishing to set strategies?
It goes without saying that sales, printing and distribution strategies are all absolutely crucial to a publisher’s success. But for me, commissioning, marketing and finance are equally if not more important areas. Publishing good books and creating a demand for them is what will ultimately facilitate a publisher’s success, all the while keeping an eye on cash and ensuring you don’t run out of it. Tim Davies
Publishing the best books in the first place—and books that you personally love and relate to. Be prepared to write one, three and five-year publication and budget plans. Plan your sales in the UK and export markets for both print books and ebooks, and write your marketing and publicity goals into your plans. Kate Beal
In a world with huge growth in the number of books being published, I would suggest marketing is where publishers should plan strategically. In simple terms: what are your sales goals for your books, what budget do they have, and where are you most effectively going to spend it? The days when you could publish books with zero marketing budgets are gone. Importantly, this activity needs to be measured and refined, and over time marketing should become more cost-effective and efficient. Also, strategically, publishers should be finding ways to own as much of their marketing as possible—using websites more effectively, building email lists of readers and retailers and engaging directly. Sam Missingham
3 Any tips for planning strategies when budgets and time are tight?
Prioritise appropriately. Essential and core tactical tasks need to be completed, of course, but review all activity and check that you are getting a return on your investment in time and money. Don’t get bogged down in minutiae and over-engineering or over-thinking. Put time aside each week for medium to long term forecasting and planning. Tim Davies
You have to spend your time wisely. Initially you need a lot of time to put a good critical path in place. This will alert you to which tasks need doing when so you can plan your time around them. In terms of costs, always try to negotiate prices and payment periods down in whatever area you are working in. Investigate funding. Try to find alternative areas to sell your books outside of the main trade, and be wary of promotions which have a marketing budget if you cannot afford to have the books returned. Kate Beal
There is plenty you can do in marketing for free or on very low budgets. Your priority is to build your own platforms and connect as much as possible with readers, booksellers, agents and others. Spending time understanding what marketing is effective is time well spent, so you can refine and improve effectiveness. Sam Missingham