Company of One: Why Staying Small is a Big Win for Authors

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In today’s business world, we typically want more - more likes, email addresses for the newsletter, revenue, and the list goes on.

Is more always better?

Paul Jarvis’ book, Company of One, makes the argument that growing bigger is not always better. This is helpful for writers who consider their work not only a craft, but also an entrepreneurial pursuit.

“A company of one questions growth and stays small on purpose.” — Paul Jarvis

Here are the main takeaways from the book:

Know Your Goal and Stay Lean

If you’re writing poetry, nonfiction, or any genre, your goal is to create books and sell them. There’s nothing more to it. You don’t need a swanky office or employees.

You technically don’t even need an agent or publisher.

And you certainly don’t need elaborate equipment or tools to make it happen. Here’s a look at my monthly expenses today:

Vendor Monthly Expense
Squarespace (website) $18
Bee (custom newsletter) $15
Total $33

This makes the business lean and agile.

Once you put a book on the market, the ceiling for book sales is extremely high. With such low costs and huge potential gains, the question is - why aren’t more writers achieving the dream?

(Answer: most likely they’re unable to finish writing a book, they’re too scared to put their work into the world, they’re clueless how to market their book, or they’re waiting for permission from an agent.)

While right now I work a full-time job to cover lifestyle expenses and investment goals, there’s a clear pathway for how many books I need to sell per month in order to live comfortably without my full-time job. You’ll see the exact formula at the bottom of this post.

Notice that the end goal is not to become a six-figure author (at least not at first). Rather, the goal itself is lean and built around a lifestyle that I’m interested in achieving: career autonomy.

“It is ego, not a strong business strategy, that is forcing growth where growth isn’t necessary.” — Paul Jarvis

Build Your Craft

In order to build a company of one, you need skill. People will only purchase your books and services if you have something of value to offer.

Learn everything you can about the publishing industry, your audience, and the skills you need to reach them. Your full-time job is likely helping you absorb knowledge and skills.

Be a Generalist

As a company of one, you need to be good at writing, editing, creating books, publishing, creating your website, marketing your books, and tracking finances. If “doing it all” excites you, then you’re on the right path. You don’t need employees and can outsource the work that you don’t enjoy, such as designing book covers.

Question What It Looks Like to Scale

In his book, Paul provides an example of a company of one that created huge profits without scaling to an office, more employees, or even needing more customers. Leah Andrews, founder of Queen of Snow Globes, makes handcrafted snow globes one at a time. Her customers include Quentin Tarantino among other famous names.

The demand for her product continued to increase to a point where she couldn’t create that many snow globes per week. She has an extremely unscalable business from a product perspective.

But that doesn’t mean her revenue can’t scale. To level off customer demand, she scaled her pricing, so that only people who could afford her snow globes would request one.

While this doesn’t directly apply to books (they can sell even when you’re not handcrafting them), the point is that scaling isn’t the goal of every business. And you don’t need to grow the business itself in order to grow revenue.

Know Your Purpose

“If you don’t feel a deep connection to your purpose, no one else will feel it either.” — Paul Jarvis

When you’re an author, your name is your brand. Your business purpose should be closely aligned with your innate purpose in life.

If you’re a writer, you already know what your purpose is because the very act of writing continuously reveals it to you. If you’re writing a dark thriller, you’re likely interested in human psychology, suspense, and drama. Your interests are tied to who your audience will be and the value you provide (entertainment and intellectual vigor).

What do you want your brand to radiate: Intellectualism? Sophistication? Sincerity?

Defining your purpose has more to do with your personal values and ethics than with business plans or marketing strategies.” — Paul Jarvis

Value Trust

This one is simple: people do not want to be sold to, they want to buy from companies that are doing the right thing and providing real value.

Share Your Ideas

Businesses are more profitable when they share their knowledge. If you’re hiding your secret sauce so that you are the only person reaping the benefits of it, then ironically, you will likely not be successful.

Transparency wins people over.

Remember that you’re always representing your brand and you can provide value in the smallest of ways. This can be in the form of a blog post or even a comedic tweet.

Add Personal Touches

As a company of one, you need to create real connections with your readers. When someone hits reply on your newsletter, write back. If someone tweets your book as a recommendation, thank them and send them a signed copy of your book.

Your personal touches lose value if you put a price on them. Instead, give things away for free, give people your time and energy, and most important of all, create free content.

Build Relationships

There are 3 types of capital that a business needs:

  • Financial capital

  • Human capital

  • Social capital

For any business, social capital is the most important type of capital. This is your existing audience and how they see value in what you’re offering.

If no one sees value, you’re out of business.

In fact, as a writer, this is the only type of capital that matters. You do not need financial capital or human capital to write a book and hit publish on Amazon.

The only way your business stays afloat is if you’re getting book sales every month.

Your social network matters, but to be clear, the size of it does not matter. If you have an email list with 1,000 subscribers and 90% of them are dedicated readers who will buy your book at a moment’s notice. Congrats, you have 900 book sales. If you have an email list that is 30x bigger (30,000 people) but only 1% are going to buy your book. You only have 300 book sales.

It’s not the number of subscribers or followers that matters — it’s how deep of a connection you have with them.

Consider how you can deepen your relationship with potential readers. Begin telling people about your writing efforts by making an instagram account for it. Share when you’re picking up your pen and what you’re reading.

If you have something valuable, people will listen. And when you have a good product, you have a built-in, unpaid salesforce. Readers will tweet about your book, share your ideas, and pass along your book to a friend.

Move Fast

This is one of the intrinsic benefits of being a small company: you can accomplish things faster. Tasks at a large corporation have to be reviewed by multiple people and given final approval. When you’re operating as a team of one, there are no hoops.

(Although I’d still recommend having someone review your work.)

Also, keep in mind, that unlike a fast-paced startup, your book is only released once. You need a high-quality product in order to release. So while you should adopt the idea of moving fast, you should only release your work when it’s polished.

Re-think Risk

If you’re an employee then you have no control over the decisions that your leaders are making — even if those decisions are driving the company into the ground. You have no control over your day-to-day tasks. And you have no control over your 8am-5pm schedule and your number of days off.

You also have no control over the security of your role.

In comparison, being an entrepreneur is not risky.

Entrepreneurs are actually the most risk-averse people. They iterate on ideas and move slowly because they do not want to risk losing the traction that their business has made. They need to make smart decisions to make profit in order to pay themselves.

Entrepreneurship has less to do with risk and everything to do with control. If control is something you’re interested in, then the risks become easier to manage.

Remember That You Can’t Please Everyone

If your target reader is 18-35 and female, and a 40-year old man hates your book, that’s probably to be expected. Your book will be more successful when you aim to provide value to your niche audience and ignore other opinions.

Takeaways

If you’re interested in reading more about this concept of building better and not bigger, I highly recommend Company of One. Since you read this far, here’s a bonus section:

Sample Business Model

What are your monthly expenses, including your salary and marketing expenses?

Starting monthly salary $5,000
Marketing expenses $1,000
Monthly expenses $35
Total Monthly Expenses $6,035

How much revenue do you make per book sale?

Book Price $15
% Sale You Keep on Amazon 85%
Revenue Per Book $13

How many books per month do you need to sell in order to be profitable?

Total Expenses $6,035
Revenue Per Book $13
# Books You Need to Sell Per Month 465

If your books are polished and you have a marketing strategy for generating 465 book sales per month, then you have a solid business on your hands.

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