Business

How Becoming an Author is like Founding a Startup

By Photo & Story by Jeremy Gotwals

By Photo & Story by Jeremy Gotwals

The long and winding road of becoming a successful author is often not what people imagine it to be. In the same manner, nor is the artful and treacherous path of starting a business or founding a startup. With the many artists, authors, and musicians that I've known and worked with over the years, even the greatest amongst them often forget something critical: their identity as an artist is a business, and should be cultivated as one. 

If you want people love what you have to offer, leave them wanting more, and get them to share it with their friends, then becoming an author or an artist is truly like founding a startup in every way. Here's how you can accomplish that: 

You must have complete conviction 

Above all else, many investors agree that it's conviction that sets apart entrepreneurs in their startup pitch. How determined are you to see your vision through to success? How far are you willing to go? Your conviction to your idea, or to your product, will draw the line between selling books, and not. As an author, you need to infect readers with the contagion of your conviction to your books, and writing process. Your enthusiasm about your books should be like an infectious disease that people can't escape. No one can be excited if you're not. No one can be sure until you are. 

Diving in, and taking Risks

How far are you willing to go? You can't go far without taking risks. People in business recite this like some kind of mantra, but it's at the core of every great success. Take risks with your books. Don't be afraid to get them out there. Don't be afraid to invest in promoting them. You can't possibly hope to succeed if you're not taking risks. 

Building the Brand

Every author has their own personal brand. Many outstanding writers forget this when starting their journey. Think of successful brands; what made their brand successfully stick out in people's minds? Twitter has an iconic name, logo, and symbolism that ties into the function of their simple, yet addictive, product. It's important that you create an emotional connection with your audience that engages them to recognize not only your name, but the appearance of your work from a distance. You're not just selling books, you're selling a brand, when you've built the basis of your identity as an author. You're selling your name and self. 

Building the Tools and the Team

Being a great writer alone in today's age is not enough to be a successful author. You must build a platform and a means by which people can connect with what you're putting out there. This means the proper tools, and the proper team. There are all sorts of little nuts and bolts and tiny pieces that many great writers overlook when seeking to publish. In reference to turning the manuscript into a published book: Who's going to Edit this thing? Who's going to make the the art for the cover? Who's going to actually design the cover? Who's going to format the interior typeset of the book? Who's going to manage my social feeds? How's this thing going to get out there? These questions must be answered, but simply are not always answered appropriately. Each of these details is equally important and should not be overlooked, and should be professionally addressed. As an author, you should be building a team around you, that can handle these things, and also acquiring the tools, both metaphorical and physical tools, by which you can share your work. 

You must build a Tribe

Every great startup, and every great artist, built a tribe of friends, followers, and supporters. Your tribe is much more than your fan base; it's your community. Build a tribe around you, with which to rely upon, for making critical decisions, or propagating your works. A tribe can't be bought, it must be built. You must work diligently to connect with your fans and supporters in a way that encourages them and engages them to be on board with what you're doing, or what you're writing. Anne Rice has built an outstanding Facebook presence, with whom she is constantly connecting with on a personal level. Arguably, it is her relationship with her tribe that contributes to the maintenance of her power and relevance in writing culture. Building your tribe is not the same as building your team. Your team should be hired professionals, or at the least, your inner-circle. Whereas your tribe is the outer circle. Your tribe are your regulars at the coffee shop, whilst your team members are helping you serve them. 

Create Products that Enhance People's Lives

Quite simply; are you creating something that enhances people's lives? Do people want to consume your product, in the way that they might consume a sandwich? The answer to these questions should be "Hell Yes!" - what you have to say and share must be worthy of consumption. Sometimes, as an author, you are the product. As Ira Glass said in a recent Podcast on This American Life, "it's not the product, it's the person." While this doesn't mean that people should consume you, it does mean that they should be excited and invigorated in some capacity by the brand that you have created - enough maybe to wear it on their sleeve, literally. 

Money! 

Yep. Money has to be spent. Even if it's just a little. Money alone is not the cause of money, but it certainly helps. If you're sitting there thinking "I can do this without spending any money," or "I'll do this one day, when I have the money"  your peers, equals, and indeed, those ahead of you, are already doing it. If your product is great, or if you're great, yes, you can get your tribe and your team to invest in you. If your tribe and your team are investing money in your product or brand, like in a Kickstarter, then they become like your partners. When that happens, a beautiful thing has occurred, and suddenly a weight is lifted. But how can you get to that point? How can you define yourself strongly enough so that people want to give you their money? You have to answer this question. You must make people want to give you their money, or at least, you must make people want to buy your product or person - in the way that they would want to buy a sandwich. Your readers aren't thinking of it that way, however. But as an author, you should be. 

Why your Business Cannot Live without Design

Photo & Story by Jeremy Gotwals. 

Photo & Story by Jeremy Gotwals. 

One would think that having great design for your brand is commonplace. Every business needs a logo, business cards, printed materials, packaging and/or labeling, menus, letterheads, websites, and advertising. All of these things must be designed, professionally by a designer, and curated to taste, lest they appear amateur and stale. However common sense this may seem, for many people or businesses with great products, services, or thoughts to share with the world, having great design is often an afterthought. 

Recognition

Design is necessary for the presentation of whatever it is that you offer the world. Your product, service, or voice, may be outstanding enough to impress itself on the public enough to be recognized on its own - if so, I personally salute you, you must have an amazing thing. However, it's not likely. Even if you have the best brand of something in the world, a potential customer is not necessarily going to know that it's yours from two feet away, unless they can see that it's clearly yours. This gets deeper and more complex depending on the kind of business you run, or product that you have. Even if you're a law firm, and you do not have an iconic logo, people still recognize the name, and therefore, the way that name appears on your presentation must be bold. Even your name in Helvetica, Bold, should be arranged on your advertising by someone who knows design. 

Taste

On the note of recognition, but much deeper, is taste. Sure, you may sell coffee, and the taste of your coffee may be exquisite and recognizable without packaging. However, the look of what it is that you are providing should speak volumes on its own, about the taste that your company, or personal brand, is offering. This goes for anything that represents you, whether it's a postcard, a book cover, or even just a piece of paper. This also goes down to the very interior of your establishment or place of doing business. The taste of your establishment should be indicated in the way that the interior is designed. The way that the interior is designed should correlate with the taste of your printed and digital materials. Why would you spend $100,000 on the interior of your establishment, if you own an upscale restaurant, but not, by comparison, have designed materials that reflect the same quality?  

Emotional Connection

Your business or brand cannot live in the hearts of the public without establishing an emotional connection. Whatever it is that you do, or share with the world, it should be done in such a way that you establish an emotional connection with your public. If you are a business that prides itself on efficiency, people know that they can find peace of mind with your brand. Without symbolism, or the structure of something concrete with which your audience can connect to physically and tangibly, but also psychologically, you cannot hope to build that emotional connection and memory easily. Design is method by which this emotional connection can be planted, it is fundamentally a part of the experience itself. It transcends style, and enters into the realm of how your audience thinks, and feels. When they want a certain experience, or a certain vibe, they think of your brand; how it looks, how it feels, how it sounds, how it tastes, and there is a correlation between all of these factors in that person's mind. Design is necessary to build an emotional connection with your audience, in the way that they see your brand in the world and in their minds. 

Identity

Design is the foreground of the identity of every business. Taste, recognition, emotional connection, as well as many other factors, all collapse into identity. The taste of what you create and share with the world, or sell to the public, may indeed have established an identity of its own - but as stated in recognition, an equal part of that identity is the way in which you are presented. The way you present what you do is the same as presenting who you are, and great design is a part of all of that, down to the garments you wear. Myself, I tend to wear colors that are in sync with the tones of my brand. Even my shirts and ties all have a correlation with the colors we use in our branding. This is the level at which the design of your brand must be curated. Your business does not have a life without its identity. That identity can form itself over time. But ultimately, you must have a structure and a foreground on which to build it. Design is that structure. Hence, great design is an equal part of the infrastructure for the life force of your business. 

Value

Whatever you do for the world, or share with the world, it does not have life if it does not add value to humanity. The value of what you do speaks for itself. Intrinsic to that value that you are sharing, is what you have invested in that thing - be it time or resources. The worth of Investing in presentation and design of your identity as a provider of value is at least equal to almost any other investment you will make in your identity and services. Great design is the difference between bringing great value to people's lives, whereby those individuals who need you may connect and continue to connect with your products and services, or those individuals walking into the doors, or onto the website, of a less worthy competitor.  Great design not only adds value to your business - sometimes, great design is the value that you are bringing; and it can sometimes be the sole different between a great product and a lousy product. Bring value to the world, and to people's lives, invest in great design for whatever it is that you do. 

5 Tips on: The Essence of Branding

By Jeremy Gotwals | Photo by Nilesh Agrawal

By Jeremy Gotwals | Photo by Nilesh Agrawal

Be True to your Purpose

Without purpose, a brand does not have life. This goes for personal brands, as well as corporate brands. A purpose is not simply a mission statement, crafted by copywriters. A purpose is the core of why you are here, of why you are producing, and why you are in business. Being true to your purpose as a personal brand, or business brand, means that you do not stray from the core ideals that define your brand's reasons for existing. If you exist to provide a particular level of service or care to a particular niché, why would you lower that level after having set the standard? If your purpose is simple, and you simply provide a few basic things to the world, why would you try to do something outside of your nature? This does not mean non-innovation, this does not mean you cannot change your purpose, or change your goals. But if you know your brand's purpose, stay true to that, through all stages of development. That is how truly great brands change the world. 

Recognizability

A great brand is recognizable. You, a viewer, may have never read an author's books, or never tasted a company's coffee, or never driven a particular brand of vehicle. But you know their logos, you know their look and feel. You can recognize Starbucks, Apple, Toyota, Amazon, from many feet away - without ever having purchased on Amazon, used an Apple, driven a Toyota, or drank a single Latte. 

Therefore, your brand must achieve recognizability in order to establish itself in the public consciousness. Your logo and appearance should be dynamic enough to withstand the test of time. 

Culture

If purpose is at the core of every brand, culture is the heart of every great brand. Without culture, there is no community, there is no brand. Some brands have very narrowly, or limitedly, defined cultures. A brand with a culture that is broad can appeal to many demographics. The Beatles are a brand that have withstood the test of time, because their culture is so unique, diverse, and eclectic. Similarly, Starbucks has achieved a very particular culture, that gravitates people to its stores. Nonetheless, people outside of the scope of that culture will frequent their locations and drink their coffee. 

The "Culture" of a brand cannot be forced, or contrived. When you produce the look and feel of your brand, with recognizability, with a shared purpose, the culture evolves naturally. Building your culture means constantly sharing, and constantly getting people excited about your brand. Historically, purpose is one of the strongest ways to spread a culture. But all of the points mentioned here are the basis of building a brand's culture, and therefore its ability to scale in the public consciousness. 

Consistency with Spontaneity

Very simply, for your brand to be recognizable, share its purpose, and create a culture that will sustain its existence, it must have a unique alchemy of consistency and spontaneity. Your brand must achieve consistency, in that people know precisely what to expect when they get something from you. If someone comes to you, for your books, or music, they know not only the level of quality to expect, but also the taste. Similarly, if you own a thai restaurant, they're not going to expect cheese burgers, unless it has your own unique touch. With spontaneity, the greatest brands have achieved the ability to introduce new and exciting elements into what they offer their public, in completely unexpected ways. The greatest brands are not afraid to create new things, to break rules. So, if you own a Thai restaurant, people would never come to you for a Cheese Burger, but they might come to you for your own Thai Twist on the Panang Peanut Curry Salmon Burger with Avocado and Lime. I imagine, as a fan of Thai food, I would be quite excited to find that on the menu at my local Esan Thai.  

Accessibility & Connectivity

We recognize your brand, whether you're an author, a startup, a band, or a non-profit. We know your purpose, it's very clear. We are in tune with your culture. We know what to expect, and that there might be exciting surprises every once in a while. Is your brand accessible, and connected? Do I have to drive 50 miles to hear you play, to taste your food, to go to your book signing? The internet solves many of these common problems for some brands. An author, musician, or even a restaurant, may easily export their brand with social media and eCommerce. Ironically, some of the most remote brands, where we might get food, can be the most appealing. But this isn't the only definition of accessibility and connectivity. Is your brand Accessible, in the sense that, do people get your brand? As a prospect follower of your brands culture and purpose, with no past experience of your brand, can I easily access what your brand has to offer? Furthermore, your brand has no culture, or existence whatsoever, if its not connected. You must be integrated in whatever ways possible so that people can connect with you - otherwise how can they eat your food, hear your music, read your books, or donate to your cause? Make sure that you have an outstanding website, and social media presence, whereby people can connect with your brand. 

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