What I’ve Learned From 12 Years of NOT Going Out of Business


What I’ve Learned From 12 Years of NOT Going Out of Business

My business, Michael Hanrahan Publishing, recently celebrated 12 years. We started out with me doing mostly freelance editorial work for major publishers, with occasional help from others when needed. We now have an in-house team of three, and a crack team of freelance editors, designers and proofreaders, and we’re producing 20 to 30 high-quality books per year. We’ve built a buzzing little business that we are all very proud of.

If we’ve been able to keep our heads above water for 12 years I figure we’re doing something right, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Your best marketing is being awesome at what you do

I believe that everything we do is marketing. How we answer the phone. How we prepare quotes. How quickly we respond to enquiries. And – more important than anything – the quality of the work we do. We have a great website, we’re active on social media, we develop partnerships with other businesses, but still – by far – our greatest source of work over 12 years has been word of mouth. And that only comes from being awesome at what we do. Happy clients are the best sales team you’ll ever have.

Be honest with your clients. No exceptions. Ever.

To increase the value of a sale I could sell clients services they don’t really need. To get somebody over the line I could tell them we could make a deadline when perhaps we can’t. We’ve all seen it happen. This might produce a boost to the bottom line in the short-term, but it’s a disaster in the long term when your clients realise they’ve been taken for a ride.

As well as being bad for business, it’s also just a terrible thing to do to people. I’m an expert in publishing. People who don’t know much about it will rely on my advice; I can use that to be really valuable to people, or to take advantage of them.

Don’t make it personal

Business is business is business. When something goes wrong, take it on the chin and fix it. If a client is unhappy, deal with it – don’t get angry. If a client is being difficult about paying, work out the best way forward based on the likelihood of recovering the most cash for your business, not based on the fact that you are annoyed and really want to get your money. If a project goes off the rails and your profit takes a hit, don’t dwell on it. Study what went wrong, and fix it for next time.

You are going to take some hits – of that you can be certain. Learn your lessons and move on.

Treat potential clients like they are already clients

From the minute somebody contacts your business, demonstrate to them how awesome you are to work with. Spend time with them. Answer their questions. Give the best advice you can. Give them no reason to go anywhere else. Your sales process shouldn’t be a system designed to manipulate people into signing up with you. It should be a way to demonstrate your value so that people are excited to sign up with you.

Don’t be afraid to raise your prices

This is one of the biggest fears small business owners have. If everything is working, why risk putting up your prices and scaring everybody away? I’ve had this fear myself. When we first started offering full self-publishing packages we quickly realised we weren’t charging enough. It wasn’t a matter of being greedy, but simply of making the service viable. Over the last 18 months, we’ve steadily increased our rates to better reflect the value of our service, with no drop off in the number of clients we’ve signed up.

Of course there’s no such thing as a free lunch. With higher prices comes increased expectations of your products and services, and rightfully so. You must be able to live up to this, otherwise your increased prices will become a problem.

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  • Bronwyn

    Excellent article thanks Michael. We’re coming up to 20 years in May next year. so thanks for the prompt to think about what we’ve learned from our 20 years in business. Our kids keep telling us that we should write our story, so maybe we will.

  • Michael

    Thanks Bronwyn! I’m sure you’d have a lot of great advice to share after 20 years.

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