Starting a business is hard work, especially when you don’t have any experience in doing anything like it before. It’s not always clear what to do next, or how to overcome some of the bureaucratic challenges that come with it. This was the situation my father and I found ourselves in when we founded Warner House Press about a year ago.
The first thing to do, when lost in the professional world, is to consider your resources. We did so, and reached out to several groups in the local area, Northern Arizona’s Verde Valley. This may not be the most cosmopolitan area in which to live, and comes with its own challenges, but it’s also pretty fertile ground for small businesses. We didn’t have much trouble finding support in that sense. Although relationships with several groups we contacted didn’t work out, we were lucky enough to land monthly meetings with one in particular: The Yavapai County Small Business Development Center, or SBDC.
From the start, they’ve been an invaluable resource. Between advice on how to get ourselves established in the local community, to feedback on our web designs, and even helping evaluate potential cover artwork for our books, there hasn’t been anything that they haven’t been able to offer valuable assistance with. It’s really thanks to their input that we’ve managed to get where we are today. Not that we don’t still have a long way to go, but I’m personally proud of how much Warner House Press has grown in the past year, and it’s in large part thanks to their support.
Of course, this blog isn’t meant just to be a plug for the Yavapai SBDC (although it is in part that, just being one of the ways we can pay them back for all their help). I also wanted to cover a few of the challenges that come with starting a small business, and how we managed to overcome them.
The most prominent challenge, I think, was setting ourselves apart from the rest of the industry. Sure, Warner House Press claimed to be able to edit and publish books, for a pretty affordable fee, but without any portfolio of previous works to back us up, why should anyone choose us over a more reliable and established option? We talked to the SBDC about this, and worked through it together.
What really distinguished us, we decided, was a focus on ethics and technology, with a bit of that personal touch authors might not get from more traditional publishing houses. That’s what we took away from our meetings, and it’s what we focused on when building our website, our business cards, and other materials. This is not just a publishing company, we hoped to tell the world, but an inclusively Christian organization that would stick to a strong code of morals and use their skills with technology to make editing and publishing easy, accessible, and personalized to the client.
That decision, the focus we put on setting ourselves apart, really helped during the recent events surrounding COVID-19. While other businesses may have been having trouble keeping in touch and providing services to their clients, we already had the tech to work remotely and the experience to make that feel personal regardless of the distance. With many people suddenly having time to work on their novels, we found ourselves busier than ever before and, ultimately, I think that comes all the way back to those initial meetings we had.
Naturally, when we were first starting our business, we could distinguish ourselves and build an identity all we wanted, but if no one heard about our company, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. That was the other big challenge we tackled with the Yavapai SBDC, and the other point I want to touch on.
In the beginning, we at Warner House Press tried all manner of things to get our names out there. We hosted ads on Facebook, posted business cards at local gathering spots, and attended every event we could that was even tangentially related to our field. We picked up a couple of interested parties here and there, but none of them ever seemed to really pan out in the way we had hoped.
As of now, we still make efforts to promote ourselves online. Indeed, that’s one of the main reasons this blog exists. The biggest way we’ve pulled in new clients over the past year, though, has simply been grassroots networking. An author we worked with might tell a friend about us, who then mentions it to their contacts, and eventually email introductions are had and a new project begun. This simple word of mouth has managed to get us some great clients from as far away as the East Coast.
Throughout this, having an organization at our backs like the Yavapai SBDC has been invariably important. They help more businesses than just ours, and so they know who does what in the Verde Valley. It’s thanks to that knowledge, that organization at the center of a web of contacts, that we were introduced to clients and specialists alike. We likely never would have met Hub for Podcasting, for example, who are helping us to produce our very first audiobook, if not for their help.
As I mentioned before, we at Warner House Press still have a long way to go. We’ve only been in business for a year, but it’s been a productive year, with four major works published and more on the way. I can only hope that our steady growth, thanks in great part to everyone who’s supported us this far, only continues.
Green as I may be as an owner, if I were to impart advice to anyone thinking of starting their own small business, the most important points would be just these I covered before:
- Establishing an identity, to help set yourselves apart;
- Forming a professional network, and maintaining good relations with everyone you work with;
- And, finally, finding an organization like the Yavapai County SBDC to advise and back you as you grow.
In fact, if you’re in the area, why not the SBDC themselves? You can find them on the Arizona SBDC Website here.
My name is Robert Warner, Managing Editor of Warner House Press, and thank you very much for reading.