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5 Rules for Running a More-Profitable Memoir Business

Recently, while thinking about how to grow a business, I was jotting down some ideas about running a business–the what-do-I-know-now-that-I-wish-I-had-known-then sort of stuff. Here are the first five I came up with to help jumpstart my (and your) endeavor:

1. Create business goals. Many goals, goals in a chain of goals: daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly. Endeavor to the best of your ability to meet those goals. Adjust your strategies regularly to fine-tune your access to those goals. Goals can be monetary, technical, emotional, but they are all related to your business. As much as possible, once formulated, make your goals non-negotiable. You must reach them for consistent business development.

2. Follow a business strategy plan. Don’t ever wing it. Everyday you work you must work from a plan that is geared to that day’s goal and to the week’s and the month’s and the quarter’s and the year’s. Creativity is great for art but it is a killer for business. Day by day plodding wins the race to succeed at business.

3. Keep track of performance metrics. Know your numbers. Money collected and owed, active subscriptions, how many people have registered for your programs and how many more do you need, what percentage of each open project is completed and how likely are the projects in development to be completed by the projected end date. Open projects are money sinks. Completed projects are marketable and so are potential moneymakers. Numbers are a guide to any business development

4. The 80/20 rule is always good! That is, 80% of your profits will come from 20% of your clients and projects and programs. Conversely the remaining 80% of your clients, projects and programs will  produce only 20% of your income. So…be constantly evaluating your offerings and weed out the unprofitable 80%. The only exception? Something new that has not yet had sufficient marketing. Give it a deadline by which it either produces or it gets chucked out. (Remember: it is to your benefit to strangle your little darlings if they don’t perform.)

5. Lead generation must always win over product development. The only exception: when you are just starting out and are still employed elsewhere and need to develop a product line. After that, lead generation is king! Creativity is for your artwork not for your business. Systems and consistency are essential for profitability.

I hope this helps you grow your memoir venture from a hobby to a money-making business.

Have you been working along the lines of these five suggestions? What are your own business “rules”? Please leave your comments.

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Suspects and Prospects in the Pipeline

Making consistent use of your marketing pipeline has to be a paramount focus if you are to succeed as a memoir professional.

When people contact you as a result of your general outreach, they enter your pipeline. Some people who enter your pipeline only want general info while others are ready to hire help for their memoir project. In a nutshell, these are your suspects and prospects.

Suspects are far from ready to buy. Let’s look at three different sorts of suspects.

  1. Some suspects come to you wanting information about the feasibility of a memoir project and about you as a professional. They aren’t ready to buy–but perhaps they will be someday. A second level of outreach is targeted to them: a newsletter is a good way to keep alive your connection with them, to remind them that you will be there when they’re ready, to reiterate your products/services, and to establish that you are, indeed, whom they are looking for. It’s important to have clear, concise response materials and an efficient “keep in touch” system for suspects to help them become prospects.
  2. Some suspects will never become prospects. They also want information but not to be better able to decide on which of your products or services to purchase–no! they want free info in order to do the work (or just think about doing it!) on their own. Here’s a “red flag” to identify these non-paying non-prospects: they call repeatedly with “just one more question”–seeming like potential clients, they use your time and energy and keep you from your real work. (As a general rule, two, possibly three, phone or e-mail contacts are more than enough for a suspect to either make a purchase or decide against purchasing. When you indulge a suspect in more contacts than that, you’re doing free coaching. If your work is a business not a hobby, you cannot afford to do this. There may well be clients whom you want to be generous with, people whose stories really resonate with you, people whose projects are exciting and creative for you–save your generosity for them. Don’t squander it on strangers whose projects aren’t exciting to you and who will never become clients at all.)
  3. Another group of suspects is those who either cannot afford your products/services or they cannot make the emotional commitment to their project which a purchase implies. You cannot change these factors. Only they can do so. You must take care to be economical with your contact time at the suspect stage. You need a lot of suspects if you’re going to have enough clients–because most suspects will never become paying clients. You can easily impoverish yourself (and possibly destroy your company) by devoting too much time too soon to individual suspects. Instead, keep your marketing focus on mass contact. Develop generic materials that will speed your response to larger numbers of suspects. And give those who will become prospects, then clients, the opportunities to identify themselves.

A prospect is someone who is willing and ready to be convinced to make a purchase. One way to tell if people are prospects is if they are willing to give you their names, addresses, and phone numbers. If an inquirer won’t do this, s/he is a suspect not a prospect.

  1. Prospects may have once been suspects who are now ready to move on to the next stage in the pipeline. Your continued, effective outreach has persuaded them to buy in!
  2. Other prospects come right into the pipeline ready to make a purchase. They have seen your outreach material and feel they do not need any more persuasion. (This is marketing heaven!)

To reach the people who are ready to be prospects, you use the same media as for suspects–with this difference: add a call to action. Your upcoming income event such as a workshop registration deadline, a “sale” on existing products, or a direct invitation to become a paying client provides the moment of decision for this prospect. (By the way, some prospects will drift away just because you never pop the sales question: “are you ready to buy?” You can be sure someone else will reap the benefit of the work you have put in to get these errant prospects ready to purchase–someone who is willing to ask them to buy!)

All businesses thrive or fail on their ability to attract suspects and prospects who become paying customers. Keep tabs on your numbers of each and where these people are in your pipeline. It will help you to assess whether the outreach you generate is effective. Is it producing numbers that will lead you to good times or to poverty? Dismal numbers ought to prompt you to take immediate marketing action.

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Branding Yourself: Making a public presence for your work…

“Branding”—isn’t that about steers? Or Coca-Cola and Nike? What’s that got to do with the home-based lifewriting practitioner? Do I really need to be concerned with mega-corporate buzzwords like “branding”?

In a word, yes. Why? Because if you are making a public presence for your work, your brand is being made whether you are aware of it or not. Wouldn’t you rather be in control than leave it to chance?

Essentially, your brand is your reputation—but more.

Branding is not important at all in the teaching of an excellent workshop. In fact, branding has nothing to do with the excellence of your preparation, the quality of your workshop content, your skill, dedication or talent. But…

Branding is crucial in attracting the students you need to do your excellent work. It plays a large role in whether or not your efforts will bring in sufficient numbers to allow you to continue to be excellent in the workshop! Branding allows you to compete successfully on the strength of the quality of your programs, rather than simply on the price of them.

When you are thoughtful and aware of your brand, you are influencing how the public will perceive you and your work. Branding stimulates a positive emotional response that will give you the benefit in reaching and favorably impressing potential clientele. Branding, to be plain, will bring you the paying work that would otherwise go to someone else—also known as “the competition.”

Being in business is always about being more attractive than the competition in order to bring the paying work into your office. But…

Who is the competition?

It’s not just other memoir workshop presenters. It’s more complicated than that…

The competition—broadly defined—is everything in the world that captures your potential workshoppers’ attention.

The competition—and now, let’s look at it in its narrowest sense—is not just other memoir workshop presenters but also…

  • those who write other people’s memoirs
  •  videographers, photographers, and other preservation service providers.

On a broader level—and here’s the real challenge—the competition is also:

  •  fill-in-the-blanks memory books
  •  camcorders and digital cameras for do-it-yourself-ers
  • any and all workshops and classes—tai chi, scrapbooking,cake decorating, etc.
  • sports events, bridge parties, barbecues, visiting relatives.

Ultimately your real competition is television, Tupperware parties, Monday night bingo, and most challengingly, apathy, fear of failure, lack of confidence or imagination and low self-esteem.

Your mission is to fill your workshops with enthusiastic paying clients who prefer your services to any other alternative claim on their time and money.

How in the world can you do this?—by branding yourself!

You must:

  • put across that preserving lifestories in writing is an enjoyable, meaningful and rewarding way to spend time.
  • advocate for writing as the most effective means to preserve personal history.
  • demonstrate and publicize that workshopping is the best context for undertaking lifestory preservation
  • communicate that workshopping with you in particular provides the best service and the best value available because of your unique credentials.

Here’s an example from my experience. Thirty miles away in another city, a woman offers a writing workshop through the state university’s Senior College. She charges $25 for 8 two-hour sessions. I charge $250 for ten three-hour sessions. On the face of it, her workshops are clearly a much better value: more workshop for less money, right?

My task is to convince my clientele that no, cheaper is not better where lifewriting workshops are concerned because what I have to offer (my brand) is better. I must attract the participants who will work best with me and my program. Those who are attracted to what only I can do for them will pay the higher fee for my service rather than take her nearly-free workshops and be pleased they did so. I have to find the people who will recognize what is special, valuable and unique to my workshop. So…

What do I have going for me that lifewriters want? How can I let them know about these things? Essentially I must sell myself—as you must, too. So, who am I? What credentials do I have that give me an edge and will get my future clientele’s attention?

  • I am a published writer who has won writing Fellowships (1991, 1996) and a Maine Fiction Prize (1989).
  • I have also worked as a professional writer (credits in dozens of publications).
  • I have been an effective writing coach and editor for many successful first time writers and have taught lifewriting in hundreds of venues across the country and in Canada.

Who is my competition in the Senior College example? (I must be aware of both my own dis-tinguishing characteristics and my competition’s.)

  • She has an interest in writing and has taught it at the high school level,
  • She has never been a professional writer or published her writing.

So…My task is to make sure that people who will prefer to work with an experienced writer can easily distinguish the difference between the two of us. In that way, I will position myself as the better choice for them.

It is never, it should be understood, my task to up my value by downing someone else’s. There are many reasons why some workshoppers will choose her program. It’s not personal; it may be geographical, financial, or many other reasons.

I want my natural clientele to recognize me as their best choice. I don’t need to put someone else out of business to do so!

I can best do this by choosing to compete not on price but on value. My branding, therefore, must include the messages:

  • “When you study with me, you learn from a published, professional writer.”
  • “People learn writing best from a working, experienced writer. There’s a big difference between a writing teacher and a writer.”
  • “You can trust someone who has my kind of longevity and experience with thousands of workshoppers to know how to help you.”
  • “You will be working with the founder/originator an internationally known memoir program, the Turning Memories Into Memoirs® Workshop.”

If I have done my branding well in my community and region, the other teacher will not be competition to me—nor I to her! (It’s her job to brand what she has to offer in order to attract her natural clientele. Perhaps she will brand something I can’t offer—her gender!)

Potential clientele will simply not perceive our workshops as interchangeable. My clientele will be attracted not to hers but to mine because I will have clearly communicated my unique features in my branding so they recognize the traits they are looking for.

I could moan and complain about how a hobbyist retired English teacher offering a workshop at a price that I can’t afford to. I could see her as siphoning off my market. What a missed opportunity to brand myself and attract the very clientele I most want to work with!

While I can’t really say that I welcome her cut-rate presence in my market area, I can with confidence declare that I’m not worried by it either. We brand ourselves differently and therefore appeal to different clientele.

How can you take control of branding yourself in your community in order to sell your work on its unique value rather than its price and thereby attract the very clientele who are looking for you?

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Embrace the Concept of The Competition

In every potential memoir-business transaction, there lurks the shadow of The Competition.

Who or what is The Competition and how can we use it to our best advantage in building the creative small business that provides all the emotional, creative and financial supports we dream of?

The Competition is the person or element that has a viable chance in the client’s mind of winning out over you for attention, for money, for loyalty when it comes time to make a committment. Your marketing task is to brand yourself as better than The Competition. Difference (as in offering a slightly different product or service) by itself is not important enough to win a client. You must be better than The Competition in ways the client can clearly perceive and appreciate. (Here’s the rub: if you do not unequivocally believe yourself to be that better choice, pull out immediately. Don’t waste time or energy marketing a less-than-best service/product.)

It’s important to recognize that The Competition is more varied than you may have thought. It includes: a person in the same region who offers a product or service similar to yours, indolence on the part of the client, the season (warm weather that calls the client outdoors rather than to his project), a client’s overestimation of abilities (I can do it alone), a cruise or a new car, etc. I could go on and on, but I hope you get the idea. The Competition is anything the client might commit to over you and your service.

In my Business Development Seminar, students do demographic and psychographic analyses of their potential client bases (the ideal, the largest in numbers, the most lucrative). This helps them analyze the clientele(s) they most want to work with. How do they attract attention, make initial sales and make repeat sales? What elements may get in the way of success (with attracting this clientele, with the memoir professional’s financial success)?

For instance, many teachers identify that non-writers who have little formal education are a fertile potential market. Who is their greatest competition for this market? Certainly not the local MFA writing program, not a memoir-professional a thousand miles away who conducts on-line instruction. With this clientele, The Competition that draws the most attention is likely to be Fear of Failure or Doubt about existing skill sets. The first thing that client needs to know about your workshop is this: you provide a lot of comfort, encouragement and reassurance. It’s not immediately necessary to tell that person s/he will learn fantastic dialog writing skills. S/he is not interested in skills right now. Not really. Yes, s/he wants to write her/his story, but above all s/he does not want to attempt–and fail.

Now, knowing the nature of your competition (fear of failure), you will pitch your workshop with wording like this: “Requires no prior experience” “Supportive environment in which everyone learns from each other,” etc. In doing so, you are fighting The Competition with “tooth and nail” and meeting your client right where s/he is.

Another example of dealing effectively with competition: Someone once offered a lifewriting workshop in my community at half the price of mine. She was not a writer, and she had no prior track record. My branding response? I pitched my marketing to highlight where I was stronger: “learn writing from a writer” and “because I am an active writer and not just a teacher of writing…” Results? Our differences were clear and we worked with very different clienteles. (Her ineptitude may also have driven her former clients to me.) Distinguishing yourself from The Competition calls for careful analysis of who is out there syphoning off your natural clientele.

Being in business for yourself is a wonderful life experience. But it requires attitudes beyond the desire to succeed. In fact, it requires a skill set that is not innate to most of us people-persons who want to be memoir professionals. We are “intuitors” who love the big picture, not the details and “feelers” who, in many instances, place relationships before our own self-interest. Overcoming our predisposition to sabotage our business interests with an overwhelming instinct to be nice is a significant task.

Being nice is just not enough to succeed in business. Developing some business savvy can help nice people like us become willing to engage in the detail work of building businesses that work. Embracing the concept of The Competition is an important step in growing a business-building attitude that will move you toward the success you crave.

Let me know how this works for you.

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Memoir Business – Asking the Right Questions

Here’s a sure way to increase your income.

Break your quarterly strategy plan into weekly units. What do you need to do this week in order to meet your quarterly and annual goals?

Take these weekly strategic goals and combine them with your weekly and daily “to do” list. A weekly strategic goal might be to revamp your web site. A daily “to do” might include answering a specific e-mail or calling the electric company about a bill.

Now, break the work down into do-able units. Every day something will intrude in your schedule, but you have allotted time for that. For instance, a potential client will call impromptu and chat forever. By keeping a daily schedule, you will be able to meet these extemporaneous tasks as you meet your strategic plan. If you do not get unexpected tasks, simply move on to another item on your list.


However useful this may be to assuring your bottom line is healthy, it is not the suggestion I am making to you this week.

What I am suggesting is even simpler:

As you work in the office during the day, ask yourself: “Is this the most important task I could be performing to grow my income?”

If it is, continue to do it. If it is not, ask yourself, “What is more important?” Switch to that.

That’s it!

Here are some examples of activities that are not the best use of your time.

1. Most of us get caught in a swirl of activities that end up wasting time. We get one e-mail which send us to a web site and then we navigate to another site and that is a total distraction.

“Is this the most important task I could be performing to grow my income?” No! This is not the best use of your time.

2. The impromptu call from the chatty prospect goes on beyond the time when we have determined she does not have the income to buy our services. She’s interesting enough, but talking to her is not the best use of your time.

“Is this the most important task I could be performing to grow my income?” No! This is not the best use of your time.

3. We spend part of the afternoon exploring a new business venture that a friend mentioned recently.This new venture does not fit into our strategy plan and it is taking time away from the billable editing we had scheduled. Nonetheless we do a search engine quest for more information.

“Is this the most important task I could be performing to grow my income?” No! This is not the best use of your time.

How do you develop the habit of asking the right question?

1. When you write something on your list, ask the question, “Is this the best use of my time?”

2. As you decide to do something on your list, ask the question, “Is this still the best use of my time?”

3. Do not choose to do any task without referring to your list. Is it on your list? If not, why should it replace an item on the list? Is this impromptu activity the best use of you time?

4. Set a timer for an arbitrary length of time. When the timer rings, ask the question, “Is what I am doing right now the best use of my time?” (You will often find that you have migrated to something inessential.)

This is not a hobby you are engaged in. It is a business. A business must produce wealth for its owner. It can only do so if you are engaged in billable time, in selling a product, or in preparing these.

For your FREE 36-page Jumpstart Your Memoir Business Success book, go to

Becoming a better memoir professional requires knowledge, but knowledge must be reinforced with practice.

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Excellent Sample of A Memoir Professional’s Outreach

Soleil Lifestory Network Certified Memoir Professional Mary Anne Benedetto

Soleil Lifestory Network Certified Memoir Professional Mary Anne Benedetto

Mary Anne Benedetto, a Certified Memoir Professional from Murells Inlet, South Carolina, sent me this You-Tube video of the television show, Carolina & Company LIVE, on which she was interviewed.

“The challenge in this interview was knowing that I only had 2 ½ to 3 minutes to convey my message,” relates Mary Anne. “Another author friend had been featured on the same show a couple of weeks before I was scheduled, and he advised me to control the conversation. He had made the mistake of sitting back and just allowing them to ask questions and didn’t even have the opportunity to say what he had intended. Taking his advice to heart, I was determined to make sure that didn’t happen to me. I hope I wasn’t completely monopolizing the conversation! Okay, perhaps I was, but at least I could leave the station knowing that I squeezed in everything on my agenda.

“I was asked to email photos that they could use during the segment, so I made the signs on Word, used Snapashot software on my computer to take a photo of the signs and then submitted them in the group of photos provided. Worked out beautifully in not only talking about my topic, but giving the viewers a visual.”

She has done an effective job of presenting herself and her programs and products. You could do worse than to emulate her.

You’re a media maven, Mary Anne! Good work.

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