Creating Luck

Ideas that will grow your business

How I wrote my first book and got it to #1 on Amazon

Many of us want to write our first book, but never get started. Getting your book ranked highly on Amazon is an even greater challenge. There’s good news: writing your first book has gotten much easier in the last 5 years. In case you have book idea in your head and want to get it in print, here’s the tale of how I wrote my first book and got it to #1 on Amazon. I hope the story inspires you to write yours.

I’ve always enjoyed writing. I write for my company’s blog, MailerMailer, my personal blog, Creating Luck, and guest posts on other blogs. I write white papers, ebooks, and marketing material. Like many people, perhaps you, I’ve always wanted to write a book. The project seemed so overwhelming that I never got around to it. Last summer, I decided that I would finally do it.

Here’s what I did and my timeline:

Getting Started

itmarketingbook-ipad-pc

1. July-September 2012: Created an outline based on the book’s target market: small technology companies. I researched Amazon thoroughly to see if there are other books of this type and found none, which really surprised me. Most marketing books are very general in nature. There was nothing for such a focused niche market. My goal wasn’t to sell tens of thousands of books. It was to educate small IT companies on how to grow their business. I remember when I started my first company I had no idea what I was doing and a book like this would have given me a solid foundation and numerous strategies to implement. I wanted to share what I learned over the last 20 years in building businesses.

Creating a book outline was the hardest part, especially keeping it focused. My outline was fairly detailed. I included bullet points of the specific topics I wanted to cover in each chapter. I rewrote the outline repeatedly, even as I wrote the chapters. I would always find something to add or remove to keep it tight. One of my pet peeves is books that could have been condensed into an article, where the author deliberately goes on and on with fluff that doesn’t add any value. I didn’t want my book to be like that so I spent a lot of time up front crystallizing my thoughts so that each chapter had valuable insights.

I revised the title at least 25 times before finally settling on The IT Marketing Crash Course: How to Get Clients for Your Technology Business.

2. September-October 2012: Started writing the chapters. I put appointments with myself on my calendar to block off time. That was the only way I was able to set aside the time to do this. Otherwise, my calendar would fill up with, well, life. Hit a snag: this was taking WAY too long. I was reminded of the famous Red Smith quote about how easy writing is: “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins and bleed.”

Moving Forward

3. November-December 2012: Hired a transcriber to help speed up the process. After I wrote the first 3 chapters, which took 3 months, I figured it would take me another year before I finished at my current pace. To speed things up, I would record an audio file of my thoughts for each remaining chapter. My helper was also a writer so if some of my sentences weren’t clear, she could fix them as she put my spoken words in print form. She sent me text versions of my recorded thoughts for each chapter, which I then edited (very heavily) to create the final drafts. Writing the book this way was significantly easier since I could articulate my thoughts verbally by looking at my outline’s notes. This was a more natural way for me to communicate so doing this step sped up the writing process quite a bit. I was able to get the first full draft of the book (14 chapters total) done in another 2 months.

I included an action-item checklist at the end of each chapter and a master checklist at the end of the book so readers had specific steps to take to grow their business. I also added a sample budget of what the marketing investment should be in a small IT company, itemizing each tactic and its estimated monthly and yearly cost.

4. October 2012-January 2013: Interviewed lots of companies. I didn’t want the book to just be a write up of my knowledge. I wanted to include real-life examples of companies using the concepts I presented. I also didn’t want it to be a list of my clients – that would have been too self-serving. So, I interviewed people in my close and extended networks. I reached out to colleagues on LinkedIn and through discussion groups I participate in. Many people volunteered.

My questions during the interviews centered on the book’s topics since I was looking for examples to enhance each chapter. Adding stories made the book come to life. It made it much more enjoyable and easier to read. More so, the interviews made the book much easier to write! Since the questions I posed related to my outline, I was able to tell stories about real experiences from real companies. Much of the text was right there in my interview notes. I simply had to massage it to fit smoothly in each chapter.

5. February 2013: Hired an editor to review the final draft. She found many typos and other issues.

Preparing to Go Live

6. February-March 2013: Prepared the book’s layout in Word. Saved it as a PDF to send as review copy (added security: text in PDF file could not be copied from the review copy).

7. February 2013: Hired a designer to create the cover and the book’s website, www.itmarketingbook.com. She did an amazing job. I included a QR code on the back cover that goes to the book’s website where people can sign up for “extras” like templates, spreadsheets, checklists and other usable files that I couldn’t include in the book itself.

8. Early March 2013: Sent it to my inner circle for comments and quotes for the back cover. Then, sent it to others outside my close circle. Over 40 people reviewed the book and I got plenty of useful comments. I made so many edits that it increased the book’s length by 20 pages. I also got quite a few wonderful quotes to use on the back cover and on the IT Marketing book’s website.

Coordinating Publicity

9. Early March 2013: Read through Amazon’s publishing pages: CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing. I decided to go the self-publishing route after reading about how so many famous authors are now abandoning their publishing houses because they can do so much more on their own – and do it faster. Crush It with Kindle is a low-priced Kindle book that does a wonderful job explaining what to do. I used it as my guide. I finally got the book online on Amazon in Kindle and print formats and ordered the proof of the print edition. Loved it! I finally had my book in my hand, no longer just in my mind. Had a sangria to celebrate!

10. Early March 2013: Sent an email to 21 bloggers that cover the business aspects of IT requesting that they review the book since it is a good fit with their audience. Of the 21 I contacted, 7 replied and reviewed the book, posting their review on the launch date which I had set as March 18, 2013. I had concentrated the effort to focus on one day, my arbitrary “launch date,” after reading about how bestseller lists work: all bestseller lists are ranked based on volume over time. If you sell 1,000 books over 1 year, your book is ranked much lower than if you sell 1,000 in a week. The rankings change based on units sold each week, or in Amazon’s case, every day.

11. March 18, 2013: Posted a press release through PRWeb announcing the book and notified a handful of other publications, sending them a copy of the press release. Reminded my reviewers about the book’s launch and provided them with a sample tweet they could share – many of them posted news of the book in their blogs, tweets and LinkedIn and Facebook status updates. I also mentioned the book in a few relevant discussion groups I am actively involved in.

12. Week of March 18, 2013: The book hit #1 on Amazon in 3 business categories due to this publicity effort. Amazon allowed me to make the book available for free on the launch date, which spurred a download frenzy – over 500 in one day for a niche market book! Even after the free download day was over and people had to buy it, sales were strong and kept it at #1.

I couldn’t have done it without the help of several people – including those I interviewed – who provided the support to get it off the ground. The people I hired were staff members that work with me. If you don’t have an existing team that can help, you can find freelancers who can pitch in. Just advertise on guru.com, elance.com or CraigsList under “writing gigs”. If I hadn’t solicited help, the book would still be a dream and I would probably still be writing chapter 4.

So, what do you say? Ready to write your book? It’s actually easier than you might think. Just schedule a little time on your calendar and get started. You could be a #1 Amazon bestselling author before you make your next New Year’s resolution!

New Book – The IT Marketing Crash Course: How to Get Clients for Your Technology Business

I just released a new book, The IT Marketing Crash Course: How to Get Clients for Your Technology Business. If you provide any type of technology consulting services, this book will show you how to get more leads and close more sales. It’s filled with tips from technology company owners and executives who are generating hundreds of new, qualified leads.

IT Marketing Crash Course

It is available on Amazon in Kindle and print formats.  At the time of this writing, the book was ranked #1 on Amazon in 3 business categories and #16 overall for all business books on Kindle.

The 138-page book includes strategies, checklists, examples and action plans that lead to new customers. It is filled with stories from technology business owners and executives who describe how they are generating hundreds of qualified leads through clever marketing tactics. Topics include:

  • The best non-sales questions that lead to more sales
  • Honing your marketing message so it resonates with prospects
  • Pricing strategies that make it easy for clients to buy your services
  • The most powerful ways to build and leverage your network
  • What to put in your emails, blogs and website to hook new clients

Some sales strategies only talk about going after the lowest hanging fruit – the people who are ready to buy and are just trying to pick a vendor. But that leaves out a much larger block of the market – people  who could be your customers, but just need a little nurturing… so as you get them to be sales-ready, they think of you first.

Learn what you need to know and do to get prospects to find you, like you and buy from you.

You will grow your business.

Download it now!

Pitching Mr. Know-It-All

Sometimes when you pitch your products or services, you will encounter Mr. Know-It-All. No matter what you ask about his company, he will say he already has it solved. You can tell you are dealing with a “know it all” by his demeanor, often arrogant and sometimes even belligerent – you can see his colleagues reluctant to go to battle with him. His subordinates stay quiet for fear of being ridiculed.mr know-it-all

In the early days of the Internet when I was building my first company, GovCon, a business development portal for government contractors, I was asked to present some technical options to the CEO of a 1,000-person firm. He brought my company in because we had a very strong reputation for helping government contractors like his. He had the reputation of being tough as nails and I wasn’t looking forward to the meeting.

As we started the dialog, I asked about their issues and was met very quickly with Mr. Know-It-All responses. He had a quip for every turn I took. So I finally asked him this:

  • I can see that you have a lot of these issues in good hands. So, what were you hoping to address by having me come here today?

This completely turned the tables. Instead of shooting down everything I said, this question gave him the opportunity to stop attacking and start opening up. At the same time, it acknowledged his need for showing off that he had most of his issues already under control.

Some people delude themselves into thinking that the solution they have implemented is the cat’s meow. If you know you can offer a better option, use this two-part question set to diffuse a Mr. Know-It-All encounter:

  • How is that working out for you?
  • Are you getting all of the results you want from that solution?

These questions usually force them to acknowledge their problem areas, giving you the chance to delve deeper into ways you can help. If you have several people in the meeting, you will see some of them bring up topics on their minds.

When you start asking the right questions, people will open up to you because quite often nobody has ever asked them before. This approach allows you to find opportunities and turn prospects into clients by offering ways to make their businesses better. You become a trusted partner, not just a vendor.

Negative Self-Talk: Give Yourself a Cease Fire

Most people have a tape playing in their head. That tape shapes how we react. And sometimes that tape involves negative self-talk. When you run a business, you juggle a lot of activities. You may feel frustrated about the pace of your growth. You may feel guilty about your ability to balance your work and personal life. You may feel like you are unlucky. These emotions happen to everyone, even the most successful of entrepreneurs, not just you.negative self talk

We all have distractions. The danger comes when negative self-talk affects your ability to execute. Stop beating up on yourself. Give yourself a cease fire! Here are some ideas on how to do it:

1. Spot negative self-talk. Margaret Moore writes in Psychology Today that “we have an internal ‘voice’ that comments on, and then determines, how we perceive our every circumstance.” Two people can react to the same situation entirely differently, one seeing an opportunity, the other defeat. “Self-limiting talk creates a self-fulfilling prophecy because we stop looking for solutions and assume defeat,” Moore states. If you find yourself feeling like something will not work out, you are in negative self-talk mode.

2. Add two words to your vocabulary. You’ve heard these two words before: “what if…” but you might not be using them as frequently as you should. For example, if part of your business is doing well and another part isn’t, you don’t have entertain thoughts of shutting down the underperforming unit. What if you looked for someone to buy it so you could focus on your strengths? Instead of continuously worrying about a money-losing headache, you can turn the situation into a money-making opportunity.

3. Make a daily “to do” list. Many entrepreneurs have a set of goals for the year. That’s usually part of a business plan that includes benchmarks for measuring achievement. Extrapolate key goals down to a daily task list, something that gives you the opportunity to check off items as you complete them. This will give you a sense of accomplishment which, in turn, invokes a desire for more accomplishment. It is a positive feeling that nurtures positive thinking and helps get rid of negative self-talk.

4. Share your story with other entrepreneurs. Being a business owner is a lonely position. Nobody in your company can share in the experiences you face: meeting payroll, monitoring cash flow, identifying where to invest for growth, managing staff. Sharing an issue with a peer helps you get perspective. They might have gone through your situation before and can offer guidance – or at the very least, commiserate with you. Sometimes, just knowing you’re not alone gives you the comfort and strength to overcome negative self-talk. I use a group called Vistage to serve as my sounding board. It is comprised of a dozen or so CEOs from non-competing businesses so we can exchange notes and learn from each other. The experience has opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and has helped get through challenges that at one time seemed daunting.

Think about the tape playing your head right now. If you spot signs of negative self-talk, give yourself some good luck: declare a cease fire today!

5 Surprises About Running Your Own Business

Starting and running a business is not for the faint of heart. There is an element of luck involved and you need to be able to stomach some major ups and downs. When I started running my own business, I expected hard work. I was hoping that good luck would be on my side. What I didn’t expect were these 5 surprises:business surprises

1. It is very emotional. I am fairly even keeled guy. It takes a lot to get me upset. When I worked for another organization, someone else was in charge. They made the big decisions, they took the risk and usually there was little consequence to me for someone else’s mistakes. I could go home and have a life outside of the office without feeling guilty. Not so when you run your own business. Every decision affects you, even if you didn’t make the decision. This increases your level of work stress. Even when things are going well, you sweat the details. You worry about how the economy will affect your customer base, how your competition just came out with a cool new widget that would take you a year to build just to catch up, how to make sure your next hire works out so you don’t end up throwing money away, whether you are properly balancing your time working and being with your family. No matter how stable your temperament, there are so many moving parts that it becomes an emotional ride. You have to get used to this.

2. You will be shocked at how many times you want to quit. Ask any successful entrepreneur if they felt this way and they will tell you they wanted to throw in the towel more than once. You need to have or build a thick skin to handle the obstacles that pop up out of the blue. One of my first web sites, morebusiness.com, was doing very well in the late 1990s. When the dot com bubble burst, the ad revenue plummeted. The site was no longer able to sustain the number of salaries it was supporting. We had to retrench and redefine our focus very quickly. It was painful. There will be times, especially when you start, that you take no salary for long stretches of time. You pay your staff first, possibly out of your own savings, and hope there is something left in the pot for you. You hear about everyone else succeeding and wonder what you’re doing wrong. There are 100 reasons to quit and only 1 to stay: faith.

3. You will lose money on many of your activities . In an ideal world, every dollar you allocate for staff, marketing, product development or support will result in more money being returned to you. Unfortunately, there is a lot of waste, even in small companies. Nobody intends to waste the money, it’s just that things don’t work out. Several years ago, MailerMailer explored offering a bulk text messaging option for some of our email marketing clients. We spent time and money building a prototype and showed it to our clients. When we explored pricing models, which had to account for our direct expenses, our focus group testing revealed that we wouldn’t be able to sell the product at the price points our existing customers were willing to pay. If we continued, we would have to pursue a new marketing channel, which would be very expensive and shift our core focus. After all of that time and energy, we abandoned the project. It cost us a good deal of money. I’ve lost money on so many projects that didn’t work out so I stopped counting. If I dwell on those “failures” I would avoid taking the risk on new projects. That would be a bad move because some investments pay off very well.

4. No matter how good your product or service is, there is always somebody trying edge you out. This ties in with surprise #1 – the emotional roller coaster. Someone is always breathing down your neck. They are trying to take your customers away from you so you have to pull out all the stops to make sure you retain your client base with the products and services they need and the stellar customer support they deserve. In my earlier company, GovCon, we were the number one destination for federal government contractors when our closest competitor came out with the first online version of a federal procurement database. This data was used by contractors to find existing contracts that were coming up for renewal. Nobody had done this before and we were caught blindsided. They started gaining market share and we knew we had to act fast. It took us over a year to build a competing product. There is always something else lurking around the corner and it will keep you up at night.

5. There are a lot of people who will blatantly steal your articles, designs, marketing content and more and then promote them as their own. This is my biggest pet peeve about running your own business. People who are too lazy to do original work themselves just steal yours and pawn it off as their own. I’ve found word-for-word copies of our marketing material, blogs, white papers, graphic designs – even components of one of our logos and other copyrighted content all over the web. One company stole parts of our article library that we spent tens of thousands of dollars building up. They took the articles and created their own password-protected site and sold access for a subscription fee. When we are able to chase down these perpetrators, we contact them to remove our original work. Finding every infringement is challenging and requires a lot of time. I’d much rather be spending my time and money elsewhere.

Don’t let any of these surprises discourage you. I started my company because I had an itch I had to scratch. I always wanted to run my own business and through faith and persistence I have been able to make it work. You can, too.

Do you run your own business? What surprises have you faced?

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