Alright, so some tasks about building up a publishing business. This is mostly useful as you grow larger – or just find that you can’t handle some tasks and are earning enough, or could earn enough – that you can outsource tasks. It’s also worth creating these mental buckets as you go along, so that eventually, you can just hand over tasks list.
Why do you want to outsource or delegate? Because at a certain point in time, there’s only so much you can do and it’s time to move on. Or because you hate certain parts of the business and would rather just hand it to someone else (social media, formatting, proofing!). Most indie authors already delegate or outsource some work (cover artists, editing, distribution); but this is a view of some other things that you might be keeping internally but aren’t outsourcing yet.
Another reason for writing out these tasks is to look at what is taking up too much time. Now some self-help / business gurus might suggest doing that for all aspects of your life – why are you cooking at home when you can get food delivered / buy freezer dinners, why clean when you hire a cleaner? – but that can go too far. It’s not wrong, especially if cleaning a house is something you hate, can afford to hire a cleaner AND if you use those hours productively. Productive being defined (by some gurus as revenue generating activity, though I prefer a ‘whatever makes you happy’).
Anyway, if you have your tasks listed and you end up working out how much time you’re spending on each of these, you can then start looking at work to outsource to help grow your publishing empire or just make your life easier.
The Task Buckets
Major tasks that we split in Starlit Publishing and the buckets they go into: production, marketing, creative and administration. Mix and match as needed for your own business and situation, because some intermix.
Production – formatting, editing, proofing (or organising the editors/proofers/etc.). Uploading of books, chapters, getting the files and documents sorted.
Administration – anything HR related, financing, bookkeeping. Documentation for amounts made, ISBNs used, etc.
Creative – the writing aspect. Drafting, editing of edits, etc. Almost never outsourceable (unless you use ghostwriters).
Marketing – social media posts, advertising, ARC teams, beta readers, alpha readers (or is this creative / admin?), newsletters, etc.
Something to note, the top two are non-revenue generating activities. The bottom two, generally are, revenue generating. You’ll want to be extra careful outsourcing the bottom two, since this can majorly affect how much you earn. In both positive and negative manners.
Outsourcing / Hiring
Alright, you want to outsource or hire for portions of your business. Some things to consider.
- How easy is it to manage? Proofing / cover design / editing often get out-sourced because the results are clear. I outsource proofing, I get a proofed book back. I don’t need to manage you beyond giving you a timeline (or getting one) and it can be done on an ad-hoc basis. It also is a job I can split away without issue, since you don’t need (theoretically) training on proofing, that’s what the contractor brings. Nor is it intrinsic to my business like writing. Same with formatting, etc. The easier a job can be split-off and that runs concurrent with other processes, the easier it will be to outsource.
- Have goals. You want to know exactly what you expect back from them. If you don’t, even if it’s an employee, it can be tough to manage. It could be as simple as ‘you manage all the production and Kickstarter work we have and make plans for them’ to as difficult as ‘social media management’. You still need to have goals (X number of Kickstarter’s, Y number of new followers, etc.).
- Budget for added cost. Realise when you outsource (and more so when you employ someone), it’s rare that they are able to do a job better than you could, UNLESS it’s a specialised skillset. For example, I can do formatting inhouse, and cheaper than hiring out. However, I’m NOT better than someone who has inDesign and can do formatting in there. Editing and proofing and cover art fall under specialised work; but social media is more personal and harder. Unless you’re a total grouch, or the social media manager is very good. In either case, not only do you have to budget for the new expense, but should add an ‘inefficiency’ amount to it. That degree of inefficiency should drop. See below.
- Run-up. Anytime you start outsourcing, you’ll find that there’s a period where the new employee / contractor will need time to learn how you do things. This might be good (in terms of say a new editor challenging your writing); but often just means you need to spend more time training them on ‘your way’. This can take anywhere from a few days to a few months, though anything more than 1-2 months is too long.
- Communication methods. Figure out how you’re communicating, how often and what you intend to get out of it. Be careful of wasting more time managing than you’ve outsourced.
- Risk. Please figure out the risk and exposure you are placing on yourself if you start outsourcing / delegating / hiring. Certain things, you should be VERY carefully consider. Ghostwriting is one major one. But finances is another. Being in control of who gets paid, when it gets paid, inputting your expenses and managing your cashflow is very important and delegating this can mean you’re open to fraud or theft or embezzlement.
- Try again. Remember, not all employees / contractors will work out. Don’t fret, it happens. Start slow. Try again.
Doubling Up / Creating Redundancies
One of the major difficulties of tasking out other work is when you don’t have redundacies and training for redundacies. We’ve all heard of those stories where a key employee leaves and the business shuts down for a bit, because they were the only person who knew that particular tasks. Or employees (or owners) can’t ever take a holiday because no one else can do a crucial, repeated task.
Don’t do that to yourself. Try to build redundacies in as much as possible. But realise, some tasks (e.g. paying certain suppliers who are billing you thousands of dollars), you might reserve ONLY for yourself. And maybe a trusted spouse or family member, who can access the bank account and make payments if you’re ill or sick.
Redundacies can come in a variety of ways, and here’s some quick suggestions:
- Documentation of tasks is the minimum. If you have specific ways of formatting a book, for example, make sure people are trained up on it. Need a FB ad turned off or adjusted? Make sure there are documents on how to do that. Keep documenting tasks, and most importantly, keep the documents up to date!
- Cross-training. Make sure new employees get cross-trained on various tasks. Not just the things that you want them to take over, but areas closely related. So if someone is doing marketing, make sure they are trained in FB ads and AMS, even if their focus is mostly Bookbub ads or newsletters. They don’t have to be perfect at it, just good enough to handle the work for a short period.
- Learn the tasks yourself. Again, you don’t have to be an expert. In fact, it’s best you aren’t (except in the creative side); but you do need to know enough of each task to manage people. You’ll also be the person they ask, sometimes, so be careful.
Redundancies cost you time and money. No way around it. Just realise, you’re paying in the present for savings in the future.
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