Way back in 1991, when my organizing business was already 8 years old, I spotted an offer for a free copy of a booklet called “117 Ideas For Better Business Presentations.”
Well, because I do business presentations, and because the price was right, I sent for it. My first reaction was, ‘geez, I could knock something like this out about organizing tips.’ Then I threw it in a drawer.
Six months later I was sitting in my office, bored, baffled and beaten down by the difficulty of selling my consulting services and workshops. I had no money. I mean no money!
I remembered that little booklet. I had no idea how I was going to do it, but something hit me, and I knew I had to produce a booklet on organizing tips.
I started dumping all those ideas I ever had about getting organized onto a file on my computer. These were all pearls that came out of my mouth when I was with clients or when I did a speaking engagement or a seminar. I could do one booklet on business organizing tips and another on household organizing tips. Two 16-page tips booklets, each fitting into a #10 envelope. The first one was 110 Ideas for Organizing Your Business Life and the second one 111 Ideas for Organizing Your Household.
My first run was 250 copies. That was the most expensive per-unit run I made, but I had to get samples to distribute to start making money. It took a few months to pay the printer only $300.
The only way I could think of selling the booklets was by sending a copy to magazines and newspapers, asking them to use excerpts and put an invitation at the bottom for readers to send $3 plus a self-addressed stamped envelope. I had no money to advertise.
Then the orders started dribbling in, envelopes with $3 checks in them or 3 one-dollar bills. This was great stuff. I remember the day the first one arrived. It was like manna from heaven:$3! Of course, the fact that it took about 6 months from first starting to write the booklet until the first $3 arrived somehow didn’t matter at that moment.
I cast seeds all over the place, hoping that some would sprout. I found directories of publications at the library and started building my list.
Finally, February of 1992 ‘the big one hit. A 12-page biweekly newsletter with 1.6 million readers ran nine lines of copy ABOUT my booklet. They didn’t even use excerpts!! That sold 5000 copies of my booklet. I distinctly remember the day I went to my P.O. box and found a little yellow slip in my box. It said, ‘see clerk’.
There was a TUB of envelopes that had arrived that day, about 250 envelopes as I recall, all with $3 in them.
In April, that same biweekly newsletter ran a similar nine lines about my household booklet, starting all over again. This time I sold 3000 copies.
Round about June, I stopped and assessed what had happened. Was I making any money? By then, I had sold about 15,000 copies of the business and the household organizing tips booklets one copy at a time for $3. When I checked my financial records, I realized I had tediously generated not a ton of money.
And some of the lessons I had learned along the way were expensive ones. I didn’t realize my bank was charging me $.12 for each item deposited until I got my first bank statement with a service charge of $191.
Some very wonderful things happened while selling those 15,000 copies though.
* A public seminar company ordered a review copy to consider building another product from my booklet. They did, and I recorded an audio program based on the booklet. I can sell that tape to my clients as well and it led to a 20-minute interview on a major airline’s in-flight audio programming during November and December one year.
* I was sorting through the envelopes, …$3, $3, ,$1000, $3, ….. wait a minute. Well, a manufacturer’s rep decided to send my booklets to his customers that year instead of an imprinted calendar.
* A company asked me to write a booklet that was more specific to their product line.
* I got speaking engagements from people who bought the booklet.
* I found out that the list of people who bought my booklet was a saleable product.
Things were starting to pick up. So, back to June and taking stock of where I was. You know those advertising card decks in the mail? Well, that day in June I was so bored, I opened one. Glancing through it, I said, ‘jeez, here’s a company that oughta see my booklet. And here’s another one, and another one.’ I sent booklets to each.
Less than a week later, a woman called. At first, it sounded like a prospecting call. Fortunately, I wasn’t too abrupt with her. She was calling to ask me the cost of 5000 customized copies of my booklet for an upcoming trade show. She wanted to know if I could match a certain price.
I slightly underbid her price, she was thrilled and the sale was a done-deal. I thought, ‘oh, this will be easy to sell large quantities now’. Wrong. It was another three-four months until the next large-quantity sale. But, the trade show they were attending was an organization I had contacted about getting my booklet into their catalog. They rejected it because I wasn’t in their industry. So, my buyer had bought 5000 copies of my booklet, with my company information in it, to distribute at that trade show. I loved it!
One day, a guy I know from a major consumer mail- order catalog company said, “Why don’t you license us reprint rights to your booklet. We can buy print cheaper than you, so if you charged us a few cents a unit, you wouldn’t have to do production.” Well, 18 months later after lots of zigging and zagging that sale happened: a non-exclusive agreement for them to print 250,000 copies. We exchanged a ten-page contract for a five-digit check.
They provided the booklet free with any purchase in one issue of their catalog and made a 13% increase in sales in that issue. They were happy. I was happy.
I looked for other licensing prospects (even though it took eighteen months for this sale to happen, and the five-digit check was low five-digits, not enough to sustain me).
Round about spring 1993, I designed a class on how to write and market booklets and wrote an 80-page manual. The class was small and mostly people I knew. They paid me money, and I had a chance to test-run the class. So now, I had another new product, an 80-page manual, a blueprint of how I had then sold more than 50,000 copies of my booklet without spending a penny on advertising.
I like teaching and now I had a new topic besides the organizing I had been presenting. I also like traveling. So I took the 3-hour class on the road and had great fun doing it.
I toured the country for about 2 years, 6-8 classes a year. Many people have written interesting booklets on all kinds of topics. Some have hired me to write a customized marketing plan for their booklet or to coach them by phone to develop their booklet business.
Midway through that year (August 1994), I discovered CompuServe. My sole purpose for getting online was to market my business. The third day I was online, I saw a forum message from a guy from Italy who had a marketing company there. He told me his client base was small businesses and companies who served small businesses. I told him I had a booklet he might find useful. I sent it to him, he liked it and we struck a deal. He translated, produced and marketed it, and paid me royalties on all sales. This January he wired several thousand dollars to my checking account from Italy. He made the first sale of 105,000 copies to a magazine that bundled a copy of my booklet with one issue of their publication.
That meant I have sold more than 400,000 copies of my booklet, in two languages, without spending a penny on advertising.
One slow week, I posted a message on some CompuServe forums about the story of the Italian booklet as an example of an online success story. Even though blatant selling is not allowed, creating mutually beneficial relationships is. I had received money from someone I had never spoken to and had only communicated with online, by fax, earth mail and EFT.
Folks who read those postings replied that they would be interested in doing the same thing with my booklet, but in French and in Japanese. This never even dawned on me.
At this moment, I have discussions open with people in 10 different countries. Once these relationships are established, it makes sense to discuss brokering some of the other booklets I have access to among the people from my classes or whom I’ve coached or who have bought my manual.
I’ve also discovered new opportunities for my booklet, and other ways to
support the success of my clients:
* Two different companies who produce laminated guides (one hinged, the other spiral bound) licensed my content into their format.
* I write tips booklets for clients by distilling information from their printed material of articles, books, workbooks, ezines, and interview transcriptions.
* Clients ‘rent my brain’ for an hour at a time or weekly to help them identify and focus their business marketing strategies
* A fourth language has been added to the formats of my own booklet
* Almost a million copies of the original organizing booklet have now been sold.
I never could have written a business plan for how this has all unfolded.© Copyright 2007 Paulette Ensign