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Celebrate Women Who Mean Business

To celebrate Laurie being asked to speak for Global Entrepreneurship Week at Algonquin College, we thought we'd add to the celebration of women in business with this throwback interview from 2015!

The Pub-Craft Team was asked the following questions by Carleton University's Masters of Accounting students for their Management Consulting class in 2015. Laurie’s younger sister, Hayley, was pursuing her Masters of Accounting at the time.

Hayley (right in picture) is now an accountant, MAcc, CPA, CA. Caitlin (left in picture) is now a constable with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Laurie (middle) has expanded the business from romance to all authors and continues to speak and help out students whenever she can.

Take some time and make sure to celebrate how far you've come with your tribe! And settle in, this is a long one!

Q: When was Pub-Craft founded?

A: Pub-Craft: Virtual Assistance & Creative Consulting for Romance Authors was founded in October 2013

Q: What is your educational and work background?

A: I graduated from Carleton University with a Bachelor of Arts, High Honours in Communication Studies & Global Politics as well as a Concentration in Image, Politics and Persuasion, and a Minor in Law.

My work background is in business management, public relations and customer service. All of which, combined with a love of human communications and analysis, entrepreneurship, romance, and creative writing, prepared me for the life of a publicist and business owner in a highly creative and people-based industry.

Q: How did you find this niche market, and such success within it? How did you know there was a demand for your type of e-commerce consulting?

A: A friend of mine’s mom, Opal Carew, is an award-winning erotic romance author. After I resigned from my position, managing a start-up cafe in the summer of 2013, she saw an opportunity and approached me to be her assistant in hopes that I could lend her my skills and background in communications, organization, and public relations. We began working together in September 2013.

During that time, I experienced a steep learning curve in consuming as much as I could about the romance genre and publishing industry. It didn’t take long for me to recognize that this niche market was rapidly evolving and massive, despite its deceptively small recognition in the media (pre-Fifty Shades of Grey and even after). The Romance Writers of America’s research on the industry reveals that this is a billion-dollar-a-year industry with ebooks making up the majority of sales in any one format. (For further info, see here: My discussions with Opal as I assisted her revealed to me that there was definitely a need for my services. After falling in love with the industry and the eccentric, fun, truly diverse and talented people it attracts, I decided, one month later, in October 2013, to start my own business.

Originally planning to act as more of a virtual assistant than a publicist or consultant, I got my big break when the first two box sets I assisted authors in hit the USA Today and New York Times Bestselling lists. This highly sought after honour and accreditation for my clients bolstered my brand and reputation and I was hired for more projects via word-of-mouth from their network. My company had hyper-growth and I went from 1 to 200 clients in my first year, helping 75+ authors to USA Today and NYT bestseller status. The best part is that I was able to do this through the skills that I already possessed – mainly an affinity for communication and customer service, self-direction, and the ability to pursue and learn whatever I didn’t know.

Q: You’ve been called a “romance expert” for Pub-Craft’s success in marketing in the self-publishing, e-book market. Yet, your background suggests no expertise in this area. Do clients ask you for your background before they engage you in a contract? How do you gain credibility?

A: While my background, when I founded Pub-Craft, did not suggest expertise in the publishing industry or romance genre, I grew up a fan of romance and my education and work experience have always been centered in public relations. My clients do not ask me for my background before they engage me in a contract. As I’ve mentioned, I had the good fortune to begin my career in the publishing industry under the wing of a well-respected, award-winning erotic romance author. Opal Carew became my mentor and taught me the industry while I helped her achieve her goals to grow from award-winner to New York Times Bestseller. As a result of our professional relationship and the success we shared together, my brand and credibility were formed. My business gains clients primarily from word of mouth. My reputation precedes me and the clients come to me.

Q: You come at e-commerce consulting from both sides – you are a consultant who has an entirely e-commerce platform, but you also consult to businesses and individuals who have on-line businesses. Can you describe your e-commerce client base?

A: Pub-Craft’s e-commerce client base consists mainly of individual authors, the occasional small publisher, and LLC’s formed by groups of authors when working on collaborative projects, such as box sets. Most of the individual authors we work with are self-published (indie) authors who have moved away from traditional publishing and become sole proprietors who treat and manage their writing career as a business.

Q: What do you think makes you different from traditional consulting services?

A: The Pub-Craft team stands out from traditional consulting services as a result of our proven expertise in our eccentric and ever-evolving niche market. Many of our clients have achieved their dreams of New York Times and USA Today bestseller status through their development with us.

The romance industry is a dynamic and rapidly changing one, filled with like-minded individuals in the sense of self-motivated direction and the ambition to do what one loves and live the life one sees for his or herself. We resonate with this lifestyle and deliver a variety of support services while recognizing that one size does not always fit all. The Pub-Craft team custom-tailors plans to best suit the individual author and his or her budget. Authors seek more time to write, and this is the inspiration underlying the business – Giving You More Time to Write. We like to reference the words of Rick Spencer, writer, consultant and speaker specializing in entrepreneurship in asking, “Rugged individualism has its limits. What could you accomplish if you could spend more time doing what you do best?”

Q: What challenges do you think you’d face if you were to offer your consulting services to a brick-and-mortar business – such as a New York Publishing House with paperback prints – versus your e-commerce clients?

A: The Pub-Craft team regularly works with authors/sole-proprietorship businesses and small publishers that offer tangible goods, such as print copies sold in stores. We also collaborate with in-house publicists, editors and agents on many releases. To elucidate on the given example of a New York Publishing House – at this point, we are hired by authors to fill out and/or complement the efforts of the publisher rather than directly advise them. As such, the issues I foresee with consulting a New York Publishing House are more political than physical. This is because small companies have the freedom, and penchant, to trail-blaze and take risks and are better able to quickly adapt and respond to the rapidly changing landscape of the industry than major publishing houses.

When it comes to the smaller everyday activities, it is simpler to manage an online business in terms of efficiency and convenience. For example, when offering prizes for contests, we recommend that our authors giveaway gift cards or ebooks for the ease of sending and cost-effectiveness in avoiding shipping costs and other associated difficulties. A publishing house dealing only or mainly in print must deal with permissions, shipping costs, warehouse stock, availability and more interdependent and strict deadlines. That said, Pub-Craft continually works well with traditional publishers, accommodating any potential time delays in our strategic project planning. Perhaps the best way to characterize the potential problems of working with a New York Publishing House would be that, by nature of their size and physical presence, they are subject to more bureaucratic red tape and consequent time delays due to authority and the physical chain of supply than small e-commerce companies are.

Q: How do you acquire your e-commerce clients? Would cold calls be effective?

A: Pub-Craft has grown rapidly with an emphasis on word-of-mouth and author networking. Our clients get in touch with us as a result of our excellent reputation and relationships with other authors we’ve worked with. The romance industry can be thought of as a small but truly bustling town where everyone knows someone and news spreads like wildfire.

Since founding Pub-Craft, I have also have become an international speaker and travel to conferences to give industry-relevant workshops. This face-to-face engagement with my target audience also results in a lot of new client leads. The Pub-Craft team is well-informed and supportive. All client-facers are vibrant and have a love of the romance industry and the creative lifestyle it houses and enables. Cold calls would not be effective as romance authors mainly deal in newsletters, and rely on word-of-mouth and networking.

Q: Given the lack of non-verbal communication you have with your e-commerce clients, how important is your reputation in the business, and the way you communicate online?

A: Pub-Craft’s reputation in the business, and the way we communicate online is fundamental to our success. Within reason, we consider it imperative to maintain excellent relationships with our clients, prospective clients, and all actors in our industry.

Q: How important would you say your relationship is with your clients, both during a contract and after the contract has completed?

A: Very important. The Pub-Craft team always seeks to maintain positive and supportive relationships, regardless of the existence of a work contract. There is also a rooted respect for time in this industry. Everyone is a multi-tasker with a million things to do. As such, most actors in the romance industry are extremely appreciative of the time one takes to support another, and will return the favour in kind should they have an opportunity to do so. Understanding this dynamic makes relationships simple: be supportive and err on the side of generosity as you will be recognized and rewarded for your efforts. Fortunes change wildly in this industry and everyone is a potential client and a valuable member of your network.

Q: How do you go about expanding a contract, and/or selling additional services to a client?

A: When working with a client, we request a budget range to build a plan within. If the client is comfortable providing this, we custom-tailor a plan to suit their needs and budget. Based on the success of that plan, we suggest other services they may be interested in. If the client is not able to provide a budget range or requests that we explain to them what is reasonable or common in their situation, we review their position and brand and make an educated service suggestion. The client then approves of this plan, or not, and we move from there.

Typically, we’ve earned a client’s trust before they even reach out to us due to the opinions of their peer-group. If we have not earned their trust prior to first contact, we earn it through our careful work with them and are then able to sell other services to meet their on-going needs. This process continues with fixed fee contracts unless we suggest that the client become one of Pub-Craft’s authors via a monthly retainer. At this point, the author trusts us to spend the agreed upon monthly budget on whatever we deem fit for their development and the cycle continues with the author growing as Pub-Craft grows.

Q: Many of your clients are self-published authors. How do they go about marketing themselves and getting business? What type of consulting services do you offer these clients?

A: Self-published authors go about marketing themselves and getting business mostly through their online presence. i.e. newsletters, online ads, websites, social media (FB, Twitter, Blogs, G+, etc…) Whereas traditional and hybrid authors (hybrid authors are traditionally and indie published and continuing to pursue both) have print books available in stores, it is rare for self-published authors to have print books available except for print-on-demand situations. As a result, indie authors focus on the online market to sell their ebooks as it is more challenging to convert print leads to digital action. However, many indie and traditional authors attend international romance conferences/conventions, workshops, and local chapter/guild meetings, which assist them in expanding their network, sharing best practices, and increasing their potential for future cross-promotion opportunities with other authors and organizations.

The Pub-Craft team offers virtual assistance and creative consulting services. When it comes to marketing, organization and promotion, we assist authors in all the things they’d rather not do themselves! These services can include data entry & management, online research, content writing & editing, promotion and community outreach, reviews & street team assistance, cover & swag design, social media development & online accounts management, online advertising & ad booking, photography & image editing, presentation & workshop development, trade show & live marketing, scheduling & organization ex. conference prep, online parties, book signings, etc…Email maintenance & answering reader mail/correspondence, project management, content writing & crafting, proofreading/copy-editing, and even just being a creative muse whom they can bounce ideas off of.

Q: You offer more than just consulting services – also marketing support. Can you explain some of the marketing services you offer? How does your marketing strategy particularly help your e-commerce clients and each customers interested in shopping online?

A: As above, the Pub-Craft team offers virtual assistance and creative consulting services. When it comes to marketing, organization and promotion, we assist authors in all the things they’d rather not do themselves! These services can include data entry & management, online research, content writing & editing, promotion and community outreach, reviews & street team assistance, cover & swag design, social media development & online accounts management, online advertising & ad booking, photography & image editing, presentation & workshop development, trade show & live marketing, scheduling & organization ex. conference prep, online parties, book signings, etc…Email maintenance & answering reader mail/correspondence, project management, content writing & crafting, proofreading/copy-editing, and even just being a creative muse whom they can bounce ideas off of.

Our marketing strategy particularly helps our e-commerce clients because it is specific to their brand and presence. We get to know the voice and goals of our authors in order to best assist them in achieving their dreams. Each marketing strategy is created specifically for that client’s needs and budget. This also assists their client base in their online shopping because we target an author’s audience in our advertising and support, serving a dual purpose in making the author’s brand consistent, increasing their visibility and also making them more accessible and searchable to customers through our efforts.

Q: Do your clients come to you with a specific request, or do they have a general plea for help? How do you determine what your client needs?

A: The majority of our clients come to us with a general plea for help i.e. “help me sell more books.” The most specific a request gets is typically to ask us to help them promote an upcoming release or project. We determine our client’s needs by asking them a series of questions and reviewing their online presence. This process is always evolving but, paired with online review, it can be broken down here into some fundamental questions:

1.) What are your current projects and goals? Are there areas you want to focus on for development?

2.) What do you currently do to promote your work and author brand?

3.) Which tasks do you least like doing in your author career? Which do you most like doing?

Through this process, we gain an understanding of the author’s current strengths and weaknesses and are then able to define and discuss areas for development.

Q: If you disagree with what your client thinks they need in order to be successful, how do you go about this?

A: When we disagree with an author’s opinion of what they need in order to be successful, we inform them in as respectful and supportive a way as we can. We then make our case for what we feel is the best path to success and ask the author if they’d like us to perform our duties with them as consultants or assistants and that we are happy to do either. Should they still wish to pursue their plan, despite our advice, we will assist them to the best of our ability. We evaluate this on a case-by-case basis.

Q: Is there a general formula that works for all your e-commerce clients? Or is there a template that you have, but is adapted to each unique situation?

A: Each client presents a new voice, as well as different strengths and weaknesses. That said, as far as a general formula or template goes, I would say that we adapt the achievement of a more consistent brand across all media, improved interactions with readers, more time to write for the author, and increased visibility and search-ability to each unique situation.

Q: How long do your contracts tend to last, on average, per e-commerce client?

A: This varies greatly. On average, I would say a week for fixed fee contracts. Many clients have moved to monthly retainer and request additional services as needed or advised.

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