Separating Business from Hobby

Hirst's Shark Tank by the Little Artists
Hirst’s Shark Tank by the Little Artists (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What separates a business from a hobby? My husband and I watch a fair bit of the show, Shark Tank, and often one of the investors will explain the difference to wannabe entrepreneurs. It is one thing to have an idea, and I am in no way diminishing the importance of that crucial element, but there is more to building a business than just having something to sell.

In order to transform a hobby into a business yes, you need a product or service. But you also need a path to market, a sales strategy, a plan for what to do with revenue once it is received, a plan for what to do when the money doesn’t flow as it should, and a plan for what to do when faced with an outright threat. There is so much to do that having the actual innovative spark is almost more window dressing than requirement. That is a minimum of five parts plan to one part innovation!

While at my day job, I usually deal with established companies releasing their next big product offering, but occasionally I get the opportunity to meet with the independent idea person. Typically these are people fresh from one of the nearby university technology incubators. These people a fun to meet with because they are so incredibly passionate about their product, but really have no idea how much they don’t know about the challenges of bringing an invention out of their garage.

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the biggest mistakes they make in their plan is forgetting that though they might have a great rapport with the person at the other side of the table, at the end of the day, “its nothing personal, just business.” I have to watch as they are forced to question their own faith in their product and their existing partners. For example, patents are only as good as they are enforceable and established companies usually have much deeper pockets along with capable supply chains and effective sales channels.

The reaction varies. Sometimes the innovator’s ego doesn’t allow him or her to accept these questions. They get angry and defensive. Of course their product will sell itself and they will become overnight millionaires. They are such geniuses that no one could possibly find a way to build it cheaper, quicker, or in a way that gets around their patent. The public will never accept a lower quality solution at a cheaper price – they will demand the real thing. All of their suppliers will deliver and all their customers will pay on time just because they have put some words together on a piece of paper and called it a contract.

Some throw their hands up in despair. They give up on their dream the moment they are asked to answer tough questions. Others listen with open minds. They are humble enough to realize that they don’t know all the answers and that their product may not be ready for the mass market. Perhaps it is not in their best interest today to accept that large purchase order with all its many zeros. These are the people who will buckle down and return to pitch their idea another day. They leave even more committed, but with their eyes wide open.

English: Figure 10: SWOT-Analysis of the organ...
English: Figure 10: SWOT-Analysis of the organic business idea. Belongs to The Organic Business Guide. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As much as my novels are the children of my imagination, I have to treat my writing as a business, and books as its product. While so far I have found there to be quite a bit of cross over, I recognize that I am new to this industry. I recognize that I can’t rely entirely on instinct alone. What I believe is my best strategy may well be wrong.

In fact as I near the final weeks of writing the first draft, there are a number of things that I intend to do differently this second time around. I enjoyed the speed to market that self publishing offered, but I do think that this time I am going to at least query a few other channels. Yes, I will likely get rejected, as that seems to be a recurring pattern in the industry, but I’ll never know for sure that I picked the course best suited for my own business needs and personal style if I don’t at least ask for other opinions from time to time.


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Know yourself and your audience

Earlier this week I allowed my toddler to take over my blog for a few reasons. 1) He is a master manipulator 2) I’d mentioned my other son a few times and decided he deserved some spot light time and 3) His methods may be somewhat Machiavellian, but he instinctively knows how to conduct a basic personal SWOT analysis.SWOT

By SWOT I mean the business process of analyzing Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats and then figuring out a way to turn weaknesses into strengths and threats into opportunities, or at least neutralizing them.

He is mobile, but not agile. That is fine with him, he forces us to fetch and carry for him so that he can focus on other priorities saving vital resource time.

He is loud, but not necessarily articulate.  He finds other ways to get his message across. He is big on non-verbal communication.

What he lacks in world experience he makes up for by cultivating strategic partnerships.

All to often we try to be too many things to too many people. As the saying goes, when you try to please everyone, you please no one. Our messages become diluted, convoluted and lost in the crowd. In business it is of utmost importance that you clearly identify your target customer / target market.

When I began writing, I decided the same principles applied. There are going to be readers out there who just aren’t going to be interested in what I have to say, or be turned off by my style. Just as if I was creating a marketing plan in mind for product development, I tried to always keep my ideal audience in mind as I was writing. The story could easily have taken various, ultimately pointless, detours if I had tried to throw in nuggets for my non-target readers.

In addition to the book’s SWOT, I thought I might follow my toddler tyrant’s lead and complete my own personal SWOT. So what were my strengths? In the case of An Uncertain Faith, while I didn’t have much professional publishing experience, I have more than a few years of experience with much of the subject matter.

My weaknesses? The lack of prior publishing experience was a big one, but my day job has given me plenty of experience writing to non-English speakers. If you ever wonder if you are describing something well enough, send a note to overseas colleagues. If they can understand you even after putting it through a free translation program then you know your word choice is spot on. If you don’t have that luxury, merely open two free translation programs. Write text in one and convert it to Traditional Chinese. Copy and paste the Chinese translation into the second translator, specify that it is Simplified Chinese and convert back to English. I tried this once where I attempted to describe a metal fan blade. The resulting translation back was a poetic phrase about steel flower petals wafting in the wind. I believe there might have been a tiger involved as well.

Threats? Yes, there are going to be internet trolls and negative reviews out there, and as I become more successful they will become a greater threat, but at this time I found my greatest threat was myself. If I didn’t hit the submit button, I would never achieve success.

Opportunities? Well that is the whole point to this exercise isn’t it?

An unforeseen benefit from giving the little man the blog reins for the day was giving me an opportunity for my first blog two-parter, my first attempt at a sequel! I hope you enjoyed it.

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