I Want A New Drug

Some people say you should write what you know. It makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, you can deliver a more compelling story if you’re familiar with the subject.

My editor told me from day one to expand out of my comfort zone and do just the opposite.

When I wrote Unlikely Venture, I had a storyline in my head. Okay, that’s not exactly true. I had about a HUNDRED stories in my head before landing on the ONE, and even then I flip-flopped around until I landed on the right resolution. I decided to take a few risks when developing the story but I was always anchored to my original ideas. Two books later, I’ve sufficiently escaped the confines of that comfort zone. I went in directions that I’d have never considered before and I love the result. Hopefully, you all will as well…

Creating…is an addiction.  One I can’t fight.

Now I sit at my laptop scratching my head. Heightened drama, more intrigue, more plot twists…yes, The Venture Series in totality exceeded my expectations. But now what? I’ve written my first contemporary romance series, and though I am completely invested in my characters, it’s…over. Time to say goodbye. Sigh.

I liken it to a breakup. You spend years with someone and eventually part ways because you both want different things out of life. All the time you invested is lost and you need to refocus that energy on developing a new relationship. It’s nerve wracking. How are you going to find someone you think is just as perfect as the former Ms. or Mr. Right? There’s a whole lot of effort involved and you might need to expand your horizons and level set your expectations. You also have to open yourself to the possibility that there may be more heartbreak on the horizon before you find THE ONE.

But then one night, the stars align and you run into the person you were meant to spend the rest of your life with. The initial fear and apprehension may linger…after all, if something is too good to be true…well, you know how that saying goes.

As time goes on, you realize your life would be meaningless without this person and if you hadn’t opened your eyes wide enough to make a change, you would have missed out on meeting your true soul mate. You took a risk and it paid off.

I came to this realization after receiving some sound advice from a fellow author. She opened my eyes to a world where I need to challenge myself and embrace new ideas and direction. It makes perfect sense!

I need to disrupt my writing process, to dig deep and continue mastering my craft. It will take time, dedication and patience (which is always in short-supply). But I’m committed to my end goal…and diversification will be a key driver.

Who says authors aren’t entrepreneurs???

Resounding success is not found overnight, nor is it the result of “playing it safe.” It’s about the journey, not necessarily the destination (unless the destination is the NYT Bestseller list!). And it’s always the biggest risks that pay off the most.

This Love Affair Will Cost You

There is a really good reason why feedback is so critical in the product development process.

MONEY.

Hmm, interesting.  Tell me more.

If you go down a path without prospective customer feedback, you run the risk that you will never be able to gain traction in the marketplace. You WILL feel strongly about your product. This is pretty much a guarantee. It’s hard not to take criticism personally when you’ve poured your heart and soul into your idea but develop a thick skin because not everyone will love it like you do.

Before you spend tons of cash to develop something you love, something you HOPE others will love, test it out. See how you can make it even better, more marketable. Gathering feedback from your target audience is the best way to find out if you have something people will want to fall in love with. After all, they are the ones who need to pony up the money to buy it.

Always aim to enhance your product but don’t go to market with too many variations. When we launched Krina, we went out with seven handbag styles, each available in about eight different colors. We didn’t get feedback until AFTER our prototypes were designed. And we’d already paid handsomely for the samples. The thing is, we just didn’t know which styles would take off so we diversified…a little too much.  Bringing many variations to market means you have enough products to appeal to a lot of tastes but then you get stuck making one-offs. Extremely costly, folks.

Be aware that there is risk in trying to satisfy too many masters.  Gather insights from a prospective audience, identify synergies among the sound bytes and prioritize the recommendations. You can’t boil the ocean and some recommendations may cost much more than others. Keep things simple to start. If you have a solid first iteration, you can always improve upon it as time goes on. Just make sure you start out with the right product offering to begin with and everything else will fall into place.

 

How To Make The Lust Last

Kevin Hale, partner of Y Combinator and founder of Wufoo, recently gave a fab presentation at Stanford as part of the “How To Start a Startup” course. I LOVE these sessions. It’s so great to gain perspective from those who’ve been successful putting their lessons into practice.  You know the saying “those who can’t do, teach?” Not the case with this series of guest lectures.

Aside from the fact that Hale is an entertaining and colorful presenter, he uses dating and marriage analogies when discussing how to build a product with the goal of being embraced by a target audience.  How apropos…totally appeals to my romance author side.

Some key points he hits on are as follows:

  • Build a passionate user base
  • Give them something that will make them successful in some recognizable way
  • Focus on the value used to get your first dollar or customer…if you figure that out, it will help guide you along the path to your first million (with a little luck and a lot of capital – those are my two cents)
  • Build a product you want people to love and form a relationship with

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sz_LgBAGYyo

Hale likens attracting a new user to dating and keeping existing users to marriage.  Very clever.

Think about it…when you’re dating, everything is new, exciting, intriguing. First impressions are absolutely key. Little romantic gestures make you melt, butterflies are constantly fluttering about in your belly when you think about the person. It’s pure bliss, right???

Value is established.  But how do you make those feelings last? Because anyone who is in a long-term relationship knows the excitement dies down after a while and it’s only a matter of time before the “dew is off the rose.”

So how do you maintain that value?

You need to keep things fresh and different…always looking for opportunities to enhance.  You can’t sustain a meaningful relationship unless you take your partners’ wants and needs into account and these WILL evolve over time. Trust me. =)

Cater to your faithful customers. Don’t take them for granted. Talk to them, LISTEN to their feedback and incorporate it into your product base to the best offerings possible.  If you want to maintain a healthy rapport with your users, you need to be flexible, communicative and willing to compromise.

 

I’ll Be Wearing Valentino When I Collect My Oscar

Gillian Flynn is living my dream. Not only is she an A-list New York Times best-selling author, but she’s also headed for the Oscars with the film adaptation of “Gone Girl.”  Red carpet, designer gown, borrowed Harry Winston jewels…yes, she is a freaking rock star in my opinion.

My books take me about three-four months to complete. I don’t outline or plan…I just write. I let the characters take me along for the ride. Sometimes I’m surprised at their decisions, sometimes elated at their realizations, sometimes saddened about events for which they lack control, but I’m always excited to find out what happens next.

During the writing process, I get to know my characters.  For example, I wrote a nine-page character sketch on the hero in my latest novel (which is about four scenes away from being in completed draft mode – YAY!). I needed to get inside his head so I could convince my readers who and what he is and why.  I crafted a picture in my mind. I hear his voice in my head as I read his exchanges with other characters. I know his expressions and his mannerisms. He is as real as I am.

So naturally, I can see him on the silver screen.  I’d love the chance to make him as real to the world as he is to me, to create the alternate reality I’ve lived for the past several months.  Gillian Flynn had her chance…and it’s paid off royally….to the point of $77.9 million (as of press time for the 10/24 issue of Entertainment Weekly).

Ahhh…like I said…THE DREAM.

But first things first…gotta hit the lists before I can collect my own Oscar…in Valentino.  =)

Shark Tank Needs To Invest In ‘High & Dry’

Wow. I just saw Mark Cuban and Robert Herjavec invest $1.2 million for a 20% stake in a company called Red Dress Boutique. Daymond John didn’t get into it at all and clothing is his niche. Wonder why…

‘Shark Tank’ Sneak Peek: Red Dress Boutique Seeks $600,000

Hmm…just checked the website.  TEMPORARILY CLOSED FOR MAINTENANCE?! Maybe Daymond was the smart one in this scenario.

I love innovation and the concept of angel investing. The sharks have fought over some awesome inventions over the years but this one? I’m not convinced. And I love clothes.  But I don’t really see anything unique here.  In fact…I kinda see a lot of things I’d never wear in a million.  Plus, if I actually WANTED to buy, I couldn’t!

I have an idea for you guys…

It’s called….wait for it….High and Dry!

I’ve got a bunch of clothes that I can’t just toss into the dryer. Some of my jeans and shirts are tight enough without being shrunk further. So I need to air dry them.  But a lot of fabrics become crunchy and stiff.  What to do???

Well, I came up with a new invention…a mannequin that uses electricity to gently steam dry clothing items.  You dress the mannequin and can set the force of air depending on the type of fabric.  Because of the way the clothing lies on the mannequin, it eliminates the need for ironing and once dry, you just transfer the item(s) from mannequin to hangar. When you’re done, you just wheel High and Dry into a closet.

Brilliant, right?

 

I Built The Perfect Product, Now What?

I was overly anxious to get my beloved Krina handbags out to market…and social media was only a glimmer on the horizon…we’re going back about ten years.   So my partner and I had to rely on human contact to make any inroads in the fashion industry – a super-important but near-impossible task.  After all, the first step in building a network is to establish contact…but how were we supposed to find these people…the ones who would determine the fate of our bags?

Finding the Influencers…

Today, startup business owners can easily locate and connect with influencers in their target industries, although now we have a different issue…way too much noise.  How do you navigate around it?  In some instances, the scale definitely tips in the direction of the startup CEOs in that we have a plethora of information available with the stroke of a few keys.  Conversely, it becomes that much harder to stand out from the crowd.

Now, I’m an author so I think in terms of books…

Ten years ago, I could write a book, get it published by a traditional publishing house and it would land on the shelf at a Barnes & Noble where customers may pick it up, peruse the first couple of chapters and if they like it enough, buy it.  Pretty simple.  Finite number of choices, not an overwhelming amount of competition.

Today, if you’re perusing the web for a book, good luck. The choices seem endless and the market is saturated.  And this doesn’t just apply to the publishing industry…it’s much more far-reaching.

Cutting Through the Noise

With tons of information comes a larger mass of information-CREATORS.  Even if you have a great product, how do you get the attention you need without spending a fortune to get recognition for said product?  At the end of the day, what makes someone click to buy?

Heed my words…be careful…do plenty of research…perform your due diligence…spend CAUTIOUSLY.

Trying to launch anything is a daunting task. I’d have paid a small fortune for a plan that laid everything out for me…a checklist of items I could tick off that would catapult me to the land of success and celebrity.  How nice would THAT be?

A Bit of Free Advice

Learn from my mistakes and haphazard spending.  Connect with people who have been successful, study their patterns, follow industry influencers to see how they accomplish their goals, try to get them to notice you, be persistent but don’t stalk.  That will just annoy them.

Make a list of free promotional options and try those routes first.  Then, sprinkle in some lower dollar cost alternatives.  There is no guarantee any of these will yield sales but test them out and study the results to create and refine a publicity campaign that works for you.  For example, lots of entrepreneurs swear by video to make human connection with a target audience.  I’m personally not an advocate. I don’t really watch videos and I definitely don’t like to appear in them. Yeek…nope, definitely not a fan.  I’m no Gary Vaynerchuk. But if it works for you, go for it.

The key is to assemble a plan and work through it.  When I was running promotions for Krina, I was all over the place…trying to boil the ocean.  There was an utter lack of targeted focus.  I’ve since smartened up and while I still don’t know the magic formula for “what works,” I definitely know what doesn’t.

How To Land The Sale

People want to buy but they don’t want to be sold.

Words to live by for a sales person. You want to establish a customer base but that takes time. You have to nurture customer relationships because that’s how you become successful long-term. You don’t want to sell one product to one customer. You want to sell lots of products to a return customer for many years to come.

But how do you do that? How many times are you supposed to keep banging your head against the wall, trying to make contact with influencers? Surely a few unreturned voicemails means they aren’t interested, right?

Wrong!

There is nothing personal about a few cold calls and voicemails. Make yourself stand out if you want to command attention. That takes a bit of creativity and a lot of perseverance.

So say I’ve got a handbag business. I want to sell buyers on the quality and marketability of my products so they want to feature the collection in their stores.

These people get sold all the time, so how do I set myself apart as a newbie designer with no brand recognition or footprint to speak of?

The first step is establishing contact. Pretty difficult to do as buyers are usually MIA. But I don’t get discouraged. I leave a message, introducing myself and my goal. I say I’ll follow-up with an email. Surprise, surprise, after a week, no return call.

Time to execute phase 2. I call again, only this time I don’t leave a voicemail. I stalk my prey over the course of a couple of weeks. But alas, the buyer is still MIA. So I finally leave a message letting the buyer know I’ll be following up with a package including some marketing and press materials and a sample handbag. I need to create a hook with this package to give the buyer a reason to call me back. But beware, this whole process can get rather expensive quickly so make sure you pick your targets wisely. Choose the ones where you might have a shot if you’re sending product as a sample. Make the packages personal – include handwritten notes, unique trinkets, anything to set you and your company apart from the competition.

About a week afterward, reach out again, via phone and email, and so on until you’ve exhausted your efforts or you get a return message.

This process won’t work all the time. Nothing is ever guaranteed But if you plan out your roadmap effectively, you have a real chance to make inroads with the people who can put your product in market and help you create demand that will hopefully translate into sales. And then maybe you can land in InStyle magazine too! =)

Teaser Alert – Check Out The First 2 Chapters!

The official launch is exactly one month away!

Unlikely Venture – Chapters 1 & 2

I thought it would be a great excuse to launch another giveaway!  I’d love to hear your feedback!  Check out the first 2 chapters and let me know what you think!  Tweet me, message me or just leave a comment below!

Are you Team James or Team Paul??

Enter To Win a $25 Amazon Gift Card!

Unlikely Venture_FINAL_high

I’d Like To Join Your Anti-Aging Crusade, Mr. Thiel

Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist probably most known outside of Silicon Valley for his early investment in Facebook, is a billionaire on a mission to reverse aging.  According to Thiel, it is a category of innovation largely overlooked by investors.

Courtesy of VentureBeat

Courtesy of VentureBeat

Billionaire Peter Thiel Embarks On Anti-Aging Crusade

I’m a sucker for anti-aging technology.  If I had billions, you better believe I’d be investing.  Of course, I try every product I can get my hands on and few things really have an impact.  As an aside, I’m currently testing a series of products but I’ll reserve my opinion until I give it the full trial period.  Stay tuned…

I do prefer topicals.  I don’t love the idea of shooting my face up with fillers like Restylane or Botox or any others that may or may not have been approved by the FDA (because, does it really matter?).

There have been some innovations in the past year that look promising, although the “magical elixir” is still evading scientists.

I did come across a breakthrough that some are calling the innovation of the decade with regard to anti-aging.

Judgement: Anti Aging Breakthroughs 2014

Fractional Carbon Dioxide Laser Skin Resurfacing.  Yeek.  Doesn’t sound too comfortable.  But does it work? Because I’d suck up a little discomfort to look like I’m 20 again. =)

So how does it work?

Energy light makes tiny holes in the skin to target the deeper layers without causing extensive damage to the superficial layers.  As a result, the healing process is dramatically shortened and the surrounding healthy skin generates collagen and elastin to create a firm look.

Downtime is minimal and it’s pricey…at least for now.  But seriously?  It’s a small price to pay to recapture that youthful glow…for about 8-10 years.  Yeah, I can work with that.

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