Meet the Author of For Entrepreneurs with Big Ideas: A Travel Guide from Big Idea to Business Case
Hi John, such a pleasure. Please tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a 32-year-old project manager, business owner, writer and motorbike rider. I’m a naturally curious sort of person who takes an interest in lots of things. I love to know how things work and to find out new things, I like to help people and make them smile when I can. I like spending time with my family, philosophy, music, radio comedies, gardening, superhero films and Land Rovers. I’m also probably a bit weird in that I enjoy doing public speaking. A perfect night in would probably involve an episode of Long Way Round with my girlfriend and a great chili with some homemade guacamole and tortillas on the side.
As an unapologetic bookworm, your book really appealed to me. What was the inspiration behind the book?
There were a few things at play behind the book. Firstly, I had always wanted to write a book, I just didn’t know what I would be prepared to start, finish and be confident enough to share with the world. Secondly, I wanted to write something that would be helpful for other people. With those two things in mind it made me really focus on honing my project management craft, so that the book I produced would be something I could confidently say would be useful and fun.
What was the writing process like and did you experience the dreaded writers block?
I’ve always enjoyed using words. The range of expressions, slang, dialects and languages fascinates me. I find it very fulfilling to find just the right words to convey just the right meaning. In that way, I suppose it mirrors lots of other artistic endeavours, like a painter finding just the right colours to express their inner desire.
For me there were moments of high productivity, the words would just flow and it felt like the book was coming together. Sometimes it seemed a bit of a struggle. I’ll not use a word like ‘tiring’, or ‘exhausting’ because I always associate that with proper grafting jobs; at the end of the day I was just putting words in order. I never got writer’s block, mainly because I had mapped out the course of the book so I always knew what I could be writing about. However I did get times when I just couldn’t fathom how to express what I wanted to. However, I persevered and through a mixture of techniques I managed to get through each chapter to finish the book.
Is publishing as complicated as people say? How did you manage the process?
Before I started writing I knew there would be a ‘getting it out into the world’ moment. As I started writing I weighed up the options as to how I could release my book. There were a variety of factors at play: length of the process, risk of changing the ethos of the book, distribution support and creative control.
I wanted to retain as much creative control as possible, keep the launch process quick and simple, maintain the ethos of the book and be able to get the book to as many people as possible. I did a little research to weigh up the options. There were always going to be compromises.
I decided to self-publish this first book to stack the odds in my favour for as many of the factors. It turns out that self-publishing is relatively straightforward, but it’s important to remember that just because you can get a manuscript printed in book form it doesn’t make it a book. The formatting, layout and style are crucial to make it look like a real book. I guess that publishers make that part easy for you, in that you just hand them the manuscript and they sprinkle fairy dust on it to make it look like a book. I was prepared to do that leg work myself but it was a painstaking process to make sure every single page was formatted correctly.
You received your first copy of “For Entrepreneurs with Big Ideas: A Travel Guide from Big Idea to Business Case” – what was that like for you?
From my experience of managing other projects, I know that when it comes to going from a design to a manufactured product there are always little bits that need fettling. A few well-placed prototypes helps to ease this process. So, my first copy of the book was an existing book, of similar size, with a self-printed dust jacket with an early copy of the cover design on it.
My first copy that I received through the post, was an early cut of the manuscript, again with an early copy of the cover design. It was great to hold it in my hands, but the moment of wonder quickly evaporated as I started to scrutinize my work so far. The paper quality wasn’t quite right, and the glossy cover looked wrong. It had all the components of a book, but it didn’t feel very book-ish. The page alignment was all over the shop, the cover text overlapped messily onto the spine and some of the image quality of the graphics was poor. I had about three prototypes as I got nearer to the finish, and with each one my pleasure grew a little more.
Your book is aimed at young entrepreneurs, why did you choose this audience?
I’ll just start by saying that the book is equally useful, and accessible, for entrepreneurs of any age, however there are a few traits that I focus upon. Curiosity, learning, passion, adventure and practicality underpin the whole book and for me those traits are most common in young entrepreneurs. Young entrepreneurs tend to want to try new things, break new ground and get ahead of their competition.
There is a fire that burns in the young entrepreneur that can sometimes have gone out in the older person. I remember when I was younger and I often started things but tended not to finish them. I had lots of ideas but never knew what to do with them. I know that from my project management experience that with a project the first few steps will determine how easy the rest of the journey is likely to be. So for young entrepreneurs I wanted to provide something that would make their efforts much more productive right out of the blocks.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
My number one piece of advice would be to have a clear vision about what it is you are trying to write. Actually, I describe the reasons for having a clear vision in the book, but the two main benefits are that it helps you focus when you are writing because it can be easy to stray from the original path. And secondly it helps you to convey your idea to others, which helps get them interested because they can understand what it is you are trying to put into the world.
What would be your greatest marketing tip?
Firstly, in the context of writing, it’s to make sure you consider marketing. Lots of people I know who have books in various stages of completion have never considered what will happen once the book is actually finished. Some assume that once the product is ready that it will just sell itself, and others think that marketing is something you just bolt on at the end.
With that in mind I suppose my greatest marketing tip is to get the right people interested as early as possible. Not everyone will be interested, so find your potential fans and get them involved. Some of the great film franchises get their fans hungry for a film years in advance. The studio can only do this once they have a clear vision, because they know which bits of the final product they can release without risk of it changing.
How much research did you do before you had a solid idea and direction?
I suppose I had been doing research since about 2005. I was doing an apprenticeship at MG Rover and had got the bug for project management. I started writing a book, but it was more about how project management had been useful to me personally. Since then I started looking at project management methods and how they are used in different types of business. I also read around the subject to see how people become successful and how to share a story so that the audience will care. I was even able to weave in elements from Buddhism, the film Tron and ‘The art of expressing the human body’ by Bruce Lee.
I did a little market research to see whether there would be an appetite for a book that would help people turns their ideas into a reality. I didn’t ask whether people wanted to know about project management because that was a secondary issue. I could have written about any method to achieve entrepreneurial success, it just so happens that project management seems to be the best way. I also worked out how to present the content to make it appealing. So, the idea evolved over about nine years. In 2014 I mapped out the journey that the book would take the reader upon, and then I started writing.
Who designed the cover and do you think it plays an important part in the buying process?
Ah, the joy of the cover design! Some say not to judge a book by its cover, but that first impression of the bound pages is something that you only get one crack at. Is it an important part of the buying process? I think it is. Some books I have bought based on title and content alone, but the ones that really resonate with me tend to have a great cover too.
Funnily enough, a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen since my schooldays, but have since connected to via social media, was posting some cool drawings on his profile page. I liked the way he presented an image, so I dropped him a line to see if he would be interested in doing the artwork for me. Luckily for me he obliged, and not only did he do the cover, but all of the artwork inside too.
I wanted the cover of my book to evoke a sense of the potential experience within the covers. The image and text needed to support the ethos of adventure, be aimed at entrepreneurs and foster a sense of curiosity and fun. I did a quick drawing and sent it to my friend who came up with a great interpretation of my sketch; I thank Ian Hickman for all his artistic support.
What is your favourite motivational phrase?
This is something that actually underpinned the book, and most other things I do to. ‘There is always a way’ was something my parents would say to me.
It’s a great phrase because if you ever get really stuck, and you feel you have given all you can give or tried every avenue, it motivates you to keep on trying. It might mean pausing and re-evaluating where you are, or going all out at a particular option. It also sits well with my preference for curiosity and adventure; there are many routes to the top of a mountain.
Do you have any more books in the pipeline?
Hopefully the people who have read my book so far will be glad when I say ‘definitely’!
There will be at least two more in the series that follow on from ‘A Travel Guide from Big Idea to Business Case’. The first book is about evaluating an idea to see whether it’s really worth pursuing. The second book will be about the next stage once you’ve decided you’re ready to plan out your idea. The preparation work that underpins a big idea is valuable so the next book will be an absolute corker. But I am biased!