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Why bigger is not always better

23 June 2015

Working in different sized companies within any industry offers very different experiences.  My career has been in publishing and I’ve worked for small publishing companies, a mid-sized publisher and a global publisher and I value the experience I have gained from each environment. It is wonderful to have the might and power of a multi-national behind you – particularly in publishing when you are commissioning new books and authors and want to impress! It is refreshing to share the creativity and intimacy of a mid-sized company and anyone who owns and runs their own small business will likely agree that the flexibility and autonomy this offers can be very refreshing.

I hope you don’t mind if I draw on the publishing industry in this article. As well as being my area of experience, I think that many of us aspire to write a book one day. Among the business community, to be a published author in your field of expertise can be the best business card you can have.

How the small, independent US publishers are doing it

A link to a Publishers Weekly article about how some small independent US publishers achieve and measure success appeared in my inbox recently. The piece provided an excellent insight into the reasons for their success. Successful independent publishers:

  • Were able to embrace new business models, such as increasing direct-to-consumer sales and offering subscription services
  • Relaunched their websites
  • Increased direct marketing
  • Restructured into small ‘publishing genre’ teams which allowed fast response to trends in the marketplace
  • ‘Partnered’ with entrepreneurial authors
  • Adopted a hybrid self-publishing model.

I think you’ll agree that these are smart moves that would revitalise almost any business: finding entrepreneurial partners, relaunching websites, allowing their business models to evolve are great ideas.

Advantages of working with a small publisher

This research prompted me to review my own small business and pinpoint the advantages of working with a smaller independent rather than a larger, more cumbersome organisation. Below are the three main advantages I came up with.

The ability to be nimble

In my experience, strategic planning in larger organisations is set in stone much further in advance. For example, a publishing house would plan its new book releases at least 12 months in advance. There are sound reasons for this (allocation of budget and resources, etc.) but it means you lose the ability to be nimble, to quickly respond to competition, to change course if something’s not working, to seize an opportunity that needs to be brought to market as quickly as possible. In a smaller business there’s little stopping you from changing course and adopting a Plan B.

Decisions can be made instantly

In small businesses you can usually get an answer to a question or request instantly. There is no chain of command to work your way up, no office politics. If the idea is a good one, then it can get the go-ahead almost immediately. This works for your clients too. They are of a smaller pool and when they pick up the phone or send an email they usually receive a quick reply, answering their question one way or the other – no excuses, no “I’ll just have to check, or add it to the agenda of the next meeting”.

You choose who you work with

In my own small business I have the pleasure of working with energetic, successful entrepreneurs and this invigorates me. I get to choose the authors we publish and get to know many of our clients, several of whom end up becoming friends. My ‘staff’ are a loyal bunch of freelancers (most of whom run their own small businesses) who help to solve our challenges and celebrate our successes.

If you’re wondering about my small business, started six years ago in these turbulent times of publishing and bookselling, you can visit Major Street, specialising in personal investment and business books, ebooks, newsletters and other publications.