Thursday, October 11, 2012

DM Advice - Things I Learned from My Startup Business

Lesson One – Research Your Market (Customers and Competition)
No matter if you are going to start your business in widget creation, game design, or publishing you really need to do your research on the market. This means getting into the specifics and learning about your potential customers.  What is hot right now? What do they want? What is considered outdated? What do you offer that your competition does not offer?

When I started this business I thought I had gotten all of those bases covered but I quickly learned that it is almost impossible to have every angle covered.  I highly recommend that people do a little bit of research before jumping in the deep end.  Some of what I learned in the business is that not everything can be researched and some things, such as people seem to really like to customize their own bases, are things that you just have to figure out by trial and error.

Another point to consider when researching your market is who are you potential customers?  If they are into new technology they might want to see something that seems fresh and new and not something that you think is fresh and new.  Let’s face it.  We get older.  I know back in the day I thought that a table design web layout was the best thing since sliced bread but I have since come to learn that this isn’t the case any longer with CMS so readily available.  As I am going for a broad market I need to have my products ready for people to get and quickly.  A suggestion pointed out quite openly was to put the products on the front page of the site.  I have to say – duh.  I didn’t think of that and to my web master’s credit she did but wanted to do what I wanted her to do. Sometimes we have to learn from our mistakes and I hope she forgives me for that one.

Lesson Two – Get a Good Solid Group
Nothing will make or break a company faster than having a bunch of people who aren't dedicated to the cause.  By putting a people into a room and telling them that you want them to be creative you are basically opening up the floodgates.  I find it is best to let each person do whatever it is that they are most talented with.  I therefore have writers, editors, graphic designers, webmasters, marketing gurus and layout artists.  Some I pay and some get royalties as we sell product.  Let me say this – without those people this business would fail big time.

During the Gnomecon panel that I cohosted with Richard Launius of Arkham Horror fame we both had the same thing to say in regards to people.  You need to get someone to work with that you can trust and that is on the same page that you are on.  Having a core group can also help when it comes to bouncing ideas around for the newest product line or book idea.  So use those people skills!

Lesson Three - Learn the Business (Research, Research, and Research)
If you are getting into game publication research your distributors.   What do they want from you?  Often times they need time to solicit and want to get your photographs of your minis and art for your books as soon as possible.  You need to get this to them ASAP!  I have had several products that almost died because I didn’t get Warpath Games what they needed in time to solicit.  Oh and when you give them the stuff to solicit – give them time to solicit! I have made this mistake and the results are actually irritating for both you and them.

If you plan on getting into publication you need to learn layout.  I recommend hiring a layout artist.  There are so many facets when publishing a book from what type of paper to use to how much bleed to setup that really you need to have a professional.  This is where Joey Caso has been so very helpful for my business!  I went from a single column full color layout that I did myself in Word to a double column black and white 10pt font layout that Joey did and the results were so obviously better it wasn’t even funny.

When it comes to art do not skimp!  You need to get a decent artist or graphic artist or photographer.  If your products look like they came from someone’s used art bin box or your photos look like you took them with a 2mb camera (like some of mine have in the past) then you will probably not attract many customers. Once again I can point to James Miller of Scrying Eye Games for the wonderfully zany art that he provided for me for the It Came From Beyond the Still product line and the steampunk inspired art for When the Navy Walked not to mention both book covers for my fiction!  While I am on the subject of thanking people for art I want to thank Jaz for all the work she put into the graphics for the website.  The time and effort paid off imho and the art was fantastic!

You will also want to research costs.  Printing is not cheap and neither is paying a sculptor or a spin caster. I wanted to offer a product that was fairly inexpensive so I went with black and white interior and a color cover for most of my books.  For the miniatures I also wanted to offer the products at a decent rate and so have opted to go with blister boxes from Placon rather than try to find box art and set all of that up.  Now I am considering if I am going to go with printed labels or if I will go with stickers on the boxes which I will print from home as needed.

Lesson Four - Startup Capital Is Necessary!
You just finished your Kickstarter and now you are ready for business right?  Wrong.  Trust me in this one.  You need startup capital.  Why?  There are so many non-listed costs to operating a business that it isn’t even funny – from cost of goods sold for the product to marketing costs and art the idea of having a business is great but the truth of it can be daunting.

The second truth and this is just a matter of fact is this; business will grow at their own pace.  That’s right.  You cannot force a business to grow or push it to grow.  True some are lucky enough to hit exactly what the customer wants right away but the truth is that businesses usually take two to four years to really get going.  We are at the end of the second year but really only the first year since we've been selling through anything other than ONEBOOKSHELF.

Lesson Five – Market and Demo!
This is true for all businesses – you have to get out there and show the flag!  I was lucky enough to have Mike Williams of Bring Your A Game volunteer as my first real demo team!  Since he offered to help me It Came From Beyond the Still has been shown at all of the major conventions and trade shows!  He plans on doing them again for me next year.  This is a HUGE boost for me as I cannot normally make those shows myself.

Hire a marketing girl (or guy) early.  I did this.  It was kind of late when I finally did do it but so far it seems to have paid off.  I think that it is very important to get your name out there and to let customers know who you are and to let them know what you have to offer them.  The basic premise of this lesson is to get out there and to market and demo as much as you can. Go be a vendor even though it sounds boring to sit behind a table (it is) you have to do it!

Lesson Six – Integrate Everything
Got a blog, twitter, facebook and CMS site?  Integrate them all!  Social media is here to stay folks so let’s get with the program!  Also make sure you have your events posted clearly so everyone can follow what you are doing and where you are going. Twitter is good for product announcements and teasers.  Facebook is good for catching up with friends but it is also good for marketing!  Blogging is good for articles like this one where you share your mistakes and hopefully learn from them as well as showing new products, posting AARS of your games and generally offering support for products and your hobby.

Lesson Seven – Make Your Products Easy to Find!
You would think it was a no-brainier but for me I thought it was a good idea to put the product page deep under each product type.  I had several customers tell me that they wanted to pickup some hillbillies but they couldn't find them!  This is a problem!  As I look at the new way to setup stuff it is apparent that new products should be setup at the front of your page or at least only one click away!

Lesson Seven – Be Brief
The age of giving a verbose monologue of who you are and what you do for a living is over, it has been replaced by concise to the point statements of fact.  The fact is that no one cares if I am a second generation gamer who designed the game when thinking about it one day at a family reunion after playing something similar and thinking hey you know what would be cool.  They just want me to be brief and show my products so that they can use them for their own uses. 

Wrap up
In the end it is all about learning from your mistakes and not repeating them.  Good luck and happy business owning.


  1. Thanks Mark. My intention is to be helpful. Check out our new site and let me know what you think!

  2. One of the points of researching other companies is that you need to figure out what other company names are out there. I did know about Patrick - The Virtual Armchairgeneral when I started this but I did not know about the mag. In fact, I did not learn about the mag until after I started the company when someone mentioned the mag. Still, I think the ACG logo and games like WTNW and ICFBTS are much different than what those other guys offer. For the record, I also knew about Pat Condroy's game quarterly that he did under a similar name and I spoke with him about it before even starting this blog so that was also covered.

    On and the blobs are ready NOW! Go get some.