Today’s installment of our Afraid To Ask: TFD’s new expert interview series, is all about an entrepreneurial couple who started a small coloring book business using Amazon self-publish. The Afraid To Ask series is meant to provide a deeper insight into a variety of subjects, and shed light on topics people are sometimes ignorant about (myself included in every topic I cover!).
This week I sat down (via the internet of course) with that couple, Joe and Margo, who run The Craft Of Coloring. They have released six coloring books to date and plan to release one-two more per month. Joe is business savvy and handles the one side of the equation, and Margo, the graphic designer and artist, handles the other. They’ve had to hustle and learn what marketing strategies work best for their product. Joe is going to be sharing great insight into what it means to own your own small business, the value of outsourcing, and how to work more efficiently.
Joe answered the business-oriented questions that follow and got candid about the details of the operation. While this interview is not an exhaustive review of Amazon self-publish, it’s a great way to get a peek inside the life of someone who manages their own slice of it. Check it out!
How did you guys get the idea to start The Craft Of Coloring? What inspired you to start a business venture together?
I was already selling private label products on Amazon, and the idea came to us organically after we learned you can self-publish books with Amazon. We knew about the popularity of adult coloring books and decided to go for it. Plus, my fiancée Margo is a super talented graphic designer, so I felt that the venture would fit right into her wheelhouse. We launched our first adult coloring book back in September and had a great response. Now, two months later, we have six books published and three more in the works.
Were there a lot of up-front costs associated with the business that you had to pay for? How did you plan for them?
My approach to business is building something successful and lifestyle oriented — not building an empire. Therefore, I like most of my ventures to have minimal costs in order for me to commit to them.The coloring books are printed on demand (meaning they’re not printed until someone purchases them), so there are no up-front costs for the physical books. I haven’t yet finalized my accounting for the end of this year, but the whole operation was very affordable. It was less than a $150 payment that included software/image sites and a course on how to self-publish books online with Amazon. In retrospect, we could have even done it for cheaper than that. There wasn’t too much saving/planning needed as this is all very affordable in terms of new business expenses.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a small new-ish company?
Well, the first is that we’re still deciding how big to scale our growth. We created our first book in September. December has been our best month for sales, but we’re not sure how that purchasing history will translate into the New Year, post-holiday hype. We’re figuring out ways to implement inexpensive advertising methods and strategies to scale the books out beyond just Amazon (which can be a challenge).
How do you guys organize duties and responsibilities as a team? Is there any tension between who manages what? If so, how do you deal with it?
At first, the process was kind of all over the place. It’s common for a new small business to take the time to see what works, but now we have a strict system. Like any small business, you learn as you go to a certain extent. I’ll concept ideas for the next book, which is based on research into key search words and themes, and I’ll devise marketing strategies. Margo helps with the execution of the actual books, and she puts all the finishing touches on them. Next, I’ll handle the publishing aspect once all the files are ready. Sometimes, tension or bickering can arise if we’re trying to figure something out and are unsure of the best way to proceed. However, it’s important that we always pause, regroup, and remember what each other’s strengths are, and who would be best utilized for each task.
What does the creative process for designing and printing a coloring book look like?
As I mentioned, our coloring books are printed on demand. This means inventory is low, and there aren’t a lot of overhead costs to build up inventory. Once a customer purchases one of our books on Amazon, the printer will print a copy and ship it directly to the customer. This process keeps our up-front costs low and our involvement minimal.
This equals more profit and free time for us to work. So far, every book design has been really different. We’ve done everything from hand-drawing, creating digital mandalas, creating digital patterns, etc. However, we’re now at the point where we’ve (almost) hit the limit of books we can produce with original artwork — we never want the designs to seem repetitive. We’ve begun incorporating the work of other designers and artists who can add their unique style to the book collection. We were proactive in the sense that we knew the value of keeping the brand fresh and evolving. We’re now at a point where the business can run on auto-pilot for a bit. Since we’ve got all the systems in place, we’re able to make the most money and spend the least amount of time on the administrative side of the company. Since our only tasks now are to actually publish a new book (which happens once every few weeks or months), we can spend our time more valuably. We can brainstorm ways to diversify other businesses, or complete high-level tasks that cause a lot of growth with little monetary investment. One thing we are aiming for is securing YouTube channels to feature one of our coloring books.
Is Craft Of Coloring the sole source of your income, or is this a side gig/side hustle? How you strike the balance of work demands with other jobs you work for/at?
Well, Craft Of Coloring is kind of a mix of both. This month our coloring books are definitely going to be the venture that makes us the most money. However, we have a few other diversified streams of income like selling on Amazon FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) and publishing novellas on Kindle Publishing. That being said, the Craft Of Coloring business is just one piece of our larger entrepreneurial picture.
What are three things someone interested in starting their own business should know that they might not have previously thought of/prepared for?
I have been self-employed for nearly two years now, and one of the things I still have trouble navigating is how to best manage my time. It’s a challenge that faces a lot of entrepreneurs and small business owners. I would say figure out which activities grow your business most significantly, and focus on them. I started selling on only Amazon, and a lot of my time was spent labeling items, packing boxes, etc. However, I realized in retrospect that that was the worst possible use of my time. I was performing tasks that were time intensive and weren’t yielding much return. That’s not to say I’d choose to have done it differently. There is a learning curve, and it’s a time period worth experiencing. Now, I’ve come to understand the value of any business owner’s ability to think about how they can automate as much of their business as possible. It will allow you to focus on high-level tasks which will drive the most growth. Doing tedious little things like scrubbing the floors of your office, packing boxes, stuffing envelopes, etc., isn’t going to do that.
I would also say that individuals should only get into business doing something that is their TRUE passion. If your desire is to, say, open a restaurant, that’s something that requires a lot of up-front capital. Being your own boss means being responsible for every detail, every hour, of every day. However, if you’re in business to have more freedom and flexibility (like we are), think about forgoing a business loan altogether. It’s useful and cheaper to initially learn how to do every aspect of it from the ground up. You’ll have the most control and spend the least $$$ in the very beginning. Then, when you have a full grasp of how to do something, outsource it. For us, there are many inexpensive ways to find people to help our company grow using online websites like Upwork.com or Fiverr.
How do you set long-term terms goals for your company? Where do you see yourself taking it in the next couple of years?
Right now, our plan is to put out two coloring books per month, and we hope to have over 20 books once next December rolls around. It’s hard to plan out for the next couple years since we don’t yet know how the coloring book trend will progress. It’s important that we track data very carefully.
How long does it take to finish a complete coloring book, and what is your approach to marketing them?
It takes about 15-30 days to complete one book. This is from the initial concept, to design creation, to the book being available for purchase on Amazon. To market them, we’ve found that a useful technique is setting the price as low as we can in order to drive sales and get as many reviews as possible. We then wait while we climb to the top of the search rankings. We’ve also been fortunate to recently have several YouTubers feature our books, which strengthens our overall strategy of simply getting the product noticed and publicized as much as possible. Meanwhile, we will continue to work hard to up our marketing game and figure out the most effective ways to utilize different platforms.
What’s the best thing about what you do and starting your own business?
Sleeping in a bit! Tthe coloring book venture has been a unique experience which has taught us a lot about business strategy. We’ve gotten some meaningful feedback from people who have said the books have made a positive impact on their lives. The act of coloring promotes relaxation and reduces stress, and it’s a great feeling to hear that our customers love them. Additionally, the satisfaction of making things work for yourself far exceeds any kind of satisfaction I was getting at a big corporate job. Personal freedom is a great thing, and I cherish it every day.
Joe coaches individuals looking to start their own online lifestyle businesses online — If you’re interested, you can get in touch with him here. He’s also the recent founder of two e-commerce websites, Standing Desk Supply & Bath Vault, which offer unique products for your living/working space.
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