Dangerous Fantasies – an interview with Debbie Jenkins (15 April 2006)

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Introduction

When I came into contact with Steve Halls and Lynn Grocott, I was also introduced to Debbie Jenkins. I wandered over to her site and was intrigued by what I read. I made a decision to contact her and ask her if she would like to be interviewed for this column and she agreed wholeheartedly. Without further ado, please let me introduce to you, Debbie Jenkins …


Aneeta: Hello Debbie. Thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Debbie: Hi Aneeta. Thank you for having me and taking an interest in my story.

Aneeta: Debbie, as always, before I get into the kind of work you do, please tell me a little about you, your family, the place you live and other details you’d like me to know.

Debbie: I grew up in a poor suburb of Birmingham (England) as the eldest of 4 children. Dad always worked really hard but money was tight. We were encouraged to express our creativity and to achieve the best by our parents.

As the eldest I always felt compelled to be a good role model to my sisters and brother and set and met high standards for myself academically and personally. I wanted a better life than the one my parents had and set out to get a good job and improve my circumstances.

I left home at 16 and got a degree as an electronics engineer while working full time for British Telecom. Looking back, I don’t really know why I was drawn to engineering. I think a big part of it was that it was seen as a “boys only” subject which to me was like a red rag to a bull. I was very competitive and finished top of my class as a result.

While working as an electronics engineer and then as a recruitment consultant I got it into my head that I could do this “business thing” better than my bosses. And so my mind was made up. I decided to start my own business.

The only thing was, I didn’t have any idea what type of business I’d like to start. This was 1996 and the internet had just begun to take off in the UK.

On holiday in Thailand with Marcus (my husband) we sketched out our plan of an ideal business in a flimsy little notebook. It was a web design company who made “websites that work” which involved me as the “brains” and my younger brother Joe as the “talent”.

The guiding idea behind the business was that we’d create a web presence that actually made money for clients. At the time most sites were just regurgitated brochures which didn’t add any value at all.

Joe, was working as a graphic designer at the time and I told him my ideas. He was instantly excited and said he’d join me when the timing was right. We settled on the company name “Cabal” which roughly translates as a “web of intrigue”. I’d already decided to leave my job in recruitment and so the business “me and a computer” officially began. During the early days Joe would come over at weekends and on his lunch breaks to help design our stationery and website. It was lots of fun and it felt great to be building something of our own.

Things continued like this for about 3 months until finally we decided that until we were both in the business “full time” we wouldn’t be able to go at it. Joe handed in his notice and a month later our business was Joe and myself with two computers working out of my back bedroom.

Once we were both fully in the business our success began to boom. We got lots of lucrative contracts and within 2 years had an annual turnover of almost £250,000 – with just the two of us. We employed my dad for a while (which didn’t work out) and gradually my house began to fill up with employees until every room in the house seemed to have computers and people in it.

We decided at this point to “invest” our money in renting premises and taking on more staff to allow the business to grow. We didn’t know it at the time, but taking on staff and using our profit in this way would lead us to ruins.

Over the next 3 years the business got bigger and we took on more projects to include marketing, copywriting , branding and high-tech backend systems. We had huge offices in the city and employed 11 technical, design and marketing geniuses to handle all the work. At one point we even employed my sister Ida and Joe’s wife Julie to help handle the contracts and accounts.

But, a strange thing happened. For the first time in a long time we weren’t enjoying ourselves. We were taking less profit and seemed to spend half our time winning business and the other half of our time dealing with petty squabbles and simply trying to get our highly paid employees to get on with their work. We were making all of our clients rich using our skills but never had time to make any “real” money for ourselves.

Even me and Joe (we’ve always been close) would end up fighting and not knowing why. We’d become the victims of our own erroneous idea of success. We thought the large offices, a crack team, high profile clients and big turnover was what it was all about but we found out the hard way that it wasn’t.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, here’s what happened next…

We took some time out from the business and Joe and I worked out the answer to an important question: “What do we want our business to do for us?”

It seems silly now but we’d got so caught up in creating the business that we’d forgotten that a business should be there to provide us with nice things and not the other way around.

Anyway, we came up with an ideal day where we’d be able to be creative, spend less time doing stuff that felt like work, less time telling other people what to do (which my brother hated anyway) and get paid multiple times for a single effort.

We decided that in order to make the business do what we needed it to we’d have to let all our people go – every single one of them. We did it (and most onlookers would have seen this as failure) and at the same time began writing our first book, based on the lean marketing™ approach we’d used to help many of our clients become extremely successful.

Of course, we had a long lease on our premises and so we still had to pay the rent (and rattled around in over 300,000 square feet of office space)

BUT we started having fun again.

When the book was finished we toyed with the idea of approaching publishers, but soon realized that if we wanted to make any serious money from our book we’d need to keep complete control and all of the profits. And so we took all the financial risk and typeset it, designed the cover and paid for the print ourselves.

It was a momentous task and the extent of the work ahead (in actually selling the books) dawned on us when we took delivery of our first 7,500 copies! 7,500 books take a lot of carrying and take up a lot of space!

During the year our book (The Gorillas Want Bananas) was printed, we ran a monthly Lean Marketing™ Masterclass which enabled us to get paid multiple times for a single day’s work and set up a web page (and got high search engine rankings) to sell the book.

But we were still taking on new clients and while we were still swapping time for money we couldn’t get closer to our ideal day. And so we decided to burn our bridges. We politely sacked existing clients who drained our time and agreed we’d take on no more paid work.

By focusing our efforts full time on the Masterclasses and selling our book we could just about make enough money to pay ourselves a salary and cover the rent.

The decision to stop selling time didn’t come without a cost but it was necessary. It finally felt like a huge weight had been lifted from around my neck and we could both see clearly what we needed to do next.

We made more information products (as ebooks), an e-course and ran more classes and we both enjoyed the creative process so much that we’d have probably done it for free.

Once we had a good few products and systems in place for selling them we decided that in order to create all the books we’d need to replace the revenue we made selling time that we’d need more books than we could create ourselves.

And so we set up Lean Marketing Press – a publishing company that focused entirely on helping expert authors create and sell information products for a 50% cut.

Our view was that 50% of 100 people’s work would be better than 100% of just ours.

Plus, in this way, we were added value at all levels. Authors were getting paid multiple times for their knowledge while also gaining credibility, we had a ready supply of new products to sell, readers were getting access to great information from really “muddy boots” experts.

Our success was really down to the fact that we knew what it took to make a product sell online. Ebooks are also great because they don’t cost a penny to share once they’ve been created – meaning high profit and small risk.

Then a new kind of printing came into its own: Print on Demand. This essentially enabled us to get our ebooks in print and offered almost identical benefits. We didn’t have to carry stock, handle shipping or take on more than a few hundred pounds risk up front.

Since December 2004 (the space of 16 months) we’ve managed to get 24 books from initial idea and into print. On April 5th 2006 we got our first best-seller on Amazon.co.uk where we sold over 2,000 books (£30,000 of product) in a single day!

We still do a huge amount of promotion for all our authors while giving them unheard of 50% royalties. All our books are non-fiction but we’re in the process of writing: “How To Build Your Own 6-Figure Book Publishing Empire With Zero Budget” which will share all our secrets and would lend itself perfectly to somebody keen to start their own fiction publishing company.

Some people may think we’re crazy for sharing our system so early but I really believe that when it comes to good books we’re all in it together. If one author cracks a new genre then the floodgates open up for the rest.

It’s my vision to see a hundred companies just like ours providing ethical publishing services to authors while giving readers what they really want within the next 5 years.

Oh, I went a bit off track there didn’t I. Just to let you know. Both Joe and I have escaped Birmingham to live where we choose. He chose to live in the English seaside resort of Great Yarmouth and I chose to live, with Marcus and my dogs, Dani and Fuggles, in the hills amidst acres of olive and almond trees in my favourite region of Spain. My husband and I have also written a best-selling guide to Murcia too, entitled, “A Brit’s Scrapbook: Going Native In Murcia”

Aneeta: That’s quite a story and now I know why people call you Dangerous Debbie! I understand that you run two business: one is Lean Marketing and the other Bookshaker.com. Please explain each one in detail, what it is you’re offering and so on.

Debbie: LeanMarketing.co.uk is really the front for our “Gorillas Want Bananas” book and “The Lean Marketing Toolbox”. Both of these products sell really well and we work with a network of consultants so we can refer people who need hands on support to people they can trust.

www.LeanMarketingPress.com and www.BookShaker.com are pretty much two separate elements of our publishing business. The former is where we give information to prospective authors on the kinds of books we take on and how we work, and the latter, is where we sell our author’s ebooks and print books direct. Although sales of print books via bookshops and Amazon are now outperforming direct sales (which makes our life even easier)

Aneeta: I see you have something you’ve called the ‘ebook revolution’. Tell me what you mean by this, please.

Debbie: Yes – this was just the idea that many people can get access to books that simply wouldn’t have been financially viable with the traditional print model. This provides more choice for readers (especially niche markets) of books that don’t have much mass appeal and also more opportunities for people with a story to get it “public”.

I personally love ebooks because you get them instantly, they take up less physical room and they’re kinder to trees. But print books have the advantage of being easy to read in places like the beach or in the bath, With the advent of Print on Demand, a book is only produced when a person has requested a copy so this is also less wasteful and kinder to trees.

My fantasy prediction is that airports and public spaces will eventually have a vending machine which produces the exact book you want on demand. You can either plug your palm-top in and download an ebook direct (the technology for this is available now) or have a real physical book produced “while-u-wait”. Then I might actually find a book I want to read in an airport bookshop!

Aneeta: Realities sometimes begin with fantasies! Now, I would like to present a scenario to you, if I may. Say an aspiring author writes to you saying that he has a manuscript for a book which is ready for publication. . However, this author is physically based in Malaysia. How can you assist this author to get his book published in the UK and marketed there as well?

Debbie: What a great question! This may sound strange but I’ve only personally met (actual face to face) a handful of the authors we work with.

There is nothing stopping anyone with an internet connection working with us. Even phone calls are cheap (or free) for our business. For example, I have a local Birmingham number for people to call from their landline phones which reaches me in Spain and is only charged at a local rate. And for most conversations we use the free software at www.Skype.com which I highly recommend.

For ebooks international barriers don’t exist. For print books, the only challenge could be the additional shipping costs (which really aren’t that bad) to places other than USA and Europe as our Print on Demand printer currently only has bases in the States and the UK.

Aneeta: Are sales of the books you publish (physically that is, not the ebook version) restricted to the UK only or do you have connections in the US?

Debbie: If we feel a book would be suitable to a US market then we also set up distribution in the US too but there’s nothing stopping people in the US buying our books. Some books, for instance a recent book on property investing in the UK, just won’t be a great book for a US audience because the laws are all different. But others, like Steve Hall’s “FBI: Fit Body Initiative” shares principles that translate well. Most of our books are available on Amazon.com and are available to Barnes&Noble and the other large retailers and our printer is a US company with a HQ in the UK. So any US authors who want to make a splash on their side of the pond could work with us just as easily as in the UK.

Aneeta: As you may know, my website is catered for storytellers and I would like to know, what advice can you give them?

Debbie: I see it that anyone who has experienced something in life has a story to tell and a unique gift of wisdom to share. By getting your story (or ideas) published (whether in print or ebook) you’re allowing many people to benefit from your own hard-won knowledge.

In fact, publishing your story enables you to literally time travel. To think that you can influence an individual who’s picked up your book hundreds or even thousands of years into the future – is simply mind-blowing!

We only publish non-fiction (because it’s an area we know well) and our critical test for authors is that they have “muddy boots”. In other words our authors are sharing information, models, concepts and ideas based on actual personal experiences. So if our readers pick up a book on selling we want it to be written by a salesman. If they pick up a book on being an entrepreneur then it will be written by an entrepreneur and contain stories from entrepreneurs. To us – personal experience with non-fiction gives the work integrity. I personally don’t buy into the concept of , “If you can write then you can write anything – you just need to research!” because people with real experience are the ones with the real stories to share.

Finally, once your book is written you need to believe in it. Most publishers get a hard time for not promoting a book – but if you won’t champion your book then why should anyone else? We do loads of promotion for our own author’s books but the ones that really sell well (without exception) are the books that have the full weight of their author’s belief and enthusiasm behind them.

If you want people to read it then you need to take responsibility for marketing it ferociously to make it sell.

Take the success of our recent best-selling campaign for “…and death came third!” for example. Sure, we’d developed a fool-proof plan and sure it could work again, but success wouldn’t have been possible without our authors asking their network for help and being enthusiastic enough to take our advice and act on it.

As a good friend of mine once said, “An Ounce of Action is Worth a Ton of Theory” – so if you have a great book what actions will you take to make it sell?

Aneeta: Lastly, how can my readers reach you, if they so wish?

Debbie: If you’re looking for a non-fiction publisher who will work hard to make your book a best-seller then you can learn more here… http://www.leanmarketingpress.com

If you’re looking to buy great books by our talented “muddy booted” authors then our entire catalog to buy online is available here… http://www.bookshaker.com

If you want to make your book a best-seller and sell £30,000 of books in a day like we did then there’s a free report here…
http://www.bookshaker.com/amazon-best-seller

Aneeta: Thank you, Debbie

Debbie: Thanks Aneeta! I wish all your readers the best of luck with their own books!


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

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