If you want to become a full-time author-entrepreneur, it's not just about quitting your job and starting to write. There are many challenges to face as you go through the transition.
In the intro, big publishers are changing the way they license books to libraries [Authors Guild], which means there is more opportunity for indies to reach libraries through services like Draft2Digital, Overdrive through Kobo Writing Life, and FindawayVoices for audio. [More on publishing wide here.]
Plus, my interview about Artificial Intelligence and its potential impact on indies with Orna Ross on the AskALLi Podcast, and my home audio booth setup if you want to get into narrating your own books. I also recommend the Unemployable Podcast if you want to learn how to build a ‘7-figure small' business.
Today’s show is sponsored by my audiobooks for authors, How to Market a Book Third Edition, Business for Authors, How to Make a Living with your Writing and The Successful Author Mindset, available now on Audible. If you need some more inspirational audio that will give you actionable tips to make more money with your books AND stay sane while doing it, check them out on your favorite audio store [links and samples here]!
A former BBC journalist and radio producer, Blaire helps people escape the day job and work on what they truly love. Her books include The Hyper-Creative Personality and The Recipe for Success.
- Why working experience and running a business are different
- On the different types of communities that solopreneurs can belong to
- Mindset shifts necessary to run your own business
- The pros and cons of being self-employed
- The necessity of pivoting when you’re an entrepreneur
- Charging what your work is worth, even when you love doing it
- Multiple streams of income and how they support creatives
You can find Blaire Palmer at ABrilliantGamble.com and on Twitter @blairepalmer
Transcript of Interview with Blaire Palmer
Joanna: Blaire Palmer is an author, coach, professional speaker, and podcaster at abrilliantgamble.com. A former BBC journalist and radio producer, Blaire helps people escape the day job and work on what they truly love. Her books include The Hyper-creative Personality and The Recipe for Success.
Blaire: Hi. Thanks.
Joanna: Great to have you on the show.
Why don’t you start by telling us a bit more about you and how your own work experiences have led you to where you are now.
Blaire: Sure. I started life as a journalist. I'd always wanted to be a broadcaster. Well, I had wanted to be an actor before that but then when I gave up on being an actor I wanted to be a broadcaster. And so my first career was with the BBC. I was a producer on Radio 4 for the Today program and for Women's Hour.
I kind of had the job of my dreams in my 20s, except the reality was that it wasn't like it was in my dreams. So I realized I didn't like it. I didn't like the stress. I didn't like the culture and it turned out not to be for me.
I didn't like being part of an institution. So when I was 30 I left the BBC to start my own coaching business. And we're talking 20 years ago now. This was 2000. I started training in 1999 left in 2000. Coaching was a really, really new thing at that time.
No one had heard of it. I was one of the first accredited coaches in Europe and I've spent the last 20 years developing that business and, as you say, writing books about it, speaking, and developing real expertise around leadership and particularly the future of leadership.
What kind of leaders do we need in business today and in future and how does that differ from the kind of leaders we've needed in the past?
Joanna: Fantastic. We're going to come back to your own business model in a bit. But one of the things I was interested in is you help people quit their job. That's one of the things you do. And many of my listeners want to quit their jobs and make a living with their writing.
But of course, you don't just hand your notice in day one and then get writing on day two. So let's start by talking about the transition because sometimes it should be really slow.
What are your tips on transition while still working a day job?
Blaire: This is really interesting. I said that my expertise is leadership, which it is, but I realized from coaching a lot of leaders that many of them were very unhappy in corporate life and would love to leave and do something else.
And so that's why I started a separate business helping people do that. And the transition out of corporate particularly when you've been doing it for a long time, two decades maybe three decades of working in corporate the transition it's not simple. You think that you know how a business runs because you've been in the business world for 30 years but actually running your own business outside of that corporate structure is totally different.
And one of the things that I encourage everybody to do that I'm working with on that is to transition out. So whilst you might be tempted to storm into your boss's office and hand in your resignation letter and then find yourself a month down the line sitting in your home office going, “OK now what?”
It's not very sensible not unless you've got a lot of money behind you which most of us don't. So really the ideal scenario is to start developing your new venture before you leave. And there are lots of ways to do that from the side hustle – everyone's talking about the side hustle these days – to really setting up a business as a separate thing that you do in your free time and weekends and your evenings or first thing in the morning before you go to work and starting to generate income from it before you leave.
Testing out your business model, testing out your market, testing that you like it. That's one way to do it and in the end, that's definitely what you should do but you don't need to start with that.
You could start by volunteering at the thing that you'd like to do instead. So this really makes sense to volunteer. Doing the thing that you eventually would like to do for a living.
There are all sorts of ways that you can start to get your foot in the door and start creating that business and creating the audience that you were eventually going to sell to before you leave. And I think that is critical.
Joanna: You're absolutely right. Creating an audience is super important.
It was interesting for me when I first left my job is that I immediately felt like I needed to put back a physical routine and a commute because the groove I had got into over 13 years in corporate was I commute to work. So I ended up commuting to a library in order to work surrounded by other people.
What can people do about those routines that may actually serve them when during that transition?
Blaire: I actually think routines are really important. And yes, one of the things that running your own business gives you is flexibility. But most of us don't know what to do with it. Especially at the beginning.
So I think if you're used to working a 9 to 5 then work a 9 to 5. Eventually, that routine will break down.
I remember I must have been in the first few months of working for myself. I'd left the BBC and I had my own little office at home and I had to post a letter. I never run anywhere but I was sort of doing that half-walk, half-run thing up the street to go to the post office to get a stamp so that I could get back to my desk because I was meant to be working.
And as I was trotting up the street I thought to myself, “Hang on a minute. Nobody cares if I'm at my desk or not. Nobody knows. I work for myself now.”
And so I forced myself to slow down just walk to the post office, post the letter, walk back, maybe have a cup of tea before I sit down.
But it was so ingrained in my genes that any time away from your desk somebody is going to think that you're slacking. And I think that I'd only been in the workplace for 10 years at that point. If you've been in the workplace for 20 years or 30 years then that's even more hardwired.
So if you like a routine, stick to a routine.
If you want to separate home and work then go and work in a coworking space or rent yourself a little office space or work from a cafe or the library or wherever it is that feels like an appropriate place for you. There's no need to break all of your habits all at once.
Joanna: I think you're right about the coworking space and that's why I ended up going to a library. As an introvert, I don't need people but what I realize is that I needed to be in the world in some way.
I still work in a café with noise-canceling headphones when I write. So the need for community as well I think is something that's super important.
Apart from a coworking space, are there other things that people should do around building a community in the new world?
Blaire: There are a few different communities that I think you need and this is whether you're introvert or extrovert it doesn't matter.
Everybody needs to belong to some sort of network or some sort of community and there are a few reasons for that.
The first kind of community that I think you need is a professional community. People who are doing something similar to you and they're either at the same stage as you or a little bit further on, or quite a lot further on, so that you can learn from their experiences. You don't have to reinvent the wheel.
People want to share with you the mistakes they made and give you advice. And why on earth wouldn't you be part of that? So that's one very important network that makes you feel like you're not on your own.
Another sort of community that's really important is a network of people that are interested in what you're doing because they might become customers or clients. They might end up buying it. And if you're not used to working for yourself you neglect that community.
I think the earlier you can start to create that tribe around you, that gang of people who like what you do and are helped by what you do, the better.
And then I think there's another community which is more general but sort of very friendly. So this is your buddies. This is your family. This is the people who believe in you and have your back and tell you on those days you wake up and think, I think I've made the biggest mistake of my life. They're the ones that tell you. No, you haven't. You've got this. You're going to do it. How can I help you?
You need those people too. And yes, many may be colleagues, may be people that you sit next to when you're working or you see every morning. As you're picking up your cup of tea in the coffee shop, those kind of regular interactions are nice too. Personally, that's never been important to me but I know that for some people actually they really miss having buddies that they see every day and somebody to sit with at lunch.
Joanna: When I left the coworking thing wasn't such a big thing. But it's interesting I think also I remember when I started to build my site I was going to a lot of networking things in order to meet other people in business, because I found that my friendship group at my day job, those people didn't even understand the idea of running their own business.
I guess what I'm saying is the people who love you and your existing friends might not be the people in your new friendship group.
Blaire: It's true. And actually sometimes they're the worst people to talk to, your friends and family and they're worried for you. Their own fears come up and they want you to be safe and they don't necessarily understand what you're doing and it's very foreign to them.
My dad still after 20 years of me being in business just really doesn't know why anybody would do anything other than work for the civil service. He just can't understand why you’d take that sort of risk.
You need people around who are business people, who understand the roller coaster, who know what it's like when you don't have any business. It’s terrifying. And also you feel like you're part of something that's bigger than yourself. You're not on your own. Lots of people are doing this. They're having the same experiences. They're making it work and that's really inspiring.
Joanna: It's interesting you mentioned fear there and sometimes it can be terrifying. I think that's that is something I often tell people that you have to white knuckle the first six months because you're going to feel like running back to the day job.
What are some of the other mindset shifts needed to go from an employee to running your own business?
Blaire: I think this is really big. I think people think that it's all practical stuff you need to do when you leave and then if you've got a business plan and a marketing plan and all those things in place, you've built your website and all of that then you're ready.
But actually, it's the inner journey that you then go on. That is the toughest aspect of running a business. And you will be changed as a result of this.
And don't forget not everybody who leaves their corporate job does so because they've always had a burning desire to run their own business. Some of them, and a lot of people that I meet, they feel like they'd rather have a job but the job that they want to do doesn't exist or they don't feel they fit in corporate life anymore.
They're fed up with politics and all of that. So they're slightly reluctant entrepreneurs. They're not necessarily natural business people but of all the options available this is the best option. And so particularly for them, these things are true.
Firstly, putting yourself out there. Now you may well have stood up in front of a bunch of very senior people in your organization or you might have been in sales so you might have had to be outside of your comfort zone. But even if you messed up you still got paid.
Whereas when you were out on your own your performance when you're addressing a potential client or when you're giving a presentation or whatever it might be that that's money. If you mess that up you might not win the contract or the client whatever.
So there's this extra challenge besides the fact it's very personal. People tell you business is not personal but it is. So you're personally putting yourself out there. This is you your business, your baby, your reputation. And I think that a big surprise for a lot of people is how uncomfortable they are talking about themselves and talking about what they're doing and selling it to people. So that's one of the biggest shifts to make is to get comfortable with them.
Joanna: And many authors obviously struggle with marketing. They think they shouldn't have to do marketing and even if they have a traditional publisher they are going to have to do some marketing. So you're right. That's a really big deal.
The other thing I think is that when you're an employee you don't really have the freedom, and as you say you might not want the freedom. And there are pros and cons of that freedom.
What are the pros and cons of having your own business vs. being an employee?
Blaire: The big advantage of being an employee is the security.
Now it's a little overrated in that no job is that secure. In fact and as we know you can be made redundant or we can be moved into a job you don't particularly like. So it's not as secure as it used to be, but nonetheless you pretty much OK and you can see stuff coming if there's danger on the horizon. Whereas when you run your own business you're very much living by your wits.
You mentioned the first six months of your business. There have been times in my 20 years, way beyond the first six months, where my business was not healthy. It seems to me like every five to seven years there's some sort of crisis in my business and I have to pivot and reinvent.
So the downside is you're living by your wits. But the upside is you're living by your wits. You get to change it if you realize what you're doing is not working. You can just change it. You can pivot.
You can create a new product, you can re-niche yourself. You can just madly start bashing the phones, you can write a new book, whatever it is. It's completely in your control and that aspect of it I really like. Whereas you're very disempowered in an organization.
It's one of the reasons that people leave as they feel disempowered.
Joanna; Absolutely. I was thinking about this the other day. One of the other things is when you're an employee, sure there's a hierarchy and you can move up the chain and earn more money over time, but essentially you're paid an amount per month and it doesn't matter how amazing you are or how much harder you might work than someone else. You still get paid the same amount of money.
Whereas I feel like with us being out here on our own, as such, there is no limit to what you can earn.
And I was saying to my husband the other day, it would drive me nuts now to not be able to scale my income whenever I wanted like. I know I can do X and make X if I just want to make more money that month.
We just bought a house and I went hard on getting money for the deposit. Whereas when you're an employee, you can't change your baseline.
Blaire: That's right. Again there’s pros and cons to that. One of the big mindset shifts you have to make when you leave corporate is you have to change your relationship with money because when you have a job you get paid regularly.
Yes, there is a cap. There'll be an amount of money that someone in your kind of job gets in your company and no matter how well you do it, there is a limit. And there's a limit in your organization if you make it to CEO. There'll be a limit to how much money you can make.
But when you're outside, of course, there is no limit. If you're clever and you've got something that works and you know how to generate money from it, then there's really no limit to how much you can earn.
But the relationship with it changes because it's less secure, because it's less predictable, and this is what I mean about my business going through cycles. I can do all the things I've always done that always resulted in business new business for me. And then they stop working.
And That's because the market's changed or because you've saturated the market potentially or, very often, it's the market's changed.
One of the things that's happened recently is that niching, and niching within your niche, has become critical. Absolutely necessary for business.
When I started coaching you could just be a coach. You could be a life coach or an executive coach or a business coach. And because there were so few you filled your practice and it was not hard.
Whereas now you have to be a divorce coach for women or you have to be a manifestation coach for 22 year old digital nomads or you really, really have to go niche and if you don't spot that something, that a trend happening in the market, you can find yourself just out on a limb with no business.
And you have to fix it really, really fast. But as we've said it's in your power to fix it. You just have to be alert and you have to believe in yourself enough to say, “All right, this has happened. How do I fix it? What are my options? How do I turn this thing around?”
Joanna: I think you're right. I've been in self-publishing, for example, for 10 years and we've seen in the last 18 months pretty much you now have to pay for advertising. Before then you didn't necessarily have to do paid ads but that's something that has dramatically changed in the last 18 months.
Before that, it was Kindle Unlimited, which decimated a lot of people's income. And you're right, we always have to be learning.
And that's actually one of the things I love about being an entrepreneur is that you do have to be learning all the time and if you don’t you are going to struggle vs. when I was in a day job I just did the same thing all the time and it was super repetitive and boring.
What are some of the other practical business things that people need to learn?
Blaire: I think the marketing and particularly the social media marketing is really important now. It didn't exist when I left 20 years ago.
I got an article published in the newspaper and that filled my business for a while. It just doesn't work like that now. So really understanding social and understanding how to create community. Facebook groups and that kind of stuff. Social media advertising algorithms.
It's that stuff is really important now and there are a lot of people out there claiming to be able to help you and not all of them can. So you have to be also quite savvy about who you’re going to allow to teach this to you or who am I going to employ to do this. Because everyone claims they know the secret sauce. I think that the marketing piece, particularly social marketing, is very important.
Obviously your finances. Understanding how the finances in your business work is really important. I was doing a coaching session for someone this week and I said how much money do you live you need to live on? What is your average turn over a year?
He didn't know. I said Well let's pick a number what do you think your margin is. He didn't know that either. That's why we're working together.
But the point is that you really need to know your numbers and you need to know how money works and how much work you need to do or how much product you need to sell in order to live. And it's very different.
It's important especially if you're selling your time. It's a bit different if you're writing book.
If you're selling your time a lot of people think, “I can charge a thousand pounds a day for my time.” For one thing, you don't need a thousand pounds a day. “But I need 20000 thousand pounds a month.” No, you don't.
But you're not going to get a thousand pounds a day for 20 days a month. You're going to get three or four thousand pound days a month and out of that you have to pay all of your business overhead plus your tax. So actually, a thousand isn't even enough.
You need to be charging two or three thousand pounds a day if because it takes you four days to win one day of work. So sometimes people who haven't been in business before can look at the money side of things and think, “God that seems like a lot.”
“If I sell a book for 10 pounds and I sell a thousand of them that's ten thousand pounds. Who needs that?” Well, you do need 10000 pounds because it's not all yours.
You need to know there's still the cost of sale and, as you said, the cost of advertising all of that. And the tax and blah blah blah and then selling a thousand books is quite a lot.
So it takes a lot of effort and time and all that money has to pay yourself back for all that time. So understanding the money is really important.
And then I would say prioritizing. It's not strictly a business skill but there are a million ways that you could spend your time and the most important way to spend your time is on activities that will bring you in money or activities that you get paid for. And the easiest thing to do is all the other stuff.
Anything else writing blogs and going for coffee with people and networking products involved. Doing courses. Oh my goodness. Doing them all!
Actually, the number one thing when you wake up in the morning your question should be how do I make some money today. What do I need to do today that ultimately is either going to bring me money today or bring me money in the near future and everything else is secondary to that.
Of course, you need to balance that with the long term planning otherwise you won't have a business in six months time or twelve months.
But really the prioritizing is a critical skill.
Joanna: That's actually really funny because on my wall next to me I've got a number of things to motivate myself. One of them says, “What can I create today that impacts my long-term wealth and legacy?”
Blaire: That’s brilliant! There’s no better question than that.
Joanna: So it does have the non-money thing as well, create a body of work I'm proud of. But equally, I like being wealthy. I enjoy money. And I think those are things that I think artists and creative struggles to say out loud.
And as you said, I've spent a lot of time and metaphysical energy on my relationship with money, as probably many of us have to do to go through that journey to become a successful entrepreneur.
Blaire: Yes, a lot of people who run their own business and when we discuss fees or whatever they say well the thing is that I just do it because I love it. I don't really need to be paid what you charge for instance.
I say I don't charge what I charge because I hate it and I need to be compensated. I charge what I charge because that's it’s worth. You can love it and it can be of huge worth. If you don't think it's of huge worth then don't charge so much for it, but it's nothing to do with loving it.
And I think this is one of the other mindset shifts about leaving corporate is that people actually call salary their ‘compensation’. It is that compensation for the sacrifice that they have made for their work for their company.
But it's not. What you charge a client or what you charge for your books or whatever it is that however you make money you're not charging to compensate you. You're charging for its value, for its worth to somebody else. And you can charge more if it's worth more. It doesn't have to have been more work for you. It doesn't have to have been blood sweat and tears from you.
It doesn't have to be any kind of sacrifice. You're charging what it's worth. And that's the end of the conversation.
Joanna: And I think it is different when you're selling your time as a coach vs. books, for example, because of course, you can't change the price of the book once it's out but you're looking at volume sales.
For example, say I'm really interested in your business model. Most full-time creatives don't make their money from one source and I certainly don't. And I like the multiple streams of income approach.
How do your streams of income work at this point?
Blaire: I agree with you. I know some people to have one product and that's their thing and they put all their energy behind it. I think that's quite scary.
So I think having a few different sources which feed you at different times of year and under different circumstances is helpful.
I'm a conference speaker and speak about leadership. That is a big chunk of my income and I'm really proud to say that I never thought that I would be a paid speaker even though it's something that I love to do. It seems like a hard thing to get into. But actually, if you're a really good speaker and you have something very interesting to say and you market yourself well through, in my case, speaker agents although you don't have to use them you can do it yourself.
But if you love to do that, then being able to make money as a speaker is a dream. 30 to 40 percent of my income comes from speaking. Then there's my corporate coaching. That's one to one coaching and team coaching. That's the other big chunk of income. And again, I built that reputation over 20 years so that's pretty consistent. Now enough people know about me that the phone rings. Most of the time.
Sometimes I have to be a bit more proactive to keep that network alive and grow it and that sort of thing but it's pretty solid that business.
And then the third aspect is a brilliant gamble, which is the courses and resources that help people to transition out of corporate world and into their own running their own venture. That's really new.
So there is some income coming from it but the cost of that business is greater than the income at the moment. And that makes sense in a way that you think to yourself what do I know. It's a bit like your poster on your wall.
What do I need to invest in today that is going to cost me more than it makes in the short term. But the idea is that I create something really sustainable for the medium-to-long-term. And for me with my lifestyle and my age and things that I want to do with my life having a business that in two or three years time is generating relatively passive income… I mean as you said when you were on my show there's no such thing as passive income really.
You've worked very hard for it and you continue to work for it. But something that doesn't require me being in the room delivering something live that feels very important to me and I think it's worth the investment.
Joanna: You have a number of books.
What part do books play in your business or have they played or will they play?
Blaire: Yes. I was writing books at a time when you didn't self-publish. No one would buy their book unless a publisher wasn't interested. So I always had a publisher I had an agent and still have an agent actually. And I had publishers and so I'd be paid in advance. Very nice.
And then I'd be paid royalties, obviously. For me, the books were never about making money. And that might seem like a strange thing to say particularly now because someone like you is really able to make money out of it with self-publishing. And with all the other kind of spinoff business around being a writer, it really is possible to make a really decent amount of money from writing now. And from blogging and all the other kinds of ways that you can earn money from writing.
But for me, it wasn't about that. It was about credibility and standing out from the crowd. And so although I could have self-published at that time, it did exist, it just wasn't very popular, I thought it's more important that I have a publisher because that says to my corporate clients and to my corporate audiences this person was published.
Someone recognized she’s an expert in this field and I think there are lots of reasons to write a book. Writing a book is really hard. Your listeners will know this. I'm sure you have talked about it a million times. Writing a book is hard for all kinds of reasons.
So you need to have a pretty compelling reason to finish a book and I don't mean the first draft. All the stuff that comes after the first draft, all the rewrites, all the sifting through.
I remember my first publisher sent back the manuscript and said right we've now typeset it and everything. We need you to write two extra paragraphs in this chapter and three more lines in this chapter because it needs to go over onto the next page and I was thinking if I had anything else to say about this topic I would have said it.
I don't have anything else to say and so I ended up sort of waffling for a paragraph to push the text over onto the next page so that a new chapter would start on the left-hand page. Just horrible. I don't have an attention to detail that kind of thing. Just made my brain melt. There are lots of things about writing books. And you have to have some kind of compelling reason.
For me, the fact that in my intro, when I give a speech the person introducing me has a little intro that I've written that they read aloud to the audience and one of the things it says is “three times published author Blaire Palmer”. And there's basically nothing better than that for getting the audience ready to trust you and believe that you know what I'm talking about.
Joanna: I think you're right that as a professional speaker as you are sometimes it is more about a business card than earning money just with the book itself. So that is definitely a business model for speakers.
We're almost out of time. Tell us what can people find at abrilliantgamble.com.
What's your focus there and also on your podcast?
Blaire: ABrilliantGamble.com is all about helping people to quit their job and do something they love for a living instead. It's for reluctant entrepreneurs and people that are just ready for it, for a change, it's called a brilliant gamble for a reason.
It is a bit of a gamble but it's also a brilliant one and the point of the programs that I'm running over there and the resources, there's tons of free stuff – there’s the podcast, there's articles and more articles coming all the time – is to make it less of a gamble to make it.
So that even if you are slightly risk-intolerant and even if you've been in corporate life for a long time. So this is something very different for you that that you can leave that job and start your business with confidence knowing that you did it in a really thorough way and you feel like you have something that you can make a success of.
Some of these things that are going to be new to you, like networking, social media, some of the mindset shifts. What to expect and that's the idea really so there's a lot of programs on their courses on that and more to come to really help with that transition and to support you in the early days of your new business.
Joanna: Fantastic. Well thanks so much for your time, Blaire. That was great.
Blaire: Thank you so much. I love talking to you.