Jacqui Pretty is the Founder of Grammar Factory, a publishing company that turns entrepreneurs into authors.
This Week on So You Want To Start A Business Podcast:
Jacqui Pretty is the Founder of Grammar Factory, a publishing company that turns entrepreneurs into authors. Many of her clients have become Amazon bestsellers, been featured on national television, landed paid speaking engagements and doubled their revenue. In short, she has witnessed first-hand the power of publishing to transform a business.
Jacqui has combined her love of writing with a solid business model.
Jacqui is holding an accelerator event and you can find more here https://entrepreneurtoauthor.com/ and if you use promo code NUMBERS you will receive 40% off the ticket price.
Remember: Ideas without action…. Well they are just that … ideas. What action are you going to take today?
Thanks for listening and to remind you that over at healthynumbers.com.au/quiz you can find your business startup readiness assessment designed to help you find out how ready you are to create, start and grow your own business.
Podcast Full Transcript:
INGRID: Hello and here we are today with Jacqui Pretty. Hello Jacqui.
JACQUI: Hi Ingrid, thank you for having me.
INGRID: My absolute pleasure. And our listeners are just ready to hear what you’ve got to say. So for the first thing, what is your business, what business are you in?
JACQUI: So I own a publishing company called Grammar Factory and we turn entrepreneurs into authors. So we specialise in working with small business owners who want to establish themselves as leaders in their fields and we help them do that, through publishing a book.
INGRID: Yes, you do indeed. So Jacqui, when did you start your business?
JACQUI: A little over four years ago. So I think I count starting the business from when we got our first paying client, so I think that April or May 2013.
INGRID: 2013, wow. And why did you start this business?
JACQUI: There were a couple of reasons. The first was actually opportunistic. I knew that I wanted to start a business, I’d been toying with the idea for probably 18 months at this stage and I originally tried to break into freelance copywriting because, at the time, I was working as a website copywriter in the corporate world. And I really struggled to get this business off the ground and I just couldn’t bring in clients. And I didn’t really understand why I wasn’t getting anywhere.
So I signed up to do a business coaching programme, which you’ve also done called Become a key person of influence. And one of the things they recommend is to write and self-publish a book. So suddenly, I was a writer and I found myself in a room of 50 people who weren’t writers but who were all writing books. And I went, “Oh, well, I can help you.” And that’s how it started, I stood in front of the room and gave them a little pitch about my editing skills and that led to my first couple of clients who then referred me to another few and it just grew from there.
INGRID: It certainly did, indeed. So what did you want from the business from day one? You’ve already said you were looking to start a business so you weren’t quite sure what that was. What were looking for from your business?
JACQUI: For me, freedom was the big motivator. I remember, in fact I remember being very young, probably nine or ten years old and seeing my parents go off to work every day in their corporate jobs and then come back in the evening and every day was the same as every day before. And I really hated the idea of that, I hated the idea of being constrained, I wanted to … I wouldn’t have used these words as a child obviously but today, when I think back, I think I wanted to life on my own terms, I wanted to travel, I want to have adventure. I’d always to read fantasy and obviously I’m not going to go off fighting dragons or anything but I loved the idea of having a big, epic life where you go on journeys around the world and have big experiences. And I didn’t think that was possible in the corporate world and my experience in the corporate world when I started that career was that it was very restrictive and it wasn’t very nourishing for me. So, that was the primary motivator behind starting a business.
INGRID: That’s a lovely answer and spoken as a copywriter, as somebody who writes, your use of language is lovely, Jacqui. Thank you. So you’ve already mentioned that you had your first paying client in April 2013, is that when the moment was that you realised you were in business, that it had become real or was there something else that made it feel real?
JACQUI: It was probably a little bit later because for me, I knew that a paying client could be a one-off, so I decided that I wanted to get at least three paying clients because then, you know, one might have been a friend, one might have been my mom but by the time I get three then there’s probably one legitimate client in there and that’s a sign I can find more.
So it would have been a couple of months later by the time I’d gotten my first three paying clients and that’s when I started to think, “I could do this full time.”
INGRID: Yes, that’s great. So and the business is offering an editing service and I know that it’s grown from that and you’re offering other things. How do you know, apart from standing up in front of that group and realising that none of them knew what you knew but now, how do you know people want this? How do you know what your customers are looking for?
JACQUI: I think it’s all about listening to the signs or looking for the signs. So I started offering editing services and at the time I didn’t realise that what I was offering was very different to what most editors out there are offering. Because what most editors offer is a human spellchecking service, so they’ll correct your spelling and grammar, put all your apostrophes and commas in the right place but that’s about it. Some of them might do that and might give you a little bit of feedback as well but they don’t dramatically change the book. Whereas what I found I was doing was I would get into a book and I would pull it apart and put it back together. So chapters would move, I have books where I have cut half of the content, and I didn’t realise this was special until I had people coming to me, after they’d already worked with other editors going “You know, I went to this editor but I’m still not confident in my book and think someone else could have a look at it.” And then I would send it back to them and it would basically be a new book and they would just be wowed and awed by the fact that they were able to create something like this with their knowledge.
So getting that feedback is a great sign that people want what you offer and also the fact that they’re sending other people to you, referrals are a really good sign.
INGRID: Yes, that’s a very good sign that you’re on the right track and that you’re giving people what they’re looking for. Now I’m not sure how much funding your business needed in the early days and then how you expand and grow that business but how, and we don’t need to know the nitty gritty nuts and bolts, but how did you fund those early days?
JACQUI: Well, I actually kept working in my corporate job so I managed to negotiate to go down to three days a week and that meant I had a regular income coming in while I built the business on the side and for me, that was a very safe way to do it. I’ve seen a lot of people and in fact I’ve seen a lot of coaches advise their clients to take the big leap of faith and quit this job and put all of their chips on black. And then the universe will support you. And while I think that works sometimes and there are some people who have great stories about how they gave up everything and then suddenly they bumped into the right person, I’ve also seen a lot of cases where it doesn’t work and people do lose a lot that way. And I’m quite lucky that my husband and I don’t have children so I didn’t need to worry about supporting a family but my husband and I do split all of our expenses equally, so there were obligations I had to meet. And I didn’t want to risk everything and then potentially lose it all and get so badly burned that I wouldn’t risk it again.
So for me, starting it on the side of my job was a safe way to go about it and while I was working that job, that’s when I started to get more than one client, so by the time I left the job, which was about six months later, I already had regular bookings coming in, I was starting to get referrals. So it was a sustainable way of doing it. I also sold a house, which helps.
INGRID: Well, it meant not having that financial … not having that extra financial burden, yes. Just on that, because you’ve mentioned having a job and working in the business as a side hustle or as a side business, did you tell the company that you were doing this? How did they respond to that/
JACQUI: No, I didn’t actually. I didn’t. It’s funny, in hindsight, I don’t think it would have been that big a deal because the services I was offering were in no way similar to what the company was doing, so there was no conflict of interest. But I was really worried that … I don’t know, they take it away from me. So I didn’t actually tell them. It wasn’t until I was ready to leave, I said, “Oh yes, I’ve started this thing on the side and I’m going to have a go doing it full-time.”
INGRID: And that’s what happened. So now, you’ve mentioned, Jacqui, that you … people refer people to you quite often. How else do you find new customers? How do you know who they are and where they are, you know, these are entrepreneurs that want to write a book, how do you find them?
JACQUI: So referrals is still a really big one for us. When it comes to entrepreneurs who want to write a book, the best place I’ve found them is when they’re doing programmes or are already doing coaching that teaches them how to write a book because clearly, they’ve stated their interest, they’ve already invested in this but they still need someone to turn their word document into a published book.
However, there aren’t that many coaching programmes, which focus on writing a book so while that’s a great source it’s a bit hard to replicate that. So that’s one of the things we’re looking at now, is how do we find people earlier in the process and help them write the right book and then funnel them into our publishing process. So there are a couple of things, one is we’re running regular accelerator events now. So that’s a half day event on going from entrepreneur to author where we do some really good information and then they are part of our community and our network, we can start educating them and hopefully, when they’re ready to write the book, they’ll come to us for help.
INGRID: That sounds terrific. Is there anything else that you’re doing?
JACQUI: I’ve experimented with a lot of things in the past. The accelerator is one of the things and I think … if you’re selling a high-value product or service, an event is a good way to go about getting in front of people because one, when you’re on stage, in front of people, you’re immediately positioned as the expert and the authority in that space so people expect that you’ll put a high value on what you offer.
The other thing about holding events is that people invest in going to the event and it’s not just the ticket price but they take time out of their day so that helps sort the window shoppers from the actual people who are likely to decide to work with you. Whereas, we do Facebook advertising and adverts and so on that get people into our email list but those people are far less likely to turn into paying customers because they haven’t made that upfront investment.
INGRID: Yes, we’ll put the details, because I know you’ve got one of those coming up. We’re talking now, not quite in August and I know you have one coming up in August but we’ll put the information in the show notes. I know that you’re doing these accelerator events on a regular basis so people will be able to engage with those. That sounds terrific.
So in terms of pricing, I can imagine that there is a range of services that you offer and you’ve come to a conclusion about how much to charge for an accelerator pro … a half day workshop for your entire editorial process. Without talking about the actual dollars or if you want to you can, what’s the process to decide a pricing strategy for this service that you offer.
JACQUI: Mine’s not very sophisticated. It’s usually, I started charging too low and then realised I can’t afford to pay everyone at that rate and then increase until I can afford to pay everyone.
When I hired my first editors, which was back in 2014, I got into quite a bad space where I was losing money on every book they edited and it took about six months of aggressively raising our prices until we got to the stage where we were profitable again.
INGRID: It can happen if you’re not really across the numbers and that’s one of my favourite topics but this interview is about you, not me. So Jacqui, do you have an exit strategy? do you see this going somewhere, you know, have you thought about … you don’t have to tell us what it is but have you thought about what happens or where this goes?
JACQUI: At a high level, I know myself and I know that in another, probably three to five years I’m going to want a new project and I want to build something new. Having said that, Grammar Factory is like my baby, I don’t want to just sell it on to someone so, assuming the business is still sustainable and still profitable, what I’d like to do is have it in my portfolio as an asset but have someone else managing it and then I can move on to the next project.
INGRID: Wow, that sounds exciting. Now, if we think back to 2013, 14, as you were getting started, is there anything you wish you’d done differently? Well, you’ve spoken about the pricing matter, so that’s probably one of them but is there anything else you wish you’d done differently at the beginning?
JACQUI: Well the pricing one is probably the biggest one because that did lead to six months of a lot of pain and very long weeks and a lot of money coming out of my pocket to keep the business running. Other than that, there were just a few little things like I started blogging in probably late 2013 and I could have waited another year before I started blogging because that really isn’t the most effective way to use my time when I’m in an early business and finding and serving clients.
There are other things where I remember when I first started editing, I would promise that I could catch all spelling, grammar and typos. And that’s an impossible promise, I come across grammatical errors and typos in professionally published books all the time and the reason that happens is just because there are so many individual characters in a book, there’s a high probability that at least one of them is going to be off. And I remember I got into a bit of an argument, like an email argument with a client who had been through the ad and she underlined everything I had sent her, saying “You said, you’d catch all of my typos and I found typos.”
And I remember I was really digging my heels and going “No, I did my job, I should get paid for this.” And in hindsight, she was actually connected to a lot of people who I’d love to work with, she was part of that programme I mentioned, the Key Person of Influence programme. So she could have been a great referral source and I could have kept her very happy by either getting an additional rounds of edits with a separate proof reader or giving her a partial refund but so situations like that where I was probably stubborn about the wrong things and not having that perspective of this person’s good will is worth far more to me than getting a, what, $900 invoice paid or however much it was at the time.
INGRID: Jacqui, thank you for sharing that story, that’s very revealing. You know, that’s a very honest answer to that and I hope that everybody has listened because sometimes we can become quite dogmatic. It’s about us being right, isn’t it? And just when you think about the bigger picture and what that could lead to in the longer term to be able to step back from that, thank you for telling us that, that’s very helpful.
JACQUI: That’s okay. And sometimes it can be really hard to step back because your business is so personal and it’s what’s funding the mortgage and you put your blood, sweat and tears into it. So it’s really easy to get caught up in the little issues like that and feel like they’re really important. So I get how hard it is to take that step back and I’m sure, I’m going to have more experiences where I don’t take the step back.
INGRID: Let’s hope you don’t have too many more of them.
JACQUI: Fingers crossed.
INGRID: Fingers crossed.
JACQUI: But as long as you keep going, you will have that chance to look back and learn from what you’ve done in the past.
INGRID: Yes, indeed. And it’s good to have that to be able to use that going forward and say, “Really, what is the battle I want to win here, overall?”
My next question is: What do you really wish you’d known from the start? And that’s sort of a different question to what I just asked. If somebody could have given you a piece of guidance early on, what might that have been?
JACQUI: Probably that there is a lot of help out there. People are very generous with their time and their knowledge and genuinely want to help others succeed. And this is probably still a little weakness of mine is I struggle to ask for help and I always feel like I shouldn’t overstep my bounds and I should be offering some service in return, yet every time I’ve asked anyone for some help or some guidance, they’ve been very happy to give it. So i just wish I’d known that at the beginning, I wish I’d known that it isn’t always a transaction and that people are happy to help. And when I think about it now, like now I get a lot of writers and editors emailing me for advice, I sometimes get people who are just getting started in business, asking if we can go out for a coffee and I’m very happy for them to pick my brain. And I really love paying it forward in that way and in hindsight, when I think about four years ago when I was just getting started, I realised that the more experienced business owners I knew back then probably felt the same way.
INGRID: That they would have been willing to help you if you had just asked. Yes. My next question is about who has been your greatest assistance? So you can either name names or not but who has given you some terrific assistance in your business?
JACQUI: Not so much in my business but my husband is probably the biggest help ever and the reason for that is because I’m probably the flighty, spontaneous, entrepreneur who’s chasing the bright, shiny object and wants to create this empire and he’s the steady one and the rock and having that support over the last few year, especially when things haven’t gone well and having him say “Even though it’s not going well now, I think you should still be doing this, I can see how much it fulfils you and I can see how much you believe it will work.” Having someone there who’s willing to support you through that makes the biggest difference and I don’t think I would have survived in business for as long as I have if I didn’t have that personal support there.
INGRID: Yes, it’s great to have that personal support, isn’t it. Particularly from someone close because if they’re with you and behind you and helping you, that’s enormously beneficial. Slightly different question. Who can give you really good, really useful feedback?
JACQUI: So many people. So one is definitely my clients, so like that story I shared earlier with the woman who was upset because there was still typos, after I saw that, I stopped saying that we would get all of them. So sometimes it’s little things like that. If someone keeps asking the same question like if I hear the same question two or three times that makes me think, “Okay, I need to address this, either in my process or maybe I’ll create a blog about it.” Maybe it means we’ll create a new service.
I think clients are very good at giving feedback on your product or service. When it comes to the business as a whole, I think everyone needs some sort of coach or mentor who has genuine business experience. I think there are a lot of life coaches out there who are marketing themselves as business coaches and they can be quite good at dealing with the psychological stuff or the emotional stuff that’s going on. I’m a big fan of business coaches with real world business experience because they are the ones who can go through the numbers and say “Okay, this doesn’t add up here and have you tried tweaking this and okay, you need someone in this position because you’re going to fall apart if you keep doing it.” So someone who has the experience to take a bird’s eye view and give you really relevant and granular feedback for your business.
INGRID: Those numbers are so important, aren’t they? That’s the reason my business is called Healthy Numbers, isn’t it. Okay, so Jacqui, What would you say to someone, I know you’ve covered this in a number of your questions already but someone comes to you, as you said, people say to you, “Can you come and have a coffee, I’m thinking about starting a business?” What sort of things do you say to them, what are you saying?
JACQUI: Well, the first one is to make sure there is actually demand for what they’re offering. And that can be tested in a couple of ways. I mean, the easiest way is to try and find someone who is willing to pay for it. But you can also create some content around it, like a blog post for example and share it on social media and see if people are interested. You can create an ebook and see how many people sign up for it. So just getting your ideas out into the world in a way that’s low risk, so you still have a day job or you have a pile of money sitting there that can fund you until it gets off the ground. So just finding a way to test that before you put everything on it, before you gamble everything on it. So,that’s one thing.
The next thing is, try to get those three paying clients before you start investing into the business. I know that when I was trying to do the first business, the copywriting business, before Grammar Factor, I spent so much time on a website and then the website was up and I thought, “Yes, I have a business,” and I had no idea what to do next or how to find clients and that was why, when I started Grammar Factory, I focused on getting the clients in first. And it was only after I’d worked with maybe six or eight people that I built the website. So things like that, making sure the business is viable before you start investing in it.
INGRID: That’s very, very, very, very good guidance there, thank you very much.
JACQUI: And the final thing is more of a emotional thing, which is make sure you’re choosing something that you genuinely like to do. And it doesn’t need to be like your passion or your purpose or any of those big words because I feel like they can sometimes be a little bit intimidating but you do need to enjoy it or be challenged by it and intellectually stimulated by it because you’re going to invest a lot of your time and energy into this thing. So why would you do that if it’s something you don’t enjoy?
INGRID: Because it is going to go on for a long time, isn’t it?
INGRID: Ideally. Indeed. That’s really, really very useful pieces of guidance there, thank you. So, that takes us to the characteristic question. So you’ve hinted a few things that give us an insight into who you are as a person but what three key characteristics do you think you have that makes you successful in your business?
JACQUI: I suppose one of them is that I focus on excellence in our work. I think one of the things that sets us apart from other self-publishing companies and a lot of other editors is that we transform the books we work on, we make them as good as they can be, we will see a draught and we can … what I train my editors to do is to envision what it can become and then we make the changes necessary to turn it into that book.
But you only do that if you’re focused on excellence. If you’re just focused on getting the job done and out the door then you can’t create that transformation. So focus on excellence, could also call that perfectionism I guess, that would be one thing.
I suppose the second thing is being open-minded and ready to listen to that feedback and yes, I haven’t always been that receptive when emotions are high but generally, I do reflect on things and look at whether the feedback is valid if it comes up more than once, it probably is and how I can implement that into my business and that has made us vastly more successful than we would have been because we’ve changed our products as a result of it, we’ve changed our sales process as a result. We’ve changed internal processes to make things easier for my team because obviously they’re giving feedback as well. So being open to feedback is another big one.
And now I’ve gotta think of the third. I suppose the third one would just be determination. If business is going to be hard, even if you do everything right, you’re going to go through a rough patch and it all comes down to you as the business owner. You are the one who is responsible for getting the work out the door, you’re responsible for keeping clients happy, you’re responsible for making sure you get paid and then for paying your staff and your suppliers. So there’s a weight resting on your shoulders. At the same time, it is very rewarding and I have never done anything that’s as rewarding as building my business. However, because of that responsibility and the number of balls you’ve got to keep in the air, there are going to be tough patches, there will be times when things don’t go to plan, when someone doesn’t pay their invoice on time or when a client is difficult and the scope changes. And at those points, you’re probably not going to want to be in business and you’ll be thinking “Oh, it would be so much easier if I was working for someone else.” And having that little bit of determination, resilience, to grit your teeth and just get through that patch, I mean that’s how businesses survive because if you don’t have that then you’ll give up and go back to your job. So that resilience and determination is key.
INGRID: I think that’s terrific. And I’m really intrigued about the first one. About excellence and perfectionism because actually I think they’re different things. I think your description of what you saw as excellence is in fact what you do. Because the idea of perfection, I suppose excellence is similar, is perfection is just somebody’s view of it. Because the perfect something, I mean you want the perfect pacemaker because you want to make sure that’s working but the perfect something is really somebody’s manifestation of what perfection is. So yes, interesting.
JACQUI: I think that’s true.
INGRID: You’ve written a book, what’s your book called?
JACQUI: It’s called Book Blueprint. How any entrepreneur can write an awesome book.
INGRID: Yes, that’s some shameless promotion for Jacqui here. We do that here on this podcast because we want people to know about other people’s businesses. So at the beginning of your book I think it actually says, “You know, feel free to find a typo and if you find one, let me know.”
And I think at this point, I should probably say you are the editor and the person responsible for making my hundreds of pages of words into a book that actually will be a real book at some point, so I thank you very much for that, Jacqui.
JACQUI: Oh, it’s going to be a very good book.
INGRID: It is a very, very good book. I’m very proud of it. One of the reasons I wanted to interview you for this podcast is that you have built a pretty terrific business and you’re already morphing that into providing extra services and looking at what the market actually needs. I think you’re a terrific example of someone who took an opportunity and you were ready to take an opportunity with something. Thanks for your time today Jacqui
JACQUI: No, thank you.
INGRID: Is there anything else that we haven’t covered? The audience listening are pmostly people who are at the pre-startup stage, you know, thinking about starting a business or maybe putting those early feelers out, putting together some kind of ideas of their business products. Is there anything else you’d like to say before we finish?
JACQUI: It’s about finding something you enjoy that you’re good at and where you can provide value, making sure there is a demand for it and then finding the people who want it. And it’s really as simple as that and even though, businesses grow and legal structures get more complex and managing your finances gets more complex as it grows. That’s really the process, time and time again. You’re just repeating that to bring in each new customer or each new client.
INGRID: Yes, I think that’s pretty good. Thanks Jacqui so much for your time.
JACQUI: You’re very welcome.
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