How to increase your startup sales

When you're selling a new product or service, sales can be slow on the ground - you're selling something totally new, and so how do you get people to put their money where their mouth is? Author and entrepreneur Abiola Bello is the co-founder of The Author School, providing workshops for aspiring writers that demystify and educate about the writing and publishing process. They overcame initial difficulties and ended up selling out of their workshops - an amazing achievement for a new venture! Here's how they went from starting out to selling out (in the best sense of the phrase).

The Author School Logo - Virgin StartUp Loans


Starting out

Lots of people seemed to ‘get’ the idea, and we’ve been told by many people from agents to publishers that our course is not only huge value for money but a seriously good idea.

One issue was authors taking us seriously – or rather trusting that we weren’t ‘too good to be true’. We were selling our workshops for a very good price and offering a lot in return, so we found that some people would think: what's the catch? They didn't understand how it could be good value for a low price. This is an issue borne from the fact that there are a lot of scam merchants in the publishing industry out to make a quick buck. Many ‘innovators’ enter the industry, take authors’ money, and disappear. We had to prove ourselves first. Due to funding delays, we also had to push back our workshops by a few months. This made people question us because we had advertised a workshop on a particular date.

We advertised in a publishing magazine, paid quite a bit for it, and it didn't affect our sales in the slightest. Lesson learned! We are working on word-of-mouth marketing now – it’s worth way more than a paid-for ad in a magazine – by talking about The Author School at publishing and self-publishing events about The Author School, and focusing on social media.


Overcoming the issues

We had to figure out a lot of things ourselves and seek help elsewhere from a range of people rather than just one person. We are lucky enough to be well-connected so we can call upon experts in different fields for advice.

People began to take us seriously because we were – and still are - consistent! We kept talking about how great the workshops were and we had approached speakers from the publishing industry who were amazing in their field and it gave us credibility. We worked on our social media and websites daily and the support kept increasing. We developed strong relationships with some journalists within the national press, which led to two features about us and a national competition.


Getting the first sales

We did a Wowcher deal, which helped us to sell tickets for that first course and we ran our first workshop with a semi-full class. There was definitely no profit made that day! But we did it for the experience and made sure everyone who attended had the best possible experience so they would tell their friends. The testimonials from that first day were brilliant and we were able to share them with potential customers.

The Author School Workshop - Virgin Startup

We fixed the things that weren't so great such as the venue through learning and experiencing, and moving on. We were also featured on The Bookseller, Love Sunday Magazine and The Mirror - who recommended us!

Sales really picked up when we did our second full day of classes and made it a London Book Fair Special Edition. Also we decreased the price. We had a networking event afterwards and the speakers stayed around to share their expertise. We sold out of the full day of classes and networking!

Getting great media coverage – Helen Lewis, co-founder of The Author School, also works in PR, so she has lots of connections. The London Book Fair gave us a thumbs up and recommend our workshops via their newsletter to thousands, plus social media. Also, we have had the best speakers who always deliver and are extremely friendly (and the feedback from them has been so positive that they’re recommending us to their own clients and contacts).


What has the experience taught you?

To not be stuck on one idea and to always keep analysing and seeing what we could do better. We've learnt not to compromise on our standards and to make great opportunities for our customers but also to make the work load easier for us. Never underestimate how hard it is to start your own business from scratch, though!


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