Welcome to Saturday Business chat. Today’s chat is with Harry Bingham of The Writers Workshop, a business based in Oxfordshire that works with authors to offer them editorial advice through a network of freelancers (full disclosure being the order of the day, I do not work with this company myself, but may do in the future).
Harry really did stick with what he knew when he set up his business: he’s an author, and he wanted to help other authors and also support his own writing with another income stream. I’m all for authors being the ones who offer these services, as I think they’re more likely to understand their clients and provide them with the service they need, and also they are less likely to try to rip them off or pull the wool over their eyes. I do worry about writers I work with falling prey to some of the less scrupulous people out there, so it’s good to know that there are decent companies I can recommend if people come to me for advice.
So, let’s meet Harry.
What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
My business is called The Writers Workshop. I set it up in 2006. We started out offering editorial advice to first time authors. First it was just me and a friend. Now we’ve got about 80 freelancers working for us, all of them professional novelists, non-fiction authors, screenwriters or commissioning editors. We handle almost 1000 manuscripts a year and large numbers of our clients have gone on to get published. Some have even won prizes, got film deals, and/or become bestsellers.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
I was (and am) an author and wanted a more stable source of income to set alongside my writing.
What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
I’m an author: I stuck to what I knew.
Had you run your own business before?
How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?
I started off with a £1000 investment in a website and I’ve always treated the job as part-time. We now have an office of three people (two part-timers) and hordes of freelancers. I still spend most of my working hours as a writer, not as the WW-owner. It’s a wonderful life.
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
Nothing really. I started out small and have (nearly always) felt in control. I knew that starting a business would be a lot of work, so wasn’t surprised by that aspect of things.
What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
That it would be OK! The business would get there in the end.
What do you wish you’d done differently?
We started out very dependent on Google Adwords for our marketing. That worked well for us for a long time, but grew to become cripplingly expensive. I wish I’d diversified away from Google sooner than I did.
What are you glad you did?
We have been strictly web-based from the start. So nearly all our advertising and marketing efforts have been internet based. Although we used to do a little print advertising, we do essentially none at all these days. Our strategy has, of course, been really consistent with the way things have evolved.
What’s your top business tip?
Always deliver a fantastic service. We’ve always tried to be the absolute best at what we do, and if the quality of your service is right, I do believe that every other aspect of the business will be fixable. That’s certainly seemed to work for us. We’ve also worked hard to make lots of top quality advice available free on our website. We believe that if you give people a good quality service without charging, that’s a terrific advert for what you’ll do when you do charge.
How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same
Our core service has always been manuscript appraisal and editorial advice – and we’ve also always been very active in helping people find literary agents when their work has been strong enough.
In the last two or three years, we’ve added writing courses to the mix – which are starting to work really well – and we run the Festival of Writing, which combines short writing courses and workshops with intense interaction with literary agents and publishers. It’s a genuinely heady weekend.
Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
Overall, it feels like we have a good, coherent package of services. I think we’ll focus now on expanding our reach and less on adding new services. The real trick will be to go on developing our web presence: something that just takes huge amounts of patience and work.
It sounds like Harry’s got everything set up just as he wants it, and has got the writing / business owning balance just right. I firmly believe in giving people helpful information and building your reputation that way, too. I look forward to seeing how everything is going in a year’s time!
The Writers Workshop is based in Oxfordshire but working online means they can look after clients wherever they may be! Their website is at www.WritersWorkshop.co.uk and they can, of course, be contacted via email.
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