Many years ago I used to work in a bookshop. After I’d left to start working as a Marketing Manager for Penguin, I bumped into my old boss at the shop who asked me rather pointedly, ‘So what exactly do you do every day?’
Bookselling… I guess the clue is in the word itself. Marketing Manager? Back then, not so much. These were definitely the days when marketing in publishing was more of an art than a science.
So, now I am being asked to address the same question about the role of CEO and co-founder. Co-founder should be pretty clear.
It is a cliché that no two days of running a small company that is still in something of a start-up mode are ever the same. But true, nonetheless. There is a rhythm given to our working weeks at whitefox by the few internal meetings we have. Reviewing new business proposals. Updates on existing projects. And by the regular external meetings with publishers and writers and agents. But we are still small enough in number that everybody really needs to be able to do anything. We have a marketing assistant, but we all have to create content. There is no hierarchy or chain of command from changing the ink in the printer to buying office stationery to making the coffee.
Recommendations and referrals tend to come to me partly because of the length of time I have worked in and around trade publishing. But the senior members of the team manage their client relationships on an on-going basis. Their expertise and editorial project management experience add value to the books they are working on.
I think of my role as both driving new business development and also not getting in the way or becoming a bottleneck when the senior team at whitefox are doing the same. My background is sales and marketing so I’m of most use delivering that strategy. To be thinking of new opportunities to spread the word every day. Farming, our investors call it. Emails, phone calls, ensuring timely responses to incoming queries. Keeping the wheels turning.
I have to be obsessed looking at the metrics by which we measure our growth – the numbers in Xero, the client feedback, anything and everything that makes sure we are always evolving and learning.
And in truth, I also think my role is not to have an off button. I have to live the vision for the business and set the tone for our values and mission. Making sure we stay focused and don’t disappear down any rabbit holes, however fascinating they may be. My mentors and non-execs and shareholders all help with that.
One piece of advice? I’m sure, like many people in my role, I am driven by lists. So keep those daily tasks short and achievable. Otherwise, however much progress you are actually making, it will never seem enough. And that way, CEO or not, madness awaits.