This week in my series of interviews with independent business owners, we meet Alexa Whitten from The Book Refinery.
We first got to know each other through a Facebook group that we were both members of. However as she is based in Portsmouth near to where I grew up we’ve actually managed to meet face to face for a coffee when I was on the south coast visiting my mum, which was lovely. Although actually it was my husband who met her in real life first, as Alexa and her friend booked him to guide them and their sons on a hike up three mountains in Wales – what a day they had! But that story is for a whole different blog…
Alexa is probably one of the most organised people I have met. You can’t know her for long without hearing her mention notepads and post it notes. So I wasn’t surprised when this came up as a theme in her interview. For instance she is an advocate of outsourcing elements of the business where she’s not an expert, to allow her the time to concentrate on the areas where she is. She is disciplined with her time and creates a structure for her day – I’m sure we can all learn a lot from her!
Where are you located?
I’m currently in Portsmouth – but I’ve lived all over the world, from Canada to the Middle East. I was actually born in Germany.
How do you describe your business to your friends?
I help people become authors.
How long have you had your business and what inspired you to start it?
I’ve had the business for 9 years now. I worked for a marketing expert who recommended his clients write a book. He just didn’t say how to do it. I then came up with The Book Refinery. I was very lucky in the fact that my then boss was really encouraging of me to offer this service and he actively encouraged me to do so. He gave me access to his list (over 4,000 clients) and it was through that opportunity that I started in earnest. I’m very grateful for that opportunity.
What problem do you solve for your customers?
I can make the book writing/publishing process easy.
Most people who want to write a book, know their subject inside and out, but they don’t know how to get it down on paper. I help them organise their content, and get that all important plan written.
Also, most business owners are time poor, so I help with accountability, and help them make writing a part of their week – I give their book a ‘voice’ so they don’t keep putting it to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list. This is really helpful for busy business owners as I make the writing process shorter, and they are getting constant feedback.
Obviously, I then take their finished word doc and turn it into a fully printed, beautiful looking book! (This saves them having to do it!)
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
For me, the most rewarding part is seeing people receive their books in the post. And then watching their businesses explode after becoming an author.
What’s the biggest frustration with working for yourself?
It can be quite lonely. Christmas parties are a bit dull!
Have you found a way to alleviate the loneliness?
Firstly I am a member of quite a few Facebook business groups, and I have become good friends with other members in some of them. We check in now and again.
Secondly I also try and get out to my favourite cafe (Southsea Beach Cafe) to write articles, but it’s difficult to do that when I’m typesetting as I like my BIG screen.
But also, my editor and I get together in December for a ‘Christmas party’ which usually involves some sort of excursion into town. This year we’re going to the Dickens Christmas Festival at the Historic Dockyard.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve got two books on the go – Educating Football, and Optimal Safety. I’ve also got a film book, called The New Fire waiting to be laid out, and I’ve just got a new client who’s 93!
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business?
As soon as you can, outsource anything you don’t enjoy.
Be yourself, and be ready to have a growth mindset.
You’re always learning, so have checklists and processes in place. Any time you make a mistake (and you will) add it to your checklist. Making mistakes is all part of learning, so make sure you do learn from them and use that experience to enhance your service.
Don’t get into online spats with idiots.
What is your favourite service that you sell?
Probably my book. I’m really proud of that.
Have you learnt anything new about yourself since you started running your own business?
That I can be very organised and strict with my time.
So what’s the secret? What does time management look like in your world?
I like to write my plan in the morning (my to-do list) and this sets out my day. I go to the gym Mon/Wed/Fri – which really sets me up nicely for feeling ready.
If I’m not busy working in the business (typesetting, helping clients) then I’ve come to realise the importance of working ON the business. So I’m quite good with writing articles, being social on LinkedIn – creating content.
If I don’t do it, then my business stands still. However, I do take about an hour for lunch… this allows me to eat away from my desk!
What is your favourite brand and why?
Lavazza. They make the best coffee.
What is your favourite song?
Let’s Dance by David Bowie.
How about a favourite food?
Do you have any pet hates?
Littering and disrespecting elders.
What was your first ever job?
I worked in the pen dept at WHSmith. Don’t ever try and fix a Montblanc pen. Ever.
It sounds like there’s a story behind the Montblanc pen – is it one you can share?
I was working in WH Smith and an older gentleman came in with his Montblanc pen because it wasn’t writing properly. I was on the pen counter (back in the day when they had those) and as I used a fountain pen at school, I thought I could fix it. So I tried to bend the nib so it would work. Funnily enough, it didn’t. I was moved on from the pen counter fairly quickly.
Oh dear! So the pen counter was out. After that what did you decide you wanted to be when you grew up?
A lollipop lady. The lollipop lady who was at our school was lovely – and I used to talk to her after school. I thought it was a really cool job to have a large ‘lollipop’ as your equipment. In fact I’m friends with her on Facebook… she found me about 2 years ago as I was on a Facebook group called ‘Troon people where are you now’ – members are people who used to live in Troon, Cornwall.
Who would play you in a movie about your life?
Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock.
If I gave you an extra day in the week, what would you do with it?
I would read and drink coffee. Or hike up a mountain.
If a celebrity was going to buy from you, who would you like it to be and why?
Daniel Craig. I love him.
Finally, what else should I know about you?
I’ve sailed the Atlantic twice in a 40′ yacht.
At the start of this blog I talked about how organised Alexa is. I like that she talked about the importance of working ON her business as well as IN it. Sometimes we can get so caught up in serving our clients, our eye goes off the ball in bringing new clients in. And that’s one reason why outsourcing works for Alexa, as it gives her the time to ensure this gets done. But also in bringing other people into the business in this way she is gaining expertise and experience from them which benefits her business overall.
I’ve been trying to be more disciplined in the way I structure my days and it is having a positive effect on my business. I already outsource my finances to an accountant, but speaking with Alexa has made me think about what else I might outsource as the business grows.
So to sum up, are you as organised as Alexa? Do you get the most benefit from the time you spend working, or could you do more if you outsourced certain elements? Let us know in the comments…
If you are looking to outsource but you don’t know where to find the person you need, then pop over to my Facebook group The Wild Roots and ask the question. There is a wealth of knowledge in there from many different industries so I’m sure someone will know of and be able to recommend someone for what you’re looking for.