Those of you at the IPG's Autumn Conference will remember the excellent keynote on branding by Saatchi & Saatchi's Richard Huntingdon. I've been reflecting ever since on his mention of Simon Sinek's mantra, 'Start with Why?', inspired by its potential for independent publishers.

In this post, I'll show you how to apply the questions 'Why', 'How' and 'What', depicted in Sinek's Golden Circle, to your publishing business. I'll explain what a strong founding 'Why?' looks like, and how to use it to make customer-centric decisions - so you sell more books!

To start: here are those questions again as they apply to a publishing business:

  • Why? is your mission and purpose as a publisher: the needs you meet for your customers.

  • How? is your strategy: how you meet those customers' needs better and more efficiently than the competition.

  • What? is the resulting product or products.

The first principle in answering these questions is answer them in order. First, define your 'Why?' - your customer and their needs. Next, define your 'How'. Your 'What' will follow naturally. From the choice of author to the format, price, cover and marketing campaign, your 'Why' and 'How' will guide your decisions.

The Do Book Company: a case study

Many publishers - especially independent publishers - have a strong sense of founding purpose. But they don't always communicate it clearly to readers and authors. The Do Book Company is a shining example of a publisher who really leads with their 'Why'?


Founder Miranda West set up The Do Book Company in 2013, in partnership with Do Lectures, the well-connected team hosting inspirational events. She rapidly grew the company to profitability and has published 16 'Do Books' (and counting). The Do Book Company sell their books directly through their website. Their founding purpose sings out - and it's well worth a look.

So, for inspiration, here's how I would define The Do Book Company's Golden Circle - and why it works:


Who are their customers, and what needs do they meet?

The Do Book Company inspires busy people to 'make' and 'do' so they can make positive changes in their lives through putting new ideas, skills and crafts into action.

It's a brilliantly specific, 'doable' mission - yet also resonant and inspiring.


How do they meet these customers' needs better and more efficiently than any other means?

From where I stand, here's how The Do Book Company aspires to help their customers 'make and do' better than the competition:

  • Their books are more inspiring: The Do Book Company invest in design, photography and typography that appeal to the values of their creative, curious customers, so they are more inspired to take action. Their covers paint the benefits through large, punchy titles and subtitles.

  • Their books produce faster, easier results 'Do books' are written, edited and designed to reduce the time and effort required for their time-poor customers to see results. No need to feel overwhelmed by growing your own veg: with Do Grow, 'Start with 10 simple vegetables.' They're concise, visual and practical, not theoretical. And the ebook is available for free on purchase of the physical: an always-available mobile version.

  • Finally, their books produce better results: if you're going to the bother of learning a new skill as a busy person, you'll be particularly anxious about wasting your time. The Do Book Company's authors are 'doers' first (and writers second). This makes their guidance more trustworthy and effective: hence, better results.

These guiding principles inform the choice and design of each book.


What are the resulting products?

  • A series of inspirational paperback guidebooks, priced at £7.99, with the ebook free on purchase.

Putting it all together:

  • Why: The Do Book Company inspires busy people to 'make' and 'do' so they can make positive changes in their lives.

  • How: 'Do Books' make it easier, quicker and more effective to put new ideas, skills and crafts into action.

  • What: Inspiring, practical guide books, written by expert 'doers', with the ebook free on purchase.

Pretty neat, right?

I love the clarity of The Do Book Company's Golden Circle. And I'll wager that it was this customer-centric approach, supported by a smart partnership, that produced success.

To close: here is one tip to help you define your 'Why?' - whether at publisher or book level - and avoid a common pitfall.

Keep asking questions until you reach specific needs

Do Books' 'Why?' - 'helping busy people make positive change', etc. - works because it defines a specific benefit for people with a specific need. It's meaningful yet also doable - which makes it exciting to Do Books' customers, authors, employees and partners.

If your current 'Why?' is too fluffy, like 'great content', 'better books' or 'spreading knowledge', it will have the opposite, demotivating effect of corporate jargon. Keep asking these questions to refine it:

  • Who are our customers?
  • What needs do our books meet?
  • How do our customers change as a result?

An example dialogue:

  • 'We're all about better books'.

  • 'OK. Better for whom?'

  • 'Children. Reluctant readers, aged 7-11.'

  • 'How do these children change as a result of our books?'

  • 'They develop a love of reading, which helps them catch up with their peers and succeed at school and in life.'

  • 'OK, so our 'Why' is: helping reluctant readers aged 7-11 to develop a love of reading, so they can catch up and succeed at school and in life.'

You'll know you've finished when you have photographic clarity on your delighted customer, and the image genuinely fires you up. In this case, it could be a child glowing with praise, on receiving a greatly improved school report.

A good 'Why' begs its follow-up 'How', which you will now find easier to define through a process of experimentation - although that's a subject for another post.

In summary:

  • Simon Sinek's Golden Circle are a great tool for refining your mission and strategy.
  • You can apply the Golden Circle either to your publishing business as a whole, or to an individual book.
  • Making a shift to customer centricity requires us to 'Start with Why?'
  • To define your 'Why', ask 'Who are our customers?', 'What are their needs?' and 'How do they change as a result?'
  • To define your 'How', consider your strengths. In what ways could you meet these needs better and more efficiently than the competition?
  • Use your 'How' to inform the design of your 'What' at every stage of the publishing process.

The clearer your Golden Circle, the more desirable your products and the more efficient your process. Better sales and reduced cost will improve your margins. And as you reinvest in your books, authors and staff, a virtuous cycle of profitability will begin. Momentum will pick up. And the beauty of independent publishing is the freedom to reap the benefits for years to come.


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