By Hervé St-Louis
March 25, 2006 - 19:15
Creators self-publishing comics often think that they do not require business plans. Yes, I’m talking about you. You cannot publish your three issue mini-series through Image Comics, make a killing and avoid losing your shirt in the process without a business plan. Well, whether you plan on publishing your book on your own or through a publisher it’s your business to know potential pitfalls, opportunities and how to exit quickly if anything goes bad.
A business plan will help you understand how the industry really works by lowering your natural biases as an avid comic book collector or professional. There’s more than artistic concerns in the comic book world. Although there have been several books, articles and even now, a mini-series by Devil’s Due on how to publish comics, few show you how to write business plans that are as professional as those written by a company that develops new types of plastics for bottled water.
It took me nine months to write the first business plan for Coolstreak Cartoons, the publisher of the Comic Book Bin. But in the spring of 2005, I rewrote this plan in 25 hours. Although the core business of Coolstreak is to make corporate cartoons, I no longer fear writing business reports to investors, banks, governments and creditors. They expect me to send them reports as well written and detailed as any of their clients.
Use this article to find out about business plans. It is probably the first such plans made public. It is however, a fictional business plan based on a fictional company. Because it is a fictional plan, do not use it as your own plan. This is not a school paper. You can’t just copy it and expect to succeed. It’s about your business and your passion. Make the effort. It’s worth it.
Use it only as an inspiration and an introduction. Ask other entrepreneurs in other fields if you can look at their plans. Study as much as you can about business plans. I take no responsibilities for your failures if you copy this straight and hand it to your creditors. It’s an example of what you should do yourself. It’s not a crutch.
Artists require business plans the most. The business plan shows you the other side of the coin that creative types often neglect. Writing a business plan won’t bust your brain or take away your creativity. Whether you need external financing or not, you should still write a business plan. It may make you back away from a silly and risky project. It’s ok to walk away from a project after doing a business plan.
How this Article is Structured
I assumed that you do not know anything about business plans because you went to art school. So the first part of the article explains all the parts of a business plan. The second part is where I write the fictional data. There are several formats to writing business plans. I’m writing the one I’m more familiar with. It may or may not be the best for you. It’s up to you to decide and do your research.
The Executive Summary
An executive summary is where you write the in a page or less information about the company, its products, the project’s founders, sponsors. Because many people who will view your business plan lack time, it is probably the only thing they will read. The Executive has to be concise and answer these questions for the reader. Can I trust these people? Are they serious? Will the project succeed? When will it be profitable? If it does not answer these questions, the reader will not read beyond.
Your executive summary can be structured this way.
The project introduction introduces the company, its legal form, the promoters, the products sold and the market that will purchase your comic books.
2-a) Non Financial Goals
2-b) Financial Goals
There are two types of objectives in my executive summary. The first one tells about where I want the company to be in a short, medium and long term basis. The financial goals provide exact figures to measure all my non financial goals.
The Mission statement explains what is the essence of the company. Why is it different from every other small comic book publishers in North America? What will people remember when they see our products? What are the core values of this company? If one of my core values is the environment, how do my comic books communicate that?
Products can also mean services if that’s what your business offers. But in the context of comic book publishing, we’re talking products. Here it is best to list all products or group lines. If say, you publish comic books for preteen girls and some for college guys, list your two lines as products. If you cannot split your comic book product lines because you don’t know where they fit, these are hints that you’re in trouble already.
For each product, provide a description so that anyone not familiar with comic books, such as your local banker can understand what you are talking about. Don’t go in too many details explaining plot lines and characters. Readers don’t want to know how well you can write fiction. It is irrelevant to them. They want to know what the product does and how it satisfies the needs of your future customers.
You products should have innovative features. Variant covers are not innovative features. They have existed for decades. Innovative features, could be the recycled paper you use for your comic book.
Although there is a tendency to talk about how good the writer or the artist on your series is, a better strength would be how your product is produced on time, How its format fits well with the racks of major magazine retailers or how the paper is tear resistant. Unless working with well-known creators, don’t list your artists and writers as product strengths.
In fact, if you are working with unknowns you should list this as a weakness. There is no point trying to hide weaknesses or act as if your products had none. Leave the hype to the press releases. In the business plan you are expected to be 100% honest.
5-Consumers Advantages and Benefits
There should be something new for the readers who will purchase your comics. If all you can come up with is that it’s a new super hero universe free from all continuity problems of Marvel and DC Comics, I foresee a serious problem. Many companies have touted this as an advantage and a benefit in the past. It seems to customers that it is not the case.
You also have to differentiate advantages from benefits. They are not the same thing. An advantage is something derived from a feature that makes it better for your customer to purchase your product. For example, an advantage could be derived from a glow in the dark comic book. The glow in the dark is a feature of the comic book. The advantage here is that you longer lose your comic book in the dark. The benefit to the customer of not losing trace of a comic book in the dark, is that they can find them easily and save time locating them.
The market is of course a description of the comic book industry but, as you’re about to see, other industries that are linked to it. The market is also who could buy your comics.
Explain buying habits, how many comic books are published per year in North America and if you want to go with Diamond, list other countries it distributes its products to. There is a world beyond North America. Never forget about it. Other people buy comics too. If you can explain that well, you will look more knowledgeable with your creditors.
The potential market is who is likely to purchase your comic book. This is where you can claim that anyone who saw the last X-Men and Superman films is a potential buyer of your comic book series. However, although the numbers are more impressive, they are meaningless. Not even larger publishers such as DC Comics or Marvel Comics reach their entire potential market.
And that's why there is something called the target market. The target market is the niche you will try to appeal to with your comic book. You should also provide detailed demographic information about who is your customer. For example, you could be targeting 19 to 25-year-olds college students around Boston that live on campuses and bought Britney Spears’ last album in the last six months.
Laugh as much as you want, but such a detailed target market would probably yield more readers and customers than just anyone who goes to a comic book store. Anyone who goes to a comic book store is not targeted enough. It is nothing but your potential market. Do your homework before putting out your book.
The secondary market is not people who go to comic book stores. I’d rather be more precise. Here, my secondary markets are all 19 to 25-year-olds college students around Boston that live on campuses and ripped Britney Spears’ last album off the Internet in the last six months. I hope you’re beginning to see a pattern. My secondary market is as detailed as my first one, but slightly off. There can be several secondary markets but identify them all with as much care as you did the primary one.
Positioning is about marketing your product in the mind of your customer. Classical categories are price and quality. Yours could be a comic book of high quality with great creators on board that sell for less than DC Comics. Positioning on perceived quality versus price points is often more difficult for comics since quality is not always related to the format of the material. Instead subjective criterions like the artwork and the writing skill of the author may influence quality. Also, comic book fans have not been trained to pay more for a Geoff Johns story than one written by a newcomer.
Or, for example, you could position yourself as the exclusive publisher of BWA Ha Ha Ha comic books by Keith Giffen and J.M Dematteis as Boom Studios recently did. This is a smart move, as the target market for funny super heroes is well aware of Giffen and Dematteis’ work. If they seek this type of product, they know where to go.
The competition is of course, every other comic book in the store, including books who come from the same publishers. For example Conan is a competitor to Hellboy, although both are published by DarkHorse Comics.
The direct competition is of course the comic book industry, at the retailer, but also online where it’s free. This is still your competition. Why would I buy a sword and adventure comic book at the store, when there’s a creator who publishes one, every week on his Web site for free? That one is about a midget with purple hair called Bwab the Great Destroyer and the other one about a rabbit with a pig’s face called Bunny Pig the Ninja is of no consequences. Only fans care about such distinctions. Step aside from the creative end and use your business eyes.
Mangas, in case you didn’t know are direct competitors to American comics. Whether your book caters to young girls or grown men in tights, on the shelves of your local bookstore, they probably dump all graphic novels in one area. Your book has to battle it out against English translations for shelf space.
Your indirect competition is any other business that may attract mind share or the disposable income from your target market away from you. That includes all motels based in Florida during March spring breaks, if you sell books to 19 to 25-year-olds college students around Boston that live on campuses. If you are launching your comic book to this crowd, during spring break, you will likely fail to reach them.
The indirect competition also includes businesses who offer services to your customers. For example, if I order a book on home pregnancies from an Internet book store, I will likely compare the service I received from this store to yours, when I try to order your comic book off your site even though the products may be completely different. If I have a great purchasing experience on the Internet bookstore but a bad one at yours, I will compare and remember. So competition is also beyond what you would normally expect such as video games, movies and action figures. Competition is everywhere. Remember this.
Don’t belittle your competitors, strengths. You may find that publishing super heroes comics caters to fanboys with arrested development issues, but it doesn’t take away from super hero publishers. The main super heroes’ publishers, Marvel Comics and DC Comics know how to sell their super hero comics. If they didn’t, it would be far easier for you to convince their readers to switch to another universe or another genre. Selling their product is one of their strengths. In the regular world we would say their branding strategy is excellent. It is. List all the strengths of your competitors and learn from them.
DC Comics’ failure to capitalize on the popularity of Hawkgirl from the Justice League cartoon series is not a weakness you should list unless you can benefit from it. I know how easy it is to criticize books published by larger publishers. But step outside of that and look at real weaknesses that your banker can understand. For example, are Marvel comic books published at a plant that cannot ship its books Canada? This would be a real weakness.
Exploiting weaknesses means that you can devise a strategy to benefit from the weaknesses of your competitors. For example, if a competing publisher cannot distribute its comic books to a regional retailer because that retailer does not order books from the periodical distributor used by your competitor, that means that there’s a way for your books to occupy a space currently not used by the competition. If you contact the regional retailer or his periodicals' distributor, you may find that they have a spot for comic books such as yours on their rack that they can’t fill currently.
Exploiting weaknesses is not about providing books with better continuity than Marvel or DC Comics.
Next Saturday, in the following article, we will learn about the Marketing Mix, Sales, Operations, Human Resources, Finances, and Risk Management. In our third article, we detail a complete fictional business plan.