Guide book for the city of La Palma – Wow! That’s interesting .Tell us more
My name’s Sheila Crosby. I’m a self-employed tour guide on a little Spanish island and I write and self-published books about that island. Last quarter the book sales averaged 450€ ($500) a month.
What’s your own background. Were you always proficient in this business, or did it just strike your mind one fine day?
Writing’s been a hobby since I was a teenager, but I never made enough to feed an anorexic cockroach.
I originally came to the island of La Palma as a software engineer with a six-month contract to work in the astronomical observatory here – it’s the third biggest in the world. I was hoping to extend my 6 months to 2 or 3 years but I met a tall, dark, handsome local man in the Isaac Newton Telescope and we got married.
After 12 years of programming the biggest telescope in Europe, I was downsized along with half the British staff.
To be honest, I flailed around for a bit. I tried teaching English but I wasn’t happy. Then I started tour guiding in the observatory, which really suited me and still does. But I wasn’t getting nearly enough work.
So on my off days, I started writing a guide book to the observatory for normal people. I had a lot of practice explaining this stuff, I already had a load of photos, and I thought I’d be able to sell as¡t least a few copies.
Besides, it was all too obvious what I’d achieve by sitting down and folding my arms.
What went into designing the initial product? Can you take us through the actual process?
I wrote the book I’d have liked to read when I first arrived. I sent each chapter off to beta-readers who knew about as much science as my target audience, which is to say almost none.
One is a retired primary school teacher and the other is a singer-songwriter. When they, understood I knew I’d got it right.
Talk us through the process of the launch of your business
I was most of the way through writing the book when the island government started to actively promote star tourism and give out grants to small businesses.
So I went along and asked the head clerk nicely, and was told that I didn’t fit their guidelines. “But I’ll talk to my boss and get back to you.”
To my astonishment, they did get back to me! If I’d agree to do a paperback in Spanish as well as English (rather than just an English eBook), they’d buy a hundred of each, which would almost cover the cost of the layout and printing.
Luckily one of my friends was also re-inventing herself and getting into graphic design. I needed a professional layout and she needed something to show potential customers, so I got a very good price on that. And I did the translation myself and paid a native speaker for a correction, which was also much cheaper.
I never did have a proper launch. The books arrived and I just started delivering them to anywhere that would sell them.
How is your repeat customer rate like? Can you take us through how you attract and retain customers?
I get very few repeat customers because there are only two books, and people who want a guide book to the observatory are rarely in the market for children’s stories
What does work very well is that people who’ve been on one of my observatory books are quite likely to buy the book and vice versa
What is the current situation? How do you see yourself in the next 12 months?
I’m really hoping to finish the murder mystery set in the observatory, “Murder by Starlight”. It’s a lot of fun to write and there are some really good ways to kill people in a professional telescope.
As a woman founder, do you see this as only financially uplifting? Or otherwise too? If yes, then how?
Earning my own money is also a great boost to my self-confidence and independence. I grew up in Leeds, which has a long history of women doing skilled work in the weaving industry.
That meant that leaving your husband was financially possible and then men knew it. So they behaved a bit better.
What are your key challenges today? How are you planning to tackle those?
My main challenge at present is making time to update the guide book to include new telescopes and new discoveries. When I wrote the first edition I was tour guiding just 1 or 2 days a week. Now I tour guide 4 or 5 days a week so time is a problem.
I’ve dealt with it by nagging my husband and son to do more around the house, getting a cleaner to sandblast the place once a week, and frankly dropping my standards a bit. It’s temporary until the boo’s done.
Which are some resources, books, articles or podcasts that have been useful to you, and would share with your readers
I’m probably a bit unusual in that my main resource was my friends. I’ve mentioned the proofreading and cut-price layout and Spanish proofreading, but they also cheered me on and believed in me which was priceless.
Many times, women feel that businesses are for only for men. What’s your take?
There are a few businesses that need strong biceps, but not many. Most businesses involve a particular skill (in my case explaining astrophysics to normal people) and dealing with people.
Women are just as good at the first and on average we’re better at the second. We do tend to have less confidence which can be a problem, but often that just means that we do our homework thoroughly first which turns it into a strength.
On average it’s a bit harder for us to find starting capital. I needed very little, but that’s not always the case.
Looking to kick start your own venture?
Hi! This is Misha.
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I am hugely inspired by inspirational interview series starters like IndieHackers, StarterStory by Pat Walls, Failory, SpaceBandits and have put significant efforts in reaching out to women founders in order to get started.
City of La Palma - How Sheila makes $6000 a year selling niche guides
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