Hi, Tell us your name, what you do, and about your business. Please do mention the monthly revenue for our readers as well.
Paulette Ensign is the founder (1991) and owner of Tips Products International. Her company helps subject matter experts worldwide use their knowledge to create how-to information as marketing tools and new revenue streams.
Companies and other organizations buy and license that content customized in numerous ways in bulk for their own promotional and marketing purposes.
What’s your own background? Were you always proficient in this business, or did it just strike your mind one fine day?
This is the third career of Paulette Ensign. The first was a teacher of string instruments (violin, viola, ‘cello, and string bass) to public elementary school children, and the only career from her two university degrees plus her only career as a salaried employee.
Her second career was as a self-employed professional organizer and productivity consultant, helping people organize their paper, time, and space at home and at work.
That second career provided the catalyst for her third/current self-employed career as founder and owner of Tips Products International. This business was a result of sales cycles for consulting and speaking getting longer, stretching the time between income generation.
After seeing a how-to tips booklet about improving your business communications, Paulette’s current career at that time provided the content for “110 Ideas for Organizing Your Business Life.” While she had no idea how to do any of this, her “can-do” attitude prompted the journey as she learned what she needed along the way.
What went into designing the initial product? Can you take us through the actual process?
Paulette’s process started with identifying how-to tips to tell the reader how to organize their paper, files, time, space, and communications. Once the manuscript was completed, she found someone to do the graphic design layout.
Since she had minimal experience with formal printing processes beyond making simple copies at the office supply store copying machine, she took a friend with her to talk with printing companies as a way to learn what questions to ask and how to select the best printing company for her needs.
At one point she happened to be dating a guy who owned a print shop, so she thought that would be ideal.
That was until she realized the finished product looked completely unprofessional since that printer had not had his cutting edges sharpened in way too long.
That lesson quickly reflected the adage that it is often true that one gets what they pay for. She found a better printer and stopped dating the guy.
Talk us through the process of the launch of your business.
Tips Products International was one of the softest launches in history. Once she saw a tips booklet format to model and wrote her own booklet, Paulette spent the first year of her business sending a booklet copy and a cover letter to as many magazine editors as she could.
She invited them to excerpt from her booklet into articles the editors would write and publish in their magazine provided they agreed to include the single-digit price and the contact information to purchase a single copy of the booklet. Paulette sold over 50,000 copies of her booklet that first year, one at a time.
People purchasing a single copy prompted many other opportunities, some of which Paulette didn’t know existed and others that would have been almost impossible to access on her own.
Throughout that first year, those sales were generated without spending a penny on advertising, ultimately bringing her to the point of personally selling well over a million copies of that one booklet, in 4 languages and several formats, online and offline.
Those results came from watching, listening, asking, making many mistakes along the way, and being persistent.
How is your repeat customer rate like? Can you take us through how you attract and retain customers?
Clients tend to stay longer rather than stop and come back since the approach is more than creating a single product and suggesting ways to use it. The focus becomes one of integrating every aspect of the subject matter expert’s business.
Paulette attracts clients from word of mouth referrals, through presenting webinars to her followers and those of her colleagues. She produces an ezine several times a month, posts articles on article directories, is a guest blogger and writes articles on other people’s ezines or websites.
Throughout the years, she has done public speaking at conferences, professional association chapter events, on radio and television, and as a guest on numerous podcasts.
What is the current situation? How do you see yourself in the next 12 months?
The current situation combines a stable foundation with an overlay of flexibility. Building on what worked in the past works sometimes, and not always. It has become obvious to Paulette that such a combination of stability and flexibility are required in having a rewarding, unique, creative, sustaining business that brings her and her suppliers and clients joy both in their interactions and in their results.
It is very likely that the current clients will split between some going deeper into developing their product lines or expanding their markets, or deciding they have gone as far as they are inspired to go, leaving room for new clients to begin their journey with Tips Products International.
The maturity of this company now allows for being selective in who they take on as clients
As a woman founder, do you see this as only financially uplifting or otherwise too? If yes, then how?
While being a business owner requires making money, by definition, the ability to create and re-create a company that reflects Paulette in every imaginable way has had an even greater appeal to her.
Her business develops organically rather than in a linear way or staying static, which brings her the greatest joy and at the same time some of the greatest challenges. Being able to have an idea upon waking up in the morning and have it implemented by noon supports Paulette’s approach to life.
That spontaneity has great appeal, refining any rough edges once the idea is implemented. Paulette delights in getting things in motion more than creating or following any 5 or 10-year plan.
What tools or services did you use?
From the earliest days of Tips Products International’s life, it has been crucial to utilize graphic design and printing company services, typically one-person businesses that could relate to Tips Products International’s needs including having low overhead to keep prices reasonable.
Engaging a website designer once the Internet developed and websites became expected for a company’s credibility. Other support services were necessary for the company’s team.
These were social media experts, literary publicists, translators, promotional products distributors, sales representatives, non-fiction editors, writers, audio editors and audio engineers, virtual assistants, and commercial printers.
Among the tools that simplified things have been financial recordkeeping (QuickBooks), cloud storage (Carbonite), a reliable laptop and smartphone both allowing for location-independence in doing business.
Basic software like Microsoft Office Suite for word processing, spreadsheets, and PowerPoint are integral parts of how Paulette runs the business. Over the years, she has used various email clients, ultimately landing on Gmail to also provide location-independence.
Though a late adopter of technology, she likes Zoom an approachable video conferencing tool to simplify and expand her ability to network worldwide, conduct and record client, and present webinars as learning sessions that also market her company.
What are your key challenges today? How are you planning to tackle those?
Among today’s key challenges are the erroneous conventional beliefs that no one is printing anything anymore, that people can get content at no cost from the Internet so what is the sense of paying for it, that single-copy sales directly to end-users are the only business model worth following, and overall small thinking from many potential clients both subject matter experts and large quantity buyers.
One of the numerous ways she has tackled this has been to re-brand the company to focus on creating and selling content first, and various digital and tangible delivery formats second.
Additionally, teaching clients how they can reach more people worldwide and make more money by selling or licensing their content to bulk buyers have not only been a differentiator for Tips Products International, it has also attracted larger-thinking subject matter experts.
Another part of Paulette’s re-branding was to provide only done-for-you services rather than continue to focus on learning tools and services for do-it-yourselfers. The done-for-you model has attracted clients with more commitment than do-it-yourselfers.
Which are some resources, books, articles, or podcasts that have been useful to you, and would share with your readers?
One of Paulette’s favorite resources is a magazine that prompts her creativity and expands her thinking. That magazine is Fast Company, which is published both in print and online.
She feels it can often be easier and more interesting to observe business models in other industries as ways to think bigger, regardless of her company’s size, rather than staying within the confines and contexts of the industries she’s in.
A range of books on publishing and marketing have taught Paulette many details that she has combined or shaped by her inspiration and the uniqueness of each subject matter expert client and large quantity buyer.
Because Paulette never worked as a corporate employee at any point in her life, she has learned much from her corporate clients and prospects over the years as they articulate their specific needs and the construct in which their company works.
Many times, women feel that businesses are for only for men. What’s your take?
The business being only for men is something that has never entered the picture in Paulette’s thoughts much less influenced her business at any time. In fact, she could not even imagine such a thing.
Her company has also continuously attracted both male and female clients and vendors throughout the decades. Like any other interaction with the public, it is most important to know how to best communicate with each individual regardless of gender, work style, professional goals, background, experiences, or anything else.
Paulette has found that gender makes no difference in starting or operating her business as much as unique personal attributes do.
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