Publish Your Purpose Press Founder Jenn T. Grace knew from a young age she wanted to be a business owner. Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price talked to Jenn about her entrepreneurial experience and how she ultimately found her purpose.
NAN PRICE: You’ve always known you wanted to own your own business. When did that start?
JENN GRACE: I was about 14. I remember telling my dad I needed to own a business. I didn’t come from an overly entrepreneurial family, so I’m not sure where it came from. Also, I knew I wanted to own a print shop. I had no context for why a print shop in particular. I didn’t know anyone who owned one. There was just something about being involved in presses.
NAN: Tell us a little about your entrepreneurial journey.
JENN: When I moved to Connecticut 15 years ago, I got a job with insurance company. I stayed for five and a half years, but it wasn’t a great experience on a personal level as an out lesbian at the time. I tried to make a change internally and just couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the right support system.
I ended up quitting my job and going out on my own. I started freelancing as a business consultant, which eventually became full-time. From there on out, I was working for myself.
NAN: At what point did you transition from full-time freelance to a bona fide business?
JENN: With my business consulting—which I still do a bit of today—I had spent 2009 to 2014 building my network around LGBTQ business owners and corporate professionals on a national scale. I’ve worked with Fortune 500 companies and others in the manufacturing, financial services, and insurance industries.
Fast forward to 2015. I was looking at my year-end financials and thought: Why are there some people I really enjoy working with and others not so much?
I was trying to figure out the commonality and realized the people who I loved working with were working on books. I thought: What’s this about?
Then I had an idea. I was working with a business coach at that time. Her advice was: Just sell it and then create it. I couldn’t wrap my head around that whole concept of selling and then creating, because everything else I had created first and then sold—or didn’t sell.
At this time, I had already written three books of my own. I grabbed seven peers who had been talking about wanting to write books. I told them I was creating an author’s program and I needed them to be my guinea pigs. I was completely transparent. I told them I’d return their money if they didn’t get what I was promising—but that I was going to make it up as I went. And I totally did. That was the Author’s Academy, which launched in the beginning of 2016.
So, selling first and then creating completely worked. I thought there is something to be said about that. I love it and I got it down to a science.
JENN: Through networking I connected with someone who said I should talk to Mike and Maria Keiser at The Entrepreneur Circle. When I first met with Maria, I was 100% skeptical. I thought: I don’t know what this is. I didn’t know what a roundtable or a mastermind group was. Maria and I hit it off almost instantly. It made me realize I couldn’t function in my business without being able to brainstorm with that trusted group of advisors—this was back in 2011. I’ve operated with a peer advisory group since.
NAN: How did the Author’s Academy evolve into you launching a book publishing company?
JENN: As people were going through the Author’s Academy, they would admit they’d just learned how to publish their own books, but they still wanted to pay me to do it for them! And that’s why I ended up starting a publishing company. The need was there.
I knew I couldn’t be the roadblock to someone telling their story—someone with an important message they need to share with the world. I couldn’t just say: No, I don’t do that.
Admittedly, I was reluctant at first. I was thinking: This is not what I signed up for! It took me about two weeks to realize this is what I need to be doing. Once I committed, I knew with every ounce of my being I found my true purpose in life.
NAN: How was the transition from being in the corporate world to owning a business?
JENN: I know it probably sounds cliché, but I feel like I must have owned businesses in another lifetime. I’ve always just had the right mix of skills to run a business.
This is technically my fourth startup. I had a couple others that doesn’t work for a variety of reasons, but portions of those companies are part of what I do today. Sometimes, you just have to know when to shut things down, as painful as it might be to come to that realization.
NAN: How are you finding your clientele? How are you marketing?
JENN: It’s primarily still word-of-mouth and referrals. We’ve worked with 55 authors (not necessarily 55 published authors) in a variety of ways.
Our clientele is about 64% women, about 26% people of color, and about 53% LGBT. For me personally, it’s a very proactive effort to be serving the oftentimes underserved. I feel like the more diverse people we can serve, the more they can impact their local communities in a positive way—and we are part of that ripple effect of social and societal change at a micro level.
It’s kind of like the B Corporation model. I’m actually going through the B Corp certification paperwork now. I’ve been thinking about the longer-term impact my company can make in everything we do.
NAN: Would you define Publish Your Purpose Press as a social impact publishing company?
JENN: Yes. Social impact and social justice. My personal mantra is “Because Change Happens in Business.” This is one of many ways change is accomplished.
NAN: What’s the biggest startup challenge you’ve encountered?
JENN: Cash flow. (Isn’t that every startup’s biggest challenge?!) I know my cash flow cycle to a science at this point. I know it’s three and a half months where my reserves are low, and then I have all the money and then zero money and then all the money, and so on. It’s this jagged, steep up and down. That presents its own challenges, but knowing the cycle keeps me sane.
Also, I think managing people is a pain. Niki Garcia, our Director of Operations, is the one who manages everybody so more often than not it is her pain, not necessarily mine.
NAN: At what point did you know to bring in someone else to do that?
JENN: Niki and I have known each other for a long time and worked together in other settings. When I started this company, I basically told her: I don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re coming with me! It organically grew from there. It’s been a tag-teamed effort. Niki has been behind the scenes doing most of the logistics and operations.
NAN: Along the lines of challenges, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
JENN: I feel like I pivot all the time because, as a business owner, you have to take chances and try things. You generally have no idea what is and isn’t going to work.
I have a high tolerance for risk, more so than the people around me. So, when I decide to shut something down and do something else instead, I think it can be unsettling to other people. But the beauty of entrepreneurship is that you can make these decisions and pivot when you need to.
NAN: Any major lessons you’ve learned along the way?
JENN: I don’t think there’s one particular thing, because I took a lot of the knowledge from my other businesses and brought it to this one.
It’s funny, my original goal with Publish Your Purpose was to be this giant publishing company—a force to be reckoned with. And then, as I started to grow and built the team, I realized: Why am I doing this? Who am I doing this for? It’s not for me. There came a point where I wasn’t even working with the authors directly. Instead, I was managing all the people—and that’s not fun for me.
I ended up completely switching our model and now I focus more on being a small, well-curated, and intentional publisher who works with people who are impacting the world. That’s not to say my goal still isn’t $5 million! But it’s not $50 million, which is a very different scaling.
NAN: What’s next for Publish Your Purpose?
JENN: I’m always tweaking and refining our processes after a few years of trial and error.
In 2016, my focus was on running the Author’s Academy and trying to figure out what was happening. That morphed into people asking me to publish their books for them and me wondering: What am I doing?
Then, I spent 2017 trying to do things differently and tweaking and modifying. We went from one starting point to a crazy extreme at the other end of the spectrum. And that wasn’t exactly right either. So now I’m bringing it back in and balancing things out.
From a scalability standpoint, we’re on a really good growth trajectory. I have the right team and I have the right products and services in place. They were always there, they just weren’t in the right configuration.
NAN: Any advice to other entrepreneurs?
JENN: My advice to business owners who are just starting out or those who have been around for a while is to intimately know your numbers—your operating expenses, cost of goods sold, revenue coming in, etc. You cannot make any well-informed decision unless you truly know your numbers. And be real and honest about those numbers—the only person you’re hurting is yourself, if you are honest. It’s not always a pleasant exercise, but it’ll make you a better business owner in the long run.