Know Your Timeframe…

My senior year of college I interviewed for a couple of jobs where we ended up discussing various business ideas. This was 1999, so about twenty years ago.

In the first instance I ended up interviewing with the business development group for a television channel. And they were very excited about online content.

My reaction? No, not yet. Here I was, a senior in college, and I’d never even had a computer in my room until that year and the computer I did have was certainly not a fancy one. I was not alone in this. And the internet connectivity to support that kind of thing just wasn’t there yet.

To me that was probably a good decade away from being significant and I said so. (Didn’t get the job. No surprise there.)

Now, did it take people having that belief in 1999 to get to the point where things started to happen in 2005 and really started to pick up in 2008? Probably. But that man I spoke to in 1999 did not think he was nine years from launching his project.

On the other side of the coin I had another job interview that involved a written exercise where we were supposed to evaluate four different business ideas related to plane tickets. I had just flown from San Francisco to Washington DC using an emailed reservation. (Two years prior to that I’d gone to Europe and the only option was a paper ticket and you were screwed if you lost it.)

One of the options in that article was a kiosk that would be placed in large office buildings where business travelers could print off their ticket as they left for their flight. Great idea five years before when the world revolved around having a physical, paper ticket. Obsolete by the time I was traveling for work a year after the interview. Everything was digital by then.

Both were good business ideas for a specific period of time. Someone could’ve made bank with those kiosks if they’d done it five years earlier and managed a rapid rollout. And online streaming content is certainly a money-maker today.

But oftentimes the key to making money in an industry is knowing what’s going to happen when. And how quickly you can react to a situation. And what your personal timeframe is.

Let’s take KU for an example. I know of authors who’ve made millions by being in KU. There’s an author who posted on a certain forum who is all-in with KU who makes six figures a month. For that author and their timeframe, which is short-term, KU is a perfect choice.

Now, the flip side of that is how long KU will last. If you want to be an author making a living at writing in ten years or twenty, then being all in with KU might be a horrible decision. Because KU may not exist by then and when it goes away you will be staring from scratch on all the wide platforms along with every other KU author. You’ll have a backlist but you’ll potentially drown in a sea of new content.

(I should add that part of what prompted this post is a post that KKR just wrote implying that KDP will not exist long-term. In other words, no Amazon sales. Something that has crossed my mind as well once or twice because self-publishers routinely make themselves a complete PITA for Amazon.)

So someone who’s in this for the twenty year timeframe may be best off going wide and staying wide even if that means earning far less money in the short-term.

It’s interesting to look at these things, because I will often miss a good profitable short-term opportunity because I see that long-term it won’t be sustainable.

For example, last spring someone advised me to lean hard into my book on AMS ads. They saw real potential there for an alternative to the data-heavy model advocated by Meeks. (And it’s true that what I preach is far less analytical and labor-intensive than everything I’ve heard about his approach.)

But I said no. Because to me AMS is just one form of advertising that will eventually get glutted by self-publishers and then I’m suddenly a snake oil salesperson either telling people about a method that once worked but no longer does or trying to tell them about a new ad option that I don’t do as well with.

I did not want to build a career on that.

But there’s no denying that Mark Dawson and Brian Meeks have both made significant amounts of money off of their advertising courses. Short-term, telling people how to use Facebook ads or AMS ads is a good play.

Long-term? Let me just say that understanding how one ad platform works does not mean you understand how the next one does and that it can get a little shaky when you’re still looked to as an expert on something you actually no longer have expertise in…

So not something I wanted to do. Because my timeframe was five-plus years. If I’m going to devote time and energy to something I want it to have value five years from now.

Another example of this is writing to trend. You can make a killing writing the latest greatest thing that ravenous readers want. People have done so in LitRPG and reverse harem and step-brother romance. And if you’re timeframe is short, that’s great. Get in, get the money, get out.

The problem arises if you’re thinking that your short-term play has long-term potential. Because when that goes away, you are broken. The guy who raised funds to put kiosks in office buildings to print plane tickets? Sitting there five years later wondering what he does now because those kiosks are worth nothing.

For me, there’s no wrong or right about which timeframe to choose. The key is knowing your own timeframe and then making decisions according to that timeframe. Also, listening to those who share your timeframe and not the others.

I’d also say that you need to pick the timeframe that works for what you are capable of accomplishing. So if you want to be all-in KU and write to trend, you need to be able to write fast. If you want to take advantage of a short-term opportunity that could be worth nothing a year from now, you need to be able to develop and roll out a “good enough” product NOW rather than a perfect product eighteen months from now.

I also do think it’s possible to “ride the waves” and adjust when things change. So you go all in with KU now and write to X trend for however long it lasts, and when that dies you find the next wave and ride it. And when that dies you find the next one and ride it. You may miss a few. You may have down times. You may go from $20,000 a month to $500. But that doesn’t mean it was a bad choice.

It’s just a different choice than the slow and steady build. Both can have the same long-term financial result. Which you choose is very much about what you’d rather have: slow, steady progression upward or peaks and valleys.

The key, though, is knowing the decision you’re making. Know how those patterns play out based on your timeframe. Seek out the opportunities that match that and ignore the rest.