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Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Poor Businessman? by Terry Burns



I was sitting out on the deck having a cup of coffee and thinking about my day. I was a chamber of commerce manager for nearly thirty years representing businesses and doing business. When I had a chance to become an agent I immediately saw there was little difference between representing businesses to other businesses, to suppliers, to government, in all sort of relationships, and representing authors in their relationships, primarily to publishers.

It was like I had been training for thirty years to do the job. But the question that came to my mind over my coffee cup was “as an agent do I make some decisions or choices that are not good business decisions?” I don’t know . . . maybe.”

First, business is necessarily about making a profit. Since I’ve started working as an agent it has been more about trying to help good authors, almost exclusively Christian authors, get their words our there where they will serve the Lord than it has been about money. I’m good with that decision, but is it a good business decision?

I know a lot of agents and editors don’t necessarily answer everyone that submits to them. It takes a huge amount of time, but I do, every one of them. Do I waste a lot of time that way? It’s something I really have to do, but is it a good business decision?

I require all of my clients to be in an online client group so I have the ability to contact all of them at one time but they can choose to only receive such priority messages or to be in the group that can interface with one another which they do . . . a lot. I’ve been told I interface with that group too much, again wasting a lot of time. I like being close to my clients, but is it a bad business decision?

When I took a test at a conference to see how to use what talents I might have for the Lord I came up with three special gifts, writing, music, and the gift of encouragement. I go to a lot of conferences primarily as a use of that gift of encouragement, but even though most pay expenses they cost money anyway and many of them are a straight expense. I’ve gotten most of my clients from conference contacts but for the number of clients that I have, am I spending too much there? Is the number of conferences that I do a poor business decision?

Our agency doesn’t charge any money up front but we do have the ability to charge back telephone, postage and copy expenses. I don’t, I’m not happy charging such things to authors unless I have first made them some money. Another poor business decision? 

I don’t represent profanity or content that I’m not comfortable having my name associated with. I’ve turned down some projects that I could have made some substantial money on for just this reason. It’s a decision I’m comfortable with as a Christian agent, but is it a good business decision?

Better than 80% of my clients have published or contracted since they signed with me, but after we exhausted the more lucrative contacts we got some of them started by going to small publishers. Chances are I won’t even recover expenses on many of these, particularly if we count my time worth anything, but we’re building writing credits on them and I hope they will pay off in the future. A good business decision?

I smile as my coffee cup is now empty. Am I a poor businessman? Maybe so, but as I get up to come back in here and get to work I smile . . . is it possible for that to be true and me still be a good agent? My clients are happy that I’m doing my very best for them. Maybe that’s the only measure that really matters.

What do you think?

16 comments:

Timothy Fish said...

These days, people define good business as anything that will make money without costing too much. Service and quality only exist if the business owners think their customers will go to the competitor if they don’t get it. I think some people have a messed up concept of good.

B. J. Robinson said...

You may not be a good one, but it sounds like you're the best. If I had an agent, I'd want one like you. Blessings, BJ

Davalyn Spencer said...

Like all the agents here, you help put the heart in Hartline.

Sapphire said...

What I think is, you're an inspiration. Thank you for having so much integrity.

Pamela S. Meyers said...

As one of your clients, Terry, I say don't change. What you are doing is biblical, and I like the "hands-on way of doing business that you have. You are not all over your clients, but we know you are there and doing your best for each of us. I just read your update list on all your clients and it's clear to see that what you are doing is working for you, as Dr. Phil likes to say. Keep on, brother!

Linda C. Apple said...

It is my hope and prayer that one day we will make you substantial money! Thank you for investing in us!

Terry Burns said...

Thank you, I wasn't fishing for compliments. Like most people I was just second-guessing myself about whether I was approaching the job right. I think I had answered my own question by the time that I got to the end of my little epistle.

Linda Glaz said...

All I can say is, I learned from the best!

Rick Barry said...

Terry, you also could have asked whether it's a good business decision to include your testimony and God's Simple Plan of Salvation on your website.

If dollars were the ultimate determiner of good decisions, then some of your answers might be No. But you're clearly doing what you're doing to pursue a higher calling in service to the King of kings. As Jesus put it, you are about your Father's business, which is more vital that mere $$. Blessings to you.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

I love Hartline's way of doing things--you choose your writers carefully and then invest in them. And I have nothing but respect for agents who know where the profanity line needs to be drawn on manuscripts they're going to market to the CBA. I'll tell you what I always tell my kiddos--you may not see the value of what you're doing now, but you're laying up rewards in heaven! Keep up the good work.

Audrey said...

I think that you are one of those amazing people who has been able to state your beliefs and then incorporate them in your daily work! Some people refer to it as "walking the talk". I hope someday to work with an agent, and I hope that I will work with you or someone like you. Sometimes, in life it is easy to make the right decision. But, it can all become very difficult when the decision involves money. Thank you for staying true to yourself and the Lord as you go about the difficult job of helping writers ultimately find their readers!

Jeanette Levellie said...

I admire you. You remind me of Jesue. Keep being who He called you to be, and He will take care of the business.

Jeanette Levellie said...

I mean Jesus.

Linda Yezak said...

You are such an inspiration, a lesson in selflessness and generosity. I'm honored to be one of your clients.

Deborah Dee Harper said...

Terry, I can't believe my good fortune in having you as my client. Your devotion to your clients, and even more importantly, to our Lord and Savior, are rare attributes. Good business decisions or not, I'm glad you make them every day!

Blessings,
Deb

Cheryl Linn Martin said...

Maybe you don't make "the big bucks," Terry, but you are an amazing man and agent who honors God in your work. I am blessed to be called one of your clients.

--Cheryl