The Entrepreneur: Betsy Reavley Freeman, Bloodhound Books

This author's business helps novellists get their stories heard. Here, she talks eBooks, starting up with £100, and grappling with social media

Co-founder: Betsy Reavley Freeman
Company: Bloodhound Books
Description in one line: Bloodhound brings brilliant books by talented authors to a worldwide audience.
Previous companies: Reavley Freeman is an author of crime novels, including international best seller The Optician’s Wife.
Turnover: £1.1m (year-end 2017)
12-month target: To match and exceed the 300% growth percentage we achieved in 2016

Business growth

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • Our business breaks down the traditional barriers faced by talented and independent crime writers, to ensure that their stories are heard. For example, we have an author on hand to assist the team in liaising with our writers. This not only ensures that clear communication channels are developed, but also provides a figure that our authors can relate to making the company more accessible to them.
  • We put the authors at the centre of every stage of the development of their book from selecting the cover design through to making editorial and marketing decisions. This process allows us to collaborate with our writers rather than dictate to them.
  • Being a volume based business, our focus has fallen predominately on eBooks as they allow us to reach a global audience quicker. Therefore, we have structured Bloodhound Books accordingly resulting in 90% of our revenue now coming from eBook sales alone. This targeted direction enables us to be fleet-footed, giving us a competitive edge over traditional publishers in the market today.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

At the beginning of 2017 we sold our one millionth eBook which undoubtedly was a major milestone for the business to achieve within its first three years of operation.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

The UK Amazon chart in relation to the books published by our authors and other writers within the crime/thriller genre.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We have published authors from the UK, America and New Zealand.

Currently, Bloodhound Books works with 60 writers who have produced five undisputable international best sellers. We are also looking to increase our hires over the coming year which could feasibly lead to an expansion of our international platform.

Describe your growth funding path:

We started the business with just £100 in the bank and decided to rely on my experience within the literary world, alongside my husband Fred Freeman's history in sales and marketing, instead of pursuing investors.

Our combined skill set and determination has projected Bloodhound Books into the publishing company it is today. Being free from ties to external financial backing has enabled us to develop the company in the direction we wanted.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

The introduction of eBooks has undoubtedly transformed the industry, allowing publishers to distribute to a global audience almost instantly.

This innovation has been central to the growth of Bloodhound Books, providing a competitive edge over traditional publishers and generating 90% of our annual revenue.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

Our focus is on expanding with more great authors, more great books and more best-sellers, to become one of the best known and most respected publishers of crime fiction within the UK.

Whilst working to increase the translation of eBooks, as well as selling more rights for TV and film, we are also aiming for the coveted number one spot on the UK Amazon Chart.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

As an author who struggled through years of knockbacks to get my first book published the thing that I still find the hardest is rejecting a brilliant book.

We receive great submissions that deserve to be published, however, if I know a book won't be able to sell I have no choice but to reject the work. It is a decision and responsibility that never gets easier.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Not establishing Bloodhound Books sooner.

There is a tremendous pool of talent amongst British writers, however, for too long there has been an absence of a publishing company tailored to crime authors.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most?

There is still an atmosphere in publishing lingering from the days when books and technology never crossed paths, resulting in some viewing the value of an eBook sale or publication as less than that of its hard-back equivalent. This has undoubtedly changed drastically over the last decade, however, there are still hurdles to overcome.

For example, one challenge to the development of our growth centres around the capabilities to translate eBooks. However, with the current influx of technology companies turning their attention to the eBook market new advancements are constantly being made, making this less and less of a problem to our future.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

I think it can be too easy for entrepreneurs to become caught up in the development and growth of their business without recognising their own weaknesses.

To be successful you always need to be willing and eager to improve and, in some instances, this might mean accepting that you are not the best person to take on every role within your company.

My husband Fred, for instance, has worked in a variety of sales and marketing roles and heads up that side of the business. We both have our set remits and try not to infringe on each other.

How will your market look in three years?

eBooks are growing on an international scale. Their acceptance and use has rapidly grown amongst readers, authors and publishers in recent years.

Even the big publishing houses are starting to pay attention to methods followed by independent publishers, strongly supporting a continued move away from the traditional practices. Hopefully this will help to facilitate the growth of a market for eBooks on an international scale.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Do what you know and love!

To make a business successful you have to work as hard as possible for every single client, every single day and so it really does have to be something you are truly passionate about.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury?                   

I am a huge foodie! I absolutely love cooking and exploring new foods so a luxury of mine is eating out at restaurants, both established favourites and new discoveries.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

Learn it on the job! I am a writer who has had contact with publishers throughout my career but I have never had specific training ‘trained’ or been ‘taught’ on how to publish a book.

The best way to learn really is through gaining hands on experience and developing from your mistakes.

What would make you a better leader?

Fred and I established Bloodhound Books from nothing and so at the start we ran every aspect of the business and made every single decision.

Delegating some of this responsibility to our growing team was a big step for both of us but has helped fuel the development of the company, and is a process we need to implement more comprehensively across the business.

What one thing do you wish you’d known when you started?

When we first set up Bloodhound Books we didn’t appreciate the amount of time we would have to dedicate to social media in order to develop our business.

However, such media channels have enabled us to connect with both readers and writers alike, whilst providing us with direct access to an international platform.

One business app and one personal app you can’t do without?

Business: The release of Amazon Kindle for mobile phones is a crucial app for our business.

Personal: ‘Kitchenbowl Recipes and Cookbook’ – Kitchenbowl is a great community platform for people who are passionate about cooking and offers a creative take on making delicious meals at home.

Business book?

Screw Business as Usual or Like a Virgin; Secrets they won’t teach you at business school, both by Sir Richard Branson.

I admire Branson’s approach to his businesses and think his books contain valuable lessons and advice to budding entrepreneurs starting on their journey to establishing their own, viable businesses.