Email

info@ilumatech.com

Phone

804-499-6730

PO Box

3840 Glen Allen, VA 23058

The Business of Report Writing-Subcontracting vs Self-Publishing

The Business of Report Writing-Subcontracting vs Self-Publishing

Being an independent analyst can be a rewarding career choice but aside from the intellectual rigor and research engagements, there is also the issue of getting paid. Even established practitioners can find the business side of the role to be a distraction or worse.  On a day-to-day basis, do you spend time producing or selling? Do you default to spending your time on spreadsheets, research and writing or do you put the time into networking and developing business?  Are you more of an introvert and a thinker or are you an engagement monster who possesses a tremendous aura that wows people into throwing projects your way?  Most people fall somewhere between the two extremes but no matter where a person resides on that spectrum, the battle between creation and generation remains.

Subcontracting consulting projects from larger firms is one approach and with the right relationships and network it can support your practice. Subcontracting takes away the business development issues leaving you to be the analyst. Perhaps you can command a high enough rate to meet your revenue targets and, if the clients’ pipelines are full then there should be work. 

Is it enough though? Consulting engagements are hit or miss, take time to develop, are subject to client delays and there is the frequent conflict between what they say they want and actually expect. Also, you being a subcontractor means the end client relationship is controlled, usually via contract.  Poaching clients is a bad practice that leads to significant professional and economic repercussions.

Writing industry reports is another strategy that people will pursue and if you do not have other pressing engagements it can help fill time, provide reference work and even some revenue.  Larger firms or companies like BCC Research will act as a publisher which allows the person to focus on content and leave the business to someone else. There are trade-offs which are highlighted below.

 

Benefits

Drawbacks

Minimal business development requirements leaving creator more time to produce work

Lower revenue potential, publishers can take up to 75% of report revenue

More time to develop personal brand and build out infrastructure

Publisher owns the work that is created

Support via editing, possible research synergies, forecasting, accountabilities

Minimal brand building of the writer, firm comes first

Alignment with a larger and more established firm

No control over sales and marketing process

Possible advance on royalties, guaranteed revenue

Product will likely be one of many being pushed

 

Channel sales further depress revenue

 

 

The Business of Report Publishing

In report publishing there are multiple payment models;

  • Fixed fee where you produce work for contracted payment. Highest guaranteed payment, no upside.
  • Fixed plus % of sales is where you are paid a fixed amount plus share in the upside. Lower up-front money but stronger incentive
  • Advance against future royalties is where publisher pays you a certain amount and then resumes payments once sales cross a thresh hold
  • Straight royalty means when the reports sell then you get paid

On a risk continuum, guarantees benefit the provider, the royalty model is more advantageous to the publisher. That doesn’t mean the publisher has no exposure on a royalty basis though.   Bringing reports to market is a complex process and mastering all the aspects to it takes time and a lot of lessons learned. There are expenses, opportunity costs and other burdens that a publisher will carry. 

There is no escaping the fact though that the publisher is the one who sees the greatest reward on these deals, sometimes paying as little as 25% of total sales (NET) despite the fact the analyst is the one doing the heavy lifting from the intellectual (value) side. Reports can take up to 6 weeks of dedicated labor to produce and it may take up to a year or longer for the full sales cycle to complete. 

Getting into the report writing business via subcontract means you are going to spend at least 6 months living on savings and somewhat meager advances and royalties.  Assuming you can generate 8 reports a year then you may see $60,000 your first year and maybe $100K after that. On the other hand, Indian market researchers are charging firms $3,000-$4,000 a report which makes it hard for independents to compete in that arena.

Some other questions for you to consider if you are going to subcontract a report;

  • What is the scale of the publisher? Are they large in your area or looking to use you to enter a market?
  • What sort of reputation do they have? Are they seen as a quality provider?
  • What type of resources do they have to apply to promoting your report?
  • Can they present you a marketing and sales plan that looks credible?
  • What types of comps can they show you?
  • Are they willing to prove their performance by allowing you to contact other writers they represent?
  • What evidence is there of consulting work that may come about from your producing a report under their flag?

There are other questions to ask and learn the answers to but as publishers generally look to minimize the risks and “share” it with the writers it would behoove you to be sure that your upside is protected.

There are other means to publish reports if you are interested in doing so.

Self-publishing can work if you have financial resources or enough consulting work to pay the bills.  Perhaps it might be an element of your revenue plan but not all of what you will do. You may elect to produce a report or three to engage a market, show reference works or leverage them for consulting.  It may be that you have sufficient expertise to churn out some works in short amounts of time so that the production burden and overall risks are reduced. 

There are though certain economic considerations to account for and again there’s that time spent on producing vs selling your output.  Hiring dedicated staff is expensive and unrealistic. I have seen people start up a practice, take on overhead and then wonder why they are in the hole for several tens of thousands of dollars. A measured approach is the more prudent one to pursue.

I have addressed the self-publishing issue in previous articles and will do more in the coming weeks. 

Making a Name for Yourself in Industry Analysis

Making a Name for Yourself in Industry Analysis

What makes the analyst/market research business so fascinating and yet challenging is how one competes in a space where there are either established firms with solid market positioning, brand name people, scale etc., or a multitude of generic report factories that push out reports via a process of scraping web-based content, applying generic strategic analysis like Michael Porter, and then lowballing on price.

I was having a conversation with someone the other day on ways in which they could get their small firm up over the hump and become a profitable and sustainable business.  They operate in a space populated by established analyst firms in a market segment with a fair amount of media coverage and marketing noise.  My first thought was in how they needed something that would force people to stop and take notice of them.  Was there some set of findings, analysis, or content that the firm could offer that would grab market attention?   Was there a way to drill into a part of the market or subject area that no one else was doing or offer something unique that could be properly messaged?  

New ideas or conceptualizations are hard to come by and it is often painfully obvious when analysts create new categories to get analyst relations departments to throw them some money.  Some markets are simply too well defined to offer a credible new taxonomy.  However, there are times when markets become too myopic, the thinking is too stale or just too noisy.  Herein lies the opportunity.

 It is a mistake to do what everyone else is already doing, even more so if they have greater resources, scale, reputation, or huge digital marketing budget.  Also, to consider was how much of a commitment it requires to win business via engagements, data collection, analysis presentation and requisite personal and firm brand building.  There are often opportunities to carve off pieces of a market as a niche player, but business scalability is extremely challenging. 

 Another consideration was that the market they were in was an analyst-oriented business and not report-focused.  A lot of important differences between these approaches and likely a reason that the offshore factories do not make any major headway.  Analyst oriented markets require identifiable persons that are out in front representing the firm/practice.  The reports business can have value where you are in an early stage of market formulation or in less dynamic environment but there is always the matter of offshore factories and tons of content marketing that is not always low-grade. 

One suggestion was splitting elements of the published works and generating more forecast oriented products.  Take the reports, break them down into product specific categories, pull out the related forecasts and content, add some additional qualitative elements and there are more things to sell.  Does this practice cut into existing product line though or does it open the door to new revenue and customers both inside the target market for the firm’s products or outside of it?  There are all of the various product marketing and sales issues to address here as well.

Financially, the model of niche player can work if the sales requirements are not too onerous.  I have directed and sold reports that generated in the multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales, far more projects in the several tens of thousands and yes, ones that the market simply did not embrace.  There are a host of reasons why reports fail and said reasons/lessons can be addressed ad nauseum in other venues.  

But…..

An independent or start up can do quite a bit to garner some market traction with making connections, doing quality interviews and email check ins.  I recommend the provider target 30 companies that comprise the supply chain and some additional firms that serve as sales channels or end user.  From the supplier side 8-10 interviews with another 12-15 email check ins with 5-6 questions generates 20-25 touches.  Convert 5-6 into sales and your project is viable.  Conversion rate will be influenced by how well the analyst engages the market obviously but also in the go-to-market plan.

  • News release
  • Talking points to market and industry media
  • Infographics
  • Product sample
  • 3rd party content placement
  • Marketing events
  • Sales follow ups, meeting set up and presentations

Final thoughts….

Having analysts that can be presented and promoted in a market are an important component of success but not a sufficient determinant.  Where companies have invested time building expertise and reputation, these serve as powerful barriers to entry thus the differentiation becomes paramount.  Hedging risk by offering lower quality or somewhat indistinguishable content to the market is highly inadvisable.  Capital is important and hard to come by, but I have seen people with wealth assume that what they did in other businesses (or in another era) will apply to current circumstance and that simply is not the case in such an evolving and highly nuanced business.

Being undifferentiated is deadly.  While playing the role of the barking Crank in the public square might garner some notice it will not get someone paid.  The parrot is more pleasing but offers little true value and no one will pay for it especially if the provider has no influence. 

An analyst practice with some chance of success must be founded on data-orientation, being a market influencer, or providing thought leadership.  Some combination is better. Developing that unique brand that makes a market take notice of you is a complicated process but not having some distinguishable characteristics.

Thought Leadership for Industry Analysts

Thought Leadership for Industry Analysts

If you want to be a successful industry analyst or consultant, then you must be a thought leader, the person with the unique insights, the different way of seeing the big picture, the fortune teller, the visionary. The one that others look to for meaning, for where it’s all headed and what to expect. You can be inspirational, a market mover or trend spotter. You exude confidence, communicate ideas effectively and have significant credibility within your industry. You differentiate yourself by saying what others cannot say, have not said or perhaps have yet to say. You capture the attention of the markets or audiences you want to see you as a key influencer, another term of estimation in the business.
One side note here, thought leaders are higher up the value chain than influencers. One can be an influencer without being much of a thinker. Simply play the role of PR support person willing to sell their name for consulting and services and you can wiggle your way into the role. That’s not to disparage those who are true influencers based on well-earned stature. I would say that the most respected influencers are thought leaders. Much harder to bribe them too…..
Back on point here.
The benefits of thought leadership for industry analysts are significant. Aside from invites to all the best industry events and parties, people follow the thought leaders. They reshare their comments in order to support their own points, build their own brands or try and look like they are in on what’s cool. Thought leaders gain significant media attention and are afforded the means to advance their brands via platforms that invest heavily in pushing their content. These people are sought out for their expertise, their opinions and their credibility. They may be getting paid as an expert, representing their own companies in a leadership role of perhaps working to establish themselves on their own. Regardless, they are noticed.
In short, it’s crucial to your brand and how you get paid. But you knew this, right? If you have worked at a larger firm, then likely you have been trained in some of the practices or been directed by management to engage in them. Outside of the tier one firms though, I find people in the business who haven’t sorted out how to be thought leaders or who are not adopting practices that would help solidify themselves in their role.
Not just anyone can authentically wear the mantle of thought leader though. It requires a certain mentality and set of skills. You don’t wake up and decide that you are going to be a star and it happens. Lots of work to do before you ever get to that level. And even for those that do have the skills to occupy the role, there are several practices that have to be adopted and practiced rigorously.
A few initial thoughts to consider or use to self-assess:
Are you working in a business sector where there is room for thought leadership?
Do you have a track record of success within industry? Produced technologies that disrupted markets? Built a business? Launched successful products, driven revenue or won awards? Do you have a track record of producing disruptive research studies?
Do you have a real marketing strategy for yourself? Are you actively promoting your own personal brand or are you leaving that up to your marketing people because you are too busy writing reports or buried in your spreadsheets? If you aren’t working towards building and advancing your own brand, then your pursuits and success in the analysis business shall always remain limited.
Some additional self-assessment thoughts:
Foundation:
  • What knowledge, experience and accomplishments can you point to that affords you the foundation as a thought leader?
  • Do you have insights that truly resonate with the industry?
  • Can you spot what other people are missing?
  • Do you have any qualms about being critical of the latest news or marketing pitch by a vendor?
  • Can you offer critical commentary with informed basis?
  • Can you provide the crucial context that your sector needs to operate?
Engagement:
  • How many people do you engage with in a given week?
  • Who are they? What do they do to advance your knowledge, network or brand?
  • How are you engaging them? Interviews, emails, social media interactions?
  • What is the quality of the interactions? What are you providing them?
  • Do you give them reason to respect you or consider you as someone they HAVE TO engage?
Content:
  • How much content do you issue a week/month? And what type?
  • How many social media posts do you generate?
  • In your public comments, do you talk about companies, technologies or markets?
  • Do you leverage other content sources in your activities?
  • Are you capable of multi-channel content creation, i.e,. blog, social, video, pod?
Presence:
  • What shows are you attending?
  • What events are you speaking at? (You do speak at events, right?)
  • What media outlets are quoting you?
  • What news releases are you asked to quote for?
  • Which investor presentations are citing your data?
There are a lot more elements to consider but the point I am advancing is that thought leadership, if there is a basis, can be developed and used as the foundation for building an analyst brand that is a strong selling feature for the individual and their firm.
Remember, the higher up the value chain you reside, the more you are worth and the harder you are to displace.
Due Diligence When Buying Market Research and Analysis

Due Diligence When Buying Market Research and Analysis

Musings from my time in marketing and selling research and analyst services over the years….
I have heard my share of complaints from buyers over the years with them having been burnt on past report purchases which translated into reluctance in purchasing in the future. Understandable I suppose but largely avoidable. A few thoughts on what might prevent a bad experience next time.
Business:
If your purchase decision is going to be driven largely by cost considerations then you are sabotaging yourself from the start. There are ways to reduce the cost of reports. but if you can’t afford quality data then save your resources for something else.
If you don’t have much to spend but need something, then at least go to market with some aspect of modesty versus a ham handed approach looking to beat vendors into submission. The firms with size or standards won’t work with you and the ones that will likely are selling you stuff you don’t want to base your decisions on.
Negotiating is a part of business, everyone accepts that is will happen on some level or another. However, best to approach the people that write about your company with some professionalism and respect for their work. Low balling someone who has spent years developing knowledge and data sources and works hard to put out quality signals that you don’t value what they do. And while you are basically insulting them your marketing group may very well be trying to message or influence them.
What should you negotiate then? Maybe something on price but more so if you are buying volume. Perhaps you can request a data pull or section of a report, but you should expect to see the $/page/data unit increase. And instead of offering less money, why not ask for more product or even better, time with the analysts who write the reports? That relationship can be leveraged again in the future, at least with smart providers who know how to manage a paying customer.
Provider:
When you consider a product, how much time are you spending researching the provider? Are you looking at where they are based to try and assess if they are a real firm? Do they have boots on the ground in your market? Or are they a generic or anonymous factory overseas?
What of their branding? Does it look modern, professional and in line with the profession or sector? While it is unreasonable to expect a small practice to spend $15,000 on a website and branding package there are several things that they can do to at least show some level of gravitas and consistency with the market they cover. A poorly designed website, $99 logo or some other low rent aspect should raise an eyebrow unless it is someone with such massive street cred their throwback look simply fits.
Are you able to see the analyst who wrote the report on the website? Can you see other related works? Social media profile? Does their name come up on a search? What conferences are they speaking at? What media sites are carrying them or asking them for comments? Do they write for anyone of note in the sector? I might mention that their presence in company issued news releases doesn’t mean much other than they are perhaps client friendly or offer quotes for business consideration.
Are you able to talk to them, live in person, on the phone or over Skype/GoToMeeting etc.? I strongly suggest an introductory call if you are actually interested in them. Putting a voice and a face to a product helps a great deal as is being able to ask them about their background, relevant experience and overall knowledge so you can establish some level of confidence. This isn’t where you try and wrangle free information from them though. There are ways to establish credentials without asking for free consulting.
Asking to connect with the analyst helps you avoid the factories as well. I will say that not everyone in India is a hack. Some people have put in the time to establish themselves as true analysts. There are a number of talented software engineers, technologists and entrepreneurs operating there and if you want to research that market then you should look at qualified locals. But, a lot of companies are using people fresh out of undergrad programs or at best, 1-2 years of report writing experience and across a variety of subjects. The firms emerge from nowhere and start producing products of low quality and zero market specific context.
Product:
Samples are an intelligent request but if you are expecting more than either a few pages to show the product or something wholly unrelated to at least prove they can produce something of high quality…. don’t. I am often bewildered by people who expect a provider to hand over a $5,000 report without first paying for it. The request says a great deal about the person making it in a B2B context.
Ask for forecast tables without numbers to show what and how they are breaking out the data. You can also ask for them to provide previous forecasts and see how they have held up. Look at what they wrote 3-4 years ago and see how things worked out. Look at the logic behind the projections.
Bad data purchases impact the entire ecosystem. Customers don’t trust, good providers find their fortunes impacted and the offenders are rewarded for their efforts. I invite the quality providers to step up their marketing and sales game and for the buyers to exercise some proper due diligence in what they buy.
What Do Recessions Mean for Market Research and Industry Analysis?

What Do Recessions Mean for Market Research and Industry Analysis?

The industry analyst business makes its living providing guidance on where companies will find potential opportunities for products and services. Reports produced by analysts and market research firms generally conclude that “X” industry will grow as some % CAGR over Y number of years and will be worth some large pile of money at some point. The messaging usually leads with note of a large market opportunity at some point in the future. The formula mostly works as companies are happy to purchase the products that validate business plans and industry messaging. But what happens when conditions change?
At this time of writing, the global economy is showing signs of distress. Various key indices are flashing warning signs left and right due to a host of issues including governmental trade spats, central bank actions to prolong a tired “expansion”, business cycle pressures and shifting technology landscape. Regardless of the impetuses though, once the slowdowns happen, how do the practitioners transition their operations, product offerings and messaging to reflect the changing times? Can they get ahead of it in time before it happens?
Transition Issues
Shifting from optimism to reality. Analysts have a tendency to play a role of Pollyanna for clients, i.e., looking for the positive. Optimism bias is another aspect to this condition since research businesses rely upon the positive to produce findings and opinions that mirror the hopes of their clients. After all, no one, aside from the doom and gloom crowd, short sellers and opposition political parties, who wants to have a downturn?
There are also the analysts who have fallen hard for the technologies and markets they have been covering and don’t easily shift from a positive outlook. Perhaps they believe in the value propositions of the technologies or they simply see the trends as unstoppable. More advocate than analyst, they miss the contraindicators which leaves them looking foolish when the music stops.
Tightened spending and suspicion. When conditions begin to worsen companies adopt a far more defensive posture and as such simply curtail spending. There is also the realization that the market research business has been providing then with roadmaps for riches that are not materializing. Those reports selling opportunities are met with far more skepticism.
Messaging. When times are good the story is usually positive. The markets are seemingly robust, or soon will be, and growth is positive for the next several years. As no one can predict the next downturn it makes sense to just pick a growth rate and adjust for some believability factor. Yet, when the market turns the firm cannot keep telling everyone that things are great or talking about what is going to happen in five years, the customer base isn’t buying it. But confirming that things aren’t a robust or even negative isn’t likely to convince anyone to spend.
Product mix no longer suitable. Expensive services and reports are an easier sell when conditions are good, and optimism abounds. When markets tighten decisions take longer, additional layers of approval often required, skipping this year’s data update vs annual purchase is common decision by clients. And endless growth numbers I must again say, aren’t
Competitive landscape changes. You can expect that there will be new people entering the markets as they are released from their firms or deciding to start up a practice after being in industry. You can also expect that you will have a smaller market to draw revenues from as companies fold, merge or are purchased.
Plenty of other issues to resolve including personnel, market coverage, partnering, outsourcing, finding new markets, new messaging strategies and the like. And there is the process of painful cost reductions, potential laying off staff and for principals, tightening their own belts.
Every market goes through cycles, but it has been quite some time since the last time we saw a recession. Can’t predict when it will happen but as the foundation for one has been set, isn’t it time to start thinking ahead for when it does?
Navigating Challenging Market Conditions, Thoughts for Analysts

Navigating Challenging Market Conditions, Thoughts for Analysts

Having issues navigating challenging market conditions that your coverage sectors are experiencing?
Inevitably markets slow, companies fail, conditions become challenging, industries contract and the firms who cover them from an analyst perspective are going to take a hit. Count on it. Should be common sense, right? Yet, I am still amazed when professional services firms act surprised when industry slowdowns hit their bottom line. It’s as if they didn’t see the slowdown coming or naively assumed that their markets will go on buying their products and services regardless of what’s happening.
These firms do get paid to advise others on future conditions, no? Provide advice for succeeding in markets? Accounting for potential scenarios?

Take our advice, we aren’t using it

It’s a common tendency for analysts to see growth in every forecast they publish. They do, after all, earn their money in syndicated reports telling everyone else that they see positives, at least somewhere since bad news doesn’t pay the bills. Maybe it’s hard for them to come off that tack? Maybe they buy into their own or the industry’s hype generation. Or perhaps simply don’t know when and how to shift when they need to?
I get it, regardless of current conditions companies have to generate revenue and billable time. They can either try and operate through the tough times with some intelligent and proactive practice management and strategies or they can founder along with a business model that doesn’t reflect what their coverage markets are experiencing. If you are a competent analyst, then you should have the pulse of your market and know far enough in advance to get ahead of the wave. Your success in navigating challenging market conditions will determine your fate.
I think it is fair to present the following questions.
Just how healthy is your market? Is growth still happening? Is it stalling or in contraction? How long is this to continue?
At what stage are your clients in their industry participation? Investing now? Heavily invested? Peripheral? Passing curiosity?
What phase is the sector in? Is it emerging? Established with healthy growth? Legacy?
And based on the stage, what are its actual core information, forecasting and analysis needs? Do they really need frequent data updates? Quarterly? Yearly? 18 months? Do they need more qualitative? More account specific?
What is your messaging to market? Are you still selling a growth story when your clients are seeing resistance? Are you providing sound guidance on how the sector will pass though whatever phase it is experiencing?
And when is the last time you did a product assessment? This will be the subject of another post but in short, the products you made money on the past few years won’t be the ones you will need to rely on in the future. Knowing the condition of your market will at least form the basis for some reasonable self-assessment.