Accountability part 4: business beta readers

When Cara Holland started writing her first business book, she needed people in her target market to feedback on content. Find out how she made the most of her local business network to recruit beta readers and worked with their feedback to improve her writing.

Cara Holland was all set to go – she had a publisher, an outline of what to write, and all the content and research in place. But writing a book was a big step up from blogging. Rather than face the blank page alone, she decided to recruit beta readers – after all, her job running a visual thinking studio involved facilitating groups, so why not design one to help her write?

>> Related read: How to visualise your writing dreams and goals

Recruiting business beta readers

The plan was to write a practical book, packed full of exercises for people to build creative confidence and get hands on with visual techniques. Cara needed people in her target market – small business owners and entrepreneurs – to test the exercises and give her feedback.

Her first point of call was her local small business Facebook group, she just put it out there, sending a message to members saying: I’m doing this. Is anybody interested in being in the beta group?

“It was perfect, really helpful and very fitting with the book.” – Cara Holland

Cara said, “Eight people volunteered, some of who I knew and some I didn’t. It was perfect, really helpful and very fitting with the book.”

She got onto organising the first session. Luckily, one of the women who volunteered to take part had a meeting room at her offices, so they met there. It had everything they needed for Cara to get beta testing. She packed her pencil case and got everyone drawing.

Cara Holland facilitating

Targeted feedback

In total there were three sessions, each taking a couple of hours to work through exercises in the book. Cara facilitated the sessions, getting people to follow instructions, explaining the task and giving time for people to do it. She then followed up with questions, such as:

  • Did the instruction make sense?
  • Do you think that was a useful tool?
  • Did it make any difference to you as a small business owner?

Cara kept the group going afterwards, she explains: “There was email feedback with the same group. I’d send them chapters and structural questions. I asked them things like, ‘Would you rather have all the narrative together and all the tools separate?’”

By asking questions Cara could get targeted feedback from a small group of highly engaged readers. She backed this up with individuals who tested specific visual thinking tools, and a couple of people who read and fed back on the whole draft once she’d written it.

Keeping motivated and overcoming imposter syndrome

The feedback helped Cara more clearly understand her ideal reader and the challenges a small business owner faces. It made her writing more precise and engaging, for example when someone would say “I don’t really understand this instruction,” or, “Can I just skip that bit?” Cara listened and learnt and tweaked what she’d written in response to the feedback.

Another bonus was that she could gather more case studies for the book and for her business. She explains the benefits of working with a beta group:

“There were several benefits. A couple of the case studies are from those testers, where I got somebody saying, ‘This is why this was good and worked for me.’ Also, every time I was in a test period, it motivated me. It makes you do some things that maybe you wouldn’t do. It makes you email, get the feedback and make genuinely useful tweaks. It’s motivating, certainly validating, which makes you think that you’re not doing it entirely wrong!”

draw a better business coverThat was the unexpected benefit – overcoming the fear so many writers experience.

“Because you write in a bubble,’ Cara said, ‘it made me feel better about my imposter syndrome. When people said: ‘Actually, that was really helpful.’ It was reassuring and bolstering when people send back nice things, it makes you feel relieved that you’re not on the wrong track. And helpful that you’ll end up with something people might want to read.”

Having a beta group helped Cara write a better book, one that focused on the needs of her target audience, and provided practical advice and exercises for them to learn how to communicate visually.

>> Related read: Accountability part 1: critiquing partners

Business beta readers: how to leverage your professional network

Audience: Work out who’s your target reader and where they hang out so you can recruit the right beta readers for your book.

Expectations: Be clear what’s involved, what you expect from people and what they get in return.

Rewards: Use perks to boost recruitment – explain if people get free books or their name in the acknowledgements.

Logistics: If you’re organising face-to-face sessions you need to take care of all the details, from venue, refreshments, directions, timings and contact details.

Feedback: You’ll only get the right feedback if you ask the right questions, so think about what’s important for you to ask, and design exercises give you what you need.

Tweak: Listen, learn and use feedback to improve what you’re writing

Enjoy. When you get it right, people will notice. You’ve worked hard so appreciate positive feedback and learn to take a compliment – you’ve earnt it.

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Cara Holland runs a visual thinking studio and an online training academy that teaches practical visual thinking skills. Since setting up Graphic Change over a decade ago, she has drawn everywhere from a muddy field to Buckingham Palace, and has worked with clients such as TimeWarner, Google and Microsoft. Her book, Draw a Better Business is available to buy from all good bookshops and Amazon.

Bec Evans About the author: Co-creator of Prolifiko, Bec has spent a lifetime reading, writing and working with writers. From her first job in a bookshop, to a career in publishing, and several years managing a writers’ centre, she’s obsessed with helping writers write.