I’m lucky as a freelance marketing consultant to be able to choose the projects I really want to work on, and over the years, my interest in writing and book publishing has led me to work with a number of authors. One of the more interesting and active marketers I’ve come to know is Barbara Techel, who lives and writes in central Wisconsin.
I’ve been privileged to know Barb since she and I were both relative newbies to independent book publishing (my publishing division is called Word Forge Books), back in 2008. I had just published my second title, Almost Perfect: Disabled Pets and the People Who Love Them. Barb was in the process of publishing her first children’s book, Frankie the Walk ‘n Roll Dog, through her publishing house, Joyful Paw Prints Press. Also a self-published author, she saw Almost Perfect somewhere and reached out to ask me some questions about promoting books about disabled pets. As they say, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and in the ensuing years, Barb has become one of my favorite people on the planet.
Secrets to her success
She’s also one heck of a marketer, and I thought I’d share her story here as an account of someone who started from scratch but believes so strongly in her mission and her products that she just keeps plowing forward — and succeeding. Here are, in my mind, the secrets to Barb’s success thus far:
- She is unequivocally devoted to her mission of helping others by sharing her own fears, struggles and successes in living and working with special needs animals.
- She is devoted to self-improvement both personally and professionally, constantly taking classes, seminars and workshops and studying her markets diligently.
- She is committed to doing the work it takes to bring high quality products to market, even if it takes a bit more time in development and a little more cash to do it right.
- She works every day to stay actively in touch with her audience, trusts her instincts in interacting with them, and trusts that her potential customers know what they need and want and will find her and her products when the time is right.
- She’s not afraid of new technology and actively seeks out and tries new marketing channels from social media to creative publicity campaigns to get her message out. The secret to this is that she tries it, figures out if it works, then either enhances it or lets it go, depending on results.
Started from scratch
Barb launched her first book from absolutely no publishing or promotional background, and has developed her business to the point where it has now become her full-time occupation (with a little help for her husband’s construction business on the side, which she has also helped grow through the marketing expertise she developed while building Joyful Paw Prints Press).
Since completing her Frankie series of children’s books, Barb has gone on to write and publish more nonfiction titles. The first was Class Act: Sell More Books Through School and Library Author Appearances, which I had the honor of editing. It’s the only book solely on this subject, and is absolutely stuffed with useful information for any author trying to promote their book. Barb details how she used Skype to be able to visit distance classrooms, and the exact steps she developed to successfully sell thousands of copies of her books to hosting classrooms. Bias aside, I can’t recommend it more highly for authors trying to sell into the large and often lucrative education market.
Barb’s latest nonfiction effort is Through Frankie’s Eyes: One woman’s journey to her authentic self, and the dog on wheels who led the way. It’s a courageous sharing of Barb’s personal story, about how her entire life was transformed by the love of a small red dog who lost the use of her back legs.
Not afraid to get personal
Barb was inspired by her miniature dachshund, Frankie, who ruptured a disk in her lower back when she was 6 years old and was given only a 30% chance of walking again. This led Barb to have Frankie custom-fit for a dog cart to help her walk again. Through Frankie’s Eyes is a moving read she sent me at a time when I was going through some personal struggles of my own, and I found it inspiring and uplifting, at a time when I really needed that.
I’m sharing with you here a recent visit with Barb about this marvelous book, in hopes that perhaps it can do the same for you, and that you can experience her singular brand of personal marketing.
Q. What was your initial reaction when your dog was given only a 30% chance of walking again?
I was devastated. I couldn’t imagine what Frankie’s life would be like if she didn’t walk on her own again. And just as I talk about my book and being honest, I share that I questioned if I even wanted to take care of a handicapped pet. How would my own life change? How would I do this? I was scared.
But I loved Frankie so much and I wanted to give her a chance. It changed me in a way I never saw coming, and I’m so grateful.
Q. Was Frankie’s injury the impetus to help other dogs with disabilities?
Very much so. I never had even heard about dog wheelchairs (also called dog carts) before this happened to Frankie. When I had Frankie custom-fitted for her wheelchair, I was amazed at how she could do pretty much all the same things she did before her paralysis. Her wheelchair was just a tool to help her live a quality life.
When Frankie became paralyzed in 2006, I didn’t really hear of any other dogs such as her who were in wheelchairs. It was part of the reason I wrote a children’s book, Frankie the Walk ‘N Roll Dog about her, to help spread a positive message and educate not only small children, but parents and grandparents who would read the story to their kids/grandkids and they could learn that dogs with disabilities can lead a great life if given a chance.
Q. Your story, Cassie & Frankie Inspire a Writer, won an honorable mention award in 2007, in a contest sponsored by Linda and Allen Anderson of Angel Animals Network. Who is Cassie, and were you inspired to help just Frankie when you wrote the book or article, or did it move you to help other disabled dogs, as well?
Cassie was my chocolate Lab, who passed away in 2005 from terminal bone cancer. She inspired me to become a writer. I was in awe of how she continued to be happy even though a tumor in her body was growing and would eventually take her life. It awakened me to go after what it was that would bring me more joy, and to live my own life to the fullest. Though cliché, it hit me over the head how short life really is.
Little did I know that nine months after Cassie’s death, Frankie would then become paralyzed. Though it was painful and tough at the beginning of Frankie’s ordeal, I knew I was being presented with an opportunity to spread a positive message.
You know, I’ve always been sensitive to disabled people. But I’d say my empathy and compassion deepened. Even more than that, my respect for them grew, as I realized even more what they are up against in their day-to-day lives.
Q. You are an advocate of the human-animal bond. What can you tell us about animal communication?
I’m very fascinated by the human-animal bond. I honestly believe if not for my dogs, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. I’ve learned so much from them and feel I’m a better human being because of having them in my life.
One thing that concerns me is that I don’t know that we take the time to really see and tune into our pets. I know it’s not always easy in our very busy, day-to-day lives, and believe me — I’m not perfect at this, either. But I truly believe they are trying to help us mortal human beings to live more consciously, and to awaken to living more fully in the present moment.
Q. What can dogs teach us?
The list is endless! For me, I’ve learned to appreciate nature. I’ve learned to live more in the here and now. I’ve learned to worry less. I’ve learned to be still more often. I’ve learned not to take life too seriously. I’ve learned to be positive and look for blessings in challenges. I’ve learned that it’s okay to take a nap in the middle of the day.
I founded National Walk ‘N Roll Dog Day in 2012, which takes place every September 22nd, in memory of Frankie, to honor dogs in wheelchairs all around the world. Frankie touched the lives of thousands during her six years in a wheelchair, visiting schools in my state of Wisconsin. She even visited schools farther away than we could travel, via Skype! Frankie also gave joy and comfort to many as a therapy dog visiting hospitals, nursing homes and hospices.
I was so inspired by Frankie, and by all dogs in wheelchairs, that I hope through this observance day to continue shining a positive light on these dogs, who overcome adversity so beautifully. We can learn so much from their amazing spirits.
When Frankie got sick, I was really concerned that I wouldn’t know how to carry on the work we did together. I wanted to solidify all the work we did and to continue being a voice for wheelchair dogs and to bring attention to IVDD. Creating a national observance day seemed to fit that need.
Even though we’ve been celebrating the observance for four years now, we just got into Chase’s annual events last year. This probably helped get more media attention for my books and myself as an author and animal advocate. I think the special day has also helped provide a framework for people to start the conversation about wheelchair dogs.
Having an active social media presence really makes a difference, too. Being on Facebook really has helped to promote that. Blog posts have also been really important in promotion. It has turned into a journal that’s much more personal, and where I get to mention other things I’m doing, such as the Frankie Wheelchair Fund. This fund I created grants wheelchairs to paralyzed dogs who may otherwise not have been able to get one, such as when their families are in financial stress, or the dog is in an immediate rescue situation. To date, we have granted 40 wheelchairs to dogs in need.