Until now, “Drayer Ink” has been the name under which we operate on social media, and the logo we put on our games, but it hasn’t been an actual business. In order to actually launch our games and sell them to the public, we have to create a legal entity to do so. We have decided to investigate becoming a Limited Liability Company (LLC).
We have been attending the MONEYmaker Accelerator programme, “A free 10-week virtual program designed to strengthen your business finances and position you for growth and funding” with local providers Oregon RAIN (Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network).
As part of this process, we are putting together our business plan.
I have done this before at work, but as part of a project team, for an approved project, rather than for a whole new business. And I have never tried to do it in the USA, where the legal and financial structures are completely unfamiliar. So, I am applying my knowledge of business analysis, and looking at my current and desired future states.
Currently, we have me, Cat, doing the majority of the design, planning, social media, and day-to-day work, because George works full-time, and I haven’t found a job here yet. We have 7 games at various stages of completion, but ready enough to consider adding them to our roadmap, and at least 6 others behind them, still at early stages. We have no games published, and no set timeframe for publishing them. We have no budget as yet, and we don’t know which order we should publish them in.
In an ideal situation, we would have a steady flow of games going from design to production to retail, with a new release every 6 months. The company would be bringing in enough that I wouldn’t need to find a job, and George could potentially consider reducing his hours.
Long-term, success would be that we have enough money to live the lifestyle we want, with enough time to enjoy it, and have control over the games we create, which would join other successful Drayer Ink games on people’s shelves.
Being in the BGG top 100, for example, would be a great measure of success. Another would be to be asked to mentor new designers. I have been very lucky to find people who helped me a lot along the way, and I would love to give back to the community, once I am worthy.
So – how do we get there?
Firstly, we need to establish what we can do, and from that, decide what we should delegate or automate.
Next, we need to find people who can do what we can’t, or don’t want to do, and connect with them.
Third, we need to get a roadmap in place with our timings for game releases, and plug in all of our costs, external and internal requirements, and set gateways and dates for everything so we can deliver on time.
Fourth, find funding – if we can’t get to the crowd-funding stage without spending money (and we can’t, realistically), what are our options? Can we self-fund, or do we need a loan?
Finally, start the ball rolling – once we are underway, we may need to make adjustments, but if we have made a good plan and built a good team, we should be able to reach our goals.
Who does what at Drayer Ink?
Luckily for us, there are a lot of things we can do in-house:
|Game Designer||Cat, George|
|Graphic Design (initial)||Cat, George|
|Web design/management||Cat, George|
|Social media manager||Cat|
|Copy writer/editor||Cat, George|
Being able to do our own illustrations and initial graphic design saves us literally thousands of dollars in outlay, and although we need to remember to pay ourselves for our work, that saving in actual money is a huge deal. Our ability to build and maintain our own (basic) website and online store is also a huge plus, although realistically, most people can do this these days.
First, there are the costs we already know we will need to cover:
- CPA (certified public accountant) – to help us set up our financial structure and file our taxes correctly
- Lawyer – to set up the business and help us with IP (intellectual property), copyright, trademarks, and patents
- Taxes – we know we will be taxed on any income we make in the business
- Secretary of State, Oregon – fees and paperwork to register and license our business in Portland, Oregon
- Conventions – we know we will need to travel to conventions to expose our game to new audiences and get ourselves known; eventually, we may also need to have booths at these conventions as well, if we choose to go into publishing fully. We are already attending the next Protospiel Online, Tabletop Network, and BGG.CON. Next year, we will expand our bookings to include as many conventions as we can afford.
- Professional play-testing – once we have tested the games within our own groups and with volunteers, it’s time to send them off to be tested professionally. This also has a cost attached to it, as you would expect.
- Website improvement/SEO – we understand the basics, but will need to engage a professional at some point to get our website and online store showing up better in searches
- Crowd-funding fees – we know there will be fees associated with the funds we collect via the platform.
- Marketing – getting our campaign and then our game in front of people requires a specific skillset, which will also include advanced graphic design – perhaps a branding package. If we are lucky, this will also include preparing the files for the printer, otherwise, we will also need
- Graphic Design – giving the game a final polish, preparing the files for printing, managing the printing proofs and finalising the assets. This process is a time-sink, and mistakes can be very expensive, especially for inexperienced designers like us, so an expert graphic designer is an important investment.
- Manufacturing, freight, fulfillment, and shipping – these should be covered by whatever we raise in the crowd-funding stage, along with fees, taxes, and a contingency margin. We need to be sure we understand the full “landed cost” of our games before we start planning how much money to raise.
- Advertising – once we have a crowd-funding campaign going, and after the games are published and we are selling them, we will need to advertise them
- Editors and localisation/translation – while we are both good at writing and editing, and I speak French, it’s really important to have another professional check your writing and perform your translations. We may also have someone write the copy for our advertising and box back, if we can afford it. Using exactly the right words is an art, and worth every cent you can spend on it.
- Game Design Software – we have bought the Affinity Suite outright, we use (free) DaVinci Resolve for video and pay for Cloud support, we use (free) Google Docs and Dropbox for most of our documentation and storage. We also need an online testing platform, so we are using Tabletop Playground, which is a one-off cost.
- Business tools – we will need planning, calendar, email automation, and customer management software. The good ones cost money. Currently, we are trialling Trello, Airtable, Hubspot, and possibly Calendly, with Zoom and Google Meet for meetings (generally hosted by our providers a this stage) and Discord for testing. We currently use Mailchimp for subscriptions to the blog, WordPress for the website, and WooCommerce as the sales platform. We also need to pay for financial and business management software like Quickbooks, LivePlan, and our WordPress website and online store host.
- Memberships – as a small business of two people, we need the assistance of our gaming community. While Facebook, Instagram, and Discord are free, we also need to consider joining GAMA (Game Manufacturers Association), the Indie Game Alliance, and business groups here in Oregon.
- Courses – we use Udemy for a lot of our software training, and usually wait for sale dates to buy our courses, but we also need to pay for business courses like the SDBC Business Plan Accelerator and other courses in the future to stay on top of our business needs.
- Contingency – “No plan survives first contact with the enemy” (Helmuth van Moltke). We need to plan for success, and also for failure. Building models that allow for contingencies like another major shift in global shipping prices and timings, for example, is essential. Just like when we quote our hours in IT, we need to add padding for the unexpected.
The first step is to get quotes from manufacturers, which we are doing at present. Our biggest cost will be the games themselves.
We have initial meetings lined up with a CPA, an IP lawyer, and a business mentor, as well as a marketing specialist and other business-related assistance from RAIN. I am part of the Tabletop Mentorship programme, too, so I have the advantage of their support and resources.
To build our audience, we are making a concerted effort to make more blog posts and videos, including more about our lives as well as playing other people’s games, so that we cover a broader range of topics. We are also going to narrate our journey as a new board game business – this being the first post on that topic!
The Drayer Ink vision
There aren’t enough board games designed for and by minorities, especially medium to heavy games in the hobby space
I am a queer, indigenous Pacific Island woman, and I have done several years of market research into what minorities and women are looking for in a tabletop game, including art.
I design experience-first, and my games’ experience is crafted for those in my target market.
My market is people who don’t see themselves and their interests represented in the board game industry.
Target market for my games are the members of Facebook groups like Boardgame Broads+, Girls who like board games, and special interest groups that relate to the theme of the game (foraging, tidepools, entomology, etc).
The main competition in my field is white American men with standard game themes and mechanics.
Anyone with the same overall background and vision as me is not competition – we are on the same team, and should work together to achieve our aims, rather than compete.
We fill the niche gaps in the market in a way that makes specialist subjects accessible and exciting to all – think what Wingspan has done for the profile of ornithology.
Our vision is to create games where minorities and non-males can see themselves and their interests represented in the foreground.
As well as the tasks directly related to game design and production, we also have a lot of networking to do – we need to build connections within the business community here in Oregon, as well as continuing to contribute to the online gaming groups. We need to make sure we are regularly releasing content and participating in as many different areas as possible – plus all the courses and planning sessions. We need to form relationships with local board game businesses, and other retail stores that might be interested in carrying our specific board games – for example, coastal souvenir stores might like Intertidal Survival, and STEM toy stores might like Short Circuit.
There is already a lot to do, and I am already working on this full-time, so it’s going to require some expert time-management, and as much delegation and automation as I can find!
Do you have any ideas from your own experience, or connections we should explore? Please let us know in the comments!