Success as a writer is no easy task, but it becomes much harder if you have no clear plan for what you want to do. If you want to succeed as a writer, you need to treat writing as a business. If you want to succeed as a business, you need a business plan. Most businesses have one, especially new businesses that are trying to get established.
A business plan doesn’t have to be scary, especially for a simple business such as a single-person freelance writing business. In fact, a business plan should be somewhat comforting. It spells out what you want to accomplish and how you plan to do it. Having that information clearly in mind (and on paper) allows you to focus on what items and tasks are important and what things are outside the scope of what you want to accomplish. A business plan doesn’t have to be set in stone. Sometimes an opportunity outside of your plan will present itself. That can be a very good thing. If you’ve decided what you want, however, you’ll have an easier time weighing the pros and cons of a new opportunity.
There is not set style or length for a business plan, especially if it is only for your own reference and not the basis for a bank loan or investment proposal. The plan should cover your needs. The plan I propose requires that you answer six straightforward questions. You can answer them in a sentence, a paragraph or with pages of information. That depends on your own needs and style.
What type of writing do you want to do?
There are so many types of writing that it would be hard to list them all. Here are some of the more common choices though: copywriting, reporting, blogging, essays, fiction, poetry, analysis, scientific, legal, medical, business, public relations, technical, and dramatic. These are general types, and it can get far more specific. There are many types of copywriting, for example. Writing direct mail copy is different from writing white papers or catalog ads. Some people may choose to keep to a general category while others may choose a very specific sub-genre of writing. Some people may want to have more than one type of writing in their business plan. The point is to make the choice that is right for you. As a businessperson, you need to decide if this type of writing is economically viable for you, if it suits your skills, and if it is something you can be happy doing for years to come.
What do you want to write about?
Once you know the type of writing you are looking to build a career in, it is time to figure out what you want to write about. A blogger, for example, has an unlimited choice of what to write about. There are blogs for just about everything. While there are many choices, there are also important things to consider. Once again you have to assess whether or not the topics you choose make sense for you in terms of financial viability, skills and passion. This may require some research of the markets. Make sure you know what you are getting into.
Who do you want to write for?
There are actually two sets of people you write for, your clients and your audience. In some cases these are the same people, but in many cases they are not. A copywriter has a client with specific expectations, but he or she also has an audience in terms of potential customers for the item or service. In the case of the copywriter, the client is the more important consideration but long term success depends on the audience. A person who writes their own blog has an audience that they need to write for, but they also have to generate income through some form of product, service or advertiser. In order to succeed, it is vital that they consider both the audience (without readers they can’t succeed) and potential advertisers or buyers (without income their audience can’t keep them in business). It is important that you address whoever you want to and need to write for in order to succeed.
How much money do you want to make?
Most of us want to earn as much as possible, that’s obvious, but having a clear financial goal makes the plan feel much more official. The amount you choose should be realistic, but still a little optimistic. Your goal may be to match the income from your last job, to cover your bills with 10% to spare, or to dramatically increase what you’ve been making. Some people set monthly goals, moving the amount a little higher with each passing month. Some people set yearly goals. Yearly goals are fine but you should at least have a few milestones along the way to keep yourself on track. With the right steady client, such as a content company that pays by the article, it is even possible to have daily or weekly goals.
What do you need to have to succeed?
This is a critical element to your business plan and can often be the longest section. You need to identify ALL of your key needs such as: money in savings, equipment, advertising, skills development, contacts, mentors, licenses, bank accounts, office space, reference materials, leads, etc. The list can be quite substantial and may include items that aren’t necessary but would be helpful. You may also want to recognize the level at which some needs might come into play. For example, you may not need office space to begin with (or be able to function with limited space) but as you gain clients or assignments your need for your own space will grow. Your tiny monitor might be fine for basic assignments, but as you spend more time in front of the computer you may want to move up to a larger, crisper monitor. The idea is to plan for current and future needs.
What is your timetable?
Setting a timetable is a way to hold yourself accountable and keep focused on your goals. Financial timetables, which I discussed above, are good for setting initial goals. Some other timetables include marketing goals such as landing a set number of clients, sales or assignments. In the case of blogging you might have audience goals or a timetable for approaching potential sponsors or advertisers. Whatever the case, setting a timetable will help you focus on the work that needs to be done. Remember though that your timetable isn’t just about goals for success, it must include plans for getting there. You should also have contingency and backup plans. Sometimes you miss your goals and milestones, and that needs to be addressed too. What will you do if things go wrong?
Reviewing your business plan
A business plan is a living document. It should be reviewed and updated regularly. At minimum you should bring it out every quarter, but it is probably better to review it once a month. Set a reminder on your calendar and make it a part of your end-of-the month process along with paying bills and other regularly scheduled tasks. Don’t be afraid to make changes to the document. A plan is like a map. It not only helps you plot a course, but it is also there to get you back on course if you get lost along the way or decide to make a scenic detour.