One of the tools that’s been helpful to me as I’ve navigated the choppy waters of self-employment over the years is the business plan. I wrote my first one in 2006, and I had no idea what I was doing! So, as I usually do when I have no idea what I’m doing, I did an online search and found some resources. From there, I cobbled together my own business plan with the parts that I thought might be most useful to me.
Nine years later, I’m still following the same basic template. Here’s what’s in it.
1. A basic summary of what I hope to accomplish in the coming year.
I used to do this for three years out, so my first one had this question answered for 2006, 2007, and 2008. But that didn’t help me that much. A freelancer’s career takes so many odd turns, I think, that for me, personally, it just didn’t work to look that long-term. Don’t get me wrong. I THINK long-term a lot. But I focus my business plan only on the coming/current year.
2. How much income do I need to make from writing this year?
I answer this question every year. I try to be realistic but usually aim for more than the prior year. Note: I don’t always ACHIEVE this goal, unfortunately. But identifying and writing down in black and white that concrete number tells me how seriously I’m taking this. It also helps me prioritize. If I only needed to make $10,000 per year, for instance, I would make different decisions about how I spend my time, which assignments I accept, etc. If I needed to make $100,000 a year, well, I guess I would know that I needed to shift over to more business writing and less children’s writing (which I would hate to do). But whatever your number is, write it down.
3. How do I plan to make that income? I break mine down, at least generally. This is when I consider all my income streams (which I discussed here). For 2015, my goals were:
- School Visits (in person and Skype): $10,000
- Speaking/Teaching: $5,000
- Teacher Materials: $500
- Short Passages: $12,000
- MFR: $2,000
- E-books: $3,000
- CreateSpace Sales: $1,000
- Copyediting: $3,000
- Amazon Sellers: $500
4. Do the math. If I need to earn that much, how does that break down monthly? Breaking it down doesn’t make the money appear, but it’s a good boot to the butt to get serious about submitting manuscripts and looking for assignments. Then each month, I copy this table over and plug in the amounts I actually earned that month.
- Each month:
- Trade writing: $666
- Work-for-hire writing: $250
- Copyediting: $250
- Assessment: $1,000
- School visits: $833
- Speaking in person: $416
- MFR: $166
- E-books (mine only): $250
- CreateSpace (mine only): $83
- Amazon Sellers: $42
- Teacher materials: $41
- Total: $3,997
5. Identify my reader. Here’s my current iteration:
Who is my audience?
My audience is modern kids. I’m especially focused on about K-4. The kids are smart, funny, and fairly high-tech. The older ones probably feel like they don’t fit in. They are all curious about the world and their place in it.
6. Lay out your possibilities or projects already on the calendar. In this section, I go through each income stream and write a short list or paragraph about HOW I plan to meet my goal. Do I have school visits already scheduled? Where and when? Am I building a relationship with a certain company that I hope will assign me work? Here’s where all that goes.
7. Update monthly. Each month I go into my document and fill in my income from the previous month. Sometimes I also do a little brainstorming for marketing possibilities. And I make year-to-date notes, like, “I’m at 70% of my school visit goal!” Basically, a business plan only works for you if you work for it. When I take the time to reflect on my numbers, my goals, and my efforts, I get a LOT more insight into why what I’m doing is or is not working!
When you make your business plan, put in what you think you want to keep track of. What will motivate you to make that phone call or write that email or perfect that manuscript. What will force you to be realistic about what you can do.
If you want to make a living as a writer, you have to learn some business skills. That’s because, unless you are unbelievably lucky and write a blockbuster book right out of the gate, it will take a lot of planning and thinking to figure out your career. A business plan is a great place to gather your business-y thoughts and goals. And, like a writing journal, it can make for interesting reading down the road. As I look back at my first business plan from 2006, I know I didn’t achieve all those goals that year. But I did make progress toward all of them, and they eventually happened. Oh. Except for that booking agent one. Still hoping for that at some point! But it’s fun to look back over my previous plans and see how many of my goals I have met, which ones I haven’t, and find the correlations tucked among my notes and updates that are pretty revealing about why I did or didn’t meet them.
Addendum: For more info on topics like this, see my book Making a Living Writing Books for Kids.