Developing a Business Plan

If you want to be a professional writer, then you ought to treat your work as a business. And that means you ought to develop a business plan.

If you’re just starting out to become a professional writer, you probably won’t need a complex one; you may be able to scratch out a totally adequate business plan on the back of an envelope. If you’ve got some experience under your belt, or you have major ambitions, you’ll benefit from a more robust, comprehensive, and heavily detailed plan.

Either way, having a business plan gives you a road map for what to focus on, what to do next, what to expect in the future, how to handle the unexpected, and how to assess the progress you are making toward your goal of becoming a professional writer.

What Will You Do?

The first part of your business plan should contain a simple but complete, high-level statement of your planned professional activities:

  • What products and services will you offer?
  • To whom will you offer them?
  • How will you make yourself known to these potential buyers?
  • What performance milestones will you aim for?

Do some clear thinking as you write this part of your plan, but be ready to come back to it with refinements after you finish fleshing out the details in the sections to follow.

Products and Services

In this section, try to nail down the work you expect to be doing in more detail.

Start by naming and characterizing each of your products and services (Scripts? Novels? Booklets? Plays? Speeches? Or what?). Then specify the relevant details, such as word lengths, audiences, and formats.

While you’re at it, try to identify the benefits of your products and services. What’s special about you and your offerings? Why should anyone hire you, or buy what you can produce? What differentiates your products and services from those of your competitors?

Incidentally, if you think you don’t have any competitors, you’re almost certainly wrong. You probably haven’t found them because you haven’t done enough research into the market(s) you plan to enter.

Sales and Marketing

In this section of your business plan, try to include all the important details about how you will obtain clients, customers, buyers, or whatever you want to call the people who will pay you for your products and services.

  • How much do you hope to charge for each product and/or service?
  • Will you advertise? Where? How often?
  • Will you participate in trade shows or display at conventions? Which ones?
  • Will you mail or email sales and marketing materials? To whom? Saying what?
  • Will you make hay within your network? Where? When? How?
  • Will you get sales and marketing help from an agent? A publisher? A collaborator?
  • Will you develop a “web presence”? How? With what sales and marketing messages?

Try to list, describe, and specify enough details so that you could – if you wish – simply hand off this information to a sales and marketing agency, and afterwards feel confident they could implement your plans without having to guess or find their own answers.

Practical Matters

Since you are starting a business, you need to work out in advance several practical matters that will effectively translate your dreams and rough ideas into a tangible business entity. Think about and decide such matters as:

  • Where and when will you work?
  • Who will do your billing? Accounting? Taxes?
  • What’s the name of your business?
  • How is it organized: A “sole proprietorship”? A “limited liability company”? A “corporation”? In what state?
  • Who will own the business?
  • How will you ensure compliance with applicable laws, and get answers to the inevitable legal questions?
  • Do any existing contracts or agreements (non-disclosure? non-compete?) limit your ability to do what you are planning? If so, how will you handle these limitations?
  • Where will you obtain the start-up capital you will need?

Management and Decision-Making

Who will run your business? You alone, or you with others, or just these others? What powers will management have, and not have, to impact your everyday work and your ability to make deals (and other business arrangements)?

Will you have any advisors, partners, or collaborators? What power will these people have to control your work, your deal-making, and your business activities?

Growth

What’s your plan for growing this new business? Will it always be just you, or will you bring in others as contractors, employees, partners, coaches, or people in other roles to help you grow your business?

How will you measure your business’s growth? In terms of income? Number of people doing the work? Number of items sold? Some other way? Remember that whatever you measure is generally what changes, so be sure you’re measuring what’s important to the future of your professional writing business.

It’s often interesting and useful to include goals for the future in your business plan. Consolidate your vision of how big you want this business to be in a year. In five years. In ten years. Twenty.

Since the most important constraints tend to be internal, don’t be shy about detailing the success you’d like to achieve as a professional writer.

Finances

No business plan is complete without a financial section. Here is where you detail the amount of money you’ll be dealing with during various time frames.

Start with your first year of business activity: how much money will you need just to survive (you’ve got to eat and sleep) and also to start and operate your business. How much in each of the following four years? If you don’t have enough money on hand, or you can’t raise it, then include reasonable interest charges on the loans you’ll be taking out to keep afloat.

Once you’ve calculated these expense figures, start adding up the money you can realistically expect to earn as a professional writer. Take into account the prices you can charge, and the quantity of products or services you can realistically expect to sell each year. Since you can’t nail this down to the exact dollar, work with a range of likely minimum to likely maximum income during each of the first five years you’ll be in business.

Now compare your anticipated income against your anticipated expenditures. How long will it take until you’re breaking even? How long after that until you recoup all the money you spend while your income ramps up to that break-even point? How long until your new business is profitable and you can start saving for your retirement? If five years aren’t enough, then project your estimates of expenses and income even farther out, until you do get to a profitable level of operation.

Be aware that your new business might accumulate significant value as it grows. For example, any assets it owns might become valuable, including its contracts, its relationships with solid customers, its inventory and unspent earnings, its real estate or other property, and so forth.

All this work to develop a business plan can be fun, as you run through all the possible scenarios and contemplate your potential success as a professional writer. But that doesn’t prevent it from being a meaningful exercise.

If you don’t get the business plan right, you’ll be depending on luck for your success. And it’s highly unlikely you’ll be the one in a million writer who lucks into success as a professional. If you do get your business plan right, though, your chances of success take an immediate leap into the realm of the possible, the do-able, and even the likely.

One Final Thought

Many people make the mistake of thinking that just by stating a goal, or writing it up as a business plan, that you’re a lock to achieve it. Totally untrue. Any goals you state – and intend to achieve – are simply distant milestones to help guide your direction. To achieve them, you must actually do the necessary hard work, and do it as well as you can.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

Please join me for a very educational webinar, June 22 at Noon, Pacific Time

June 22, 2019

Time: 3:00 pm Eastern

Webinar: Wake Up the Professional Writer Inside You
with Robert Moskowitz, NAIWE’s Professionalism Expert

Cost
NAIWE Members: $10
Non-Members: $30

To register:, please send an email to admin@naiwe.com along with your name and telephone number. You will receive an invoice for payment.

Here’s Why You Should Attend: Almost everyone can write. Heck, nearly every high school graduate can cobble together some words and call it writing. Some people can even earn a few bucks as a writer. But if you really want to pursue the writing life, you’ll find you can do it only if you succeed at becoming a professional. Many years ago, I had a dream of writing professionally. I even got a job as a writer. But it was just a job. Two years later, after too many job interviews in which pretty much every 9-to-5-er I met expressed massive regret at having to give up their dream of writing in order to earn a living, I found myself undergoing a three-month epiphany that helped me transform and commit to the writing life. This webinar is informed by that transformation, as well as by my decades of successful professional writing. It will help you determine just how much “fire in the belly” you have around becoming a professional writer and will help you make the adjustments and develop the attributes you need to get there. We will leave the writing itself for another time and emphasize the professionalism involved in a successful professional writing career.

  • Exercises to help you know yourself better
  • Business lessons for the professional writer
  • Opening the pipeline to your creativity
  • Turning good ideas into finished material
  • How to more fully trust your talent and your know-how

Hope to be with you then!

Pricing Your Work

One of the most difficult questions you’ll ever be asked about your work is: “What’s it worth?”

Unless you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, the road to becoming a professional writer involves navigating the intricacies and trade-offs of this difficult question and coming up with answers that lead to advancement toward that goal, rather than retreat.

The intricacies of that difficult question involve issues that are practical, economic, competitive, and emotional. Let’s take a look at each of those sets of issues:

Practical Issues

The first set of issues you encounter when setting prices for your work involves practical matters:

  • How much money do you have on hand?
  • How much do you spend each month or each year?
  • How much money is coming in?

The bottom line of all this is simple: How long can you stay in the writing game before you run out of money and must quit writing to put that time and energy toward other means of earning a living?

Pricing is one way to directly change that bottom line result. If you can adjust your pricing to increase the amount of money coming in, you can stretch out the time remaining in your career as a professional writer. If you can increase the amount of money coming in substantially enough, you can keep writing professionally for the rest of your life.

Most times, to increase your writing income you’ll need to raise your prices. But this calculation can lead you to lower your prices, too. The point is to maximize the income you generate from the combination of two factors: the amount of work you sell and the price you earn from each sale.

For example, suppose you’re now selling ten pieces of writing per month at $100 per piece. That’s $1000 income per month. If raising your price will not lose too many sales, you might be able to sell eight pieces at month $150 per piece. That would earn you $1200 per month total income.

On the other hand, if lowering your price will result in extra sales, you might be able to sell 15 pieces per month at $90 per piece. That would bring you $1350 per month.

A great many factors go into determining the most lucrative “price point” for each item you sell. Sometimes, you won’t know the best price point until you experiment. But the basic fact is that changing your prices is the first, and often most practical, way to increase your income as a professional writer.

 

Economic Issues

If you lived in a vacuum, or in a static world, you could raise and lower your prices however you wish and expect to receive a mathematically calculated result. But you live in an economy which has its own ups and downs independent of you and your wishes.

That’s one reason professional writing can often be a case of “feast or famine.” During good economic times, you might sell all the work you can produce at prices you enjoy. During bad economic times, you might struggle to sell any of your work, and have no choice but to accept prices you wish were higher.

Your pricing decisions should therefore recognize and take into account the current economic climate in which you are operating. You should be alert not only to current economic conditions, but also to upcoming changes in the economic climate. Looking ahead, you can strive to position yourself – by means of pricing changes (and perhaps other ways, as well) – to take maximum advantage of the economic hand you will soon be dealt.

 

Competitive Issues

Just as you live in an economic climate, you also live in a competitive climate. If you’re the only one capable of writing a particular piece of work – say a Katy Perry song or a best-seller on White House intrigue – you can pretty much write your own ticket as far as income from that work is concerned.

However, if you are cranking out the same kind of boiler plate that’s available from ten thousand other writers, it’s hard to price your work outside of the competitive range the market has established for such work.

This has two implications for professional writers:

  1. Don’t expect to earn more from highly competitive work than the vast majority of your competitors are earning. Your prices and to some extent your income will be tightly constrained by the market.

 

  1. There are major advantages to stepping out of the competitive rat race and into some niche where competition is relatively scarce and where your natural talents help you become a leader – or even a “one of a kind.” There are lots of genres and markets out there. Which one fits you better and offers you a greater chance to earn the living you want as a professional writer?

 

Emotional Issues

So far, we’ve covered three practical, objective, external issues that tend to influence how much you can earn from your work. But the most important issues are internal:

If you don’t feel worthy of big bucks for your work, you won’t ask for them. And if the market nevertheless insists on offering you those big bucks, psychology tells us you’ll find ways to screw up, or even to lose hold of those big bucks very quickly after they are forced on you.

If you don’t work at improving your pricing, you’ll set your prices at less than optimum levels. The result: you’ll leave money on the table, money that could have been yours.

If you don’t build up the psychological strength to withstand the inevitable stresses, losses, and – yes – even failures you will experience not only on the road to becoming a professional writer, but more generally in life, you will burn out, quit, or otherwise settle for less. Without sufficient inner resilience, you’ll be far less likely to last long enough to accomplish any of your most important goals.

The road to becoming a professional writer is much easier to travel when you recognize that however large and unyielding the external barriers to success may seem, the barriers that are most difficult to surmount are the internal ones.

Having said all this, I recognize and understand that you may not make the same choices on pricing as I make. But I still challenge you to price your work as close as you can to its full value. It’s a difficult challenge to meet, and a continuing one. Yet optimum pricing is a central aspect of becoming a professional writer, and also a key element in earning a good living from your skills and your craft.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.