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.
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?
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.
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.