When you first start freelancing, your "plan" is often simple: Send out as many queries or submissions as possible, and hope for sales. By your second or third year, however, your writing business can benefit from more careful planning. This is the perfect time to create a business plan that can help you identify goals and develop a strategy to reach them.
A good way to start your plan is by asking what you'd like to achieve by this time next year. Do you want more income? The ability to quit your day-job? Or do you want to reach different markets or develop different skills? If you have multiple goals, a business plan can help you prioritize and allocate your time effectively.
Goals should be specific. Instead of saying, "I want to earn more money," set yourself a target figure or percentage, such as "I want to increase my writing income by 50%." By establishing a specific figure, you'll be able to evaluate the merits of potential projects. For example, if your goal is to earn $2000, and you can write only ten articles, you know you can't afford to write ten "$100 articles." Instead, you'll want to explore higher-paying markets.
Goals should also be realistic. If you earned $10,000 last year, can you reasonably hope to earn $50,000 this year? If you wrote ten articles last year, will you honestly be able to write 50 this year? The answers may be yes -- but not without careful planning! Also, don't set goals that depend on the whims of others: You may be able to write ten stories this year, but you can't guarantee that you'll sell them.
Before you take on new commitments, you need to know what's already on your schedule. Make a list of current assignments (or pending queries), noting when they're due, how much they'll earn, and how much time they'll require. This gives you a foundation on which to plan additional projects.
Next, determine how far these commitments will take you toward your goal. If you want to double your writing income, and you already have twice as many assignments this year as last, you may be well on your way. But if those assignments won't meet your income goal (and won't leave you any time to start new projects), you may want to re-evaluate your current commitments, or else revise the goal itself.
Use a calendar to help you plan, so you aren't caught by surprise when several projects come due at once. Plotting your projects on a calendar will help you determine how much time you can allocate to each, and how much time is left over for new projects. It's also a good reminder for seasonal projects: If you want to sell Christmas articles, pencil in "holiday queries" in the spring so you can deliver completed articles by summer.
If you haven't already, this is a good time to start tracking (or estimating) how long it takes to complete a project. This, in turn, offers a powerful tool to help you evaluate projects. For example, a $100 article that takes one hour to write is more cost-effective than a $500 article that requires 12 hours. Money, however, isn't the only factor; a $500 article in a major publication makes a better "clip" (and improves your chances of getting even better assignments) than a $100 article in your neighborhood paper, even if the first article pays you far less per hour.
Once you've identified current commitments, how much time they involve, and how far they'll take you toward your goal, you can start planning new projects. One way is to start building outward from your existing framework. For example, if you sold four articles to a major publication last year, could you convince that editor to give you six assignments this year?
Conversely, you may want to branch out from that foundation. To reach new markets, you may need to cut back on queries to your "regular" editors, and spend more time on market research. If your goal is to increase personal satisfaction, you may want to turn down some lower-paying assignments to make time for that long-postponed novel. If your goal is to increase certain skills, you may want to budget time for some online courses.
This is also the time to master the art of "backward planning." Once you've determined some likely projects for the coming year, you need to break those projects down into steps, and determine when each step must be taken if you are to reach your goal.
For example, saying "I want to sell more articles to Magazine X" isn't a plan. A plan is saying, "In order to sell five articles to Magazine X this year, I must (1) brainstorm at least ten article ideas (as some are likely to be rejected) and (2) submit those ideas in a well-prepared query. I should also complete both tasks by February to (1) allow time for the editor to respond and (2) allow time to complete all five articles by the end of the year."
Breaking projects into smaller tasks and backward planning also enables you to "cluster" related tasks. For example, if several projects require market research -- finding markets for reprints, expanding into a new market area, or targeting additional publications in your current field -- you can conduct research for all three projects at once, rather than individually. Similarly, schedule a day to handle e-mail tasks for several different projects, or to take clips to the copy shop, or to "surf" for information for several articles at once. Once you've identified the projects in your business plan, reduced them to their component tasks, and determined when those tasks should be accomplished, you'll be amazed at how such a plan streamlines the business of writing.
A business plan doesn't have to be complicated. It can be as simple as sketching a few notes on a calendar. Taking the time to make that plan, however, can change your career -- and ensure that your career takes you where you want to go.
Copyright © 2001 Moira Allen