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Plan for Success
by Mary Anne Hahn
Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood — Make big plans, aim high in hope and in work. –Daniel H. Burnham,Architect
Before you post your first web site, print your first business card or hang that shingle on your door, you can lay a foundation for your writing business that might make all the difference in the world between total success and dismal failure.
What you need is a plan. A business plan, that is.
Most entrepreneurs develop a business plan primarily to secure financial backing for a new enterprise, something that freelancers rarely qualify for. But even if you can’t bring your business plan to the bank, having one enables you to do the following:
- Focus on the kinds of writing service(s) you want to offer;
- Identify your potential markets;
- Outline your marketing and promotion strategies;
- Itemize the expenses involved in getting your business up and running;
- Study your competition and determine how your service differs from, or improves upon, what is being offered by other writers or agencies;
- Detail your financial goals.
While that sounds like a lot of work, the value of having a business plan is that it will help get you from where you are today to where you want to be six months or a year from now. And believe me, after working on your own for awhile with no boss to answer to other than yourself, no co-workers to coach or criticize you, and no annual performance appraisal to hold you accountable, your business plan may be your only means of gauging your progress. Think of it as an ocean chart, guiding you even when there is no land in sight, or a road map that assures you that you are heading in the right direction, even when you are miles from civilization.
Besides, you’re a writer, aren’t you? Unlike potential business owners who shudder at the thought of putting a sentence together, you can have a little fun with your business plan, making it every bit as creative, inspirational and exciting as your own freelancing dream itself. You may end up enjoying it so much, you decide to write business plans for a living, who knows?
Your Writing Mission
So, where do you start? Begin with that dream of yours, put it into words, and let it become your mission statement. Be sure to think big, though — you want a vision that makes you jump out of bed each day, eager to get going, or keeps you up well into the night. Perhaps you could borrow from the original Star Trek television series: “It’s five year mission: to boldly go where no man has gone before!”
Here are some other ideas for your mission statement:
- “Within five years, I will become an international authority on writing for the Web.”
- “My mission, should I decide to accept it, is to make at least $100,000 a year as a freelance copywriter.”
- “I will establish a successful freelance writing business with an emphasis on books and articles that inspire others to be their very best.”
- Again, this is not the time to be modest or cautious; lofty goals raise the bar for us, inspire to try just that much harder. Make your mission worth it.
A Summary of Your Business
Next, develop an overview of what you envision your business to be, based on your mission. In the executive summary, describe your writing experience, your business goals (Do you plan to work on this part time? Full time? Will you remain a solo practitioner, or do you plan to hire other writers someday?), the kinds of services you will offer, and the types of customers you will target. You don’t need to go into detail here; your executive summary should not run over two pages long.
In this section, spell out what kinds of writing services you aim to provide, an explanation on how you plan to provide it (for example, will you work strictly via fax and email, or require face-to-face interviews with clients?), and how you believe your business will differ from others providing similar products. The more detail you include here, the better – this is one of the sections you will refer to when developing your promotional strategy and marketing campaign.
Whom will you target? Are you staying local or going global? Will you court large corporations or small businesses? Advance research before writing this section will save you a great deal of effort and worry down the road, since you will already have accumulated information on who could use your services. You can also use the information you gather to help you develop the next section of your business plan, which is…
Your Marketing Plan
Now decide how you will reach your potential customers, and the costs associated with doing so. Direct mail, business cards, web site, classified advertising, giving seminars and lectures – set out to try them all, or in any combination, until you hit upon what works for you. Develop a calendar for each phase of your promotional campaign. Work up a slogan. Create a logo, or a telephone script. In the beginning, you will spend the lion’s share of your time concentrating on this aspect of your business, so be sure create a plan that you will find challenging, fun, effective, and within whatever budget you have set aside for yourself.
Your Fiscal Goals
Finally, map out what you ideally want to earn from your endeavors. How much would you need to earn in a month, a week, or daily, less your expenses, in order to reach your yearly goal? Doing this will enable you to set your rates, decide on which sorts of projects to accept or turn down, and further define your target markets.
Help With Your Plan
If this all seems overwhelming, rest assured that there is help available to you. Yes, there is a “Dummies” book on writing business plans! On the Web, the best tools for business plan development I was able to locate include the tutorial provided by the Small Business Association (sbaonline.sba.gov/starting) and the Canadian Business Service Center’s Interactive Business Planner (pegasus.cbsc.org:4000). If one of these can’t get you started, there exists a host of consultants who would certainly do so for a fee.
There is a saying that goes: “Plan your work, work your plan.” This is not a chicken-and-egg dilemma. Following the first three words by developing your own personal business plan will make the last three words so much easier to accomplish.