Business Plans for Writers

The starting point for every new business should be a good, clear business plan — and our writing business is no different.  It’s an important tool, for example, in talking to potential financial backers, whether that’s the friendly local bank-manager (and I bet there are some of those out there, somewhere) or Great Aunt Lucy, who’s loaded and looking for a safe investment for her cash. But more importantly, it’s a great way of organising our thoughts and plans into a logical framework before taking that step of ditching the day job.

A business plan shouldn’t be a complicated document to develop. Our business plan is a road map for our business.  We probably won’t have to look at it too often once we get started and know where we are going.  But it’s a great planning tool when we start out.  It can also be useful to revisit it every year to see whether our predictions were correct and to check whether our objectives are still the same as before or whether we need to change direction.

Preparing a business plan is a simple process that can be done easily in a short space of time. In fact, it’s something we should be able to do in our lunch hour (or at most, a week’s worth of lunches) by thinking about a series of questions. However, it is an important first step in getting our business started.  Here are my top tips for writing that first business plan.
  • What do I write? In other words, what are you going to sell to people?  It may be fiction: short stories, novellas or novels.  It may be non-fiction: articles for magazines, newspapers, websites; textbooks or how-to books on your specialist subject. Starting out, it’s likely to be a mix of the above and it may well always be a wide range. You need to start with a clear idea of the type of writing you are going to offer.
  • Who will buy my writing? Who are the people that need your writing?  Are you selling to other writing businesses (editors or publishers of books or magazines); to non-writing businesses (whether that’s a large corporation that needs your expertise in writing technical reports or copy for their annual report or the guy down the road who needs helps writing the copy for his new website); or direct to your readership (self-publishing)?
  • How will I promote my writing? This is critical.  If you don’t promote writing, no-one will know about it and you will have no customers.  The answer to the second question is critical here.  Once you know who your customers are and where to find them, you can plan your promotional campaigns.  These can be a simple as word-of-mouth networking or as complex as a full marketing campaigns with advertisements and give-aways. They will almost certainly contain a large element of social networking, so if you are someone who sniffs at the thought of using Facebook, or refuses to even learn what Twitter is — get over it! (Mind you, that’s not you, is it?  After all, you found your way to this blog.)
  • What should I charge for my writing? You need a clear view of the appropriate price for your writing.  If it is too high, people won’t be willing to pay.  If it’s too low, people may be suspicious of the quality and go elsewhere.  Have a look at what the competition is doing and decide on the right level to pitch it at. (But remember that people will tend to pay less for an untested product, so be willing to compromise until you have a track record.)
  •  What are the financial issues? Once you have a clear view of what you are going to sell, to whom, how and at what price, you can then do the sums and see whether it’s going to work or not.  Make a sensible estimate of expected sales over the first year, remembering that it might be slow to start with.  It’s better to be pessimistic at this point.  If you underestimate, it’s not a problem.  If you overestimate, you could get into difficulties.  Then estimate the costs that you need to spend in order to support that level of sales.  Remember to consider direct costs like materials (although for a writer, these are relatively low, unless you have shiny notebook syndrome) plus indirect costs like electricity, postage and internet charges.  Compare the money coming in with money going out.  Is there likely to be a surplus or will you need to make up a shortfall to start with?  If so, identify sources of finance, whether it’s selling the car, borrowing from friends or relatives or going to the bank for a loan.

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By Elizabeth Ducie

Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.

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