An American Editor

September 25, 2013

Why No Business Plan?

I was recently asked why I haven’t written about creating a business plan. After all, books I recommend, such as Louise Harnby’s Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers: A Guide for New Starters (see Worth Noting: Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers), all suggest starting with a business plan, as do any of the basic business books you find in your library or bookstore.

The answer is because few freelancers will take the time or make the effort to create a business plan.

And this simply highlights why so many freelancers struggle or fail: It is because they are not business people and resist becoming a member of the business class.

I don’t disagree that a business plan is often crucial to success. The primary reason this is true is because creating a business plan does three things: (a) it forces one to think like a business; (b) it forces one to think about business; and (c) it forces one to act like a business.

Many years ago I taught a marketing class for editors and a publishing class for authors. In both classes, I spent time talking about creating a plan and why it was necessary. After the passage of much time, I would ask people who took the class, “Did you ever create a plan?” With rare exception, the answer was “no.”

The reasons (excuses) were the same no matter who was asked, and could be boiled down to “no time,” “too much effort required,” or “I tried but found it too much for me — I’m an artist not a business person.” Consequently, I rarely talk about business planning any more; I think it is a topic that gets lots of yes, you are rights followed by a near equal number of but not for me reactions.

Unfortunately, business planning is really a crucial first step in climbing the ladder to success. Although I call it “business” planning, what I really mean is “task” planning. Marketing requires a plan; writing requires a plan; babysitting requires a plan; even grocery shopping requires a plan. Different tasks require plans of different complexities and depths, but plans nonetheless.

Many editors are afraid of or uncomfortable with the business aspects of freelancing because they have not been previously exposed, in the decision-making position, to those aspects. But it is the business aspects that ultimately will determine how successful one is as a freelancer, and the easiest way to tackle the business aspects of freelancing is to draft a business plan.

Tackling a business plan means you have to think about your business needs — what needs to be done; when it needs to be done; why it needs to be done; how it needs to be done. There is your start: what, when, why, how.

Depending on its purpose, a business plan can be a very complex document or it can be a series of tackled items, each assigned a single sheet of paper that identifies the issue and answers the what, when, why, how questions. If you want to obtain a small business loan, the plan needs to be significantly more detailed — the lending agency will require ever more detail — but as a guide for your self-sustaining business, it need not be very complex.

And that is exactly what a business plan is — a document to guide you. It is where you debate with yourself about how you will conduct your business, what you will do to expand it, how much you will charge, and everything else that is the business side of freelancing. A business plan, no matter how simple, is only a guide to dealing with complex issues and every business plan is subject to regular review and change, like scheduled maintenance.

When I started my business, I didn’t create a business plan, and my income reflected that lack. I remedied that lack and saw my business grow quickly to where I wanted it to be. The plan wasn’t cast in stone; it simply formed a core guide and as circumstances changed, so did my plan as I tried to think about the future.

Here I am touting the virtues of a business plan even though I realize few, if any, readers will create one if they haven’t already made the effort to do so. One obstacle is time. But no one says you need to sit down and do a business plan in one session; in fact, you shouldn’t. It is hard to think and reflect analytically about career-affecting things in a single session; better to cogitate over time. Business planning requires thinking, and because it does, I suggest you devote 15 minutes a day to creating a plan. Time yourself and even if you are in the middle of a thought, stop at the expiration of 15 minutes. If the thought was good, you’ll remember it tomorrow; it it isn’t, you didn’t waste any more time on it.

Start with one simple task: company name. It is not enough to say I will call my business Matilda’s Editing & Fresh Fruits; you have to explain why you chose that name, what clients it will draw, what clients it will repel, whether it will confuse your target audience, and so on. Only after fully exploring the ins and outs of Matilda’s Editing & Fresh Fruits as a name, can you say you have this part of the business plan done. (And don’t forget to apply the what, when, why, how questions to the business name and to all other topics.) When finished, move to the next topic.

Tackling topics one-by-one is a good way to build a business plan. Within a month, you will have a good foundation for your business and your business future. Once you have developed your first business plan, use it as a guide and in three to six months, restart the process as a review process. Go over the decisions you came to that are part of your business plan and determine if they work. If you are happy with how your business is progressing, maybe only a few tweaks are needed; if you are not, perhaps you need to do more than just tweak your plan.

Regardless, a business plan is a key to success in any business, but especially so in a business that affects you.


  1. I used Louise’s book coupled with ‘The Right-Brain Business Plan’ by Jennifer Lee to create my business plan… which turned into a giant poster, rather than a document. It doesn’t look very professional, but it appeals to my creative side, and it’s really easy to unfold it, glance at it, and get myself back on track. It has sections on my services, target clients, training and qualifications, marketing… Maybe I’ll create a more professional one in the future, but it was a good place for me to start!


    Comment by Sophie Playle — September 25, 2013 @ 5:43 am | Reply

  2. So . . . if you do all these things in your head vs. writing them down, does it mean you’ve not created a business plan?


    Comment by Carolyn — September 25, 2013 @ 6:28 am | Reply

    • Yes, that is what it means. A business plan, to be effective, needs to be written. The reason is that we will remember at best the gist of something, but we won’t remember all the details. In addition, it would be difficult for most people to recall all the details of a business plan from memory. It isn’t just a couple of items but a detailed blueprint of how one plans to operate one’s business for the foreseeable future.


      Comment by americaneditor — September 25, 2013 @ 8:09 am | Reply

  3. I’m one of the many who didn’t have a business plan in mind when I started freelancing full-time (I had done a lot on a moonlighting basis already), even though I pride myself on being business-like in many ways and consider myself pretty successful. Probably not all or enough, but many. If I were to start now, I would bullet out things like establishing and registering a business name; figuring out and budgeting for all the equipment and resources needed; setting up promotional materials such as business card, stationery, website, organizational memberships, etc.; topics to cover and types of work to do; colleagues to contact and markets to target (and when); training I might need; services to identify (accountant, attorney, etc.), and more.

    My booklets touch on these things as well, although probably not in as much detail as Louise’s book.


    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — September 25, 2013 @ 9:33 am | Reply

  4. For people with a creative mind, doing the narrative of a business plan is not as great a pain as when it comes to “guesstimating” income and expenses i.e the financials of a business plan. A narrative without the financials are just words. Every section in the narative will have costs associated with the section and this is where the lead breaks off from the pencil.

    How does anyone estimate income unless, first,unless they have come up with a fee schedule? To determine that, one has to place a slary the business will pay for time spent editing . . . and the time has to be marked up to come up with one’s editing fees. The difference between the two is what generates the money to cover expenses. (Note: the fee a client pays is not what an editor earns, it is what the businss earns.)

    Predicting income is like looking into a crysal ball. Who knows what jobs will come in tomorrow, next week, next month, etc? To start, pick a number of hours per week that would be minimal and then the number of hours per week that would not allow you do anything else. Some months will be combinations of both as well as some weeks that are inbwteen Enter those numbers in pencil. Remember they are only a guess. Not reaching that number only meant you guessed to high or if you did better, you guessed to low. As the real numbers come in, replace the old numberswith the new and you’ll see a pattern develop. Most likley the real numbers will relate to some variation of the “80/20 Rule”



    Comment by Alan J. Zell — September 25, 2013 @ 7:03 pm | Reply

    • Alan’s remarks touch the fringe of one of the challenges that I, and I’m sure other editors, have to deal with, and that is personality. Some people have aptitude and interest in business and its attendant features — marketing, for one; but other people don’t have that, and it has to be learned. It’s roughly akin to moving to a foreign country and needing to the learn the language and customs through full immersion, when you have a vertical-type mind that can only move in one direction. Or else the opposite: a horizontal or circular type of mind that shoots off in different directions and needs to fit into a slot. Learning to think is as much as skill as learning to type and edit.

      I struggle-struggle-struggle with business and technology basics. Intellectually, I know what must be done and roughly how to do it. But *making myself do it* and *doing it well* are a whole nother thing. For folks like American Editor, thinking in business and other logistical terms comes naturally. For myself and others, it’s climbing Mount Everest. This is not to say we shouldn’t learn the tools and mentalities if we want to achieve our goals — those are indeed necessary — it’s only to say that the degree of difficulty and time involved varies widely among individuals.

      For those of us climbing that mountain, there’s an experience that naturally business-savvy people usually don’t have to deal with: the face plant. Trying something and completely bombing. Getting lost in a maze that’s perfectly obvious to other people. It takes a long time to find one’s way, and recover from mistakes, just as it takes a long time to learn alien, unwelcome skills. This is a daily fight for me, and I am proud that I have come from face plant to full-time, successful work. Makes it possible to dream that I may yet make some real money and kiss the stresses of my life good-bye.

      I (we) are lucky that there are people like American Editor who are willing to spell things out for us in a public forum. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to succeed without that help. Having a creative and un-business-y mind and personality, which often help make a good editor, is a liability when one is self-employed. No counterbalancing minds available. Which makes a good case for what AE promotes — editors banding together in mutual support.


      Comment by Carolyn — September 25, 2013 @ 8:45 pm | Reply

      • For those of you who are US citizens or are in the US with a “green card” there is free help for putting together your business plan It is with 400 offices in the US or can work by eMail where an office is not close by. Go to and to “find a local chapter,” put in your zip code. You’ll get the contact information of the closest chapter(s). If one is not in your area, SCORE has a Cyberchapter, a group of counselors who work with clients by eMail.

        Or, If you are near a Community College, many have a Business Development Center that also offers the same services as SCORE


        Comment by Alan J. Zell — September 25, 2013 @ 9:58 pm | Reply

  5. Reblogged this on An Editor Writes and commented:
    Good thoughts on the importance of creating a business plan…for editors as well as for writers.


    Comment by brynsnow — September 25, 2013 @ 9:15 pm | Reply

  6. I shouldn’t stop what I’m doing to comment further, but what the heck – one of the great things about being a freelance writer or editor is that it takes so little to start up a business. But that’s also a problem. When something looks so easy, we overlook important things like planning and just plunge on in. If the plunge works, we may never stop to do any formal planning. One can get by with freelancing off the cuff, but good planning really does help make the business better.


    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — September 26, 2013 @ 9:30 am | Reply

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