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.