But all that entails actually being a business, and that concept can be scary to a lot of people. For all the talk these days about having a “side hustle,” moonlighting, solopreneurism, and the general “woo entrepreneurship!” culture we’re in, starting your own business can seem intimidating. Don’t you need to file tons of paperwork? Deal with tax issues and accountants? Wear a suit?
Okay, so there is some paperwork involved, you do have to keep good records of what you’ve spent and what you’ve made, and you should really look into setting up a dedicated office (even if it’s just a corner of the spare bedroom), but I promise, no suits are required. Structuring your writing as a business is the smart thing to do, and you can do it in your pajamas.
The first step is your business plan.
Don’t run away! This isn’t some crazy eighty-page missive with pie charts and P&L estimates and audits from humorless men in dark suits.
Your writing business plan is just a list, a tool to help you identify your goals and keep you on track while proving to the government that, yes, your writing is a proper business.
Unlike factories, restaurants, startups, and other types of businesses, writing businesses don’t usually require outside investors. There’s normally only one person involved—you, the writer—so you don’t need those spreadsheets, graphics, and PowerPoint decks you may have heard about in that business class in college.
Instead, what you need is a clear idea of what you’re aiming to do, and how you plan to get there. Having this written down lets you reference it later if you’re floundering, remind yourself of what you’re doing and why, revise as life happens, and, as a bonus, prove to the government that your writing is a business, not a hobby, and therefore worthy of extra tax deductions.
So what does that clear idea and plan look like? It can be more formal, such as a presentation or nicely designed PDF, or it can be a simple typed goal statement and plan of attack. Let’s look at Jennifer Smith’s writing business plan.
As you can see, a business plan can be very simple, and can encompass big goals or small ones. Obviously, it’s best to stick with goals that are reasonable, but a little challenging. You don’t want to get discouraged because you’re not making your goal of $75,000/year and a boat in the Caribbean right away, but you want a little more challenge than just selling a $10 article every other month.
The most straightforward business plans, the ones most suited for a small writing business, are simple. As you see in Jennifer’s example, all you really need is an overall goal (that is, the reason why are you writing professionally), a few years’ worth of steps that will help you reach that goal, and some financial milestones that will help you know if you’re getting there. At first, you might want to break it down even further, such as by setting monthly goals for the first year that will help you know exactly what you need to be doing to move to your ultimate Year 1 goal.
Once you’re in the thick of things with your business, you can check back against your business plan every few months to see how you’re doing. What do you need to adjust? In Jennifer’s case, she may have a hard time finding enough places to sell articles on exotic fish, so perhaps she should branch out into travel writing about her scuba-diving trips. That might help her meet her Year 3 goals—although she’ll have to sell a lot more than six articles per month to do so. Adding a book about her life with fish could help.
With professional editing and development as needed, a book about your area of expertise can really help move your business to the next level and give you some great new goals to set for Year 4 and beyond!
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