I’m going to be honest with all of you – I suck at writing business plans.
In fact, despite operating four separate companies over the past seven years, I’ve only ever written a true, formal business plan as part of a Home Ec project in high school.
It’s not that I don’t think writers need to have business plans. Quite the contrary! Although it’s unlikely that most freelance writers will ever need to seek out bank loans or other types of financing (typically the impetus behind crafting traditional business plans), we do still need the structure of a plan to ensure that we’re meeting goals and growing our businesses in a sustainable, financially-savvy way.
So that said, here’s my “short cut,” DIY method for coming up with a viable business plan that doesn’t waste time on cheesy mission statements or unnecessary financial projections:
Section #1 – What type of writing do I want to do?
The absolute first step to writing your freelance writer business plan is to determine what kind of writing you want to do.
In my case, the types of writing I choose to focus on include:
- Website blog posts
- Website copy
- Ghostwritten ebooks
- Business marketing materials
- Business whitepapers
Your list might look totally different. If you’re focusing exclusively on web clients, the first three options on this list might comprise your entire business plan. Or, if you want to see your name in print, prioritizing magazine and newspaper work might play a larger role in your guide.
Really, it’s best to start your business plan off by focusing on the type of work you actually want to do. That’ll make you much happier in the long run than investing effort into projects you don’t really enjoy.
Section #2 – How much money do I need to make?
As a freelancer, you simply can’t earn the same rates as you did as an employee – and you can’t bid for projects or go into contract negotiations without a clear idea of your business and personal overhead.
Super writer Tom Ewer of the Leaving Work Behind blog put together a killer post on setting your freelancing rates over on Lifehacker recently, and I highly recommend taking a look if you haven’t ever put much thought into your prices.
The general idea, though, is to account for business-specific expenses, personal expenses and estimated tax payments, as all of these items need to be taken into account when setting your rates.
To give you a feel for how this method will ensure your expenses are covered, consider the following estimated expenses you might have as a freelance writer, based on my own past experiences:
- $570/month – Health insurance
- $250/month – Retirement contributions
- $65/month – Dental insurance
- $60/month – Disability insurance
- $25/month – Life insurance
- $50/month – Coworking space membership
- $25/month – Freelance Writers Den membership
- $10/month – Web hosting
- $10/month – Email newsletter service
That’s a total of $1,065/month – without even touching your mortgage payment, grocery bills or sushi budget.
So now, let’s take this and assume that you want to earn a “normal” salary of $75,000/year (or, $6,250/month). Factoring in an estimated 15% in taxes, you’ll need to earn a total of around $8,415/month in order to meet your income requirements. Breaking that down over four 20-hour work weeks (remember, as a freelancer, not all of your time will be billable), your target rates need to be around $100/hour.
Will you always hit that number? Not necessarily. Some weeks, you’ll make more and some weeks you’ll make less. You may decide to take on projects for less if you think they’ll offer good exposure or the potential for repeat business; in other cases, you may snag a job that pays above your usual rates so that you’re able to work less.
However, by knowing what you need to make, you’re able to approach business decisions from a much more realistic standpoint – one that ensures you’ll never come up short at the end of the month because you weren’t charging enough for your work.
Section #3 – How will I find clients?
The final step in this simplified business planning process is to figure out how you’ll get these clients. There are hundreds of different ways to market your freelance writing business, but a few of my favorites include:
- Replying to job boards
- Networking on social media platforms
- Asking for referrals
- Querying specific businesses that meet my target criteria (typically, marketing agencies and mid-sized businesses)
Your preferred methods may vary. If you love cold calling, put that in your business plan and make it a priority throughout your day. There’s no right or wrong way to complete any of these sections – what’s most important is that you create a framework for yourself that’ll keep you on track when it comes to finding and retaining well-paying clients.
Truly, your business plan doesn’t need to include more than the kind of clients you want to take on, what you need them to pay you and how you’ll find them. You can make things more complicated if you really want to, but I think you’ll be far better off if you put that extra effort into actually putting your plan into action!
Once you’ve finished your plan, don’t just save it as a Word doc and never open it again. Come back to it at least once every few months to figure out if you’re on track or if your plan needs some revisions. Think of your DIY business plan as a living, breathing business guide and put it to work for you whenever you’re trying to figure out your next steps forward!
Do you have a business plan for your freelance writing career? If so, share your experiences with planning this crucial document in the comments section below!
I started out as a freelance writer and wrote a business plan with a much bigger vision in mind – to turn my firm into a full-fledged business writing company. It worked – so well in fact, that most of what we write now are business plans for other companies! We have products for the DIY-ers too. It’s been a blast building my little freelance writing company into a team of amazing content creators.
Which reminds me, it’s time to update our plan again…!
Ha – that’s awesome! What a cool story, and thanks for sharing your success 🙂
Love that you have a sushi budget.
I’m not great at factoring in budget. I’m so accustomed to income fluxes, I just assume it’s normal to make nothing one month, then 3x my normal average the next, then somewhere in the middle the next. While I know that can happen with income, having a budget would probably help me focus in on what type of gigs I need to be looking for in terms of rates.
You’ve given me a lot to think about.
(ps – and thanks for your comment on my guest post on studying your competition for success 🙂
Haha – I’m willing to compromise on a lot of things, but the sushi budget is not one of them 🙂
As for income fluctuations, one thought might be to seek out a few regular weekly/monthly projects. When I’m freelancing, I do a lot of blog post projects and while they don’t always pay as much as other types of business writing, it’s nice to know that the income will be steady.
But yes, definitely have an idea of what you need to make to keep your business sustainable! Just knowing how your expenses fall makes it much easier to mentally deal with charging the rates you need to 🙂
This post reminds me I need to check my biz plan, which consists of a few goals in a blog post about how I don’t like business plans! LOL (I linked it.)
Your plan is much more detailed, and I agree Tom’s post was cool and useful.
I need to dig through your site more. I totally want to guest post for you!
Willi – I’d love to hear a guest post pitch from you 🙂 Best of luck updating your business plan!
Great post, Sarah! Querying new businesses is probably my biggest weakness. Most of my clients have been through job sites and referrals, and I probably need a more coherent strategy/more help in building up the cold contact side of my marketing.
Great tips as always.
Now, I hate business plans too. They sound void of creativity and end up being not motivating. That’s not to say I don’t know (or check) what I’m doing, and I use questions like the ones you listed. And even if I tend to neglect one group of questions, your posts never fail to remind me, in a fun way…:)
I’m relaunching a freelance career after a hiatus as a teacher and newspaper writer. I wasn’t especially successful in the past and decided if I was going to do it differently this time, one thing I needed was a business plan. I found your site while surfing the internet looking for advice and am really glad I found you! I’ll be checking back here.
I’ve been a freelance writer for a long time and recently purchased the domain “http://www.PayForWords.com” Any tips? Thanks!
Thank you for showing an example of how to write a clear and simple business plan. I needed to re-write mine, which was very basic and now I realize what I was missing.