When I first started out as a freelancer, I began to often hear about how I needed to make up my mind over what exactly the nature of my involvement with my writing was — did I see myself as a worker for hire, or was I in business as a talent manager signing myself up as my only client? Artists and writers, among other one-man operations, often need to make up their minds. Knowing the true nature of your involvement helps you think clearly, and make decisions and choices that wouldn’t otherwise occur to you.
The moment I decided that I saw myself as a talent entrepreneur signing myself up, I began to think like a businessman. I quickly realized, for instance, that it was ridiculous to consider myself an entrepreneur when I didn’t so much as have a business plan. I buckled down to it right away. My decision to see my work as a business made my life snap into focus.
Focus on finding a mission, and write a statement about it
If you’ve always simply seen yourself as an artist with a pen, thinking about things like business plans and financial projections might be unpleasant. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. For the most part, creating a plan is fun.
Your first step should be to think philosophically about how you see your involvement with your writing. You should then put down what you see in a mission statement. This works out so well, even artists who don’t see themselves as entrepreneurs often try it.
Your mission statement should involve your aspirations, your motivations, and the things that you hope to be remembered for. List your strengths, the opportunities you see, ideas about where you want to be in your business one day, your values for what you will and won’t write, and the points that you’re willing to put in your elevator pitch. All you need to do is to mix all of them together. A mission statement isn’t some airy-fairy idea. UpWork, a leading freelancing service, for instance, recommends that every freelancer work on a mission statement.
Let your mission statement help you form your business plan
Working on a business plan should help you truly think about what it is that you believe you can achieve as a freelancer; it can force you to look closely at how other freelancers manage their businesses, think about how they achieve success, learn their methods, and apply them to your own context. Your business plan for the year can include not only the goals that you wish to reach for the immediate future, such as getting an article into the New York Times or Vogue, but also information about the number of articles that you wish to have published, and how much time you wish to devote to your family or to personal pursuits. You can also think about where you see yourself in the long-term.
You wouldn’t normally find yourself thinking deeply about your goals if it weren’t for the need to create such a plan.
Create financial goals, and break them down
Creating a financial plan for your business is one of the best ways to motivate yourself to work hard. A tentative financial goal can be simple enough to draw up — you only need to think of a figure for what you hope to make. Most people starting out in freelancing decide to aim to make as much as they made at their day job when they worked.
When I write out a business plan, I put down the figure that I really need to see coming in — $50,000 a year for me at first — and then add on a further 25%; it is a sneaky way to make sure that if I fall short, I still never fall that far. I then divide my yearly target by 12 to arrive at the sum I must make each month. Having a figure such as this to hold on to can be an excellent incentive. If it’s a week into the month, and I haven’t achieved 25% of my target, the knowledge motivate s me to try harder.
Map out a plan for how you believe it will actually happen
It makes no sense to simply pluck a figure for your financial goal out of thin air — you do need to base it on reality — clients that you already have, or ones that you believe you’ll be able to land can be a start.
I was so nervous about not making my target over my first year that I simply decided to accept everything that came my way, even if it meant lowering my price. I realized over time, though, that it didn’t make sense to lower the price; if anything, it was important to raise them.
Whether it’s the local papers or the national ones, the prices of articles simply keep falling. Any writer who shows the slightest inclination to drop their prices will usually find themselves on a slippery slope. The idea should be to not lower your prices unless there’s a special reason, such as an opportunity to write for a prestigious client whose name would look good on your resume.
A blog to call your own should always be a part of your business plan
Freelancing isn’t simply about finding work to do from one day to the next. Rather, it is about going out there, and establishing yourself as a presence, or a brand as entrepreneurs call it. It’s important for every freelancer to start their own blog or magazine with some of their greatest ideas. A respectable online presence can be one of the most effective ways to find new clients. As you gather readers, you will begin to gain authority and a name for yourself in your field. Authority is what brings in clients.
Of course, simply having a website with great articles won’t really do. You need to market yourself, and measure your success. Aim for at least 500 new sign-ups to your website’s newsletter each month. Find ways to promote your blog’s brand by guest posting, and perhaps by tapping your professional contacts on LinkedIn. Aim to be a quotable writer; having insightful quotes to your name is one of the fastest ways to get on the major publications. Journalists are always looking for quotes to use.
Do your market research
Market research isn’t just something that you need to do at first; it’s a perennial part of your business. It helps you find out what the capacity of the market is to support your work. While information tends to not be readily available, a few resources do exist. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a page for writers and authors. It can also help to consult with other freelancers on various forums.
Having information to hand on the hopes you have can help you decide on the amount of effort that you need to put into expanding your reach.
Finally, understand that the planning never ends
Planning must necessarily be ongoing, refined each day as you learn more and more about your business. The act of planning keeps your mind focused on where you’re headed, and how you can improve. It’s what Eisenhower meant in this quote: In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.