Building Your Business

4 Steps to Creating a Freelancing Business Plan You’ll Actually Use

By Grace Bello January 31st, 2014

How much money do you want to make this year?

Obviously more than you do now. Who wouldn’t want that? But for freelance writers, tackling those money questions is the key to developing a business plan that maximizes income and minimizes stress.

Here, fellow freelancers with business plans offer simple tips for setting, charting, and reaching your big goals.

1. Create your vision statement.

Lee Silber, a novelist and author of Time Management for the Creative Person, takes a big picture view –- literally. Using a vision board, he charts his plan for the year using images related to his projects and the rewards he’ll get for completing them, such as a vacation in Hawaii.

“We’re writers. We’re creative people,” he says. “I don’t think a calendar-based business plan is the way to go.” Writers can use Pinterest or Tumblr to create their own digital vision boards for everyday inspiration.

Whether you’re a visual thinker or not, taking a big-picture view of your life and work will help inform your business plan. So whether you’re more inclined to make a vision board or write a vision statement, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is your ideal work/life balance?
  • What are your long-term career goals?
  • What are your personal goals?

Clarify what you want, then build the plan to make it happen.

2. Break down your financial goals.

Katarina Kovacevic, a freelance writer and content strategist, has been making her own business plans for three years, and aims to make about as much money as she did when she worked full-time in PR. This means breaking down her annual salary into monthly goals.

“As a freelance writer, you’re a small business, and you have to think of yourself in that way,” she says.

Top freelancer Virginia Sole-Smith takes her planning one step further. Because so many publications fold or get their budgets slashed, she advises writers to pad their goals: “Take your income goal…and add 25 percent. This is your Accrual Goal.” She offers an example:

1. Let’s say you want to earn $50,000 next year.

2.Income Goal + 25% Rate of Attrition = Accrual Goal

$50,000 + $12,500 = $62,500

3. $62,500 / 4 = $15,625 is how much you need to accrue every quarter.

$62,500 / 12 = $5,208 is how much you need to accrue every month.

When it comes to predicting your annual salary, don’t just pluck a number from thin air. Account for the clients who may fall by the wayside by setting quarterly and monthly goals. Parsing your plan monthly makes the money problem less overwhelming and helps you focus more on completing work.

3. Map out how you’ll grow your business.

Of course, money isn’t the only essential in your business plan. You should keep non-monetary goals in mind as well, which could include: developing new multimedia skills, brand building, and cultivating a social media presence.

Emma Johnson is a business journalist and creator of the Although she has contributed to publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, “The dollar value on articles is going down and down and down,” she observes. “I want to own my stuff; I want creative control.”

This year, she aims to double her blog traffic and bump up her email list by 1,000 addresses per month to build an audience for her upcoming self-published books. “The goal would be to replace my business-journalism income with personal brand income,” she says.

4. List the clients you want to keep – and the ones you want to land.

Kovacevic says her business plan spells out what aspects of her work she wants to improve. One big concern for her is efficiency, so she tracks time spent on each project.

“As a freelancer, you’re worried. Where are my projects coming from? But if you say yes to everything, then you’re not making enough money from some of those projects,” she says.

Tracking her hours helps her evaluate which projects are worth her time and which ones aren’t. Free time-tracking tools like TogglHoursTracker, or Harvest Time & Expense Tracker help you whether better judge the clients you have are worth keeping.

Kovacevic also develops her business by listing the pie in the sky clients she’d love to write for. Then, during downtime, she researches their edit calendars for the year to see how she might fit in.

As you embark on your business plan, “shoot really big,” Johnson advises. Whether that means aiming for a better salary, more time with family, or more prestigious clients, thinking big provides more than just structure. “It articulates your dreams.”

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