Being a writer who wants to achieve viability and a long-term career means you are a ‘business’, defined as ‘the activity of making one's living or making money by producing or buying and selling products (such as goods and services)’. Your writing career is probably going to be a one-man or one-woman business, but if you want to develop it as a career, it still needs a written business plan that focuses on the essentials regarding organisational structure, products and services offered, marketing strategy, sales strategy and a clear description of your financial strategy.
Prospective investors include more than your readers — banks and other creditors will evaluate your plan before providing you a single penny, and you may need external help from such people to keep going, especially in the early years. That may sound intimidating, but don’t panic.
Here are 7 basic steps toward formulating a coherent business plan
1. Set out a template, something like this:
Products and services
Or you can use any number of off-the-shelf templates and tools to help produce a clear format.
2. Describe your business
Begin writing your plan by describing your business, including any pen name that you use.
What markets do you serve, and how do your books or stories serve those markets?
What unique features will make your fiction competitive?
How will your readers find out about your work?
Will your organisation as a writer be as effective as your competitors? i.e. will you be able to produce the required volume of work over time?
3. Analyse your market
Identify who needs your fiction (i.e., identify demand), and/or figure out whether you need to create demand.
Describe the market dimensions, including geographic and demographic, as much as you can.
Describe the logic behind your estimate of market share you can capture with your fiction.
4. Describe your fiction in detail
What exactly will you offer and how will you produce it? Tie this in closely with your marketing plan below.
5. Develop your marketing plan AND a sales plan
Describe your marketing strategy, including advertising and promotion, pricing, and where to buy.
How will you make potential readers aware of the superior or unique aspects of your fiction?
What is your Value Proposition? This is an important thing to work out, and your Author Prospectus should have helped you with this. Your Value Proposition is a statement which identifies clear, measurable and demonstrable benefits that readers get when buying your fiction. It should convince potential readers that your fiction is better than others on the market. This proposition needs to give you a competitive advantage when readers pick your particular book over other competitors because they perceive greater value.
Your sales plan describes how you’ll execute your market strategy, include selling channels – online, retail location, from home, at book signings, etc.
6. Create financial projections
When you start, you have zero income and it looks like zero prospects. Creating financial projections means using your imagination but as realistically as possible to show where you think you’ll be in one year, then two years, then three years. Include a balance sheet, income statement, and cash-flow statement. Will you have enough income to pay your bills? Will you earn enough to at least break even? How long before you start earning a profit?
This starts off largely as make believe, but as a writer you know all about that. The trick is to make these projections conservative enough to remain real — don’t imagine that you will begin to break even within your first two years. Most small businesses don't start to see profits until after three years of production.
The big advantage you have as a writer as opposed to other businesses is that your overheads are very low — you have no employees, and your day-to-day expenses should be minimal.
7. Register your business
If you want to be an official ‘start-up’ business, with tax and other business procedures clear and up front, you’ll need to set up an actual business entity in your local area. This means setting up a ‘headquarters’ and making sure you contact and register with all appropriate authorities.
My advice is don’t get too tangled up in all this — it can be a big distraction and waste a lot of time. It’s only really important when you’re trying to convince a bank or someone else that you are a ‘real business’, worth lending money to.
Concentrate on the first 6 steps above.
A good plan laid out clearly and looking realistic will go a long way toward obtaining capital from private investors in form of equity or debt and obtaining loans from credit providers such as local banks. It will also help to convince you that what you’re doing is serious.
Make changes to your business plan as necessary. Work back and forth between your business plan and your Author Prospectus until everything makes sense.
The investment you make in preparing a proper business plan can seem a little tedious at times, but as it takes shape, it can help materialise the idea that you are actually a writer in your universe - and in other people's universes.