I’ve been a freelance editor for almost seven years. In those seven years, I never took the time to write a business plan. Sure, I thought about it, and I jotted down specific goals and made long term plans, but I never wrote those goals and plans down in an organized outline form. That changed a few weeks ago.

As a freelance editor, have you written a business plan? If you haven’t, it’s time to change your ways.

What’s a business plan?

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering what’s all the excitement surrounding business plans. You might not even know what a business plan is. A business plan is really a lesson plan for your business; it’s a road map. It’s what you intend to do and how you intend to do it. Several books discuss business plans and tell you how to write them. The three that I have on my bookshelf are: Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers: A Guide for New Starters by Louise Harnby, First Timer’s Guide: How to Write Your First Business Plan by Boomy Tokan, and The Right Brain Business Plan: A Creative, Visual Map for Success by Jennifer Lee.

Louise Harnby goes into great detail in her book Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers: A Guide for New Starters. When defining a business plan, Louise says: “A business plan is a document written by you that clearly outlines the tasks ahead, the objective/goal of each task, and some information about how you are going to achieve each one.”

If you’re still confused about the length of a business plan and think it has to be a white paper or dissertation, Dr. Freelance, aka. Jake Poinier, says, “It’s a no-holds-barred list of things that are definitely accomplishable, as well as some ‘reach goals.’” He adds that “the specifics aren’t important; it’s much more about the brainstorming.”

Louise agrees and says, “the business plan forces you to think strategically about the field you are entering, your target market, the skills and training you need, and how long it will take you to get the work you need.”

Other books about business plans

If you want a purely business aspect to business plans, one that will take you through the process step-by-step, you may be interested in the First Timer’s Guide: How to Write Your First Business Plan by Boomy Tokan. The book is filled with two templates. One is for a comprehensive business plan, and the other template can help you write a business plan in just a few hours.

Boomy’s book breaks the traditional business plan into five parts: the summary; the marketing plan; operations plan; financial plan; and appendices. The book is helpful, but it’s definitely geared more for the business person, not to the editorial freelancer like me. I learned a great deal from the book, but I found myself lost in the business language.

If you’re interested in a creative approach to business plans, you might be interested in The Right Brain Business Plan: A Creative, Visual Map for Success by Jennifer Lee. Jennifer’s book is definitely for the right brained individual, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s filled with illustrated, colorful worksheets and step-by-step instructions that are playful but practical. In the book, right brained individuals, who may be more visual than others, can define and also see their visions.

This book, like Louise’s, is filled with tips, but the tips also force you to get out of your chair and move as part of the process. For example, the Right-Brain Booster on page 44 tells the reader to get up and move your body. It even tells you to make some noise. The book also refers to the mission statement as the “Voice: Your Passion and Purpose Proclamation.” There are play sheets and exercises throughout the book that continue in this lighthearted vein. It’s definitely my kind of book!
How detailed does your plan need to be?

I found all three books filled with good information, and each appeals to a specific audience. Since I’m a person who believes in blending ideas, I took a little from all three when I decided to get serious about business plans. And when I say get serious about business plans, I got serious about what I want to achieve in the coming year.

My personal business plan doesn’t include the financial information you need to include when applying for a loan, information a banker would be interested in and information that’s included in all three books, because I’m not interested in applying for a loan. It also doesn’t include all of the great visuals that are included in Jennifer’s book because I was in a hurry to get my ideas down on paper. That isn’t to say that I won’t go back and work the exercises or create a poster. It would be great to create a poster and put it one of the walls in my office. I’d see it every day and think about my goals more than once a year.

I definitely plan to work every exercise in Jennifer’s marketing chapter. I see them as a way to extend my way of thinking. The exercises might make me focus on what I’m missing and expand my horizons.

How often should you revise your business plan?

If you’re like a lot of freelancers, you probably think about a business plan at the end of the year and again as a new year begins. You may take time at the end of the year to appreciate your accomplishments, and you might even take a pen and cross things off your business plan. The act of crossing items off the list is cathartic. It’s like a mini pat on the back.

I asked Jake for some advice on how often a business plan should be revised and he said, “I generally sit down sometime during the holidays at a coffee shop, no phone, no Internet, no distractions, for two hours or so and do a brain dump—reviewing how I did this year and writing down all of the things I want to accomplish in the coming year.”

Even though it hasn’t been that long since I wrote my detailed business plan, I plan to do as Jake suggests and revisit it again in during the holidays to see how I’m progressing. I definitely want to start the New Year off right. Who knows, maybe you’re ready to do as Lori Widmer of wordsonpageblog.com does. Jake says that she does a monthly recap on her blog, breaking her efforts down by number of queries sent, letters of introduction, new client meetings, etc. I don’t think I’m even close to being ready to go into that much detail, but I very much admire someone who does. Maybe you’re at this point in your business. If you are, try doing what Lori does and see if it works for you.

Some final thoughts

Finally, Jake shared a great story with me that put all of this in perspective. He said he remembers hearing a motivational speaker, the late Bob Moawad, tell a story that applies here. Jake said Bob was working with a salesperson who had a goal of $500,000 in sales for the year. By June, he’d had an awesome year, and had reached 80 percent of his goal! But the problem was, he didn’t sit down and reset his goal—maybe saying he would try for $800,000, which would have been reachable based on his fast start. As you might guess, he ended the year at exactly $500,000. Yes, he achieved his goal, but he squandered an opportunity to take his business to a whole new level.

If you’re having a good year as a freelancer, don’t rest on your laurels; revisit your business plan often, maybe monthly, and see what you can do and what needs tweaking. Don’t wait until December to do a review. If reviewing your business plan every month doesn’t work for you, think about getting in the habit of revising it quarterly.

Jake is right when he says, “The key to success with a business plan is what you do afterward. It can’t just be something you do in January and then let it gather dust; you need to associate action steps with each of the goals you set.” No matter how detailed your business plan is it won’t help you take your business to the next level unless you know what that level is and how to get there.

Copyright 2013 by MorningStar Editing and Cassie Armstrong