When I was at the Web Intensive this last February, I was so impressed with Pam Foster. Specifically, her level of organization made me realize how much more I could get out of my own business if I just put a little planning into it.
Knowing what to do (and when to do it) plays a big part in overcoming resistance. Resistance is one of the biggest productivity inhibitors you’ll ever encounter. In fact, most of your wasted time probably comes from resisting starting a project or resisting taking the next step. Resistance is a psychological mechanism meant to protect you. It usually rears its head when you’re uncertain about something. If you aren’t certain, then there’s a chance you’ll make a wrong choice, and so you resist. By avoiding making a choice, you protect yourself … at least in the short term.
But, if you have a plan, you’ll know what to do, which will eliminate most of your resistance. That means you’re less likely to find yourself surfing Facebook when you know you should be working on a project because you’ll actually know what it is you need to be doing to move your project forward.
So … planning. A business plan and a marketing plan can change the face of your business. They can change your outlook. Your approach. Your level of success. Your enjoyment. Everything.
But, wait a minute … what goes into these plans? See … there’s uncertainty. And, I’ll bet for a little minute there, you were thinking something like, “I don’t need a plan. I can fly by the seat of my pants. I’m doing fine so far. Lots of people work without a business plan.” That’s resistance! Tell it thanks, but that you want to make a plan anyway!
A Simple Approach to Your Business Plan
First, a business plan doesn’t have to be boring. You might be thinking of a typical business plan — the kind that small businesses use to seek funding from a bank or venture capitalist. Your business plan isn’t something you’re going to present for a big loan, so you can make it as long or as short as you want and need it to be. You can also word it to fit your personality and your passions.
In a typical business plan, you’d find things like an Executive Summary, a Mission Statement, a description of the company’s structure, an analysis of the market, and a financial statement, among other things.
That’s a little overkill for our purposes. I like to keep things simple and familiar because that keeps uncertainty and resistance at bay. So, for your business plan, start with the classic journalistic formula … only in a little different order.
What: In this section, describe who you are and what your company offers. If you’re a freelance web writer specializing in SEO copywriting … or a social media consultant who helps companies to build golden online reputations … or an e-commerce web writer who can help a company increase conversions, then this is the section to say so. Do you offer a variety of services? If so, then list them here and describe how each provides benefits to your clients. This is also the section to list your own credentials and the benefits you bring to a project.
Who: This is the section where you describe your ideal client. Do you want to work with big business or little companies? Do you want to work with B2B clients or B2C clients? Do you want to work with construction companies or alternative healthcare providers? Enterprise-level software companies or vineyard owners? Think about who you want to serve and describe them here.
Where: Will you work from home or from an office? Will you serve local companies? National? International? Will you connect only online or will you have sit-down meetings.
When: This section is simple. Outline when you will work. How many hours per week will you work? What’s your ideal work schedule?
Why: This is where you set your goals. Are you in business to make six-figures? Are you a freelance web writer because you want to quit your full-time job? Are you a full-time parent, looking to make a little extra income to supplement your household cash flow? Think about why you’re doing this — both in terms of income and lifestyle — and write your goals down in this section.
How: This is the big one. How includes everything from your marketing plan to your project process to your billing procedure to your follow-up plans. This is the meat, potatoes, and dessert of your business. It’s your “how” that will either delight your clients and keep them coming back or that will disappoint them and leave you always scrambling for new work. It’s the “how” that most of us gloss over.
- Marketing: This is so important I’m actually going to give it its own treatment in an upcoming article. Your marketing plan is how you will systematically put yourself in front of your prospects. The best marketing approach usually combines several tools into a cohesive campaign.
- Prospect Inquiries: Let’s say you’ve got your marketing materials put together and out in front of your target audience. You’re marketing consistently. And, then it happens. You get a call or an email from an interested prospect. How will you handle that inquiry? It’s easy to be nervous, so having a set of questions ready to ask new prospects is a good idea. You’ll want to know what sort of project your new prospect is planning, when they’re planning it for, and if they have a budget established. (You don’t need to know what that budget is yet, but knowing they indeed have a budget tells you they’re serious.) You may have other questions you’ll want to ask. Think about what those might be and get them together all in one place. That way, you’ll be ready whenever a new prospect asks you about taking on a project.
- Project Proposals: When you decide that a project and prospect are a good fit, and the prospect seems serious, it’s time to put together a proposal. If you do this from scratch every time, it can become prohibitive in terms of time. So, as part of your business plan, you’ll want to have a proposal template. The proposal should describe the work you plan to do, the results your work will aim to achieve, the timeline you’ll work to, the responsibilities of the client, and the project bid and payment terms. A well-written proposal should be able to easily become a contract just by having the client sign off on it.
- Project Process: How do you work? What steps do you go through on a project? This will differ widely from writer to writer and from specialty to specialty. Building a personal checklist of the things you need to do to achieve the results you want to deliver is a very good idea.
- Client Communication: How will you communicate with your clients during projects? Will you provide a weekly brief? Have a weekly meeting? A monthly review? Will you touch base at specific milestones? Also, what standard will you hold yourself to when it comes to unexpected client communications? Will you drop everything to take a client call or will you check voice mail two or three times a day? Will you communicate strictly through email? Having clear standards and boundaries will help you be consistent with your clients and consistency builds trust. It will also help prevent you from seeming overeager, and help you feel more in control.
- Project Wrap Up: What things will you do when a project wraps up? Will you do a review with your client? Get feedback? Ask for a testimonial? Knowing what you’re going to do ahead of time (and how you’ll do it) makes it easier to get this step done.
- Billing Procedure: There are lots of different billing methods. Half up front and half on completion is one of the most common. You could also do a third up front, a third at draft, and a third at completion. Spell out your billing procedure in your business plan and you’ll be better prepared to present it to your prospects and then stick to it.
- Client Follow Up: If you wrap up a project and then never follow up with your client, you are missing out on new business. Set follow-up milestones, and put them in your business plan.
I doubt many web writers wake up and think “Yay! I get to write my business plan today!” But, taking a day or two to write out your plan can provide you with a great deal of clarity about your web-writing business, and that translates into confidence. When you’re confident, you’re just easier to hire. So, get to work on your plan!
[Editor’s Note: Be sure to watch in June for my article dedicated to developing and implementing a marketing plan that is right for you!]