You may think you don’t need a freelance writing business plan. After all, it’s a pretty simple racket. There are few out-of-pocket expenses, no major capital outlays, no investors, and no employees.
What you will face, however, are a large number of decisions that need to be made about work-life balance, target markets, subscription-based software, continuing education and countless other issues that will continually arise as you travel down the freelance writing path..
So while you don’t need a full-featured business plan with all the bells and whistles, you will need a pared down version: a business plan particularly for freelance writing.
There are far more ways to create a business plan for freelance writing than the one I’m going to show you. This is just the process I followed (so I know it works). Feel free to tweak the structure wherever it suits you.
The Bones of your Freelance Writing Business Plan
At the very least, you’ll need a business name and a business structure.
Most people trade under their full legal name as a sole proprietorship. The reasons for this are myriad. With respect to the name, in order to do business under a name other than your full legal name you will usually need to register with your state or provincial business registration body.
The specific rules depend on your actual jurisdiction so be sure to check with your local Small Business Administration chapter, Chamber of Commerce, or a business attorney in order to be sure. However, in most cases, you’re permitted to trade under your legal name without registration because, theoretically, if someone wants to sue you or serve you with papers they can just look up your name and find you.
As for structure, most people choose not to incorporate at the beginning because the primary advantages of incorporation, limited liability and deferred taxation, are unlikely to be of much use at the beginning of your career. Now, that’s not to say that they would be of no use. Rather, I’m saying that the administrative and legal costs associated with incorporation are usually too high to justify the benefits you’ll receive from incorporation.
If you’re extremely concerned about the spectre of unlimited liability (ie. getting sued over something you wrote and losing the shirt off your back), you can always insert indemnification clauses in contracts with your clients and avoid this possibility.
So, while you can always choose to run your business as a partnership or a corporation, most people who are working alone will choose to operate under their own names and as a sole proprietor
The Executive Summary
The executive summary is a concise paragraph (or two) that sums up your business plan in one fell swoop. Think of it as the TLDR (“too long, didn’t read”) of your business plan. We’re going to save this part for last, so skip over it for now.
The Business Description
Here, you’ll need to describe the business you’re setting out to create.
Mission and Vision Statements
Mission and vision statements are aspirational tools for young businesses to set out what they hope to be and achieve. The mission statement sets out your business, your objectives, and your approach to achieving those objectives. For example:
Notice that I’ve avoided a purely financial goal in the mission statement and instead focused on becoming the “first-choice ad copywriter.” I’ve also positioned the company as one that provides premium content at a “reasonable” price, rather than one that offers the lowest prices.
Now, for a vision statement:
You can see that it’s very similar to a mission statement but that it focuses on where you want to end up. Many people combine mission and vision statements into a single, aspirational statement about the business, its objectives, and its approach.
You’ll need to decide who your target consumers are. This is one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make when you’re business planning. They should meet a few criteria:
- A clearly defined, identifiable group (ex. personal injury lawyers in the US, English nurses, etc.)
- A group that will likely respond positively to your differentiators (discussed below)
- A group that has a problem your writing can solve (ex. client recruitment, reputation management, etc.)
Keep in mind that, at the beginning, you may take clients that fall slighly outside of your ideal target market. There’s nothing wrong with this, as long as you’re still competent to serve them.
Just as important as choosing a target market is identifying your key differentiators. These are the qualities, experiences, and credentials that distinguish you from the pack. They don’t need to be monumentally impressive, earth-shattering, or distinguished. What they do need to be is unique. Or, at least, their combination has to be unique.
For example, you may be a military veteran with leadership experience and a journalism degree. Or you might be a mental health professional who has lived in a remote area and has a flair for descriptive prose. Whatever your unique combination of attributes is, use it to inform your selection of a target market and how you advertise yourself.
Marketing and Strategy
These are typically two different sections in a full business plan. In my experience, though, they can be combined for the purpose of a freelance writing business plan. This is largely because marketing is so crucial to any sort of freelance writing that it’s wise to embed it directly into the strategy portion of your business plan.
Customer Acquisition Channels
You’ll need to convincingly explain to yourself how you’re going to acquire clients and customers. By far, the simplest way to do this at the beginning is to piggyback off of an existing service that matches writers with clients. If should be immediately apparent from my previous posts that I prefer Upwork, but there are countless others that cater to this need. Almost all of these services will take a cut of your earnings in exchange for making the connect but, at the beginning, the fee is well worth it.
Other common channels are to create your own website and/or blog, rely on personal connections, or advertise offline. These alternative avenues are difficult enough at the beginning of your freelance career that they’re almost certain to be insufficient to create any kind of substantial or regular income. I strongly recommend you make use of existing freelance platforms to bootstrap your business.
Even if you primarily rely on freelancing portals at the beginning, your freelance writing business plan should make room for off-portal marketing. Facebook Ads, Google Ads, and self-made websites and blogs are the most common way for freelance writers to market themselves and spread brand awareness.
Growth and Milestones
Again, typically two different sections in a business plan, growth and milestones can be usefully combined in a freelance writing business plan.
I suggest you separate your growth plan into multiple stages. For example, you might include a Pre-Launch Phase, a Startup Phase, a Transition Phase, and a Mature Phase to describe four sets of milestones you hope to achieve when freelancing.
The milestones that determine when you’ve reached the next phase can include:
- Hours worked per week
- Revenue or profit per client/project/word
- Number of clients
You may wish to set up a timeline for when you hope to achieve each stage of growth. However, don’t be frustrated if you move slower than you’d hoped. Also, don’t be taken aback if you move faster than you’d expected. Growth rates are highly individual and depend on a world of factors, many of which are outside of your control.
Your freelance writing business plan financials are where you really get into the nitty gritty of planning. Luckily, because freelancing is so simple, and there are so few out-of-pocket expenses, this part is pretty easy.
Try to lay out your monthly software subscription fees and any other expenses you’re going to incur as a result of your freelance writing. While a full business plan will involve including those expenses you’re only “technically” incurring (like portions of rent, utilities, internet fees, etc.) for tax purposes, for now you can include only those expenses you wouldn’t incur but for your freelance writing.
Here’s an example (note that the costs are just estimates and don’t reflect the actual price of these services):
|Website and Domain Hosting||$25.00|
After you’ve added up all of the monthly expenses you’ll incur as a result of your freelancing, you should ensure that you’ve set aside enough money to pay at least three months of expenses. It can take at least that long to get going so you’ll want to be prepared to meet those expenses even if you’re not earning any revenue.
Revisiting Your Executive Summary
Now that you’ve got some idea of how your freelance writing business plan is shaping up, you’ll be ready to complete your executive summary. Your executive summary should be one or, at most, two paragraphs about your business. It should summarize the entire business plan and serve as a substitute for someone who only wants to skim the plan.
A freelance writing business plan doesn’t have to be complicated but feel free to add as much detail as you’re comfortable with. The more you plan for the future, the better able you’ll be to deal with any unexpected eventualities the freelance writing game decides to throw at you.
There are a lot of reasons I think freelance writing is the best side job for professionals. It’s straightforward, the necessary skills are widely held or easily learned, and the start-up costs are low. But that doesn’t mean you won’t need a good plan.
Very soon I hope to post a Freelance Writing Business Plan Worksheet to make it easier for you quickly draft a simple business plan for your new freelancing business. Subscribe to the mailing list or follow the blog down below to be notified when I post new and valuable info.