I asked several freelancers to tell me their biggest obstacle to creating a business plan and one of the most commonly recurring reasons was that they didn't see the point. Freelancer (and personal mentor) Conn Hallinan had this to say:
How do you make a business plan if you have no control over the means of distribution? It is the same reason peasants during the Middle Ages didn't have a business plan: they had no power over anything, plus they had to bow to their lords (just like us!). For instance: My business plan is to write four 5,000 word articles for The New Yorker at $3 a word, and an 8,000 word piece for Atlantic at $4 a word. Also I intend to produce five other magazine pieces at $2 a word, minimum 4,000 words. That's my plan, and after I have smoked this really good stuff that someone from Humboldt gave me it seems perfectly reasonable. Once the stuff wears off, it is back to begging for four magazine pieces at $1 a word, and an every other week column at $75 a pop. So, good business plan: have a partner who is too smart to try and make their living as a writer.To which I say: Good point. We don't control the means of production. We can't make the New Yorker hire us.
Does that mean we shouldn't have business plans? I argue no, and I'll tell you why.
To use the words of business planning guru Tim Berry, whom I interviewed for a forthcoming blog post on this site, "If I'm a fisherman, I can't control how much fish I catch. But I sure as heck can control what stream I'm fishing in."
Having a business plan is not Secret-style fantasy. It isn't magic. You can't just "conceive it, believe it, receive it." You have to plan it, practice it and produce it. A business plan isn't about the end results but the steps you'll take to try to get there.
Want to write for The New Yorker? I can think of a few steps to get there:
- Figure out who writes for them now and what path they took to get there. Are there intermediary magazines you should try to break into on the way to getting to The New Yorker?
- Ask for an informational interview from one or two contributors. You really can. They're people just like you and me.
- Subscribe to the magazine and the intermediary magazines.
- Study their content to get a sense of which stories would be appropriate for them.
- Improve your craft to bring your writing to be up to The New Yorker's standards. That may mean taking a class. It may mean experimenting with different styles. It may mean reading books. Figure out what will work for you.
- Query them. Every month. Even if you get a "no" every time--or worse, no response at all. I queried The New Yorker this year. They turned my story down. They were very polite about it. Nice people there at The New Yorker.
And there's evidence that it does work. This week I met a freelancer who said he queried a big-name magazine regularly for four years before he broke in. But he finally did. Now he writes for them regularly.
And it's true in my life. I'm close to breaking into one of my target markets because I followed the steps above. I increased my income. If the measure of your success is The New Yorker or Atlantic, you won't feel successful and a business plan will feel like a waste. But if your measure of success is progress, your business plan will help you accomplish your goals.