I became a full-time freelance journalist three years ago. The first thing I did was make a mistake. It took me a while to figure that out — from the start I was busy writing for local, regional and national newspapers, magazines and websites. My email box stayed pretty full with requests for my writing talents.
But I was going at it willy-nilly and accepting jobs that were not profitable for me.
Here’s what I wish I’d done: treated myself as a business, starting with a business plan.
In the past year, as I’ve examined and revamped my freelance business, I’ve learned that many of the elements of a business plan also apply to entrepreneurial journalism.
Many elements of a classic business plan help you see the parts of your product — you — that need shoring up and development.
1. STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
State your objectives as simply as possible. What media do you want to write for this year? How much money do you want or need to make this year? Have you written goals for your business for this year?
2. DESCRIBE YOUR BUSINESS, PRODUCTS AND SERVICES
Do you specialize in any particular niche or area? What abilities do you bring to the table — writing for online, newspaper, magazines, television, radio? Are you a capable photographer or videographer? What makes you a go-to freelancer? What is special about you as a freelancer? How much of your time should be spent querying, reporting, writing, invoicing, networking? What hours of the day and days of the week will you work?
3. DEFINE YOUR TARGET MARKET
Your customers buy your “goods” and services. What are your markets? Who buys your products now? What products are they buying? Are there products you can offer that would increase your profit (i.e., photography or video)? What media would you like to break into?
4. DETERMINE YOUR PRICING OBJECTIVES
What is the minimum price per word that you need to accept a job? If you write for content farms, can you write quickly and efficiently enough to make those jobs profitable? Do you track the time spent per job to determine how much you’re making per hour?
CONSIDER THE COMPETITION
Who are the top five freelancers in your area? Is their business increasing or decreasing? How do your abilities and experience compare? Are there niches with unmet demand? Do you refer appropriate jobs to them and do they refer jobs to you? What have you learned from watching or reading their work?
6. MARKETING YOURSELF
What do you do to market yourself? How much do you budget to promote yourself? Do you have a website, Facebook page, Twitter, blog? Do you have printed material like business cards that reflect and describe your business? Do you attend conferences and network with other professionals?
7. LOCATION, LOCATION
One of my freelancer friends made himself the go-to guy in Oklahoma when he first went freelance. His niche was not so much a beat as it was a location. Are you one of the go-to freelancers in your area?
There are other examples of elements of a business plan that can translate to better business for you. Take the time to examine them. I have, and as a result, my profits are up substantially.
Carol Cole-Frowe is a former newspaper and Associated Press writer and a full-time freelance journalist. She splits her time between Oklahoma and north Texas.