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Edna Manz
Edna Manz

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Your Freelance Writing Business Model

I talk quite a bit about freelance writing being a business and that you need to treat it like one. You find a client, provide your service, invoice for payment, make some money, pay your taxes, and then do it all over again. So let me ask you this: do you get up every morning and hope for the best (“win some, lose some”) or do you have an actual plan for profitability? If you don’t have a plan, you need one. It’s called a business model.

In its simplest definition, a business model is the plan implemented by a company (or person) to generate revenue and make a profit—it’s your plan for making a sustainable living from your writing business. A freelance writing business with a solid process is good, but a freelance writing business with a business model is wa-a-a-a-a-ay better! Why? Because you plan for profitability, not just for work.

Your business model outlines your skills and talents, identifies who your most likely customers or clients will be, and the VALUE you bring to that client. The details of your business model will likely be less than a page long, unless you’ve developed a company with multiple divisions, service offerings and/or partners. Since most freelance writers work solo, the business model will be short and easy to create:

Detail your capabilities—be specific!
When you think about your capabilities, don’t just write down “writing services”. What type of writing are you best at? Do you write technical manuals that leave no detail undocumented? Can you prepare white papers that capture the very essence of a problem and give an indisputable solution? Does your copywriting talent win awards—or better yet—attract paying customers for your clients? Can you research and detail a corporation’s business history that makes them proud? Are your blogging skills so engaging that readers can’t stop reading?

I know, I know—you can do it all. Many writers are just that talented and maybe you are one of them. If you are, then great. Detail each and every one of those skills and talents.

Identify your target customer
When you look at what you do best, who can benefit the most from those skills? For example, software companies are a good candidate for technical manuals. White papers are critical to consulting firms that tout themselves to be solution providers. Large corporations invest in anniversary books, and a lot of product manufacturers are investing in bloggers to get the word out about their products.

Sure, you can write their marketing and communications materials, too, but start with a specific niche and gradually introduce your other capabilities when the time is right. Spend a half a day researching to find and make a list of your target customers/clients. Start with the online yellow pages of a phone directory, use Google or scour business directories. Search for them the same way a potential customer of THEIRS would search for them. Read about the company, the principals and their values or mission statement. Then decide how what you have to offer can help them achieve their goals and help their customers.

Clarify the VALUE you—and only you—bring to a project or client
Put yourself in the potential client’s shoes and ask yourself, “How do I decide which writer will fill my specific needs?” If writers were in short supply, we would merely need to raise our hand to be chosen. But we all know there is plenty of competition. That is where VALUE can make the difference between being chosen and being tossed back into the already crowded writers’ pool.

When I talk about adding value, I am NOT talking about discounting your fees. I’m talking about demonstrating that your fee is worth paying because you bring more than skill, you bring added value that benefits the client. Value is a differentiator that elevates your position as a contender.

Your added value might be in ancillary skills. Perhaps you can effortlessly project manage a marketing campaign, or you often partner with a designer to provide end-to-end creative development. Testimonials from previous or current clients add value. When other people sing your praises, it is worth a lot more than you singing solo. One value-add that I offer with my book contracts is to engage the services of an independent proofreader before publication. The fee is folded into the contract amount, but the extra security of knowing a fresh set of eyes will review the material adds value and assurance for a mistake-free product. That is valuable to the client.

You don’t always have to be the better writer; sometimes you just have to be viewed as offering greater value.

Define promotion and selling methods
How will you market your services? When you generate interest, how are you going to make the sale or clinch the deal?

If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you probably know that I do not engage much in social media. It is a time consuming tactic and, when I weigh the potential gain against the time investment to do it well, it doesn’t compute for me. However, I do think that authors benefit greatly from using social media to stay connected with readers, who eventually become potential buyers of your next book; a huge network of contacts is a huge benefit for you or your publisher.

I do well with my website, using it as the follow up to an initial contact. Lately, I’ve been fortunate to get projects from referrals by other clients but that wasn’t always the case. When I decided to pursue book ghostwriting, I targeted speakers who could build their credibility by authoring a book. I researched speaker networks and associations, reviewing member profiles. When I found someone who did not have a book mentioned, I sent an introductory query that outlined the benefits for a speaker to author a book AND detailed how I could help to make it happen—yep, you guessed it—by focusing on the value add.

Perform profit assessment and improvement
You cannot run a profitable business if you don’t know 1) where your profit is coming from and 2) what might be chipping away at it. It is imperative that you keep track of numbers, assess your methods regularly and identify opportunities to improve. For example, if your hourly rate is $50 and your assignment includes both research and writing, are you better off doing both tasks yourself or hiring a freelance research assistant for $30 an hour so you can take on or pursue an additional project? You still make $20 an hour on the research portion of the project, but you have freed up your time to attract new profit.

Do you use change orders? If not, you could be throwing away additional profit because a client’s project requirements expand and your contract doesn’t have provisions for adjusting your fees accordingly.

Do your contracts itemize fees associated with project phases? For example, if you agree to write the copy for a 10-page website and after you are already weeks into it, the client decides to only put up five pages, should your fee be reduced by half? No! The upfront time invested to meet and interview the client, research, draft and organize those pages has to be performed whether you write 10 pages or 5. Protect yourself by itemizing your fees based on time investment or phases of a project.

When you understand where your profit comes from and how it could be lost or diminished, you are in a position to assess what’s happening, why it’s happening, and then do something about it.

Take the time to create a well-developed business model and you will always have a plan for success—and profits.

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