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Writing a business plan

Last week, I wrote about how I want to develop my editing/proofreading business. Here, I show my business plan for doing just that.

The need for a business plan

Michelle Goodman, whose book My So-Called Freelance Life was my bible when I started freelancing seven years ago and is a must-read for all freelancers, has this to say about business plans:

  • I used to think business plans were for people who preferred pumps and pearls to slippers and sweats. When I started working for myself as a freelancer, I wasn’t looking for a bank loan or an angel investor, so I figured, why would I need some wonky thirty-page tome? How the heck was a hefty mission statement going to help an independent professional like me land better clients and make enough money to pay my rent?

When I first started freelancing, I too had no business plan – which is probably why I ended up scattered and burned out. Once I’d decided to (a) limit my writing work to EAP materials and curriculum development and (b) build up my editing and proofreading business, I sat down one snowy Saturday afternoon to write a plan focusing on the editing side of my business. Like Michelle, I came to realise the value in putting on paper what I wanted to achieve and how I planned to get there. I was seven years too late, but I did it.

There is a lot of information out there about how to write a business plan, much of it for people who have a tangible product to sell, whose businesses require a substantial outlay of cash to get started, and who need to rent premises and/or hire employees. These plans contain complicated cost/benefit analyses, not all of which are relevant to the freelance editor working at home. I came up with my own.

A suggested business plan for freelancers

Here are the sections I think are useful for an editorial freelancer to include. I'm grateful to Louise Harnby, whose books Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business influenced a lot of my thinking here.

1 Name of business

2 Date established

3 Summary

What do you do, or plan to do? Writing a summary forces you to set down in words exactly what your business is all about.

4 Clients

Who do you plan to work for? Who is your ideal client? Here, you can list all the client groups you think might be interested in your services. You need to do this before you can think about how to market to them.

5 SWOT analysis

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The first two are all about you; the second two address external factors.

  • Under Strengths, write down everything in your favour: your training, your experience, your background, your expertise in a particular area. What is your USP (unique selling proposition)? In other words, what makes you special?

  • Under Weaknesses, write down anything that you could improve. What is stopping you from achieving the success you desire?

  • Under Opportunities, write down anything happening in your field that you could take advantage of. Is there a trend (e.g. self-publishing in ELT) that you can tap into?

  • Under Threats, write down any external challenges that might affect your business. Is there a way in which your competitors have an advantage over you?

6 Start-up costs

What will it cost you to set up your business? Do you need to take additional training? Should you budget for new computer hardware or software? Office furniture? How much are you able to invest in marketing (website, business cards, directory listings and other promotional materials and activities)?

7 Marketing strategy

Here, write down how you plan to promote your business. Will it be word of mouth, a website, directory listings, paid advertisements, cold emailing, a blog or some combination of all of these? Think about the best ways to reach each specific client group that you identified earlier.

8 Goals for the year ahead

These may well include financial goals, but your goals need not be limited to how much money you hope to make. One of my goals for 2020 is to reach Advanced Professional Member status of SfEP; another is to blog once a week. Be as specific as you can here.

9 Long-term goal

Where do you want to be a year from now? How about five years? Ten years? I found it useful to come up with a picture in my mind of where I want to be in five years’ time; this gives me something specific to work towards. How high should you dream? As high as is right for you.

My business plan is a DIY effort, but writing it was a useful exercise. I am making it available so that anyone in a similar position can see how I’ve gone about doing this. The only thing I’ve taken out is my financial goal; the only person who needs that information is my tax accountant (and my husband). I'm also including a blank template; feel free to download it and modify it to meet your own needs.

To access my business plan, click here.

To download a blank business plan template, click here.

Next week: Things you need to read when building your business


Tania Pattison is an editor and proofreader specialising in English language teaching, education and related subjects. When not editing, she is an EAP textbook writer, curriculum designer and occasional university/college teacher.


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