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Monday, December 31, 2012

Your Resolve

What I'm reading: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
What's on the iPod: Babel by Mumford & Sons

LAST CHANCE: Today is your last chance to start 2013 with your discounted copy of MARKETING 365.  For just  $5.95, you get daily strategies that are easy to use and can help you get real results. Click on the link to your right, use the coupon code before Midnight tonight and save!
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writing, freelanceSo how the devil are you? I've taken an unannounced vacation and enjoyed the peace and quiet and disconnection. That disconnection was further amplified by Verizon leaving us for nearly 24 hours without phone, Internet, or cable. Ever try to call in a service outage without a phone? Thank God our cell phones are through AT&T. When my husband got through to them nearly a day later, they had no idea we were without as the outage covered a huge area. A little snow causes such chaos, I tell you. These people around here need to get a bit of a backbone when it comes to weather.

We had a lovely snowstorm, too. It was just over three inches, but it looked like feet it was so welcome. And it's remained cold, so the snow is still with us, amen. Our walks are somehow more peaceful with snow on the ground, and it causes us to marvel just a little more at what's around us. In fact, we found a familiar friend at Valley Forge park yesterday (pictured here). He was minus his real live Christmas tree, but the spirit of Christmas was clearly his. Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown (and to whoever made him for all to enjoy)!

So today and tomorrow we start looking ahead. For some, the idea of coming up with resolutions appeals. I don't like them because they're usually pipe-dream wishes that we never act on. Instead, I like to plan.

So maybe this year, plan -- and act immediately -- to sketch out on paper your plan for growing your business. If you've been following this blog for a while, you know that November and December were about getting your business plan together and working with contracts. Next month we'll concentrate on online marketing and networking, and as the months go by, you'll get help from me and guest posters on ways to improve your plans and add some punch to your efforts.

Where to start?

Look back. No good plan can come together until you know what worked and what didn't this year. Jot down efforts you've made that scored clients, and make note of those that seemed like wasted time. Don't toss those aside entirely, for it could be the idea was fine but the implementation sucked. Go over exactly how much effort and how much follow up was put into those failed attempts. How can you resuscitate that method?

Look ahead. What do you want to accomplish next year? Do you want more clients and more money (do I hear a "Hell yes!"?) or do you want fewer clients, higher fees, and more free time? Whatever your hope is, now is the time to commit it to paper. Write down your goals. Once you do that, you'll find yourself committing to it psychologically. That way, any plan you put in place will have those goals in mind.

Add your accountability. Just like I do here every month, you need to face the music when it comes to your own efforts. If you decide to go for a six-figure-income year but you don't answer to anyone when the first three months are far below what you need to reach that, what good is having the plan? Find a friend, a mentor, a fellow writer, or a blog where you can check in at least once a month on your progress. Nothing motivates you better than knowing you have to report in to someone. Not that you'll get chastised -- you'll probably get encouragement or useful advice -- but knowing you have to reveal it helps keep you on track.

Get creative. Who says you have to follow top bloggers or the book of the minute when it comes to blazing your business trail? Be innovative -- come up with ways to reach clients, make your services stand out from the crowd, find business where few people look, and set rates that make sense to you. Want to send out a brochure? Why not send something different, something that will make them look twice and think "Wow, this person knows how to get my attention"? We're creative people -- let's show it in every aspect of our businesses.

Decide your own fate. Make this the year you stop listening to people parroting the same, regurgitated advice and peppering that advice with absolutes. You MUST do it this way, blah blah... Truth is, advice is best when you can tailor it to your own situation. No one has all the answers, including me. If I tell you how to conduct cold calls and you hate them, ignore the advice for you'll never succeed at something you hate. Find those things that suit you, your business, and your own style. Make them your own by tweaking them to fit the way you do things.

How will you plan your business this coming year? What will be included in that plan? What has worked well for you this year? Why do you think it worked?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Post-holiday Lull

What's on the iPod: Conductor by We Were Promised Jetpacks

Extended until December 31st: SALE on my ebook Marketing 365 -- start 2013 with 365 daily marketing strategies to help increase your business and your earnings! Now just $5.95. Use the coupon code to the right for your discount!

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How is your holiday? What are your plans for New Year's Eve? We had a quiet, lovely day that started Christmas Eve with snow. Heavy, big flakes that coated the ground quickly came down for about an hour or two before it all turned to rain. We woke up to white on the ground, but it was gone by noon.

We headed to Washington Memorial Chapel for evening services (pictured here), which are great. The church was decked out beautifully, and the choir was in fine form. Then home to wait for Santa.

We had a nice breakfast of French toast, then a nice roast chicken like the one I'd cooked for his children the week before. This time, however, we were inundated with smoke and alarms going off. I found a covered roasting pan and that kept the grease from flaring up everywhere. Lousy recipe called for it to be cooked uncovered. Whose dumb idea is that? This bird involved less drama, but didn't quite taste as moist. There's something to be said for smoking up the house for two hours, I guess.

Yesterday we meambled over to the mall where I scored major savings at Banana Republic. It's not somewhere I shop normally, but their sale prices were suddenly better than those at Macy's. In fact, I bought probably the only two shirts at Macy's that weren't on sale. Figures. They cost more than the four things I bought at BR.

Today we went out for coffee, then spent a few hours driving through the country just outside of town. If we could, we'd live there. We're both more country people than suburban people. In a short while I'm meeting a friend for lunch, then I think I'm going out to get my Windows Surface. I've put it off too long and I'm in love with the idea of it. Time to buy me a present!

So how are your holidays? I hope you're kicking back and enjoying time off. I've nothing to work on, so I'm happily buried in something other than writing. And as expected, the minute my brain gets a chance to rest, it starts filling with ideas and poems and plot points. Nothing is better for creativity than a break from the stress.

How are you? What's happening for you this week?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What Shade of Gray Are You?

What's on the iPod: Old, Old Fashioned by Frightened Rabbit

What are you giving yourself this holiday? Download your copy of my Marketing 365 ebook, filled with a year's worth of marketing strategies, before December 24th and get it for just $5.95. Use the coupon code ZZ63V at checkout.

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It's a slow time of year, so I'm able to get to some of my emails. I noticed a few from new writers with a common theme: How do I get started and where should I find work?

The first half of that question has a million answers (besides not being a real question and hinting at "I'm a little too lazy to do the initial legwork"). The second half, nearly as many. The second part of the question is almost impossible to answer. Why? Because I don't know you.

I could start out by saying "Take a course in grammar and sentence structure" but what if you already have a good grasp on writing? Or I could say "Well, pick a specialty and start looking in that area." But what if you don't know where to look? And what if you'd rather not specialize? Careers are not black and white. They're gray. And my gray probably doesn't look anything like your gray.

A word about specialties: At some point in our careers we do develop specialty areas whether by accident or on purpose. We may not advertise as such, but many of us are known for one area or another. I specialize because I'm trying to attract a particular type of client. Also, I do plenty of generalized writing. Right now I have a large retainer client who is very much a consumer retail client. And it was that specialty that helped me open that and many other doors. Do I think you need that? No, not really. Here's what I think:


You need exactly what you'll find on your own. No one can tell you what client is going to be your ideal client, and when you're first starting out, you won't know that, either. You learn by taking on different types of clients and seeing which one has the work you love doing.

Specializing is a personal decision. If you find you love specializing, go for it. Will it make your business planning easier? In some ways yes. You'll be able to focus in on your ideal client a little easier, and you'll be able to better target your advertising to capture that audience's attention. But I don't think specializing at the start of your career works -- unless you have a wealth of experience in an industry and you're looking to transition from corporate into freelance. I'd rather see new writers try out many areas and keep that client pool wide open. Likewise, I think if you want to specialize, you shouldn't let anyone talk you in to doing generalized work. Including me.

What fits me isn't always going to fit you. I could beat that drum all day about how the only great career is one in copywriting/blogging/fiction/magazines/etc. (I wouldn't because it's nonsense). What works for me or for any other writer may not for you. You'd no sooner take on medical writing if consumer writing is your thing than I'd take on describing celebrity sightings when I loathe celebrity. 

You get started by reading and learning. Before asking "how" to get started, how about starting yourself? There's a wealth of information on blogs such as this one, in books, in webinars, etc. Find out the basics -- what you need, how to contact clients, what marketing methods to try, how to market in social media, how to create a business, and what a simple query letter or letter of introduction looks like. Then use that information to formulate a better question -- one that gets you more targeted information that you can actually use.

You find work by actively seeking it, not answering ads. I'm not one for absolute statements, but this is one I believe firmly to be true. If you find clients solely through ads and job boards, you're passively seeking employment and competing with thousands. And you're letting a stranger dictate your hourly rate (a BIG no-no). Instead, do a little research into what clients you might try, how you'd approach them (a letter of introduction) and how frequently you'll market (ahem -- every day, right?). Otherwise, you'll be stuck with the low wages and one-time projects that are common to job boards. And your career will flounder.

So, what shade of gray are you? Do you specialize or generalize? 
Who is your ideal client? What have you discovered as your career was developing?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

SWOT’S the Simple Answer to Your Business Plan?

What I'm reading: Les Miserables
What's on the iPod: All At Once by The Airborne Toxic Event

Oh, happy day!

I love it when you want to post your thoughts here. It's especially wonderful when someone with Cathy Miller's background asks. Cathy is a former career corporate type who hung out her shingle a few years back and has been kicking freelance ass and taking names ever since.

Cathy wanted to expand on the SWOT idea. Since she's a master at it, how could I refuse?


SWOT’s the Simple Answer to Your Business Plan? 


by Cathy Miller

When I saw Lori’s post, Business Planning: SWOT It Out, it was like running into an old friend you had not seen in a long time.

I first encountered SWOT analysis back in the 1980s. I’d like to say I was in pre-school, but let’s be real. The fact that Lori is writing about the technique today lends credibility to its effectiveness.

If I learned the method so long ago, and I think it’s a good one, then why am I not using it today? You probably do not want to hear an explanation for that one. Let’s just say I need to practice what I preach.

I offered Lori a guest post on a SWOT analysis of my 2013 business plan. There I go again. Biting off more than I can chew. I quickly discovered that I needed a smaller bite for my SWOT analysis. Well, that and the fact that I still have not finished my 2013 business plan.

I decided to pare the analysis down to a goal I have had for a few years – landing public speaking gigs.

SWOT Speak
As Lori explained in her post, SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Let’s review how I can use the method for developing my public speaking goal.

Strengths – My strength when it comes to public speaking is my experience. At least 25 of my 30+ years in my corporate career included public speaking. I discovered I have a bit of a ham inside me and am comfortable on stage. Go figure. Besides my speaking experience, I have other strengths, like I know a lot of stuff. Finally, a benefit to being older.

This exercise helped me identify strengths beyond the obvious – my healthcare niche, such as the following.
·        Management skills in leading teams, project management, HR-related activity
·        Writing skills, storytelling, creativity, PowerPoint skills
·         Communication skills, ability to make the complex simple
·         My sense of humor, people skills


There’s more, but I won’t bore you with my perfection.

Weaknesses – This area is what’s been stopping me from moving forward with this goal. The following are a few of the weaknesses that keep me from pursuing a public speaking platform.
  •  Lack of a hook – I need to zero in on what service would offer me the best opportunity
  • Procrastination – Have I mentioned that I wanted to move on this for years?
  • Lack of visibility – While I have a modest following, Casper-like visibility will not get the gigs.

I also struggle with deciding if I want to fall back on my healthcare niche (from 30+ years in the industry) or venture into some other area that capitalizes on the strength of my communications skills. That lack of identity is a major weakness.

Opportunities – I found this part of the analysis helped me define my “hook.” Here is a partial list.

  • Broad network from healthcare/insurance industry offers opportunity for my niche
  •  Health care reform is a huge unknown with lots of opportunity
  • Consumer education on wellness, health insurance exchanges could use simplicity
  •  Many in the brokerage community are redefining how they do business – it’s a new world for them
  • The breadth of required content in today’s marketing can be overwhelming to businesses – they need a simple solution to managing it all
The trick is converting those opportunities into something of value that businesses would pay for.

Threats – I am not the only one standing in my way for achieving my goal of public speaking.
  • Everybody and their brother (and sister) is an expert
  • Building content for “speaking cred” takes time – and a lot of it
  • Family commitments could limit engagements
The best thing about SWOT analysis is it takes the illusiveness of dreams and lines them with reality. Start with one dream and build on that. Discover what you need to star in your own reality.

This old friend gave me a plan. And that’s all we need to get started.

What dream of yours could benefit from a visit from SWOT?
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Cathy has a business writing blog at Simply stated business, a health care blog at Simply stated health care and her personal bog, millercathy: A Baby Boomer's Second Life.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Frustrations

What I'm reading: The Wayward Bus by John Steinbeck
What's on the iPod: Hardliners by Holcolmbe Waller

Friday. Ahhhhh....wait. No. Can't relax yet. Why? Because my week, which wasn't bad in terms of workload, just tripled in size. And yes, it's the end of the week. I'm about to go into a weekend knowing there's an anvil of work hanging over it.

It can't be helped. A close writer friend who was helping out on a big project is sitting in ICU getting over e. coli infection. He's possibly being moved into a regular room today, but it was scary for a day or so. I was glad to hear him on the phone yesterday, though he sounded absolutely spent. No wonder. That's one damned frightening virus. I'm happy to say he's mending.

Secondary to his health is this project. We were on the last phase -- putting it all back together and shipping it off to the client. I was walking him through it as it's a massive headache the first few times you take it on. He has all the formatted files. I do not. Alas, time to improvise.

I will buy a little more time from the client, but I'm in full-on, emergency get-it-done-yesterday mode. I have a game plan and the outline. Part of the project is already put together, so I just have to fill in the blanks, which may not be easy (or could be, depending). Luckily, I've figured out a good bit of Word's functionality (you know, the stuff we never use) enough to cut the work in half.

That frustration isn't so much a frustration since it's trumped by concern for my friend. The project will get done. As long as he feels better soon, that's all that counts.

However, there are other frustrations:

Bad, bad service. I'm talking really bad. I mentioned earlier in the week that we didn't get to participate in the Firebird Festival like we'd hoped. Oh, we were there, sitting not 25 yards from the spot. In a restaurant. For two hours. Without our food order. Worse, we had guests and they had driven two hours to see the festival. At 10 minutes before 8, I shooed them outside to watch while husband and I waited. No amount of complaining or anger helped. The waitress was new (just a week there and they put her on for the busiest night in December?). She had no backbone, so when the kitchen staff snapped back at her, she gave in. Worse, she told us she couldn't ask them about our order again or "They'll yell at me." F-k that, sister. You get your ass in there and tell them you want that food NOW and if you don't get it, the manager will make the next request.

Alas, she was not that assertive.

And when my husband went looking for her to ask for the third time when we could expect our food, she bolted.

So I found one of our favorite waitresses and said one word. "Help."

Within two minutes, the manager was in front of us apologizing.

Within ten minutes, we had food. However, our guests were outside, so they came back to lukewarm food.

The manager cut our bill in half, apologized profusely, and chewed out the waitress on the side (I don't foresee her being there much longer).

Collection. Unbeknownst to a particular client, the collection agency is about to knock on their door. Worse, this is after the client toted out the attorney to try scaring me off what I'm owed. I'd love to overlook this (and nearly did because the amount nowhere near equals the hassle), but I'm trying to stick with precedent. If you don't pay, I have to follow my payment/collection process. And lawyers? Yea, they're not scary when I have a signed contract that you're breaching. No lawyer can circumvent your signature on an agreement.

It's the first time ever I've had to use collection. Ever. I consider myself lucky to have had clients that, even if they don't pay willingly, eventually honor their agreements with me. That this one didn't is disheartening, for it was someone I did like working with. Bit of a shocker.

Other people's lists. She wants me to go with her tonight to get a party dress. He's wanting help locating gifts for the people on his list. I want.... wait. I've not asked anyone for anything. Think I could delegate something to them for a change? Well, there's the tree. We need to get one and put it up. I'm thinking tomorrow is our only day to get one as it's to rain the next few days.

What's frustrating you this week/month?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Making the Business Plan Stronger

What's on the iPod: It's Time by Imagine Dragons

Don't forget: I'm having a SALE on my ebook Marketing 365 -- buy now and get it for just $5.95! That's nearly 40 percent off! Click on the link to the right of this post, type in the discount code, and treat yourself to a gift that can help you build a better business.
Go on -- spend five bucks and some change on yourself!
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freelance, writing, marketingSad day yesterday -- we attended a funeral for Mr. Squeakers, my daughter's hamster, who lived a 3 1/2 year life. That's just a bit longer than usual for a hamster. She was devastated, for this was her college "roomie" pet. He'd traveled across the state in the back seat of her car on breaks, vacations, etc. Mr. Squeakers is now running on that big wheel in the sky.

I saw this as I was browsing the press releases for article ideas (a habit that's paid off more than once):


Experts Now Say a Strong Business Plan Can Make the Difference Between Success and Failure for Entrepreneurs in a Slow Economy (link to the whole release here).

Basically, the release is agreeing with us. A business plan is a good start to a successful business.

Alas, what the release does not say, however, is that in order for the plan to work, you have to actually use it once in a while.

So once you write it, remember this:

Business plans are living documents. Don't let it die in your file folder somewhere. Take it out once a month and read it. See what applies, what doesn't anymore, what changes you need to make, what you should be doing that you've forgotten to do, etc.

It's okay to revise those goals. Nothing is as demotivating as a plan that aims way too high too quickly. Suppose you're in the business for about a year. Your goal of earning $150,000 in your second year? That may be too high (unless you're some kind of marketing genius, in which case more power to you). The first month you don't meet that monthly goal, you're going to be discouraged and want to forget the plan entirely (or maybe even the career). Don't. Instead, revisit the goals and maybe amend them to be a bit more realistic.

If you've written it, it's worth a shot. Don't think of this as a document that will never see the light of day. This is your business schematic, your road map to reaching those goals and targeted earnings. If you've thought enough about each aspect to include them in your plan, do those aspects justice by trying them out.

Don't give up until you've given it a good run. Give yourself a targeted amount of time you'll try each marketing or operational part -- sometimes failure comes from lack of sticking with it. For every 300 emails you send out, you may get just one response. That's one you didn't have before you tried, right?

Feel free to add more if your interests or opportunities change. Please don't turn down work because it's not in your plan! If it's an area that interests you, go for it. And when you take out that plan for review again, make sure to explore how this new area can turn into more opportunity.

If you've written a plan before, how often to you revisit it? What sorts of changes to you make to it?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Business Plan: Write It

What's on the iPod: Trash Tongue Talker by Jack White

freelance, writing, business planning
How was your weekend? Mine was a mixture of a great time and a frustrating situation that kept us from our plans, but I'll get into that tomorrow.

Continuing this month's theme -- business planning -- let's turn our attention to the plan itself. Despite your best intentions to commit it all to memory, I highly suggest you go through the motions of writing it all down. Not only will it help you to remember your plan, but it will serve as a great reference for when you've lost track a bit. 

I've written one in my life, and it's one I revise on occasion. Even though it was devised for a now-defunct side of my business (print newsletters), I used the information in it, revised it where needed, and keep it handy to keep me on track about my current and future goals.

First, know this about business plans:
  • It should fit your business's needs
  • It should be realistic
  • It should say exactly what has to be done and who's going to do it
  • It should be specific in its goals and your benchmarks for measuring those goals
That's as complicated as it needs to get. Now, how do we get there?

State your purpose. Why are you in business? It's not enough to say "Well hell, because I want to write and make money at it, Lori!" That's a given. What isn't a given is the other reasons for your business existence. Do you want to help nonprofits? Do you want to provide better content for corporate marketing departments? Do you want to become a specialist in one particular genre of magazine work? Spell it out.

Describe your operations.  This is the meat of your plan, and it's where you'll flesh out how you're intending to earn money. It's also where your marketing plan, SWOT analysis and all those necessary details get mentioned. What are your operating procedures, meaning what hours do you intend to work or how many hours per week will you devote to this? Also, spell out your competition. And you have competition -- if you look closely at what you intend to do and who else is doing it, you'll see the competition. Don't ignore it. It doesn't make it easier to handle later on after you're running to catch up.

Financial plans and info. So how much start-up money do you have and how much will you need? Will you need a loan? What supplies do you need? What insurance have you purchased or intend to purchase? This is the section for all that. List your equipment needs (and what you have already). Also, here's where you'll make your earnings projections. They're educated predictions on what you think you'll earn this year, next year, and the year after that. However, these aren't just numbers you're tossing out. You're going to show yourself how you're achieving these numbers and how you'll be going about growing the revenue.

Licenses, incorporations and LLCs. All legal paperwork needs to be referred to in this section (and attached to the business plan). Also, attach a resume to it. This will help when you're going for any business-related loans. In fact, if you intend to seek a loan, make sure to include your tax returns or other financial statements to the business plan.

That's it. It shouldn't be a hugely complicated document, but should serve as a template for how you'll operate and conduct business. Keep it simple, but do include enough detail to get specific on your goals and your plans going forward.

Have you written a business plan before? What would go into your business plan that would help you narrow the focus of your business?

Friday, December 07, 2012

The Bad, The Good

What's on the iPod: Demons by Imagine Dragons


freelance, writing
It's Friday already? It's been an intense week, not in terms of workload or clients, but in terms of how many strangely good and bad things have occurred/are occurring. I'd call this my Things That Make My Head Explode post, but there were too many really good things, and I don't want to leave them out.

Let's alternate:

The Bad: Entitled drivers.  Tell me -- did they change the rules of the road without advertising it? Since when is it A) perfectly acceptable for someone making a left into your own right turn to do so first and B) to give you hell for not knowing he was about to cut you off? And is anyone ever going to enforce that no-passing-on-the-shoulder rule? I nearly got creamed just by being patient and waiting behind a turning car. The moment I accelerated, there was another car whose driver hit that horn and shouted like hell. Last I looked, it wasn't me doing the stupid shit, buddy.

The Good: Experts with no egos. My first botany walk I was nervous, but these people put me at ease quickly. And they cheered me on whenever I identified something. They made it easy for me to learn and to enjoy the experience.

The Bad: Insecure punks. When is it ever cool to taunt a cancer victim wearing a headscarf to cover her hair loss? Sadly, my cousin encountered some punk in Walmart who brought her to tears. He's to be pitied because when Karma comes back around, his is going to be brutal.

The Good: A beautiful movie. It's about acceptance and embracing the weirdness and flaws in all of us -- The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a surprisingly fantastic movie, one that leaves you feeling happy as you leave the movie.

The Bad: Technology. Yesterday's tax webinar would have been terrific if not for the technology glitches that started with the wrong dial-in numbers, completely altered interface that meant we couldn't use our slide presentation, and a loud echo on the presenter's side that had everyone hearing him twice, and not in a good way. Even with those glitches, it was a good webinar, but I'll admit my focus was way off.

The Good: Community spirit. Today starts the two-day celebration around the annual Firebird Festival. The bird they're burning this year, like many years, is a stunning piece of art (see the picture above). Tonight, a parade, and tomorrow the town celebrates with hot chocolate, music performances at many of the music venues (and outside, as well), and my favorite part -- the funnel cake truck. I don't often get one because they're so bad for you, but just knowing you can get one in December is a treat.

The Bad: Clients and their legal counsel. If you've signed the contract and you don't want to pay, hauling out your attorney isn't going to get you out of that commitment. And for the measly amount you're arguing about, you're wasting six times that just to fight it. And you know who you are. How about paying for the work you'd asked for instead of waiting five months and then responding with attorneys?

The Good: Wonderful clients. It's telling how wonderful some of them are when I'm willing to cut my fee and walk through fire for them because of how great they are to work with. One in particular is just a gem, and I thank my lucky stars she's part of my orbit.

The Bad: Writers with bad intentions. I've come across two in my career who made it difficult to work. One did so by creating in-fighting among the writing community, and the other by stealing blog posts, reworking existing articles, trumping other writers' efforts, and painting a jolly, sugar-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth persona that's all show. Even two bad apples can spoil it for the rest of us, yet cohesion in our community is so important. I've seen when things go sour publicly. No one wins.

The Good: Writer friends who make a difference. One walks for breast cancer awareness every year. Another creates a welcome community on her blog. Yet another promotes the hell out of his friends' blogs and successes. Unselfish, good people (like you) are abundant in this community. I thank the heavens for them, and you, every day.

What are your bad and good this week?

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Business Planning: SWOT It Out



Today's the day!
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business planning, freelance, writing
What a good day yesterday. Despite a few interruptions, I completed revisions on one project and wrote drafts of two other smaller projects. I've not felt too motivated lately, but it was great to see some headway on the to-do list.

Here's what I love about building a business plan -- you get to delve into those things that you do best, and also look at things that could trip you up. In fact, we call that the SWOT analysis. SWOT means strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and it's long been a tool of marketing departments and company executives for understanding how to better position their company and products. It's an integral part of the business plan.

The beauty of it is it works for freelancers, too.

Here's how it breaks down:

Strengths. Maybe you're like most freelancers and you have a tough time nailing down what you're good at, or maybe you know, but your mother taught you not to brag. Here's your invitation to do just that. Write down all those areas of writing/editing that you know you rock. If you're not sure, ask a friend or family member to help you. What do clients say about your work or your attitude? Those positive comments speak to your strengths.

Weaknesses. This one isn't easy, either. We'd like to believe we're good at what we do. But where are we not quite measuring up? Do you gloss over details and make mistakes? Do you tend to miss deadlines? Are you not a morning person? Do you not edit well? Be honest with yourself -- what are you  not exactly the best at doing? The sooner your admit them to yourself, the sooner you can see what opportunities lie in those weaknesses. Maybe some extra training? Or maybe a partnership with someone who's a fantastic editor but a mediocre writer?

Opportunities. Okay, take the "personal" hat off and put on the "business" hat. As a business, where are there opportunities? Are there areas in which you already work that you could expand in? Are there new avenues you've yet to explore? Where are these opportunities? Write it all down. Then think of ways to take advantage of one or more on the list.

Threats. Again, wearing the business hat, look at what things could prevent you from earning a living. Health problems, lack of effective or consistent marketing, bad economic conditions, lack of a strong network of contacts, or even your own laziness can all get in the way of your business success. Where are these threats? How can you eliminate one or more?

Your SWOT analysis is just one portion of your overall written business plan, but it's an essential step. By knowing where you're strong and where you're weak, you can build ways to compensate. Also, by knowing what threatens to put you out of business, you can work to eliminate each threat one by one, or buy insurance to cover those threats that can't be completely alleviated.

So do your own SWOT analysis right now. What do you see? What's surprising to you? Have you done a SWOT analysis before? If so, how does today's analysis differ from the previous one?

Monday, December 03, 2012

Business Plan #1: Brainstorming

What's on the iPod: Risk of Change by Holcombe Waller

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freelance, writing, business planning
How was your weekend? Ours went by too fast. Friday was a blur -- I think we stayed home and waited for his daughter to arrive from Maine. She appeared well after midnight, so I saw her in the morning, but only briefly. We headed out on a botanical walk. And it was lovely. A cold day, but the people in the group were so helpful to me, the beginner. He was in his element, and it was nice to see. I learned a few things and had great fun doing so. The plants in winter are just as interesting (maybe more so) as when they're in bloom.

Then we headed off to a holiday party at the home of one of his coworkers. It was great. There were ten people -- just big enough to be vibrant, and small enough to be intimate.

Sunday was church, then brunch. Then I attempted to find some decorations for the house, but came up short. So I decided it was time to shop. Malls --let's just say nothing crushes the meaning of Christmas like a mall. My personal low was as I was walking through the mall, watching people whizzing by and ignoring the decorations, and hearing "O Holy Night" playing in the background to the oblivious masses. I left. Shopping will be done at the local stores or online. I'd rather get things from people who smile and appreciate your business anyway.

Today starts our month of business planning strategies. Probably the most frequent question coming from new writers is "How do I start?"

With a plan, dear writer.

That plan starts with a good brainstorming session. Even those of us who have been working at it for years can benefit from revisiting regularly the brainstorming part of business planning.

If you've never actively brainstormed, here's what it looks like:

The more ideas, the better. Just start thinking and writing it down. What you want to earn, how you want to earn it, who your clients will be, how you'll market.... all of it goes down on paper. I suggest you tackle each of those areas separately so as not to get overwhelmed. Start with what you want to earn -- and be bold about it.

Don't edit. Brainstorming isn't about shooting down your ideas before you even consider them. If it pops into your head, it gets listed. If you're thinking of projects you'd like to work on and "screenplays" comes to mind, that should be on your list. No idea is too wild or too ambitious.

Get really creative. If you think you'd love to write biographies of race car drivers, list it! The same goes for movies about unusual phenomenon, ghostwritten love letters, conference speaker presentations, etc., etc...

Build on your ideas. Don't limit yourself in any way. If you want to ghostwrite for business owners, brainstorm on who else might you write for, such as celebrities, sports figures, television personalities, local historians....

Brainstorm with a colleague. Here's another fun way to get wildly innovative -- call up a writer friend, turn on the tape recorder, and start brainstorming ways each of you can build a stronger business. Remember, judgments do not belong, and no idea is thrown out. If it comes to mind, speak it. Jot down notes at the same time, and let your two imaginations spur new ideas.

The goal of the brainstorming session is to generate enough ideas on how to build a business that fits you so that you're excited and interested in working the plan once it's in place.

So let's do a little exercise. Let's take one section of a business plan -- how you'll earn money -- and brainstorm it right here. Don't second guess anything that comes to mind. Just write it in the comments section and see what other ideas that generates.

So how do you want to go about making money?
How often do you brainstorm? What do you think belongs in a good brainstorming session?

Words on the Page