Over 15 years ago, I started my first business.
I’d gone to school to become a computer programmer, graduated, and landed a job in my field immediately. I had interesting projects to work on, and a lot of fun responsibilities. Not a bad first gig.
I also started freelancing on the side.
And that’s when the dollar signs really started going off in my head.
“If I could just replace 30 hours a week on the job with freelance work,” I thought, “I could make a lot more than I’m making at my job!”
But as I got further into freelancing, I realized there is way more to it than stacking up billable hours.
There’s invoicing, lead generating, buying equipment, consulting, outsourcing, project management, tons of communication. I quickly found that if I was even able to put in 20 good, billable hours in a week, I was doing pretty well!
This same situation can happen to authors as well.
They dream of getting up in the morning, making a good, strong cup of coffee, moseying down to their writing room where the morning sun peaks through the window at just the right angle, then sitting down and quietly, calmly pecking out their 2,000 words for the day.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.
There is so much more to being a writer now.
I was speaking with a writer the other day about all of the editing, emailing, designing, marketing, publicity, etc. that goes into being an author in today’s world, and it reminded me of my early days of freelancing.
And that’s when it hit me . . .
When you become a writer, you’re starting a business
Just to be sure I was right about this, I dug out my friend Josh Kaufman’s book The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business.
In chapter 2, he defines a business as a repeatable process that :
- Creates and delivers something of value …
- That other people want or need …
- At a price they’re willing to pay …
- In a way that satisfies the customer’s needs and expectations …
- So that the business brings in enough profit to make it worthwhile for the owners to continue their operation.
Whoa. An author has to do every single one of those things!
As an author, you must have a repeatable process that:
- Creates and delivers books …
- That readers want to read …
- At a price readers are willing to pay …
- That’s entertaining or helpful, well-formatted, available at their favorite retailer, free of typos and grammatical errors …
- That brings in enough royalties that you can keep writing your next book.
He goes on to say that “every business is fundamentally a collection of five interdependent processes” :
- Value Creation. Discovering what people need or want, then creating it.
- Marketing. Attracting attention and building demand for what you’ve created.
- Sales. Turning prospective customers into paying customers.
- Value Delivery. Giving your customers what you’ve promised and ensuring that they’re satisfied.
- Finance. Bring in enough money to keep going and make your efforts worthwhile.
Again, all of these points are also true for authors.
You also need to have a plan for each of these steps, in order to have a successful writing career.
Why am I writing about this?
When I was getting my freelancing business off the ground, it took me much longer to pull my head out of the sand and realize billing hours for writing programming code was only one out of the five things I needed to do to have a successful business.
I wish someone had come along and pointed that out to me while I was floundering those first few years, wondering why my freelancing idea wasn’t working.
Face it: If you are an author today, you are running a business
Writing is just one part of running that business.
Yes, it’s a very important and necessary part, but it’s just one part.
You have to have a plan for how you’re going to do all of the other pieces of your business, to ensure the success of that one central part.
Why am I making such a big deal out of this?
I have two boys and when they were small we watched the GI Joe cartoon series from the early ’80s. It was a lot of fun watching this show with my sons that I enjoyed as a kid.
On several of the episodes, they added these extra safety PSAs at the end — little clips to teach children different lessons about safety. And each one ended with this:
Kid: “Now I know!”
GI Joe: “And knowing is half the battle.”
That’s how this works.
If you go into this writing thing thinking all you have to do is write your novel or nonfiction work and put it out into the world, you’re going to be constantly frustrated by the fact that there’s no adequate structure to hold up the results of that ambition.
But if you think of it more like starting a business, and think through all the parts of a business, you’re going to set yourself up for more success.
As a bonus, I’ve turned the five business processes into an online worksheet for you to use. Click below to access it.
So now you know!
September 17, 2014