Although the following ten tips are geared toward copywriters, they contain information that can benefit any writer, especially when it comes to getting your new writing business started on the path to success.
Tip 1. Write your goals on paper.
You know that old saying—“If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will take you there.”
This is probably the most important and most overlooked step in starting a writing business.
Ideally, you should put together a business plan. However, I have yet to meet a writer who has one. (In fact, if you are a writer with a business plan, please contact me. I’d love to chat with you about it, because I don’t have one, either.) Second best to a business plan is writing your goals down on paper.
Here are a few things to include:
* Your personal mission statement.
* Your writing goals—both long- and short-term.
* Your financial goals—both long- and short-term.
* Your plans for your business—both long- and short-term.
* Action steps for accomplishing the goals and plans above.
Back in 1998 (yes, I’m old), I started my business having done no planning whatsoever. This was a mistake. Sure, I had some vague notions in my head of where I wanted my business and my writing to go, but by not writing anything down, I sure didn’t get there. The first four years, I was busy and making money, but I wasn’t getting anywhere near those notions. Even more amazing, I couldn’t figure out why.
By the fifth year, I started a regular practice of writing down my goals and plan. I now do it twice a year, and you wouldn’t believe the difference. Sure, my plans are far bigger than what I actually accomplish, and I’ve found myself modifying and changing my action steps (the goals remain pretty constant, but how I attain them does not). Now, I’m really seeing results.
There’s power in the physical act of writing things down. As a writer, you know this. So write down your goals. You’ll be glad you did.
Tip 2. Get a name.
You’re probably leaning toward using your own name, right? I know many writers who have done that (i.e. Your Name Communications), and there are advantages. Many times, you can brand yourself right alongside your business.
But there are also advantages to having a separate business name, especially if you see yourself outsourcing or turning your business into an agency. And remember, a clever business name gets people talking. I’ve had clients call me because they’re intrigued by my name. Your name can also imply additional knowledge or expert status.
Tip 3. Register your business with the state.
Yes, even if it’s your name.
The state will send you a Certificate of Registration, which is a legal document and one of the ways you can prove you have a legitimate business (if you only sell your time, you probably won’t need any other documentation). Establishing a business presence is always a good idea—you never know when you might need a loan, or credit, or a merchant account, etc.
Tip 4. Get a separate business account.
If you are a sole proprietor, a separate business account isn’t required, but it will make your life much easier. Note: The bank will probably want to see that Certificate of Registration when you open it.
Tip 5. Get an image.
You are a professional writer—therefore, you need a professional image. And if you also offer marketing consultation, this becomes even more important (after all, you’re in the business of helping other businesses with their image … you better have a decent one yourself).
I really can’t stress this enough. People want to work with successful people. The image you present to the world goes a long way toward establishing that.
Start with a slogan (mine is sell more with love). Next, you need a color scheme and a logo, both of which a graphic designer can help with. (I would not recommend doing this yourself unless you also specialize in graphics.)
A graphic designer can pull your look together the way you can ‘massage’ words to get a message out there. Yes, it might cost you some money (unless you can work out a trade), but in the long run, it’s worth it. On top of that, this is a good way to start building partnerships with graphic designers. Your clients may have need for a graphic designer, too, and they’ll appreciate your offering recommendations. At the same time, graphic designers will have clients who need copywriting, and will bring those clients to you. It’s a win-win partnership.
Tip 6. Get business cards.
Letterhead and envelopes are helpful, as well. I would recommend having an actual print house print them rather than doing it yourself with your ink jet printer. (Believe me, you can tell the difference.)
Tip 7. Get a domain name.
Not having a website is like not having a business card. You need one, even if it’s one page. And you should have your own domain name (not one of those free web sites with the super-long domain name: www.yourwebhost.com/freesites/yourbusinessname.html). Those are too long for anyone to remember without your business card, and they just aren’t as professional as having your own domain name.
Also, if you have your own domain name, you can also have your own email address – email@example.com rather than firstname.lastname@example.org, which adds to your professional appearance.
Tip 8. Design a website.
Now that you have a domain name and image, build that website, even if it’s a single page. Eventually, you’ll want to turn it into more of a sales tool, complete with testimonials and samples of your work, but if you can’t afford that right away, just get something up. Make sure you include your logo and contact information.
Tip 9. Get a portfolio.
Most people won’t hire you without seeing samples of your work. That said, I’ve found the longer I’ve been in business, the less people look at my samples (likely because I’ve built a name for myself). When I first started and had hardly any samples, everyone (of course) wanted to see them.
At any rate, you’re probably going to need to have something to refrence. If you have nothing at all, try doing a couple jobs for a vastly reduced rate or for free (but don’t do this for too long). Nonprofits are always looking for ways to keep their costs down. Offer to write a brochure or put together website copy with the understanding you can use the finished project in your portfolio. And don’t think you have to tell those nonprofits about your lack of experience. Just tell them what your normal hourly rate is, but because they’re a nonprofit, you’re willing to do it for a much lower rate (or free).
Tip 10. Get testimonials.
Remember those nonprofits? As well as showing those samples in your portfolio, ask your contact for a testimonial. Better yet, ask for a referral. Nonprofit staff members or volunteers usually know lots of businesspeople, and they’ll probably be so thrilled you worked for cheap or free, they’ll be happy to help you however they can.
Make sure you can use your contact’s name when you speak to the referral, then go do it.
An ounce of planning is worth its weight in gold. It’s worth it to take a little time and do a little planning before you start your business.
Next step? Get yourself out there!