Last Monday, I talked about the need for writers to develop a business model. It’s not the first time I’ve said this and I doubt it will be the last, but it was the first time I’ve said this here on the blog and in such am easily sharable form. That meant people started giving me feedback, which largely came in two camps:
- How, exactly, do I do this business model thing? GIVE US DETAILS; or
- Dude, I’ve got a business model, but it’s not working the way I want.
I’ll address both of those eventually, but given that I’m Melbourne today (and I’ve gone three days without medication and CPAP, thanks to poor packing on my part) I’m going to hold off on answering the first. Mostly because I started and it got very, very long.
As for the second: well, I’ve worked for a bunch of small businesses where exactly this has happened. This is the nature of running a small business, particularly one where you’re dealing primarily with other businesses who act as middle men, as most traditionally published authors do.
Many of those small businesses I worked for had plans, but their plans were…flawed. Based on wild guesses and the way they expected (or wished) their customers behaved. Everyone does this. Think about all those small stores and restaurants that crop up, chug along for a few months, then fold. These are business driven by hope and high expectations, then let down by the realities of their situation.
People put together flawed business plans all the time. Their business models are based on expectations that don’t quite match reality, and they’re either unwilling to change their plan based on the new information or they’re just unable to switch to a new direction in time.
Point is: business plans change. A well-constructed business plan is a living document, periodically reviewed and evaluated to ensure that it’s working the way it should and changed when situations demand it.
For writers, this can be a harsh piece of advice, but the truth is that shit is going to change when it comes to publishing. The genre that you love writing in may suddenly cool, meaning you’re no longer able to sell the work you’ve written; the books you were pinning your hopes on didn’t sell as well as expected, which means your publisher is less enthusiastic about buying more; some guy invents a device that reads ebooks and sells it cheaply, and suddenly the whole business model of publishing is massive disrupted and indie publishing is everywhere.
You adapt, or you die.
This isn’t always an easy thing to do. I’m very much in an adapt-or-die space at the moment. The last few years of sleep apnea and depression were a double-whammy that utterly messed with my writing, and I’ve been adapting my business model on the fly for most of that time. It allowed me to keep from admitting that the apnea and the depression were problems, but it didn’t allow me to make smart business decisions. It’s easy to just lower your head and keep charging, when your business model falls apart, instead of admitting that things are wrong and you need to change.
The one saving grace is this: I was willing to adapt my business model and I was consciously making a choice every time I shifted. It may have been frustrating, and occasionally heartbreaking, but it meant I wasn’t as frustrated as it could have been if I’d just kept plugging away using the same plan I’d set back in 2010.
THE BIG PROBLEM WITH FIGURING OUT YOUR BUSINESS MODEL
Here’s the bad news: I can’t tell you what your business model should be. There are plenty of ways people become professional writers and the playing field doesn’t exactly start out even. And a lot of the decisions will have a lot to do with the kind of writer you want to be, where you’re willing to compromise, and what other skills you have. I’ve taught workshops on this, and in six hours I still feel like I’m barely scratching the surface.
Take writing out of the equation for the moment and think of it like this: you want to start a business serving food to people. That’s your starting point.
But your business model can’t rest on that alone, because…dear god, the myriad ways you can implement that are staggering. Do you want to run a food franchise like McDonalds? Do you want to be a small local take-away, or a café, or a restaurant? Are you willing to ride around in a food truck, trying somewhere new every day? Do you want to be a catering company?
All of these involve serving people food, but the business models are different. Even if you pick one – say, starting a restaurant – you have to start making decisions about how high-end you want to be and who your clientele are going to be and what you’re going to build your menu around. And, let’s be honest here, a lot of what you can achieve is going to depend on your reputation as a restaurateur/chef, and your ability to generate start-up capital.
Writing is no less complex as an industry, but the lack of information around the business side of things frequently means that people assume that it’s a one-size-fits-all industry.
It takes a lot to start breaking down every single possible business model, even in an industry where the different models are a little more visible. That’s why there is a process to putting together a business plan that looks a little like this:
Step One: put together a rough outline of your plan
Step Two: RESEARCH THE HELL OUT OF YOUR INDUSTRY AND SEE IF YOUR PLAN IS VIABLE
Step Three: Adapt your plan as required.