At the end of every year, I write a business plan for the following year. (I also usually update it six months later—sometimes even earlier, depending on how things go.) I’m no expert on writing business plans, but after five years I’ve got a system that works really well for me.
Usually, my business plan consists of eight parts: goals, marketing, platform building, 2016 year-end inventory, monthly sales goals, budget, and schedule. This year I also included a section for Booktrope, the small press I was with that closed.
A few days after I wrote my business plan, I also updated my quality control checklist for production.
I’ll break down each section with a little overview.
I work much better when I properly write down my goals. There’s loads of information out there on how to set goals. I have a system that works really well for me. Basically, I make them actionable and set a deadline.
In the past, my yearly business goal was “Make a full-time living.” While that is my end game, it’s not a very good goal because it’s pretty ambiguous. This year I focused on smaller goals that will actually get me there.
- Re-launch and refresh existing series and titles in catalog by February 28th, 2017. Basically, this just means inventory: updating covers, doing more Amazon SEO research, updating keywords, and re-formatting all ebooks in Vellum.
- Get all paperbacks back in stock by March 31st, 2017. Not having paperbacks has hampered me so much more than I thought it would! I’m formatting them myself, which is slow going but I’m excited to be working on this.
- Pay all Booktrope team members and remaining royalties per agreement by June 1st, 2017. Long story short, when the small press I was with closed, they left it to authors to settle up with creative team members*. My team members have been really cool about the whole thing, but I still haven’t been able to pay them. In 2017, my plan is to pay one member every month.
- Finish writing and publishing all currently open series by August 31st, 2017. All this means is finishing any series currently unfinished, that way in the second half of the year, I can write a new series!
I broke down each of these goals into action steps in the schedule section.
I also set five- and ten-year goals. Those I won’t share, but suffice it to say this summer I had a major epiphany of the direction I want my business to go in. Both of these goals are also actionable and clear.
In the marketing section, I outlined a general marketing plan for my business. I won’t get into details to spare my wrists, but I strongly recommend you read Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran and Write to Market by Chris Fox. I’ve also started reading How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn.
The gist is, I’ve figured out where I’ve been wasting time and money, and focused my marketing plan on tasks with better return on investment (ROI).
Speaking of paring down, I recently realized that I needed to take a break from social media in order to better focus on my health and business. Not surprisingly, going dark on Facebook and Twitter has worked wonders! That’s a whole other blog post, though.
Right now I’m not using much social media at all—just Instagram and Pinterest, very sparingly. I’m scheduling posts in HootSuite when I have something important to share, and blogging only when I have time. I’m not checking notifications on Facebook and Twitter at all, and only checking Instagram comments every few days. If that!
My main focus is on my email list. I’ve started creating funnels by setting up individual lists for each standalone or series. For example, when I released Just One More Minute, I created a list just for those readers to join. They’ll get exclusive goodies, and a heads up when the companion novel is available. I’ll also send them emails about other books they might enjoy.
I’ll revisit the idea of regular social media use in the new year, after I’ve got my health a bit more under control and I no longer have to limit computer time to save my wrists.
2016 Year-End Inventory
In a nutshell, I made a list of all the things I need to do to tighten up my catalog.
- update front and back matter for all ebooks, and format in Vellum
- use Kobayashi Technique to guide readers into appropriate email list funnel
- update series and standalone covers to better convey genre and story
- increase full-length titles’ pricing from $2.99 to $3.99
- research and update Amazon keywords for all ebooks
- enroll South of Forever series in KDP Select
A note on pricing: I started with Just One More Minute, which released at $0.99. It sold really well at that price, but flatlined as soon as I raised it to $3.99. I’m now reconsidering. $3.99 may just be too high for my books right now.
I broke it all down even further in the schedule section.
Monthly Sales Goals
Setting sales goals was probably the hardest part of writing my business plan. I really want to get back to a part-time living—ideally, being able to pay my rent with my royalties. That would be sweet, but I struggle with setting monthly sales goals because if I fall short, I take it very badly. I try to be realistic, too, which makes it even harder when I don’t make it.
For that reason, I left this section for dead last. I also needed to finish putting together my schedule first; I needed to take into account that months with new releases should have higher goals, and the “summer slump” months should have lower goals.
I’m not going to share my numbers here because I’m nervous about meeting them, to be totally honest.
I did this section after creating my production and marketing schedule for the year, that way I knew exactly what I had to factor in: cover designs, editing, formatting (Vellum), marketing (NetGalley, giveaways, advertising), print on demand, etc.
I created a table with a column for each 2017 release—six!—and calculated each release’s total expenses. I also added at-a-glance rates for the services I’ll be using, factoring the highest possible for each item. And I left myself a note to remember to get in touch with a designer I’ve been dying to work with.
I tried not to focus too much on the totals; I created a schedule specifically so I could plan ahead, and also built in other options in case certain elements don’t fit my budget (*cough* Bookbub *cough*).
This was my favorite part. I’m so excited about all of the projects I’m going to write and release in 2017!
Basically, I created four tables—one for each quarter. Each month got its own column in its quarter table. Something like this:
|Write 1st draft of SOF4 by _____.||SOF1 promo. (Bookbub?)||Release SOF4 on _____.|
|Submit SOF1 to NetGalley for February by _____.||Submit JOMM to NetGalley for March by _____.||Get all paperbacks back in stock by 03/31/2017.|
I started off by slotting releases. To keep momentum going, I’ve been trying to release something new every 2-3 months. More would be better, but then my wrists might unhinge and my own hands might just pull an Ash and try to strangle me.
Once I got my new releases situated in their general months, I started counting back. I figured in deadlines for writing, editing, and cover designs. And, knowing what I’ll be doing for marketing, I included promotions and deadlines for submitting to advertisers and other services. Of course I had to do some wiggling around to make everything fit well, without overburdening myself. I didn’t schedule exact dates for everything, either, that way I’ll have a bit more flexibility than I have in the past, and won’t have to keep updating the sheet every time something gets thrown off.
I’ll still revise my business plan—probably in the spring or summer, depending on how things go—but I’m really satisfied with my schedule.
I also color coded a bit. New releases are highlighted in yellow, advertising promos are highlighted in gray, and I made NetGalley promos red. This way, I can see the super important things at a glance.
Booktrope Team Royalties
Finally, I added a section for my Booktrope creative team agreements (CTAs). All I did was list each team member, the payment we agreed upon, their contact information, and their preferred payment method. I also totaled up the entire payout.
My goal is to pay one team member every month starting in January—starting with the smallest amount and progressing to the largest. I was inspired by a savings plan I saw on Pinterest; breaking things down into more manageable chunks is much less overwhelming, and to be honest, I’m still quite stressed about how things went with Booktrope. But I’m trying. I’m perhaps stubbornly determined to do right by my team.
My business plan was pretty simple to write, but I’m really proud of it. It’s meant to be a road map to keep me on track so I won’t get distracted by shiny project ideas or my own doubts and frustrations. It’s 11 pages long, including a table of contents. I printed it out and I can’t stop looking at it with excitement, haha.
2017 is going to rock!
*Whether authors were actually legally required to continue the CTAs is debatable; I just wanted to compensate my colleagues for their work, since the publisher basically left us all high and dry. Unfortunately, because I have a chronic illness and can’t work a full-time job, I haven’t been able to make any payments. Booktrope’s collapse was stressful, to say the least—even six months later.