I'm learning more and more that, despite being said too often by those offering advice, one aspect of freelancing is still very much true: a freelancer is running a business. In my case, that has meant learning how to build a profitable business from the ground up, and one of the ways I've done that is by creating a business plan.
Your business plan as a freelancer is a great way to set up reasonable expectations for your income and the work you're going to be doing while offering a solid reference piece that you can update to grow with you and encourage others to take your business more seriously.
Not sure where to start? Neither was I. Here's what I've learned about how to put together a business plan as a freelance writer.
What goes into a freelance business plan?
A business plan is a comprehensive document that establishes the details of a business on a logistical and economic level. In normal-people speak, that means it's a really long paper that details what your business is, how it works, and how it makes money. These plans generally include:
The business's formal details including its name, owners, employees, legal structure, and history
The products or services the business offers, including their price points
An analysis of the market for the business, including its potential strengths and weaknesses as well as its target audience
Its financial goals including projected income and reasonable expenses
For freelancers, this plan generally establishes the niche they fill and the services they offer, as well as their standard rates and qualifications. The formal details differ from normal business plans in that, given the freelancer's business is just them, the details are often simply a more in-depth version of the freelancer's resume.
Do you legally need a business plan to be a freelancer?
In many places - including several states in the United States - if you operate a sole proprietorship, you don't need to register your business as a legal entity. So technically, if you live in one of these places and you operate as a freelancer completely independently, you don't need to turn in a business plan to the state in order to file your taxes appropriately. This isn't true everywhere, of course, so make sure that you check your local legislation on small businesses to figure out how you need to be registered.
That being said, it's still a good idea to have a business plan even if you don't need it on a paperwork level. Having a written plan for your work can make your goals more concrete and tangible, and can give you a more solid roadmap for accomplishing them. It's also a great way to take stock of your assets and opportunities so that you can start using them more effectively.
If, however, you're planning to run your freelance business as a limited liability company (LLC) or some other business structure (for example, if you run an agency of freelancers or you have hired an assistant), you're very likely going to need to submit a business plan as part of your registration no matter where you are.
How to put together a freelance writing business plan
If you do decide to create a business plan, my first piece of advice would be to find a template online. There are lots of free templates available that will give you the general structure you need and more detailed advice for what goes in which section.
You can find a few examples and templates from:
There's also an excellent template available from Microsoft Word.
As a freelancer, not every section listed in these templates will be relevant to you, so feel free to adjust and edit the structure of your plan as you go. I used a combination of the above sources to create my personal business plan; you may want to do the same.
Now let's look at some more writing-specific details of a freelancer's business plan.
Identify your field
In the same way that you define your skill set and niche when creating a resume or portfolio, when creating your business plan, one of the first goals is to define the industry your business falls into and what exactly it is you do. This means narrowing down your work to the kind of writing you do and the industries for which you write. If you provide more than one service or work in more than one industry, you'll want to list them all out as specifically as you can.
For example, my business plan includes a list of services I offer (content writing, copywriting, editing, formatting, and digital marketing) and the industries in which I generally offer those services (e-commerce, gaming, and publishing).
Set your business goals
Business goals are the benchmarks you set for your business to meet in the future, based on your current level of operation and the plans you have for expanding or improving later on. Your goals as a freelancer will look similar to those of a larger business, but will be smaller in scale - you're only one person after all. Some common goals include
Expanding your services in a particular industry
Upping participation in industry-specific organizations and events
Growing revenue by a certain percentage year over year (a good goal is about 5-10% per year)
Look at the scope of your business right now and consider where you want to be by the end of your first year, in five years, and in ten years, if you're feeling particularly determined. Try to make sure your goals are reasonable; you might choose to use the SMART system to accomplish them (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely).
Conduct market research
Your market is the demographic of people to whom your business caters - that means the people who are most likely to want, need, and/or buy your product or service. Figuring out your market is an essential part of making your business successful, so it's important to include it in your business plan.
Figuring out your market requires doing some market research. Here are some steps you can take to do that.
Look at what your services are supposed to do. Do you solve a common problem like organization? Do you make it easier for businesses to advertise themselves? Do you improve the quality of their products?
Figure out who needs this service. Do you cater to individuals or businesses? What kind of person or business? What industry do they work in?
Hop on social media. Check hashtags and groups related to your service and find out what's trending. Try to explore as if you are trying to buy your service. What would you be looking for?
Explore your most popular competitors. What kinds of people follow them? Where? What kinds of ads are they running?
Look for existing research. Are there any existing statistics available about your service or niche in your industry? Try to gain access to that data.
Put it all together. Compile everything you've learned into a target demographic that you can market toward.
That last step, compiling your data, usually means creating a client persona. This is a description of a fictional person who would be your ideal customer. For example, one of my client personas is a young first-time author looking to self-publish; they don't have an unlimited budget but they want their book to be as polished as possible before they put it out into the world. Notice that I said "one of." It's okay to have a few different client personas, especially if you offer a range of different services.
In your business plan, include a summary of the research that you did and your client personas.
Determine your business structure
Your business structure is the way your business is put together from a legal standpoint. This determines how you register for tax purposes as well as what your tax rates and responsibilities will be. Now, I can't speak for other countries, but I know that in the United States, there are a few go-to setups you can use as a freelancer that will make the paperwork much less of a headache.
Sole Proprietorships are exactly what they sound like - it's just you working alone. This is a good structure for first-time freelancers and freelancers making less than about $50,000 per year from their work. It's especially useful if you're freelancing as a side hustle rather than it being your only source of income.
Limited Liability Companies (LLC) are a good option if you make more than $50,000, if freelancing is your full-time gig, and/or if you need to hire an assistant. While it requires a bit more paperwork and the taxes tend to be a little higher, this structure protects your business and your personal finances in the event of a lawsuit or an investment gone bad. It's also great for helping you set up business accounts with banks and suppliers.
Partnerships are simple structures you can use if you work closely with other people to make your business work. While you'll both (or all) still be personally responsible for financial assets, having an established partnership can help with divvying up those responsibilities equitably.
Corporations are useful for large operations like freelancing agencies. They've got some interesting benefits when it comes to relationships with suppliers and taxes, but they also require you to have regular shareholder meetings and put every decision to a vote by those shareholders, which can slow down operations.
Quick reminder here: I'm not a lawyer. Please consult a legal professional to decide which business structure is best for you and your needs.
Create a marketing plan
As a freelance writer, you quickly learn that you don't have one job - you have dozens. You're a writer and an editor and a secretary and an executive and the entire marketing team. Hopefully, by this point, you've learned at least a little bit about how to do that last one; to get clients as a freelancer, you have to be very good at selling the professional image you've created for yourself.
Thankfully, there are a few ways to do that that don't involve hiring a marketer to do it for you.
Create a website or online portfolio. A professional website gives you complete control over how your clients see you and how they can contact you, which is awesome. It gives you access to a blog, which you can use to further promote your work (hello, yes, self-referential joke here). If you can't afford to run a website right now, then a free profile on something like WordPress or Medium is a great place to start building a following and promoting your work.
Create professional social media accounts. Scroll to the top of this blog page and you'll find a bar of social links under my name in the header. This is a great way to increase your reach, find community, and connect with new clients. Pick a few of the most reasonable sites for your business (Twitter is great for writers at the moment) and stay active there by posting a few times per week.
Create a media kit. This should include your professional headshot and bio, your logo and colors, and a few stock bits of ad copy you can reuse over and over, as well as all of your various links and contact information.
Run ads on social media. Social media ads are often relatively cheap and more wide-reaching than you're probably expecting them to be. Take your market research from earlier and target that demographic with ads on your industry's most active platforms (Facebook and Instagram are great for this, as is LinkedIn).
Run traditional ads. If you have the money for it (and it is far more expensive than social media advertising), traditional ads on the local radio or in industry magazines or newsletters can be a great way to get your name out in the wild in front of more traditional clients. If you're just starting out, though, this may not be in your budget.
Join freelance or industry communities near you. Look for writing clubs and organizations in your local area or the wider state to make some great contacts and have opportunities to network, either in person at meetings and conventions or online through private social media groups or databases. You might also look into freelance organizations like the Freelancers Union based in New York or the community forums for job boards like Fiverr and Upwork.
Make guest appearances. Seek out blogs online looking for guest posts and put your hat in the ring, host an AMA (Ask Me Anything) and share your advice, do small volunteer jobs in your communities. Find causes you're passionate about and contribute to them. This unpaid work, if balanced well with paid work, can help promote your business and improve your reputation.
These are all good ways to market, yes, but how do you turn that into a marketing plan? Simple: you write down what you're going to set up and what you already have. Make sure that you remember to set aside a marketing budget as well.
Develop a financial plan
Your financial plan is a tally of all the income and expenses you expect for your business over the course of the year.
For writers, your income might include
Books that you've authored
Freelance writing services like editing, formatting, etc.
Your expenses might include
Author copies of your work
Stationary for your office
Your office itself (yes, even if you have a home office)
Travel for meetings, conventions, or author events
Software costs (your website, Grammarly Premium, Canva Pro, etc.)
Your goal should be to project that you can make more than you spend and that you can continuously grow that income - in turns being profitable and scalable. If you can prove that your business is both profitable and scalable in your business plan, you might have better luck getting things like business loans.
You can predict how much you'll be making by looking at what you charge for each service or product, how often you perform that service or sell that product, and what your previous months' earnings look like if you have them. This is another benefit of keeping accurate financial records; your business plan stays up-to-date and accurate if you have this information. If you're just starting out, don't panic; you can look up averages for first-time freelancers and work from those numbers, adjusting for your personal rates and workload.
Business plans are one of the things that you don't think about when you first start freelancing; they're not brought up in any "how to freelance" articles and they're almost exclusively referred to as a big-business or startup necessity. But having at least a basic business plan can help you set actionable goals and keep things in perspective.
By establishing a definite place to go and a way to get there, you can make your first forays into freelancing much easier and smoother. So take the time, sit down, and figure out how you're going to do the work you want to do. You'll thank yourself later.