Friday, December 30, 2011

Taking Stock

For many writers, the New Year means a chance for a new beginning. For others, it offers a time to reflect on what happened during the past year. Whichever one it is for you, the New Year offers a time to set new goals and analyze your situation. Just as retailers set aside the month of January to take stock of their inventory, so should you take stock of not only what you wrote and published in the last year, but accomplishments you achieved and problems you need to solve.

To move forward, you have to plan ahead. Recognize problems early on—set down goals you want to reach, obstacles you need to overcome, and the resources you have at your disposal. Doing all of these things is almost as good as solving the problems, themselves.

No general ever goes into battle without some sort of plan. Military commanders need a map marked with all their troop units’ positions and weapons in order to make fast and effective decisions in the heat of battle. You need to do the same in order to assess your situation and draw on the resources or ideas best suited for each situation.

First, write down the problem or direction you’d like to take, followed by the goals you need to achieve to solve that problem or get started in your new direction. Together these are known as a situation summary.

Although you can use a situation summary at any time to resolve difficult business decisions, writing up one or more of them at the beginning of the year will set you off on the right foot.

A common problem facing many freelance writers is upgrading their markets. Perhaps you’ve published several articles or short stories in local newspapers or small regional magazines, none of which pay you enough to make a living. You want to continue freelancing but to do that you’ll have to sell to more reliable, higher-paying markets. This is where a situation summary can work wonders.

To begin, jot down a short concise statement of what you’d like to do. Next you need to write down your goals—both long and short term—as well as actions you’ll need to take to reach them. Be specific. Lay out a detailed plan, including relevant dates and resources required. For each goal, write down three actions.

Following your goals and actions, you should write down the benefits of the actions you’ll be taking. Will they increase your financial bottom line, increase your work schedule flexibility, or give you peace of mind—or all three?

How much time or money will be required to achieve your goals? Will you have to spend additional time writing and marketing that might be spent with your family? Will you need to purchase new or additional computer equipment and programs? Or will you need to do a good deal of research to go in-depth with a subject?

What if what you’ve got planned doesn’t work out? List some alternative solutions and why you should stick to your main plan. Some call this “Plan B.” However, often these alternatives present other problems that make reaching your goals for the new year doubly hard.

If you’re seeking to improve your markets, you must allow a block of time to study what’s out there. Are there editors out there that you know that might help you advance your plan? List anyone and everyone who may be able to help you. Can you build on what you’re doing now? Perhaps you can spin off a new specialty from a subject that you’ve written a lot about?

Lastly, set a date to review your actions—say in a month or two. And set a date to review your short-term goals to see if you’ve reached one or all of them, most likely at the end of the first or second quarter.

A situation summary, like a business plan, should be flexible and able to be adjusted as you go. Keep an open mind. Look for the positive side of whatever develops and build on it. And if you do, you’ll definitely have a Happy New Year.

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