Friday, April 19, 2013

The Five-Year Plan

In freelance writing, the present often dominates. But unless you look to the future, you’ll be stuck in the present with nowhere to look to. This is especially true as your assignments get bigger and more complicated. Managing them can be a bear.

You need to know or at least have an idea of where you want to be in five years. Do you see yourself freelancing full time for a host of markets? Or do you see yourself writing books, one right after the other?

Do you know how much money you want to be making? What kind of writing—articles, stories, books, brochures, or a combination of these—do you anticipate selling? Projecting further into the future gives you a push to start acquiring the skills you might need.

But before you start planning for the future, begin making a list of the people who might help to make your dreams come true or at least of places where you'll find help in accomplishing your goals. This will help you to avoid veering off into sidelines that aren't financially beneficial to you.

A five-year plan also helps you to keep tabs on your best, most lucrative and satisfying ideas. Be both realistic and ambitious—five years can be a very short or a very long time. But if you don't look that far ahead, you'll discover you've lost much more than just five years of your time.

Begin your five-year plan by asking yourself where you want to be at the end of your career as a freelancer? Do you even see an end to your career? Freelancing is a profession that doesn’t have to end. It’s something you can do more or less of as time goes on. It’s all up to you and your health and economic status.

Set a target for two years from now. This is enough time to let your plan play out, but not so long as to not give you time to reflect on it.

What kind of assignments do you want to receive on a regular basis? In the beginning, you’ve been so focused on just getting published at first, then regularly, that you probably haven’t had time to think about the bigger picture. Are you taking anything that comes along just for the money or are you weighing in other things, like the relationships you have with editors, how quickly and how much they pay, and, believe it or not, if they appreciate you and your work.

Once you think about the types of assignments you’d like, think about what you need to know to get them? How much education, formal or otherwise do you need to upgrade your skills? How  much experience will working with particular assignments require? What types of people to you need to gather for contacts?

The next question you have to ask yourself is what have you done so far that will help you? For this, you’ll need to start keeping a log, noting each assignment, how you did it, and the resources, people included, that you used to complete it.

What barriers do you see between where you are now and where you want to be in five years? Perhaps you don’t see any obstacles, but the road to freelance success is littered with them. Recognize this and prepare for them.

Publishing is changing at a rapid pace. Magazines are dying like flies sprayed with insect bomb. Trying to stay afloat, book publishers are merging faster than you can blink your eye. Will your long-term plan be able to cope with upcoming industry changes?

How well do you present yourself and your talents? Are you too timid or too difficult? Do you overreact to criticism? Are you trying to handle everything yourself instead of looking for the right kind of help? Have there been warnings that you’ve ignored?

As with any plan, your five-year plan must be flexible. You should constantly be updating it and adjusting it to fit your needs. But more importantly, be realistic. Know what you do best and then do it.

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