SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 8: GET ORGANIZED

I love restoring order from chaos. I don’t enjoy the chaos part, but I like to organize. It’s what helped me keep my toy department neat during my brief Kmart career, and I think it’s why I don’t mind cleaning up the kitchen after a party or dinner. I’m a big believer in “a place for everything and everything in its place” – and I enjoy putting those things in their places. 

I believe this trait has been an asset for Nenn Pen, Ink. My need for order and my ability to organize have helped as I set up my writing business. After all, it requires more than a little organization to stay on top of assignments and requests from multiple clients, meet various deadlines and work with a fluctuating income. (This variety is what I was looking for when I started, though, and I enjoy the process.)

– If this sounds less fun for you than it does for me…don’t say I didn’t warn you.

– If you’re not scared off by a bit of organizational effort, then you should be ok pursuing this career. (Or, maybe you can afford to hire an assistant – but that requires some organization, too!)

– If you don’t mind a little work (or a lot, if you’re not naturally organized), you should be fine.

This aspect of the job simply comes easier for some than others. For those of you who don’t naturally color-code your sock drawer, I’ve put together the following tips. These four areas cover the basics you need to get your business organized.

Deadlines

Let’s start this section with a confession. I had originally planned to write this post weeks ago.

I’ll give you a minute to stew in the irony…

Ok – moving on to what we can learn from this…

I’m typically very dedicated to meeting deadlines. The problem with this one was two-fold: I had no accountability, and I had no income riding on it (which is actually another aspect of accountability).

If you’re setting your own deadlines (to publish a blog, release a book, etc.), it helps immensely to have accountability. If you’re trying to finish paid projects, this helps as well. There are three main types of accountability to consider for your business and writing goals.

 

  • Individual accountability: Put the deadline on your calendar. Yes, it’s self-imposed, but it’s still a deadline. If you put it in writing, it carries more weight. Plan a reward for yourself when you make the deadline.
  • Personal accountability: Choose a person or some people in your life (up to four) that can help hold you accountable to your personal deadlines. These are good friends who will ask you how things are going and encourage you to meet your goals. You know they’re going to ask you this weekend if you entered that writing contest or worked on your new book. This spurs you on to make the effort so you can say, “Yes, I did!”
  • Professional accountability: This naturally occurs when you have a deadline to meet for a client. Let them know when you will complete the work, then deliver the finished product on time (early is even better).  If you miss your deadline, you have an unhappy client, you might not get paid, and you lose future business. Hopefully, this is motivating enough to keep you on track with client deadlines.

Once you get some accountability in place, you also need a system to stay organized. As with personalizing other aspects of your business, myriad options exist for a deadline system. I simply use a couple of Excel spreadsheets. One is titled “Open Projects.” It lists current projects and their deadlines. The second is my weekly calendar, on which I assign myself work each day based on what is due when.

I am sure there are hundreds of apps out there to organize a calendar, so you simply need to find one that works for you. The important thing is to get in the habit of scheduling your days and weeks so you complete each task on time. Break down large projects into manageable chunks and schedule a realistic amount of work for each day.

Remember, your deadline for a client is likely one in a domino-set of deadlines for their own projects and clients, so missing it causes fallout all the way down the line.

Hint: It’s much less stressful if you avoid both procrastination and overbooking – and your work will generally be better quality.

Follow-up

How often have you contacted someone, and they failed to get back to you? Or, maybe they did get back to you, but it was days or weeks later. How did you feel? Did you want to contact that person again? Did you wait around for them, or did you take your business elsewhere?

Get back to people ASAP. Don’t keep people waiting. Remember, if someone contacts you about a job, they may be contacting several other potential sources, too. Be the first to get back to them so you get the business. Let them know they are important to you.

Hint: Set boundaries as you start. Being responsive doesn’t mean you have to answer emails at 2 am or work through the Sabbath. Either post your hours and stick to them, or let people know what to expect when you start working with them. (For example, if you receive an email on Friday after 6 pm, clients know you will respond first thing Monday morning – not before.)

Appointments

Depending on what types of writing projects you complete, you may need to set phone or in-person appointments. You may interview a source, gather information for a project, or conference-call with a client team. Part of staying organized means making these appointments.

Set reminders, then make the calls or meetings on time. Make it a habit to be reliable when it comes to scheduling and follow-up. This quality is rarer than you might think. It will make you stand out above the competition. On the flip side, missing appointments will sink your business.

Use your calendar, phone reminders, or whatever system works for you (just be sure to have a system). Do what it takes to ensure you never miss an appointment and are always on time.

Finances

We’ve already discussed the challenges of living on a variable income. The aspect I’d like to cover here is the logistics of your finances. Here’s what I recommend as you start your writing business.

Keep ‘em separated: You’ll get this same advice from just about every business professional. You need a separate financial account for your writing income. Create a checking account for your business. Deposit all payments you receive for writing here. The only funds that go in this account are ones you earn from writing jobs. Any expenses you incur related to your writing business come out of this account, and only expenses related to writing are taken from here.

Schedule payday: Pay yourself regularly from your business account. Budgeting is easier if you space this out as if you worked a “normal” job. Pick a pay period you like and stick to it. Maybe you pay yourself every Friday or every other Thursday. When payday arrives, simply transfer the money you have earned since the previous payday into your regular (non-business) account. This is your earnings to spend on bills, a date night, or a new toy for your cat.

Don’t forget S.E.T.: It might be tempting to transfer all your earnings on payday. Don’t do it. When tax time comes, you’ll be one unhappy writer. Set aside a portion of your income to pay taxes when they are due. The amount varies depending on your tax bracket and your state of residence, but 25% of your earnings is a good figure to use for federal taxes. This covers regular taxes plus your self-employment tax (S.E.T.). In Illinois, you’ll need another 3.75% for state income tax.

That means, on payday, you’ll only transfer 75% of that pay period’s earnings into your checking account (or 71.25% – whatever the total is with your state tax added in). The rest will remain in your business account to use for quarterly estimated tax payments. Don’t forget to put these tax due dates on your calendar and set reminders to pay them. They are typically April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15.

Ready…Set…Organize!

Are you feeling empowered to organize your efforts for a successful writing career? If “overwhelmed” is a better description, don’t despair. Keep in mind, you’re free to try different systems of organization until you find one that matches your personality and needs. Don’t give up. If you “whiff” on a deadline or a phone call, that’s not cause to call it quits. Learn from the situation and add to your organizational system for the next time.

That brings us to the next question: When should you call it quits? Is there ever a time to say no? Watch for answers in the next post…

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 9: KNOW WHEN TO FIRE A CLIENT (AND HOW)

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