HI everyone, I’m Elizabeth Harmon, and I’m very glad you’re here. Thanks for giving up a Saturday in the middle of back to school season, and I hope that the next two hours gives you a chance to think about something besides shopping lists. This afternoon, we’re going to look at where we want to be this coming year, and create a roadmap to help us get there.
A little about me: I’m the author of seven romances, five are published, three are traditionally pubbed by Carina Press, two are indie releases. My debut series Red Hot Russians is sports romance set in competitive figure skating. By day, I’m a reference library associate, and also teach classes on Self-Publishing at a community college in my area. I’m also a married mom of two sons, both college students, so like all of you, I juggle writing around a lot of responsibilities. This year, I’ve taken time to work on my marketing and website, and look forward to plunging into a new writing project this fall.
Creating this workshop– which is based on a session I presented at Spring Fling 2018, which is my RWA chapter’s bi-annual conference, was also an occasion for me to evaluate and revise my own plan, to get on track for the fall.
Doesn’t that sound like fun?
That was pretty much my reaction too. I’ve worked in Corporate America. I know all about strategic plans full of meaningless gobbeldy-gook. I also was a self-employed freelance writer for a long time, and every year, usually around January I’d start thinking, “yeah…I ought to have a business plan.” So I’d Google “how to write a business plan”, and dig into the process, which was always geared to people like this guy…
It was all about numbers, business-y stuff. Calculate my incremental sales percentage. What does that even mean? If I knew, I’d have my MBA and I’d be making a lot more money. So year after year, I continued to ignore this very basic practice.
But in 2015, as I was trying to figure out my way as a newly published author, I read a series of articles in Romance Writers Report– I have them listed at the end of the presentation, which helped shift my thinking. Creating a business plan and thinking strategically was really just a matter of thinking about what I wanted to accomplish and what I needed to get there– whether that was time, money, or just a sense of direction.
It made me stop thinking about numbers, and start thinking about how to use what I had at my disposal. Which brought me back to three basic things we all possess: Time, Talent and Treasure.
We all have these things, but they look different for each person and none are unlimited. So what’s the best way to allocate them? That’s what we’ll be talking about this afternoon.
What’s nice about this method is that components of the plan build off one another.
This afternoon we’ll work through six steps. I’ll explain each one, give examples of what my components look like, then give you time to work on your own.
We’ll start with a broadly focused Vision Statement, define what’s most important to use and create a list of Values and Strategies to those values into actions. We’ll use that to create a Mission Statement which serves as a roadmap, as we set Goals, and look at the specific steps we’ll need to accomplish them, our Tactics. Lastly, we’ll look at the resources we have available, and identify gaps we need to fill, as well as brainstorm ways to make that happen.
I have learned a lot from the process over the years I’ve done it. It takes a little time and effort to create the first plan, but subsequent plans go more quickly.
And they’ll be different– not just in terms of what you want to accomplish, but also why. Some things will drop off your plan, new things will replace them. That’s okay. The point isn’t to be rigid but to consciously adapt– rather than just reacting to whatever comes along.
I like to create a printed document I can refer back to, and use a template from Publisher. Use whatever is most comfortable, and accessible. I brought a copy of my 2019 plan so you can see how I use it, and how the information we’re going to talk about is integrated.
No plan works perfectly, and recognizing that from the start can take a lot of the pressure off. In 2018, my plan was completely disrupted two months in, after I started a new full-time job. Four months later, when was laid off from that job and had to find a new one, the book I’d intended to write was shoved to the backburner. In October, I started a new position, I had no desire to go back and work on that project. So I came into this year with no writing project at all. Instead, I focused on some of the things I’d always meant to tend to, but never had time for, such as creating a new website. Planning gave me the focus to work on what I could, and not feel guilty about what I wasn’t working on.
Which leads me to my next point: Not every goal is going to be met, and that’s okay. Simply taking the time to think through your goals and resources and create a plan, even if it’s not perfect, will help you achieve more than you would have with no plan at all.
Because we’re writers, I’ll start with Talent, which is the foundation of what we do. The first steps of the process involve looking at why we do what we do. In fact, the entire point of the first part of this exercise is looking at identifying your own foundation and core values…whatever they happens to be.
No matter where we are in our career, there’s always the feeling that we need to be doing more. Taking a little time to think about what’s important to us, will allow us to create goals that reflect those things and to be more deliberate in what we do, rather than dashing around trying to do everything.
The three personal statements we’re going to work on narrow the scope from:
Vision Statement- the broadest and most general
A list of Values/Strategies- still broad but a little more specific
Mission Statement- a bit more specific
Our Vision Statement is our personal logline.
We’re all familiar with loglines, we do them for our books, and also for our brands. But have you ever done one for yourself on a personal level?
Why do we need them? This statement will become our compass– pointing us in the right direction in terms of the big picture.
Think about quotes on your wall at home. Something you have tucked in your purse. A line of poetry, Scripture, or philosophy. If you have something in mind…take a moment to jot it down.
A Vision Statement uses affirmative, assertive language…to describe what inspires you, and what matters to you.
It probably won’t change dramatically year to year. But it can. Mine has.
For several years I’d used a verse from Proverbs: Commit your plans to the Lord and you will succeed. But the word “succeed” kept tripping me up, because my definition of success was too focused on best-seller lists, making lots of money. That’s great if I write bestsellers, but some reflection taught me that really isn’t the reason why I write. I write for the love of a story, rather than focusing so much on its commercial appeal. And my Vision Statement spoke “money” to me. So I changed it.
My new Vision Statements….and yes, you can have more than one are:
The first is a reminder that whatever happens in my writing career, something good will come from it and the second is permission to do what I’ve always done– write the books I want to read, which don’t otherwise exist.
So between St. Paul and Toni Morrison I feel like I’m on the right track.
We’re going to take about 10 minutes for you to work on your Vision Statement. You might have something in mind already, but if not, I’ve brought along some lists of quotes to inspire you. I’ll put copies out to share, or if you prefer, you can pull up the lists on your phone or laptop. The websites are listed on the Resources page at the end of the presentation.
When you find the quote that feels right, write it down on the next to last page with the under the heading Vision Statement
10 MINUTE BREAK
Anyone like to share what you chose and why?
So if Vision is our COMPASS, our values and strategies define the impact we’re going to have on the world.
When we talk about the world, we can mean something far reaching, or focused on the world right around us– our community, a smaller groups of readers or writers, friends, family, whomever you want to impact.
Think about your Vision Statement. These values conveyed in this statement, are clues what matters to you personally, and what kind of an impact you want to have with your writing and writing related activities.
Narrows the focus further onto specific activities that will guide our Mission Statement, which defines the goals we’ll set and the ways we’ll spend our time.
As an example, I’ve listed some of my values– which are the things that are important to me, and the strategies I use to bring them to the world.
Next, we’re going to work on your Values/Strategies list. Start by brainstorming a list of words that describe who you are and what you stand for. These can be things like kindness, perseverance, positivity, honesty, persistence, helping others. Come up with as many as you can, then group similar items under a single word. For example; persistence, consistency, diligence all have similar meanings. Narrow your list down to about 10 words that describe you.
Next, consider what actions these words suggest. Perseverance might suggest finishing a book rather than abandoning a project. Helping others could mean critiquing another writer’s work, it could mean serving on a committee in your chapter, it could mean teaching or mentoring. What does “success” or fulfillment mean to you? “Writing more,” “writing faster,” “effectively promoting my books,” etc.
List the actions on the worksheet under Values/Strategies
10 MINUTE BREAK
Anyone like to share what your list and what they inspired?
Now it’s time to craft our strategies into a mission statement, which is your personal roadmap .
Go to the strategies list, and get even more specific. Instead of “writing romance,” what kind of romance will you write? What values will it convey. If leadership is important, how will you lead? Who will you lead? These are the things you want to include in your Mission Statement.
A mission statement uses assertive language– I will, I commit, rather than I want to, I hope to, I’ll try to, etc.
This may change year to year as your career evolves. Early on, I focused on networking, learning and building sales. Not that I’m not focused on those things still, but my primary focus has shifted a bit.
Here’s an example of mine, an old one and the one I’m using right now. Since I have shifted from writing full-time, to working full time, to working part-time, teaching part-time and writing part-time my mission statement has changed to reflect that.
Breaking it down:
The word professional reminds me that this isn’t a hobby I’m approaching casually– or ignorantly. Unique touches upon my Vision Statement– one of them. Reaching readers to the best of my ability. I don’t have hours each day to work on promo, this acknowledges that… and shifts further away from the whole “hit a list” definition of success.
Continually improving craft and business knowledge– these are things I love doing, and can accomplish by coming to conferences, reading, taking online workshops.
Sharing my knowledge with others speaks to teaching.
Now it’s time to craft our strategies into a Mission Statement that will guide how we use our time.
Return to your Values and Strategies lists and get more specific, further defining what you want to accomplishHere’s where you can get even more specific in terms of actions, your audience, your genre, etc. Consider non-writing activities…do you want teach others, serve in a leadership position, launch an editing business?
Keep in mind that this is a draft, so you’ll likely refine it. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it’s a place to start. Add it to your worksheet under Mission Statement
10 MINUTE BREAK
Anyone like to share what you wrote?
This is a good place to take a short break, before we jump into time management. We’ll come back at TEN MINUTES LATER. Meanwhile, if you want to ask me any questions, come on up!
Now that we’ve figured out what we’re going to do with our time, now we’ll look at ways to accomplish our goals.
Our Values and Strategies had a baby– the Mission Statement. Now our Mission Statement is going to give birth to our Goals.
Goals are the focused objectives we want to accomplish: Publish a book, Query agents, Re-do our website, etc. Depending on how large those goals are, and how much time we have to devote to them, we might choose three to five. Any more than that, which tends to be my trap, you get overwhelmed and discouraged because you don’t accomplish as much as you hoped.
Think about your work style. Are you someone who can juggle multiple goals simultaneously, or do you work better concentrating on a single goal, completing it, and moving on to something else. When I was at home writing full time, juggling several projects was fairly easy. But when I started working a non-writing job, I didn’t have nearly as much time to devote to writing. Jumping from thing to thing was too distracting and I never felt like I was getting ahead. This year, I’ve focused on just one or two projects at the same time, and I accomplished a lot more. While I worked on my website, and developed classes, I didn’t write. Now that the website is finished, and the courses have been developed, I’ll turn my attention to writing.
Goal setting helps identify activities that don’t further your mission. Chances are, new opportunities– or distractions– will surface. When they do, knowing what your mission is from the beginning can help us decide if this new thing is something we want to spend our time on. For example, if one of my goals is to teach, and I Iearn about an opportunity to present at a conference, that might be something I want to pursue, but I would also be aware that I might have to set aside something else.
Goals should be SMART– which means Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Bound. While it’s okay to reach for the stars, there should also be some goals that are within your reach, otherwise it’s easy to get discouraged. It’s also important that they be something you can control. Hitting a best-seller list or finaling in the RITAs are wonderful things, but they’re not something you have control over. Better goals might be to join in a boxed set or anthology project that could potentially hit a best-seller list; or enter your book in the RITAs.
Our goals tell us what we want to accomplish in the broader sense…but how does that translate into what we do day by day?
Think about the Strategies you listed earlier: Mine are Write/Edit/Publish, Improve, Reach, Teach. Your Mission Statement defined them a little more. Your Goals are focused objective for each strategy.
You can also work your way from broad to specific by going back to your brainstorm list, taking a few of those big goals and breaking them down into steps you’ll need to get there (aka) Tactics.
Some of my tools: a dry erase board, paper planner with each day divided into columns and time tracking sheets.
Laura Vanderkam’s book I Know How She Does It, encourages you to think about the time you have available during a week, after plugging in hours for work, family, personal time and yes, sleep.
While I don’t use track all the time, but when I have a lot to accomplish it can help me see how I’m allocating my time, and where I might be able to find more hours to put toward my goals.
Now we’re going to turn our Mission Statement into specific goals, and break those goals down into steps we’ll need to accomplish them. From your Mission Statement, come up with 3-5 things you would like to accomplish this year. Beneath each one, list the smaller tasks you need to complete them. Some goals will only have a few tactics, other goals will have many. That’s fine. It just means you’re going to need more time for that goal, and that even if you don’t meet it, you’re making progress.
Enter your goals and tactics into the Monthly Goals page.
10 MINUTE BREAK
Anyone like to share what you wrote?
The final step in the process is identifying and managing the resources you’ll need to meet your goals.
This step might require additional research, especially if your goals are things like Attend RWA National in 2020, or Self-Publish a book. You might not know the exact cost of attending National, hotels, flights, meals, etc., but you can start with an estimate and work from there.
If you estimate registration at say, $500, airfare at $1000, hotel at $1000 and another $500 for meals and incidentals, you can use a preliminary figure of around $3000. With roughly 11 months between now and RWA2020, you know you’re going to need to set aside about $275 each month between now and then to cover the cost.
Anyone who’s done basic budgeting knows these steps, but thinking them through when you’re setting your goals can do two things:
It can help you prioritize budget intensive goals. For instance, if funds aren’t unlimited, you might have to decide that attending RWA AND self-publishing in the same year, aren’t feasible. Maybe going to RWA to learn everything you can about self-publishing might be a better use of your resources, so you can tackle self-publishing next year,.
It can also help you find creative ways to manage your resources. If attending RWA2020 is a must, you can look for ways to trim your cost, such as finding roommates, combining the conference with your family’s vacation.
I felt like a real professional when I graduated from a sheet of notebook paper to an Excel spreadsheet, which I’m showing a little of here. On the left I have expenses on the top, revenue sources at the bottom. Each column lists the month that the expense will come due.
This process will be ongoing, as you refine your plans. Going back and looking at credit card or bank statements from previous years can also give you an idea of what you spent when, such as conference registration, memebership renewals, advertising etc.
And if you are published, or are going to be– either traditionally or self-published, open a dedicated checking account for your writing business. It will help you manage your income and expenses a lot more easily.
The final piece of our plan is a tentative budget that determines how much our goals will cost, and identifies potential revenue sources, or possibly, creative ways we can meet some of those expenses.
If you already know your costs, great, otherwise, you can do quick internet searches, or share information with one another, especially authors you know who have self-published and might be willing to share.
10 MINUTE BREAK
Anyone like to share what you learned?
I used this illustration of a baseball player for a couple of reasons:
Baseball players have a psychologically demanding job, because hitting a baseball is one of the most difficult feats in sports. Even good players strike out at least half the time. Sometimes they swing and miss, sometimes they don’t swing at all, and sometimes they hit the ball with the sweet spot of the bat and knock it out of the park. But they’re constantly assessing their progress and making adjustments when they need to.
That’s what you’re doing too. Not every goal you set for this year is going to be met. But my guess is, you’re in this writing thing for longer than just a year. So your plan will stick around longer too. There are some things you can do to improve your chances of meeting at least some of your goals:
Make it real. Talk about it, with your critique partners, with your family. Get them excited about the goals you’ve set, and update them on your progress. Celebrate when you achieve a goal, or even get a challenging tactic accomplished. I also recommend you print a copy of your plan and keep it someplace where you’ll see it often. I keep mine in my yearly planner, where it serves as a bookmark for the current month. Your goals will guide your monthly and weekly to-do lists.
Keeping your plan handy also helps you check in regularly. Your Vision, Values and Mission will remind you why you’re doing this. Tracking your expenses and savings can help you gauge your progress. When adjustments are needed, because of life demands, budget issues, or whatever, you’re in a better position to make them and stay on track.
That’s the process. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and found it helpful, and best of luck with your goals for the coming year.