by Holly Mortimer

You’ve completed your book and are ready to upload it and send it out into the world. Congratulations. You’re now the CEO of your own publishing business. So, now what?

This is a 4-part series for Kobo Writing Life about how to build and grow a sustainable writing business. Today, we’re talking about all things start-up and how to set up your business for success in Canada.

Every successful business started with a plan, and that’s exactly where you need to begin too. Writers’ business plans look very different than traditional business plans look. Unless you’re needing to apply for a commercial loan, your plan only requires  four key sections:

  1. Customer Profile
  2. Marketing
  3. Operations
  4. Cash Flow

Let’s look at these in more detail:

Always start with your customer in mind – also known as your reader. Knowing who your ideal reader is and why they enjoy your work is key to creating a sales and marketing strategy that contains copywriting and imagery that speaks directly to your reader and entices them to buy your book.

For example, if you write sports romance, your ideal reader profile might be someone who loves sports, loves the enemies-to-lovers trope, has a dog or a cat, prefers to read wide with Kobo, exclusively reads eBooks and audiobooks and is a parent who when she feels particularly overwhelmed, finds a quiet space and a glass of wine and sits down to read. This reader is a woman and she’s between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five and works full-time.

With this profile, you can really dig deep into the reasons why she loves your books and use words in your marketing copy that make her feel like you’re speaking directly to her. Starting here will save you so much time and money and requires less experimentation in your ad copy, which means less money spent in learning phases.

So now you know who you’re selling to; it’s time to do a little market research. Create a section of your plan with data points that you think are important to your reader and then dive into the internet and talk amongst friends and strangers who read your genre with a few questions at the ready.

You’ll want to research:

  1. Covers.
  2. Categories.
  3. Best-sellers.
  4. Where your readers are making buying decisions from – word-of-mouth, social media such as TikTok and Instagram, BookBub, author newsletters, or something else.
  5. Any other relevant reader preference info, which could include list prices for your books, what platforms your readers use to read, popular lengths of books and popular styles of books, like eBook, paperback, hardback and audio.

You’ll then take this data and analyze it. Where are you going to market your book based on the information you got? What kind of cover are you going to create? What categories are your competitors in? What are you going to price your books at?

Okay, so you now know who you’re selling to and you’ve got your data. It’s time to insert this into the implementation portions of your plan. First, you’ll create a marketing plan. A marketing plan is more than just “you’re going to use social media and build a website.” That’s not going to help you build a strategy. You need to take the data you’ve gathered and make a step-by-step guide with it.

Your marketing plan should look something like this:

Social Media Channel(s)

Instagram – main channel
Newsfeed posts – 5X per week
Stories – daily – 7X per week
Reels – 3X per week
I will use Instagram as my main social media channel. I’ll use the three main tools that Instagram provides: newsfeed, stories and reels. I’ll build an Instagram bio that will direct new followers to a Linktree that will move them on to my newsletter and my website.

From here, just repeat something similar for each marketing channel you’re choosing to use. A word of caution: when you’re just starting out, don’t feel the need to use every marketing channel out there. Start with one or two and master them. Choose your channels based on that ideal client profile you built and then grow to include more channels when you’re ready.

After you’ve completed your marketing plan, it’s time for the operations section. In here you’re going to think about where you’d like to sell your books, how much you will charge for them, who is going to print them, will you have a team to help you? Like an editor, cover designer, assistant? Will you have a website and where will it be hosted? Anything that falls under the purview of producing your book and selling it.

The final and in my opinion most important step in your plan is to create a cash flow spreadsheet. This is just your best educated guess as to what expenses you’ll incur to start up, what expenses you’ll have on a month-to-month basis and how much revenue you’ll need to earn each month to pay for those expenses.

If spreadsheets give you hives, a piece of paper and a pencil are all that are needed!

Start by making a list of all the expenses on a month-to-month basis that you can think of that would be associated with running your business. Think about things like editors, website hosting, advertising, covers, travel, printing costs, etc.

Once you’ve done that, then do your best to guesstimate your earnings for each month. What you’re looking for is the ability to either break even (earn the same amount of money that you’re spending) or to be profitable in as many months as possible, with the intention of growing to the point where you’re consistently profitable.

In this income section, make sure you list all the possible revenue channels, like the sales platforms for eBooks, audiobooks, print copies (if you offer them), direct sales, library purchasing and more.

If you use a spreadsheet, the cool part is that right there in front of you, the numbers will begin to tell you the story of how you’ll need to run your business in order to earn money. Increase revenue opportunities or decrease expenses? You can begin to ask yourself these important questions after reviewing your spreadsheet. It’s a fantastic planning tool to help manage your expectations and expenses.

So, now you’ve got a plan. As entrepreneurs, the next thought almost always involves money. Will you need any funding to start your business? What are your start-up costs and how will you finance those?

We’ve looked at the month-to-month operational costs, but what about those costs you’ll need to get started? Admittedly, as a writer, you can keep your start-up costs quite low, but you’ll still need to spend a little bit of money once your book is complete. It’s possible to gain access to banking packages that could include a line of credit, a credit card or a small business loan, or you can use your own funds, but make sure you keep track of those personal spends so the business can reimburse you.

We’ve come to the final stop on the start-up pathway: keeping track of everything. You have a few choices here.

You can go old school and just use a logbook for money in and money out. Or, you can elevate that to the next step, which is by using a spreadsheet and Word doc. Levelling up once again, you can use a cloud-based bookkeeping service like Wave, Xero or Quickbooks. This is my preferred way to keep track of my writing business. It’s affordable and allows me to really keep my finger on the pulse of the financial health of my business. Finally, you could just decide to outsource this part of your business like the majority of entrepreneurs and hire a bookkeeper to manage the monthly financials for you.

One final thought that I get asked often: do I need to register my business? The easy answer is most likely no, but the bigger picture answer is, it depends. For authors based in Canada, for example, the Canadian government has made it very easy to run a writing business without worrying about registering the business. If you’re not selling direct and earning revenue exclusively from royalties, you aren’t required to register your business at either the provincial or federal level and can open your business without any government systems overwhelming you. However, as your company grows and you add in other revenue streams that earn you a significant income, it’s in your best interest to explore incorporating your business under the guidance of a small business tax accountant. This will potentially save you on your income tax and open your business up to government grants and program opportunities if they arise.

There really aren’t that many government roadblocks in your way when it comes to starting your writing business. It just takes a product and a plan to make you the CEO of your business.

Okay, so now that you’ve got your publishing business up and running, your next step will be to scale the business up. Growth comes with its own set of unique challenges and in our next segment, we’ll break those challenges down and give you some strategies to overcome them.

Click below to download your own cash flow spreadsheet to use to plan for upcoming investments in your business and to chart your revenue growth.

Holly Darling – Owner, Holly Darling HQEmail Marketing Consulting

Contemporary Romance Writer – Holly Mortimer

Holly Darling is the owner of Holly Darling HQ, a business that focuses on helping authors create and implement their email marketing and business strategies to sell more books and build their brand loyalty. She has worked with creative business owners for the past ten years, helping them grow a business that is data-driven and automated, allowing them to spend more time on writing their books while easily implementing their business plan.

She has appeared on multiple author-focused podcasts, delivered multiple workshops on email marketing and automation at over fifty conferences and appeared on Canadian news channels as a creative entrepreneurship expert.

She is also a self-published contemporary romance author under the pen name Holly Mortimer, and she’s turned her passion for travel into a romance brand that transports readers around the world discovering love inside their favourite travel destinations.

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