WG2E Guest Vickie Taylor talks “SWOT Your Way to a Sustainable Writing Business

Give a big ol’ WG2E Welcome to National Bestselling Author Vickie Taylor, who’s teaching us how to SWOT Our Way to a Sustainable Writing Business.

Take it away, Vickie…

These are such exciting times to be a writer. Possibility stretches out before us like an endless summer meadow before a child. We dream of–whatever it is that draws us to writing. Capturing in words our tales of wonder the way we once captured butterflies from that meadow in a glass jar. Accolades. A work-at-home job. A legacy to outlast us. Money.

But once we’ve made the leap of faith–published that first book, run that first blog hop, received that first royalty payment, quit the day job–our meadow can quickly become a quagmire. Floundering only sucks us in deeper. More, even if we sail across that meadow with youthful glee, we all know that the only thing that doesn’t change in life is that things are bound to change. Technology advances, markets shift, and people…well, people are just fickle.

So how do we create a business that will sustain us and our families over the long term? A few days spent diving into writing-related blogs will offer up many strategies that sound reasonable. But will what works for Jane work for Dick? There is a good chance it won’t. That’s because we’re all starting at different points in our careers and all aiming for different destinations. Road map directions from Cleveland to Tampa aren’t much help a person who’s in Dallas and needs to get to Tuscon. And even accurate directions fail to take into account current weather disruption, construction detours, and traffic delays.

One way many writers plot their business courses is by setting goals. Goals are great. I’m a big believer. Goals are a form of business plan–and we’ve heard a lot about business plans and their value from folks like our host D.D. Scott. Now the question is, what goals do we set? Dick and Jane’s goals are different, as they should be. Goals need to take into account current conditions and future concerns.

When setting goals, I like to use a method some of the biggest, most successful companies in the world have used for years when developing their strategic plans: SWOTs. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities,andThreats.

The gist of it is, to create a sustainable business people need to leverage their strengths, improve in their weak areas, take advantage of opportunities, and mitigate threats. The specific goals for the business must cover all those areas to be sure they are developing a business based on a solid foundation, but also nimble enough to navigate changing business weather in years to come.

Strengths

We all have things we’re good at. Those are our wheelhouses, our low-hanging fruits. The things we can immediately take advantage of to build our businesses. They become our short-term goals. A writer with a knack for capturing gut-wrenching emotion should apply herself to writing the most emotional books on the market. One with a background in forensic pathology might start a new crime/mystery series. Someone who writes incredibly fast (without sacrificing quality) may leverage his ability to publish a book every 60 days. Goals based on our strengths should be our “givens.” No-brainers.

Weaknesses

Yeah, we’ve all got them, whether we want to admit it or not. Writers who refuse to acknowledge their weaknesses are like horses wearing blinders. They can’t see the competition sneaking up on them until it’s too late. If we confess our weaknesses, we can great goals aimed at improving those less-than-stellar areas. If Jane is getting feedback that her pantser-plotted stories ramble and wander, she can set goals to take a class in story structure. When Dick realizes he doesn’t know past perfect verb tense from a compound predicate, he can do several things. First, line up a good editor (short term). But really, none of us should be sending our editors a hot mess. So Dick might also bookmark some resources on the web like Grammar Girl and the Purdue grammar series where he can look up answers to specific concerns as they arise during his editing process. He can also acquire and learn to use good reference materials like a dictionary, a thesaurus, and the Chicago Manual of Style (middle term). Finally he can commit to improving his skills. Take a class. Read. Subscribe to “tip of the day” services such as Daily Writing Tips. It’s free, takes only five minutes a day, is delivered right to our inboxes, and over time can really build up a writer’s ability to handle those tricky little grammar gotchas. Poor Jane, the introvert who hasn’t a clue about marketing, can find begin learning Twitter and Facebook, Pinterest and Goodreads. These would all be great goals to improve weak areas.

Opportunities

This is where staying in touch with the industry (through sites like WG2E) can make a difference. We keep our ears open for what marketing techniques are working. What sales venues are growing. We look at the assets in our portfolios and evaluate how we might leverage them. For example, I am a professional copyeditor and book formatter. As such, I’ve developed relationships with some great authors. Might I be able to leverage those relationships to promote my own work? Hmm. It depends, obviously. But it is definitely an opportunity worth exploring. I know at least a few are willing to accept the “Hey, I’ll edit your book for free if I can put a one-page blurb about my own book in the back” pitch. Other examples of opportunities include creative showcasing. Wrote a gritty book about a protagonist who is a boxing champion? Find out if there are boxing clubs in your city. Have a lovely book featuring a master gardener? How about setting up a table at the spring flower show?

Threats

This is probably the most important category when it comes to making a business sustainable over the long term. I doubt any of us are true prognosticators, but by following the industry we do see possibilities and trends. Traditionally published authors should certainly be aware of the shrinking print book market. KDP Select authors need to understand the concerns raised by exclusivity. The potential for Amazon to become a monopoly and drive all of its competitors out of business should worry us all. So how to make sure our writing business will be strong enough to weather these storms? Set goals to mitigate these risks.

If the idea of Amazon being the only game in town is a worry, set a goal to build your own bookstore and drive some percentage of book-buying traffic to it. I’m looking at a service called Gumroad, and hope to have it set up this year.

Threats aren’t limited to just sales venues, however. We have to look at the reading public. An author writing in a trendy market (sparkly vampires?) might worry about that trend losing favor. Another who writes in a niche market might consider expanding to an additional genre. Is anyone concerned that some of the retailers might crack down further on adult content? If they do, are those who write that content prepared?

The purpose of identifying threats is to set goals that will allow our business to dodge, feint, weather.

By considering our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats when creating our business goals, we create a balanced approach that will help us be successful both short term and long term, regardless of the external factors that can impact our industry.

What about you? Do you consider these things when developing your business plans?

~~~Vickie

Vickie Taylor a national bestselling, four-time Romance Writers of America RITA-nominated author of fifteen traditionally published novels who has now set her sights squarely on self-publishing. She is also a professional copy editor and book formatter. When she’s not writing or editing (which isn’t often) she is usually found working a FEMA certified search and rescue dog at some disaster or riding her horse in some remote location where she hopes (prays) she has no cell phone coverage.

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Comments

  1. SK Holmesley says:

    Thanks, Vickie. Loads of good information. I hadn’t heard of Gumroad previously. It would be interesting to hear about you’re experiences once you’re set up with them.

    • I’ll be sure to share when I get my own bookstore up. I believe there is also a way to do it through Facebook, so I need to explore that as well. I’ve heard good things about Gumroad, but as with any business venture, it’s important to do the due diligence before handing over your books and allowing them to accept royalties for you! So I’ll definitely be researching more before I move forward.

      • SK Holmesley says:

        I have one book that I always lead with when we’re trying new vendors. I consider it a throw-away in the sense that as a Regency I didn’t have to invent a stage my characters, so was able to write it in far less time than the longer novels, epics, and technical manuals that we’ve completed or are working on. I always put that one up first, since worst case scenario it’s stolen, which I can turn into free advertising, so still a win. :-)

  2. With great posts like yours, I feel more empowered as a writer than ever. I have weaknesses, sure – but you helped me to see I have strengths as well. Thanks for sharing today.

  3. Tamara Ward says:

    Thanks so much for this fantastic post! I’ve never looked at things this way, and I appreciate the new perspective.

    • Thanks, Tamara. SWOTs are common practice in building strategic plans for major corporations, and after nearly 25 years in management in the corporate world, it was a natural fallback for me.

  4. Bill Beaman says:

    Excellent post. One I intend to bookmark and review often. thanks!

  5. Julie Day says:

    Thanks for this. When I wrote my goals out for this year, I looked at DD’s strategy she’d put on here previously. I asked myself the questions she was asking herself. It did inc strengths and weaknesses.

    • Yep, Julie, DD did a great job outlining business plans, and this certainly isn’t mean to replace that — just another slant on the same issue to help people get the most out of their plans!

  6. Wow, GREAT article! You’ve given me a lot to think about. I especially liked the part about maximizing our strengths and working to improve weaknesses, along with the part about how to mitigate risks. I hadn’t thought about setting up my own bookstore (because, let’s face it, Amazon is going to eventually control everything!), but I think it’s an excellent idea for all writers. As your article points out, being prepared and keeping those blinders off is one of the keys to success!

    • Thanks, Riley. Glad you enjoyed the post.

      I think one of the pits it’s easy for all of us to fall into is that we write goals only based on our strengths. And I understand that–these are the things we’re good at, the things that set us apart from other writers. But if we truly want to be the best we can be and be ready to survive changes in the market and the economy, etc., it really is critical to address those weakness and threats for the long term.

  7. Thanks Vickie! I really appreciate your strategic business SWAT plan of attack. With all the information that is thown at us, I think you nailed it on the more important issues. Thank you so much for all the links. I’m sharing this post! :)

  8. Rena George says:

    Absolutely brilliant post, Vicky, so much thought provoking stuff.
    Like an earlier contributor, I’ll be book marking and referring to it often.

  9. Alison Pensy says:

    Great post, Vicky. Love the SWOT :-)

  10. Celina Grace says:

    Great post. I would be very interested in your experiences with Gumroad. Although I’m enrolled with Select, it makes me very uneasy to be unable to diversify. Good to know that there’s another alternative.

    • I’ll definitely follow up with Gumroad info, though I probably won’t tackle that project for another couple of months. One thing that was brought up on another forum I’m on is the critical need for a mailing list. Start building it now! That way, you’ve got direct access to your readers (who you know are interested in your work because they opted in, as opposed to blind marketing going out to people who have never heard of you and don’t care). That way, if the retail vendors begin to make their terms not so appealing, you’ve still got an audience to sell to. That’s definitely a way to mitigate that threat!

  11. Great information, Vicky. Thanks! Before I finished reading the post I was hit with inspiration and started making lists!