The Business of Writing: Budgets

As a small business owner, every decision I have made to date for my business is based on the anticipated return on investment (ROI). The main goal of my business is to make enough money to pay my business expenses and have enough left over to pay myself so that I can contribute positively to my household and my future.   My business has been in a state of flux since I started it over three years ago. I always knew I wanted to be my own boss but this business was not planned, it was a knee-jerk response to a career emergency (my job being outsourced).

That this was not a good reason for starting a business has become very apparent to me. But I haven’t given up on my dream of being my own boss and I have been evolving my business to try and mold it into the shape of that vision. Saying that it has been a complicated process it a little bit of an understatement. Add the struggle of trying to cover expenses, meeting current client obligations, doing all the administration necessary to keep it running smoothly, avoiding costly mistakes (think IRS fines and penalties) and figuring out how to actually run a business, and it’s a wonder I haven’t run screaming to the employment office to get a job.

During the most recent iteration of ‘what do I really want to be when I grow up’ I have reached the conclusion that, in order to realize my dream of the independence of being my own boss, I have to stop focusing on the finances.  This doesn’t mean that the finances aren’t important, it’s is just a way to put them into perspective.

The quote by Terri Guillemets states, “follow your passion, and success will follow you” has helped me gain perspective.  I haven’t figured out how to follow my passion through my business yet, but I know what it is and I’m looking forward to the journey.

That’s all well and good, but let’s be realistic here.  Unless we are independently wealthy we have to consider our finances no matter how passionate we are – about either our business or our writing.

Isn’t the point of writing to get published and isn’t payment a byproduct of being published?  Well, yes and no.

I’ve heard some writers say that the only reward they want is to be published, they are not interested in the money. I’ve heard other writers say that publishing pays peanuts anyway, so you have to be in it for the writing and not the money. I’ve also heard of writers who are passionate about their writing and make tons of money doing it; writers who are not passionate but make money anyway, and the sad cases of writers who are passionate, make money with their first book and then never publish again.  I assume you have also heard stories about writers and money?  Let me know your stories in the comments!

We also have to budget our time, because unlike money, time is not a renewable resource and writing (and getting published) takes a lot of time.  This has a lot to do with prioritizing and time management, topics which we have covered before and will cover again. The focus of this article is budgeting our expenses.

Finding out the average income of non-salaried writers is next to impossible. The only ones whose income is public are the fortunate few who make a lot of money. All other writers are somewhere along the pay continuum of earning very little to earning quite a lot. But the earnings, real or imagined, of being a writer are moot unless you are at the stage of publishing.

What if, like me, you’re not published yet?

How do we budget for our writing expenses when there either there is little income earned, or we are not yet published?

Fortunately the expenses involved with being a writer can be quite minimal. The minimum a writer needs (nowadays) is a computer, access to the Internet, and an email account. The only cost is a computer, email accounts are free (for now) and the Internet can be accessed at any public library. Laptop computers can be found for as low as $400.

Kick it up a notch and we will need a computer, a printer, home Internet, an email account, and some way to advertise online that we are writers. Advertising online that we are writers can be as simple as a social media account, or as complex as multiple social media accounts and a website.   Laptop computers $400+, printers $100, ink $100+/quarter,  DIY website with hosting $100+/year, Internet $25+/month.

Then we consider additional expenses such as education and marketing. Education can be as simple as those provided by any writing group one belongs to (free or low-cost), or as complicated as multiple week courses by brick-and-mortar or online providers – $99+. Marketing can be as simple as maintaining your own website and social media (no cost) to hiring experts (marketers, webmasters) to do it for you – marketing $100+/month, website $500+ and $50+/month.   Additional marketing and educational costs include attending conferences – $99+, plus related travel and accommodation expenses – $50+. Then there are the costs related to belonging to writing groups, although these costs are generally low – $15+.

I have been keeping track of most of my expenses for years.  Although I have not included consumables (paper, ink, etc.) and I am technical and business-savvy so I do my own website and social media, my average annual costs are $350/year.

This analysis of expenses has helped me create a yardstick by which I measure my writing success and set a goal for my writing income.  I can now state with confidence that when I reach the point that I am earning more than $350 a year from my writing then I am making money as a writer.  I will, in essence, be a successful writer.

Another way to measure success is of course by the quality of the markets one is published in, even if they are non-paying.  This will be a topic for a future discussion.

In my opinion, either way is far better than comparing oneself to other writers and using their successes to measure one’s own.

What do you think?

On what do you base your writing success?

What is your writing budget?

Are there any expenses I haven’t covered?

Are you published yet?  How has this affected your expenses and/or your budget?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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