How Writers Can Apply Business Tools to Their Writing
When artistry unites with a little business know-how, you can grow your writing career, reach new audiences, and increase the impact your words get to have on the world.
In my first term of graduate business school, I stood in front of my class to give a presentation introducing myself to them. I started by talking about my day job career as an analyst and what had led me to pursue my MBA. Then I looked down, paused, looked back up, and started over, this time introducing myself as a fantasy and science fiction author. Then I paused again before reintroducing myself, this time as a mother of two young children.
We writers always strive to find creative ways to express ourselves. In business terms, that means identifying your points of differentiation. I believe a few key business tools—such as key performance indicators and the strategic SWOT analysis—can help you embrace your unique attributes and further your writing goals. These approaches might not work for everyone, but it can be fun to try out new tools and see what happens.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
“KPI” is a fancy way of saying, “something important that you measure.” Ask yourself, What metrics will give you insight into how well (or not) you’re progressing in your writing goals? Many writers look at how much new word count they generate, whether they focus on self-publishing, traditional publishing, or both. Self-published writers might also want to track things like reader retention or the effectiveness of certain marketing campaigns, while those sending out submissions to traditional publishers might want to calculate how many personalized rejections they receive out of the total, or how many submissions are held for consideration.
What’s important to each writer can vary. One of my main KPIs is how many new, complete stories I’ve drafted. That metric won’t resonate with everyone, but for me, it helps ensure I have new content to send out each year, whether it’s micro fiction or a novelette. Of course, some years I’m less productive than others, and the numbers show it. I always look at this metric alongside other ones so I can make sure I’m putting out both quantity and quality. It motivates me to keep growing as a writer, so I can apply new techniques as I learn them.
No matter what you choose to track, remember, when your KPIs trend in the right direction, it’s a chance to reward yourself!
There are certain things you can control in your writing career, and others you can’t. A SWOT analysis—the acronym stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats—is a way of splitting out the positives and negatives within your control from those that are external. Consider the questions below and take stock of your answers, listing them under each letter of the acronym.
- Strengths: What are your strengths as a writer? What makes your approach unique? What comes easily for you?
- Weaknesses: What do you have to work hardest at in your writing? What do you believe holds you back? What seems to come naturally for other writers that you struggle with?
- Opportunities: What changes do you see in the publishing world that excite you? What are some possibilities that could help you advance toward your goals? What are some opportunities adjacent to your main writing projects that could help you build your skills and/or platform?
- Threats: What do you notice in the publishing world that concerns you? Who or what is your main competition? The concept of threats might raise some hackles, but keep in mind, it’s part of the reality of being a writer. And competition is not necessarily a bad thing. Think of all the authors whose work you can’t get enough of—there’s more than one, right? Think of all the non-writing media you enjoy consuming as you replenish your imaginative well. Look at this as a chance to acknowledge that wider, interconnected system of creativity we’re all part of.
From SWOT Analysis to SWOT Matrix
To take your SWOT analysis to the next level, you can apply a layer of strategy to it. This means looking at your answers to the questions above and arranging them into a two-by-two matrix, with strengths and weaknesses going across on one axis, and opportunities and threats going up and down on the other. That way you can identify specific tactics that will help you address the intersections within each quadrant.
For example, let’s look at the quadrant where strengths line up with opportunities. This is always the most exciting one to fill in, because you get to focus on the positives—the areas you excel in, and the burgeoning prospects out in the world. Next, see how you can lean on your strengths to deal with any of the threats you’ve identified. Then, look at how you can counter your weaknesses by taking advantage of opportunities.
Finally, if you get to the quadrant for weakness and threats and feel stuck, don’t fret. This one’s always tough. Dig into your creativity to see how you might address your own internal weaknesses while mitigating external threats. Focus on furthering yourself as a gracious contributor to the literary community. You might be surprised by what you come up with.
A Final Word
The beauty of this approach is that it’s tailored specifically to you. You get to determine what success looks like for your career, as well as the positives and negatives that could impact your path there. You claim ownership over your strengths and weaknesses at this point in your development as a writer, and you gauge the relevant industry trends so that you’re informed and ready to navigate them. Go ahead, embrace those acronyms and put that business jargon to good use.