Years ago, I wrote a bestselling book called 9 Habits of Highly Profitable Writing. I’m assaying a second edition now, and that process includes posting each of the habits here for you, for free.
We all have desires for our writing careers, whether it’s making $150,000 a year from home or getting that novel published. The thing is, most writers don’t make those desires real goals.
By “real goal” I mean something you’ve expressed in a way that’s measurable and specific, attached to a time limit, written down, then checked regularly.
- You make it measurable so you’ll know when you’re done, and how much progress you’ve made at any given time.
- You attach a time limit by setting a specific date by which you promise yourself you’ll be finished. With large goals, it’s a good idea to split it into smaller chunks along a timeline, such as writing a page a day to finish a 300-plus page book in a year.
- You write it down to give the goal psychological importance and permanence. Steve Maraboli once said a goal you don’t write down isn’t a goal. It’s a wish.
- You check it regularly to keep yourself inspired, and to confirm your daily decisions and progress are in line with reaching your goals.
You might have heard of SMART goals, which is a decades-old way of checking to see if your goals are really goals, or if they’re just wishes. I’m a big believer in this, so much so that I wrote a blog post about it.
Metrics and Key Performance Indicators
Keeping score is a matter of tracking your progress toward all of your goals. Metrics are how you keep score. They are ways of measuring your progress to keep yourself on track. I learned about metrics during my time running a martial arts studio. With 120 students and a staff of over 20 employees and volunteers, I had a lot of metrics to track. In my simpler life as a freelance writer, I track only a few.
Each of these metrics is like a vital sign. They tell me how “healthy” my writing business is at any given time, and — because I know how they work — if one number isn’t up to speed it gives me some ideas of how to fix it.
Every week, I go over these numbers.
- How much money I’ve earned by writing.
- How much money I’ve been paid for writing (sadly, not always the same as number one)
- How many posts for my blog and social media presence I’ve completed.
- How many action items – for example writing a scene or editing a chapter – I’ve completed on book projects.
- How many pitches I’ve sent to potential clients or new magazines.
- How many “acts of marketing” I’ve performed.
- Whether or not I’ve completed my weekly administrative tasks.
I hold myself to specific standards for each week, and plan my weeks to make sure I reach the monthly numbers I’ve promised to myself. The specific numbers are tied to my needs, my schedule and what my clients are asking me to do. Over time, the individual pieces add up to success.
It’s also important to identify one to three Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for a given week, month or quarter. These are the numbers that really tell you how you’re doing, and which — if they don’t look good — could threaten the health of your writing career.
If the metrics are your blood pressure and body fat ratio, the KPIs are whether or not you are breathing and able to move your legs.
My KPIs change based on what I’m focusing on at any given time. This quarter, I’m focusing on earning my monthly minimum income, and building my mailing lists and social media following. Thus, my KPIs are:
- Amount of money earned and paid
- Number of “meaningful contacts” made for potential followers
Watch both kinds of numbers and you will see your writing business grow. Fail to keep an eye on them, and if you succeed it will be a matter of luck. You can’t control luck, and you sure shouldn’t rely on it.
Ways To Keep Score
Really, any system that keeps your finger on the pulse of your writing business is a good system. If you already have a good handle on this, don’t go looking for a new system to learn and apply. If you don’t already have a system for tracking your metrics, here are a few that work pretty well.
It’s possible you already use this for your family finances. Apply the same concepts to track your progress toward earning a month’s worth of income, accumulating finished pages for your novel, and sending enough queries out to get the clients you want.
I use whiteboards to track my daily assignments. They’re easy to update as my day progresses, and they’re right there on the wall to remind me to stay on task. I have a big one for my work station wall, and a little one I carry around with me. You can do the same thing on a piece of paper, a drawing pad, or whatever else suits your fancy.
The advantage of professional metric tracking software is it’s the perfect tool for the job, fine-tuneable to your exact needs and built with tools to remind you about important assignments. Some will even lock down the games on your computer if you’re too close to deadline without showing sufficient progress. The bad news is these are expensive, sometimes very expensive.
Apps are the flip side of the professional software coin. They’re cheap or free, but don’t have the robust tools and easy customizability of the bigger suites. Still, a simple reminder app like Remember the Milk can combine with a to-do-list app to track a lot of your basic metrics.
The 3/4 Double-Whammy
As you recall from the last post, Habit Three is all about “Acting Your Age” and being responsible within your writing business. This habit is about getting serious with the metrics and numbers that drive your success.
If you’re slacking on Habit Three, it can become easy to let your numbers fall because tracking them isn’t very entertaining and besides, there’s Netflix to watch. This can end very badly for your and your writing.
But if you’re strong on Habit Three, Habit Four becomes pretty easy. Just promise yourself you’ll keep an eye out here, then keep that promise.