But it’s one thing to write a plan. It’s a whole other thing to deliver it!
The one thing I learned in my previous career was that any sort of business plan is absolutely useless if it doesn’t have clearly defined objectives and a way of measuring them. They are often referred to as SMART objectives: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. As with all business planning tools, there are always newer, more up to date versions and explanations, but for my purposes, SMART works just fine.
Just to give a very brief explanation of SMART objectives for anybody who hasn’t come across this approach before:
Specific: What do you want to accomplish? Why are you doing it? Who is it with, or for?
Let’s take the example of Twitter usage, because it is so easy to understand.
My specific objective might be to build a Twitter following of 3000 people. Why? Because Twitter can be an amazing way of spreading the word (if you are lucky enough to write a tweet that people are interested in, of course). But the key thing here that people forget is the WHO. Without considering the WHO in the specific section of the objective, you might just think it is the number that matters. But you don’t just want any followers. You want specific types of followers. So when you write this objective, you need to say who you want to follow you – it’s not just about the numbers.
I can measure this, because I have already stated the number of followers that I want.
Is it achievable? If you don’t know the answer, you have to do some tests. How long has it taken to build a following from 1000 to 1500? What tools can be used to make this achievable? It’s important to set objectives that stretch you, but if any are unachievable you will give up.
Is it relevant? If I had set an objective of developing a new soup recipe each week, that wouldn’t be relevant to my job as a writer and marketer of my books! That’s an extreme (and silly) example. But on a more subtle note, how relevant is Twitter to my readers? Do I understand who reads my books, and what forms of social media they use?
And as for timely (or time-bound) – an objective is no use unless you set a time frame in which you want to achieve something. Do you mean 3000 followers some time in the next year – or do you mean next month?
An example of a ‘not very SMART’ objective would be “To create a more effective Twitter stream”. What does that mean? How am I measuring the effectiveness? Is it the number of followers (shouldn’t be) or the number of retweets, or the number of people who click on the links on my tweets (measurable using utilities such as BIT.ly)? As soon as you add some element that is measurable, and a timescale in which to achieve it, you have an objective that is worth including in your plan.
Merely having objectives isn’t enough, of course. Actions have to be assigned, and a schedule created so that you can control your days.
I wrote my plan after the launch (way too long after the launch, to be honest) of Only the Innocent, and it wasn’t complete until about six weeks after my novel first appeared on Amazon. As I attempted to implement each phase of the plan I had to constantly re-evaluate to see whether it was working. Clearly it did, but I am not even slightly convinced that the same plan would work just as well next time around.
But I spent the first five months from the date of launch writing, implementing and evaluating this plan. I worked seven days a week, and at least twelve hours a day. I never moved from my office, and I actually didn’t leave the house for nearly three months (mind you, we were snowed in for about three weeks of that). I had no social engagements with anybody, invited nobody round to the house, nothing. I did absolutely zilch – other than market my book.
I am a keen cook, but I just didn’t have time. I wanted to eat whatever was easy and quick. I don’t do pre-prepared food though – ever. And we don’t have takeaways in Italy (other than pizza) – so I did still have to cook (although even that changed – but more of that in post 6). But I could spare the odd half hour to prepare a chilli to stick in the oven, and then cook some rice. And the rest of the time, I just ate biscuits… and got fat! I put on well over a stone in that period, which I still haven’t been able to shift.
So what would I do differently?
Apart from eating less, and cutting down the carbs, I have already mentioned that I would have written my plan well in advance – and that’s a given. But on the whole I don’t think I would have done anything else differently.
If I hadn’t pushed Only the Innocent to the top of the UK charts, and kept it there for weeks, I wouldn’t now be in a position where I know what I want to write, and I might even have stopped trying to publish. I wouldn’t have an agent, and I wouldn’t be champing at the bit to get the next book out there.
However, this time around my plan will be different, because I will be actively thinking of book three. So I need to make time for writing as well as marketing. In my new plan, I have a strict time schedule. I allow myself three hours and ten minutes of marketing each day. (The numbers just worked out that way when I added up all the tasks!) That includes answering emails, tweeting each day, responding to specific forums that I am a member of, and so on. And then for each day of the week, I have allocated time to just one social network (other than Twitter), plus time to engage in forums, write my blog and complete tasks determined specifically by my Marketing Strategy (such as ‘brief designer on cover art’).
I know that if it’s Wednesday or Saturday I have half an hour on each of those two days for Facebook. In between times I can still respond to communications, but those are my ‘active’ days. If it’s Thursday, it’s Goodreads – seeking out new places to chat, new people who are interesting and who I would like to get to know.
Most important of all, I have left myself several hours each day to continue to write. For the last six months or so, I have barely done any marketing, so now I need to get the balance right. Once the next book is established, I will cut back to a couple of hours a day of marketing, based on the objectives that proved the most successful.
As I have said several times in these posts – I am one of the lucky ones. I can afford the time to devote to marketing, and I know that many of you can’t. But I would urge you to take the time and trouble – just one weekend maybe – to sit down and work out your marketing strategy. Make your objectives measurable so that you know what really works for you, and discover what brings the results you are looking for.
And as a reminder – the purpose of these daily posts is to celebrate Only the Innocent’s first anniversary and to pass on some of the lessons that I learned during my first year as an indie author. Only the Innocent is available from Amazon UK for just one week for £0.99 and I would love you to spread the word. For other formats, please visit the all new Rachel Abbott website