Introducing the Business Plan for Writers Worksheet!

by Jami Gold on August 28, 2014

in Writing Stuff

Arrow zooming up on a graph with text: Introducing the Business Plan Worksheet!

No one will ever care about our success as much as we do. That’s why—even though we’re writers—we should think of ourselves, at least on some level, as business people.

Not all of us have a business mindset, however. We might wish to be author-artists rather than author-business-professionals. There’s nothing wrong with that attitude.

But even as artists, we still need to be clear about our goals so we know whether to choose option A or option B. For example, some artist-authors might price their books for increased readership instead of income. Guess what? Choices like that are business decisions.

Ditto for traditionally published authors who want their publisher or agent to handle business-related issues. If those authors have clear goals, they’ll be better able to judge whether to use the same publisher for their new series, or if they want to diversify with a new genre, or whether their agent is steering them in a different direction from what they want.

No matter what kind of writer we are, we will need to make business decisions, and that’s where having a business plan can help. A business plan, even just a basic one, can help us recognize what’s important to us, brainstorm our goals, and design a plan to get from Point A to Point B while avoiding distractions.

What Can a Business Plan Do for Us?

Business plans don’t have to be about numbers or sales projections. (I don’t do math. *smile*) They can also be about defining who we are as an author and what we want for our dreams.

  • What kind of author do we want to be? What kind of stories do we want to write? What’s our message?
  • Who do we think is the target audience for our stories?
  • What makes our stories unique? Why would our target audience want to read them?
  • How do we define success? How will we know when we get there?
  • Are we ready to reach for success? What skills or knowledge do we still need to acquire to be successful?
  • What path will take us toward our success goal? Are we on that path already? If not, what do we need to do to get on that path?
  • Are we spending time on activities that impede our goals? Are adjustments needed to refocus on activities that match our goals?

Once we’re comfortable with knowing what we want, where we stand, and where we want to go, we’ll be better able to adjust to the fluid publishing environment.

We’ve all seen how the rules of “the game” change from month to month, and sometimes from week to week. Knowing what our goals are can help us keep an eye on the big picture and not be randomized with every change.

When we know what we want and where we want to go, it’s easier to look at changes and say, “How can I best take advantage of these new circumstances to reach my goals?” Quickly adapting is a far more productive response than flailing over the never-ending shifting sands under our feet.

In addition, simply having a business plan might help us present ourselves more professionally. Our family and friends might see that we’re serious about our writing and better understand or respect our choices. Or at the very least, we’d know how serious we are.

What Should We Include in Our Business Plan?

There are as many different ways to approach business plans as there are authors. Some of us might want something very specific and formal (like Denise Grover Swank’s fantastic example here, here, and here), and others of us might want more of a casual overview.

Whatever format we take, we need to allow for flexibility in our plan and the ability to revise as we go. The publishing landscape is changing constantly and life happens unexpectedly. But we’ll never get to where we want to go unless we have a basic direction in mind.

After looking at several author-focused business plans, I found these topics the most insightful. Some of these sections focus on the big picture, others force us to dig into difficult topics, and still others help us keep our eye on the prize.

Read through these bullet points to get an overview, or just scroll down to see the real thing:

Description of Author Business:

Operation of Author Business:

  • This section summarizes the business aspect—traditionally published vs. self-published—and touches on how the business would be structured and run.
  • This is the place for decisions like sole proprietorship vs. LLC or starting our own imprint vs. publishing under our author name.

Product Plan:

  • This section defines all products, current and planned, and specifies the target audience for each (including how we might reach them).
  • We should be specific here about ebook, print, or audiobooks, etc. so we know to include those production costs in our Development Plan.
  • If we include information about the actual or expected income from each product, we can track whether we’re prioritizing the best projects for our income goals.

Marketing Plan:

  • This section lists our strategies for everything from release schedules to writing series vs. standalone books.
  • This is where we get to brag about all the time we waste, er, spend on social media as we’re building our platform.
  • Do we have a newsletter or a blog? Are we active on Wattpad or Goodreads? Will we offer a freebie or use Kindle Select? Mention it here.

Competitive Analysis:

  • This section asks us to research and analyze other authors in our genre, specifically those who are successful.
  • What makes them successful? What strategies work for them?
  • How can we adapt their strategies to our strengths and stories? What can we learn about how to overcome or minimize our weaknesses?
  • Think about why readers might want our book in addition to (or instead of) the books released by these authors. What makes ours unique? Why might readers choose not to read ours over the other comparable books?

Development Plan:

  • This section defines a schedule for our goals and outlines the steps we need to take to reach each one.
  • This is the nitty-gritty for how we’re going to reach our definition of success. Everything from daily word counts to financial income vs. expense plans would go here.
  • We might want to use subsections for different schedules, such as one for our professional development goals, one for drafting and revising, another for publishing (however that looks for our chosen path, whether querying and submission or editing and cover art), and yet another for marketing.
  • Be as specific as possible with these steps (“I’m going to read two craft books to fix my x weakness by y date.”) so we can better track our progress.
  • Depending on how much we want to push and stretch ourselves, the schedule might be a bit uncomfortable, but it should always be achievable.

Introducing the Business Plan for Writers Worksheet!

I tried to make this worksheet flexible enough to help both those who want a formal plan and those who want just a casual overview. Use this worksheet however it works for you.

We might not want to specify details on every item listed, so think of the points under each section more as “thought triggers.” Or we could focus only on the areas we know we have weaknesses. Whatever works, works. *smile*

Screen shot of both pages of the Business Plan for Writers Worksheet

(click on the image to zoom in)

Click to download the Business Plan for Writers Worksheet — MS Word ’07 version (.docx)

Click to download the Business Plan for Writers Worksheet — MS Word earlier version (.doc)

As with many things on my blog, I’m sharing what I’ve learned. I’ve never had a business plan before. It seemed too intimidating or overwhelming (or maybe that was just the math), and quite frankly, I didn’t have the time (or was unwilling to make the time).

But now I’ve reached the point that I need a business plan if I don’t want to make mistakes with my choices. So I put this worksheet together for myself and decided to share in case others might find it helpful as well. Wish me luck in getting this completed. *grin*

Okay, I Have a Business Plan, Now What?

Once we have a business plan, we should probably revisit it once a quarter or so. Checking in on a regular basis gives us the opportunity to see what’s working and what isn’t, recognize where the publishing landscape has changed, and maybe even remind us of a strategy we meant to implement but haven’t yet.

Again, the point isn’t to make more work for ourselves. Rather, a business plan is all about putting to paper what we want and figuring out where we have holes so we can be smarter about our time and energy.

Whether we’re a newbie writer pursuing traditional publishing or a deep-in-the-trenches self-published author, we are small business entrepreneurs. We need to balance our creative, artistic side with our product-sales side. Hopefully, a plan that matches our business choices to our creative goals will keep both sides happy. *smile*

Do you have a business plan, and if not, why not? Do you find business plans intimidating? Do you agree that they can be useful no matter our publishing path? Do you have any questions about this worksheet? Will it help you tackle writing a business plan?

P.S. Don’t forget to check out all my beat sheets and worksheets for writers!

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35 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Carradee August 28, 2014 at 8:30 am

Something important to keep in mind while making a business plan: Include room for slippage. Include room for accidents. Include room for emergencies and illness.

Personally, my plans tend to go awry promptly after making them, because I tend to plan as if I’m healthier than I am. I’ll feel great, be thinking “I’m better! Whee!”…and then overload myself and collapse.

Despite the dozens of times I’ve done it, I still haven’t stopped. I’m gradually reducing how far the pendulum swings, on average, but it’s taking a long time.

I do have a universal theme as the backbone for my writing, though (so far, only on my Patreon page): “Everyone crazy somehow—some people just hide it better than others.” 🙂

Reply

Jami Gold August 28, 2014 at 9:20 am

Hi Carradee,

Absolutely! As I mentioned in the post, a business plan needs to be flexible and allow for revision–because life will happen. A frequent motto of mine: I plan, God laughs. 🙂

Having a plan doesn’t mean that we should stress about “failing to meet the schedule” or anything. It’s just about knowing what we want so we can head in the right direction and get a realistic feel for what we can try to accomplish. (I’ve been known to set impossible goals for myself, but if I force myself to think about how to make them happen, then I realize they’re impossible and revise–or at least cut myself some slack. LOL!)

Your example of overloading yourself and collapsing is what I tend to do with exercise plans. Every. Time. You’d think I’d learn. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung August 28, 2014 at 1:38 pm

“Everyone’s crazy somehow—some people just hide it better than others.””

😀 I love this universal theme of yours, because I so agree!

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Carradee August 28, 2014 at 5:55 pm

I only realized it after I’d written a several stories, but now that I know it, I’ve found that it helps when I’m stuck with a character. I just go, “Okay, so how are you screwed up?”

😀

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Jami Gold August 28, 2014 at 8:33 pm

Hi Carradee,

LOL! I love it. 😉

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Leslie Bird Nuccio August 28, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Holy cow, Jami, your post is seriously timely! I’m working on my plan right now including my production schedule. Love that!

Thank you for a great blog,

Leslie

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Jami Gold August 28, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Hi Leslie,

Woo hoo! Great minds and all that. 😉 I’m happy to help!

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Sara L. August 28, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Gosh, I haven’t even begun thinking about a business plan yet. *lol* It’s probably because I tend to focus on one thing at a time so I don’t overwhelm myself. And when you’re still waist-deep in the first draft, it’s hard to think that far ahead. That said, this article is extremely helpful. I’m going to print this as well as the worksheet as soon as I have a chance. 😉

One other thing I want to do when the time is right is apply for Grub Street’s Launch Lab. (Grub Street is a non-profit creative writing organization in Boston; I live about 30 minutes away from Boston.) It’s a workshop that focuses on marketing, PR, networking, and community-building for authors who have a novel due out within a year by either traditional publishing houses or self-publishing. It will be an investment of time and money, but I’ve learned so much from the one-day workshops I’ve taken at Grub Street that I know it will be worth it. The more useful tools you have in your knowledge tool box, the more informed you’ll be about the business side of writing.

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Jami Gold August 28, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Hi Sara,

I understand. 🙂 I’ve been working on mine all day today, and it’s not exactly thrilling writing or reading. LOL!

Like you, I like deep-focusing on one thing at a time. So if I’m not carving out a decent chunk of time to dig into a major project, it tends not to get done until deadline. For me, it felt like the deadline was now, hence the worksheet. 😉 Good luck with your draft and workshop plans, and thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung August 28, 2014 at 1:35 pm

My attitude towards business plans is like my attitude towards beat sheets: Yikes! :O

So I would definitely be the type who would just want to have vague ideas and very vague timelines in my head, and not write any of these down, lol. I’m one of those who feel intimidated by such business plans, haha.

But here are some plans in my head for writing:
—-will continue to do at least 2000 Chinese characters a day till the book is done, and I THINK this would be doable even after getting a full-time job (one day XD) Because the writing now usually only takes 1.5 hrs to crank out 2000 characters, the factfiling takes only about 30 mins, and I only need about 30 mins to transfer my phone memo pad writing and factfile onto my computer files. So a total of 2.5 hrs a day should definitely be doable.

—–While I write, I will of course want myself to do some reading at the same time. How much I read depends on how much time I get, but probably I’d still get a FEW pages of reading done per day even during the busiest times. My reading right now has shifted to Chinese books, haha, both published and online stories. This is because I’m such a greedy guts that I want to be a great writer in BOTH English and Chinese!
I’ll read English books sometimes too, but for now the focus will be on Chinese books. (I’m attending a book club right now, though, so there’s definitely some English reading there.)
My books, both English and Chinese, may come from my kindle, already bought books, online stories, or library books, mainly. My parents entreat me to buy books less often to save some money, lol. 🙁 So I’ll use the above FREE (or already bought) methods most of the time. Library books are great! Thankfully Montreal has a good number of English and Chinese books in some libraries (so it’s not THAT completely dominated by French books,
haha, even though I do like French too.)

—-as for my actual projects, I THINK that my story won’t need 2000 pages D: I believe that it will only take 1600 pages max…Fingers crossed. Right now I have 737 pages, so if I really keep up this 2000 words (I.e. 4 pages) a day rate, then I’ll be done in about 7 months more, I.e. Done by the end of March 2015!

—–after finishing that story, I want to let it rest before coming back to edit, and work on some other long story project. Not sure if I should start on the sequel or work on my other stories…Will decide when I get there!

Oh! I thought of a question: So since I have NOO idea how to find beta readers for Chinese at the moment (especially for a long work of possibly 1600 pages!!!), I’ll have to rely on myself for now. So, I decided that I should leave my work after it’s done for one year, and then come back to edit it, and hopefully I’ll forget a lot about the story so I’ll be able to spot things that a beta reader would spot (e.g. plot holes, character inconsistencies, and confusing sentences or dialogue tags). However, I wonder whether one year of letting my work cool is a bit too long to wait. Should I maybe just wait half a year? 3 months? What do you think? (Of course I DO want to find actual beta readers in the future, but FOR NOW, I’m on my own.)

—-for all my will-be-finished-one-day English works, I will definitely want to find several beta readers, at least, if I don’t also find a professional developmental writer too.

—–for my cover design, I could either:

–use Crowdsource sites (but yikes, the price!),

–hire a competent but not professional (I.e. cheaper prices) cover artist from maybe Deviant Art

–hire someone to make me a custom made cover, where I can provide them with images and/or they can search up free stock images to make something professional and beautiful. But what I really want to do is to draw my characters’ faces and hair, but let someone else draw their bodies, plus anything else in the foreground (e.g. horses!) and then use stock imagery for backgrounds. I don’t know how I’ll be able to do that, though…But I really DO want to draw my own faces, lol. I’m one annoying customer! XD
A girl who has a site called The Book Cover Machine apparently offers to do custom covers for only 100-200 dollars, which is a lot better than 299, haha.

–OR I can draw the faces, bodies, other foreground stuff myself, then use stock images for backgrounds, and ask one of my best friends who is experienced with Photoshop to help me make something that looks professional and impressive with all these images. I’m inspired by that site you showed me where someone made a very gorgeous book cover with just MS Word! Who knows if I can pull off something this amazing, but it’s possible. We’ll see! (I’d like to use a cover template or look at real examples I like, to make sure my cover formatting and arrangement look professional, though.)

———-As for marketing, uh…so far, the only plans I have in mind, are: to publish in print, as well as on Kindle and maybe other ebook sites too like Smashwords. Then I will contact the people who said they were interested in reading my work to see if they want a free copy of my books. However, of course, preferably they can buy them, because it’s quite costly to buy all those books plus their individual shipping to this whole list of friends…haha.
Also, I will set myself up as a Goodreads author. And then publish my stories on online story sites, on several sites too, not just one. I will keep updating, e.g. one chapter a day or every two days, so that my work will always be pushed somewhere near the top of the list everyday, for people to read it. This is all just to reach more readers, which would be useful, because I don’t personally know many people who are good at reading Chinese AND actually like to read books, let alone a 1600 page one…=_= This online story uploading plan should work for my English stories as well, I think, for getting exposure to more readers.
About reaching readers through online story sites, I know most readers that click in may only read the first paragraph, sentence, or page/ chapter at most (though hopefully I’m just being overly pessimistic here, haha.) However, I believe that there will be SOME or at least one, reader that will like my story that much that they will put my story on their shelf or notifications list, that they will finish reading my while story. Maybe I’m being too optimistic here, haha, but I myself have come across some online stories that I really personally liked, that I DO want to commit to reading till the end. But I tend to like committing to reading stories, whether published or unpublished, anyway, unless they’re really bad, I’m not sufficiently impressed, or some other reason. I don’t really like giving up on a story midway unless I truly dislike it.
So I believe that every book is destined to meet with at least ONE reader who will love it that much that they will commit to finishing it. I would even call this being “in God’s plan” for each book to reach its own particular readers, since I’m a Christian, haha.
Finally, I will one day set up my own website listing all my stories, in an organized way, and people can click links to the Amazon.com pages, or even click to read them online. I’m not aiming to earn money, just looking for readers who will like or love my stories!

—–these are all the plans I’ve come up with so far! Hey, it’s better than nothing. XD

As for how I define success, I actually don’t think there’s a FINAL POINT you can reach for success. Rather, I see success as something increasing, so you become more and more successful over time. So my kind of success would be having written more and more books, becoming more and more skilled and knowledgeable about specific parts of the writer’s craft, etc.

Target audience, what kind of author I want to appear to be, what message I want to convey: Since I’m a person who changes SO MUCH during her lifetime, I’d rather not commit to any set message, type of story, target audience, etc., haha. (Even though I’m aware that many authors want to create a unified, consistent image of themselves, but this is not for me.) Instead, each book will have its own target audience, message, etc. Though many books will share similarities.

How are our stories unique, why would they be more desirable to read than other stories of that genre: Uh…in my philosophy of life, I’d rather not see stories as being on a hierarchy. Instead of saying story A is superior to story B, I prefer to say A and B are both good but in different ways. It’s not just because A and B appeal to different audiences. Even if a reader likes both A and B, he or she can love them both WITHOUT COMPARING them, because they are both wonderful and don’t need comparing. :D. Ya that is my wacky philosophy!

Reply

Jami Gold August 28, 2014 at 8:22 pm

Hi Serena,

I’ve been working on my business plan today, and it’s been really interesting to see how even my guess at a schedule and goals fills in the plan. So I definitely think there’s value in writing down even vague guesses, just so we can see how our goals might translate to reality.

Even just what you listed in your comment is a great start! You have goals, you know your priorities, and you have a vague-enough schedule to plan ahead for budgeting purposes. 🙂 Ta-da!

Plus, that schedule lets you know when you might have an opening for your next project. My subconscious tends to work on a story in the background until I know I’m getting close to drafting it. Then the closer I get, the more my subconscious kicks into gear. So it’s good for my brain to know when that “getting close” might happen. 🙂

As far as your question about how long your story should “sit,” I think only you will know because everyone is different. Some people are able to pick a story back up after 2 weeks, others a month or two. Then there’s me–I have a near-photographic memory, so even a story that’s sat for a year is still solid in my mind. :/ That’s why I know I’ll never not need beta readers, as it’s impossible for me to look at a story “fresh.”

So I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for you there. 🙁 I hope you’re able to figure something out. Thanks for the comment!

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Julie Musil August 28, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Business plans give me hives! BUT…when I decided to indie publish, I read Susan Quinn’s Indie Survival Guide and she suggests making a business plan with short term and long term goals. So I did! I now think of myself as a little business owner, which is fun and intimidating at the same time.

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Jami Gold August 28, 2014 at 8:24 pm

Hi Julie,

Ha! Yes, fun and intimidating at the same time. 🙂 Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone!

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Robert Doucette August 28, 2014 at 2:47 pm

I love this stuff. Having come to writing after a career in corporate planning, the spreadsheets and planning processes just seem natural. Some important things to remember.

First, planning is more important than plans. Clausewitz said that the best war plans are worthless after the first smoke on the battlefield. BUT, the work that goes into making the plan, the research and the serious thinking, is critical to making the next plan.

Second, the benefits of a well thought out business plan are psychological as well as strategic. It helps to focus efforts.

Finally, an organization that loves business plans is the IRS. A thoughtful business plan goes a long way to convincing them that the thousands of hours of writing is NOT a hobby.

Thanks for these posts, Jami

Reply

Jami Gold August 28, 2014 at 8:27 pm

Hi Robert,

Yes, I have experience in project and process management, which is probably why I’m into all these “let’s make our lives easier” worksheets. 🙂

I’ve been working on my business plan today, and I can already see what you’re saying about how the planning and thinking is the most valuable part of creating a business plan. I’ve always been one of those who feels so much better once I put my to-do list to paper, and this is like a big version of that relief. 🙂 I’m completely okay with nothing going to plan, but I still feel more organized just for having thought it through.

Good point about the IRS too. Ugh. LOL! Thanks for sharing your insights!

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Meg Justus August 28, 2014 at 4:41 pm

And that “target audience” thing rears its ugly head again . If there’s one thing I’d like to learn to tackle, that’s it. If I had a nickel for every target audience questionnaire I’ve thrown my hands up at and cried, “If I knew the answers to these questions, I wouldn’t need the questionnaire!” I could take us out for a very nice meal.

Downloading the plan worksheet, though, because I really do need to think about some of this.

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Jami Gold August 28, 2014 at 8:33 pm

Hi Meg,

“If I knew the answers to these questions, I wouldn’t need the questionnaire!”

LOL! I understand. That target audience section and the competitive analysis section are still blank in my WIP business plan today. :/

A part of me doesn’t want to be that organized about marketing and promotion. Like, if I think about it too much, I might focus on those aspects more than I want to (rather than the writing craft, etc.). 😉 I’m fine with coming up with release schedules and general strategies, but marketing-specific stuff? Blech. LOL! Thanks for the comment!

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Emerald August 29, 2014 at 7:03 am

Thanks so much Jami! You just pretty much laid everything on the table, and gave me all the tools I could want to create a plan. You included some important questions I think every writer should ask themselves if they are selling their work. I know the answers to some of these, and others, I haven’t thought about. But I need to.

This is great motivation to actually fill out a plan that will help me become more organized, and focused on my goals. I’m excited to get started.

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Jami Gold August 29, 2014 at 10:00 am

Hi Emerald,

Yes, and as Robert mentioned above, so much of the value in making a business plan is simply forcing ourselves to think through these things to come up with our plan. Whether the plan actually works or not is somewhat irrelevant, as we’ll be better prepared for any situation because of that thinking we did. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Callene Rapp August 29, 2014 at 7:38 pm

Just skimmed this post for right now, but it looks like you knocked it out of the park again, Jami! Thanks for sharing all your efforts with us.

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Jami Gold August 29, 2014 at 9:20 pm

Hi Callene,

I just completed mine, so I can testify that the template works. LOL! I used the descriptions on the worksheet itself, along with the questions and bullet points in this post to come up what to include, and then I copied and pasted some of the verbiage from Denise Grover Swank’s example (linked to in the post) for the blah, blah, blah stuff. 🙂

Ta-da! Twenty pages later, I’m done. I hope others find this helpful too. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Kirsten August 31, 2014 at 9:42 pm

Nicely done, Jami!
I honestly haven’t thought too much about what comes next after writing the book, and it’s high time I do. I really like how the worksheet is adaptable to writers pursuing different outlets for publication, as I’m sometimes put off by the emphasis on self publication. After all, every writer is trying accomplish the same thing: Connect with readers, lots of readers! 🙂
Thanks for another useful addition to my collection!

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Jami Gold August 31, 2014 at 10:37 pm

Hi Kirsten,

I’ll be honest, I found so much value just from forcing myself to think about my goals and priorities that I think it’s a good idea to go through this process earlier rather than later. I’m considering doing a follow-up post this next week to talk more about that. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Flossie Benton Rogers September 1, 2014 at 9:19 am

Jami, you are so generous and make the best dang worksheets ever. I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate all you do. I have shared this all around. http://flossiebentonrogers.com

Reply

Jami Gold September 1, 2014 at 10:25 am

Hi Flossie,

Aww, thank you! 🙂 I’m happy to help!

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