I love travelling. I love everything about it, but a particularly delicious part is that magical moment when I decide where I want to go. As soon as the destination presents itself, whether for work or for pleasure, I start breaking down the journey. How will I get there? What are the dates of my travel? Where will I stay? What’s my budget? How is any of this actually going to happen?
Most importantly – why am I going to this interesting new place?
When I’m thinking about where I’m going in my creative business, I apply a similar map-making process. What is my destination for the next 3 months, or 6, or 12? How can I break down this same journey, to a specific and exciting place in the future, by examining time, costs, ‘accomodation’ and motivation?
There are some who refer to this process as setting goals. While I completely understand why, it’s never been a turn of phrase that works for me – mostly because I’m much more interested in travel than in sport. Also, despite my best efforts, I have never successfully kicked a goal – and I’m also not convinced that I have much control over whether or not that ball is going to successfully land in the back of that net.
Working out how to get to where I want to go, however, is something that I feel much more confident about. I have managed to get myself to a chosen destination in the past, and I feel like I can probably exert a high degree of influence over the outcome. Travelling is also a much sexier analogy than kick-ball-goes-in-net, but of course that’s my own bias talking!
As a lifelong traveller, and creative business owner, I have a few tips on methods that have worked for me (and for my creative business mentoring clients):
Be specific. Fans of the S.M.A.R.T goals process will understand why, but being specific works for travelling to a business destination as well. Where would you like your business to go? Do you want to make more money? Get more clients? Face more exciting creative challenges? Whatever it is, be as specific as you can. Get right into the nitty gritty, do lots of research, brainstorm on a big piece of paper or make a mood board if it helps.It’s very hard to get somewhere if you don’t understand the particulars of where ‘there’ is.
Find a date for your destination. When exactly would you like to realise your business ambition? The more you can visualise and describe exactly what you want, and when, the more likely you are to get there. After all, saying “I want to spend next Christmas in Manhattan so I can skate on the ice rink at Rockefeller Centre” is far more inspiring (and likely to happen) than saying “I want to go to America one day”.
Be positive. “I don’t want to work for dickheads any more” is a far less motivating idea than “I want to find five more clients who respect me and pay me well.” Make your business destination a place you’d really like to be, rather than somewhere that doesn’t suck.
Always focus on the why. Running a creative business is a very hard choice, with lots of twists and turns in the journey, and keeping your motivation front and centre in your travels will help you stay focussed and passionate. Again, don’t dwell on the negatives. “I don’t want to feel trapped by my job any more” is not really the guiding light that’s going to help you on your darker days – “I want to have flexibility to continue my art practice” or “I want financial independence and the freedom to choose where I work” are much more motivating.
Track your progress. The idea of goals also annoys me because it infers that your progress towards your destination can either be right or wrong, good or bad. Life, particularly self-employed creative life, is rarely that black and white. You will make mistakes on your journey, both in life and in travels. You will misjudge how long things take, or spend money in inefficient ways, or get the language wrong, or change your mind. Again, this is all part of the process, and tracking your progress towards your destination will help you to learn from the experience rather than treat it as a make-or-break exercise.
During your map-making, keep an eye on how you might self-sabotage. It’s a common issue when trying to figure out something new or head in a different direction. Watch yourself for signs that you might be getting in your own way, and take time to check in with yourself as you measure your progress. You’ve chosen to take this wonderful voyage, so be a good ally to yourself in your journey towards that destination called ‘success’.
Making maps and setting goals does not mean you will get everything you want. Life doesn’t work that way. However, by taking some time and making a plan you are far more likely to have an interesting journey, full of intrigue and opportunity, and a much higher chance of reaching your destination.
And remember, map making is not just an activity for the beginning of a journey. Learning how to find your way is something that will benefit you for the rest of your business life. I’ve now been self-employed for over thirty years (ye gods!) and I still have regular map-making days set out in my calendar every year. Give it a go – after all, you have nothing to lose by imagining a better future for yourself and your business. Good luck!
Article by Monica Davidson, Director and Doyenne of Creative Plus Business.