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 much can I find out about this place? And why am I going there? How will I get there, what will it cost, when will I go? How is any of this actually going to happen? Making a map of where, when and how is the beginning of the whole process – but the most important question is always “why”.
Figuring out a creative business can be a similarly exciting map-making process. Thinking about where you would like your business to go, and how you’re going to get there, is an ongoing part of the creative business journey. It can be wonderful fun, or painful, or a weird combination of both, but it’s an absolutely essential activity that requires time, energy and focus. And in the same vein, working out why you want to take your business to new and challenging climes is equally important.
The map-making process is sometimes called goal setting, and while I completely understand why, it’s never been a turn of phrase that works for me – mostly because a ‘goal’ infers that something sporty is going to happen, and that’s not really my cup of tea. Figuring out my way to trot about the globe? That’s a much more enticing analogy!
Like any process, there are effective and not-as-effective ways to start your map, so here are a few tips on methods that have worked for me, and for my creative business mentoring clients.
First, be as specific as you can be about your destination. 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.
The same applies for your time frame – when exactly would you like to realise that 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”.
It’s also very important to make the goal 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 destination a place you’d really like to be, rather than somewhere that doesn’t suck.
Finally, 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.
If you’re new to the idea of map making or goal setting, try the following activity to help you work out a viable 6-12 month plan. If it helps, visualise your next birthday or other significant date – if you could realistically have whatever you wanted in the next year, what would that look like?
Short Term Goal Setting Activity
1. My one main goal in terms of my creative business is…
2. Thinking backwards from the end, what smaller milestones need to be accomplished to achieve that larger goal? Make as many steps as you need.
3. In terms of time, I want to make this goal a reality… when?
4. Things that could get in my way are…
5. Things I can do to start solving those problems before they happen …
6. How will I get in my own way?
This last question is vital – we very often sabotage ourselves and figure out ways to stop ourselves from taking opportunities or trying something new. Watch yourself for signs that you might be getting in your own way, and be open to the idea that you might be able to reach this wonderful destination that you’ve set for yourself.
Map making or goal setting activities are not magic cures, but they can help you achieve what you want. If you’re a sceptic, though, don’t take my word for it. Read The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman (Miramax, 2004), a British academic who scientifically proved that good fortune was much more likely to happen for people who were on the look out for opportunities – and that includes those of us with business map in hand!
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 twenty-five years (sheesh!) 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!