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5 steps to effective goal setting for a successful artist career

British Indian artist at an art festival in Mountain View. 5 steps to setting successful art and career goals for artists by Malti B Lee

The turn of a calendar year is a natural transition point; it’s both a moment to retrospect on the closing year, and to look forward to the future.

As 2022 turned to 2023, I applied what I had learned during my time in management consulting to my own small art business. I spent time reflecting on the previous 6 months of selling my artwork, refreshing my vision, and defining my forward-looking strategy and goals for my art career.

Today, I share how I approach looking forward to the next 12 months, and set tactical goals to propel my creative career forward.

Step 1. Define your vision

Ask yourself: What does success looks like? What’s the long-term vision for my creative life and career?

Brainstorm ideas around your vision. Start with a blank sheet of paper and write down what you’re hoping to achieve. I like to do this exercise as a mind map. Remember the sky is the limit here! Ambitions for the next 6 months to the next 10 years are all part of your vision and should be included in your brainstorm.

Example questions to consider:

  • What does success look like for you?
  • What kind of artist do you want to be?
  • What kind of art do you want to create?
  • What do you hope to achieve with your art?
  • How would you want to spend your time as an artist in an ideal world?
  • Who are the people around you in these future scenarios?
  • If you didn’t have financial/time/skill constraints, what would you want to achieve or do?
  • What’s on your bucket list for ‘being a successful artist’?
  • Are there events that you would want to be a part of?
  • What would a successful artist business look like?
  • What does financial success look like?

As I create my mind map and think of different scenarios, I like to visualise myself in these different futures so gauge if they’re really what I want. Remember, everyone has a different vision for success.

Step 2. Articulate your values

Ask yourself: Outside of success, what do I care about? What’s important to me?

List your values on paper. These should be written as statements. Values and priorities differ by person. Being able to articulate these will help ensure that your creative career goals are aligned with what’s important to you, and will be sustainable. Afterall, if you’re working towards goals that don’t align with your values, it will be difficult to maintain momentum working towards them over longer periods of time.

Example values could be:

  • Financial: “I get paid a fair wage for my work”
  • Balance: “I have work-life balance with 2 protect weekends per month”
  • Community: “I inspire other creatives to be brave and take risks to meet their ambition”
  • Giving back: “I will always produce some affordable art below $200”

Step 3. Write down your goals

Ask yourself: What areas of my vision do I want to work towards first? What do I want to achieve first?

First, mark areas on your vision mind map that you’d like to prioritise working towards. Second, decide on the guiding timeframe for the goals you are setting. I recommend 12 months for annual planning & review cycles. Third, take pen to paper and list the goals you’d like to achieve in that period.

Until I write it down, a goal doesn’t feel real; there isn’t the same accountability and therefore, I am less likely to achieve it.

Goals should start with a verb, e.g., set up, participate, create, sell, show etc. At this stage, don’t overthink the goals you’re writing down – they don’t have to be perfect. As I do this exercise, I often find overlap between my goals, or that one I previously wrote down becomes less important – that is absolutely fine. This list is just a starting point.

Step 4. Refine and set your goals

Ask yourself: Which 5-8 goals are most important? Is the goal specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based?

Read through your full list of goals you’ve written down. Prioritise the long-list and rewrite them as SMART goals. SMART is a handy acronym that businesses and organisations use to define goals in a clear way to guide work and assess progress. Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based.

SMART goal setting

Step 5: Create an action plan

Ask yourself: How can I break down each goal into a series of tactical steps or actions? When do I need to complete these actions to achieve my goal by the set date?

Take each goal in turn. List out all the different tasks/actions you need to take/complete in order to achieve your goal. Again, apply SMART principles to define your action plan. Make sure it’s specific, measurable, there’s a target completion date, etc.. This is your action plan.

After making an action plan for each goal, review the plans and timelines for all goals together. Tweak dates as needed to ensure that your timelines and workload are realistic.

Once finalised, add all the dates (both for actions and goals) to your annual planner.

For me, creating an action plan is critical. Without this, I almost definitely won’t achieve my goals – maybe I’ll get overwhelmed by the big thing I’m working towards, or I’ll end up playing catch up after missing key milestones.

Breaking big goals down into many small actions makes them feel much more manageable. I can chip away at a goal without even realising it as I follow a well-defined action plan.

Bonus tip: Review your goals regularly

Ask yourself: What have I achieved in the last month? Am I on track for each of my goals? If no, do I need to change timelines? Are my goals/ action plans still relevant? If not, what new goals/ actions should I consider instead?

Write up your goals and action plans so that you can easily refer back to them and review regularly – I recommend every month. Make sure to add this regular review to your calendar and keep yourself accountable to your goals and action plan through the year.

Before you know it, you’ll have accomplished more than you expected!

I would love to know if you set and review goals already, or if you’re now thinking about adding this to your practice. Leave me a comment.

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