Just as your approach to your creative outlet and product are uniquely yours, each small business is unique. No one can tell you how to succeed, how to measure, or make your way toward success. So what’s a creative to do? While no one can tell you what you must do to succeed, there are things you might do or not do that will slow or wipe out any chance of success. This series of articles discusses the top 10 traps to avoid when measuring your success:
- No clear picture of what success is.
- No objective or unrealistic objectives.
- No strategy.
- Projects are too big or too small.
- Tasks don’t align with the strategy or project.
- An Unmanaged calendar.
- No system to track your progress.
- No feedback.
- No projects completed.
- And no plan for failure.
Each of those traps could be a separate blog post. Instead, this series of blog posts will introduce a few at a time. The first post in this series discusses the first three traps. Part 2 discusses: projects are too big or too small, tasks don’t align with the strategy or project, and an unmanaged calendar. Today, we’ll discuss the next two traps.
No System to Track Progress
You’re groaning, aren’t you?
You hate spreadsheets so you don’t track your progress? If you do not track your progress, you can’t effectively evaluate your progress, and make tweaks and improvements. No tracking system means your progress either will be slow or at a complete standstill at worst.
You don’t have to use a spreadsheet, but you need to track the time you spend on each task of a project. It’s the only way to understand what helps you make progress, what hinders your progress, and helps you plan behaviors for future progress. You can jot information down on your calendar. You can use accountability software, an accountability partner, sticky notes, or whatever. Find a method you will actually use daily.
What do You Track?
What you track is even more varied that how you track it. You must track the right things. How do you decide which things you should track?
It depends on what your objectives are. First, remember that we all have limited time, energy, and attention. Those may be things you need to measure. Financial outlay and income are other things you should track. Inventory and resources are also things to track. But the primary thing I’m talking about here is tracking your progress. No matter what your creative output is, there are small steps or activities you must accomplish in order to complete a project. Look for cause and effect.
If you’ve never tracked your creative endeavors before, it’s okay to start small.
Track one thing. It can be as simples as recording the date you start a project and the date you finish that project.
If customer satisfaction drives your financial success, measure activities that create customer satisfaction.
Maybe profit is your goal. We’ll use the term “thing-a-ma-bobs” to mean whatever product it is that you’re selling.
You estimate you need to sell one hundred thing-a-ma-bobs each week in order to make a profit. Then you need to track how long it takes to make one thing-a-ma-bob. Track what interferes with completing one hundred of them. Track the supplies you need to have on hand. Track how many times you have to replace a part that is essential to completing that thing-a-ma-bob. At the end of the week or month or quarter, evaluate your outcomes and the data. Did you meet your objectives? Is there something you can change to improve your outcomes? Can you anticipate or prevent the things that interfered with production? Sometimes you’ll realize that there’s some other piece to the production of thing-a-ma-bobs that you need to track. Make adjustments and track what happens after that.
Another data point you might consider is the percentage of time you spend on tasks in your business. Are you spending the highest percent of time on the top three tasks needed to make your business a success? If you’re spending most of your time on the wrong tasks, you may be sabotaging your efforts. What can you do to re-focus on the top three tasks?
Evaluate how each activity advances you toward your goals. If an activity doesn’t move you toward completion, consider that you may need to not do that activity. If the activity moves you toward that goal, or it influences the time you can work toward your goals, you probably need to track the time you spend on those.
I’m sure most of you have heard, and perhaps believed in, the myth of the lone creative genius. Beyond the misogynist meanings of that myth, it’s a myth that we must be loners in order to create. True, all creatives need recharge time. For some, that means being alone. But we humans are not natural loners. We need a community. Some of us need a large and noisy community. Other of us need a tiny, quiet community. Neither is wrong nor right. What is right is that all creatives need support and feedback.
Support can be simply be a friend who understands or it can mean someone who provides physical, emotional, and financial safety.
We creatives need feedback from things like self-evaluation, mentors, peer groups, and customers.
Your progress tracker will help you evaluate your time, but time and money aren’t the only things to evaluate. You need to spend some time and do a self-evaluation.
Self-evaluation isn’t an emotion-based self-critical dumping ground for disapproval. Nor is it a measurement of your skill versus someone else’s. Comparing yourself to someone else isn’t an evaluation but a judgment, often a negative self-judgment. Avoid comparsonitis. It only hurts you.
Self-evaluation is a critical assessment of your skill levels, your progress, and what you need to accomplish your objectives.
An honest, critical self-evaluation identifies what your strengths and weaknesses are. Review what skills you have and how you learned or gained them. Figure out what skills you need to improve or gain to move to the next level of accomplishments. Find sources where you can improve or gain your skills in the learning styles that work best for you.
Self-evaluation is a non-judgmental comparison of “today” you with “yesterday” you with the goal of making “tomorrow” you even better.
I don’t know about you, but I shied away from finding a mentor at first. It felt presumptuous to approach a more skilled creative and ask for their help. It definitely can be.
First, understand that finding a mentor means more than one thing. Your mentor can be someone you’ve never met. That mentor can be on YouTube or TikTok. It could be a creative from an earlier time in history whose creative work you study. It can also be someone whose very skilled in a particular area where you need extra help that might also need your help in an area where you are skilled.
A word of caution: don’t approach a skilled creative and ask for a personal mentorship. Build a relationship with that person first. Reach out to that person for no other reason than to give them a compliment or to offer a service that might help them. If they rebuff your offer or compliment, take no offense. Remember that an emotional outburst will leave an unpleasant taste in that mentor that will be remembered a long time. Move on gracefully.
You need to have a group of peers who understand your creative life from its challenges to its triumphs. The right peers are invaluable.
Peer groups can be casual groups that meet for a lunch or dinner or a shared experience (lecture, movie, whatever).
Critique groups or partners are another kind of peer creatives need. We cannot be 100% objective about our own work. Having trusted critique partners is essential. They can see what we cannot.
The best critique group or partner is supportive and encouraging. Their comments are never personal. They value what you bring to the group and you value them.
Critique can feel personal. When that happens, give yourself twenty-four hours or longer to process the emotions. Then look at the comments as objectively as possible. Try to look at the comment from that person’s perspective. Can you see the problem from their perspective? Does it require a correction? Would that correction improve your product or would it change your product into something you didn’t intend for it to be? (Note: if you conclude the comment was personal and hurtful, consider telling the person who made that comment how it made you feel. If that behavior continues, find a different critique partner.)
One reliable piece of feedback is always the satisfaction of your customers. Did they buy your product? Did they favorably review it? Did they have a complaint?
If there are complaints, once again, give yourself time to process your initial emotions. Then try to look at the complaint from the customer’s perspective. Is the complaint reasonable? Is it a complaint you might have if in the same situation? Is there a way to make this customer’s experience more positive?
Perfection isn’t the Goal
No one is perfect. If you make that your goal, you are certain to fail painfully. Try to include at least one goal about your sense of satisfaction or joy in the creative process or product. If the process fulfills something in you, then you will always have some measure of success.
Do you have a progress tracking system? What is one thing you always track?
You cannot please everyone. Please yourself first. But if you want to have a successful product, you will want to please most people. If your product has more complaints than praise, you may need an improvement plan. Not having an improvement plan is another trap to avoid when measuring your success.
Be sure to watch for my discussion of for how not having improvement plans and plans for failure are traps when measuring your success. Part four will appear on this blog in three weeks.
First image purchased from deposit photos.