Why plan your career?

Unless you know very clearly where you want to be and how you’re going to get there, you’ll be lucky to arrive at all without a bit of planning, and a career path is no different. This doesn’t mean you need to write a business plan or start talking like you’ve done an MBA rather than a MFA: a few hours every couple of months thinking about where you are heading, checking your progress and making some changes to how you work is time well spent.

‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’ (attributed to Alan Lakein)

We’re not talking here about the kind of work you make, or the kind of practice you have. Everyone needs to be comfortable about the kind of artist they are, or want to be, and there are lots of different ways to be an artist. But if you have any kind of ambition for your practice – getting your work seen, making a sale, getting into a show in a public gallery, doing a residency, finding a commercial gallery – then having a plan will show you how you can get there and enable you to see how far you still need to go.

Planning often works better if you can find one or two other people to discuss your plans with. Share some of the experience with other artists, friends or family, or a business advisor if you need one.

There are lots of free tools available for small businesses, and a good place to start is the Business Survival Toolkit written with very small creative businesses in mind. A good, brief overview of writing a basic business plan is on Lifehacker – remember you only need to include the elements you need.

How are things going now?

Write down the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats you see in your career to help identify what you do well, and where you could improve.

Where do you want to be in three years?

Think beyond any current problems or workloads and take some time to plan where you want to be in three years.  The ‘three horizons’ (present, future, and how to get there) tool offers a framework to help shape your thinking about how you’d like your business or life to change.

What’s going on around me and how do I need to respond?

For more in-depth or long term business planning, or when strategically looking to respond to bigger grant or funding applications, a political, economic, social and technological (PEST) analysis can help review your external environment in depth.

How can I make more profit so I can afford to do work that doesn’t pay?

Many of us have ‘portfolio’ careers in which we do a range of different activities – some of which pay better than others. Identifying those which pay well, ideally involving little input from you, is essential to increase the time and money you have for artistic projects that don’t or can’t cover their costs.  The portfolio analysis tool – which includes a sections specifically for creative businesses and artists – can help you identify which bits of your practice make you money, and which have to stop.

For a more business-oriented way to look at this, try a full-scale Ansoff Matrix.

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