This post by Eleanor Whitney covers a topic that I think about often. I’m constantly reevaluating what I consider success for my business and life. If I measured my success by the terms I had in mind for myself in high school, I would have to consider myself a failure. I don’t own a house. I have little job security. I’m not financially prepared for the future. Yet, when I assess my level of happiness, I feel pretty good about it. that’s because my idea of success has changed a lot since high school. What’s important to me now is having a career helping other creatives, making as much time as I can for the people I love and being an evolving maker. I love how Eleanor breaks it down and makes it easy to take a deep look at how to measure your success as you move towards your goals.
When I work with artists to develop their grant application the question, “How will you evaluate the project?” or “How will you measure the project’s success?” is often part of the application that causes them the most angst. “How do I know if my project is successful if it hasn’t happened yet?” they ask me. “It’s a creative project! I don’t know how to measure success!” they protest.
I understand. The other day I was being interviewed by the wonderful Kari Chapin for her Creative Community newsletter (please sign up if you have not yet!) and she asked me, “How do you measure your success?” I realized I had no concrete answer.
Back in September I wrote about the importance of setting goals. Defining how to measure success for your project or creative business is the other side to goal setting. Without a concrete definition of success you might end up like me, proclaiming on the phone to my mother that, “I am a failure!” no matter what you have achieved.
So, as an artist, creative, maker or handmade business owner how do you measure your success? Working in a creative field poses a particularly tricky challenge, because success cannot always be reduced to a quantifiable concept such as “profit versus loss,” but here are a few basic guidelines to help you define what success looks like for your project.
Three strategies for measuring your success:
What elements of your project or business can you measure or count? Is your project or business a break-even or profit-making venture (I certainly hope you aim to make a profit if you are running a business!). Are you selling a product or tickets to bring in income to defray expenses and make a profit? Are you bringing in people to attend an event or trying to build a following online? What are the elements of your project you can count and what will constitute a success when it comes to profit, attendance, new contacts or hits online?
Information gathered and lessons learned
What questions did you have about your project or business that you needed answers to when you began? Do you know those answers now? In taking initiative with your project or business what did you find out that you did not know before? How will this information help you move your project forward? This can also be personal: what did you learn about yourself as a business owner or artist that will be helpful as you grow?
New opportunities and contacts
Has the initiative you took yielded new business opportunities, collaborations, publicity, or clients? What have those opportunities brought you? Building your contact list and expanding your network is an important part of building your business and you never know who you will meet who will contribute to your next success.
Overall, success is personal. How you define it is based on the goals that you set for yourself. If you are unsure of how to measure success revisit those goals. Have you achieved them? Have they shifted and deepened? Have they progressed? If not, reassess. If so, celebrate! And challenge yourself to stretch and grow by setting new goals for your personal creative project or business. Overall, own your achievements. Success is yours to define and yours to live.
How do you measure your success?
Eleanor Callott Whitney is a writer, rock musician, educator, and arts administrator raised in Maine and living in Brooklyn. She finds joy in bringing order to the chaos of creativity, empowering artists with the tools they need to think of themselves as entrepreneurs and in managing and facilitating creative projects with panache. She is the author of Grow: How to take your DIY project and passion to the next level and quit your job! and writes extensively about art, culture and nonprofit management. She published the personal, art zine Indulgence for 15 years, as well as co-founded the Portland Zine Symposium and has worked for the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Brooklyn Museum, and P.O.V./American Documentary. She is the proud recipient of a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Baruch College where she learned to stop worrying and love statistical and budgetary analysis.