Envision Success: Where do you want your handmade business to go?


Envision Success: Where do you want your handmade business to go?

Grow Your DIY Business with Eleanor whitney

I’ve just come back from a summer spent traveling all over the United States and connecting with creatives of all kinds to talk about the business aspects of their practice. I visited 23 cities to talk about my new book Grow: How to take your do it yourself project and passion to the next level and quit your job! and to focus on the theme of do it yourself success and sustainability.

On tour one question I always asked the artists, crafters and handmade business owners I met, whether they were just starting our or very experienced in their field, was, “What does success look like for you? How will you know when your business or creative practice is successful?”

Envisioning success is key because it helps you understand where you want to go and make strategic decisions to help you get there. One zine maker I met in Portland, Oregon told me that his vision of success was that people he wasn’t directly related to or already friends with read his zine, while a small publisher told me that success would be turning enough profit to pay himself a living wage and save for retirement. Both are very different visions and determine different courses of action.

Before you launch into full-on business building (or re-building) mode this fall take a moment reflect on what success means for you. Ask yourself the following questions and take a moment to write, sketch or collage your responses to them:

  • What does success mean for me in the context of my business?
  • What will it feel like when I am successful?
  • How will my days be structured? What will a typical workday be like?
  • What are the major accomplishments or milestones I will have reached that I am proud of?
  • What are the accomplishments I would like to be proud of in the future?

For busy handmade business owners it can feel indulgence to engage in serious reflection and visioning. Personally, as I balance a full time job with an active freelance and creative practice in New York City, I often focus on getting the next task on my to-do list done, not the bigger picture.  However, I have found that when allow yourself to take a pause to think about where I want to go it helps me clarify what I should do in the present to get there.

In addition, when you take time to focus on your vision of success you might find what you comes up with surprises you. This summer on tour in Tulsa, Oklahoma I took a moment our of my frenetic travel and presentation schedule to make a vision board with my friend Christine Sharpe Crowe of Made: The Indie Emporium.  In several minutes I put together a collage with images drawn from design magazines without thinking too much about it. When I stepped back to look at the results I felt a little exposed: to me success would be to be a profitable, globetrotting author, who has a strong sense of personal style, a life in Los Angeles and New York and is bold about taking risks. These are all issues I’m working through right now and my vision board making helped me see what could be on the other end of the process I am currently engaged in.

Envisioning success is something to do on a regular basis because it gives you an opportunity to check-in with yourself and your business. Your vision of success will evolve and a regular check-in can help you better cart that evolution. For example, a decade ago when I was in my early 20s I imagined I would be successful if I had a job in the arts in New York City, health insurance and a regular writing practice. By all measures, I have achieved that vision! What does success mean for me now?

This summer I had a delightful lunch with leadership consultant Katie Curran Kelley. As I talked with her about how I wanted to build my career to focus on creative businesses and start ups she turned to me and asked, “What is your vision of success? I think it would be good if you spent some time to reflect on that.” Time for me to take my own advice.

I invite all of you to answer this question… what does success mean for you?

-eleanor whitney

the vision board eleanor created about her idea of success
the vision board eleanor created about her idea of 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.

eleanor whitney

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