(originally published in Screen Magazine 5/9/12)
Have you ever started out on a road trip with your family without a clue as to where you were headed? If the answer is yes, I have a follow up question. Are you there yet?
Have you ever started a business without setting some goals or knowing exactly what direction you were planning on taking? Again, if the answer is yes, are you there yet? In life or in business, if you don’t know where you’re going – or at least where you want to end up – you’re not very likely to get there.
I don’t want to take the fun out of running a creative shop, but how much planning and preparation have you done for your business? Many of you who own a small business (in the creative industry) embarked on a life of entrepreneurship because you were really good at your craft. Perhaps you were an editor with a few handfuls of loyal clients, and the time was right to head out on your own. Maybe you were a director with a fantastic gift for storytelling, and thought you would apply your trade in advertising. Either way, you started a company because you have a passion and a gift. But did you have a road map for success?
Clients have asked for my opinion on the best marketing techniques for their services, and I always respond, “It depends, what are the goals of your company?” Unfortunately, far too many creative shops don’t have a specific answer to that question. That wouldn’t have surprised me seven years ago when the creative industry and economy was a little brighter, but it does surprise me now. You see, there seemed to be plenty of business to go around back then for good companies who had great talent. The only thing many companies needed to worry about was how to produce the work, not how to get the work. As long as projects kept coming in, it didn’t seem necessary to outline a sense of direction for the company. Now, it seems more important than ever.
So how do you put together a road map for your business? First, understand the direction you want to take your company and try not to stray too far from your planned route. If your goal is to drive from California to Maine, there is no reason to stop off in Alabama. Your final destination is like your five-year goal for the company, so imagine yourself there and understand what is required to get you to that point. Annual goals are similar to a how many miles you want to drive in each leg of your trip. You can’t drive 3,200 miles in one day, nor can you expect to accomplish all your business goals in one year. Knowing where you want to be at the end of each year of business keeps you heading in the right direction. Every decision you make along the way can have an effect on your business goals, so keep that in mind on your travels. Don’t do anything unless there is a good reason to do so.
I once asked a student music producer why he added strings to his rock track. He responded, “I don’t know, just because.” I followed up with the following stern business lesson, “Well, that seems like a good reason. You had $1,000 to produce this song, and by your own admission, you ran out of money and couldn’t mix the song correctly because you spent so much money on string players? Now, you’re not sure why you added the strings to begin with? I don’t do anything unless there is a reason for it; regardless of how much money it costs. You shouldn’t be adding a tambourine track to a piece of music unless there is a need or reason for it.” Perhaps I was too hard on the lad, but he got the point.
Of course things will happen in business and in life that you can’t anticipate, so every once in a while you will have to divert your attention and change your priorities. But if at all possible, keep your goals/road map in the back of your mind, and get back on course as soon as you can.
“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” Stephen A. Brennan