Setting Goals by Ilise Benun

How to Set Goals

Calvin and Hobbes creativitySound familiar? Sure, last-minute panic may seem effective in its way, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to the best decision-making. And panic mode certainly isn’t fun. So, how do you avoid it? Goals. Setting goals may not sound like the most exciting part of running your creative freelance business, but it’s one of the most important parts and can save you a lot of grief.

In her article “Setting Goals,” marketing mentor Ilise Benun walks you through the goal-setting process. You’ll learn how to set goals and how to set a budget for your art or photography business. Her financial goals examples will help you set your own concrete goals. You can read a free excerpt from the article below, or read the complete goal-setting article on or in the 2015 Photographer’s Market.

Keep creating and good luck!


Setting Goals by Ilise Benun

What do you want to achieve in your life? And how is your business one of the vehicles to that goal?

If you haven’t taken the time to define your own goals—from financial to lifestyle to lifetime achievement—then you probably don’t have a plan in place to reach those goals. As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Is that the road you’re on?

Plenty of people run their businesses, and live their lives for that matter, without goals, but here’s what happens: Without the framework provided by goals, you can end up overwhelmed by too many choices with no basis for making decisions. You won’t know where to direct your business, which opportunities to seize and which to decline, which clients to take and which to let go, even which marketing activities are worth your time.

After all, we can’t do everything. That’s a fact. But without goals, you may try to. And it’s likely you’re being pulled in a million different directions if you haven’t chosen the one that’s best for you. The alternative is simple: Think about where you want to go and outline the steps to get there. Here’s the secret: You may not reach your goals as set forth or it may take quite a while. But reaching them is not nearly as important as striving toward them.


“I want to earn $X.” This is where many people start. For some, reaching a financial goal is a goal in itself.

But money can do so much more. It’s best used as a tool to reach other goals. With it, you can buy time, afford a particular lifestyle, build all sorts of useful things, facilitate processes and give back. But not if you don’t have enough even for yourself.

•    “What is my money for? What’s important to me? How do I want to live? How do I want to spend my time? How have my priorities been determined?”

Maybe the problem is that you haven’t taken the time yet to determine your priorities. Now’s the perfect time. It’s your life, after all, and no one is forcing you to live it the way you do. If it’s not working for you, change it. Setting goals can help.
. . . .

If Freedom Is Your Goal . . . .

Freedom is one aspect of a lifestyle goal that comes up frequently among creative professionals although it means something different for each. This is a dream for many but certainly within reach. It could mean the freedom to choose how you work and with whom; the freedom to work when and where you choose; or the freedom to be nimble and mobile, no matter what that means or how it manifests in your life.

Shawn Timen and Curtis Gorlich of Morning Sock Studios in South Carolina plan to run their design business from a thirty-foot sailboat that goes from port to port along the East Coast of the United States.

There are no right or wrong goals, of course. Least helpful are the general and abstract ones, which are easy to rattle off. The real challenge is coming up with goals that are specific and measurable.

Too general: “Get more clients.”
Measurable: “By December 31, I will have three new clients . . . .”
Too general: “Make more money.”
Measurable: “In third quarter, I will bring in a total of $20,000.”
Too general: “Find work/life balance!”
Measurable: “By year’s end, I will work no more than 50 hours per week.”

Setting goals that are this specific could be a guessing game, especially if you are just starting out. But if you don’t have a track record to draw on, go ahead and guess (that’s all “corporate projections” are) and then adjust as your data is gathered.
. . . .

Your Financial Goals

Now let’s focus on your financial goals for the next year. Let’s say your goal this year is to bring in total sales of $150,000. The first question that only you can answer is: Is that realistic?

That depends on where you start. If you’ve been in business a while and your total sales are, let’s say, already $75,000, a 100 percent increase is ambitious but possible, especially if the economy is strong, if the market you’ve targeted is viable, and if you’re willing to work hard. On the other hand, if you just went out on your own, you have no clients yet, and you’re targeting a brand new market, it may not be realistic to go from zero to $150K so quickly.

Figure out what you’d need to do to get from where you are to where you want to go by choosing a number to measure against, such as an average fee per project.
. . . .


A budget (from old French bougette, or “purse”) is essentially a plan for your money. Literally, it is a list of all anticipated expenses and income (a.k.a. revenues) that is used for saving and spending. Said another way: It’s you telling your money what to do.

Many creative professionals run what looks like a successful business without a budget. And when things are running smoothly, all is well. But if you have goals to achieve, or equipment or maybe a building you want to buy, using a budget is the only way to get there. Without a budget, you’re flying by the seat of your pants.
. . . .

Scared of Budgets?

When your clients tell you what’s in their budget, they’re really saying, “I have a plan that allows for this amount of money to be allocated for this shoot.” You should be able to do that too, no matter what size business you’re engaged in.

If you had a regular paycheck, as most employees do, you would have no trouble deciding how much of that money to allocate to your fixed expenses, for example, and how much you could spend on optional expenses. What scares people about budgeting is actually not the budget itself. That’s just a spreadsheet with harmless numbers. The scary part is the uncertainty of your financial situation.

You may not know how much you’ll earn this year or this month for that matter. That’s when a budget becomes your friend, almost your protector. In fact, your budget will allow you to live with less stress during a time of uncertainty.
. . . .

Is your budget as accurate as it could be? Probably not. The budget should be revisited and revised to align with the reality. By revising the budget, you make sure all expenses are properly accounted for and the revenue expectations are accurate. You might decide to take a larger salary or to buy that new gadget after all. This revised plan could also motivate you to spend more on marketing to generate even more business or to save cash to purchase equipment for planned growth.


Ilise Benun is the founder of Marketing Mentor and co-producer of the Creative Freelance Conference (, works with creative professionals who are serious about building a healthy business. Follow Benun on Twitter (@MMToolbox) or sign up for her Quick Tips at

Adapted from The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money, © 2011 by Ilise Benun. Used with the kind permission of HOW Books, an imprint of F+W, a Content + eCommerce Company. Visit or call (800) 448-0915 to obtain a copy.


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