You need a plan! Ten Top Tips

When I speak to musicians, artists or songwriters – pretty much anybody with a creative brain and they talk to me about their career, their aspirations or what they want out of life, they invariably fail to mention that they have a plan to achieve what they want. There is a very good reason for that and it is because – they do not have a plan.  So, do you have a plan?

A plan gives you many things: structure, direction, measurement, focus amongst others. Most musicians, for example, don’t have a 9-5 job, keep regular hours, have a fixed salary or long-term job security – and so a plan is all the more crucial to success.

If you were to talk to any entrepreneur or business person, any salesperson, shopkeeper – anybody in business whose job it is to sell a product or service and get money for it in exchange – they would look at you in horror, if you didn’t have a plan. A business plan, a career plan – some sort of plan, any sort of plan – for how you’re going to get to the next goal. It’s hardly surprising then if you feel like you’re getting nowhere. If this is how you feel, read on. 

There is another very good reason for this; creatives are generally more ‘right-brained’ dominant and are not ‘wired’ for logical left-brained skills quite as much as ‘left brain’ dominant people are.  Obviously, these are generalisations and some people can be good at both, or good at times, sporadically (when they’re ‘in the mood’) – but can also procrastinate or just be not interested in doing what they see as boring tasks.

Sometimes, ironically, this is trained out of us at school which is very much a learning by repetition, passing exams, passing tests, type of system. That’s why a lot of creatives struggle at school and can completely turn them off to any future dealing with numbers or figures or planning or any of that kind of stuff that makes them feel constricted. They learned that feeling of constriction at school – and one of highest values creative people hold is freedom. So, it just doesn’t feel good to do the planning, the admin etc.

Another problem with school is that they often don’t explain the practical application of whatever they’re teaching you is for.  I found, myself, that when I was doing mathematics at school I just couldn’t see the relevance, it didn’t connect in my brain.  I don’t know if you identify with this but if things don’t connect in your brain and you don’t see the relevance to your life then there really is little motivation to pass that test, or learn that thing, or get the job done in the way that is expected of you. 

So we may rebel against it, resist it and fight it then we decide, actually, after repeated attempts of people making us do those things that, actually, we’re not very good at it, which is an excuse not to do it again.

We generally feel demotivated and then resistant and then fearful of feeling failure again that – we just don’t bother, we try to avoid it and then the whole cycle continues throughout life. But there are ways of addressing this.  And it’s worth just saying that without a plan, without something that we can measure – ‘I am I further along today than I was yesterday’, we aren’t doing ourselves any favours. We are leaving everything to luck. Luck is defined as ‘opportunity meeting preparation’ but if we don’t prepare, our opportunities are severely reduced. Now we might think we prepare by doing the thing that we love most, which is music – but that’s only half a plan, at best. 

Being good, being talented, creative and producing amazing noises and lyrics are what the world craves; there is no doubt that this is a public service that is highly valued. People will pay lots of money to go and see and hear their favourite bands, artists and musicians and buy their music. However we have to ‘make it’ first and while people say that the music industry is a difficult thing to make money in    that is true of any industry, whether you’re selling music or whether you’re selling widgets, technology or dishcloths! Everything that you can see around you has had to be sold by somebody. My career in industry has meant that, while I’m a creative, I’ve had to force myself to get good at plans, forecasting, numbers and spreadsheets and the kind of forward planning that doesn’t always come easily. 

But now, I do see the value of that kind of planning – the balance between left-brain and right-brain. It is the goal that we must strive for because when we achieve it then we have something really powerful. The ability to be and to do, equally.

So the key question is how do you make a plan that you can live with? How do you plan for success which is seemingly ethereal and impossible and out of reach for most people? There are many ways of doing this and here are my top tips.

  1. Carve out some time in your day for planning – say 20 minutes to sit, think, set your priorities for that day, that week and month. 
  2. Make lists – better still – learn how to work a spreadsheet and set out what you want to achieve by when. Then, review it every day.
  3. Prioritise the list – what is the item that will make the most difference to your life? To your income, happiness or relationships. Do that first.
  4. Educate yourself. Read some business books. Make time to refuel your brain and your motivation – there are millions to choose from. Go with what you’re drawn to.
  5. Are you always late?  Start being early – a plan will definitely help. Do things early in the day, early in the week, early in the month and be realistic about how long it will take to do something. Build in an extra 30 minutes of contingency time. When you are early, take that time to re-group, breath, prepare yourself for what you need and want out of the meeting/activity. Your mindset will be prepared and present and you will find that things flow with more ease and purpose. This applies in every area of your life.
  6. Plan the time you need to spend with your family and friends. It matters a lot and when you have to go on tour, spend hours in the studio or get home at 3 am from a gig – those brownie points are like hard cash.
  7. Don’t worry if you keep odd hours and can’t be regimented about your plan. Follow the 80/20 rule. Try to be on track for 80% of your time – after all, we’re doing this to help you get better and feel better – not to beat you up about failing. 
  8. Re-charge your batteries. Do you think that putting yourself first is selfish? Wrong – you can’t give to anyone else if you’re drained of energy. Think of it as being self-FULL vs self-ish. 
  9. Revisit your plan often, regularly. Revise it, update it and work it. It’s a living, constantly evolving thing. If it is outdated, it’s no use to you.
  10. Celebrate wins – big or small. Ticked something off your list? Filed all your expense receipts? Secured a new gig? Turned up early when that’s not easy?  GREAT!  Give yourself a massive pat on the back and small reward (doesn’t need to be extravagant) – we can be SO down on ourselves that this will get you in the habit of saying nice things to yourself.

If you feel like you need help or support with anything in this blog, feel free to get in touch. Authentic Artists helps you to amp up your career in music.