Starving Artist No More Blog

019: SMART Creativity (Goal Setting for Creatives, Part 2 of 2)

Mar 07, 2023
Starving Artist No More | Jennifer Jill Araya
019: SMART Creativity (Goal Setting for Creatives, Part 2 of 2)

When you’re thinking about what you want out of your creative work, the ways in which you want to grow your artistic business, how do you figure out your strategy to get there? How do you figure out exactly what your goals should be? What goes into formulating a business strategy that will actually help and guide you, rather than one that will set on a shelf in your office, or languish in an unopened and unreferenced file on your computer?

One way to make sure your business strategy is one you’re going to actually use is to develop your business goals as SMART goals. This common acronym is a guide for how to write goals that you can actually achieve and that will help you stretch and grow. Let’s talk about what it means to be SMART with the business strategy for our creative businesses.


Hello, thriving artists, and welcome to episode 19 of the Starving Artist No More Podcast. I am Jennifer Jill Araya, a creative entrepreneur myself and a creative entrepreneurship coach who is passionate about helping artists like you build businesses that truly support you. I am your host for today’s discussion about SMART goals. I am so excited to be here with you to talk about goal setting and how you can use goals to grow and thrive within your creative work.

Before we dig into the main topic of today’s podcast episode, I do want to take a quick moment to let you know about an exciting event I have coming up. On March 26, 2023, just a few weeks after this episode is originally airing, I will be hosting a business and craft workshop for actors in New York City, with my good friend and colleague, Marni Penning.

Marni’s portion of the workshop will be focused on the craft side of the acting business, specifically how to analyze your audition texts so you can deliver a unique and memorable audition performance that is a reflection of who you are as an actor and performer – such good stuff! And my portion of the workshop will be focused on the business of acting, specifically how to identify the types of projects you should pursue and accept: how to identify the projects that are best suited to your unique creative abilities, and how to make sure you’re being paid your very best rates for those projects.

This workshop is going to be a delightful time of growth and learning for everyone in attendance, and I’d love for you to join us. You can get all the details on the Events page of my website,

And if you’re listening to this way in the future, and March 26, 2023 has long passed, you can still visit that events page and check out the learning opportunities listed there. I’m going to keep that page updated with any workshops, seminars, classes, and other events on my calendar. So who knows, perhaps there will be something listed there that is a must-attend event for you! Again, that website was

Ok, now it is time to get to the main topic of today’s discussion, SMART goals: what they are, how to write SMART goals yourself, and how they can help you in your work as a creative entrepreneur.

If you haven’t yet listened to episode 18 of this podcast, which is the previous episode right before this one, I encourage you to pause this episode here and go back and listen to that episode before continuing. Today’s episode is the second part of a two-part discussion about goals and how to use goals to grow your creative business. Episode 18 is titled “Purpose and Flexibility,” and it’s all about shaping your mindset when it comes to your goals. Unless you have a purpose, a “why,” for the goals within your creative business, those goals will be meaningless to you, and they won’t actually provide any motivation to you. And if you don’t approach your goals with a mindset of flexibility, then your business goals will become a constricting, limiting factor in your business and won’t give you any of the freedom and empowerment that flexible goals can provide. Purpose and flexibility within your mindset are absolutely vital as you work on the specific goals you have for yourself and your creative business. The previous episode in this discussion sets you up to foster that kind of supportive, empowering mindset around your goals. It’s an important part of this discussion, and I don’t want you to miss it!

So now that you’ve hopefully listened to Episode 18, and you are committed to keeping a flexible mindset around your business goals, and you have at least the beginnings of an concept of your purpose as it relates to your business goals, and you hopefully understand the limitations to goals, that they require a deeper purpose to truly help and motivate you, let’s look at how you can formulate goals that truly help you live out your creative purpose. That’s where the SMART acronym comes in.

If you’ve ever read anything or done any learning about goals and how goals work, you’ve probably come across the SMART acronym. You hear it all the time. The basic concept of SMART goals is that each letter of the word – S – M – A – R – T – represents an attribute of a goal that is a good goal, a goal that is structured in a way that you are going to be motivated to achieve it, and that you’re going to be able to achieve it. 

Exactly what each letter stands for sometimes varies depending on who is talking about it, but the most common words I’ve seen for SMART are:

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Attainable
  • R – Relevant, and
  • T – Time-bound

Let’s look at each letter of the acronym, discuss what it means, and figure out how to apply it to your work as a creative entrepreneur, how it can help you shape the strategy for your creative business.

First, Specific. The S in SMART stands for Specific.

Put simply, goals that are specific are goals that you will actually be able to meet. If your goal is something like “work with better customers” or “win better roles” or “play with better orchestras,” that’s not a goal you’re going to ever be able to say with certainty that you have achieved, because it’s not specific enough. What does “better” actually mean in any of those contexts? What makes one customer better than another, or one role better than another, or one orchestra better than another? There will always be a better role out there, a better orchestra, a better customer, so these kinds of goals are the epitome of a moving goalpost.

If your goal isn’t specific, then you’re setting yourself up to always be chasing some elusive “better” ideal. When you make your goals specific, you give yourself a chance to actually meet that goal. This allows you to be able to say, “yes, I have actually done the thing I set out to do.”

Specific goals also allow you to focus your efforts. For example, instead of wanting to work for some unknown customer who fits the nebulous idea of “better,” you get specific about exactly who you want to work with and why, what characteristics describe your ideal customer and why those attributes matter to you. Specificity in your goals allows you to get specific in your actions. You can focus your efforts on the strategies and actions that will actually make a difference in allowing you to achieve your goal.

What makes a goal specific? Well, there’s a pretty simple test you can use to tell if your goal is specific enough: Does it answer the five w’s? Those are the “question words” that kids get taught in elementary school, or at least that’s when I first encountered them. They’re the questions starting with Who, What, Where, When, and Why.

If your goal is specific enough, it will answer all of those “W” questions. What do you want to accomplish? Why is this goal important? Who is involved in making this goal happen? Where is it located (if it’s location-specific)? When am I going to get this done? Which resources do I need to use?

Think about one of your strategic business goals. Does it answer those questions? If so, it’s specific, and you’re on the right track. If there are some “W” questions that your goal leaves unanswered, you’ve got some goal tweaking to do.

Since we’re talking about being specific, I’m going to be specific with an example. I recently worked with an audiobook narrator who came to me with the business goal of working with 3 new clients in the coming year. Now, you might hear that and think, “hey, that’s great! Three new clients is specific. It’s a set number – three – and it describes what kind of client this narrator is targeting – clients they’ve not worked with before.” And yes, this goal has some specificity to it. But it didn’t have enough specificity to actually help this narrator get what they wanted.

To start with, “clients they’ve not worked with before” is way too broad. That category could include almost anyone! Independent authors, audiobook production houses, audiobook publishers – there are a lot of different clients that could fit the descriptor of “clients this audiobook narrator hasn’t worked with.” If working with “new clients” is your goal, your efforts to achieve this goal are going to be scattershot.

In the particular case of the audiobook narrator that was coaching with me, this goal gave them no ideas about how they should be focusing their marketing work. Do they reach out to indie authors? Spend time building their social media presence so that independent authors will easily find them? Or should they focus their work on reaching out to casting directors at audiobook publishers and producers? And if it’s the latter, reaching out to casting directors, which casting directors should they be reaching out to? Which publishers or producers? Those are huge categories!

Part of the purpose of your strategic business goals is to focus your efforts on the activities that will actually give you the results you’re working for. If your goals aren’t specific, then they can’t do that.

In the case of this audiobook narrator, we worked together to refine this goal. We addressed more of the “W” questions and defined exactly what kind of clients they wanted to work with. What we eventually came up with was “I will intentionally market myself to the casting directors at these 6 audiobook production companies, all of whom would be new clients to me (and they listed out the 6 specific companies they were going to target), with the intention of signing contracts to work with 3 of these companies by the end of the calendar year.” Talk about a specific goal! This audiobook narrator now knows exactly what activities to pursue to achieve their goal: marketing activities that target the casting directors working at the 6 audiobook production companies mentioned in their goal. Specificity for the win!

Any time you can add specificity to your business goals, you increase your chance of actually achieving that goal, and you focus your efforts on the actions that actually will bring you closer to that goal.

So, that’s the S of SMART, get specific. Now let’s look at the M.

Usually, when you hear people talk about SMART goals, the M stands for Measurable, which is super important, and I’ll get to that in a second. But I also like to think of the M as standing for Meaningful. Remember, as I mentioned earlier in this episode, and as I discuss at length in Episode 18, if you don’t know why a goal matters to you and to your business, and if that goal doesn’t align with your core business values, you will have no motivation to complete it. The goal has to matter to you. It has to be meaningful. If a goal isn’t meaningful, it won’t get done. Simple as that. Meaningful goals are so important!

Alright, now let’s look at the Measurable part of things. What does it mean to have a measurable goal? Honestly, I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. A goal is measurable if you can know for sure that you have achieved it. If you can’t measure it, you can’t know you’ve achieved it. So if there is some way for you to know that a goal has been achieved, then it’s measurable. If there isn’t, then that goal isn’t measurable.

Part of the point of goals is to have some milestones set in front of yourself so that you can know with certainty that you’re changing and growing and moving in the right direction with your business. Like I always say, change is a direction, not a destination, and achieving goals that you know are moving you in the direction that is right for you and your business can help confirm to you and others that you are moving in the direction of change. Those landmark moments when you can say, “I did the thing I set out to do!” are huge morale boosters in your life as a creative! Those are the kinds of wins that can renew your intrinsic motivation and reaffirm your love for your craft. They are moments of celebration!

The opposite of a measurable goal is one in which the goalpost is constantly moving. Moving the goalpost isn’t fair on the sports field, and it’s not fair to yourself in your work as a artist and business owner. Set measurable goals for yourself.

Things you can ask as you’re working to make sure your goals are measurable are questions like: How much, or how many? How will I know when it’s accomplished? What systems will I use to attain it?

Thinking back to the example goal we talked about in terms of specificity, a goal of working with “new clients” is not measurable. How do you know if you’ve worked with enough new clients to say that the goal is fulfilled? Saying that you are going to work with 3 new clients is measurable. You will know exactly when that goal is achieved.

Now let’s move on to the A in the SMART goal framework: Attainable. Goals that are attainable have two big characteristics. First, they are within your control. And second, they are within your abilities.

That first descriptor – that the goal must be within your control – is where most people get tripped up. As an audiobook narrator, something that always gives me a big thrill is when I see my name in the finalist list for the Audie Award, the major award given each year in the audiobook industry. It is an incredible honor to be an Audie finalist! But it is not something that I can control. Making a goal that states “I will be an Audie Finalist” is completely unattainable for me because that is not something I have control over. I can make sure that I’m doing my absolute best work on every title that comes my way, and I can submit titles for consideration for the awards. I can set myself up so that it’s more likely that I will be an Audie finalist, but I have no say in the outcome of those submissions. I can’t actually make that finalist spot happen. Doing my best work on every project and submitting my best projects for award consideration are actions that are within my control; actually becoming a finalist or winning the award is not within my control.

Here's another example. If you’re an actor, setting a goal that “I will get X part” is unattainable. You can’t control the decisions of the casting director, and you can’t control which other people audition for the part, or how they perform in their auditions. Instead, you can work to develop a relationship with the casting director on the project so that you’re not an unknown to them. By preparing well for the audition, you can make sure your audition is the absolute best possible representation of who you are and what you can do. You can’t control whether or not you get the part, but you can control how you show up for that audition and how easy (or not) you would make it for that casting director to choose you.

I actually have a whole episode all about focusing on what you can control, aka what is attainable, so if you’re interested in learning more about the attainability aspect of goal setting and strategic planning, go back and listen to Episode 17, What You Can Control.

The second part of crafting attainable goals is making sure the goal you set is truly within your ability. Ask yourself, how can I accomplish this goal? How realistic is the goal, based on other constraints I’m facing right now, such as time, financial factors, or current experience level? If you’re a musician and your only experience performing with orchestras is subbing with regional orchestras, setting a goal of winning a principal position with the LA Philharmonic is not an attainable goal for you right now. Maybe in five years, sure! But within this calendar year, it’s not a goal that fits with where you are right now. You want to have goals that are hard enough without being too hard, and going for that principal position would be too hard.

If you’re an audiobook narrator and you’ve narrated two audiobooks so far and have not yet done any performance coaching, setting a goal of working regularly with all 5 of the Big 5 publishers by the end of the year is probably not an attainable goal. Similarly, it’s not a goal that fits with where you are right now, and it’s something that would be so difficult for you as to make it unrealistic and unmotivating.

In his book 26 Marathons, champion marathon runner Meb Keflezighi writes that a good goal “requires you to increase or improve upon what you’re currently capable of.”

Let’s think back to the two creatives I just described. For the musician whose only orchestral performance experience is playing as a sub with regional orchestras, a too-easy goal would be to sub with one additional regional orchestra in the coming season. This is what they’re already doing! Adding just one new orchestra in the next season is too simple. That will likely come regardless of whether or not they actually market themselves. This goal doesn’t increase or improve upon their current work in any way.

But perhaps they can set a goal to audition for permanent positions at 4 of the orchestras for which they’re currently subbing, and to perform well at those auditions. Remember, whether or not you actually win an audition like this isn’t something you can control, but performing your very best at that audition is. Auditioning for permanent positions in various regional orchestras is definitely an increase or improvement upon the status quo for a musician who has only subbed to this point. 

For the audiobook narrator, perhaps they could set the goal of establishing positive relationships with three casting directors at three different audiobook production companies, and reaching out to ten independent authors whose work would be a good fit for this narrator’s style. Again, you can’t control whether those casting directors or independent authors actually hire you, but you can make sure that you do the relationship-building ground work so that when they’re ready to hire, you’re someone who comes to mind. And if you’ve only narrated two books to this point, establishing those kinds of positive relationships is absolutely a more attainable and helpful goal for you than trying to immediately work for all of the major publishing houses at once.

As you’re thinking about attainability with your goals, be careful not to go too far in either direction. Don’t set goals that are so far away that they feel pie-in-the-sky unreasonable, but also don’t throw yourself softballs just because you’re afraid you might not achieve it. It’s ok to set really big goals that you might not achieve. Don’t set goals that are so far out of your frame of reference that you can’t even imagine them, but big goals are good. Remember, you want to increase and improve upon what you’re currently capable of.

In terms of attainability, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If you structure your goal well, and set up a plan to work toward that goal, even if you don’t actually achieve the goal, you will have made progress.

The psychological principle of the Goldilocks Rule can hopefully help you understand what I mean in terms of setting goals that are neither too easy nor too hard.

Typically, the Goldilocks Rule in psychology is applied to infants, who will choose to visually look at – and continue to look at – things that are neither too simple nor too complex. In study after study, infants have shown that if something is too simple, they will lose interest and look away. If something is too complex and too hard, they will lose interest and look away. But if you find that beautiful middle ground – the Goldilocks zone – they’ll keep watching and stay interested.

When applied to adults, the Goldilocks rule tells us how to maximize motivation: assign ourselves tasks that are just beyond our current ability. Again, quoting Meb Keflezighi in his book 26 Marathons, “The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.”

Let me give you an example. This will be from the world of sport, but I think you’ll see how it applies to you and your work as an artist. Imagine you are a moderately good tennis player. I’m not, so I don’t know what that’s like, but just imagine that you are. If you are playing a total beginner – not for the purpose of teaching that beginner, but actually to compete against them – it’s going to be too easy for you. You’ll find it boring and count the serves until the match is over. Now imagine that you’re playing against Serena Williams. And again, this isn’t an educational experience; she is actually playing to win against you. You are going to be crushed. It will be too hard! There’s no way you have even a hope of scoring against her. You are going to give up. Your motivation won’t carry you through. However, if you’re playing someone who is just a little bit better than you are, someone who keeps you on your toes and who you might be able to beat if you’re really focused and on top of your game, you’ve found the Goldilocks Zone. Playing against this slightly-better-than-you tennis player will stretch you without breaking you.

Crafting attainable goals is all about finding the sweet spot where you will be motivated – and stay motivated – to keep working and keep improving.

Now let’s move on to the R in SMART: Relevant.

Thinking about whether or not a goal is relevant is related to the “meaningful” discussion we just had, but it is slightly different. When you think about whether or not a specific goal is relevant for you, you want to take a step back and look at your goals in totality. Does that specific goal relate to – is it relevant to – the other goals in your strategic plan? Are each of the individual goals you’ve set for yourself and your business cooperating together in service to your bigger picture – your larger, overall goal? Your business’s strategic plan, and each of the goals within that strategic plan, should serve who you are and what you want your business to be. After all, these are your goals. If they don’t serve you and help you grow in the way you want to grow, they’re not going to actually help you. They’re not going to be relevant.

“Relevant” is the item I think about at the end of each strategic planning session for my business. At that point, I sit down and look at all of the ideas and hopes and dreams I have set for myself over the coming period of time, whether that’s a month or a quarter or a year. And I ask myself: do these goals all support each other? Do they cooperate? Am I going at cross-purposes at all? For each individual goal, I think: is it truly worthwhile, enough that I want to spend my time in pursuit of this goal? Is now the right time? Am I really ready for this right now, or should I wait on this particular goal until these other goals have been completed? Does it fit with my other goals? Does this plan work together as a cohesive whole?

Sometimes things get dropped or shuffled, even if they’re goals I think I would really enjoy pursuing and really enjoy achieving. But if it’s not a goal that’s relevant to me right now, in this particular time period that I’m planning for, then it’s not going to make the cut. My time is too precious to spend it focused on 1000 different things and not actually getting where I want to go with any of them. I want my goals to work together, not compete with one another.

And here’s a little tip, for my creative friends out there who are listening to this discussion of relevance with goals and thinking, “But I can’t give up any of my goals! They’re all super important to me!” I hear you, and often, I am you. This is my struggle, too. I have created for myself a document I call my “Goal Waiting Room.” When I’m working on my strategic business plan each year, I always start by looking at my Goal Waiting Room doc first, to remind myself of the goals that I really do want to work on and achieve, but that just didn’t pass the relevancy test the last time around. Often, at least a goal or two will make it out of the Waiting Room each time I update my strategic plan. And at the end of the process, as I’m wrapping things up and ready to print my updated strategic plan, I look over it and run the relevancy test, like I just described. Any goals that get booted off the plan are copied into the Waiting Room doc, where they’ll be ready for me the next time I come back to the strategic planning process. I’m not saying “no” to the goals in my Waiting Room. I’m just saying “not yet.” They’re not relevant right now, but at some point in the future, when the time is right, they will be relevant, and then they’ll be added to my plan.

The final part of the SMART acronym is the T: Time-Bound.

Of all of the letters, this is both the easiest to explain and the easiest to understand. “Time-Bound” means deadlines. Give yourself deadlines! Everyone works better when there’s a timeline. If the project has deadlines, you’re going to be able to get your motivation going to actually get it done and stop procrastinating on it. Deadlines give you accountability, even if it’s only to yourself. You’ve assigned and accepted a deadline for a goal in your work, which means that you’ve got that little bit of added incentive to get the process started and do the work you need to do. Set deadlines for yourself within your goals. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

And that’s it. That’s what SMART goals are, and how they relate to our work as artist business owners. SMART goals are specific – no wondering whether or not you’ve actually achieved something. They are Meaningful – they are in support of your driving purpose behind your business, and they are Measurable – no moving goalposts here! They are Attainable – within that Goldilocks Zone where you’re motivated but not discouraged. And they’re Time-Bound – you’ve got deadlines to hold yourself accountable and keep procrastination at bay. SMART goals help you set up a strategic plan for your business that actually works, that helps you focus your attention, time, and motivation on the specific business actions that will actually make a difference for you and your business.

Thank you so much for your time today. I hope this discussion helped you understand how to craft good goals that will truly help you make your dreams for your creative business into your reality. I have found Goal Setting to be an incredibly powerful tool within both my business and in my personal life, and I hope they will be the same motivating force for you, too.

If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please rate, review, and subscribe. And as always, if you know a fellow creative who might be helped by today’s episode, or any episode, of this podcast, please pass it along to them. Sharing is caring! If you have questions or feedback for me, I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me through my website, I would love to hear from you how you’re working with SMART goals in your business and in your strategic plan. As the saying goes, set your goals high, and don’t stop until you get there. And if those high, lofty goals are set up as SMART goals, then you are setting yourself up to succeed, always a great place to be. I can’t wait to see what you create!


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