New Year, New Goals: 3 Easy Tips to Help You Achieve Them

The beginning of a new year can be wonderfully motivating; you have a well of ideas and energy and can set exciting new goals. However, did you know that only 20% are still working towards them come February and by the end of the year it's only 8%?

The reason goals are so hard to stick to is that most people don't develop a plan to get themselves from Point A (where they are) to Point B (accomplishing their goal).

3 Tips for Setting Creative Biz Goals You'll Actually Achieve + FREE 15-page Worksheet | shannonmcnab.com

I was once part of the 92% that didn't stick to my goals, but last year was a wake up call. My 2017 goal was to exhibit at Surtex and successfully land enough work to exceed the costs of the trade show by 150%. And I'm proud to say that I had hit my goal by August.

But it wasn't just a fluke that I achieved my goal. It was because I was so driven to make it happen AND I developed a year-long plan to help keep me on track. So today, I'm sharing 3 helpful tips  to help you achieve (and exceed) your goal!

1. Set a Meaningful Goal

This may sound obvious, but in order to be successful, your goal needs to be something that excites you to your very core. Whether it's an income goal you wished you'd reach someday or landing one of your dream clients, pick something that will keep you motivated all year long.

There will be times during the year where you'll struggle, but if you have a goal you're eager to accomplish, you can tap into that excitement and help it carry you through.

Surtex 2017 at the Javits Center | shannonmcnab.com

In my case, Surtex was something I have dreamt about since I first learned what it was in graduate school a decade ago. So when I transitioned to surface design in the summer of 2016, I knew that Surtex was where I wanted to be. Of course my path to exhibiting wasn't easy and there were several moments of self doubt or frustration, but one thing that helped me keep going was the thought of walking into the Javits as an exhibitor for the very first time.
 

2. Do a Brain Dump

In order to create a solid plan for your goal, you need to contemplate everything you need to do to get there. Take out a piece of paper (you'll probably need several) and write down every task you can think of to help you work toward your goal, no matter how small.

My 2017 Goal Brain Dump: Exhibiting at Surtex | shannonmcnab.com

If that feels too daunting, start by breaking your large goal into smaller goals or categories and work through them one-by-one. By focusing on smaller aspects of your large goal, you're less likely to get overwhelmed.

When I did a brain dump for my 2017 goal of exhibiting at Surtex, I broke down tasks into the different aspects of preparation for the show, like exhibiting logistics, marketing, building my portfolio, etc.

Then I worked on each category one-by-one until I had 3 full pages of tasks I needed to complete.
 

Don't get too hung up on whether you've thought of absolutely everything. You can always come back to your list and add to it. 
 

3. Stay Accountable

For your goal action plan to work, you need to continually keep it in mind. One of the best ways to do this is to find someone like your partner, close friend, or family member. Tell them what your goal is and have them check in with you every month to keep you on track. 

You could also get a accountability buddy; it’s especially helpful if they are in the same industry and/or are working towards a similar goal. Or you could announce your goal on Instagram, to your email list, or even in the comments of this post (hint, hint!). Declaring your goal publicly can help make your goal seem more real, plus you’re likely get some people to cheer you on.

Me & my accountability partner, Lizzie Clark at Surtex 2017 | shannonmcnab.com

I was so fortunate enough to have an accountability partner for Surtex. My friend and fellow surface designer, Lizzie Clark, was also exhibiting for the first time in 2017, so it was the perfect solution for us to pair up. We Skyped every other week and emailed in-between; it kept our to-do list in the front of our minds and little by little, we checked off everything together. She's been an incredibly supportive partner-in-crime! 
 

Want to Achieve Your Goals This Year?

Goal Getter Worksheet by Shannon McNab | shannonmcnab.com

The business life of a designer can be a struggle, but developing a road map to get to your goals can make the journey a lot easier. So if you liked my tips in this post, but are struggling to figure out how to reach your goals or expand your business, my Goal Getter worksheet can help! 

I'll walk you through the entire process step-by-step from setting the RIGHT goal through developing a plan to stay ahead all year long.


Surtex 2017 Recap Part 2: Was it Successful?

NOTE: This post contains affiliate links. I never promote anything I don’t love and use myself. And although I may earn a small commission for sending business their way, there’s no cost to you!

I want to start off by saying that I hope you're finding this blog series helpful! I created it because when I went hunting for information last summer, there were lots of details and aspects of the show I simply couldn't find. So for me, if I can help make someone else's journey to their first trade show a wee bit easier, then that makes me happy!

Surtex 2017 Recap Part Two: How Successful Was it + Complete Vendor List & the Best Advice I Received | shannonmcnab.com

Well, it's been a few weeks since my last Surtex recap post and I thought it was about time I get to the "good stuff" (ie. talking about how exhibiting actually went for me). If you missed my last post, I discussed my pre-Surtex booth setup and shared lots of things I wish I had known ahead of time about setup.

And because I cover A LOT in this post, here's a breakdown of each section, with links so you can jump straight to what you want to read about:

Exhibiting at the Show: Discussing how I did with my three pre-Surtex goals
The Best (& Worst) Advice I Received: Nuggets of wisdom from some very smart people
Complete Vendor List: Services I Used for Everything Surtex related

My Surtex 2017 Booth: Counter Closeup | shannonmcnab.com

Exhibiting at the Show

Deciding to show at Surtex when I am new to the surface design industry felt like a huge (and expensive) gamble, but I also knew it was likely the best option to get my art in front of many companies in a short amount of time. So I'm not surprised that the most common question I've received since showing at Surtex has been "Was it worth it??" And my answer is: HECK YEAH!!

If you've read my May pre-Surtex post, you might remember how I gave myself 3 goals for exhibiting at Surtex. As I mentioned in that post, having these pre-determined goals was an easy way to be able to measure my success after the show. Here's how I did:

Goal #1: Attempt to strike up a conversation with at least 50% of the people who walk past my booth.

About 70% of the people who walked by were either fellow exhibitors, buyers looking for art in a completely different style, or people going to the adjacent furniture show. The other 30% were companies/buyers who were actually interested. Of those that seemed interested, I made it a point to strike up a conversation with nearly all of them. And those that weren't? I attempted to at least give a warm smile and hello if they looked into the booth. Goal accomplished: YES!

Goal #2: Come home with at least 20 solid leads of people/companies I'd like to work with. 

After tallying all the intake forms I came home with, I ended up with a total of 37 leads. Of those, I'd consider 24 of them solid leads (and 9 that I'd be over the moon excited to work with). Will all these great leads pan out? No, but I'm ok with that. Goal accomplished: YES!

Goal #3: Sell/license 3 portfolio pieces during the show.

By far my most difficult goal to accomplish, especially as a newbie, but I'm happy to say that I mostly completed this goal. What do I mean by "mostly"? Well, a company purchased licenses for two of my illustrations at the show, but wanted another to complement it, so they commissioned me for a third piece. So while I didn't technically sell 3 licenses at the show, I felt confident I would achieve it within a few weeks. Goal accomplished: Let's say YES!

It was a great feeling at the end of the show to know that I had accomplished all of my goals, most especially because I had made enough to pay for part of my booth fee!

My Surtex 2017 Booth: Counter Closeup | shannonmcnab.com

The Best (& Worst) Advice I Received

I have a notebook full of notes for Surtex from my entire trade show journey, but some advice I received was better than others. Here are my absolute favorite words of wisdom, plus two pieces of advice I wish I hadn't followed:

Best: Register Copyrights for Your Work Prior to the Show

Who Said It: Emily Danchuk ESQ during a Surtex Copyright/IP Webinar

In order to protect your work as much as possible, you need to file copyright applications in a timely manner. According to copyright.gov, "timely" is considered within 3 months of publication of/offer to sell your work. So I registered all my designs in early May so I am protected in the event that someone copies the work that I presented at Surtex.

Worst: Have 20-25 Personalized Press Kits Available in Press Room

I mentioned this a bit in my May Surtex post, but felt it deserved to be mentioned again here. I printed 50 of my press rack cards; we left 25 in the press room and had 25 at my booth. My husband checked Tuesday morning (the last day of the show) to see how many were left in the press room and only ONE had been taken

Next year, I think I would completely forego creating press kit cards and instead just focus on a promotional postcard or small booklet that showcases my work. I'd probably still put 5 or so in the press room (just in case), but would keep most of them in my booth to hand out to the buyers.

Best: Use an Ergonomic Mat for Your Booth

Who Said It: Sandy Dumais, Illustrator

There was a big discussion in the Advice for Artists FB group about what types of shoes were best for the long hours of standing at the show. Many had great suggestions, but my favorite recommendation was from Sandy; she uses an anti-fatigue mat in her booth to stand on.

As someone who suffers from arthritis in my ankles and hips, I knew orthopedic shoes wouldn't be enough for me so I scoured Amazon for the best, compact mat I could find (see direct link below in vendor list). It fit perfectly flat inside my checked baggage and was so helpful at making my legs and feet less achy at the end of the day. 

Best: Sell Designs in Small Groupings (main print + 1 to 3 coordinates)

Who Said It: Jennifer Nelson, Art Agent

This is something Jennifer mentioned often in her Prep Talks and I'm so glad I heeded her advice. Coming from a scrapbooking design background, I'm used to creating large collections usually consisting of 6-12 patterns. However, such large groupings can be tough to sell simply because you have to sell them at a higher price (to make your time investment to create them worth it).

Most buyers I talked to had fairly specific budgets for purchasing work, so having smaller collections made it easier to license and sell my work. Plus, by showcasing one main illustration or hero pattern with a few coordinates makes the customer feel like they are still getting a lot for the price. At least that was my experience at the show.

Worst: Have 500 Business Cards with You (minimum)

I initially purchased 250 business cards from Moo, but heard that you need to have at least 500 cards so you don't run out. So I panicked and purchased 300 extra cards from Zazzle as a precaution. Now I don't know if it's because of where I was on the show floor (I was near the back) or if it's because attendance was down for buyers, but only about 120 were picked up at my booth.

That means I came home with 400+ leftovers and never needed to purchase extras from Zazzle. Especially when flying from CA where space in my luggage was precious, I have to say I was a bit annoyed I wasted so much of it on business cards. Next time, I'll probably just buy 100 new ones and then supplement with my extra Moo cards from this year (which will save me money too).

Best: Categorize Your Intake Forms During the Show

Who Said It: Anne Bollman of Anne Was Here, Surface Designer

This was hands down, the most useful piece of advice I received, so thank you Anne! Her tip was to categorize each intake form you receive into 3 groups:

  1. Companies you absolutely want to work with.

  2. Companies that you could see yourself working with.

  3. Companies you may or may not want to work with.

Over the course of the three days, you talk to so many people and all the details and excitement will start blending together. So after the end of each interaction with a new buyer at my booth, I would mark which group they fit into on the top of the intake form. I had a file folder for each grouping so everything stayed organized behind the counter.

My Surtex 2017 Booth: Samples Shelf | shannonmcnab.com

Complete Vendor List

Something that I felt was really important to share was who/what I used to get everything ready for the show. While a few things get discussed a lot (like banner printers and business cards), other things can be tough finding information about (like where to print carbon copies). So here's a complete list of all the great vendors I worked with and all the things I needed: 

Booth Design & Setup:

Portfolio & Marketing Materials:

  • Portfolio Sheet Printouts: Colorprint (my favorite local printer)

  • Printed Portfolio Book: Blurb Books

  • Business Cards, Press Kit Cards, & Promotional Mailers: Moo.com

Giveaway Items:

Product Samples:

Also included on my product shelf were samples from scrapbook products I designed from Becky Higgins LLC & Echo Park Paper Co.

Miscellaneous:


I hope you enjoyed my second Surtex 2017 recap blogpost. The third and final post will be all about the costs and value of exhibiting at Surtex. Since cost seems to be the #1 factor in deciding whether or not to participate in a trade show, I feel it's a really important topic to address.

Finally, if you missed any of my previous Surtex blogposts, here's links to the entire series:

September 2016: My Journey to Surtex Begins
February 2017: 100 Days to Go
March 2017: 2 Months and Counting
April 2017: Only 1 Month Left
May 2017: Ready or Not, Here I Come!
June 2017: Booth Setup as a Newbie


My Journey to Surtex | Let's Do This!

It's hard to believe that Surtex, something I have been working towards for nearly a year, is less than a week away now! I've had lots of friends ask me how I'm doing as the show approaches and my response is always the same, "I am completely prepared, but I don't feel ready." 

My Journey to Surtex May 2017 Update: Ready or Not, Here I Come | shannonmcnab.com

Although to be honest, I don't think there is a way to feel completely ready for something like this. It's a huge milestone moment for me in my surface design career, so I'm just trying remember that all these trade show jitters mean is that I care a whole heck of a lot about what I'm doing!

Surtex Booth Prep

Up until this point in my Surtex blog series (if you missed any, I've linked them all up at the bottom of this post), I've talked quite a bit about my show prep in general terms, but haven't actually shown and explained that much.

The reality is that there are many moving parts to prepping for the trade show, so today I'd thought it would be helpful to show you just a few things I've done to prepare and explain my reasons behind them (which also means today's post is longer than usual).

Marketing Mailers

Exhibiting at Surtex is wonderful because it puts you in front of hundreds of companies who may want to use your designs. However, there's no guarantee that just because people from your dream companies are attending, that they'll make it to your booth. And that's why marketing mailers are an important part of trade show preparations.

Surtex 2017 Marketing Mailers | designed by Shannon McNab

The first and most time consuming part was compiling a list of potential buyers/clients, but then I had to decide exactly what I wanted to send them. After researching what people have done in the past, I came to the conclusion that the simpler and more straightforward I could be, the better, so I opted for a 5x7 double-sided postcard mailer.

The reasons behind that decision were three-fold. 

  1. Simple means less time. I could have come up with a more complicated, multi-piece mailer, but that would mean taking time away from other trade show prep that needed my attention. 
  2. Many mailers end up in the trash. It's a sad truth, but I've heard this from several other designers and art agents. And as much as I would love to have everyone save my mailers and meet up with me at the show, that's not realistic.
  3. Environmental impact. I'm a bit of a recycling nut, so I hated the idea of creating complex mailers with lots of resources, especially when many will end up in the trash (reason #2). By sending out a single postcard, I saved paper by not needing envelopes.

Now you may notice in the picture above, that I designed three different mailers and may be wondering why. My reasoning is that the companies I'm contacting are from a variety of markets and cater to different audiences. By sending them something that is a bit more catered to their overall product aesthetic, I'm hoping I increase my chances of success.

Press Kit

There's lots of debate on whether press kits are needed as much as they were in a pre-internet age. For example, in the Surtex hosted webinars, the presenter reiterated the importance of having lots of them to hand out.

Yet on the other end of the spectrum, I've heard from several designers that they spent loads of time and money on press kits for Surtex only to end up with dozens of them leftover. So I decided to approach my press kit much like I did with my mailers, by keeping things simple. For me, that meant creating a digital press kit.

Especially nowadays when most press opportunities are online, it made sense for me to create my press kit online (not to mention the environmental savings of doing so).


However, even with a digital press kit, I knew I needed something tangible to leave in the press room and hand out in my booth. It also needed to hold a decent amount of information and needed to be sized accordingly.

Surtex 2017 Digital Press Kit Rack Card | shannonmcnab.com

So I opted for a double-sided rack card (it's roughly the dimensions of a letter-sized envelope). On the front, I included a good representation of the art I create (see above) and the back has my contact information along with a brief introduction to me as an artist. However, the most important part of the rack card is the QR code I included which when scanned with your phone, takes you to the digital press kit on my website.

The best part about this solution is that as I add to and update my press kit, the URL will remain the same, so I won't ever have to "reprint" press kits. When I get a press request, all I have to do is send them to that webpage. It really felt like best solution, especially for longevity sake.

Portfolio Prints

Another source of debate among exhibiting designers is what form your portfolio should take to best represent your work in your booth. There are three options that are the most popular and oftentimes, designers will choose to have more than one option with them at the booth:

  1. Loose Portfolio Sheets: They can be stacked directly on the table, corralled into a binder with page protectors, or collected by category into folders. The advantage is that if you sell a design outright, the buyer can leave with the print.
  2. Bound Portfolio Book: A bound book can either be used to show your entire portfolio or a "highlight reel" of your favorite work from the year. The advantage is that it's a lot less cumbersome to travel with and look through than loose sheets, but it may also be harder to keep track of which pieces are no longer available.
  3. Digital Portfolio on a Tablet: Definitely the simplest and most travel friendly option, especially if the app you use allows for keyword searching (you'd need to add metadata to your images ahead of time for this to work). However, I've heard that many clients/buyers still like to look through physical pages.
Surtex 2017 Portfolio Loose Sheets | shannonmcnab.com

Personally, I decided to go with options 1 & 3. I'll have 11x17 loose sheets of my designs organized into three stacks (Christmas, floral, and other) and also have a tablet where people will be able to search by keyword. I originally had planned on also having a "highlights" Blurb book, but since it's my first year and I don't yet have a portfolio consisting of hundreds of pieces, I didn't feel it was worth the time investment to create the book.

Lesson Learned: Setting Goals

One aspect that I feel doesn't gets discussed very much concerning Surtex and trade shows in general is goal setting. Understanding your expectations for a trade show ahead of time is crucial step if you want to grow your art business. I mean you put all this effort into creating new work and exhibiting, so you need to make sure you know what you'll be happy to leave with. 

The goals you set should be based on what you hope to gain from your trade show experience, but be sure to not make goals too general. They should be specific enough so at the end of the show, you can easily assess whether the show was a success.


Everyone's goals are (and should be) different, especially when it comes to how long you've been in the industry. Someone who's been a surface designer for years will have a much different experience and be focusing on completely different goals than I will as a first timer.

Here are my three specific (and somewhat lofty) goals for the show:

  1. Attempt to strike up a conversation with at least 50% of the people who walk past my booth. This is the most challenging and nerve wracking goal I've set for myself, but it's very important. Personally, I've never been that comfortable talking with strangers about myself, but that's a big part of being an artist. In order for me to get better at that, I need practice.
  2. Come home with at least 20 solid leads of people/companies I'd like to work with. I have my intake forms ready to go and will be writing down the information of any buyer/client that's interested in my work, but I also know that everyone who's interested will not necessarily be a good fit. So while I plan on filling out way more than 20 intake forms over the course of the show, I'm hoping that I'll walk away with a stack of company contacts who I feel are an especially good match for my art.
  3. Sell 3 portfolio pieces during the show. This is the most lofty goal of all. Why is that?? Well, I've heard that many companies are cautious to do business with first time exhibitors. It makes perfect sense – I'm a completely unknown entity to them.
    So while I know it's a risk to set a goal knowing full well I may not achieve it, I'm still going to make selling my designs at the show a priority. Not only will selling work bring in income to offset some of the costs of Surtex, it will also fuel my confidence and make it easier to talk to art directors and buyers after the show (basically it makes goal #1 easier).

Although I have these goals in my head, there's no way to know whether I'll actually achieve them all, but it's ok. And that's because I can walk out of the Javitz on Tuesday evening, knowing I put a lot of heart and effort into exhibiting and can feel good that I took such a take a huge step forward in my surface design career.


If you'd like to follow along my journey during the show, be sure to follow me on Instagram. I'm hoping I'll have time to post at least one daily update! And before I forget, here's the links to the rest of my 2017 Surtex preparation series:

Part 1: My Journey to Surtex Begins
Part 2: 100 Days to Go
Part 3: 2 Months and Counting
Part 4: Only 1 Month Left

Also, I'm hoping once I've handled all the immediate follow up from Surtex that I'll have time to share a recap of the show sometime in June.


Happy New Year | My 2016 Design Goals

As I reflect on the past year and look towards 2016, I definitely feel like this year is going to be a year full of change. While I've been giving most of my energy for the past two years toward my "side" business (which frankly, became my main business at the beginning of 2014), I have been a bit restless working solely within the confines of the digital scrapbook market.

Happy 2016 | shannonmcnab.com

And although I never like to make "New Years Resolutions", I still think it is important to choose a few goals – things to focus on that keep me moving forward in my business. Right now, here are my two main design goals for 2016:
 

1. Focus on Continuing Education

I've always been interested in trying new techniques or learning a few new-to-me keyboard shortcuts in Illustrator, however, I've barely focused on my creative development as an artist over the past two years. The result is that my business is not where I'd like it to be.

Education is such an important part of growing as a designer whether you're a newbie or a veteran in the industry. It's funny to me that I continually tell my pattern design students to keep learning and practicing, yet I haven't been taking that advice myself.

So one of my main goals for 2016 is to sign up for a few design classes that I've been wanting to take. Not only will it help me gain a fresh perspective on my work, but I also believe it really does help reignite that passion I have for what I do.
 

2. Work on my Drawing & Lettering Skills

If you've been following me on Instagram this past year, you may have noticed that I've been posting a lot more doodles and hand lettering in my sketchbooks in recent months. While I absolutely adore Adobe Illustrator and can work happily on the computer for hours on end, I've really been yearning to work in more traditional mediums lately.

Practicing my hand lettering skills | shannonmcnab.com

Fancy computer programs and fun digital gadgets like Wacom tablets are great, but they'll only get you so far. The best way I know how to get better at something is to practice... A LOT. And I didn't do that much practicing in the first half of 2015 (and I feel like the quality of my design work suffered as a result)

I know my pattern making skills are great, but I feel like I still have lots I can improve on in regards to my illustration and hand lettering skills, so that's where my focus will be in 2016.