How To Set Goals Without Screwing It Up, Part 5

So here we are in part 5 of our how to set goals series, still prodding and poking holes in your goals in the fervent hope that we will raise red flags well ahead of time and save you from pouring your blood / sweat / tears into goals that don’t end up working out for you.

(Because you’ve been around the block enough to know that most goals don’t end up working out.)

We know that’s not very warm and fuzzy. But warm and fuzzy is what your cats are for. Which is why I have two. I need a lot of that.

But when it comes to your goals, you need to set yourself up with something that will work, or have a pretty damn sure shot at working, because you’re going to invest a lot to make it happen.

If you’re new here, start at part 1 of this series. Otherwise, on we go to the fifth question in the goal setting gauntlet.

Question #5: Do you know if and when you should fire your goal?

We get clients all the time saying that their goals are things like “getting to 1,000 website visitors a day by blowing the roof off of social media” or “building a list of 5,000 people by blogging like a bat out of hell.”

Not bad goals. Every time we blog, we get a nice spike of new subscribers to our free marketing courses. So, yay.

The challenge here is that while these clients have defined what they want and what numbers represent success, they very rarely have an eye on ROI. They’re going to invest like crazy, and not measure the returns.

So they’re blogging like that bat or trying to blow the roof off of Facebook, but they’re not thinking too hard about whether the return they’re getting is worth the time they’re putting in.

And we’re not talking generalities here. We’re not saying, “Gee, this is a lot of work, but in the long run it will be worth it?”

We’re talking about the specific, as in “I’m spending 8 hours a week blogging, and all I’m getting is 17 new subscribers a month?”

There’s a point where you need to stop throwing good time after bad. You’d feel this intuitively when you’re pouring money into ads, because you can see the costs and see the returns. With your own time and effort, it happens less often.

There’s a difference between a curve and a flatline.

When you first start out on a new goal, you don’t always come out of the gate with great results from the start. (You can, and we’ll we’ll talk more about that in part 6, so stick with us.)

Generally, there’s a curve.

You start out your first month blogging 8 hours a week, and maybe you do only get 17 subscribers your first month. But if you’re not seeing that trend upward from month to month, you have to really question whether you should keep doing the thing you’re doing.

If you’re six months in, and you’re holding steady at 17 a month, that’s a lot of hours for not a lot of return. Sounds obvious. But your brain, tricky con artist as it is, will tell you otherwise. It will tell you that you should just work harder.

This is because once you’re invested in something, you start thinking less rationally because you’re invested. You’ve been doing this for 6 months, you can’t quit now!

Incidentally, this is why a lot of marketers show you long videos telling you how great their product is going to be once they put it on sale in a few days. If they can get you 45 or even 60 minutes in, you’re invested. They’re counting on you to feel like it would be foolish to stop now and not buy the product. (This is different from long videos telling you stuff and giving you the chance to buy it now.)

But back to your goals. The longer you invest in a goal without seeing return, the more likely you are to a) quit outright or b) continue doing the thing that’s not working.

And this is dangerous.

If you’re seeing small results but you’re gaining traction, that’s a curve and you’ve got a solid chance of making that curve go up over time. Your 8 hours a week, a year from now, ends up getting you 1,000 subscribers a month. Great. Stick with that.

But a flatline should be recognized as a flatline as early as possible.

Just because it’s not working doesn’t mean it won’t work.

If you have your eyes out for a flatline (and we can also call a really lackluster curve the same thing as a flatline), you’ll be able to know as soon as possible whether you should change your approach.

Maybe you should take two-thirds of your blogging time and write articles for other sites to get backlinks. Maybe you need to get better at writing blog post titles or work on cross-linking them to increase time on site, which will get you more subscribers.

So just because it’s not working out now doesn’t mean it won’t work. But you need to have an idea of what kind of curve looks like a worthwhile curve so you know when to change your approach.

And that means that up front you need to have an idea of what numbers to think about, not three months in.

You can’t know what “good” numbers are, because so many factors affect that. But you can discern what kind of numbers cross the line into “bad.” Hopefully sooner rather than later.

But the sooner you see that you need to change an approach, the sooner you can do it. And the sooner you can do it again when you need to. And even if your numbers suck, it’s a little motivating because at least you’re doing things with a sense of purpose rather than just hoping things pick up “sometime.”

However.

If you’ve been changing your approach over and over again, and it’s still not working, you may need to ditch the goal as it stands and try and accomplish the end result in a completely different way. Maybe blog 1 hour a week and get your traffic by spending the rest of those hours sucking up on social media instead.

(Actually? Don’t do that.)

How to figure out when to fire your goals

Basically, when you’re setting a goal, look at the time and energy and money and everything else it’s going to take to do that thing.

Then think about what the trajectory should look like as you work your plan.

Your numbers will be arbitrary and meaningless. You can’t know how many subscribers or sales or shares you’re going to get. You also can’t imagine numbers that are best-case-scenarios.

But you can come up with some numbers that represent what kind of growth or progress would be worth it from an ROI standpoint.

That way, you’ll know if you need to simply change your approach if you’re not hitting worthwhile numbers, or whether you should scrap the goal and take another path so you’re not crying in your soup after a year of wasted effort.

(And if you’re truly stuck, contact the ninjas and ask about consulting. Dave or I can give you some answers.)

Stay tuned for part 6.

(While you’re down here, get our free marketing courses and read through them. It’ll keep you off of Facebook for a while and keep you focused on how to get  more customers.)

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.