I love having goals to aim for. I feel a bit unmoored when I don't have any.
So of course I have goals for my content marketing at Ghost. I've broken down my content roadmap into 1-, 3-, and 6-month deadlines, with goals listed in each one.
But to hit my goals I've found there are a few specifics required in my approach. My system for goals includes three parts:
- Set goals you can control
- Use habits and systems to achieve those goals
- Measure and adjust during the process
Set goals you can control
I first learned this strategy as an actor. Actors tend to be at the mercy of others a lot of the time. Most of us are vying for roles that are overwhelmed with applicants and chasing down casting directors and agents who have too many actors to choose from already.
In a career with too much supply and not enough demand, you're always going to be fighting for a piece of a too-small pie.
Creating content for readers overwhelmed with choice is the same: far too much supply, and not enough demand. You're at the reader's mercy, hoping they'll read your content despite the thousands of other blogs to choose from.
Unfortunately, being at the behest of others so often makes actors prone to set goals that are beyond our control. Getting a lead role, for instance, or signing with an agent.
These goals rely on others to make them happen. If you don't get that role or land that agent, you'll have failed to meet your goal. It doesn't matter if you do everything you can, other people can still stop you from hitting goals if they control the outcomes.
Setting goals that you can't control is setting yourself up for failure.
Setting a goal you can't control is an extremely good thing if you don't want to achieve your goal. Of course, that doesn't make sense. Why would you set a goal you don't want to hit, right?
Let me reframe that, then:
Setting a goal you can't control is an extremely good thing if you don't want to do the work to achieve your goal.
See, it gives you someone else to blame.
If you don't land a lead role, you can blame the casting directors who didn't cast you. Or the jerk who did get the lead role. Or your agent for not sending you out on enough auditions.
So the first question to ask yourself is whether you're willing to put in the work to achieve the goals you're setting. If you are, you'll need to put yourself on the line by setting a goal you're accountable for.
Let's look at an example that's more relatable than actors looking for agents.
Say you're starting a blog from scratch for your business, and you set a goal to get 100,000 unique visits to your blog within six months.
The problem? You can't control whether people visit your blog or not.
The fix? It starts with the reason you set this goal in the first place.
Was it because you want to get product conversions from your blog? You can't control whether people convert, but you can optimise your blog for conversions.
So instead, your goal could be finding more places to target readers who are likely to convert when they get to your blog. Nobody's stopping you from doing research into your target market and where they spend their time, so that's a goal you can control.
Or do you want more people to know about your business? Instead of focusing on a number of visitors that's outside your control, your goal could be finding new ways to distribute your content so more people see it. Or it could be writing a certain number of guest posts per month to target the readers of other blogs in your industry.
Nobody's stopping you from writing every day, or working harder to promote your content. You're completely accountable for getting that work done, so those goals are more achievable.
Build habits and systems to achieve your goals
Once you've adjusted your goals so they're in your control, you can start working towards them.
This is where the hard work starts. But many of us make this process harder than it needs to be.
You can't achieve a big goal all at once. You need to work away at it in little chunks.
"...you will spend every moment until you reach the goal—if you reach it at all—feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary." — Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert
As Scott Adams explains in the quote above, goals kinda suck.
Have you ever achieved a goal, only to find the elation of achievement doesn't last as long as you expected? Before you know it, you're wondering what to work on next.
Because a goal you haven't reached—especially a big, hairy one—begins to define you. Your "thing" is working towards this goal. So when you achieve it, you're at a loss for what to do next.
Habits and systems not only help you achieve your goals, but they're a lot healthier to work with than the constant failure status of big goals.
A habit is something you do automatically. It's a behaviour that's so ingrained you don't have to think about it, like brushing your teeth every day, or making your coffee in the morning.
New habits take time to become automatic, so at first you might need to set a reminder and employ some willpower to keep you on track. But if you repeat a behaviour often enough, the brain is pretty amazing at making you do it on autopilot eventually.
Whereas a habit is a particular behaviour or activity you repeat, a system is a bit bigger—it's made up of activities and behaviours. For instance, a habit could be going for a run every morning when you first wake up.
But a system would be your entire workout plan, which might include rest days, running, and workouts at the gym. Your system is the plan of different actions you can repeat to move closer to your goal.
Depending on the situation, you might need a habit or a system—or a mixture of both. But they both have the advantage of being repeatable, measurable, and much smaller in scope than big goals. Which means you can get feedback on your results much faster.
Let's say your goal is to start a brand new blog and work up to publishing five posts a week within the next six months. A system to help you meet this goal might include the following:
- a weekly brainstorming session to collect new content ideas
- a publishing schedule that increases in frequency over time
- a checklist to save you time when promoting your content
Some habits you might find useful in this case might be:
- writing for half an hour every day before you do any other work
- reading for an hour every day and noting down any topic ideas
- publishing at the same time of day every time
Using habits and systems gives you a chance to win every day. Rather than a constant state of failure leading up to achieving your goal, you can work hard on completing your habits every day, and working your system.
And the coolest thing about habits and systems is they get you results, even if you don't achieve your goal.
If you can't increase your publishing frequency to five times per week within six months, but you've been writing every day and working your system to promote your content, you'll be seeing results from all that effort.
Measure and adjust
Another great thing about using habits and systems, which are smaller in scope than goals, is how much faster you get feedback on your efforts. If you're employing a habit to write for half an hour every morning, you'll be able to tell after just a week whether it's helping you increase how much content you can publish.
If you're struggling to publish even one post a week even though you're writing every day, that's a good sign that you need to make a change. Maybe you need a system to help you get through the workload of editing and polishing content so it's ready for publishing.
Working on your goals in smaller chunks, through habits and systems, gives you a chance to constantly adjust your approach as you get closer to hitting your goal (and your deadline).
Although I have big plans for the Ghost content strategy, right now my main focus is on building habits and systems. I want to build a foundation of processes for creating, editing, and publishing content. Once I'm comfortably publishing three new posts every week I'll be able to break down bigger goals into habits and systems as well.
In case you couldn't tell, I'm a big fan of habits and systems. I find them useful in achieving both my professional and personal goals.
If you're new to this idea of breaking down goals and building regular habits, you might find these extra resources helpful:
- Build Better Work Habits by Starting Small and Rewarding Yourself
- How to Build a New Habit in 3 Easy Steps
- You can’t start a habit without this first step
- Identity-Based Habits: How to Actually Stick to Your Goals This Year
- Habit Stacking: How to Build New Habits by Taking Advantage of Old Ones
- 3 surefire methods that help me to build new habits
- Why You Should Be Tracking Your Habits (and How to Do It Well)
And if you have any other tips about setting content marketing goals, I'd love to hear them.