I am not one to tell people to make new year’s resolutions because they tend to be vague and generic in nature. However, it is a great time to plan your goals for the year. The question is how do you know if you are successful? First, lower your expectations and change your definition of success. You will not hear me continuously harping on SMART criteria, but when doing yearly goal planning it gives you some structure around your goals. There are just some things that make goal setting and achievement much simpler. So, what would this mean for bloggers or startups setting goals?

Measurement

Typically, bloggers will have a goal of “Make My Blog As Popular As Chris Brogan’s”. This is a terrible goal because it is almost impossible to attain. Chris likely has a huge head start in popularity, so you need to get as popular as his blog is now as well as how popular it will be at the end of 2010. Also, goals should have one specific aspect to them to make them achievable, they need to be measured in some way. You could change this to be “Get 5000 subscribers, 10 comments per post and 30,000 pageviews per month.” If you are a startup, you could use similar metrics with pageviews, site members or (gasp) revenue. This gives you something that you can measure against at the end of the year.

Actionable

If you look at the vague popularity goal, there is very little a blogger can do to achieve it. You can write more content, share the content on more social media sites, and reach out to other bloggers to get them to share as well. However, most of the goal requires action by other people. Use your past statistics to help you figure out what you need to do. If you write one post per week and have seen that each post gets you one new subscriber, you can try writing more often. Set your goal as “Write 3 posts per week”, and hopefully the trends will hold true. Startups have a harder task in defining goals that are actionable. It could be that there is a budget that needs to be met, or revenue goals that you want to reach. What action can you take to make more revenue? Look at your web analytics to determine what people are looking at. Talk to advisors or other helpful people to determine what paid features you can develop. Once you have features defined, you can take action.

Reachable and Rationale

Your goals need to be reasonable. Most people are not the completely optimistic type and will get somewhat depressed at the end of the year when they realize they did not come close to achieving any of their goals. So, if you are just starting a blog today, 5000 subscribers is probably not a reachable goal, but maybe 1000 is reachable. You can not forget the why of the goal. Why do you want a popular blog, or even a popular startup? What does more subscribers give you? Besides a sense of pride or accomplishment, you need a reason or a rationale behind a goal. For a blogger, it might be a gateway into an independent consulting business. For startups it is easier as more members and pageviews equals more potential revenue or a larger valuation.

Planning, Reminders and Progress

Now you have set these great goals for the year. How do you remember to do them? Are you going to achieve the goals tomorrow or can you wait until December 15th? Because of my software development background, I am intimately familiar with project planning. This is handy when looking at these yearly goals, because you do not want to lose sight of what you are trying to accomplish. So, plan when each goal should be achieved and what tasks you need to complete to achieve the goal. If you are writing 3 posts per week, make sure that you have a plan on when you should be writing the posts like Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In a startup, you probably need to plan when features will be complete so the planning part is done.

How do you remind yourself to complete these tasks? Sometimes a simple piece of paper is the most effective. Print your plan on one sheet of paper and put it above your computer screen. It will be a constant reminder of what needs to be done. Software development has always talked about planning, but it has rarely been a visible thing. Agile processes have changed this, and having a visible plan is typically a great motivator. For example, many teams measure work in “points” or some other fictitious number. A big visible chart (BVC) can show the planned remaining points during the development process. You can then chart the actual remaining points based on what was completed. Seeing the actual remaining points decrease faster than the plan can become a game if the development is going smoothly. People need to see progress towards a goal, they need feedback on how things are going.

Work

You may be saying that this seems like a lot of work, just to plan some goals. If that is the way you feel, that is fine, but I would argue if you do not want to put this much attention to your goal planning then you do not really care about reaching your goals. It is a very rare occurrence when someone can be successful without doing much work. It is highly likely that you will need to work hard to reach your goals. If you track progress towards your goal, and you still do not achieve them, you will have proof that you did work towards them. Sometimes a goal at the beginning of the year sounds reasonable, but like any project, unexpected things occur that will cause you to miss your target. At that point you can still say that you made it 75% of the way to your goal. If your goal was $1,000,000 in revenue, and you reached 75% of your goal, that is still $750K. This is probably much better than the startup that wanted to become more popular or get more revenue.

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