The 4 mistakes I made in setting goals for 2014

man lighting candles

This is not an official Year In Review post, but rather a lengthy meditation on goals: Good goals, bad goals, misinformed goals, hitting goals, missing goals.

A year and 2 days ago, I hit publish on my goals for 2014.

Here are the goals:

  • Grow Freckle Time Tracking to $700k/yr run rate… which would have been +51% YoY growth over Dec 2013, less prepayments.
    FAIL, grew only 34%.
  • Run BaconBizConf again.
    SUCCESS, even better than last year
  • Run 30×500 5-6 times.
    FAIL, ran 4x.
  • Release 2 self-guided products into the “30×500 Universe”
    FAIL, released 1 (Just Fucking Ship) (OR: 2 if you count our Making Time, Making Money freebie, and 3 if you count our email course it’s a part of).
  • Keep momentum going for our 30×500 alumni community
    FAIL?/SUCCESS?, in December we launched The Forge, an activity-based community of practice exclusive to 30×500 alums. And it’s CRAZY great so far, BUT it’s not the same thing as the pre-existing (pretty much dead) mailing list. For lots of reasons.
  • Release 1 more JavaScript-y infoproduct
    FAIL, did zero JavaScripty stuff this year.
  • Sign a nice fat contract, with a good publisher, for a business book
    FAIL, after consulting with two successful (very different) authors in our industry, we decided against it.
  • Grow our team to 5 or 6 people (that’s +1-2 people)
    SUCCESS, added 1 part-time-by-choice staffer and 1 contract sales person
  • Give 3-4% of our gross revenue to charity
    FAIL (MAYBE), based on our draft year end numbers, looks like 2.9% (so close!)
  • Help 100 more students make their very first product dollar
    FAIL, we had multiple student launches per month all year but not 100
  • Get BaconBiz, the anti-HN, off the ground
    FAIL, have come up with a rough plan but haven’t touched it
  • Make bootstrapping the obvious alternative
    FAIL, how could I even measure that?
  • Take more vacation
    SUCCESS, took about 7 weeks of vacation
  • Visit new places
    SUCCESS (sort of), went to only 1 new place (Ocean City) this year because I felt so sick all of the time
  • Work on more passion projects
    SUCCESS (sort of), worked on just 1 passion project
  • Feel like a normal person
    MEGA FAIL, had my worst year for health in a long, long time

So, the year’s expired and… where do I stand? 5 SUCCESSES (1 on the fence), 10 FAILS (1 on the fence). A hit rate of 33%. Not so hot.

Do I suck? Or at least, did I suck? Well yes a little, but not 66%.

I badly wanted to scream at how shitty this year was before I reviewed my goals… but objectively I still did a lot. I’m at peace with it. Especially because a large percentage of what I did achieve is not reflected in my goal list, which leads us to… the mistakes.

Here are 3 things I actually did wrong with my goal-setting itself, and which I’ll do right this year:

Mistake #1: I set the wrong kind of goals.

Setting an audacious revenue goal like $700k or 100 student products just… seems like the thing to do. Very fortune cookie-esque. It is specific and measurable and all that jazz — not impossible at all. But it’s still the wrong thing.

A huge target like that? It’s not really a goal itself, but an organizing principle. A reason to set other goals.

Which I know, duh. Which makes me feel a little bit silly for making this obvious mistake. I blame the blank content box in WordPress Create Post screen. It made me crazy.

So yeah, no shit: Growing revenue is important. And we definitely did grow revenue, 34% year over year, which was about 13% more growth than last year… and nearly all of that growth came after June, when we started to put a lot of things in place. (What things? That’s another blog post.)

I’m feeling pretty great about that: I may have missed the (stupid) goal, but I definitely moved the needle noticeably. 

But if I’d set out a list of 12 projects that would influence revenue instead, we would have gotten even closer. I would have started sooner, and done more. It would have been easier to delegate, too. Ditto for 100 students etc etc.

This year when goal-setting I will view my “audacious” goals as reasons, then fill up my goal list with projects, the building blocks that inspired by the reasons. Example: Create a sales process, vs a target number.

Which leads into…

Mistake #2: I forgot that I can’t control outcomes.

A lot of my goals were outcome based: Secure a contract, hit a revenue goal, help 100 students, etc etc.

The thing is I can’t control outcomes. I can only control what I do. (And also: How sure am I about that outcome anyway? More on that in Mistake #3.)

No matter how much I’d like to imagine that I know all the levers to pull and widgets to twiddle, no matter how much I like to believe that if I do everything right I will be rewarded, I can’t really say for sure.

I could do everything right and still not meet my goal. To which I say a resounding Meh.

This year when goal-setting I will specify goals are projects with action goals inside them. Things to do, not things that may or may not happen after I do.

Mistake #3: I changed my mind about outcomes.

Changing your mind isn’t a mistake, but a fact of life. Failing to account for mind-changing is the mistake. And perhaps the main reason why goals make excellent servants and terrible masters.

Let’s talk the book contract, shall we?

Alex and I said we wanted to write a traditionally published business book for good reasons: To reach the mainstream, to significantly widen our audience, to spread the gospel, to have the force of a publishing company behind us.

Naturally, we didn’t just start working. We sought advice.

And we had the great fortune to speak with Ramit Sethi (I Will Teach You to Be Rich), Josh Kaufman (Personal MBA) about selling & writing a bestseller… as well as Kathy Sierra and her husband, inventors of the best-selling Head First series. (And I had the ridiculous good fortune to get an advance copy of Kathy Sierra’s new book, which about creating a sustainable best seller.)

And thanks to lengthy discussions, their generous sharing of their time and advice, Alex and I decided to run like the dickens from the traditional publishing world. And self-published the first brick in our book plan just a month ago to pretty great results.

So the goal? Officially: FAIL. And yet unofficially? A success.

Which is why rigid adherence to goals is a mistake… luckily one I only nearly made.

This year when goal-setting I will remember all the things I hate (delays, bureaucracy, gatekeepers… aka publishing) — and also that to seek facts & advice to make a final decision is itself a worthy goal.

Mistake #4: I didn’t create a system of check-ins.

I’m an always-moving-forward kind of person, for all kinds of reasons. I’m not really big on dwelling. I take things as they come.

That’s my biggest regret: I have a chronic illness that more & more looks like the result of a genetic disorder. Much of that is outside of my control. But the worst of the worst? There were several definite things I could have done to stop that slide… if I had not failed to create a system of check-ins. I spent so much more time at home, in my house, in bed this year than I have in a long time.

Conservatively, I have lost 50-75% of this year due to illness.

The revenue goal? What’s a revenue goal compared to that? Nothing.

This year when goal-setting I will make setting up systems to take care of me my first and top priority. So this never happens again.

Then I will make check-in systems for my other goals, too. The frog boiling principle applies to every one.

Your turn

What are you going to do differently this year with your goals?

(PS: If you need assistance with the finishing-and-shipping part, Just Fucking Ship will help.)

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  1. Mark Roseman

    While I love lists and begrudgingly recognize the merits of SMART-ish goals, your ‘5 success & 10 fail’ does certainly highlight the limitations, because there’s no realistic way to go from that to a real ‘how did I do overall?’

    When I do longer term planning, I try to start with a small number of overall themes/objectives/goals, and then try to balance them against each other. For you, it might be something like X% of your energy towards growing revenue, Y% towards bootstrapping evangelism, Z% towards feeling the best you can, etc. with X+Y+Z=100.

    The more specific goals can fall out of that. And the specific goals can change over the year. But when it comes to evaluating how you’re doing both along the way and at the end of the year, go back to those bigger themes. You can assess how well you’re doing towards each one, and if you’re putting too much emphasis on one theme (e.g. ignoring something you wanted to put 50% of your energy into). The specific goals then become almost data points you can use to think about your progress in the bigger picture.

  2. Mariah

    I hear you about the publishing a book deal. For so long I thought that was one of my goals. Turns out, trad publishing is everything I hate too :)

    I talked to tons of #1 best selling authors (who happen to be friends) this past year while planning my book pitch – their stories convinced me to RUN AWAY from traditional publishing as fast as possible.

    Turns out a lot of best-selling authors with “big” book deal were making less over the lifetime of their book than I was in a MONTH with my blog. So, I’m sticking with Self-publishing even though it doesn’t have the cache :)

    Love your blog and can’t wait to see what you do in 2015. I also want to focus on self-care – good reminder!

  3. Kathy Sierra

    “…the ridiculous good fortune to get an advance copy…” Good fortune had nothing to do with it. Without you, this book would not have happened. You know this :)

    And I could not agree more that goals work best when they are about doing vs. the (possible) result of doing.

    You never cease to inspire me.

    • Amy

      Well, wow! Thanks! And I wouldn’t be where I am today without Creating Passionate Users, for absolute certain. But I only came in to help a little at the end with Badass. Let’s be honest. :)

  4. Colin Newlyn

    Goals are actually limiting because you can only set them for the world you know or can imagine. They’re good at getting you into action (which is why they have to be action focused) but terrible at getting you where you want to be. You need to understand them in the context of your ‘desired future state’, to use a coaching term. There’s lots of ways of getting there that you can’t know or imagine, and therefore can’t set goals for. The important questions are ‘is my direction of travel towards my desired future state?’ and ‘am I making good progress’. In that context, you didn’t fail at all last year. Sure, you’d have liked to covered more ground but you are still heading in the right direction. And who knows what leaps might become possible this year? Love the blog, keep up the great work!

  5. Paul

    Having just gone through a yearly review that made me feel absolutely stressed out and miserable, even though it went exceptionally well, maybe it’s entirely the wrong process for goal setting. Maybe your inner self-manager is unthoughtfully stressing the hell out of your inner product-warrior. I’m not sure I can take myself seriously after that last sentence, but here’s a different approach if you can abstract your self as management of your self employee… … Anyhow, why put yourself into a box that’s based on the revolution of a planet when you’re not a subsistence farmer or a bureaucrat?

  6. Katrina

    Thanks for sharing so much of your goals and how to improve. I agree that simply focusing on the outcomes & things you can’t control can lead you down the wrong path. When I created goals for this year I focused more on what I can and will do and so far has been working out for me!


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