Make a PACT to chart your podcast growth

Business OGs teach SMART goals, which are fine for a sprint. Podcasting isn’t a footrace – it’s more like running to keep fit. It’s time to rethink our goals and shape them for the long run.

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Imagine you’re in a project meeting, and everyone’s pretty engaged apart from this one guy. He doesn’t contribute or offer up any useful advice. Any time he hears a suggestion, he counters it with “here’s why that won’t work”.

Fast-forward a month and you’re at a follow-up meeting to discuss the project’s progress. There’s that guy again. Only this time he’s got lots to say about “mistakes that were made”, and how things “should” have been done.

That guy’s the worst. That guy is your SMART goals.

SMART goals: what they are, and where they’re useful

SMART is an acronym. Its letters mean

  • Specific: clear and well-defined
  • Measurable: “We can only manage what we can measure”
  • Achievable: somehow attainable, not impossible to achieve
  • Relevant: will it help us get to where we want to go?
  • Timely or time-bound: achievable by a clearly-defined deadline

SMART helps us frame our goals, keep them realistic and make sure we can manage them. But it doesn’t help us set the right goals. It’s easy for us to create a goal to reach 100,000 downloads and define it like this:

  • Specific: Get 100,000 downloads across all episodes of my podcast
  • Measurable: Use my media host’s analytics dashboard or a third-party tracking service
  • Achievable: That’s only 1,923 downloads per episode
  • Relevant: It aligns perfectly as it proves my podcast’s success
  • Timely: The deadline is one year from now. Go!

That feels doable, but it misses some key factors:

  • We can’t control how many people download our podcast. We can only control how good the content is, and how well we promote it. There are lots of other factors like timing, social climate, consumption habits, or outside forces on our marketing budget.
  • Lots of podcast episodes are downloaded, and never played. Just because several thousand people have downloaded an episode, that doesn’t mean they’ll hit Play. The listener’s app might download it for when they’re ready, but the listener decides that episode’s not for them. I do it all the time.
  • Can you find two thousand people that will enjoy your content? Broken down, 1.9k downloads doesn’t seem that out of reach, but remember that’s almost two thousand people. All those people need to show up for every episode so you can hit your target.
  • If it can be gamed, it’s not a helpful metric. You can pay for download numbers, just as you can pay for likes or followers on social media. There are some (not very good) reasons why you might pay for likes and followers. But the only reason to pay for downloads is to artificially inflate the number. Therefore, any number that can be so easily gamed isn’t a helpful measure of success. So is this goal really relevant?
  • If you get 50,000 downloads by the end of the year, you’ve failed. Think about how weird that is. Getting 50,000 downloads of any podcast – especially a new one – is no mean feat. 100,000 downloads is ambitious but not unfathomable. But if you hit 50,000, you’e still done incredibly well. The problem with this goal is it doesn’t let us celebrate the win, only mourn the other 50,000 people we didn’t find.

SMART goals are bad for podcasters. They encourage us to focus on the wrong things, and they don’t take into account that sometimes life gets in the way. They don’t provide flexibility and they’re focused on outcomes we can’t control, rather than outputs we can.

People having ideas and setting goals

Replace your SMART goals with a PACT

There is an alternative to SMART goals, offered by Anne-Laure le Cunff. She advocates for a different acronym, which goes like this:

  • Purposeful: Is it aligned with our purpose? In this case, our podcast’s purpose, or the overall mission our podcast is serving. Purpose might feel like it’s trending as a term, but it’s there to help us stay focused on why we do what we do.
  • Actionable: Is this something within your power to change? Assuming you don’t want to buy 100,000 downloads (because that’s dumb), that’s out of your control. All we can do is make something to the best of our ability, and gradually learn how to make a better thing.
  • Continuous: Rather than focusing on an end goal, make it iterative. “Put out four episode a month”, or “post three images to Instagram per week”. “Email ten potential guests”, or “pitch to five potential sponsors”.
  • Trackable: You can track something with a simple tick box. Did you do the thing, or did you not do the thing? Measurable goals assumes there has to be a number involved, and that number should go up or down. Trackable goals give us more flexibility.

A simple comparison, again borrowed from Anne-Laure:

SMART version: ~~get 100,000 downloads per year~~
PACT version: ++consistently publish 52 episodes in a year++

Here are some others:

~~Be a guest on five podcasts per month~~
++DM five people per month, asking to guest on their show++

~~Get enough Patreon support to pay for my media hosting~~
++Add extra bonus content for each episode, just for Patreon backers++

~~Get ten 4 or 5-star reviews in Apple Podcasts by the end of the summer~~
++Encourage more reviews by reading out new ones on the show++

If you’re ready to make your own PACTs, the best thing is not to focus on the destination. Instead, focus on the repeatable steps it takes to get there.

How does PACT help you get to 100,000 downloads?

It doesn’t. Nor does SMART, for that matter. All SMART can do – like that guy in the project meeting – is judge, after the fact. PACT helps us focus on what we can do right now – on the things it takes to get to our big hairy goals.

Those big hairy goals can be fun to have. There’s nothing wrong in wanting 100,000 downloads. But you only eat an elephant one bite at a time, so keep track of the bites, not the whole elephant.

People running

Running to stay fit, not to win a race

Lots of people right now will be starting some form of the Couch to 5k programme. That’s where you go from a standing start, over nine weeks, to running non-stop for 5km (just over 3 miles).

The SMART approach would demand we run 5k in nine weeks, then sit back and let us figure out how.

The Couch to 5k programme focuses on getting you out there, hitting the pavement or the treadmill three times a week. There’s no rule that says you have to start week two directly after week one, if you’re not up to it. Each week builds on the progress of the last, until you’re at the point where you can run non-stop, at a pace you determine.

Our podcast journey isn’t a race we need to win, but is more like running to keep fit. It’s something we can control, that has a clearly-defined purpose. Our job is to focus on putting one foot in front of the other – that’s it.

What PACTs will you make?

If this has inspired you to convert some SMART goals into PACTs, I’d love to hear about them. Or if you’re new to goal-setting and want to give it a go, get in touch. Drop a comment below and let me know what PACTs you’re making for your podcast.

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