The Nitty-Gritty of Being SMART

Many years ago when I was young and indestructible, a map saved my life.

My cousin and I decided to backpack the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada. We started out on June 3. If you’re aware of the conditions in the Sierra at that time of year, you know we encountered snow.

We started out on the trail’s north end and soon ran into heavy snow on the trail. We followed what we thought was the trail for a couple of hours. Then we realized we were nowhere near where we should’ve been. Using our orienteering skills and a good topo map, we found our way back to the trail four miles ahead.

Without that map – and without knowing how to read it properly – we could easily have become statistics.

So I’m a firm believer in the cliché, “If you don’t have a roadmap, how will you know when you get where you’re going?”

The SMART goals we spoke about last week are just that type of good roadmap you need to become a successful copywriter.

Today we’re going to look at our SMART goal-setting strategy in greater detail.

The acronym “SMART” is a good mnemonic for remembering how to write effective goals. But it makes it seem like each step is separate. They aren’t. They all blend together. Let’s see how they do that with a specific example.

The secret to success?
Pare it down …

A specific goal (S in SMART) has to start small enough for you to be able to work on it effectively. So let’s distinguish between two types of goals. The first are long-term goals. These are sometimes referred to as “life goals.” These goals are too large and too broad to be effective SMART goals. The example we used last week was: “I will become a successful copywriter.” Stated this way, this goal would be very hard to accomplish.

A smaller, more specific SMART goal could be: “I will get my first paying copywriting client within one year.” When you reach this goal, you know you’re there. You know you’ve achieved it.

However, even this goal is too general to act on. When you state goals in terms like this, they can seem almost impossible to accomplish. The solution? Break your specific SMART goal down into several more easily achieved “objectives.”

Let’s see how that works …

SMART goal: Have one paying copywriting client by January 1, 2015.

  • Objective 1: Join the Professional Writers Alliance by January 31, 2014.
  • Objective 2: Finish the AWAI Accelerated Program by March 31, 2014.
  • Objective 3: Pick a niche that I’d like to write for by April 7, 2014.
  • Objective 4: Investigate three companies and their products in that niche that I’m interested in writing for by April 15, 2014.
  • Objective 5: Choose one of those companies and research one of their products thoroughly by May 15, 2014.
  • Objective 6: Write a headline and lead for that product by June 30, 2014.
  • Objective 7: Submit that headline and lead for review by other AWAI members on the forum by July 7, 2014.
  • Objective 8: Revise my headline/lead combination using the suggestions from forum by July 31, 2014.
  • Objective 9: Submit that headline/lead including a cover letter to the potential client by August 15, 2014.
  • (Subsequent objectives would relate to revising and resubmitting to new potential clients.)

As you can see, these individual objectives are very specific (S) about what you want to accomplish. They’re also measurable (M) and time-bound (T). And when you break your SMART goal down into smaller objectives, you’re pretty much forced to make them attainable (A) and relevant (R).

What happens in between these objectives?

Okay, these objectives are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. But you still don’t have an actual plan for how to accomplish them. To increase your chances of achieving each objective, you must break them down into smaller “action steps.”

Let’s look at Objective 2 (finish the AWAI Accelerated Program) to see how this works.

When you’re writing your action steps, it’s tempting to try to write them for the whole objective. You shouldn’t do that if the objective is relatively big like this one. Instead break that objective down into smaller parts.

For example, you’ve given yourself three months to complete this objective. Look at the Accelerated Program and break it down into three parts of approximately equal difficulty.

Give yourself one month to accomplish the first part. Break that first part into four phases (one for each week). Make each action step a SMART action step, just like you’ve done for your SMART goal and the subsequent objectives.

Every week you study, write, research, and apply what you’ve learned in that phase of the Accelerated Program. But since you’ve broken your objective into bite-sized pieces, they’re really easy to accomplish.

Notice that you only write action steps for the first part of this objective. When you accomplish the first part, you write action steps for the next part. Keep it simple.

The linchpin of accomplishing any goal, objective, or action step …

The key to success in achieving goals? Write everything down. Your goal. Your objectives. The action steps.

Pin up your SMART goal someplace you can see it every day. Also pin up your current action step so that it “nags” you every time you look at it.

Give yourself a pat on the back …

Every time you accomplish one of your short-term action steps, find some way of rewarding yourself.

Maybe it’s to treat yourself to a movie. Or maybe it’s a splurge dessert.

But before you do that, give yourself the biggest reinforcement of all. Take a marking pen and draw a gigantic X through that action step. Research has shown the simple act of crossing out your action step, objective, and eventually your goal as soon as you’ve accomplished it is a huge reinforcement.

When you approach your life goals by making them SMART goals, it looks simple. And it can be. But it’s dependent upon one thing: Your commitment to succeed.

I know you can do it. Start by writing your SMART goals today.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: December 16, 2013

2 Responses to “The Nitty-Gritty of Being SMART”

  1. Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Realistic. Timely.

    SMART goals! Maybe a new ebook for the 2014 New Year?!?

    Thanks for the post. I've emailed this to my work and I will be printing it off for a guide into the New Year. :)

    chuckypitaDecember 16, 2013 at 11:53 pm

  2. This is so valuable. I have never really been much of a goal setter, but this makes more sense and seems so logical!

    My FIRST OBJECTIVE is to mount a white board on the wall above my computer to keep track of my goals! Thank you!

    Garth OsbornDecember 30, 2013 at 10:23 am


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