I hate made up marketing goals like "We want to get to 10,000 followers by the end of the year.".

When I first started my consulting practice, I was excited to hear statements like the one above. I mistook it for ambition, striving for bigger and better.

I was wrong.

I've seen how much better a firm can perform over the long term when it decides to stop caring about defining, or meeting goals.

The most successful architecture firms simply focus on doing the best work they can on a daily basis. Effective marketing works that way too.

Should an architect be interested in improving revenue? Yes. Profit? Yes. More 'likes'? Sure.

Should they want to be working with better clients and making more money in twelve months that they are today? Of course.

But do we get there through chasing goals? No.

These are the problems I've seen over and over again with firms who track artificial targets:

  • Goals create too much psychological stress.
  • Goals get you stuck in a direction that's hard to reverse from or change.
  • Goals interfere with other goals that haven't been stated or quantified, but are present and serious and really important. This is sort of the opportunity cost factor of picking some goals and not others.
  • Goals force firms into the short-term thinking or long-term thinking camp, when they need to be taking both seriously.

So what should we do instead of setting long-term goals, or targets?

I think it's important to focus on your firm's strategy instead: the overall values, integrity and principles that will outlast any short-term tactics or vanity metrics.

It doesn't take much to figure out where you'd like your firm to be in five years, and the principles that will get you there.

These are the questions that matter:

  • How do we want to feel at work?
  • What kind of work do we want to be doing?
  • How would we like to be seen by the public?
  • How do we earn their trust?
  • What are we about, at our core?
  • How can our work contribute to bigger, and more important conversations?
  • How can we help people?
  • What do we wish other architects were doing, and saying, that they just aren't?

These are strategic questions - and strategy is one of the most confused concepts in marketing. When I say strategy, people think tactics.

Seth Godin explains the difference:

Your strategy is what you keep doing even after you walk away from a tactic.
A real estate broker could decide that her goal is to get more listings.
And her strategy is to achieve that by becoming the most trusted person in town.
There are then 100 tactics she can use to earn that trust. It doesn’t matter if one or two or five of the tactics aren’t home runs. They add up.
But if once, just once, she violates someone’s trust and expectations, the entire strategy goes out the window.
Tactics are disposable.
Strategy is for the long haul.

I would much rather review a firm's monthly adherence to their strategy, than "did we meet our email newsletter open rate KPI this month?"

The tactics don't matter.

When I meet with my clients, we focus on one thing at a time. We don't get picky about measuring the results in detail. It's mostly noise anyway.

We set things in motion and take action.

I explain to my clients that some experiments will take effort and perfection, and others will be easy, quick and "good enough."

Some tactics that worked for other firms might be home runs for them too, or total failures. It doesn't matter, the wins add up.

At first it's a broad conversation encompassing a wide range of opportunities, then over time, as we implement and discover what works and what doesn't, we narrow, adapt and simplify so that we're left with the cleanest, almost minimalist, set of procedures tailored for that firm.

We don't set goals, and that allows us to establish an atmosphere of playfulness and experimentation.

Work doesn't have to be crazy, it should make you happy. A big part of that is taking on one simple, fun, reversible experiment at a time on the basis of a shared vision for the future of your business.