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How to Set and Hit Your Creative Goals With Jack Conte

In addition to his little "side hustle" as CEO of Patreon, Jack Conte is first and foremost a musician and founding member of two kick-ass bands: Pomplamoose and Scary Pockets. Along with his bandmates, he’s making art he’s passionate about, sharing it with millions of fans, and doing it all profitably. In other words, he’s "living the dream". Jack attributes his success to organization and planning, and wants to empower other creators by sharing his methods. He relies on a simple but effective annual plan to help his bands hit their goals, and now he’s sharing his method with you.

Recently, Jack gave a live-streamed talk for creators, walking through his exact process for making an annual plan for his bands. Without further ado, here’s your step-by-step guide for getting organized to achieve your creative goals.

Why create an annual plan?

You can spend a ton of energy on your creative pursuit, but if you don’t focus that energy in a specific direction, you could end up in the same place you started—just more tired. An annual plan helps you examine what it is you actually want (spoiler: sometimes what you think you want is a little off-base), and sets you on a path to achieve your goals. Plus, the organization tactic helps creatives get over self-doubt, because setting and achieving goals is a great way to conquer imposter syndrome. As Jack says, "It's empowering and wonderful, and if you make an annual plan and you are able to follow up on it for a year, it changes your sense of self-belief. It's such an important thing in life".

What is an annual plan?

Jack’s annual plan consists of three simple parts. We’ll talk about how to write your own in a second, but for now check out the real-life examples Jack has used in the past:

1. A vision statement

This is where you write out your ideal vision of what will happen with your creative project over the next 12 months. Here’s Pomplamoose’s vision statement for 2020: "We'll release the best album we've ever made by November, continue innovating on the song per week format, and play four to six shows. We'll get 24 million views over the course of the year and release three music videos and songs from our album. The original album will get a million streams on Spotify over the course of 2020. We'll sell out every one of our shows, playing 500 to 1,000 person rooms. It's going to be fucking awesome and our proudest year as Pomplamoose".

2. Areas of focus for the future

In this section, you look forward to the year to come by giving yourself specific goals that will help make your vision come to life! Again, for Pomplamoose: "Innovate and iterate on the song-per-week format. Build and execute a comprehensive go-to-market strategy for the album. Plan and execute three membership pushes".

3. Key results

You write this section at the end of the year, to track the progress you made on your goals. Here’s Jack’s: "We’re super fucking proud of our album. We got 24 million views. We got a million streams on Spotify. We sold out four to six shows at 500 to 1,000 tickets per show. And we did $110,000 in annual membership revenue".

How do you make an annual plan?

Now we’re at the good part. Here is the step-by-step recipe for making your very own creative annual plan:

1. Ask the important questions

Having a conversation with yourself is more than just a way to get people to stay a socially distant 6 feet away from you in public. It’s also the first step to reaching your goals. Take some time to write down thoughtful answers to the following: Why are you doing what you're doing? Why does it matter? What's the mission behind your work? Who are your fans? What do your fans like about your work? What do you want to be doing five years from now?

2. Do a retro

A retro is Jack’s term for sitting down to evaluate a project (or performance, or event, or pitch) after it’s done. Take an hour after important milestones to dig into what worked, what didn't work, and what improvements you want to make for next time. Pro tip: when you’re listing problems, keep in mind that many "I need" statements are solution statements, not problems. For his bands, Jack gives the example of "I need a manager." The manager is your ideal solution to a series of problems, like “we want to book more dates” or "ticket sales are down." When you figure out what the real problems are, you can start tackling them yourself with the resources you have. Embracing the agency you have to find creative solutions to problems (instead of focusing on what you’re lacking) is key to creative success.

3. Visualize the future

Now we get to focus on the most fun part of the creative process: imagination. Jack recommends imagining your perfect future by looking one year ahead, and getting detailed about why your dream year was so perfect: "The reason I like using the past tense is it really makes it feel real in your mind." So, instead of focusing on what you hope next year might look like, visualize it as though it already has. That way, you’ll get a more specific sense of what success looks like.

4. Organize

This doesn’t have to be as scary as it seems. Jack recommends creating "buckets" or themes that you find yourself talking about a lot. So if you talk about "live performance" a lot, make that a headline, and put all the aspects that go into live performance under it (i.e.: production, sound quality, costumes, etc.). It doesn’t have to be over the top. Check Jack’s own simple example; "Here's Pomplamoose's buckets: team, music, video quality, audio quality, fan connection, Patreon, growth, live, and album release. Everything that we dreamed up fit into those buckets".

5. Write a vision statement

Two crucial aspects of a vision statement: it gets you pumped, and it’s clear. You should be excited while writing your vision statement. If you don’t find yourself gleeful just thinking about what it will feel like to publish that novel or play that new venue, then you might be setting misguided goals. But, it should also be concrete and clear. You need to be able to visualize specific goals, like "get published in two new magazines", instead of "be a successful writer".

6. Choose areas of focus for the year

The area of focus helps you break down your goals into specific, concrete ways to achieve success. Jack describes it this way: "If you wake up three months from now and you feel stuck, you should look at your areas of focus and that should help [you get unstuck]." But he also warns against making this part of your plan too specific. "You should be able to work on an area of focus for a year. So it shouldn't be something like, change my mailing address. That's not an area of focus, it's a task. A better area of focus would be something like, invest in my relationship with my fans on YouTube".

6. Analyze your key results

All those numbers in your vision statement? Those are the key results you’re looking to meet throughout the year! At the end of the year, look back and see which parts of your vision statement you made come to life. Don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t accomplish everything! If you achieved two of your six goals, you should be so proud of yourself! If something out of your control happened that totally derailed you (cough, cough, global pandemic), it’s ok! You are allowed to change your plan, or pick up where you left off next year.

There you have it - one annual plan, no business degree required. Jack closed out the workshop with a thanks to all the creators: "Thank you for making art... The world is going through a tough thing right now. Art helps the world get through anything, even a pandemic, even things worse than a pandemic. And you are the art makers. You fill the internet with the stuff that we love to read and listen to and watch and see and hear, the stuff that makes us feel inspired, the stuff that makes us feel good, the stuff that makes us feel like life is worth it. So keep doing that".

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