The #1 Thing You Must Do Before You Make a Marketing Plan

Authors and clients often ask me to look over their book marketing plans and give feedback.

I’ve seen a lot… and I see a pattern.

There’s one element–one key element–that the majority of the plans omit. I can immediately tell whether it’s been considered or not, based on the flow and contents of the plan.

It’s the single most important element of a marketing plan. And it’s the element most often forgotten.

Before you make a marketing plan, without exception, you have to set goals.

To write a marketing plan without first setting campaign goals is like starting a road trip without knowing where you’re going. (Maybe that sounds like an adventure, but you’re likely to end up in a place you never desired to go… broken down, out of time, and without a map to get back on the highway.)

In a world where there never seems to be enough time, we’re forever looking for smart ways to cut corners, right? But “saving time” by not goal-setting will cost you big dollars and big time in the long run. I’ve seen it over and over.

Setting strategic marketing goals will give structure to your dreams. Specific, measurable goals on paper focus your campaign powerfully.

Zig Ziglar said it well: “I don’t care how much power, brilliance or energy you have, if you don’t harness it and focus it on a specific target, and hold it there you’re never going to accomplish as much as your ability warrants.”

I’ve seen top authors and marketers write seemingly killer plans, but they’ve never set specific goals, and so their energy and money spins round and round and round with no focus.

Here are 3 reasons you have to start your marketing plan by setting goals.

  1. Goals are your roadmap.

    They give structure to your plan because they point all marketing objectives in the right direction. Starting with 4-6 strong goals allows you to build out initiatives under each one. There are so many marketing options out there, and you can’t know what to pick and choose unless you know where you want to end up. (I’m actually building out an eBook called 99 Marketing Ideas to Skyrocket Your Book, but nobody can implement all 99! Your goals dictate which you choose.) Each part of the marketing plan should clearly drive toward a specific goal. If a certain tactic doesn’t, remove it. Consider: Where do I want to end up with my book? Where do I want to end with my platform/brand?

  2. Goals align the team.

    When marketing plans involve multiple strategists and multiple implementers, it’s easy for each player to bring in his or her own preconceived and unspoken expectations about what “success” looks like. The secret to getting everyone on the same page and rowing in the same direction? Set goals. Whether setting them corporately or individually, make the finalized goals clear and available for all to access. Not only will common goals align the team, but they’ll provide a structure around which everyone can rally. Consider: Who needs to be involved in your goal-setting conversations? Who needs to have access to your finalized goals?

  3. Goals set your metric for success.

    In an industry of constant comparison, where sales numbers and platform sizes are public knowledge, it’s easy to get swept up in the game of competition and lose sight of what success looks like for you. Set goals early, asking experts around you to speak into what’s realistic and what’s an appropriate challenge. Doing so provides a metric that dictates your personal success. You can build out a marketing plan from there–and continually revise that plan–with an eye on the prize. Consider: What numbers are realistic for my book? What growth is realistic and challenging for my platform?

So, you might be asking yourself, “How do I set multiple goals around one product?”

It’s a good question, and the secret is that goals don’t have to only focus on book sales. (They do need to be measurable, though. This is not an invitation for fluffy, ambiguous goals! Those mean nothing.)

Inevitably, marketing a book well will grow your platform, email list, influencer connections, and more. Let your brand fuel your book, and let your book fuel your brand. All parts of your platform and product suite will benefit, so set goals that focus on all pieces.

Let your brand fuel your book, and let your book fuel your brand. Click To Tweet

Here are some examples of types of goals to examine:

  • Social media growth and engagement by platform
  • Email list growth and open/click rates
  • Bestseller lists or awards/prizes
  • Sales, both sell-in and sell-through (POS)
  • Specific support garnered from influencers

My final word on goals: there’s power in strong adherence to goals, but there’s risk in stubborn rigidity. As with all pieces of a marketing plan, goals must be given the space to adapt. In the digital marketing world, nothing can be set in stone. Real-time analytics and audience data are at your fingertips and constantly changing, so be alert. Some data will mean you reevaluate the means to reach your goal, and your data will mean you reevaluate the goal itself. The best marketers set their eyes on the destination, but allow for slight directional changes in order to best maneuver the uncontrollable wind and waves.


  • Preach! This doesn’t get talked about enough Chad. Thank you pointing it out! So true.

    And for the author, setting goals doesn’t just mean “My goal is to sell a ton of books.” Well, yeah… that’s every authors ultimate goal. The questions then become: 1. What does that mean exactly and is it practical (with a dose of optimism added in)? Meaning… some authors might say “Well, I want to sell 30,000 copies in the first month” but they have no current platform to do it so their goals are unrealistic based on the market and their resources. 2. What supporting goals do you have to help you achieve that overarching ” I want to sell a ton of books” goal? The path is the math.

    • Daniel, you’re so right. The goals must be specific and attainable, otherwise they’re useless. I love “the path is the math”. I think I’m going to use that. 🙂