Goal-driven individuals have long sworn by the practice of making goals specific and measurable. After all, creating great goals is one of the keys to long-term success.
As a new entrepreneur, it can be tempting to assume you'll head in a million directions and achieve success in all of them. In reality, success looks different from that "all-directions" approach. You really want to be able to know which things matter to your success. By making goal-setting a habit, you have a place to turn when you reach a particular milestone to know where to go next.
Follow these steps to take your big ideas about your new business and turn them into specific items you can check off your long-term to-do list.
Step 1: Dream Big
Get into your favorite brainstorming zone. Some people do this best in a shared Google Document with a fellow entrepreneur, while others get large sheets of poster board or easel paper and a marker.
Make actual time for this activity, because what you generate at the beginning has a huge impact on the value of the goals you end up using. Start by asking yourself questions:
How do I imagine "success" looking with this business?
What mile-markers would show my business is progressing?
Which personal and professional achievements would help me see that the business is thriving?
What revenue and product steps would indicate that the company is growing as I'd like?
Think of everything at this stage. Nothing is too small, and if you think that you've gotten everything, challenge yourself to think of at least two more items for this long list. The goal is to really push your brain, not to only think of "good" goals.
Step 2: Edit Your Brainstorm
Because, obviously, a brainstorm doesn't generate only useful information, the next step involves trimming and refining. Do all of these items need to be markers on your road to success, or are some of them repetitive, unnecessary, or not really indicators of your success?
For instance, I might write that I want to achieve a particular industry award as one of my goals, but depending on my business, it might not be possible to plan to do all the things necessary to achieve it. Refine your list down to items that are inside your control.
When you've whittled down your list, consider putting them into a word processor document or writing each one on a notecard. You'll see why in Step 3.
Step 3: Arrange Your Brainstorm on a Timeline
Some goals are contingent on others, and some goals simply cannot be achieved in the first year of business but might be a three-year window kind of goal. Move your goals around until they are in the approximate order in which you want them to be achieved.
Then comes the hard part. Put actual dates on each one. Saying "six months from now" is much different from "May 1st, 2020" or whatever date fits your time horizon. Giving yourself real dates can be very motivating, and can cue good self-reflection down the line.
Step 4: Make Goals SMARTer
You've likely heard of SMART goals before, but making your goals fit the SMART framework is worth hearing again. Basically, SMART goals are less vague and so they are more likely to be achieved. SMART stands for:
Specific: Whenever you say "increase sales," ask yourself more questions. Which product? Through what kind of marketing/advertising/outreach? To what number? By what percentage? Make these goals so solid that there is no way you could achieve them without feeling proud of yourself (just increasing sales by $1 is technically an increase, but doesn't really make a person feel proud).
Measurable: Make sure you can use data to prove you've reached this goal.
Attainable: Are your goals pie-in-the-sky or practical? Bring those numbers up or down a notch to fit what can truly happen in your timeframe.
Relevant: Is this an important metric of success or just a side effect of something else? This may have to be determined later on in your business, but it is good to aim for relevant goals from the start.
Timely: We've already addressed this, but having a "deadline" is important.
Step 5: Factor in The “Ifs” Like a Flowchart
Business goals are often contingent on things going your way. Finding a great supplier is a good example, or launching a marketing campaign at a particular time. While I don't call this step "Plan B," because some of the plans are actually better than you expected, the "Ifs" of your goals do matter.
Consider what you would change if...
you lost a major client,
you experience massive demand because your marketing video goes viral,
or you get the chance at some super inexpensive office space.
Let yourself write a little flowchart of what you'd do in a variety of situations.
The goal here isn't to plan for every hypothetical situation. You can never get to that level! It's a chance to give yourself peace of mind by knowing you've really thoroughly considered these goals.
Step 6: Add in “Re-Evaluate” Dates
New businesses change constantly, pivoting to take advantage of great opportunities. Make sure you put dates on your calendar to take a few minutes to repeat this process and consider whether your goals have changed.
Changing goals is much better than just assuming you "failed to reach" a goal - usually, not meeting a goal is an indication that you've found another path forward. Use these dates to keep your goals relevant, the R from SMART.
Step 7: Celebrate Achievements
So many people skip this step, sadly. After all, the first few years as a business owner can be fast and furious. This leaves little time for celebration. However, it is worth taking an evening off with family and friends when you achieve a milestone.
The memory of that triumph is an important bolster on the hard days of entrepreneurship. Achieving SMART goals is even more satisfying because you've really put your whole mind behind these goals to make sure they really indicate the success you're striving for.
The goal-setting process as an entrepreneur truly never ends, but that's a good thing! It means you can always improve, always aim higher, and always achieve more or different new things. What are you waiting for? It's time to dive in.