Planning and Setting SMART Goals

Goal setting is a form of motivation. It’s a way to channel your energy into action so you can accomplish the things you want most in life.

When you have goals — be they life goals, work goals, or even relationship goals — they give you direction and purpose. But there are many other benefits to setting goals, especially when it comes to your business plan.

Goals help you prioritize and be realistic about what can get done in a certain period of time. They also give you something tangible to work towards, rather than checking items off of your to-do list without a clear idea of where it will lead.

Setting goals takes some time and effort, but it’s well worth it in the long run. And once you’ve set them, they should act as a framework for all of your business decisions moving forward.

Why are business goals so important? The ability of a business to define its goals and implement the strategies necessary to achieve them is essential for economic survival. Goals are not just something that you scribble on the back of an envelope or a piece of paper; they are all-important statements that help to define the aims and objectives of your business.

How to Plan and Set Goals

Goals are the targets that you set for your business, and like any target, they should be achievable and measurable. You have to know what you want to achieve and how you intend to achieve it. The lack of clearly defined goals means that a business will lose direction, lacking a clear sense of what it wants to achieve.

For example, if you wanted to go on vacation but had no idea where you wanted to go, how would you know when you got there? Similarly, for your business to succeed, it needs clear direction. Setting goals can give your business this direction because they set out what needs to be achieved and by when. You can then measure the success of your business against these stated goals.

There are many types of business goals; these include:

  • Financial goals
  • Strategic goals
  • Sales and marketing goals
  • Technology acquisition goals
  • People or HR-related goals

The goals for each of these will vary from company to company depending on the stage of growth and intentions. If you plan to raise money, you may focus more on finances. If you want to scale faster, you may focus more on sales and marketing goals. If you are a service business, your focus may be more on people (hiring) and operational efficiency. Whatever your team’s focus, it is important to set goals and a plan for how your team is going to achieve them.

How Goals Reduce Stress

When you’re constantly putting out fires and managing the crisis of the day, it’s difficult to make progress on your goals. You end up stuck in the day-to-day, getting paid for your time rather than the results you produce.

But when you take a step back to focus on your goals, it gets easier to do what’s most important for your clients, your employees, your family, and yourself.

Here are three ways goals reduce stress:

  • Goals help you prioritize: You can’t do everything, so goals give you a way to decide how to spend your time and energy. For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of projects on your plate at work, set a goal to finish three of them this week.
  • Goals keep you accountable: You might beat yourself up if you don’t make progress on your goals, but it’s better than letting other people or life events beat you up for not getting things done. Goals also give you something to celebrate — making progress is fun.
  • Goals give you a plan of action: You can’t get stressed about where you’re going if you know where you’re going and have a plan for getting there.

Stress can greatly impact your ability to run a business and, if left unmanaged, can be detrimental to your health. One of the primary causes of stress is uncertainty. Yet, uncertainty is simply a fact of life, and while it’s impossible to completely eliminate it, you can indeed find ways to work with it.

When you set goals, you’re essentially creating certainty for yourself. You’re also making yourself more accountable for the tasks at hand and more aware of what needs to get done. This sense of accountability is extremely important when it comes to managing stress — it gives you something to focus on and work toward.

How Goals Increase Productivity

Setting goals can be one of the best ways to boost productivity and performance. Effective goal setting increases motivation and concentration, which allows you to tackle large, complex tasks by breaking them down into smaller, more achievable steps. In this way, goals help you achieve more in less time by taking the guesswork out of your daily activities.

The name of the game is segmentation. No matter how large or time-consuming your goals are, it’s always possible to break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks. For example, let’s say that your goal is to start a new business. You may have an idea of what you want to do, but that’s about it. The first step you need to take is to learn as much as you can about starting a business. Yet, that’s a pretty big task. Instead of trying to do it all at once, however, you could break it into smaller segments and focus on one thing at a time, such as:

  • Reading books on starting a business.
  • Meeting with other entrepreneurs and asking them questions.
  • Taking online courses on business management or leadership skills.
  • Writing down your business plan.

The same applies when your business is up and running. Having goals makes the act of running a business much more manageable as it provides structure and direction for daily decision-making. They act as an incentive to keep you focused on where you want to be. The closer you get to your goal, the more motivated you become.

It’s easy to lose focus with long-term goals, but once they’re broken down into smaller targets, it becomes easier to see progress. Focusing on the next milestone can provide momentum and keep you on track.

What Are SMART Goals?

SMART is a system for goal-setting and problem solving that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. As helpful as goal setting is, you won’t benefit unless you do it in a way that makes your goals realistic.

The SMART criteria make your goals more manageable and achievable. This can help increase your chances of successfully achieving your goals. Once you’ve created SMART goals, you can use them to create an action plan and adjust your daily tasks and long-term priorities to achieve them.

Let’s break that system down a little more:

Specific

Your goals need to be specific. For example, rather than setting the goal of getting more customers, you should set a goal of getting 50 new customers over the next three months. As you set specific goals, it’s a good idea to follow the “W” rule:

  • Why: Why do you want to achieve this goal?
  • What: What exactly do you want to accomplish?
  • When: When do you want to accomplish your goal?
  • Where: Where will you accomplish your goal?
  • Who: Who is involved in helping you achieve your goal?
  • Which: Which resources or limitations are involved?

Measurable

You can’t determine if your goal is realistic if you don’t measure it. If you don’t measure your progress, you won’t know if you’re on track to achieve it or not. You need to set goals with a measurable number attached to them. In the example above, 50 is a measurable number — it’s easy to tell if you’ve reached that goal.

Achievable

The “A” in SMART goals stands for achievable. This means asking whether the goal is attainable, given current constraints and resources. You have to know what resources are available to you and what skills and knowledge are needed for success. If your goal is too complex or out of reach, it will be very difficult to achieve.

Ask yourself:

  • What skills do I need?
  • What knowledge do I need?
  • Is this within my budget?
  • Do I have access to the tools or people I need?
  • Are there physical or time constraints that could prevent me from reaching this goal?

Relevant

Most businesses have one overarching business goal — whether that’s being profitable or providing great customer service or something else entirely — and all of your other goals should support that larger objective. You might have a separate goal for each employee or department, but they should all be working toward the same outcome of achieving that greater business goal.

That’s called relevance, and it’s an important part of making sure your SMART goals are effective. If a goal doesn’t relate to the larger picture, it’s easy to get sidetracked on less critical objectives.

Time-bound

Setting a time frame for completion helps to ensure that there is an endpoint for every goal. It also keeps motivation high as the deadline approaches.

There are multiple reasons why time-bound goals improve performance and engagement. First, setting a deadline for your goal ensures that there is an endpoint for every goal you set — this prevents you from dragging out your efforts and procrastinating on your tasks.

Second, having a timeline helps to keep motivation up as the deadline approaches; it forces you to focus on your progress to see how close you are to completing the goal.

Finally, having specific deadlines can make goals feel more real and tangible. Instead of just floating around in your head, they become something to work toward with urgency, making them more impactful.

Smart Goal Examples

SMART is an intelligent and useful goal-setting system for business owners to incorporate into their day-to-day business operations. Goals that are SMART set businesses on the right path to achieving their desired outcomes.

You can use SMART goals as part of your marketing strategy, for example:

  • Specific: Set a specific goal that clearly defines what you want to achieve and make sure that everyone involved in the process understands it. For example, ‘I will start marketing this product on a new social media channel’.
  • Measurable: Decide exactly how you are going to measure your marketing progress. This will also help you stay on track and help with motivation when things get tough.
  • Achievable: Set a marketing goal that is achievable within the current limitations of your business. Is it possible? Have you got the right skills and resources in place? Remember that marketing often takes longer than you think it will.
  • Relevant: Be honest about how far your business can realistically stretch itself. Setting irrelevant goals can leave you feeling demoralized, making it easy to become unfocused.
  • Time-bound: Don’t overextend yourself with unrealistic time expectations. Plants don’t grow quickly, and neither do businesses. Slow and steady progress is what does the job, especially in marketing.

You can also set SMART revenue targets for your business. As another example, this would entail:

  • Specific: Know exactly how much you want to earn each month.
  • Measurable: Keep a close eye on the numbers and track your progress.
  • Achievable: Make sure you’re realistic about what you can accomplish based on your audience and your capacity to create products or services.
  • Relevant: Your revenue targets need to relate to your overall business plan, so make sure you tie them in as part of a larger strategy.
  • Time-bound: Set deadlines for yourself at consistent intervals of time — think weeks, months, and even years down the road.

The Bottom Line

As a business owner, you’re constantly juggling tasks and business functions. You may wear many hats, from the CEO of your company to the bookkeeper and office manager. And while you love what you do and strive to be successful, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the things you have to do in a day.

The “SMART” goals that you set will influence how you spend your time each day, so they should be meaningful to you and your business. If your goals aren’t related to long-term growth or if they aren’t specific enough, then they won’t help you get what you want out of your business.

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Joe Martin

Joe Martin

Dad, Husband, and reformed ski bum. VP of Content and Digital Scorpion, Former CMO of CloudApp and Marketing Lead for Adobe.