Business Goal-Setting Makes Magic If You Know the Right Spell

In this introduction to our new series profiling 10 entrepreneurs who found success by setting goals, StartupNation

Welcome ’007, we’ve been expecting you. The name is Sloan – Brothers Sloan. We’re keeping our eyes on you.

Every startup – and every sophomore, junior or senior business looking to grow – should do likewise. The brand new year, our ’007, is full of potential, and now’s a particularly good time to take a look at your life plan and set some solid goals for you and your business.

We’re not talking about short-lived New Year’s resolutions. Those are about intentions; goals are about achievements. One of our own big ones for 2007 is to help you succeed with even more life-learned guidance, and a lot of help from our friends.


What Are You Good At?

You’ve often heard us say that a life plan trumps a business plan. Yet a business plan is a natural outgrowth of what you’re passionate about. Taking that life plan and distilling it into an action strategy is where goal-setting becomes critical.

“It doesn’t bother you; killing all those people?” asks Casino Royale’s Bond Girl, Vesper Lynd. “Well,” replies Bond, James Bond, “I wouldn’t be very good at my job if it did.”

Are you doing what you’re good at? (Is it legal?) Are you doing what you want to do? If so, congratulations; you’re on the path and taking care of Customer One – you.

If not, then one of the most revealing – also awkward, uncomfortable and painful – things you can do this year is look in the mirror and create a vision for your life. Be dedicated to the process and it will yield tons of fruit. The key is ensuring that a specific, achievable date-certain is attached to each aim.

That’s where three simple but critical steps to goal-setting will help turn your vision into reality.

Step 1: Be Specific, and Clearly Define Your Goals

“I want to drive a silver-birch Aston Martin.”

That’s specific and well defined, but let’s call this one the top of the mountain. What you need to concentrate on are the steps it will take to get there. Put such “mountaintop goals” on one side of the page, and let’s talk about the climb.

A specific goal for your e-commerce site, for instance, might be to convert 20 percent of visitors to buyers. An overarching goal, by contrast, might be something like earning X amount of revenue in the year ahead.

If your company involves more than just you, then goals need to be both communicated and communicable. In other words, they can’t be so personal or esoteric that your team members can’t get their arms around them.

Everybody in your company should also have their own goal sets that can be periodically reviewed to check if they’re on the right track. This is true for everyone from summer help in a retail shop to the MBA who runs your company operations. Doing this will make it clear that every individual has an impact on those overarching company goals – and they’ll appreciate the sense of ownership.

Step 2: Be Ambitious, But Be Real

Whether you’re a solo entrepreneur or leading a group, it’s important that each goal is achievable, or maybe just a little more – a stretch goal. But it will turn negative if you set it too high, totally miss it and have too much riding on achieving it.

Your business can end up vulnerable or in jeopardy. You can lose confidence in your own ability, and that of your team. So be responsible and diligent, not reckless, when you set goals. At StartupNation we set a conservative goal, a realistic goal and an aggressive goal. The conservative one is the worst-case scenario; be sure your business can at least survive, or continue to thrive, by meeting this one.

Keep your goals grounded, your business focused, and who knows? The key to success might unlock the doors of an Aston Martin.

Step 3: Make Goals Measurable

It’s really important to create goals that have near-term, mid-term and long-term positions on your timeline. Near-term might be in the next quarter, mid-term may be a year off, long-term might be measured in years. You set the intervals, then need to visit the goals regularly to make necessary adjustments along the way.

Many timelines involve assumptions that are really just a best guess, but they get better informed as you move closer to your goals. So if you have a mid-term goal and learn through monthly revisits that it’s too modest or too lofty, you can make appropriate changes.

Goals are there to serve you and keep your business on track, but they’re not cast in titanium. Erase them, change them, make them fit your needs. And remember, whether you’re the leader of one or 100, you should consistently invoke the goals at regular intervals.

Your team meeting is a great time to look at them and decide how to measure your progress with customer surveys, financial reviews or whatever means of analysis you’ve set up. Having measurable goals and specific dates to review them will help prevent dreaded and dangerous “drifting.” You know, “Get up, go to work, come home, do it all over again.”

You can lose your way, miss opportunities and stray far from what will make your business thrive. Stay focused, set goals and remember – they’re not for your eyes only. Communicate them, share your vision and above all, keep the passion.

It’s your venture, and your year to succeed. With ’007 upon us, you should accept, and expect, nothing less than the best.

Are Your Goals the “Real” Deal?

Have a goal? Let’s test it.

Can you spell out how to reach it with specific strategies, tactics and action priorities that have your confidence? If that’s a total mystery, maybe you need to get real.

Again, setting unrealistic goals not only is a useless exercise, it does damage. It can point everyone’s expectations, emotions and spending at a false target that simply can’t be hit, and unnecessary failure will infect your company.

If you’ve been in business for a year, look back and use your performance as a measure of what it should be in this one. Maybe it will hold steady, perhaps improve.

When you create those strategies, tactics and actions, they should tell you what new achievement is possible and help you come up with the defined, achievable and measurable goals to get you there.

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