Business plans are notorious for being bland, uninspiring and filled with business jargon. There's no real reason for them to be this way, other than tradition.
For bigger businesses, it can also be what their bank and lawyer requires (those legal and financial types love jargon-ese). But for freelancers, bootstrappers, and microbusinesses, your business plan is written primarily for you. It's about giving you the motivation and energy to get up in the morning and do what it takes to make your business into a success story.
If your business plan is worth the paper it's written on, it will set out what you aim to achieve in your business. In other words, your business plan must include your business goals.
When business goals are bland, uninspiring, or filled with jargon, they're all too easy to ignore. When they appear irrelevant to the day-to-day running of your business, then they're not going to help you in the way that they should.
If your goals aren't written in a way that engages you, not only will you ignore them. You'll find all kinds of excuses for failing to achieve them. Excuses such as:
- I didn't understand what the goal meant in practice or what I was meant to do to achieve it.
- I wrote down my goals and forgot about them.
- Sure I worked hard, but I was never really going to achieve that. Goals are more like aspirations, right?
- I might not have achieved it yet, but there's always next year.
All these excuses beg the question: what's the point of goals if you're not concerned about achieving them?
In this article, I'll show you how to write goals that leave no room for excuses. Goals should be the guiding light of your business that inspire and influence your work every day. If they're vague, unrealistic, or tucked away in storage, they're not going to do your business much good.
1. Before You Start
Wherever you're at with your business, you can benefit from writing down your goals. Whether you're just starting your business, or you've been trading for years, setting out your goals can make your business more effective and successful.
That said, before you begin, it's a good idea to have laid the right foundations.
Step 1: Bottle Your Business Passion
You can bottle your business passion by writing an elevator pitch for your business. Your elevator pitch gives you a general idea of what your business is about, and what you're aiming to achieve with your business. In other words, it's the goal posts that frame all your other goals. It also means your goals will be pointed towards what gives you buzz and energy in business.
Step 2: Uncover Your Business Values
Together with your elevator pitch, your business values provide a framework in which to set your business goals. By identifying your values before you set your goals, you'll avoid the pitfall of setting goals that go against your values, thus sabotaging your business.
Step 3: Set Yourself a Broad Target
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of writing an effective goal, write out your business goals in broad sweeps. Don't worry for now about whether these goals are achievable, we'll come to that later. It's about getting an idea of the general direction of your goals.
For example, you might want to:
- Increase your sales figures.
- Get more clients.
- Earn enough from your business so you can quit your job.
- Expand your product range.
- Focus your product range on products you really care about.
- Hire a sales team to help grow your business.
- Improve your marketing to pull in more clients.
For now, you're just trying to get an overall picture of where you're headed.
2. Get SMART
Once you've got your elevator pitch, business values and general goals in place, you're ready to start making your goals SMART. The mnemonic SMART is a tool for creating goals that have a real impact on the day-to-day running of your business, and leave no room for excuses.
SMART goals are:
Step 1: Get Specific About Your Goals
You've got an overall picture of what you want to achieve. Let's drill down into these goals and get specific about them.
Let's take the example of a goal to increase your sales figures. To get more specific, ask why, what and how.
In asking why, look behind the reason for wanting to increase your sales figures. You may discover that what really matters is boosting your profit. Making more sales is a good way to do this, but as you're being specific, it's a good idea at looking for other ways to boost your profit, such as cutting costs.
Next, ask what. In our example: What do you want to increase your sales figures of? Do you want to go across the board with all your products? Or focus on your most profitable products or bestsellers?
Finally, ask how. The question here is "how do I make this goal happen" or "what do I need to do to make this happen?" By asking this question, you break your goal down into sub-goals, which are naturally more specific.
For example, in aiming to increase your sales, you might include goals of:
- Upgrading your website design.
- Getting more traffic to your website.
- Increasing conversion levels on your online store.
- Improving the product description copy on your site.
- Reading business books or approaching a business consultant to give you ideas for increasing sales.
And so on. The point is to get as specific as possible. Some of the specific goals you'll run with, and some you won't. For now, just note them down.
Step 2: Make Your Goals Measurable
If it's impossible to know when you've achieved a goal, then it's not worth having the goal at all. That's why smart goals are measurable. With measurable goals, you can crunch the numbers to see when you've hit the target.
Going back to the example of increasing sales, to make the goal measurable, you must state how much you want to increase sales by. So the goal might become "increase sales by 25%".
Sub-goals should also be measurable. Following our subgoals above: how much more traffic do you want to your site? How many more conversions do you want?
Knowing which figures to set can be tricky. We'd all like to boost sales by a thousand times, but that might not be possible! We'll look at that in the next step.
Step 3: Are Your Goals Attainable?
Setting impossible goals isn't really goal setting. It's writing down your aspirations or dreams. To keep yourself accountable on your goals, you've got to make sure they're attainable.
Continuing the example of increasing sales, you can ask yourself:
- What has my business achieved in the past, in terms of overall sales, and sales growth?
- What have businesses of a similar size achieved when it comes to growing sales?
- How big is the overall market for your product or niche?
- How much of the market does your business currently serve?
The point is to base your goals on what you've achieved in the past, and what other businesses in a similar position have achieved. That way, you know your goals are attainable.
Some of these questions you can answer yourself. For others you'll need to turn to trusted advisers for assistance, which is where your Mastermind Group comes in handy.
Step 4: Inject a Does of Reality
SMART goals are realistic. They're realistic in that they're attainable, as you learned in the previous step. But they're also realistic in that you have the energy, resources and motivation to achieve them.
The following questions help to inject a dose of reality into your goal setting:
- How much extra time will you need to put into your business to make your goals happen?
- How much extra time do you realistically have available?
- Are your goals consistent with your business values and your elevator pitch?
- What problems might arise that stop you from achieving your goals?
This step is the biggest secret behind creating business goals that leave no room for excuses. Don't overly curtail your ambition, but be honest with yourself about what is possible for you to achieve.
Step 5: Establish a Timeframe
So far, you've made your goals specific, measurable, attainable and realistic.
There's one problem. As things stand, you've got forever to make your goals happen.
Let's say, having injected a dose of reality to your goal, that you're planning to increase sales by 10%. When are you planning to do that by? Within the next month? Within a year? Within ten years?
Unless your goal is time-bound, it's not really a goal. It's just a hope that what you want will happen "someday".
So, bearing in mind that you've got to keep your goal attainable and realistic, set a time frame for your goal.
3. Don't Stop at SMART
SMART goals are a great way of setting targets for your business. But they're not the be-all and end-all of goal setting.
Step 1: Have SMART Your Way
SMART goals are a tool to get you writing effective goals and motivated to succeed in business. SMART is not a one-size-fits-all tool, nor is it suitable for everyone. That said, the process of setting SMART goals is not set in stone. You can adjust SMART so it works for your business.
One way of doing this is to adjust the definitions, which can encompass (but isn't limited to) the following:
- S can be: significant, simple, stretching or sustainable.
- M can be: manageable, meaningful or motivational.
- A can be: acceptable, achievable, action-oriented, adjustable, agreed, ambitious, aspirational or assignable.
- R can be: reasonable, relevant, resonant, resourced or results-based.
- T can be: tangible, time-based, timeboxed, time-sensitive, timetabled or trackable.
Step 2: Get SMARTER
SMARTER goals are goals that are evaluated and re-evaluated. There's no point in goals if you're not checking whether you've achieved them. What's more, when you evaluate your goals, you may need to adjust the goals you've set to be more realistic and attainable, or set new goals if you've already attained the ones you set previously.
Your business plan should be a document that evolves with your business. As your business grows, your business plan and your goals grow with you. They're there with you for the journey, as your guiding light.
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in November of 2013. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.