As if on cue, small business owners will join millions of Americans in making personal resolutions this year. If only setting business goals and taking the steps to achieve them were as simple.

Making resolutions is easy.

  • I want to make more money.
  • I want to lose weight.

Often, we make resolutions without a thought as to how to accomplish them in reality. You decide what resolutions to make and you determine what success looks like.

Setting business goals is just as easy.

  • I want to grow my business.
  • I want to enter new markets.
  • I want to give my employees more say.

It’s reaching these goals that is difficult. You may set your company’s goals by yourself. However, internal factors, including employees, and external factors, like the economy and competition, will play a role in determining success.

That’s why setting business goals should only be your first step in a multi-pronged process. Your goals may provide a destination, but the map leading you there has to include an overarching vision, plans, processes and tactics designed to help you achieve your goals, a way to measure success and a willingness to adjust when necessary.

 1. Define Your Vision

Before setting your first business goal, create a vision for your business. Your vision will provide a framework for every action you’ll take to achieve your goals. The Coca-Cola Company, for example, states that its vision, “guides every aspect of our business.” Include a written vision involving your people and partners, as the giant beverage manufacturer does, or choose one with your own guiding principles.

Perhaps you want your business to become the most popular Italian restaurant in town. Or you want to integrate sustainability and environmental sensibility with everything your company does. It’s your vision. Put it in writing, and work to ensure your employees buy into it. After all, they will have a large role in determining whether or not you reach your goals.

 2. Ready, Set, Goals!

Your goals are your starting point, not an end-all, and you can adjust as you go along. Consider using some of the methods that help define your vision, including input from partners, managers and employees.

Then,decide how to set your goals. If you need some ideas to get you going, there are tons of books and CDs about goal-setting. Sales guru Zig Ziglar’s Goals: Setting And Achieving Them On Schedule and Goals!: How to Get Everything You Want — Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible by Brian Tracey offer both motivation and goal-setting tips.

Or choose from among software and apps to support your process. Goals on Track and LifeTick are popular apps to help identify and track business goals. Both use the popular SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based) method.

If you prefer a person-to-person approach, find a business consultant through the The Association of Accredited Small Business Consultants. Or ask competitors for their suggestions. You might consider a compromise by taking an online goal-setting workshop, such as those offered by FranklinCovey (the latter of 7 Habits fame). Or enlist the aid of a mentor through your industry association or the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Armed with information, list your long-term goals. I want to become the leading writer about small business issues. And do the same with short-term objectives. I want this article to sing. I want to write again for SmallBiz Ahead in the next two months. My long-term goal may be ambitious, but reachable. My short-term goals are my road map, actionable steps I take to meet long-term objectives.

3. Identify Your Tactics

Once you know where you want to go, how do you get there? Tactics—some people call them systems or processes— will guide you. Long term you might want to become the biggest real estate broker in your county. Short term, you want to increase your listings by 20% this year. So you develop tactics that will help you achieve your short-term goals, with your cumulative successes achieving a long-term objective.

You might, for instance, increase your presence in social media and work hard to increase followers, likes and other indicators of a growing audience. Demonstrate your expertise by writing how-to real estate articles for your weekly newspaper. Or conduct a direct mail campaign, sending magnetized business cards to every prospect in your selling area. You have now defined and implemented some tactics you hope will lead to goal achievement.

 4. Measure, and Measure Some More

If you resolved to swear less in traffic jams or to say please and thank you more often, do you think you would track your New Year resolutions? Probably not. But you probably would—and should—track your business goals. Did you add two engineers to your staff, roll out a product a month earlier than expected or increase profit margins 5%? You won’t learn the answers without tracking these and other specific milestones identified as your short-term goals. This can require a little or a lot of work.

Go old-school and track your goals in a journal or on your computer. Or for more detail, consider cloud-based software like Evernote Business for $10 a month to help you track business goals and perform a host of other tasks. Goalscape is another app, this one very specific to goal achievement. There are a variety of S.M.A.R.T goal apps, too, if you want to take a more formal route to goal-setting. Tech publications, including zdnet.com and pcmag.com, list their best business apps annually, as do scores of blogs.

It doesn’t matter how you measure your goal setting, as long as you do it accurately and fairly.

5. Reload and Start Again

All goals require a timeframe for achievement. When that time ends, evaluate your results. Did you achieve what you wanted? Good. Establish new goals. Did you fall short of some goals? No problem, adjust.

Flexibility is the hallmark of any good goal-setting system, and you have just completed your first attempt at nailing all your goals. Update unfulfilled goals, establish new ones and adjust your tactics.

Goal-setting is not a mathematical equation and it isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Reevaluate, rethink and refocus on your business goals, when necessary. Be flexible. By following the basics of business goals-setting, you establish reasonable benchmarks that you and your business can reach.

 

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