SMART Goal Setting for Entrepreneurs

How to make sure you reach your goals

Around this time of the year, most entrepreneurs are busy mapping out the new year, reflecting on their past successes and failures, and trying to figure out how to enhance their business performance over the next 12 months. What makes or breaks your plan is how you set goals. The very purpose of a plan is to get to your goals. And you can help yourself, and your team, with planning and working towards your goals, when you start with good goal setting.

One very helpful guideline is: Goals have to be SMART. SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic, and Timely. It’s very likely you’ve heard it before. For those who haven’t, and for those who could use a refresher, we’ll dig into what that means in this post.

I guess nobody remembers who came up with the SMART acronym first, as it is so widely spread in today’s management, consulting and coaching literature. And that’s for a reason. It is dead easy to remember, and really helpful for all those dreamers and procrastinators out there. SMART is the way to turn a vision into a goal. If you plan to reach your goals, your goals should be SMART:

S – specific goals

When I graduated from school, we were all asked, what we wanted to be when we grew up. My answer was: Rich and famous. Am I rich? Not from a financial standpoint yet, nope. Am I famous? Hell, no!

Although, given that I am living in one of the wealthiest countries of the world, with stable income and no serious worries, one could say: Yes, I am rich. And you are reading my blog in this very minute, so I am also a little famous (isn’t this why we blog?). See? It all depends. It depends on defining what you mean. When you want to be rich, does it mean having a certain amount of money, or does it mean being free to do what you want? Do you really want to loose weight, or do you want to feel better? When you evaluate your business performance, do you look at the numbers? Which numbers? Anything else, like customer satisfaction or employee motivation? How do you know about satisfaction and motivation? Is it turnover, complaints, sick leave?

Be as specific as can be, because not only is that the only possible way to one day determine whether you reached your goal, it also helps when you have to ask for help or tell your staff what they have to do. The more specific you are, the less room there is for interpretation. Or excuses.

M – measurable goals

This one goes hand in hand with being specific. Henry Mintzberg says: „What gets measured gets managed “. And that not only applies to business, it also applies to everyone’s lives. (Mintzberg continues said quote with: „even if it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the corporation to do so. “, so be careful which measures you choose).

Once you set your specific goal, appoint it a number. How much money do you want? How much weight do you want to loose? What is your desired turnover and profit, when you set up your business?

For many goals, measuring them is fairly easy, because being specific brings with it the entity which you can measure, like 5 % increase in profit. But sometimes your goal is qualitative, e.g. being healty or running a business people admire. Again, go back to being specific and find the exact thing which would show you that you made it.

A – agreed goals

Some say attractive here, but both words refer to the same point: If you are not interested in your goal, let it go. Do you know why people seldom live up to their New Year’s resolutions? You should already have an idea, like ‚their goals are not specific ‘. And often, that is true. But we all know people with very specific targets who can tell you exactly how many marathons they plan to run, but never do. Why is that?

Many people set targets they think they should reach, not targets they burn for. ‚I should stop smoking because it will kill me ‘, is the most pointless goal of all. You are going to die anyway, and your mind knows that. Your mind will do nothing to help you reach your goal; it’s pointless.

Find what motivates you. Do you want to die sleeping peacefully in your bed instead of a long, hard struggle with lung cancer? O.k., that’s not a very good one, either, because not smoking is no guarantee to live a healthy life. But, maybe there is something you would like to do and focus on instead of a pointless struggle with an addiction you secretely (or openly) enjoy. Maybe you wanted to take on sports again, and maybe you will find along the way that smoking does not help running. And maybe not. I know a lot of professional sportspeople who complete their training and the first thing after is: Where is my cigarette?

Agreed with the team, but also with yourself

Let me be plain clear here: Smoking is idiotic, it kills you slowly and on the way kills everyone around you, too. So if you can quit, quit! But don’t waste time with quitting. Focus on goals you care for. Spend more time with your kids, don’t smoke while they are around.

What applies to private life is even more crucial when you need a motivated crew to reach your goal. Make sure that your team understands exactly what you want them to do (again: being specific helps), and make sure they agree. They don’t have to be happy with every single decision you make, but they should not strongly disagree your plan as that might lead to open or hidden resistance. Creating a culture where your team reveals their worries so that you can address them is another step to success, and we will address this issue in another post.

R – realistic goals

This is my favourite. When people set their goals they are (hopefully) very motivated, and they focus, and they can’t wait to start. So they might set unrealistically high goals, like ‚writing a blog post a day ‘. What we tend to forget is that we might not be equally motivated tomorrow. Other projects might require our time and energy. Technology might fail, there might be an accident. Shit happens. So slow down a bit, and ask yourself: If everything works out as planned, what is the best I can reach? And if nothing works out, what is the minimum I have to reach? Then settle for something between those numbers which makes you feel comfortable but still motivated.

Especially when you work in teams, you don’t want your crew to prove your goal was unrealistic right away: Told you so! You need everybody to work towards the goal, and it helps if people believe they can make it.

Being realistic is not an excuse to settle for second best or not to work hard. Finding the point where you are convinced that you can make it but have to stretch for it so you don’t stay behind your potential, is a matter of experience.

I suggest one exception form the being realistic rule, and that is when you set strategic goals for your organisation, or think about a vision for your life. When it comes to long term goal setting, DREAM! Make it bigger! Make it the best possible outcome and then set realistic short term goals to reach the great vision. Why? Because it is important to dream and to allow your fantasy, and mind to extend what you consider realistic.

T – timed goals

A dream with a deadline becomes a target. And why do we hesitate to set deadlines? Because only with a deadline, with a specific date when you want to reach your goal, you open the door to potential failure. You can meander about being rich and famous until your last breath and never feel like ‚I didn’t make it ‘. Of course, that’s delusional. One day you will start hearing your clock ticking, and that is when you realise that you have to hurry up a bit, or let go of some dreams.

In business situations, we are usually provided with deadlines. But e.g. as a freelancer or when you want to do something crazy, you have to set your own deadline. Go for it! Set it tighter! Any task takes as long as you allow it to take. So if you know that you write whatever you have to write in the night before the deadline, set the deadline on tomorrow. Get it done!

But what if I fail? So what? In many cases there will still be time to start all over again and reach your goal later on. However, if you let one deadline pass, and then another one, and still haven’t done anything to reach your goal, I suggest going back to ‚A – agreed ‘: Do you really want this? Or are you living up to someone else’s expectations instead of working towards YOUR goals?

SMART goals and strategic planning

Note that SMART is unlikely to help you with strategic planning. The more long-term you plan, the more insecurities come into play. Who knows what is a realistic goal for turnover in 10 years? Nobody does. You will change, your business will change, your market and customers’ needs will change. Long-term goals and visions tend to be broad and general. And while specifics may be motivating for you personally, they also limit options. Which is a very reasonable approach for managing a team on a daily basis. But you don’t want that for the big picture.

Having said that, I want to end my post on goal setting on a saying, because I found it true over and over:

Be careful what you wish for; you might get it!


Header-Photo by Alev Takil on Unsplash

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