Setting realistic goals and sticking to them

Goal crusher

We’ve probably all fallen short of a goal or two in our lifetime. Whether it’s a failed New Year’s resolution or a business goal that bombs, most of us have experienced the ego-shattering realization that we didn’t accomplish what we said we’d do. And it’s a hard pill to swallow.

I learned an important goal-setting lesson when I started my own business. I set a few big, ambitious milestones I seriously expected to reach at the close of my first quarter as an entrepreneur — and I felt like a total loser when I ended up miles short of reaching them. Sure, I took the idea of setting business goals to heart, but I didn’t fully understand the importance of following a process to set those goals. Setting actionable goals – daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly – takes some deep consideration.

You can desperately want something, but unless you’ve realistically mapped out a game plan to accomplish it, it probably ain’t going to happen.

Now, I’m not going to try to claim all the fame for the goal-setting basics I’m about to offer. There are multiple methods out there that have helped millions of people well before I ever wrote this post (or learned how to set goals myself). Basically every method you can think of is out there, but they all follow the same basic processes that I’ve listed for you below. There are SMART goals, market and historic goals, business planning goals, you-name-it goals. I’ve actually read and based my approaches on many of these processes — and think you should, too!

Start by brainstorming

GFunnyThinkingWrite down your ultimate, BIG goal – something you hope to achieve in one to five years. (You don’t need to come up with a timeframe or plan yet – this is just something you know you want to start planning for.)

I want to bring in $200,000 in 2015.

Once you’ve nailed down your big goal, begin creating a list of smaller things that will help you or keep you from achieving it.

Helpers: Inexpensive marketing opportunities (i.e. social media), affordable online productivity tools, increased prices/margins, cost cutting

Roadblocks: Expenses, limited budget, time, financial management inexperience, fact that I just started my business and don’t have many clients (yet)

Create short-term goals

Now that you’re warmed up, it’s time to create a list of short-term goals that will move you closer to your bigger, longer-term goal. Take your roadblocks and helpers into consideration as you think through your short-term goals. That list might look something like this:

  • Devote 5 hours a week to social media marketing
  • Use an online bookkeeping tool to keep better tabs on business finances
  • Increase fees for new customer services by 5 percent after I double my current customer base
  • Join a business networking group to meet potential customers and strategic partners
  • Partner with a photographer to decrease specialty photography expenses

Break it down

I skipped this stepped during my first goal-setting attempt, which I think played a huge part in falling short of my goals. And if you’re one of the 80 percent of surveyed business owners not setting goals, there’s a good chance you’ve dropped the ball in the area of specifics, too. Don’t worry – that’s all about to change!

To achieve the short-term goals that add up to the realization of your long-term goal(s), you have to take a deep dive into the actions you’ll need to take to reach each of those smaller goals.

I know, it’s a bit of a pain. But you have to take all the nitty-gritty details into account to make sure your goals are realistic. Here’s how I might break down my goal to focus on social media marketing for five hours a week:

  • Write 20 interesting Facebook posts
  • Follow 20 interesting Tweeps
  • Post a video on Google+
  • Spend at least two hours a week engaging with followers on my social networks
  • Plan a new social promotion
  • Research paid social advertising

Do some analysis

Once you’ve got a strong list of goals and subgoals, put it aside. Take a walk. Drink a glass of wine. Meditate. Just give that list a little space so you can go back to it with a clear head. When you’re ready, take a critical look at your list to see if you’ve can reasonably expect to follow through with each short-term goal. Take these factors into account:

  1. Is it measurable? If so, how often will you measure your progress to make sure you’re on track?
  2. Is it action-oriented? If so, could anything hinder you from completing the actions needed (see the nitty-gritty list above) to achieve each goal?
  3. Is it time-specific? Each goal needs to have an associated time frame and end date. Give yourself a realistic amount of time to knock it out of the park.

There’s a chance you set a goal that’s a little too hopeful. That’s OK — they aren’t etched in stone! It’s good practice to revisit your goals quarterly to make needed adjustments.  Remember that you don’t want to set yourself up to fail! You want to push yourself to do more and be more, and if that means mixing up what you said you’d do, that’s just fine.

Genevieve Tuenge
Genevieve Tuenge is a writer, former small business owner and creative director. She's an avid supporter of local mom-and-pop shops, and has devoted much of her career to helping small businesses understand and access the tools and information they need to thrive online.