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Updated Apr 15, 2024

5 Tips for Setting SMART Goals in Your Business Plan

Give your business goals clarity, structure and guidelines.

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Jennifer Dublino, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
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Goals and dreams have crucial differences. Dreams are wishes and fantasies; for example, many of us long to be rich, famous, more successful, happier and healthier. In contrast, goals put your dreams on a deadline and require actionable steps toward achievement. 

As with personal goals, you have a greater chance of achieving business goals when you work within a structure that sets you up for success. We’ll explore the SMART goals system and how you can apply this goal-achievement method to your business. 

What are SMART goals?

SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. The SMART goals framework is a way to stay on target and achieve your goals more systematically. 

The process includes the following components:

  • Making your goal specific
  • Quantifying your goal 
  • Ensuring your goal is attainable, reasonable and realistic
  • Hitching your goal to a deadline

An example of a SMART goal is to add 600 Instagram followers within 90 days.

How to incorporate SMART goals into your business plan

Here’s a look at each SMART goal element, along with implementation examples you can apply to your business. 

1. Make goals specific.

A specific goal clearly states what will be achieved, by whom, where and when (and sometimes why).

For example, let’s say you’re a wedding planner. Here’s how a non-SMART goal compares with a SMART goal in specificity: 

  • Non-SMART goal: Market my business in Toronto.
  • SMART goal: Start a monthly networking group for women on event planning in Toronto. Set a monthly attendance goal of 20 women, with two attendees per month signing up for my “How to plan your wedding without stress” workshop.
FYIDid you know
Some entrepreneurs may question whether a business plan is even needed. Past research has shown that only one-third of entrepreneurs spend time writing a business plan. However, our b. newsletter team spoke to many entrepreneurs who said the time it takes to write a business plan is well worth it. For additional advice on starting and growing a business, subscribe to our b. newsletter. It is delivered straight to your inbox every Tuesday and Friday.

2. Make goals measurable.

Measuring your goal means evaluating the results and the milestones you must hit on the way. When you measure, you assess if you’re on the right track to achieve your goal by asking these questions:

  • How much?
  • How often?
  • How many?

For example, let’s say your goal is to increase sales to $96,000 per year. To measure your goal, you could take the following actions:

  • Set a milestone target of $8,000 in sales each month. 
  • Create a process that focuses on achieving $8,000 per month (adding up to $96,000 for the year). 
  • Check your sales totals monthly to evaluate if you’re reaching your goal. 

Measuring draws your focus, helping you boost your odds of achieving your goal. One good way to measure is to have a dashboard arranged by month. For example, you could use a chart like this:

Month

January

February

March

April

May

June

Six-month total

Sales

$6,500

$7,500

$9,000

$8,500

$8,500

$8,000

$48,000

Quotes over $1,000

5

5

5

5

5

5

 

Quotes to sales

45%

50%

55%

55%

55%

55%

 

3. Make goals attainable.

Ensure that your goals are achievable. If you believe you can reach the goal, you’ll be more likely to do so. Setting unreachable goals is a mistake because you’re setting yourself up for failure. 

Setting attainable goals is also essential for team goal setting and can boost employee engagement. If you set unrealistic goals for your team, your team members won’t fully engage in the project. They need to be fully on board for the project to succeed. Everyone on the team should share in the goal setting so they own the goal and know it’s attainable. 

TipBottom line
Consider setting employee performance goals that are tied to incentives so your team operates with a sense of urgency on a crucial project.

4. Make goals relevant.

Goals tend to fall into two categories: short-term and long-term. It’s essential to understand how both goal types fit your organizational or personal vision, mission and purpose.

It’s tempting to set a goal because it’s easy or sounds great, only to find out later that it is of no long-term importance to what you want to achieve as an individual or an organization.

5. Make goals time-based.

Setting a deadline attaches a time frame to your goals. A deadline can be an excellent motivator. For example, let’s say you want to run a marathon in a year. A time-based goal would look something like this:

Set up a system to get yourself marathon-ready in a year.

  1. Run twice a week for three months, gradually increasing your distance.
  2. Run three times a week for three months, gradually increasing your distance.
  3. Be ready for a half-marathon by the six-month mark. 
  4. Increase your frequency and distance over the next six months. 
  5. Be ready for the marathon in 12 months. 

Time-based goals help you avoid procrastination because your process offers incentives as you meet smaller achievements along the way. 

TipBottom line
If you're interested in tracking employee performance, check out excellent employee performance measuring tools such as Basecamp, DeskTime and Trello.

Why use SMART goals?

SMART goals allow you to chart a course and stay organized when reaching personal or professional goals. You’re more likely to succeed because you’re less likely to get overwhelmed and abandon your goal entirely. 

In a business setting, particularly, SMART goals provide teams with clarity, structure and guidelines. Here are a few reasons to use SMART goals in business:

  • Setting specific goals provides accountability. Accountability helps ensure goals are achieved. For example, if your goal involves reducing customer complaints by a specific amount, your customer service manager should be the point person for the initiative and have some accountability for the goal’s success.
  • Measurable goals help you refine strategies. When your goals are measurable, you can gauge your success — or how close you came to it. Tracking metrics and key performance indicators allows you to compare the efficacy of various strategies and use only the most successful ones in the future.
  • Achievable goals boost morale. When you set achievable goals, employee morale is raised and your team is less likely to experience employee burnout and frustration. Employees are set up for success, helping you build an empowered employee culture.
  • Relevant goals propel company growth. Goals are useless if they don’t contribute to overall business success. Find goals that help move the organization forward. Relevant goals can include meeting financial metrics, like increased profitability, and more general goals, like reducing business expenses, limiting waste and increasing recycling.
  • Time-based goals provide accountability and urgency. Goals with deadlines are extremely motivating. A timetable brings a goal to life. Achieving time-based goals allows you to set new goals after your initial goals are met.

With SMART goals, you and your team know what success entails and can measure it within a project’s framework. Everyone knows the steps they must take to achieve their goals. With ambiguity gone and a direction mapped, SMART goals set up your team for success.  

How to identify and reach your goals

It’s crucial to set a goal that matches your personal or professional vision. After you set the goal, focus on a process that makes your goal achievable. Here are some steps to follow.

1. Identify your goal.

If you are unable to set a SMART goal, it’s usually because you need to clarify exactly what you want to accomplish within a set period. It’s inadvisable to skip the process of SMART goal setting and just “go for it.” You have a greater chance of success when you analyze your goals and match them to your vision.

To save time, prevent disappointment and avoid costly mistakes, perform the following exercise when you implement SMART goals.

Exercise

What are your goals? Writing down your goals helps to clarify your thinking. Can you stretch yourself both personally and professionally by setting three goals in each area.

  • Personal goals:
    • Goal 1
    • Goal 2
    • Goal 3
  • Business and career goals:
    • Goal 1
    • Goal 2
    • Goal 3

2. Determine what is reasonable. 

Because SMART goals are attainable and time-based, you must ensure you set a reasonable goal. For example, if your goal is to increase sales by 30 percent in a year but you have been successful in increasing sales by only 10 percent a year in the past, consider extending the period to two years or reducing the amount to 15 percent for one year. That way, you’re improving on previous years without being overly ambitious.

Also, examine the resources at your disposal. In the previous example, a 30 percent increase in one year might be attainable if you just received a cash infusion that you can put toward marketing expenses. Or, maybe you’ve recently made an acquisition or added to your sales team, making a once-ambitious goal more reasonable.

3. Focus on essential metrics. 

When you’re ensuring that your goals are relevant, specific and measurable, carefully determine which metrics to use. For example, you may want a better digital marketing return on investment (ROI) from your social media marketing. In this case, follower counts and engagement levels (likes, shares, comments) are appropriate metrics. If you have a relatively small number of followers, you may want to focus on follower counts. But if you have many followers who don’t contribute to sales, you should focus on engagement metrics.

It’s not enough to mindlessly pursue your goal; you must keep the overall business benefit in mind. In the previous example, if you wanted to grow your followers on social media, you could buy followers and seemingly accomplish that goal. However, this would not help you boost your social media marketing ROI, because most of those people would not engage with your company or become paying customers.

4. Identify and implement tactics to meet your goal.

Once you’ve set a goal, develop a system to achieve it. For example, if you want to write a book in one year and you’re not an author, you may feel overwhelmed. 

Instead, try writing 250 words per day. Don’t agonize over what you are writing — just write. At that rate, if you write five days per week (260 days per year), you will have 65,000 words in a year, or approximately a 250-page paperback.

Business goals work the same way. Set the goal, and then find a system to help you reach it. For example, when setting a sales goal, you may want to focus on consistently achieving 10 quotes per month with a 50 percent success rate.

author image
Jennifer Dublino, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
Jennifer Dublino is an experienced entrepreneur and astute marketing strategist. With over three decades of industry experience, she has been a guiding force for many businesses, offering invaluable expertise in market research, strategic planning, budget allocation, lead generation and beyond. Earlier in her career, Dublino established, nurtured and successfully sold her own marketing firm. Dublino, who has a bachelor's degree in business administration and an MBA in marketing and finance, also served as the chief operating officer of the Scent Marketing Institute, showcasing her ability to navigate diverse sectors within the marketing landscape. Over the years, Dublino has amassed a comprehensive understanding of business operations across a wide array of areas, ranging from credit card processing to compensation management. Her insights and expertise have earned her recognition, with her contributions quoted in reputable publications such as Reuters, Adweek, AdAge and others.
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