Expert Advice on Setting Goals for Your Small Business

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

For a small business to be successful, it's critical to start by setting clear goals in the business plan, and continuously striving to...

For a small business to be successful, it's critical to start by setting clear goals in the business plan, and continuously striving to meet those goals and to set new ones. Otherwise, business owners risk stagnating, or, worse yet, failing.

For advice on how to set goals for your small business, we turned to Diane Helbig of Seize This Day Coaching.  Diane has more than 20 years of experience in business and sales that she parlayed into a business coaching practice in 2006. Since then, she's built a name for herself as a leadership development coach and consultant, author, speaker, radio show host, and workshop facilitator.

In keeping with the name of her business, her message is one of embracing the possibilities and maintaining clarity of course, and she's passionate about helping other businessmen and women find success.

Diane knows that success doesn't happen by some happy accident -- it takes work and ongoing evaluation of your business. She suggests business owners ask the question, "Is my baby ugly?" in order to find areas for improvement.

Here's what else she had to say about the importance of setting goals for your small business:

Where did you come up with the name "Seize This Day"? Why is it significant?

Originally I named the company Seize The Day. However, it just didn't have the impact or urgency that I wanted to express. So I changed it to Seize This Day Coaching. My belief is why wait? It's not just any day -- it's this one. Get on with it!

Do you have a personal story about why seizing the day is so important?

When I was growing up, my mother used to say that just the sun rising in the morning was reason enough to be alive. I really internalized that and grew up to believe that we should embrace each and every day. We are given a gift that we should be taking advantage of.

What do you mean when you say clarity is the only path to success? How do you define clarity?

Unless you have a clear view of where you want to take your business, and the steps you will use to get there, you won't achieve the things you wish. Clarity for me includes being realistic and honest with yourself. Too often we focus on what we want -- even when it's unrealistic. If we get real, and clear about what we need to do to achieve our goals, then we create intelligent action steps and make informed decisions that work.

Why is it important for a small business owner to set goals for himself and his business?

When we don't set goals we just move along haphazardly without any idea of where we are going. The problem with this is that we end up nowhere! Too many people start businesses without any goal other than wanting to start a business. A couple of years down the road, they stop and wonder where they are and why they are working so hard but not getting anywhere. Setting goals is the first step to achieving results. You first have to know what results you want to achieve.

What happens when you don't set goals?

You wander through your business year after year without really accomplishing significant results. This can create great frustration and disappointment. It can also mean ending up feeling unfulfilled and unsuccessful. Success doesn't happen by accident. It happens by setting a vision and then creating the action steps to achieve that vision.

How do goals help business owners gain clarity?

When a business owner has goals, he or she can then make sure all the decisions are gauged against those goals. This helps avoid making decisions that are contrary to his or her success and best interests. What usually happens in business is this -- a business owner sets out with all the best intentions and strong beliefs. As the days go by, he makes all kinds of decisions, many of which are not in his best interest. It's easy to do when he hasn't set clear goals -- he have nothing to consider the decision against.

Here's an example: A business owner sets a revenue goal for the month. Reaching that goal is contingent on everyone working their designated shifts and meeting their responsibilities. Susie asks to leave early on Friday. Friday afternoons and evenings are key revenue times in this business. If the business owner has clarity around the goal and what it takes to reach the goal, she will have no problem telling Susie that she can't leave early on Friday. And she'll be able to tell Susie why. If the business owner doesn't have clarity, she'll most likely let Susie leave early because she doesn't see a reason not to and she wants to be nice. See the difference?

How often should business owners set and assess goals?

Well I'm a believer in looking one year out. I think one of the problems business owners have is that they set goals too far out and can't see how to achieve them. So, they never set up action steps. If you set a goal a year out, then you can then assess your progress on a monthly basis. You'll know quickly how you are doing and if you need to adjust course.

What are best practices for business owners as far as meeting his or her goals?

First of all, set no more than three goals at a time. Once you've set your goals, put them in silos and deal with each one separately. Take one goal, work backwards to today, and identify no more than three action steps you can take immediately to start moving toward that goal. Do this for each goal. Then start implementing those action steps. Create a monitoring system so you can be assessing your progress on a dynamic basis. I like breaking annual goals down into monthly goals. I believe that the smaller the step, the easier it is to achieve. And you'll build momentum as you knock down those steps. On the first or last day of the month, take a look back. What worked? What didn't? Did you hit your goal? If not, why? If necessary, adjust your goals for the coming month as well as the steps you'll take to achieve them, based on your experience in the previous month. In this way, you are not getting too far down the road with a bad plan.

How should business owners measure their success?

I think business owners should celebrate and acknowledge every step, no matter how small. It is that acknowledgement that will propel them to continue moving forward. If you treat your progress as standard, or expected, or usual, you won't put energy behind it. It loses its excitement.

What's the biggest culprit for a business plateauing or getting stuck in a rut?

Too much routine and not enough stepping outside the business to think about it.  Businesses need creative thought in order to stay fresh. Everything should be reconsidered at some point in time because change is good. It keeps things fresh. And it's not just the owner who should step out, but the employees as well. Many times they have great ideas that go untapped because the owner thinks it's his responsibility to have all the answers. No it isn't. It's his job to pull all the resources together that he can to create the best, most dynamic, and successful company that he can.

What's your advice for getting out of that rut and growing or moving in a new direction?

Become a possibilities thinker. Don't be afraid to explore ideas. The way you find the good ones is by having the good and the bad ones. When we allow ourselves to explore and consider different ideas and ways of doing things we find nuggets of brilliance.

Can a business owner realistically look at his or her business objectively? If so, how? If not, why not?

She can if they get her ego out of the way. Your business is not you, it's an idea you had. When your desire to grow a successful business is greater than your desire to be lauded and admired you'll be able to look at your business and ask, "Is my baby ugly?" Nothing is perfect, so there is always room for improvement. And as I said, the most successful business owners aren't the ones with all the answers. They are the ones who know they don't have all the answers and surround themselves with resources.

What should a business owner do when he or she needs to take an objective look at his or her business?

First, remember that no business is picture perfect. There is always room for improvement, as I said before. Create a T chart with "works well" on the left side and "I'd change" on the right side. Create the left side list first -- acknowledging what is good is always the place to start. When it comes to the "I'd change" side, you are merely saying this to yourself, "If money and time were no object, I'd change the following in my business." This is a gentler way of looking at potential improvement areas. Believe me when I tell you that all business owners know what is working and what isn't working in their businesses. Deciding to be honest with themselves and clearly identify those areas for improvement provide clarity and opportunity for growth.

If the business owner is having trouble exploring her reality or knowing what to do with the information once she gathers it, she should consider engaging a business coach who can help her navigate the situation.

Follow Diane on Twitter @dhelbig and check out her blog.

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