How to set goals that stick

When you’re a solo business owner with a never ending to-do list, it’s easy to forget the big picture: why you went into business, and what you’re hoping to achieve. The strategies you set to achieve things like sales and profit will evolve over time, but goal setting is an essential starting point to define your business objectives and purpose. As you grow, goal setting is also a way to open the door to new opportunities. Here's how to plot business goals that will take you in the right direction, and ways to stay accountable to them.

Pre-goal warm-up

In the same way a football team analyses and researches their opponent the week before a big game, business owners must do their homework before setting goals. You need to be clear on several key areas: where the business is currently at, where you want to go, and why. Melbourne-based business and leadership coach Stuart Hayes talks about this in terms of strategy.

“The sequence needs to go strategy first – business owners need to identify what they’re trying to do with their business and why. Then let that filter down into the approach they want to take in the different areas – finance, sales, people, risk management, etc. The goals are like stepping stones you put in place to make sure you’re heading towards the overall strategy.”

To help with this review process, Hayes gets his clients to perform a full 'health and wellness check' on their business, filling in six PDF documents that address areas such as leadership and culture, resource management and external forces (you can download the PDFs for free here). “I try to help people make what’s currently invisible, visible,” he says. “And when they have that information, they can set their goals.”

Ready, set, goals: using the SMART system

The SMART system is the most common approach to goal setting because it’s simple, gets the job done and works equally well across businesses of all sizes. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely, and helps you set clear parameters or ways to measure each goal.

As you formulate your desired goals, cross reference them to the following criteria and tweak as required:

• Specific – are you clear on what you want to achieve?
• Measurable – can your goal be measured, and can you recognise if you’ve achieved it?
• Achievable – is your goal something you have the time, money and resources to meet?
• Relevant – is your goal relevant to the direction you want your business to head in?
• Timely – can you set a realistic deadline for completing the goal?

Intentions instead of goals

Some business owners might prefer a more heart-centred approach to goal setting, which is what Amanda McMillan, author, speaker and founder of Wellineux, a Melbourne-based wellness collective, uses in her business.

“I like to flip goal setting on its head and call it ‘intention setting’. You change the language and mindset so you're not rigid about whether or not you meet the goal,” she says. “It works because you don’t get so caught up in the ‘have I met them or have I not?’ conversation.”

McMillan encourages business owners to start by getting clear on their personal values. “Ask yourself, ‘how do I want to show up in the world and what do I want to contribute?’” she says. “Then ask, ‘what kind of business do I want, and does that support my goals and values as well?’”

McMillan uses a plan on a page approach to intention setting, literally writing those personal values at the top of the page and using them as a guiding principle to set intentions for the next 3 months, 12 months and three years.

Stay on track with visual reminders

No matter your methodology for setting goals, you need to find a way to stick to them. “Things always happen in business, it’s very dynamic, you’re continually thrown off course week-to-week and day-to-day,” says Hayes.

McMillan chooses to display Wellineux’s intentions and six key strategy areas on a huge wall in their office.

“We have columns for each strategic area, and loads of post-it notes stuck in each. When an opportunity comes about, we can check-in and make sure it’s work that will move us forward in line with our intentions. We also have a column called ‘smashed it’, which is our language for ‘we’ve done a great job’. It’s exciting to see post-it notes move along to the ‘smashed it’ column and we reflect on our progress on a daily and monthly basis.”

Keep your goals fresh in your mind by displaying them on a wall or board

Find a business coach or mentor

Another option for staying accountable is to find a business coach or mentor. It’s one of the many services Hayes offers.

“When you’re the boss and don’t have anyone you need to be accountable to, that’s where an independent person can provide such value,” he says. “I have clients where I know the greatest value I have is to keep them accountable. I know they often do the things they need to do the night before our catch-up. But the point is, they get it done.”

RELATED: How to find the right business mentor for you

Celebrate your achievements

One other way to keep moving towards your goals is positive reinforcement – celebrate when you achieve them. If you’re using the SMART system and have measurable and timely criteria, you’ll know exactly when there’s cause to break out the champagne.

“Sadly, human behaviour is not to celebrate ourselves when we’ve reached milestones and intentions, but to look at all the things we might not have been able to achieve, or where we want to be that potentially we’re not,” reflects McMillan.

Hayes, too, says celebrations are important. “It doesn’t have to be a huge party, it’s about acknowledgement. You need to celebrate the small successes, all the time. If you don’t, you’re not giving people the opportunity to realise they’ve had success.”

And it’s just as important when that person is you.