It’s all too easy to get caught up in everyday events, and never stop to think about what you’re doing and why. Running a small business can involve so much day-to-day stress, admin, and fire-fighting that planning for the future gets put off indefinitely. But setting goals for yourself, your team, and the company overall can ensure you progress, develop better working relationships with your staff, and help your enterprise to grow.
- SMEs that have clear, and articulated ambitions are more likely to experience business growth, Government research suggests.
What is your long-term business goal?
Think about what your vision is for the business. Is it increasing sales? Do you want to operate in a different market? Have you thought about developing a new product? Whatever your overarching aim is, make sure everybody in the company knows that’s what you’re working towards. A common purpose should unite people, and is something you can use as a touch stone if you lose sight of your original target further down the line.
Once you’ve thought about where you want to be in the long-term – say in five years’ time – consider the medium term. What do you need to do over the next 18 months to three years to pave the way for your larger business goal? Then, scale yourself back even further, thinking about this financial year, and what you should put into action now.
Make some SMART plans
Next, you need to figure out how exactly you’ll get to your hoped-for outcome. Identify what exactly needs to change within your business to put your plans into practice. One well-established system for goal-setting is the SMART approach. This acronym stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. SMEs can apply these benchmarks as follows:
- Specific business goals. Return to your big ambition for the enterprise, then consider the steps necessary to achieve this larger aim. It might be providing your staff with training in new skills, investing in specialist equipment, or even hiring individuals with the right experience. Do you need to alter your own role within the organisation? Be genuinely open to all ideas about how you might get to where you want to be. Famous research from the 1960s by academic Edwin A. Locke found that setting specific and ambitious goals brought about the best outcome, and improved performance in organisations. Staff are motivated by clear goals, and respond better when given appropriate feedback, so keep communicating with your team throughout the goal-setting process.
- Measurable goals. How can you tell your efforts are effective? It’s necessary to put some targets or milestones in place to assess whether you’re heading in the right direction. Examples might be increasing the number of visitors to your company’s website – an easily charted measure – or improving productivity. These are things it’s quite possible to weigh up, and calculate. In essence, you need a method of telling if your work is paying off, or whether a different approach would be better.
- Achievable goals. You must set yourself and your employees a realistic target. There’s a place for bold vision in business, but if you aim too high and fall short, the demoralising effect can be very damaging. Break down the business’s bigger goals into smaller, more manageable chunks. Think about what resources you have available to you in terms of manpower, and time, then package tasks accordingly. The cumulative effect of small achievements can be considerable, and can add up to a much greater success in the longer term.
- Relevant goals. How do your plans measure up against your broader business plan, the SME’s current market, the make-up of its customers, and its sector? Are they relevant at all? There has to be some coherence in your approach, or you won’t be successful in bringing about change. Ask yourself how what you’re doing may really contribute to your wished-for aim. It may occur to you that you’re getting sidetracked by matters that won’t help you on your chosen path.
- Time-based goals. You need to set yourself a deadline – or a series of deadlines – by which you must achieve certain things. If you’re too woolly in your schedule, it’s all too easy to let yourself off the hook when you’ve not quite hit the mark. If your goal is to move into a new geographic market, decide a date by which you’ll establish a relationship with a local agent, or set yourself a time target of going on a trade mission to see how business works on the ground in that country. Commit to a schedule, and stick to it. It’s the only way you’ll get to your goal in the time desired.
Communication and constant assessment
Communication is very important in terms of setting business goals. Your employees need to know exactly what you want them to do, and why, as well as how they’re faring along the way. Set up a system of feedback either through regular meetings or appraisals to assess how plans are going, and what members of staff think. People are spurred on when they feel they’ve achieved something, so be sure to acknowledge valuable work done. These chats are also a chance to reset the parameters of projects if a certain approach doesn’t seem to be working.
Your business growth goals aren’t set in stone, so revise them periodically. Get your employees involved, as they may have some useful insight into how you can reach your ultimate target. And don’t forget to make sure that your business goals are compatible with your home life. Too many business owners set themselves great professional targets, but neglect things away from work. Keep the two in balance, and you should achieve success for yourself, and your company.
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