20 Tips to Plan Strategically and Set Goals

If you’re thinking about developing strategy and setting goals for your business, it can seem overwhelming. Where do you start? What do you do? With these 20 tips, you’ll be well on your way to getting your big dreams out of your head and into a workable plan.

 1. Start with your mission. You have a mission already, right? That powerful statement of your purpose in your work should drive everything you do each day. And it should be your North Star as you set goals for the future of your business.

2. Do your homework. Grab a cup of coffee and get comfortable. Review where you’ve been. Run the reports. Look at your numbers (revenue, market share, annual growth, whatever indicators you’ve identified as your key metrics for success). Read the Yelp reviews or customer service logs. Pull in whatever information you have that speaks to how you’ve been doing.

3. Be a truth-teller. As exciting as it is to dream big dreams and work to execute them, this process can be uncomfortable. You may be faced with (temporary) limitations to what you can do. You may find you’ve missed the mark or dropped the ball in one area or another. You may not have handled a certain situation as well as you’d have liked. Be honest about what’s happened—all of it, the good, bad, and ugly.

4. Learn from your mistakes. No self-flagellation required. As Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” The only real mistake is not taking advantage of the opportunity to reassess and choose differently next time.

5. Look at the market. Conduct a market analysis. What’s happening in your industry? Who’s buying what and how much? What patterns or trends are emerging? What challenges might you expect? What opportunities might exist? It’s worth noting that this isn’t a one-and-done task. You should be aware of (or designate someone to be aware of) what’s happening in your market regularly. Set Google Alerts. Follow key influencers or thought leaders on LinkedIn. Keep your finger on the pulse of your field.

6. Check out your competition. They should be part of your market analysis, but also warrant a special callout. They aren’t the bad guys who are taking your business. (There’s enough magic and opportunity to go around if you’re creative and resourceful.) They are a great source of information regarding what’s working or not working in your space. Whether you see something you like or dislike, either is an opportunity to learn about what you’ll do and how you’ll be as a business leader.

7. Gather your team. Decide who will be part of this process. Will you include only senior management? Department heads? If you’re a small business or start-up, maybe it will be you and your teenage daughter who works after school for you (just keeping it real).

8. Solicit input. Who are your stakeholders and what are they saying about your business? Encourage your employees to share their experience working with/for you and what you can do better or differently. Ask your customers to provide feedback about their customer experience. Anyone who interacts with your business in some capacity offers valuable information.

9. Prioritize. What’s most important to you? Where would your business most benefit from change or dedicated focus? Where have you struggled that you’d like to address? What opportunities do you see that you’d like to run with? The correct answer to this question is not “all the things” (even if it feels like all the things need to change). Pick a few of the things that will have the greatest impact and start there.

10. Be realistic. Not that you should settle for less than what you want, but you do want your goals to be achievable. Ask yourself if it’s practical and feasible to pull off what you’re hoping to do within a designated period of time (one year, three years, five years max).

11. Realize size matters. Dream big, start small. Do you have a big, bright, shiny goal in mind? Break it down into smaller steps that, executed over time, will have a big impact.

12. Be descriptive. What are the details that make it clear what you’re trying to do? Pretend you’re a reporter (or a 10th-grade English student) and answer the Five Ws: Who? What? When? Where? Why?

“We want more business.” Of course you do, but what does that mean, exactly?

“Our marketing team will increase our social media reach by 10% quarterly.” That statement tells a better story about what you’re aiming for.

13. Take measure. How will you know when you’ve achieved success? What do those numbers look like? Build tracking, measurements, and analysis into your game plan.

14. Make a shopping list. What resources will you need? Do you need more staff? A new software program? A consultant who specializes in an area you’re looking to improve? Be clear about what resources—time, manpower, and money—you’ll need to actualize your goals.

15. Assign responsibility. Who will be responsible for what? Be clear on roles and responsibilities for each goal and/or action required to execute your plan. Who’s in charge? Which person or team will be doing the work?

16. Celebrate milestones. If your goal is a bazillion dollars (though, you’ll have lots of money for that party), don’t wait until your desired end state to celebrate. Acknowledge designated points along the way. Keep your team motivated to continue driving toward your bigger goals.

17. Take action. Avoid the common trap of planning to plan and, instead, plan to act. Your beautiful goals mean nothing if you don’t use them!

18. Check in regularly. Your strategy and goals aren’t meant to be pulled out once every three to five years for review. Schedule regular intervals—monthly, quarterly, annually—to assess where you’re at, whether you’re on target with your goals and timetable, and what challenges or opportunities might be important to hash out.

19. Be flexible. Your big vision most likely will not change, but your path to get there likely will. The market may shift, the economy may be impacted, your team may shrink or grow—any number of variables may impact the way you do business. By being fluid, adjusting and adapting, you’re more likely to reach your goals.

20. Be kind. To your team executing on your plan. To your customers and clients who may love or hate a new direction you take. And to yourself. This is a process. A never-ending, often frustrating, sometimes uncomfortable process. It won’t always be fun. But it will be productive if you give yourself and others some grace.

Goals and strategic planning aren’t some big monster to be slayed. They’re tangible processes by which you can strengthen and build your business. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get started!