Whether it’s January 1st or December 31st or any of the days in between, there’s never a bad time to set business goals for yourself and your company. Businesses are living, breathing entities. They change and grow, or they die. And what breathe life into and give direction to a business’ future? Goals. But not just any goals—goals that are realistic and attainable. So how do you set realistic and attainable goals?

Be (brutally) honest. How has the past business year been for you? Revisit both your successes and the times your company has fallen on its face. The things you rocked and the things that got away from you. Where did you knock it out of the park? How did you misstep? Both your successes and your failures can (and should) inform the path moving forward. Learn from both.

Do your homework. What’s the latest, greatest in your industry? How is the way people do business in your field shifting? What are your competitors and peers doing that’s working? Not working? How is customer behavior changing and how might that impact how/where you find and engage with them? Setting yourself up for success in creating and meeting goals starts with you arming yourself with as much information as possible.

Be SMART. The philosophy of SMART goal setting isn’t new; it’s been around since the 1980s. Its staying power is because it works. You want your goals to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Specific – Pretend you’re a newspaper reporter and answer the W’s: Who’s going to be
involved? What are you trying to accomplish? When will you do this by? Where are the relevant events/locations? What obstacles might you face? And the most important question—Why is this a goal that matters?

Measurable – How will you know if you’ve reached your goal? What metrics will you use? Dollars spent/earned? Number of sales, customers, locations?

Achievable – Can you realistically do what you’re setting out to do? Do you have the skills, time, and resources? If you don’t, can you acquire what you need?

Relevant – Does the goal align with your business plan/strategy? Just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good use of your time and attention. Does it make sense to your broader vision for your business?

Time-bound – Remember when you just asked yourself when you’d do this by? (See above.) Set a deadline or target date, not just for your goal, but also for all the milestones along the way. For instance, if your goal is to bring in 100 new customers by the end of the year, where are you at three months in? Six? Nine? Not only should you have a deadline for your goal, but you should also be monitoring your progress toward that goal year-round. That gives you the opportunity to assess where you’re at routinely and to make any adjustments as necessary.

Get your team involved. The view from a leadership role is not necessarily the same as the view of the people taking calls, knocking on doors, fielding complaints, or working the systems you have in place. Sure, if you’re a great leader, you’ve got your finger on the pulse of your business. But you’re likely not interacting with customers and vendors, etc. Ask the people who are working the plan.

When your team responds, don’t just listen—commit to making changes to the things that need to be fixed. And this commitment doesn’t just apply to the troubleshooting part of your business. Ask your team members what their hopes and dreams are for the company. What their brilliant ideas are that might just take your business to the next level. When team members have buy-in, they will work harder for a company that values them and solicits their feedback.

Have a plan for your plan. Written goals are great. Know what’s better? The plan to implement those goals and the follow-up along the way. What will it take to get those goals off paper and have them work to grow your business?

Name the responsible people, teams, or departments. Grace is setting up the new
CRM system that manages information regarding customer engagement. Joe is communicating with team leads monthly for updates and feedback. Sarah is coordinating the celebration lunch if you’re on target with your numbers. Whatever the goal is, someone should be tasked with taking responsibility for each piece of the puzzle.

Put it on your calendar. When are you meeting to check in with each other and report on progress/obstacles? When are reports due? What’s your deadline for meeting your goal? When’s that celebration lunch? Put it all on the company calendar where everyone can see what’s being tracked and by when. Scheduling time for such things conveys the urgency and priority of your goals to your whole team.

Allocate the necessary resources. What do you need to set your goals in action? Budgeting more money for social media? New equipment or software? Specialized training or a staff retreat? Employee incentives? More employees? Look at what you’re hoping to accomplish and assess what resources will be required to make it happen. If you can’t find or create what you need to pull it off, perhaps this isn’t the time for this particular goal. If that’s the case, put it on your goals bucket list and go back to the drawing board to determine what’s possible with what you have available to you.

Big dreams. Little steps. Dream the biggest possible dreams. Want it all for your business and believe that all is possible. But a goal isn’t a dream; it’s the vehicle that turns dreams into reality. The trick is to create goals that are bigger than where you currently stand, but not so big that you’re done before you’ve started. So be honest with yourself. Do your homework. Be SMART. Get your team involved. Plan to work your plan. Put the necessary resources in place. And get to work on those attainable and realistic goals that are going to propel your business ahead.

Need some inspiration for where to start with your goals for a new business year? Click here.