As business owners, we are often so consumed by the day-to-day activities of running a business that there is little time or resource to assess strategy. It is easy to forget that strategy is essential to the success of a business and a fundamental that managers should be focussed on.
Just like you need a good map to succeed at orienteering and an accurate instruction manual to assemble parts into a working whole, strategy brings together different elements of a business to work toward the same goal. Most small business owners are swamped with daily administration tasks and struggle to keep up with all the paperwork.
Often it is the strategy and planning that is put on the back burner while more pressing issues are dealt with. But like a leader in an orienteering team, if you don’t know where you are heading or the best route to get there, you could be leading your team all over the countryside. It’s better to have a good strategy, with a clever goal and an idea of the issues you may face along the way. Then you can map out the steps you will take to reach your goals in your business plan and decide how to meet challenges.
So bring that old business plan or strategy out of the mothballs and ask yourself – what should be in it this document and is it still relevant?
Setting your vision and goals is the first step to creating a business plan that serves you and your business. As with everything you do in life if you want to succeed you need a clear purpose. Goal setting is an incredibly powerful tool to help you stay focused, especially when you hit rough terrain. There are some important factors to consider when you set your goals and this handy acronym helps you remember how to develop ‘smart’ goals.
S.M.A.R.T. goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timed goals.
Be clear when you are thinking about your goals. For example, you might want to be the best tree cutting business but the best in which market? What does the best mean to you, most profitable, delivering the best quality service, perhaps the leading experts in the industry?
Select a specific area you want to improve and create a goal that is as detailed as possible for that area. The more clearly you define your goals the easier it is to achieve them. It is simple to know when you have reached a target such as ‘maintaining a 100% retention rate for staff’. But not so simple to determine if you have become ‘a better employer’.
Define what success will look like for your business and write it down. Have your vision and goals visible somewhere where everyone in the team can see them and try to refer to them in day-to-day business so they become real and tangible, not just dreams.
Make sure your goals however big or small have a deadline and are ‘measurable’ to encourage a feeling of accountability. It is also important that the results of your hard work can be quantified so that you identify your mistakes and learn to improve and so you know when you have achieved your aims.
Some things are hard to measure, like ‘success’, or ‘improvement’ but the more specific you get about your goals the easier it is to set targets and measure them. Success can be profit, productivity, staff retention or training and education and once you have solid measurable targets you are further down the path of knowing how and when they can be achieved.
Start with your overall vision, what do you want to achieve? Do you want your business to earn you a certain level of income? Or do you want to pursue a childhood dream? Do you want to leave a legacy behind or make a difference?
Once you have established your vision, start to break it down into specific goals and how you will make them happen. Almost anything is possible if you can find a way to accomplish it. Like the map analogy, if you have a clear destination you are on your way. From there you only need to find the right path, the right tools, and the best people to help you get to that position.
Making sure a goal is ‘achievable’ builds on the first qualities of ‘specific’ and ‘measurable’ goal setting. A specific goal is easier to attain than a broad one and you want to ensure the targets you have are realistic.
You may be feeling a little daunted, you might feel as though you have a long way to go to reach your goals. You are never in your comfort zone when you are facing a challenge and being challenged is a crucial part of learning and development.
If you have ever been lost (in the days before GPS and smartphones) you will know that it is scary. But once you’ve found your bearings you’ve found your way and felt a greater sense of achievement for having conquered your fears and achieved your goal.
You don’t have to achieve your goals alone, support from people who are smarter than you is an essential part of the process. Asking others for help might be intimidating for some people but remember that if you aren’t learning you won’t be improving or growing. So take a risk, be the least experienced person in a group and listen to others. Find a mentor and let their experience guide you. If you want to avoid making the same mistakes as those who have gone before you be willing to listen to good advice. Even if you are working in an innovative field, breaking new ground there will be people who have had similar experiences you can learn from.
Your initial vision has become more specific, measurable, achievable and transformed into tangible goals, now take those goals and make them even smaller and more manageable short-term goals. Creating ‘relevant’ goals is all about making them detailed and realistic, tailoring them to different functions or teams.
Attainable goals that are relevant are important because rather than waiting years before you see the results and feel the satisfaction of achievement you will reach these goals more often, at regular intervals. Ticking off goals and reaching targets gives you a sense of accomplishment and helps people stay motivated to reach bigger targets. Make sure you are helping your team take small steps in the right direction toward the ultimate target.
Along the way, there will be hurdles so remember to celebrate when you get over each one. Every hurdle and step will take you closer to your goals and add up over time to an incredible journey in itself.
Make sure each goal has a deadline so you know when you want to achieve it by and when you will achieve it. If you set deadlines you are more inclined to meet them. Without a predetermined end date, time can slip away all too quickly but with a time frame, you are better able to monitor progress.
By measuring a project through time you can see how much is completed at certain stages and either increase or decrease energy or resources to meet the deadlines and targets. Having timed targets helps you adjust and fine-tune your goals and how you aim to achieve them.
A deadline is also an excellent motivation tool for some people, it can inspire incredible energy from people who are committed to success. It is also an important tool to use if you want to provide incentives for staff to meet ‘stretch’ targets or surpass certain standards. People love to succeed and as long as you have a clear goal and the right encouragement you can set your goals as high as your vision can carry them.
Now that you have set out your goals, write them down. Place them in a very visible place so everyone knows what you want to achieve. Be bold about it.