When I was younger, goal-setting was easy.  I wanted to beat that video game.  I wanted to letter in that sport.  I wanted to date that girl.  I wanted to buy a car.  Graduate.  Go to college.  Graduate again.  Get a job.  Buy a nicer car.  Get married.  Buy a house.  Have kids.

At some point, I sort of ran out of goals.

Later, after starting my business and studying entrepreneurship, I realized that I needed to start setting some goals.  My business partner and I agreed, so we set some goals, but they weren’t particularly…smart.

In business circles, people often talk about SMART goals.  Goals are considered SMART if they have the following characteristics:

  • Specific – Smart goals are specific and do not leave room for interpretation or rationalization.  I want more clients is not specific.  Instead opt for: I want 5 additional clients.
  • Measurable – Smart goals can be measured and evaluated.  You want to add 5 clients?  Great.  Did you or didn’t you.  4 is not 5.  3 is not 5.  5 is 5.
  • Achievable – Smart goals can be achieved.  I want to make a million dollars per year.  Well, it is certainly specific and measurable, but is it realistic?  If you are the CEO for a successful company, this might be realistic.  If you are an entry level mail clerk, it probably is not going to happen.  When goals are not achievable, they condemn us.  Every time we think about the goal, we feel like a failure.  Goals are meant to propel us forward: not hold us back.  Make sure the goals are properly set.
  • Relevant – Smart goals are relevant.  They matter to the person setting them.  Remember when your mom told you to clean you room and you just never seemed to get around to it?  It didn’t matter.  It didn’t seem important.  Why waste your time of that when you don’t see the purpose.  Setting an irrelevant goal will be met with equal enthusiasm.  Don’t just pick goals that matter, pick goals that matter to YOU.  Your momma’s goals aren’t your goals.
  • Time-Bound – Smart goals have an end date.  In order for a goal to be measured, it must have some ending time so the measurement can occur!  If you are going to add 5 clients, that’s great.  But how long are you giving yourself?  However long it takes?  That’s not a smart goal.  That’s a dream.  If you never set an end time, well, in theory, you cannot fail.  Remember, failing forward can be an entrepreneur’s best friend!

So why is this so hard?

I have spent years trying figure out what goals to set.  Sure, when we get (or start) projects, we set goals.  We do our work and deliver to a happy customer.  But somewhere along the line, I haven’t felt like I was setting the right goals.

Maybe I was trying too hard or picking the wrong goals.  I tried setting an earning goal for the company, but that turned out to be a bad goal because we really didn’t have a direct way to influence that.  I tried setting a new product goal.  That actually worked out pretty well.  And, at the end of that one, there were some unintended benefits that brings us to where we are today.

Today, I have a goal.  It’s very simple.

I want to add one new customer in two months.  December is a hard time to generate new business – particularly with government customers.  With Christmas and vacation, people just aren’t around.  So I have given myself two months to get a commitment for work from a new customer (this does not include new work from existing customers).  A single $50 job will not count.  For the sake of this goal, a qualifying customer is one that spends at least $10,000 with the company.

This is a SMART goal.  It’s simple, but it’s smart.

It’s specific.  One customer spending at least $10,000.

It’s measurable.  It is very easy to compare amount spent against $10,000.

It’s attainable.  We routinely sell services above this level, so this is certainly attainable.

It’s relevant.  We want to grow our customers.  How can we do it?  One customer at a time.

It’s time-bound.  It has to be done by February.

NOW, it’s written down.  This is a good goal.

Please share any time you’ve had success with goal settings.  Did you find it difficult to get started?  Are you using SMART goals?