How to Set Business Goals
Not long ago, coming up with a 5, 10, or 15-year plan for your business was a pretty straightforward process. In fact, if you didn’t have plans like these in place, you were probably falling behind.
But today, thanks to advances such as artificial intelligence and new digital technologies, many B2B business owners find their industries changing overnight. It’s hard to plan for next year, let alone do long-term planning.
That being said, it’s hard to run your business with no plan at all. Even if you never act on half of the plans you make, you’ll be better off than if you charge into battle with no idea of what you’re going to do in the scenarios that come up.
Here’s how to do 5-, 10- and 15-year planning (if relevant) in a time of rapid change.
Step up your Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analyses.
The days when a small business could do this kind of 360-degree scan of its business environment in the annual meeting have passed. The opportunities in front of your business this year are likely to be very different next year. If you don’t act quickly, the ship will have sailed. The same holds true for threats. They can come up quickly, and if you’re not prepared for them, it may be hard to react from a position of strength.
That doesn’t mean you should operate in a panic, act on every opportunity for fear of missing out or go after opportunities before you’re ready. What it does mean is you should frequently be thinking about situations in the marketplace, so you have time on your side when you do act. Knowing the score will help you come up with plans that are realistic and actionable.
Sometimes, the opportunities and threats may be one and the same, depending on how you frame them in your mind. For instance, let’s say you run a B2B public relations firm. A new technology that helps publicists identify media professionals to pitch has arrived in the marketplace, and some of your competitors are using it. It’s enabling them to lower their headcount and therefore, charge less than you do. Your SWOT analysis might identify this as an opportunity for you: You could subscribe to a technology like this, too, and gain a competitive advantage over the firms that are not using it. Or it might be a threat you need to navigate around, if you don’t want to adopt the technology or can’t afford to invest in it. In that case, you may want to offer something different from the more automated firms in your industry—perhaps a new spin on high-touch service.
Choose the right time frame for your industry.
If you work in a very fast-changing field like technology consulting, coming up with a 10- or 15-year plan may not make sense. A five-year plan may be as far off in the future as you want to go.
In a slower-evolving field, though, it could make sense to draft a longer-term plan. You won’t be able to get as granular in plans that extend a decade or more into the future but committing to big goals, like coming up with a succession plan and selling the business by year 10, so you can retire, can help you stay focused on what really matters to you.
Start with the big picture and then fill in the details.
If you’re not sure where to begin with your plans, work on your big goals first. Perhaps you want to grow from a one-person company to 10 people or break a certain revenue goal by year five, for instance. Then look at how you’ll get there.
- What do you have to do this year to move the needle on those goals?
- Are there certain personnel you need to hire?
- Trainings you need to send your team to?
- What is the business strategy your goal will require?
- How will you act on that strategy?
- And how will you handle the financial side of these things? Beyond that, how will you track your progress?
- Are there key performance indicators (KPIs) you will assign to your big goals?
Overwhelmed? Many entrepreneurs find that Gino Wickman’s book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business and be a valuable asset in planning.
A plan is only valuable if you act on it, so don’t leave it tucked away in a computer file or desk drawer. Spend some time every month looking over your plan to make sure it’s current and updating it to reflect new developments, priorities, and goals. Once you see how much you’ve already accomplished, you’ll feel motivated to keep planning—and to see those plans through.
It’s hard to know what the future has in store for any of us, but putting together a plan – no matter how short- or long-term – will ensure that you’ve got the long-game in mind. And if you want a cheesy idiom to bring things full circle, we’ll be happy to oblige: “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”