Goal setting for business – failing to plan is planning to fail

by | Apr 26, 2021 | Business

Running my own business and being the mistress of my own destiny has been my dream for as long as I can remember.

Over the years of working for big newspaper publishing companies I often thought about what it would be like to set up my own newspaper.

I would spend hours with a notebook and pencil, filling page after page with my blue sky vision for how I was going to do it.

Once complete, my little plan would get filed away under Plans for the Future until some new workplace drama – or a new year – caused me to dig it out and revisit and refine it.

Then at the end of 2013, one of those workplace dramas struck. My employer was looking to make redundancies – and once again my plan for an independent newspaper resurfaced.

Only this time, it didn’t get shoved back in a drawer.

Instead, me and three colleagues set about making it a reality and so in 2014 I became a director and co-founder of a free, independent newspaper.

My years of planning and goal setting had paid off and I was a business owner.

Setting goals to fly solo

But the story doesn’t end there, obviously, and after the novelty had worn off I realised there was a still a yearning to be even more independent. In the early days it had been a blessing to have three business partners to share the burden with, but now I realised I really wanted to fly solo.

So, out came the notebook again and once more I wrote, revisited and refined a detailed plan on how to make my dream come true.

In September 2018, I took voluntary redundancy and left the newspaper to set up my own marketing agency.

Looking back now at those pages and pages of detailed plans, just about everything in them eventually became reality –  even down to the redundancy payment acting as a financial buffer while I got established.

Which is my very, very long winded way of demonstrating the power of planning and writing down your specific goals.

Setting goals is a very powerful thing to do. It immediately focuses your attention on what it is you want and how you are going to get there.

Often in business your goals will focus on acquiring more customers, for example, or increasing revenue.

We all know that running a small business can be tough and finding time for such things can be difficult, but as the saying goes – those who fail to plan, plan to fail.

So here’s some handy hints on setting goals to achieve results.

Why you need goals:


provide guidance and direction


help with specific planning


motivate and inspire you and your team


help to evaluate performance

Setting goals for the long-term

It’s time for a bit of blue-sky thinking and dreaming.

Get a notebook or your favourite note-taking app on your phone or computer and create a vision of what your life will be like in 10 years time.

Think back to how your life has changed in the past 10 years and it will hopefully give you an idea on just how much difference a decade makes, so don’t worry about the details of how you are going to make this happen at this stage, just dream about how you would like it to be.

What does your ideal day look like What are you doing, what are you wearing, who are you with, where do you live etc etc?

When you have done that and can picture exactly what you want to achieve in 10 years, do the exercise again but looking at where you will be in five years.

What has changed from where you are now that is taking you closer (hopefully halfway or more) to where you want to be in ten years.

Now do it again for where you want to be a year from now.

We all know how quickly a year flies by, so be realistic, but also dare to push yourself to start down the path towards your ultimate aim.

Now you have your one year vision, it’s time to get down to details.

Write a 12-Week Plan

This is where I recommend starting with a 12-week plan.

I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now and I find that three months is an ideal timeframe for goal setting – long enough to make a change and see results but not so long that you are tempted to procrastinate.

The path to success is littered with the remains of discarded dreams because people give themselves a whole year to do something.

They then end up forgetting about it or putting it off until December when they desperately rush around trying to squeeze in “Achieve Dreams” between “Do Christmas shopping” and “Eat Mince Pies” on the festive to-do list.

The 12-week “year” is a concept I first came across in Brian P Moran’s book The 12 Week Year: Getting More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do In 12 Months and have since adapted to meet my own needs.

For full details I recommend reading the book, but what I have taken from it is that you set three or five goals to achieve in 12 weeks and then break them down into the daily, weekly and monthly individual targets or actions which will get you there.

Ideally work with an accountability partner, but if you don’t have one or just don’t want to, it is still important to have weekly and monthly check-ins to assess what is working and what isn’t so you can course-correct to stay on track.

Once you have completed this you are at the business end of goal setting, so what makes a “good” goal.

Setting SMART goals

There are a number of things to take into consideration when setting your 12-week goals.

One of the most important is that they should feed into your one-year vision, which in turn is a stepping stone to your five-year and ten-year plans.

It is also worth considering that your goals fit in to your business’s vision, mission and values. If you haven’t defined your Vision, Mission and Values, my guide on why and how is here – Vision, Mission and Values – what does your business stand for?

After that, you can’t go far wrong if you stick to the tried and tested formula of goal setting embodied by the acronym SMART.


Being specific and using action verbs focuses you on what exactly you need to do.

For example, instead of saying, “I want more clients,” you might say “I’m going to sign up four new clients”.


The M in a SMART goal helps you clarify and quantify your efforts.

In the example above, you could have said that you want to sign up new clients.

By adding the number four, you now have a measurement you can use to focus your effort and track your progress toward your goal.


The A stands for achievable, which some refer to as attainable.

In either case, the A reminds you to check to make sure the goal is within reach.

Research shows that people are motivated by goals that stretch them as long as they’re not unrealistic.

Let’s assume, for example, four new clients is an achievable goal within our 12-week timeframe.


The R stands for relevant and may spur you to challenge your thinking.

If your overall business plan calls for increasing profitability, perhaps new customers aren’t what you need.

You may need to focus on retention of existing customers, price increases, or expense reductions instead.

Make sure the goal you set makes sense for you.


The T references the time aspect of your goal. Some refer to it as timely.

What it reminds you to do is set an end date or time frame for achieving your goal.

Four new customers are fine, but if you don’t set a time frame, will you be satisfied with four customers a year when you meant to sign up four customers a month?

Keeping tabs

One other thing you may need to consider is who is going to be responsible for your goals? If your business only involves you, the answer is pretty straightforward, but if you have a team, you may want to set targets or actions for them to achieve.

If that’s the case, you may want to involve them in the whole goal-setting process, including the follow-up session at the end of your 12-weeks.

It’s important to not scrimp or skip this stage as it is crucial to measure your progress. By doing so at the 12-week milestone you can ensure you are on track for your one-year vision and use the knowledge you have gained to inform your next 12-week strategy.

Get organised with daily, weekly and monthly planners

Download this useful bundle of printable planners to organise your daily to-dos, as well as log your motivations, gratitude and affirmations, and keep track of your weekly and monthly schedule. Plus look back at what went well and what didn’t to improve next time.

Final word on goal setting…

This whole processs may seem too time-consuming when you are already juggling the demands of running a business, but all I can say is that from personal experience it is time well-spent.

Consider setting aside a morning or afternoon and taking yourself off to a local cafe or somewhere away from your usual workspace so you can focus solely on drawing up your goals.

Try to think of this time and the goal-setting process as a valuable investment in yourself and your business.

After all, just a few hours of your time and attention is a small price to pay to achieve your life’s dream in my book.

Let us know how you get on.


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