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Go for the Goal

15 New Year's resolutions that are challenging, constructive and attainable. Really.

New Year's resolutions about losing weight or organizing the garage may not last more than a few weeks, but it's possible to start the year with plans for your business that will persist for a full 12 months--or even longer.

But like the often-repeated resolution of an out-of-shape person that this year will be different, resolutions for a business go nowhere if they entail recreating reality. Resolutions that push for incremental progress or for simple clarity of thought are the ones that stick, say successful entrepreneurs and business advisors.

"Making resolutions means taking a risk, but the thing we all need to do to stay in business these days is constantly put our companies at risk," says Tom Mears, CEO of Holland Inc., parent company of the Pacific Northwest's Burgerville USA chain. "The only way to grow in 1999 is to keep yourself from becoming complacent and find things you can change about the way you operate."

Five years ago, Mears, who is at the helm of the Vancouver, Washington, family-run company, detected that the old-line burger house was quickly losing ground to the big chains and resolved to turn it around. "Without taking some risks and deciding to make changes, we'd have kept sliding," says Mears, 57. Now the company is on firm footing with sales of $47 million this year.

Of course, there's nothing magical about laying plans in January: Sharp-minded entrepreneurs are always charting the route ahead, no matter what time of year it is. But January, when frosty weather and the post-holiday slowdown leave many businesses quiet, is a fine time to take stock and think deeply about your overall strategy and approach to your business.

So forget about that messy garage or the extra inches in your waistline--for now, at least--and instead consider making some of these 15 resolutions that have worked for your fellow entrepreneurs:

1. Give Your Goals a Reality Check

When Portland, Oregon, chef Paul Wenner, 51, set out in 1985 to infiltrate the world of burgers with his meatless Gardenburger, his goal was broad: Change the world's eating habits. By the beginning of 1986, he had deals with 70 restaurants to carry his creation, which has a base of mushrooms and brown rice instead of soybeans, the more common alternative burger base.

As 1986 dawned, Wenner recalls, "I decided I really wanted to kick all year and get to 200 restaurants--which meant more than doubling our business. And I did it." In fact, he overshot the mark, ending the year with 220 restaurants on his client list. For 1987, he resolved to aim for 400 restaurants--and he beat his goal by 50 restaurants. Today, Gardenburgers are on the menus of more than 40,000 U.S. restaurants.

"One of the keys to success is having an objective you want to reach, but to get there, you need to set a series of [smaller] goals along the way," says Joe Giglierano, a marketing professor at California's San Jose State University. "Each [smaller] goal should stretch you a little more but be reasonable, and as you figure out ways to reach each of them, you move yourself toward your long-term goal."

This strategy works for Wenner in a carrot-and-stick kind of way. "I always have a number out there as my goal, and all year I'm checking my progress to see if I'm on track to hit the goal," Wenner says. "One year, it was 'I'll get into 25 percent of the health-food stores [in the United States],' and I did it. So the next year, the number was 60 percent, and I did that, too. Every year, I've been within 5 percent of what I said I'd do."

It's a simple, timeless technique--but one many entrepreneurs don't find time for. Make the time, and soon you may wind up in the same class as Gardenburger, which is now a $500 million company.

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This article was originally published in the December 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Go for the Goal.

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