The 5 Golden Rules of Goal-Setting

It's called hard work because it is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
The 5 Golden Rules of Goal-Setting
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As entrepreneurs, we dream of being our own boss, breaking away from corporate restrictions and pursuing our passion as a business venture. We work long hours, often sacrificing family time and other obligations to do what we feel is in our blood. Being an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone, but once we start on that journey, we’re not turning back -- no matter how bumpy the road gets.

Related: When SMART Goals Don't Work, Here's What to Do Instead

If being an entrepreneur is your goal, congrats. Now, what? Start writing down your goals. Having a target, or milestones, to reach becomes critical in your ability to achieve more. In fact, 21 percent of goal-setting, high-achieving organizations looked at in one study were more productive than their counterparts, according to Workboard. From the same source: 69 percent of companies surveyed said that communication business goals are the most effective way to build a high-performance team.

However, when you are in business for yourself, there’s no one to hold you accountable or keep you on track. You are now that person; therefore, you must be disciplined enough to follow through in every aspect. Goals are a way to measure your level of success -- they give you focus, direction and a sense of purpose while providing you a tangible benchmark to determine if you're actually succeeding.

How do any of us define success? It’s a relative term. For some of us, it’s about how much money they can make. For others, it’s about how they’re moving the needle forward, how many sales leads they have or the number of media interviews they can get. For me, it all starts with the conditions I've set for achieving my own definition of "satisfaction": the ability to make money, grow professionally and have fun doing it.

Entrepreneurs often set expectations incredibly high and the goals they set are designed to match those lofty expectations.  But how do we entrepreneurs know if the goals we’re setting for ourselves are realistic and even attainable?

The answer is, know the five golden rules of goal-setting.

1. Set goals that motivate you

When you set a goal, it has to mean something, and there has to be a value to achieving it. If the outcome is of little to no importance to you, then the chances of your putting in the work are next to none. In fact, 93 percent of people can’t translate goals into actions if the goals are irrelevant to them.

So, start with the goals that are highest on your priority list. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done, so start simple. We live in a “snack-sized” world, meaning that we are able to digest information in short bites and shut down when we receive too much.

Break down your goals into your top three, or top five, overall goals, the ones with the highest sense of urgency. If it helps, write down why they’re valuable to you.  I sometimes write these goals down because, a) the list becomes a tangible reminder of what needs to be done; and b) I need the visual aids to help me focus. As every entrepreneur knows, we have a lot of things on our minds, so there's nothing wrong with having a little help.

Related: Why SMART Goals Suck

2. Set SMART goals.

You may have heard of these already, but it’s always useful to have a refresher. If you haven’t heard about this acronym, here’s what it stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time bound

Specific. Your goals need to be as specific as possible,  because otherwise they won’t give you enough direction to follow through. According to a research paper from the American Psychological Association, setting specific goals led to a higher performance 90 percent of the time for companies studied. Goals are like a lamp lighting the way-- the brighter the light, the clearer the road ahead.

I asked a few business acquaintances about how they set goals and received a response from Jason Forrest, CEO of Forrest Performance Group who told me, “If you don’t have clearly defined goals, you procrastinate. Think about the results you want to achieve -- what activities do you need to do for the results?”

Measurable. Give yourself realistic deadlines to finish the task at hand. Adding specific dates, amounts, etc., makes your progress quantifiable. For example, instead of saying “Reduce expenses,” say something like, “Reduce expenses by 10 percent in the next 12 months.” That gives you a fixed amount, a time frame to complete your goal and visualize a finish line.

Attainable. Be honest with yourself.  As Chowly co-founder Justin McNally told me, "'Increase marketing budget by 50 percent in three months’ sounds like a great goal, but not a very realistic one. If you’re a one-man shop or don’t have the resources to do that, you’ll only end up frustrated." Instead, he said, “Set realistic and manageable goals. Decide what you want to accomplish in a day and stop when you’re done.” 

Relevant. Align your goals with the direction you want your life and career to take. Balancing the alignment between long-term and short-term will give you the focus you’ll need.

Time-bound.  Having a finish line will mean you’ll get to celebrate when you accomplish your goal. Having set deadlines gives you a sense of urgency that is lacking when goals are open ended.

3. Write down your goals.

I start every day writing down a list of "to-dos," as well as print out a calendar with my meetings for the day. I keep these daily goals visible at all times and cross check the things I’ve accomplished to gauge where I stand at the end of the day. This is a best practice for me, because it makes things tangible and me accountable.

Your own long-term goals don’t have to be spelled out quite as publicly, but you should keep them someplace where, every so often, you are reminded of where you want to go. Use an active voice when writing them down; for example, say, “I will increase my marketing budget.” Using more passive language such as “I would like…” gives you an excuse to get sidetracked.)

4. Put a plan in action.

It’s easy to get so focused on the outcome that you forget the steps needed to achieve the outcome. You might go from A through Z, giving little thought to B, C, D and everything in between. So, write down all of the individual steps. This is your road map to executing your plan as flawlessly as possible. 

Harry Mills, CEO of The Aha! Advantage and author of Zero Resistance said it to me best: “Successful entrepreneurs map out their goals to achieve them. Entrepreneurs that develop a map to reach an achievement or overcome indecision are compelled to take action.” Along the way, seek out the advice of your peers -- a former business partner, a trusted advisor or mentor. They might have insights you've overlooked.

5. Work the plan.

Having a plan in place makes you official. Working the plan makes you successful. If you take the time to draw up a good plan, why not use it? It’s tempting to keep changing your mind or to draw new plans when things go awry, but variables aren’t an excuse not to stick to the plan. Trust your instincts.

Related: How to Accomplish Your No. 1 Goal in Just 100 Days

One important piece of advice I’ve given is: Look long-term, but live short-term. It’s really easy to think about the things you want and the money you can make, but those don’t become possible without the here and now.

Don’t get ahead of yourself. Trust your plan, work the plan, be flexible when handling variables and you’ll get there. It’s called hard work because it is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it. 

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The 10 Commandments of Business
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