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Create an Action Plan Now Survive the economic downturn by setting attainable goals.

By Ray Silverstein

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When business is tough, goal setting is critical. If you don't want to get sucked into the downward spiral, you need to head for higher ground. More important, you need to know how to get there.

Make an Action Plan
This is the number one secret to effective goal setting; regardless of what your goal is, the key to reaching it is always the same. The best, perhaps the only, way to turn an abstract goal into an attainable reality is to create an action plan; a nitty-gritty, no-nonsense action plan.

Many small-business owners are wishful thinkers, full of big ideas. They spend hours talking and dreaming about what they'd like to accomplish, but never in concrete terms. They repeat the same ineffective activities over and over, and then wonder why they're not getting anywhere.

The fact is that when businesspeople set measurable goals, they are much more likely to attain them. That means not just defining your objectives, but also defining the resources, time and money you'll need to invest in order to achieve them.

Achieving your goals, even big goals, doesn't require brilliance or talent. It does, however, require determination and tenacity, and most of all, a realistic action plan. If you don't plan, you plan to fail.

Put It in Writing
Every business requires a marketing plan, sales plan, recruitment plan, process plan and financial plan. Note the common word in all this activity: plan. Goals are nothing more than what you "plan" to accomplish.

So, write your goals down. Then, start filling in the blanks between Point A (where you are today) and Point Z (where you want to be). The act of writing your ideas down, or say, keying them into your laptop, will force you to think in concrete terms. It will also spark additional ideas. This is the birth of your action plan.

Be Specific
Break your plan down into baby steps and attach a realistic deadline to each step. Determine how to measure your progress; these measurements will be your reality check.

Then, define your investment. How much will each step cost, in terms of dollars, time, research and energy? What resources can you draw from and what additional resources will you need to acquire?

Eventually, you will have a full-blown action plan. Don't tuck it in a drawer--keep it close by for constant reference. Make regular appointments with yourself to review your plan and ensure you stay on track. It is a work-in-progress, and you can expect to make changes as you proceed. That's okay, just don't stop working on it.

Remember, there's only one way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time.

Get SMART
If you haven't set formal goals before, try following the SMART goal-setting format. With this process, goals should meet this definition:

Specific
Measurable
Achievable
Realistic
Timely


In other words, state clearly what you want to achieve. It must be something concrete and doable. Frame it in a way that allows you to measure your activity and include a deadline.

Whatever you do, steer clear of BHAGS, aka Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals. These are vast, long-term goals that would realistically take three to five years to achieve. BHAGs are useful for long-range planning, but not for now. Focus on short-term goals that you can attain in the course of a year or less, right now, under current economic conditions.

Need help getting started? Email me at RSPROPRES@aol.comfor a free copy of my "Expanding Your Vision" worksheet.

Ray Silverstein is the president of PRO: President's Resource Organization , a network of peer advisory boards for small business owners. He is author of two books: The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses and the new Small Business Survival Guide: How to Survive (and Thrive) in Tough Times . He can be reached at 1-800-818-0150 or ray@propres.com .

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