Have a Plan, Not a Dream -- How to Set Realistic Goals for Your New Business

It's an exciting time to start a new business, but many people have unrealistic ideas on what it takes.

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By Keren Lerner

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Over the years, many people have spoken to me about their business plans and marketing needs who are almost too early in their thinking to get started. While they may have an idea what they want to sell, and to whom, they haven't clearly identified what will make them different enough to succeed. They think they can just jump on the bandwagon.

Related: 16 Actions to Take to Achieve Any Goal

Many of the big success stories out there are also known as "disruptors" -- where, through technology and "out of the box" thinking, they invented ways of making people's lives easier and more convenient.

For example, Airbnb allowed people to find accommodation easily in their desired destinations and encouraged people who had spare space to use it and make money. Uber tapped into a population of people willing to drive people around for less and gave passengers a way to get around cheaper.

This gets a lot of people excited and thinking "that could be me!"

Yes, it's an exciting time to start a new business, but many people have unrealistic ideas on what it takes. They think they can just set up their new business and see the same success as these heavy hitters.

Related: Your Odds of Succeeding Improve When You Create a Success Plan

Confidence is great, but we need to be realistic here. There are so many good products and services out there, you need to be really clear how you're truly different. If you miss this important step, you'll get lost in the noise, never gain traction and ultimately -- fail!

So, how do you get started? Here are five steps to help you begin with the right mindset:

1. Create key messages.

Many people will say they are different but can you really stand by that? If you want to succeed in business, identifying what is different about your product and service will give you that much needed edge. Write and refine three to five statements which clearly spell out how you're different from competitors. It's these small efforts that give you direction on how to position your business for optimum success.

2. Figure out your pricing.

People lose confidence in you if they ask about the price and your answer is flaky. Get specific and choose numbers that feel right. A typical fear is that you will quote too high and that will put them off. To work it out, you need three numbers.

First, calculate the lowest amount possible that you would charge for the work, then calculate what you think is fair for you and your experience, etc. On the higher end, identify the number that you think your competitors would charge for a similar product or service. Now you have three benchmarks to start with and can better assess what you feel is right for you. Start toward the lower/middle end and gradually increase your pricing structure as your reputation grows.

Related: Do You Have a 5-Year Plan? If Not, Here's How to Get Started.

3. Make a plan that's mindful of your time.

I love it when people think big! However, all too often they underestimate the time and head space required for them to achieve what they've planned. Be realistic on what you can easily do as a bare minimum. For example, if you say, "I will write two blog posts every week," you might be putting too much pressure on yourself as a business owner. If, on the other hand, you acknowledge that your bare minimum is three blog articles a month and you'd like to aim for two a week, that's more realistic as you're giving yourself leeway.

4. Write a list of what you will do, as well as what you won't do.

A lot of what you might not manage to achieve isn't because you don't have time or your goals are unrealistic. But, if you want to make room in your life, you sometimes have to learn to say "no" to things that take up time but don't help you to reach your goals. It's often the hardest thing to do -- letting go of other things you have going on in your life but if you want to be realistic, you have to face facts. Write a list of all the things you have in your life that you "have to do." Circle the things that don't inspire or fulfill you. Unless your list includes looking after your little kids or helping elderly relatives, most likely, your answer will be staring right at you.

See how easy and logical it all is? Starting a business with this mindset and these realistic goals will set you up for success -- too many others will try and skip these steps and end up being disappointed. It's time to roll up your sleeves and enjoy the journey and the learnings you will have along the way.

Keren Lerner

CEO and Founder of Top Left Design

Keren Lerner is the CEO and founder of Top Left Design, a London-based design and marketing agency. Founded in 2002, Top Left Design specializes in bespoke designed websites, brands and marketing material with integrated marketing advice.

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