How to Set Smart Business Goals for Your Small Business

Author: Colette Broomhead

Colette Broomhead

Colette Broomhead

8 min. read

Updated October 29, 2023

There’s nothing like the start of a new year to get us all goal setting like crazy. I don’t know about you, but I can count the number of New Year’s Resolutions that I’ve made and actually kept past January on the fingers of, well, one finger!

So why is it that we find goals so exciting to make, but so difficult to actually achieve?

Well, there are a number of reasons but mostly, it’s because the goals we set just aren’t smart.

What is a SMART goal?

Yep, you’ve guessed it, this is another of those business acronyms that we all love so much. In a nutshell, your business goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Based

Let’s break that down so you’re ready to set the smartest of SMART goals for your business this year.

How to make your business goals specific

It’s easy to say things like “this year, I’m going to increase my revenue,” or “I’m going to build a following on Facebook.”

Perhaps you’re after more website traffic or you want to grow brand visibility. These are all worthy aspirations to have for your business, but they’re not specific.

How will you know when you’ve achieved them?

So let’s take another look, but this time our goals will be a little more defined:

  • “I’m going to increase my revenue by 20 percent” would work, or “my revenue goal for 2020 is $100,000.”
  • “I’m going to build a following of 5,000 likes on my Facebook page.”
  • “I’m going to increase my website traffic to 5000 per month.”

See what a difference that makes?

Of course, plucking numbers from nowhere may seem more specific but is no more helpful unless the goals you choose are relevant to your current business performance and forecasts.

For example, if your current Facebook likes are at 1000 and your rate of growth is 50 new likes per month, then it would be feasible to set a goal of building your following to 5000 over the next six months. This stretches you, by exceeding your current rate of growth but isn’t an impossible target to achieve.

When your goals are specific, you know what success looks like and can measure it.

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How to make your business goals measurable

Speaking of measuring it, there is no point in setting goals if you’re not able to track your progress and review your results. If you’ve made your targets specific, then you’ll already have given yourself some clear measurables, but the real skill comes in identifying the not so obvious metrics which help you to spot problem areas in your strategy and to improve them.

Let’s look at one of our examples again:

  • Goal: Increase my website traffic to 5000 views per month
  • Metric: Monthly views

So there we have a specific goal and a pretty obvious metric.

This metric will tell you if you have hit your goal or not, but you can also set smaller milestones which will allow you to track your progress—maybe you look at your website performance once a week so you get a sense of whether you’re heading in the right direction. This helps you to identify problems along the way so that you can tweak your strategy accordingly.

What else could you measure to help you monitor your progress?

How about monthly traffic by channel? That is to say, looking at the different places your traffic comes from, such as social media, search and so on.

By breaking down our metrics even further, we can see which channels are performing well and those which are falling short of our target and in need of some further development.

Another great advantage of setting measurable goals is that it keeps us focused on measuring the right things and stops us from becoming obsessed with those vanity metrics that we all love so much, but which often have very little to do with our actual business goals!

Lastly, when it comes to setting measurable goals, you need to know how to measure them. Make sure you have tools in place such as Google Analytics, which will allow you to view your data quickly and easily. The last thing you want is to waste time each month in manually measuring your results.

How to make your business goals achievable

Your business goals and your business vision should be aligned, but they aren’t necessarily the same—especially when you’re just starting out.

Your dream may be to build a multi-million dollar company with global reach and impact; the reality for this year is probably going to be quite different.

Challenge yourself, but don’t set yourself up to fail by creating goals which are so out of reach, you have no hope of achieving them. Nothing is more demoralizing, and it will make you more likely to quit before you’ve even started.

How do you know what’s achievable? That can be tricky when your business is still new and you don’t have previous results to look back on. It’s not impossible though and your “aim” will get better with time.

If you don’t have past performance to use as a compass then use the information that you do have. Spend time researching your industry and doing a market analysis. You could also conduct a SWOT analysis which focuses on your current Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. The more research you can use to inform your decision making, the more accurate your goal setting is likely to be.

Stretch and comfort

This may sound spookily like the tagline for an underwear commercial, but I promise I’m still talking about your business goals!

You see, there are arguments to say that SMART goals don’t allow for stretching and challenging yourself and honestly, I disagree. Why not set your “comfort” goals (those which you feel pretty confident about) and alongside those you can also set yourself some stretch targets which may feel scarier but will push you to be innovative and focused.

How to make your business goals relevant

Remember those vanity metrics that I mentioned earlier on? Well, those are the types of shiny object goals that can sometimes blind us to what’s really important in our business.

There is one very useful question you can ask yourself for each of your business goals in order to discover if it’s truly relevant or just something you think you “ought” to be going, something everyone else is doing or just something that will make you feel good about yourself.

That question is “why?”

Let’s look again at that goal to increase Facebook likes.

So before it gets added to our official business goals, we’ll consider why we want to grow our Facebook following:

  • “Because it shows my business is popular, right?”
  • “Because XYZ have a trillion likes and I want to be more like them.”
  • “Because I like spending time on Facebook!”

I could go on, but you see where I’m going with this. None of these reasons are relevant to your overall business purpose and vision, are they?

So, how about:

  • “Because I want to increase my brand visibility on Facebook.”
  • “My ideal clients mainly use Facebook so I want to increase my reach there.”
  • “Community building is a key focus this year and Facebook is a great place to do that.”

Aha! Now these seem like more strategic and business-focused reasons to include increasing Facebook likes as a goal.

How to make your business goals time-based

Well, this is the easy part (although still a part that gets missed all too often!). You know what goals you want to achieve, how you’re going to measure them and why they’re important to your business. Now, you just need to add a timescale.

Are you going to increase your Facebook likes by 5000 per month or per year?

As you can imagine, this is a pretty vital distinction to make! Not only does adding a timescale make your goals more specific and measurable, but it also helps when it comes to planning your time and creating your strategy.

Give your goals timescales, but also remember to set milestones too. This will allow you monitor your progress and review your strategy where necessary.

Why SMART goals are just the start

So now you know how to create goals for your business that will get you off to the perfect start this year. Hurrah!

What happens next is up to you. You can do what we all do so often and let those goals gather dust for the rest of the year, lost and forgotten.

Or, you can use them to shape your planning, to align all your business activities and manage your time. That’s what goals are meant for.

Your next step is to plan how you will achieve them, to create lists of projects and tasks that will need to be completed and to break down your year into quarters, months, weeks—and yes, even days.

But that’s a whole different post!

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Content Author: Colette Broomhead

Colette Broomhead is a startup strategist and helps people who want to quit their 9 to 5 and create an online business doing what they love. That's exactly what she did after a 13 year corporate career, working in marketing and CRM for a FTSE30 company.