As a small business owner, you’ve probably got a good idea of goals for your business. Generate revenue. Follow up with leads. Convert sales. But with so much on your plate, how do you know you’re setting the “right” goals for your business?

One of the best ways to boost small business efficiency is to commit yourself to goals that make sense for your business. When we’re just starting out, it’s easy for business owners to set their sights too high—or more realistically, much too low. There’s a small business efficiency tool that’s perfect for setting—and reaching—achievable goals: the SMART system.

What are SMART goals?

SMART goals are a system of milestone-setting that helps business owners find achievable, realistic ways to pursue their goals. The acronym SMART stands for:

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Achievable
  • R – Relevant
  • T – Time-bound

(Some recent research suggests an extension to the acronym: SMARTER. The E stands for Evaluated, and the R for Reviewed – this system helps business owners check in with their goals over time, to guarantee that they are as achievable and relevant as they were the day they created the goals.)

To create a SMART goal, start by looking at the “big picture.” Let’s say one of your goals can be summed up as “get more clients.” If that’s as far as your goal-planning process has taken you so far, you might run into snags because you haven’t set your expectations clearly enough. “Get more clients” may be Relevant to your business dreams, but it definitely isn’t Specific enough. How many clients counts as “more”? How soon do you expect to get those clients? When do you consider that goal “achieved”?

Let’s break “get more clients” down into a SMART example:

  • Specific: We’ve already pointed out that “more” clients is pretty vague. When setting the specificity of our goal, figuring out the rest of the acronym will help inform our decision.
  • Measurable: How many new clients do you want? How many can you handle? Let’s say we’ve looked at our current workload and team, and have determined we could handle three extra clients per month. Now, when we’re measuring the goal, we just have to compare our increasing workload to our goal.
  • Achievable: Is three clients per month an achievable goal? How are we going to go about it? A helpful practice at this step is to come up with a game plan for how you’ll achieve your goal. Making this plan will help you determine whether that specific, measurable goal is achievable in the first place. For our exercise, let’s say we’ve looked at our marketing budget and determined we have enough to boost our budget in digital marketing, like online ads and social media. However, we don’t have enough time to invest in sales and digital marketing with our own man-hours, so outsourcing some of our responsibilities—say, working with an MSP for IT and hiring a sales assistant—will help our business hit the goal of three new clients per month.
  • Relevant: “Three new clients per month” is a much more relevant goal than “get more clients.” Basically, relevance is determined by asking yourself questions like, “Is this actually worthwhile?” “How will my business benefit from this?” and “What happens if I fail in this goal?” Determining a goal’s relevance can keep you from making costly mistakes—like investing in software you don’t need, simply because you thought it might help your business without looking at the specifics.
  • Time-bound: This can be the hardest step for many small business owners. When do you determine whether you’ve succeeded or failed in pursuing a goal? In our “get more clients” example, the best way to make this goal time-bound is to set a target date. Getting rolling on hiring a sales assistant and outsourcing responsibilities is going to take some time, so after looking at our calendars, let’s say we want to be hitting that “three new clients per month” benchmark within six months.

So, at the end of the process, your vague “get more clients” idea boils down to something like this:

“In the next six months, I will be earning three new clients per month. I’ll do this by increasing my digital marketing budget, outsourcing my IT to free up some of my time, and hiring a dedicated sales assistant.”

You’ve done it! Now, your goal is Specific (grow client base), Measurable (by three new clients per month), Achievable (shown through your game plan), Relevant (good for your business’s revenue), and Time-bound (within six months).

Aren’t SMART goals a little restrictive?

Some business gurus argue that because they’re so strict, SMART goals don’t work well for long-term plans or goals that require a little creativity. However, one of the most helpful things about SMART goals is that they can always be adjusted. Plus, the SMARTER system, which includes Evaluation and Review, helps you identify potential snags in your goals, especially as time goes on. Evaluating your progress helps you identify parts of your goals that need to be changed or updated, to reflect things like changing budgets, growing teams, and economic fluctuations.

If you have one long-term goal to reach $5,000 in sales each month, you can break that single goal up into multiple “rounds” of SMART goals. When you use SMART goals as milestones, you can work toward those larger, more abstract goals like “make more money” and “strike a perfect work-life balance.”

Business efficiency starts with setting intelligent, realistic goals. Not sure how to get started? Give us a call at (904) 606-6011. We’re experts in finding real solutions for real small biz problems—and we’ll identify opportunities in your business IT that you can improve with SMART goals.

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