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How to Turn Your Passion into a Plan: Goal-Setting for Entrepreneurs

  • January 8, 2019
  • Written by Community Futures Manitoba

From marketing to finishing payroll to finding new customers, there’s a lot for small business owners to do on a daily basis. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

In fact, Staples’ National Small Business Survey found that:

  • 53% of small business owners don’t have enough time to complete their to-do lists
  • More than 80% of survey respondents don’t track goal-setting or lean on coaches to help them fulfill their goals
  • 77% of small business owners claimed that they haven’t achieved their business goals

Goal-setting cuts through the to-do list clutter and prevents overwhelm. Most importantly, it can keep you on track to make progress so you don’t join the leagues of business owners who have yet to accomplish their dreams.

Follow the 6 steps below to transition your passion into attainable goals and actionable steps that can lead to business success.

Step 1: Brainstorm SMART goals and a BHAG

SMART Goals

The SMART goal system provides a framework for creating effective goals that can turn your company vision into progress. SMART stands for:

  • Specific: well-defined and focused on specific areas of improvement
  • Measurable: progress can be tracked in some way
  • Achievable: within your abilities and control
  • Realistic: aligned with available resources
  • Time-based: results should be achieved on a timeline, by a deadline

 

The power of the SMART goal system is that you are forced to break down your large, vision-based goals into smaller, realistic goals that match up with the resources at your disposal. For instance, “make $50,000 this year” turns into “cold call 200 potential customers a day for 1 month, meet with 10 of them per week, convert 2 of those meetings into business.”

Use the SMART goal system to make a list of essential objectives that align with your greatest priorities, like:  

  • Increasing sales: for example, send cold emails to 50 prospective clients every day for 2 weeks
  • Improving customer service: reduce average call wait times from 12 minutes to 10 minutes by June 30th
  • Strengthening marketing: launch 1 Facebook advertising campaign every week until July 20th, to collect at least 10 new page Likes with every campaign

Make a list of essential objectives (such as getting customers or improving service) right now, and then break those down into smart goals. Don’t overthink it, just write everything that comes to mind. Continue to the BHAG section when you are finished.

BHAG

BHAG, pronounced “bee-hag,” stands for:

  • Big
  • Hairy
  • Audacious
  • Goal

BHAGs, used by the likes of Amazon and SpaceX, are ambitious long-term goals that are vision-based. For instance, Amazon’s BHAG is to be the Earth’s most customer-centric company. SpaceX wants to help humans explore and settle on Mars.

While SMART goals help to create small, realistic milestones for your business, a BHAG keeps the big picture in focus and provides the emotional incentive you need to keep pushing toward success.

What is your big, hairy, audacious goal—your BHAG? Maybe you want to ensure that no child in Canada experiences food insecurity, or to be the largest supplier of home kitchen supplies in Manitoba by 2030.

Whatever it is, write it down and check that it jives with your SMART goals.

Then, post your BHAG where you will see it often, like on the refrigerator or your office wall. As your smaller goals and tasks change throughout months and years, your BHAG will remind you of the big picture—why you’re doing what you’re doing—and steer you in the right direction.

Step 2: Ruthlessly cut down your SMART goal list

Have you ever heard of the planning fallacy? Coined by two psychologists in 1979, it refers to our tendency to underestimate the amount of time it will take to complete a future goal.  

Basically, we optimistically try to fit too many things onto our to-do lists… which can end up working against us when we fail to meet unrealistic deadlines. We become discouraged and lose momentum on other goals.

Ruthlessly cut down your list of SMART goals until you’re left with only the essentials. Ask yourself:

  1. How much time do I actually have to accomplish all of these goals? Take into account time spent on side jobs, family obligations, hobbies, travel, house chores, administrative work, necessities like eating and sleeping, etc.
  2. Am I being realistic about the amount of time it will take to accomplish each of these objectives? Do these numbers match my past experiences or am I being unrealistically optimistic?
  3. Considering the amount of time I have to accomplish objectives (#1) and the number of hours it will take to accomplish each objective (#2), can I truthfully accomplish all of these goals?

If you answered no to question #3, it is time to be more selective about your current goals list and cut out the extra fat. The remaining goals can be pushed to the back burner and revisited at a later date, or scrapped altogether.

Step 3: Categorize and prioritize to-dos

Once you have that core list of just a few goals, you can translate those goals into tasks. For example, “gain 100 Twitter followers within the next 2 weeks” can be broken down into individual tasks like:

  • Post on Twitter every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday
  • Retweet 5 Tweets from influencers every day
  • Follow 5 Twitter accounts every day

Note: Depending on the complexity of your goals, you may end up with a long list of tasks to accomplish. Or, while breaking down your SMART goals into tasks, you might find that some of your goals weren’t achievable or specific enough. That’s okay! Feel free to return to step 1, edit your SMART goals, and go through the process again until you have a list of to-dos. Don’t worry if the list is long and disorganized—we will address that next.

When you are finished, it’s time to organize that comprehensive to-do list to see which tasks should take priority.

Try using a prioritization strategy like the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. It was created by President Eisenhower to differentiate between important tasks and urgent ones (with urgent being defined as “needing immediate attention”).

Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix forces you to label what is urgent and what is important, and where the two overlap.

Note that the top left square features the most pressing items, the “important and urgent” tasks that you should do ASAP because they affect your business the most and cannot wait. These are things like…

  • Cold calling potential customers
  • Generating leads
  • Resolving customer issues

“Important but not urgent” tasks—which should be scheduled for the future (explained in more detail below)—include items like creating next month’s marketing calendar.

“Not important but urgent” to-dos like answering time-sensitive emails should be delegated to others.

“Not important and not urgent” tasks such as watching television should be deleted from your schedule entirely.

Sort through your to-do list and assign each task to a square before moving on to step 4.

Step 4: Schedule essential tasks to prevent procrastination

You have pared down your goals list, translated that list into actionable tasks, and categorized these tasks to separate the essentials from the busy work. Great, that’s a huge milestone!

Keep going strong by scheduling essential tasks—the “important and urgent” and the “important but not urgent” ones onto your calendar.

The idea behind this is simple: you are much more likely to make progress toward your goals if you carve out time to handle effective tasks that help to achieve those goals. No procrastination, no decision fatigue, no “I was too busy to get to it today.” A daily calendar of to-dos means you know exactly what you should be doing all day, every day, to help you reach your SMART goals and BHAG.

Schedule a block of time at the start of each day to tackle “important and urgent” tasks. Crossing out those items first thing ensures that the highest-priority items get the most attention when your mind is the freshest. 

Next, assign “important but not urgent” tasks to specific times throughout the day. For example, daily meetings with customers and vendors will occupy 2-4 PM every day in the upcoming week, and brainstorming next quarter’s business strategy will receive your attention from 12-2 PM on Wednesday.  

Step 5: Make time for rejuvenation

While we are on the topic of scheduling important tasks, don’t forget to include some rejuvenation time on your calendar.

According to Inc. Magazine, Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that 34% of entrepreneurs said they were worried and nearly 50% of all entrepreneurs reported being stressed. In fact, worry and stress were more prevalent among entrepreneurs than typical employees.  

It’s understandable. Building a company from scratch is no easy feat, and stress and worry often come with the territory at some point. When you’re worried about the fate of your business, it’s tempting to work harder and longer… but that only leads to burnout.

Calendaring some “you” time into every day, such as a few hours to spend time with the kids after school or even half an hour for a run through the park, can prevent burnout and keep you sharp, engaged, and motivated to accomplish your big company vision and smaller goals.

Step 6: Stay flexible to avoid quicksand

“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.”

—Life success coach Tony Robbins

Even with all the planning you’ve done throughout the steps above, things will never go perfectly. You may find that one of your big SMART goals doesn’t produce the results you expected or that a lower-priority SMART goal results in high revenue.

That’s just fine! The most important thing when it comes to setting and achieving goals is to constantly assess what is working and what isn’t, and adjust accordingly. Watch out for the sunk cost fallacy, our tendency to irrationally continue on a path that is not meeting expectations because of the time and money we have already spent on it. It’s like quicksand!

Don’t fall into that trap. If one path isn’t working, find another. If a SMART goal no longer aligns with your BHAG, go back to the drawing board. And if your early morning schedule doesn’t fit with your night owl tendencies, feel free to rearrange tasks to better match up with your personality and strengths.

Bottom line: as an entrepreneur, flexibility is both a requirement and a perk of the job. Hold on to your vision, arm yourself with the goal-setting strategies laid out above, and don’t be afraid to get out there and roll with the punches. You’ll find your way.

 And when you need support, Community Futures is here to help! We regularly host helpful business trainings and other events at all 16 locations across Manitoba.

Click here to find your nearest location and join us.