by Mary Hall

In the interest of taking some of the mystery out of “business development,” I’d like to share the following three simple-but-critical steps to goal-setting, which is actually the first phase of a successful business development strategy. And what better time to do that than this time of year?

Step 1: Be Specific, and Clearly Define Your Goals

It’s tempting when setting goals to shoot for the stars – “I want to own a mansion in Beverly Hills.” Granted, as goals go, that one is specific. However, what you need to concentrate on are the steps it will take to get there. Put such “mountaintop goals” on one side of the page, and let’s talk about the climb.

A specific goal for your website, for instance, might be to convert 20 percent of prospects to buyers. An overarching goal, by contrast, might be something like earning X amount of revenue in the year ahead.

Within a large or medium sized organization goals need to be both communicated and communicable. In other words, they can’t be so personal or esoteric that your team members can’t get their arms around them.

Everyone within your organization should also have their own goal sets that can be periodically measured to check if they’re on the right track. This is true for everyone from summer help in a retail shop to the MBA who runs your company operations. Doing this will make it clear that every individual has an impact on those overarching company goals – and they’ll appreciate the sense of ownership.

Step 2: Be Ambitious, But Be Real

Whether you’re a solo entrepreneur or leading a group, it’s important that each goal is achievable, or maybe just a little more – a stretch goal. But it will turn negative if you set it too high, totally miss it and have too much riding on achieving it.

Your business can end up vulnerable or in jeopardy. You can lose confidence in your own ability, and that of your team. So be responsible and diligent, not reckless, when you set goals. We recommend setting a conservative goal, a realistic goal, and an aggressive goal. The conservative one is the worst-case scenario; be sure your business can at least survive, or continue to thrive, by meeting this one.

Keep your goals grounded, your business focused, and who knows? The key to success might ultimately unlock the front door of a Beverly Hills mansion.

Step 3: Make Goals Measurable

It’s really important to create goals that have near-term, mid-term, and long-term positions on your timeline. Near-term might be in the next quarter, mid-term may be a year off, and long-term might be measured in years. You set the intervals and then visit the goals regularly to make necessary adjustments along the way.

Many timelines involve assumptions that are really just a best guess, but they get better informed as you move closer to your goals. So if you have a mid-term goal and learn through monthly reporting that it’s too modest or too lofty, you can make appropriate changes.

Goals are there to serve you and keep your business on track, but they’re not cast in stone. Erase them, change them, make them fit your needs. And remember, whether you’re the leader of one or 100, you should consistently invoke the goals at regular intervals.

Your team meeting is a great time to look at them and decide how to measure your progress with customer surveys, financial reviews, or other means of bench marking. Having measurable goals and specific dates to review them will help prevent dreaded and dangerous “drifting,” that is, “Get up, go to work, come home, do it all over again.”

You can lose your way, miss opportunities, and stray far from what will make your business thrive. Stay focused, set goals, and remember – they’re not for your eyes only. Communicate them, share your vision, and, above all, keep the passion.

It’s your venture, and your year to succeed. With 2009 upon us, you should accept, and expect, nothing less than the best.

A final word on goal-setting . . .

Setting unrealistic goals not only is a useless exercise, it does damage. It can point everyone’s expectations, emotions, and spending at a false target that simply can’t be hit, and unnecessary failure will infect your company.

If you’ve been in business for a year, look back and use your performance as a measure of what it should be in this one. Maybe it will hold steady, perhaps improve.

When you create those strategies, tactics, and actions, they should tell you what new achievement is possible and help you come up with the defined, achievable, and measurable goals to get you there.


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