How to start the goal-setting process
Have you already set your annual goals and created an action plan to work toward them? If you’re stuck getting started, let me share the best first step you can take to get going:
Start with a brain dump!
No organization, no neat and tidy workflows. Just a blank page and pen and a stream-of-thought listing of all the things you are doing already and want to keep doing. Things you want to try, have been dreaming about, have thought it would be cool to make happen. The big things you aren’t sure are even really possible but would be awesome if they were, the things you’re really good at, the things you love doing, the things you want to do more of. List out all of these things in no particular order so you can see them in front of you.
Once you have these things on paper, you can start to look for trends, bucket them together, and sort through and prioritize them.
Writing these things down makes them more concrete and gives you the head space you need to stop holding them in your mind and start evaluating them. As you start to see trends in the items on your list, you can either identify the ones that fit as overarching goals or craft a goal around the ideas you’ve laid out.
HINT: I like using post-it notes or note cards for my brain dump. I write each idea on a separate card so that when I’m done, I can easily move them around and bucket them together without having to keep re-writing or scratching things out.
The SMART way to set goals
Naming your goals and writing them down puts you ahead of the curve and gives you a greater chance of reaching them. So, once you’re ready to write your goals, you want to make sure that they are as clear as possible to act as true guideposts throughout the year. That means reviewing and tweaking each goal to make it SMART.
Simply put, making your goals SMART means writing them in a way that lets them serve as powerful tools to guide your work. I didn’t make up this handy acronym, and the letters stand for slightly different things depending on who you ask, but here’s a quick explanation of what it means to make goals SMART.
The key is to remember that SMART goals follow ALL five of the guidelines below, not just one or two of them.
Often you will have goals that are not naturally SMART, but they can still be made SMART. And making them SMART helps you focus on these goals, set action plans to achieve them, and ultimately reach your goals faster and more consistently. Who doesn’t want that? Needless to say, it’s worth investing some time to make sure your business goals (and personal goals) are all SMART.
So, what exactly are the five elements of a SMART Goal? Let’s dive in:
SPECIFIC – The goal should be clear, narrow, and focused, so that anyone who looked at it would understand exactly what you are trying to achieve.
MEASURABLE – The goal should be something that can be quantified in some way. This not only helps make it specific, but also gives you clear benchmarks on the way toward success. Plus, you’ll have a clear indicator of what it will mean when the goal is accomplished.
ACHIEVABLE – The goal should be a stretch but should also be realistic—otherwise you will set yourself up for failure. That said, I’m a believer in the “aim high” approach. That’s because even if you do not reach the high goal, you’ll probably made incredible progress by trying to get there.
RELEVANT – The goal should be important or key to forwarding your vision for your business. It should clearly align with what you do, how you do it, and who your company serves.
TIMELY – Every goal should have a clear target date for achievement. For example, for a one-year plan, most goals should fall within or at the one-year point. With longer-term goals, it is helpful to set short-term benchmarks to stay accountable for making progress toward the long-term outcomes you wish to achieve.
An example: going from an ordinary goal to a SMART goal
Here’s an example of a goal I wrote for my photography business in January: “Host profitable mini sessions”.
Now, let’s break this down. For this goal, I know I want to focus one SPECIFIC aspect of my photography business. And this is RELEVANT to the portraiture side of my business. But how will I know if the mini sessions are profitable? How will I know if and when I achieve this goal? I was missing the MEASURABLE, ACHIEVABLE, and TIMELY aspects to make the goal SMART.
So, here’s how I re-wrote the same goal to turn into a SMART goal:
“Host fall mini sessions in October or November for one day where at least 8 families book time slots, grossing at least $1000 in session fees, before print or product sales.”
The new version is a much clearer goal—and it hits all five elements to make it SMART!
Once you’ve written your goals down and made them SMART, print them out, post them in your workspace, and review them daily. Keeping them present and visible will help you stay focused on the big picture of your business as the year goes on.
If you’re jazzed about goal-setting and you’re ready to create action steps toward each goal, download this free spreadsheet template to help you get organized and craft a plan for each quarter.