It’s likely that you left the corporate world to become a creative entrepreneur because you wanted something different. You dance to the beat of your own drum.
But succeeding on your own requires setting your own goals and enough dedication to stick to them.
If you’re the planning type, you may have super defined goals already. But if you’re the kind of person who has a million ideas in your head, you might not know how to get it all done.
Either way, I challenge you to actually step away from the goals or ideas and consider an often forgotten, and important part of the success equation:
What does your life look like when your business goals are achieved?
I’m hoping this post will help you to embrace the rhythm that drove you to desire something better and more fulfilling for yourself by setting intentional business goals.
Why your current goals suck
Setting goals without a clear vision of the big picture is like trying to punch an address into your GPS without knowing where you want to end up. And if you’re not confident you know where you’re going, it’s nearly impossible to enjoy the road trip along the way.
Not understanding where you want to go, the life you want to live, or knowing your non-negotiables are what lead most entrepreneurs to burn out.
Spoiler alert: we want to avoid that!
Here are some likely reasons why your current goals aren’t working for you.
They’re all about working hard
Moving through life—especially life as a creative freelancer or small business owner—we’re bombarded by societal messages that the only way to succeed is to work harder than everyone else. There’s a reason we call our personal businesses a “side hustle.”
The message is clear: stay busy, keep striving for the next best thing, and suffer constantly if you want to achieve business success.
While there’s some truth to this sentiment, working hard for the sake of working hard isn’t an inspiring goal.
The issue with this mentality is that we only ever focus on what comes next. If we only ever focus on what more can be done, we fail to celebrate what is. We miss the moments that are worth cherishing. We don’t enjoy the journey along the way.
It’s my guess that this competitive, cut-throat, tireless mentality is not working for you.
They’re only about making money
Even though making money is important, it isn’t always enough to maintain motivation or satisfaction.
Does your current list of goals for your small business look like this?
- I want to shoot 10 summer weddings.
- I want to have 100 sales in my Etsy shop by Q2.
- I want to make $100,000 in my business in 2016.
For some people, these goals may be enough to keep you going. But if you’re like me, these goals may just make you feel like you’re back on the corporate hamster wheel.
If that’s the case, you must be critical of your financially focused goals.
No matter who you are, gobs of money won’t buy you true wealth, even though it’ll cover the utility bill. True wealth comes from genuine satisfaction and fulfillment.
You haven’t defined what personal success looks like for you
Like so many entrepreneurs, I wanted to achieve this mythical “success” in my first year of business. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what success looked like.
Then, one day, I looked up and noticed that I had a full client roster along with fantastic and consistent revenue. But I was working until 10pm every night, and then longingly scrolling Instagram until midnight.
Slowly, the 14 hour work days started to feel like they were taking over my life. I was canceling lunch dates, turning down fun opportunities because I felt like I couldn’t get away.
My issue is that I didn’t set any vision of success other than working more and making more money. I was lacking greater purpose. I knew I had to make a change to stop the hamster wheel!
It’s tough to step away sometimes because work is something we love to do, but after a while, it starts to drain you.
I’m not here to tell you that your goals are invalid, that they are wrong, or that you’re setting your sights on things that aren’t important. My point is that you must paint a “big picture” in order to take the small steps that start you on the right path.
How to set better small business goals
If goals shouldn’t be about working and earning more, what should they be about? Only you can answer that question.
Start by setting personal life goals
When you’re your own boss, your business goals should be about supporting goals for your personal life.
If you haven’t thought about your personal goals, set aside some time to daydream about your life. Setting aside some intentional quiet time (or chatting with a personal cheerleader) could spark some crazy-sounding ideas about what you want out of life.
Ask yourself questions like:
- How does life feel when you are really happy?
- Who is around you when you feel truly accomplished?
- What things are you doing when you feel a sense of fulfillment?
Think about your goals through this lens!
Do you want to live in Paris for 6 months out of the year? Maybe you’d volunteer to do photography each month in the oncology unit at a local hospital. Perhaps you want to retire your partner from their awful, soul-sucking job so they can be happy. You might want to learn how to speak another language and hire a tutor to hold you accountable. Or you’ll finally plant that garden that you’ve been talking about for the past five years. Maybe you plan to pay off your student loans completely this year…
Getting clear about what you want in your personal life makes it easier to set goals in your business life.
Set business goals that align to your personal goals
Once you have a better understanding of what brings you fulfillment, think about how you can bring those personal goals into your business.
- If I was able to earn the money I need and desire for my life, how would I like to to earn it?
- If I were to achieve success, what would be present in my life?
- What would I need/want to learn in order to achieve what I want?
- Who do I need in my life in order to feel supported? (If it’s not an actual “who,” ask yourself what kind of people/what qualities in people would you need?)
- How will my accomplishments impact my life and the lives of others?
- What can you eliminate in order to get closer to your ideal life?
Answering these questions should lead you to more meaningful business goal setting.
Set SMART goals
Goals are easier to set and stick to if they’re SMART:
- Specific: Is the goal clear and narrow enough in scope?
- Measurable: Can you measure progress or know when your goal is achieved?
- Attainable: Is the goal actually achievable?
- Relevant: Is the goal relevant to your desires? Does it apply to your business?
- Timely: Can the goal be attained within the time frame?
For example, “I want to grow my business” isn’t a SMART goal. The SMART version of that goal could look like “I will acquire three new clients within 2 months by dedicating 5 hours per month to networking, asking for referrals, and marketing my business.” Not only does this goal allow you to set aside time for growth, you also put a cap on the amount of time you’re going to spend—freeing up your time and your mind for personal life stuff!
Or perhaps your goal is to update your personal portfolio in order to better reflect your work. The SMART version of that goal would be, “I will upload one client per month to my personal portfolio in order to better advertise my history of great service.”
By making your goals SMART, you’ll have a much easier time sticking to them and determining whether you’ve achieved them or not.
Be critical of your goals
Your goals will drive your actions going forward. So before choosing a goal as your North Star, be critical and introspective about the goal you’re trying to achieve.
Here are some questions that can help you in getting clear about your goals:
- Why is this goal important to me?
- Will this still matter to me in 6 months?
- Will I feel accomplished when I achieve this goal?
- Should this be my biggest priority?
- Will this goal help guide decisions?
- Will this goal make me better at my job?
- How will this goal make me better in serving my clients?
If your goal(s) can pass this test, they’re worth sticking to.
How to stick to your small business goals
What I know about many creatives is that it’s exciting and fun to dream up these projects. It’s fun to think of your name in lights. But when the work actually starts, you get drained by the huge effort it takes to get you there.
Here are some tips for sticking with your goals:
- Set clear goals from the start – Did you follow the instructions above? If so, you’ll have SMART goals that are relevant to both your personal and business interests
- Break your goal down into chunks – If your goal isn’t small enough to break into one-hour chunks, it’s TOO BIG. Break that sucker down. You’ll get a ton of satisfaction from checking off smaller items.
- Find an accountability buddy – Find somebody who really gets your work, your business, and your goals. This person supports you, motivates you, and gives you a little (or a lot) of tough love when you are feeling unmotivated. This accountability buddy can help you brainstorm when you are feeling stuck! And make sure it’s reciprocal. They should need you as much as you need them.
- Put goals in your calendar – Schedule time in your personal planner to keep your goals on track. What that looks like is going to be different for everybody. It might work for you to put a project plan in Asana and schedule a meeting with yourself every first Monday of the month. Or you may want to schedule time every week to manage your goals and see where the pieces you broke down in step 2 will fit during the course of the week. Find what works best for you and actually stick to it!
- Adjust your plan: After a month, you might look at your goals and roll your eyes. Maybe your goal was too ambitious. Or maybe it wasn’t ambitious enough. If that’s the case, don’t fret – and don’t abandon your goal! Just figure out what part of that goal still holds true for you. If you went through the questions above, you’ll have a pretty clear sense of what still matters. You can meet up with your accountability buddy to talk through what’s changed and how you can change the goal and how you will plan to pursue it!
- Be kind to yourself: Nothing is etched in stone. If you need to scrap a plan, do it and set a new one. If you’re having a bad day and feel like a failure, promise to start fresh the next day. Make sure to maintain your intentions and cut yourself some slack.
By following these intentional goal-setting steps, you’ll be able to create business goals for yourself that actually leave you feeling happy and fulfilled.