If you struggle to clearly set and achieve your goals— whether personally or professionally — you’re not alone. You’re human.
My first job out of college taught me the real value of setting strategic goals. But it wasn’t until I studied business that I learned that there’s a proven process for designing goals that are clear and actionable.
Now, as a creative business owner, I’ve realized how important it is to use this process when setting goals. I no longer have supervisors checking in, so this gives me the structure I need.
I’ve put together a combination of what I’ve learned from business coaching, professional development, and work experience. Thankfully, these methods weren’t designed for the perfectly disciplined, productive, or focused person. This advice is for everyone — especially those of us who love big ideas and goals.
Here’s a breakdown for how to set killer goals as a small creative business—and how to actually achieve them:
1. Envision your ideal business and life.
For some people, generating ideas and talking about the bigger vision comes naturally. For others (like me), it’s easy to get lost in the details and forget to take a step back.
But that’s the first step—take a step back and remove yourself from the daily grind. Where are you going? What is your purpose? Why are you doing what you’re doing? Is this really what you want, or have you been building a business you don’t really love?
As small business owners, we can spend so much time hustling to get new clients (and taking care of the ones we have) that we lose sight of why we started working for ourselves in the first place.
Envisioning your ideal business and life is important to do before creating your actual goals. Otherwise, you risk wasting time moving in the wrong direction and working towards something that feels empty and inauthentic.
2. Break your vision into goals.
Once you’ve figured out a clear idea of where you’re going, break it down into long- and short-term goals. Short-term goals refer to ones you want or need to accomplish within the next year. Long-term goals are ones you’re planning for more than a year out.
This helps you determine your priorities and take an honest look at your goals. Are you trying to do too much within the next year? Are you focusing on what’s most important? Do you need to adjust how you spend your time?
I also recommend reviewing these goals quarterly and annually. This gives you an opportunity to move timelines, shift directions, or drop items off the list.
3. Make them SMART.
I used to have many unfinished goals each year until I finally realized one important lesson:
The way we write our goals has a huge impact on whether or not we reach them.
A widely accepted best practice for writing goals is called “SMART”. The process works with our psychology so we have the best chance of understanding, remembering, and achieving our goals. It clarifies our goals and creates accountability.
If you’ve never done this before, it might feel awkward and difficult. It’s taken me years of practice to make it feel more natural. But as you spend time in this process, the results are awesome goals that you can actually accomplish.
How to write SMART goals
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Each goal you write should match every one of these criteria to maximize its effectiveness.
For example, if your goal is to “get more clients”, there is very little chance you will be successful. The goal doesn’t have much power and clarity to it.
However, here’s how you can use the SMART process to make it a killer goal.
Be specific about what you’re trying to do.
Original: Get more clients.
New: Get more branding clients.
Make sure it’s measurable, so you can know definitively if you’ve been successful in reaching your goal.
New: Get five more branding clients.
Consider whether your goal is actually achievable. Is it reasonable to try and get five new branding clients?
New: Get three new branding clients.
Make sure the goal is relevant in the larger vision of your business. Are you trying to expand your branding services, or do you really want to grow another area?
New: Get three new long-term social media clients.
Give yourself a real deadline. Then you will know exactly what you need to accomplish and when.
Final Version: Get three new long-term social media clients by March 1.
You’ve now clarified your original goal and made it far more powerful. Looking at your new goal, it’s much easier to know which smaller steps will help you get there.