We’re well into February now, so do you remember those New Year’s resolutions you made last month? How well have you been doing? Are they long forgotten by now?
Don’t worry if your big plans to start fresh in 2012 have fallen by the wayside–you're not alone! One study from time management firm Franklin Covey showed that 80% of people who make New Year’s resolutions eventually break them, and a third don't make it to the end of January.
This means that if you’re looking to set new business goals in 2012, it’s critical that you set yourself up for success. And part of that means freeing yourself from this all-or-nothing, once-a-year framework of the New Year’s resolution. Don’t worry that it’s February–put away the calendar. You can set goals for your business (or set goals to begin a business) at any time of the year. Read on for five tips on how to set the kind of business goals that stick.
1. Set attainable goals
Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong proponent of dreaming big. But if you want your business goals to come to fruition, you’ll need to be realistic. Nothing can sap your momentum faster than trying to bite off more than you can chew.
Stick to only one or two goals and make sure they’re achievable. For example, if you’re looking to create your own business, make that your goal. Don't vow to create a business and make a million dollars within a year. Of course, as a small business advocate, I do believe that your business has the capacity to reach that level, and you should go for it– but probably not immediately. Keep each goal within reach and before you know it, you’ll have gotten farther than you ever dreamed possible.
2. Set specific goals
One of the biggest problems with New Year’s resolutions is that they’re lofty and nebulous–they focus on the end goal more than the steps to get there. Common resolutions are wishes, such as "I want to be healthier," "I want to save money," "I want a raise" or "I want to make more sales in business." These goals are too vague and provide no guidance on how to proceed actionably.
Instead, create a specific goal that’s tied to a tangible and achievable outcome. For example, instead of saying "I want to grow my customer base," get down to the nitty gritty details and pinpoint what you specifically want to change. More effective goals are "I want to put more effort into Facebook advertising in order to increase customers" or "I’m going to do X more cold calls each week." You can’t necessarily control whether or not you land a new client–but you can make sure you’re taking all the right steps to earn their business.
Focus on your own actions and what you can control. The more specific the resolution, the greater your chances for success. If you’re familiar with the term “SMART goals,” you’ll know that specific is the first letter in SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound.)
3. Take baby steps
Even a tangible goal, such an increased effort towards Facebook advertising, can’t be accomplished at once. Success depends on how you manage the goal, and you’ll need to break it down into a series of actionable steps to adequately complete everything. This means you’re moving from a broader goal intention to a defined implementation.
Breaking down a larger goal into individual steps helps you understand your progress, which has been determined to be an essential element in motivation. An interesting experiment conducted at the University of Virginia required participants to sustain their grip for 130 seconds on a hand dynamometer. Half of the participants saw a progress bar on a computer screen, while the other half saw a stop watch that made it more difficult to visualize progress.
As the test neared the end, effort declined more steeply for those participants with the stopwatch image. The decline was less steep for those who could easily visualize progress toward their goal via the bar. The moral of the story? Break down your goal into the smallest pieces possible and keep track of each step toward the overall goal.
Can you identify a schedule of objectives required to achieve the goal? Assign deadlines to each of the sub-goals. If you have a team involved, you can delegate small tasks that will help your business achieve the larger goal. When delegating, make sure that each member is aware not only of the specific task they’ve been assigned, but how it fits into the larger picture of the company’s overall goal.
4. Make your goals public
Studies have shown that communicating a goal publicly increases your commitment and accountability levels–not to mention that it also significantly increases your chances of attaining the goal. You don’t have to broadcast your goal on Facebook or issue a company press release to make your goal public. Finding a ‘goal partner’ (whether that’s a group, significant other, family member, friend, colleague or professional) can be just as effective. If a friend or colleague has a similar goal, you can check in every week for support and to discuss your progress and challenges. Or, feel free to share your goal with your Facebook or Twitter community, if that’s more comfortable for you.
5. Visualize your goals
Visualization is the process of creating visions, either through pictures or mental imagery, of what you want and how to make it happen. In sports, mental imagery is often used by athletes to improve performance by first imagining the achievement of a specific feat–hitting a ball, for example.
Take a few deep breaths and visualize your goal as clearly and with as much detail as possible. Add emotion to the picture -- how do you feel after achieving your goal? The more clearly you can picture a goal, the more in-reach it seems.
Some business teams employ vision boards to communicate, focus and encourage specific outcomes. These are collages, ranging from the simple to extremely artistic, that contain pictures of the different goals or sub-goals, along with captions explaining what each picture represents and a deadline for the goal.
It’s easy to make resolutions and not so easy to achieve them, so it’s little wonder that people make the same resolutions year after year. Setting and reaching goals isn’t a matter of willpower. Rather, it’s about creating goals that are specific, well planned and put you in control of the final outcome.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t reach a goal right away. Step back and make sure the goal is something you truly want to achieve. Then think about how to create even smaller, more tangible sub-goals to make it happen. Once you’ve mastered these steps, you’ll be well on your way to follow through on your resolutions this year, and your business will be better for it.
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