Let’s be honest. Most people suck at goal setting. Even when we really, really want to do something, we often have a hard time achieving it. That’s why most New Year’s resolutions fail by February.
Unfortunately, a lot of businesses suck at goal setting, too. But it’s not their fault—the fact is, most of us haven’t been taught how to properly set goals that help us achieve what we set out to do. It’s not enough to simply write out a list of short- and long-term goals and hope they’ll magically come true. The key to sticking to and achieving your goals is to set SMARTer ones.
What’s a SMART goal?
In case you haven’t caught on yet, SMART is an acronym that represents each element of goal setting. A SMART goal should be:
- S pecific
- M easurable
- A ttainable
- R elevant
- T ime-based
Let’s break each of these down individually, shall we?
When it comes to goals, it helps to get very, very specific. “I want new clients for my consulting business,” is all well and good, but it isn’t going to help you much in the SMART goals department.
Adding numbers to a goal will automatically make it more specific: “I want three new clients for my consulting business!” – But remember that this isn’t just a numbers game. Think about the long-term objectives of your business overall, and don’t forget about qualitative answers, too. New clients are great. But what your consulting business really needs—what will help it grow, and not waste your precious time and resources— is three new clients, each with a budget of $50,000+, on six-month-minimum contracts.
How will you know whether you’ve achieved your goal if you can’t measure your progress? If your goal is specific enough, it should have some numbers—or at least, a very clear destination—in mind. That’s the first step. The second step is to take those numbers (or that endpoint) and create some benchmarks for getting there.
For a past real estate client, we wanted to grow their followers across their platforms by 20,000 followers in 12 months. In monthly reports, we tracked our month-over-month progress, checking how far we were from achieving that goal by percentage, making sure that we were on track.
This also helped us adjust ad budgets where needed—if Instagram was a bit behind, but Twitter was way ahead, we could shift budgets accordingly to make sure each platform would get to where it needed to be.
Ahhh, yes. We can’t tell you how many clients have said, “We want a million followers!” without any idea of what would be required to get them there.
If you want a million followers in a year, without a paid budget—and you’ve got a niche audience to boot— well, prepare yourself for disappointment. Setting unrealistic goals will leave you discouraged when you don’t meet them. This is why you need to know your leading and lagging indicators, to make sure that any goal you set is indeed, attainable.
It’s great to set big, hairy audacious goals, or BHAGs, as we call them here—you want to start a YouTube channel today, with a goal of two million subscribers and consistent content? Go for it!—just be realistic about what (and how long) it may take to get there, and set some more attainable goals along the way.
This is a learning process. We all make mistakes when trying to set achievable, yet ambitious, goals — including us!
For a client in the telecommunications industry, we set a goal for new newsletter signups based on B2B benchmark data that we thought aligned with our efforts.
As it turns out, this was not the case. The lagging indicators for our goals were based on publications with much broader audiences; ours was targeted to a much smaller audience segment. Needless to say, we saw the issue and corrected the sign-up numbers to be more realistic based on our audience size and budget.
Are your short-term goals relevant to your overall business and its objectives? Most businesses want to convert leads into actual sales—not just likes and follows. Likewise, relevance also applies to who your customers are. If you’re a life insurance company hoping to double your revenue next quarter, adding 10,000 followers to your TikTok channel probably isn’t the best use of your resources. Just sayin’.
Back to another client: this time, a major telecommunications research lab. They, too, insisted they wanted that holy grail of “a million followers” (sound familiar?). The issue here wasn’t just attainability—anyone can get a million followers if you have a massive budget and time—but the relevance of this number.
When we asked what they wanted to get out of their digital marketing efforts, their real answer was to change the conversation about their brand and attract top talent to their labs. People didn’t know about the groundbreaking research that was coming out of their labs, and recent graduates were flocking to their competitors with shinier reputations for jobs.
They didn’t need a million followers. They needed to highlight their incredible innovation and research projects to the right people, at the right time. After some back and forth, we agreed that a more relevant goal would be to change the top search results in Google from, “What happened X Brand?” to “How can I work at X brand?” and “What is X brand working on?” within the year.
It’s easy to get excited at the idea of doubling your leads, increasing your followers, or driving more traffic to your blog, but how long will it take to get you there? Timelines are critical for setting and achieving goals. If you’ve got the “measurable” part down, then timelines should come easy.
Remember that real estate client? We promised 20,000 followers across their social platforms, along with a 10% growth on their blog within 12 months. We set realistic, ambitious goals, and at the six-month mark, we re-evaluated those goals, which we were ahead of target to meet—and set them even higher for the end of the year! By the time our one-year anniversary came around, we had smashed our initial goal and even won an award for the publication.
Work SMARTer, not harder
Executing a strategy without setting SMART goals first is like going to the grocery store without a list. The process takes much longer than necessary, you end up spending more money than you’d planned, and you end up leaving with more cheesy garlic bread than any living human can consume. In the case of your business, this means getting off track and trying to do too much at once.
SMART goal setting will give you the tools you need to not only set attainable goals but execute your plan effectively and ultimately achieve—or even exceed—them.