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How to Set Business Goals

Your company's goals will only be effective if you have a clear vision of what you want to achieve--and how.

By Peter Vanden Bos

Business GoalsA smart CEO understands the inherent value of goal setting in steering a growing business in the right direction. Unfortunately, figuring out exactly what the right direction is—and the road map to get there—isn't as much of a no-brainer.

More than 80 percent of the 300 small business owners surveyed in the recent 4th Annual Staples National Small Business Survey said that they don't keep track of their business goals, and 77 percent have yet to achieve their vision for their company.

Though the statistics are grim, they should make sense: establishing business goals involves a fair amount of introspection into what makes your business tick, and what you want its future to be. Devoting the proper amount of time to do that can be difficult in a struggling economy, but your goals will be more achievable and effective if you do.

"You have to know what you're going for, and do it with your eyes wide open," says Francisco Dao, founder and president of The Killer Pitch, a firm based in Tarzana, California, that helps companies and entrepreneurs refine their message, and former business coach and columnist for Inc. "Look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself what it's going to take to achieve your goals."

Here's Inc.'s road map to setting (and achieving) business goals.


Setting Business Goals: Determine Your Long-Term Aims

Start by distinguishing your long-term goals from your short-term ones. Your long-term goals should have a timeline of about three to five years, says Maria Marshall, an associate professor at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, who has conducted research on small and family-owned businesses.

They should articulate your company's mission statement, reflecting the reason your company was founded. "When you think about why the company is there in the first place, goals take on a whole different meaning," says Bill Baren, a business coach and founder and president of Bill Baren Coaching, based in San Francisco. "There's more energy behind them. They don't feel forced."

Marshall says that these types of visionary goals usually fall within four general areas: service, social, profit, or growth:

  • Service - Goals related to improving customer service satisfaction or customer retention.
  • Social - Goals that focus on giving back to the community, through philanthropy or volunteer organizations, for example
  • Profit - Goals set to increase profits by a certain percentage
  • Growth - Goals related to the expansion of the company, through new employees, for instance.

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