Monthly Archives October 2015

5 Reasons You Need Clear Business Goals and 4 Elements To Setting One

You Need Clear Business Goals

You’ve heard it before: you need to set goals.  Not just personal ones, and not wishy-washy hope-filled ones, but clear business goals.  But do you actually do it?  Really?  Specific and measurable ones like they say lead to success?  I thought not.  So I put together a list of things you can’t actually do until you’ve addressed that omission.

Vader Finds Your Lack of Clear Business Goals Disturbing

Without Clear Business Goals…

1. You can’t be strategic. Strategy is the selection of the best tactics to get you where you want to go. If you don’t know where that is, there’s no way to determine the best path. To use an analogy, if you’re going to take a road trip, you can’t choose if you should start heading north, south, east, or west until you know what destination you’re aiming for.

2. You can’t measure success. I worked with an organization to put on an event once, and we set a goal of getting 3,000 people to it. We got more like 1,000. Some on the planning committee considered it a great success because the 1,000 people that came had a good time. But we failed to meet the goal of getting 3,000 and “having a good time” wasn’t one of the criteria we’d set…nor even one that we measured other than by “gut feeling.”

3. Choices become harder. This is a direct result of the first two. If you don’t have a strategy, and you don’t know what or how to measure success, there is almost no way for you to be smart about eliminating options. Everything possible is always on the table, and there are no criteria for you to narrow them down. That leads a lot of people to just choose things at random, or whatever seems comfortable and familiar…neither of which is likely to be the most effective thing to do.

4. Necessary skills remain undetermined. Again, following on the previous, choices made more or less at random mean you’ll be running into needed skills that you may or may not have. This issue also echoes back up the chain as well. You might be more likely to pick an approach that you think you can do, even if you’re not great at it. Or even if it’s not the most efficient way to get the job done. That can pull you away from success because you start thinking that you can measure this thing, that must be what determines your success, which is a path that pulls you away from any chance of a good strategy. It just entrenches the lack of strategy. But what if hiring an employee, or a contractor, to do something different is the best way forward? There’s no way of knowing without a goal.

5. Automation is impossible. With a goal, you can find things that increase the chances of success and turn that into a systematic practice, a procedure, company policy, or part of the organization’s culture. That kind of continuous improvement and refinement of your practices simply can’t be done because different practices may support different possible goals. The goal brings coherence to the practices you systematize and try to make automatic.

What makes a good goal? Within the context of a small business, “more sales” won’t do. It’s not enough. Sure, it’s easily measurable, but it’s a given. Every business in existence wants more sales. It’s not specific enough to help you be strategic, make choices more easily, and determine what skills you need to carry out a plan.

Consider These Elements When Setting Your Clear Business Goals

1. Who? Often people create goals that are entirely self-centered. “I want to make more sales” is one of those. But working in a specific group of people helps with all of the reasons for having a goal. Compare the selfish example with, “I want to increase the number of women-owned businesses I serve.” Suddenly, I can set aside any options that are unlikely to bring me into contact with women entrepreneurs. That makes me more strategic. I can measure a ratio of female vs. male owned companies. I could choose social media sites based on popularity among women rather than focus on other demographic traits like age or geography or income (unless those are important to the business goal as well).

2. Where’s the Leverage Point? In many (most?) situations, there is a leverage point that may be different than the ultimate goal. That can be the low-hanging fruit, or the bottleneck in a process. Thinking of where you might get the most leverage when setting a goal helps you to step back from “this is what I want” and instead seeing your business more objectively, from the outside. It’s what E-Myth Revisited author Michael Gerber calls working ON the business, not working IN it; or what Sam Carpenter calls the “outside and slightly elevated” perspective in Work the System. If you’re outside looking in, you can more easily see these choke points and set goals that have a higher potential payoff.

3. What Threshold? One of the problems with “more sales” as a goal is that it cannot ever be achieved. Having one or more threshold in your goal gets you off the treadmill of more, more, more. It can focus your mind and your efforts on getting to a new and better point, where you can reassess. I mentioned the event goal earlier of 3,000 attendees. That’s a single-threshold goal. You might also have a dual-threshold goal. That might be where you say, “To be considered a success and done again next season, this project needs to bring in 100 new customers. It will be considered a failure and immediately scrapped, no looking back, if it brings in fewer than 50. In between the two is acceptable, but needs to be reviewed for possible improvements.” Notice that the threshold here effectively pre-decides what will be done, and measures success, simultaneously.

4. What Values/Philosophy? The late Marshall Rosenberg liked to say that punishment appeared to be effective only if you asked what kind of behavior you wanted from others, but didn’t look so great if you also asked the question, “Why do you want them to act that way?” In other words, you want people to take action because they want to, not because fear or circumstance or some other external factor forces the choice on them. To apply this to business, sketchy marketing practices might increase your sales in the short term–because you’ve tricked people into buying a product they don’t really want (or think they’re getting something else)–but is that why you want them to buy?

Take Action!

Did I stutter?  Set some clear business goals!  You’ve got the tools–set some great goals that help you be more effective in the future.  If you run into problems, or have an insight or success, leave it in the comments below.

Pre-Meme Image By William Tung from USA (SWCA – Darth Vader!) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons, modified and memeified by Ardea Coaching.

Posted by Michael J. Coffey  |  1 Comment  |  in Goals, Strategy, and Planning

A ‘Start Up’ Tragedy

I recently discovered a new show that I’m really enjoying. Well, new to me–the show is in its third season. It’s called Start Up.  Host Gary Bredow travels the United States talking to the owners of various start up companies. It’s also a bit ‘meta’ because the show itself is one of the first products of Bredow’s own start up company. The businesses he visits all seem to be in the first couple of years of being open, having achieved at least a moderate level of attention and success, but not necessarily far enough in that they’re operating reliably at a profit.

The companies are in a wide range of industries as well. The episode I watched last week included an aerial dance/circus arts studio, and an the makers of a electronics-filled teddy bears that teach diabetic children how to manage their health. Bredow features two businesses per 30-minute episode, interviewing the owners about their challenges, their process in getting started, how they financed the start up, where their ideas came from, and more.

Having been a business couneslor for a program of the U.S. Small Business Administration for several years, I can say that their stories seem pretty typical, though very much weighted toward the success end of the spectrum. (It wouldn’t make very good TV to have a series in which 60-75% of the featured business owners talk about how their great idea sputtered and unceremoniously died because of poor preparation or lack of demand.) But the variety of where ideas come from, how money gets scraped together, and what kinds of unexpected pitfalls crop up along the way are all very familiar.

The show also drops in a few pieces where one business expert or another gives some tips or perspective related to the start up process.  And each profile ends with Bredow summarizing the interview in a pun-filled wrap up.

I have been enjoying it, but I knew I had to put up a brief piece about the show here on the blog when he asked Dori Ross, a maple-products maker in Vermont, “Social media–how has that impacted your business?” She tells him that she’s on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, and that she has two blogs. That’s all fine (though it’s a lot to do well). But then she stabbed me through the heart. She said, “And I don’t know if it works.”

It’s tragic, but it’s common. People hear that social media, or a blog, is this powerful thing that you can do for your business. They jump in. They do a ton of work to try and figure out how to work these new tools. They post pictures. They comment, and share. They write articles. And they never look to see if it’s actually helping them. It’s just blind faith that this stuff works, and in many cases it doesn’t.

I would bet that Dori could probably drop half the social media or blogging work that she’s doing. I don’t know that for certain, or which things she could drop, because I’m not privy to her data. Heck, I don’t even know if she’s collecting data.

Digital strategy is, in large part, determining what doesn’t work and dropping it. It’s choosing to not do things that are less effective so that you have more time and effort to do well the things that do work.

I beg of you, talk to me if Dori’s story sounds familiar. It is absolutely possible to figure this kind of thing out. It’s possible to figure out which social media sites send you the most traffic. Or send you the most buyers. (It’s not uncommon for visitor volume and most likely buyers to come from different places.) Let me help you figure out a few things you can drop from your To Do list. Because I can almost guarantee you’re doing things that don’t contribute to your success.

Or if you’re not doing much of anything online, maybe it’s time to add one highly targeted thing to your list.  I could help you figure that out, too.

If you’d like to watch Start Up, they have a utility on their website to look up the TV schedule in your area.


Posted by Michael J. Coffey  |  0 Comment  |  in Analysis & Testing
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