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How to set business goals: top tips from successful entrepreneurs

5-minute read

Business owners setting goals on a board
Conor Shilling

Conor Shilling

22 January 2024

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Setting goals and ambitions for your business helps you know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. But setting unrealistic goals can be disheartening and lead to burnout.

So how do you find the balance and set goals that can lead you to success? We spoke to some leading entrepreneurs for their top tips on everything from celebrating achievements to setting SMART goals.

What are SMART goals and how can they help you?

SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Goals that fall into all of these categories are easier to track and likely to be more valuable to you or your business.

Here’s how the five elements of SMART goals work:

  • specific – a goal with an ultimate outcome. Avoid being vague – the narrower the goal, the better
  • measurable – setting goals that can’t be measured is a pointless exercise, so tools and milestones to track progress are essential
  • achievable – unrealistic goals can be counterproductive. Making sure you have the time and ability to achieve a goal can set you on the right path
  • relevant – make sure your goals contribute directly to what you want to achieve. The clearer and more focused they are, the more useful they’ll be
  • time-bound – setting deadlines for goals helps you to make a distinction between short and long-term goals while keeping you accountable for progress

Setting realistic and achievable goals is very important to Larnia Ryde, Founder of Ryde, a sustainable outdoor clothing store in Cornwall.

She told us: “It's crucial for us to consider ethics, the human factor, and those external circumstances that are beyond our control. If you hit your profit goal but damage your brand reputation in the process, that isn't a win for us.”

Daniele Paduano, Owner of East London pizza restaurant Kotch!, said that you don’t always need to write targets down in the SMART format.

“When you gain experience, you become very practical, and your brain immediately tells you if the task/goal is SMART,” he said.

Shifting priorities – how can they impact business goals?

All business owners have to manage unpredictability, and it’s not uncommon for goals and targets to shift direction from initial plans.

Changing goals could include things like:

Shop owner Larnia said that when priorities change or unexpected challenges arise, she takes a step back to assess the situation:

“It's important to understand how these changes impact the original goals and whether these goals still align with the new direction. Sometimes, this could mean setting more realistic or achievable targets, or even pushing deadlines to accommodate the changes."

She added: “Staying adaptable, revisiting plans, involving the team, and keeping a positive attitude are my go-to strategies for adjusting goals.”

How to monitor the progress of your goals

Seeing how you're performing against your goals allows you to work out what’s going well and where more effort or a new approach is needed.

Tracking progress doesn’t need to be complicated. According to Richard Burle, Founder of Richard’s Garden Services in West Sussex, it can be as simple as ticking off targets as you go.

He added: “Progress can also be more flexible. By taking on board feedback from customers new and old, I can improve my service.

“I also listen to the people who work for my business. If I can have a happy team, I can serve my customers better. This leads to better referrals, and that contributes to the growth of the business.”

Daniele said that as long as goals are measurable, they can be monitored.

“For example, a financial goal can easily be monitored with a profit and loss report or a physical goal could be monitored with a scale when you weigh yourself every morning.”

Kotch! pizza restaurant
Kotch! pizza restaurant in East London

Meanwhile, the team at Ryde like to use tools for effective planning and clear communication.

“We're big fans of Notion for getting our thoughts in order and deconstructing larger objectives into smaller actionable steps,” Larnia explained.

“As an example, we are about to launch a crowdfunding campaign for a new product. We've mapped out our journey in Notion, setting up phases and timelines, dividing tasks and tracking to make sure we hit our deadlines,” she said.

Why celebrating success is a key part of goal-setting

When you achieve a goal, it can be tempting to move on to the next one immediately.

However, marking achievements is an integral part of the goal-setting process. Make sure you celebrate them in your own way, whether that’s writing wins in a journal, sharing milestones on social media, or taking a much-needed day off.

Larnia recalled a time when Ryde set up a retail stand at Boardmasters, the UK’s largest surf festival. However, a heatwave meant that sales of outdoor and waterproof clothing were slow.

Feelings of stress and disappointment followed, until a friend offered Larnia some much-needed perspective: “They asked, 'If I had told you last year that you’d be trading at Boardmasters, how would you have felt?' The truth was, I would have been elated. Just being there was a massive accomplishment.”

Larnia Ryde
Larnia Ryde, Founder of Ryde, a sustainable outdoor clothing store in Cornwall

Larnia explained: “This experience taught me the importance of celebrating both the big and small wins.

“Now, I make it a point to acknowledge these moments, whether through something as simple as an act of self-care, a moment of quiet reflection, a direct thank you to a member of the team, or buying a round of drinks.”

It’s clear that many business owners struggle to celebrate successes.

Bailey Greetham-Clark, CEO at BeGreatFitness in Lincolnshire, said he feels like his work is never done. “I treat my team and ensure they know when they've done well, but personally I still feel we have a long way to go and a lot more people to help.”

How to deal with the disappointment of not achieving a goal

Alongside your successes, there are likely to be some disappointments along the way. Dealing with these setbacks can be difficult, but taking the positives and reflecting on how you’d do things differently in the future can help you to move forward.

Bailey said he takes disappointments to heart: “After starting the business at 17 and helping thousands of people access fitness and sports, sometimes I struggle to look at our successes.

“Funnily enough, if we fail at something, that’s the time in which I’m most able to look at how far we’ve come.”

Daniele pointed out that the nature of running a business means the risk of failing to achieve goals is always higher for entrepreneurs.

“When you fail to achieve a goal, own it, analyse it, and try to get all the good from it,” he said.

Richard Burle
Richard Burle, Founder of Richard’s Garden Services

If goals don’t go to plan, business owners should remind themselves that some things are out of their control, according to gardener Richard.

He explained: “For example, the contractors I regularly work with may not be available when I need them, or the weather might put a halt to a job.

“At that point, the best I can do is to let my customers know that it might take a little longer, and plan ahead so that I can still try to meet my target. The key, really, is don't give up.”

Larnia added that allowing yourself to feel emotions as a professional is key to recovering from setbacks. “When you invest in a goal, it becomes meaningful. I always take time to process the 'what and how' of why something might have changed direction on a personal and team level and then adapt.

“Focusing on progress rather than perfection really helps maintain motivation and positivity,” she said.

Three extra tips for setting goals for your business

  1. Analyse opportunities and threats – what’s happening in your industry? Can you embrace new technologies? Doing a SWOT analysis can help you understand the risks and trends that may impact your business.
  2. Be flexible – staying rigid with your goals can be limiting and stressful, so set time to reevaluate where you’re going and adapt your business plan if you need to.
  3. Consider working with a business mentor – it can be hard to know what to focus on, so a business mentor can help you explore what’s going to have the most impact for your business.

What are your top tips for setting business and personal goals? Let us know in the comments below.

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Conor Shilling

Written by

Conor Shilling

Conor Shilling is a Copywriter at Simply Business with over two years’ experience in the insurance industry. A trained journalist, Conor has worked as a professional writer for 10 years. His previous experience includes writing for several leading online property trade publications. Conor specialises in the buy-to-let market, landlords, and small business finance.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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