I recently asked one of my friends, who had just started his own business in the last six months, what his goals were for the next year. As he started laying out his goals for 2017, I started to wonder if he really believed he could reach those goals. He is a graphic designer, and a talented one, but his business was less than six months old and one of his goals for next year was to make $500,000. It’s a noble goal, and it would allow him to take some time off and spend more time with his family, but as the sole member of his business, that had only one or two regular clients at the time, it seems completely unrealistic.

And while this goal might somehow be achievable, he had no plan for actually achieving it. He had no plans for acquiring more clients, increasing his prices, gaining more visibility. In the end, what he had was not a goal, but a wisp of a dream. A real goal requires planning. It is not just realistic and achievable in the scope of your current situation, it comes with a step by step plan for how you are going to reach that goal and a way to measure your progress towards that goal. Here’s what you need in order to actually create realistic business goals for the next year:

Clarity

One of the features of a goal that’s actually realistic is clarity. It’s specific. An example of a non-specific and therefore unsuccessful goal might be, “ I want to grow my business.” This is a “ goal” that a lot of businesses make, but because it is not clear and certainly not specific, there’s no real way to make a plan to achieve that goal, anyway to measure your progress towards that goal, or any goal posts that would show you that you’ve actually reached that goal. A better example would be, “ I want to acquire five new clients a month in 2017.” This goal is very clear, both in what needs to happen in order for the goal to be considered “ achieved,” and how a plan can be built to ensure that happens.

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Challenge

Why bother setting a goal for yourself that is going to be absolutely no challenge for you to achieve. For example, if you regularly acquire five new clients a month right now, acquiring five new clients a month in 2017 is going to be no sweat and therefore, not a goal worth pursuing. The whole point of setting and working towards goals is to challenge yourself and to stretch and improve your business. And while your goal should be a challenge, it should also not be so difficult that there is no way you would ever achieve it. Finding the balance can be difficult, but it can be found by looking at your current situation, looking at what is possible for you to improve on, and then finding a realistic goal based on what you are doing now and what more you could be doing.

Commitment

Commitment might not be necessary in order for a goal to be realistic, but it is necessary for a goal to be achievable. If you are not committed to improve your business, you do not think your business needs to be improved, or you do not have a commitment to improving it in the way the goal demands, you are going to fail. Goals require consistent, daily work. Without commitment, you’ll let those little task that add up to success slide. This is the number one reason that goals fail—you choose goals that you are not actually committed to achieving and therefore do not have a vested interest in progressing towards. Finding a way to keep yourself accountable (many people have a friend, mentor, or business partner that they enlist as an accountability buddy), is a good way to stay committed to your goals.

Feedback

Not only do you want to be consistently checking your goal markers and making sure that you are progressing, you are also going to want to get feedback on just how well you are doing with your goal. You might be seeing more website traffic, but is it actually the kind of traffic that you want? This is when reaching out to a mentor or partner might be a good idea. They can take a look at the work that has been done, tell you where you are succeeding and help you improve the aspects where you might be lagging behind. Feedback should help you stay motivated and on track towards your goal. It can also help to create that sense of achievement that is necessary to keep you engaged and working.

Environment

How do you determine if a goal is realistic or not? You have to look at your current situation. For example, you might make a goal that you want to meet with seven new potential clients a week. Do you actually have time to do that? Do you have resources that would allow you generate seven new leads a week? If not, a more realistic goal would like be something like meeting with one new potential client a week. This might fit better into your schedule and make better use of your available resources.

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