By Lina Martinez

It is vital to understand the importance of setting achievable, clear, and concise goals at the earliest stage of your new business idea. It’s nothing short of critical. Many people have fantastic new ideas, but few ever make it to fruition just because the individual has failed to set the right aims and targets - if they have set any at all.

Starting the process of goal setting can be challenging, especially if you are a first-time entrepreneur. And, as with anything in business, there is a right way and a wrong way to lay out your aims. I hope to clear up some of the basics with you today in this guide, so let’s get down to business on the art of goal setting for startups.

The basics

First of all, it's important to understand that setting goals is not the same as having a big vision or dreaming of success. Sure, at some point in the future they could align, but precision and realism are essential when laying out your aims. You need to be clear and concise whatever business theory you are using, whether it's Locke's Goal Setting Theory of Motivation or the modern approach with SMART goals. You will need long-term aims, but also short-term ideas on how to meet them head on. It’s also important to establish ways of measuring your success - are you meeting your short-term goals, and are your long-term aims still achievable?


The money

OK, so it’s an obvious point - but your cash flow availability will make or break your business. You will need to establish goals on how to raise funds for your business, whether it’s from your personal savings account or seeking out funding from an investor. You should also outline how you are going to control costs, minimizing your startup expenses, and getting the best deals from your suppliers. The prices you charge will also be incredibly important - how are you going to attract customers if you are too expensive, or make a profit if you sell too cheaply?

The infrastructure

Starting a business is one thing - growing it successfully is another entirely. But you need to make goals for growth, even at this early stage. How are you going to set out the infrastructure for running your business in the early days, and can you use systems that are scalable when you start to succeed? Can you find the right IT services in the cloud, for example, or will you be better off bringing in an in-house system? What marketing tools will you use - and can you continue to use them when you grow your user base by x amount? Every process, operation, and piece of equipment in your business could become redundant in no time at all - and your systems have to align with your long-term goals if you want to avoid expensive replacements and lost time.

The brand

Why are you in business? If you don’t know a short and sweet answer - an elevator pitch if you like - to this question, how are potential customers going to know? Effective branding will help you drive home your core message to your audience. Have a think about what differentiates your products or services from everyone else. Ask yourself how you want customers to perceive your company. And work out a way to spread your message in a  consistent manner across all your different business dealings, from sales through to supplier relationships.


The customers

While we are on the subject if customers - who are they? It’s important to create a persona of the ideal customer for your business and set goals to find the ones that are worth bothering with. The customer is always right - of course. But some customers are more trouble than they are worth, while others will help your business grow and succeed. Set goals to establish your ideal client - and review your analytics regularly for changes. Set customer service targets, which will help you manage your customer relationships in the best possible way. Also, set goals to encourage customer loyalty. These people are the ones that will spend the most money on your products or services.

The strategy

Once you have all of the above in place, it’s time to start working on your strategic goals. How are you going to make all this happen? It can seem unmanageable at first glance, but with a little strategic thinking; there is nothing to fear. Start finding ways to reduce the time you spend in low-level or unnecessary tasks. Consider outsourcing to someone who can do a better job for far less money than you - a virtual assistant might be able to help you with filing or data entry, for example. Start learning to delegate sooner rather than later, and you will be able to take a step back from your business, see the bigger picture, and focus more on what is important. Setting these strategic goals and laying them out in your business plan will help you think about your objectives - and stay on top of them.


The progress

The most important part of setting goals is achieving them, of course. But you can’t tell when you are winning if you aren’t tracking and monitoring your progress. It should be a continuous development - not just at the end of every period or iteration you complete. Constant feedback, self-evaluation, and adjustments will all be necessary from an early stage. There are some enormous benefits of tracking your progress. You will find you become more committed and inspired about your project, and you can identify problem areas as they occur, rather than finding out a month or two further down the line. With this in mind, it’s important to establish dedicated review periods, where you sit down and see the big picture, and make adjustments to your goals as you go along.

Setting goals can seem daunting when you are a first-time startup owner., But make no mistake about it, they are vital. The key thing to remember is that setting goals is a skill just like any other, and you will improve with experience. The art of goal setting starts with setting those goals in the first place.