Updated: Jan 20
Looking for ways to set your business up for success for 2023? The secret is to stay SMART.
With SMART goals, you can stay organized, more effectively execute a plan, and have a significantly increased chance of achieving your goals! Small Business SMART goals can help you avoid missing critical details in your plans. Otherwise, you might lack the necessary direction once you get started.
Let’s start with the obligatory stat: About 3% of MBA graduates who regularly write their goals down earn 10 times as much as the other 97% of graduates put together. By setting SMART goals, you could set yourself up for success.
What are SMART goals, exactly? Don't worry, we have you covered! In this guide, we'll help you understand how to form your SMART goals that work for your small business. We will even toss in a few SMART goal examples to help guide you!
Start your small business near year off on the right track with our SMART goals guide (2023)!
What are SMART Goals?
First, let's answer the question that's likely on your mind: what are SMART goals, exactly? Let's preface our explanation with a note that there are many different definitions for each item of this acronym. We feel the following is the best example for your use as a small business owner.
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-Driven, and Timely. Establishing SMART goals will help you remain more specific in scope for both yourself and your company. Along the way you can set your team up for success and track your progress along the way.
It is key to remember that this is less of a process to follow than it is a guideline. You will notice a lot of overlap between the factors as we go through the basics below.
Make sure your goals are clear, concise, and specific. A good way to look at this item is to view it from the perspective of your employees or team. If you anticipate questions from them regarding your goal, then it is not specific enough.
The Problem Areas:
A broad goal could leave members of your team asking questions at the very least. If you leave goals open ended you’ll likely experience miscommunication and/or poor execution regarding what you're trying to accomplish for any given goal.
The most common issue is that your employees or key figures might interpret your goals in a different way than intended. Or worse still, they all think they ‘know’ what you mean and therefore their individual actions are oriented towards their personal interpretations. I’m sure you can imagine the chaos that could create internally.
For example, simply saying you want to "generate more leads" isn't specific enough to give your team proper direction. You leave open questions such as:
How many leads exactly? One person might think 20 is another, while another might aim for 100.
What kind of leads count towards this goal? One might decide you simply mean newsletter signups, while the other is only counting website form fills.
The Right Way:
Instead, say, "I want to generate 20 more leads through our website by the next quarter." As you’ll notice this statement is specific in multiple fronts. This SMART goal has a specific action, count, source, and timeline.
When specifying your goals, ask yourself what you're trying to accomplish. Which members of your team will help drive this project? What steps will they need to take to achieve individual SMART goals?
Think through the exact process you envision for you, or your team needs to take to accomplish the task.
Measurable goals help you quantify and clarify your efforts. It stands to reason that if you're unable to measure your goals, you'll struggle to track your progress.
The Problem Areas:
Easily the stickiest area with respect to making your SMART goals meet the measurable standard is … well, the actual measurements. Even though it sounds a bit wonky, what I mean is that it’s easy to toss out a number when jotting down a goal. The hard part is the act of measuring for that number.
In the previous example, "20 more leads" was the measurable portion of the goal. It also mentioned those were website leads. Therefore, you will need to ensure that you have a way to both capture and quantify website leads. In this case, you would need to know you have Google Analytics Conversions set up for your website or some other method for counting new leads.
The Right Way:
When crafting the measurable factor, you must check both boxes:
Set a measurable value… i.e., you have number shoved in it somewhere.
You have a way to take measurement of the stat your assigned said number.
Additionally, measurability allows you to then break this quantity into benchmarks. If your team only has a quarter to gather 20 leads, they'll need at least six new leads a month. If they fall behind, they'll know to adjust their strategy.
If you want to set your team up for success with your small business SMART goals, you need to establish practical goals. Otherwise, your team might feel the pressure of a seemingly impossible goal. As small business owners, we typically are both the villain and victim of setting ourselves up for impossible goals.
The Problem Areas:
‘I want to make $1M in sales this year!’ sure buddy... you just opened your business 3 months ago. We pull all sorts of wizardry here at Out of the Box Advisors, but even our magic has limits. I jest, but the example happens more often than you would expect when we are working with newer business owners.
The majority of why some slip on this one is that they are either inexperienced or just plain unrealistic.
The Right Way:
Realism and pragmatism are absolute key here.
You can motivate your team with a goal that's within reach but take that extra push to achieve. As you continue setting SMART goals over time, you can push them a little further with each iteration.
Oh, and make sure that you keep your timeframes in mind when determining the achievability. Seems like a silly error, but it can trip up potential success when deploying your goals to your team.
Results-Driven is more about the why and has a more philosophical aspect to it than cold, hard numbers. The primary purpose here is to get you to think about the goal you are setting and if it truly achieves what you’re going for as a business strategy.
The Problem Areas:
A good parallel to the point of this item is metrics involving employee scorecards. You’ve likely heard the term ‘what you measure, is what you get’ in terms of what you want from an employee.
As a very crude example: Let’s say you give your sales team a single goal of total number of sales per week. Your initial idea is that more sales equals more revenue, right? Well, that COULD be true, but it could also mean that your employees will find a clever way to hit goals while still being ethical (hopefully). i.e., perhaps they break down a single sale of 5 items into 5 sales of single items. It takes a bit of extra work on their end, but they can hit their goals without the business reaping any benefit.
The Right Way:
First, ask some simple, surface level questions: Why are you setting this goal? Is it relevant to your business? How does it accomplish your overall business objectives? Focus on the results you're trying to produce. Instead of "I want to generate 20 leads," say "I want to generate 20 to drive business growth."
Therefore, this one is more philosophical; it is meant more of a check and balance on your goal creation. The goal may be ‘generate 20 more leads for business growth’, with the results being business growth ultimately. You still need to be aware of the pitfalls of executing the goal like our crude example above in order to avoid them.
Don't forget to set a timeframe for each goal. A deadline motivates your team and encourages them not to procrastinate. Otherwise, it could take longer than anticipated to accomplish your goals.
The Problem Areas:
The issues regarding timeliness of your goals should be somewhat self-evident so we won’t elaborate as much here. You need to find that sweet spot of being reasonable but aggressive. The typical failures here are either goals with either too long or short of a timeframe.
The Right Way:
We strongly recommend that you try to stick to existing timeframes within your business as it exists today. This has the benefit of being more easily accepted, but also helps with planning, measuring, and contrasting with your existing processes.
For example: if you are setting sales goals, then your time frame for each goal should at the very least start at the quarterly level.
Chances are you're already measuring sales data and hopefully meeting on a quarterly basis. This both makes measuring and setting the goal values a bit easier based on existing trends, but also you can easily bridge meetings and expectations into what your team is already comfortable with.
If you need to drill down further, it then simply becomes a matter of dividing out the ‘common’ timeframe into equal parts to set those goals. i.e., your quarterly goal is 30 sales so your monthly is 10 per month.
Fun Fact: You are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. Grab a sheet of paper and pen or even better toss them on a whiteboard for the whole team to see regularly.
We know these are the most exciting items in your business strategy. So, to help keep your attention on these examples we will happily provide you with a puppy or kitten photo for each example!
As a bonus we are going to link each one to a rescue that we enjoy if you want to support them! -Ryan, CEO
SMART Goal Examples
Now that we're answered the question what are SMART goals, let's start setting you up for success. Here are eight small business SMART goal examples you can use in 2022.
1. You’re Starting a Small Business
Start by asking yourself those basic, yet core questions such as: Why do you want to start a new business? What type of business? When do you want to open your doors?
Then elaborate on them to form your new business’s first SMART Goal.
I want to start a new bakery that specializes in French pastries.
I'll need to sell 20 pastries a day to break even by the end of next year.
I'll establish a menu, gather recipes, and start promoting my business through digital marketing.
Starting a bakery will allow me to benefit financially from my passion.
I'll open my doors by December 2022.
With this information we will formulate the goal of ‘starting a new business’ which can be a bit more general than say a sales goal. But we wanted to provide solid examples that real world small business owners may use.
Within the next month, I want to set up a new French patisserie Downtown. For the next two weeks, I'll focus on my menu and marketing strategy. Once I open my doors in December, I'll need to sell 20 pastries a day to break even. This goal will allow me to enjoy my passion and make money.
There are several Specifics relating to what items need to happen to start the business.
While pastries per day is the only number technically, the due dates established are also Measurable. For example: did you open in December Yes or No is still measurable in terms or our topic today.
For each of the tasks, the timelines are reasonable which enables them to be Attainable.
The Results here can be a bit vaguer. But the ultimate goal is to accomplish a passion and dream which is a solid motivating result.
The Timelines here are reasonable and specific.
2. Growing a Small Business
Once you open your doors, you'll need a plan for long-term growth. What items do you want to focus on in order to ensure success for your business? Your first few customers and new customer growth is probably the most important right out of the gate.
I want to gather three new clients for my marketing business.
I can generate three new clients while maintaining my current clients.
I can develop a social media marketing campaign and ask clients for referrals.
Generating new clients will allow me to boost my revenue and grow.
I can generate three new clients within two months.
I will generate three new clients for my marketing business within the next two months. I will focus on using marketing strategies like referral programs and social media marketing for these new clients. Achieving this goal will enable us to hire the next designer to enlarge our capacity for new customers.
This goal is Specific both on the count of new customers, but also on the how you plan on tackling it.
It is easily Measurable with defining the need of three new customers
We assume here that 3 new customers in two months is Attainable
We are looking to hit a new milestone with hiring the next designer to be the primary Result. Note how it does not always have to be revenues when a goal involves an increase in sales.
Again, we assume that two months is a reasonable Timeframe for this hypothetical
3. Becoming a Thought Leader
Becoming a thought leader in your industry can establish your company's credibility. Even if you do not aim to acquire speaking engagements like this example, becoming a knowledge expert is a heck of a way to ensure success.
I want to become an expert in the transportation industry.
If I'm successful, someone will ask me to speak publicly at an upcoming event.
I can work with a PR company to accomplish my goal.
Becoming a thought leader will allow me to reach more clients and generate brand trust/loyalty.
I want people to see me as a thought leader within two years.
I'll work with a PR company to become a thought leader in the transportation industry within the next two years. They'll help me demonstrate my expertise by booking me to speak before at least 3 major transportation events during that time. With their help, I can boost my brand's credibility to gain more clients.
While the goal does not Specify which PR company, it does not that they would be required to book at least 3 major gigs.
The goal is easily Measured by how many major speaking engagements that you are booked
We assume that this goal considers an existing workload to justify why two years was chosen for only 3 events. We might recommend a bit more aggression and still maintain Attainability.
The Result here is the ultimate growth of their brand awareness within their industry
Again, we hope that the two years was chosen with a mindfulness, but either way it has an established Timeliness for the goal.
4. Improving Customer Response Time
Improving the customer experience can increase your revenue by 80%. Otherwise, unhappy customers will spread the word about their negative experiences. You could lose future customers as a result.
I will improve customer response time by creating a dedicated customer service team.
I will hire three people for the customer service team by the end of the year.
We have enough room in our offices and enough money in our budget for new team members.
Improving our customer response time will increase our brand reputation and revenue.
I have four months to hire the customer service team.
By hiring three new people for our customer service team, I can improve customer response time by at least 50%. Improving our customer service response time will improve our brand reputation, leading to more future revenue. I'll need to hire our customer service team within four months.
The goal is Specific on several levels. It is good to remember to not get stuck on defining one item. Be as specific as you can whenever needed.
This is a good example to remind you to make sure you can Measure the metrics specified in your goal. Do you have the ability to determine response time for example?
When working with % increases / decreases within a goal. Attainability has much to do with your current position. Double check your percentages for realism.
In this example, the primary Result is brand recognition with a secondary impact to positive revenue growth.
Timetables can be set in result achievement and / or mechanism (hiring in this example). We prefer you to do both when possible.
5. Improving Employee Retention
Are you struggling to hold onto your employees? You could waste valuable time and money trying to train a new team. Not only does acquisition costs matter, but disruptions in your team can lead to dissatisfied customers and lower sales.
I will improve employee turnover by 20% by better training our new employees and setting expectations.
We can improve employee turnover by 20% in 120 days.
One-on-one meetings and training will ensure employees know what to expect as a member of this team.
Improving employee retention will reduce costs and boost productivity.
We can reduce talent acquisition by 50% with this 20% turnover improvement.
By better training and closer relationships with our new employees, I can improve our employee turnover by 20% in 120 days. This will boost our team's productivity on its own but will reduce our expenditures on finding talent by up to 50%.
The goal has several metrics, but it is key that it has a Specific target for both turnover and timelines.
Employee turnover percentage should already be a Measured metric you’re watching in your KPI’s
Depending on the state of this business, 120 days may or may not be an Attainable timetable for a 20% improvement.
This goal is looking to reduce expenses as it Result-driven motivator. But it also acknowledges that turnover improvements can also have positive impacts in other areas of the business.
A Timeline has been set at 120 days.
6. Boosting Business Operations Efficiency
Improving your sales process is an obvious was to boost your business growth. This example focuses on the sales process, but this can apply to efficiencies within any aspect of your business. Determine the desired outcomes and set goals based on those metrics.
I will improve our efficiency by challenging our sales department to increase their closing ratio.
Our sales team can increase their closing ratio from 30% to 50%.
I'll discuss this goal with our sales team to make sure it's plausible.
Increasing sales process efficiency by assigning compensation in some way to this metric.
We can accomplish this goal within a year.
We can improve our business sales process efficiency by setting compensation bonuses to coincide with conversion rates. We shall consider this initiative a success by increasing our closing ratio from 30% to 50%. We can accomplish this goal within a year for long-term growth.
The Specificity of this goal is a bit broad, but as you can see, they are seeking guidance from the experts on their team. It is important to note that you can refine your goals as you gain information along the way.
Conversion rates are another one of those KPI’s any business should be regularly Measuring.
The author of this goal set a range initially that they felt was Attainable but are aware enough to rely on their team to ensure the goal is not overzealous.
Improving your conversion efficiency has some obvious Results motivation, more sales.
They set a Timeframe of one year.
7. Paying Off Debts
Although we support carrying some liabilities, debts have the potential hold your business back. SMART goals can help you set goals for reducing your business’ liabilities. We strongly recommend meeting with a CPA to help articulate this goal.
Pay off $15,000 of our Credit Card balance.
We'll monitor our cash accounts weekly to track our ability to direct towards debt payments.
We will improve our ability to pay by focusing on a reduction in optional costs.
Paying off our debts will reduce the interest expense and allow us to grow.
We can accomplish this within 1 year.
I will pay off our $15,000 in debts within 1 year. We will accomplish this by cutting down our current costs. Every week we will monitor our cash accounts and determine an appropriate amount to direct towards the balance for that week. Reducing our debt will improve the financial outlook and stability of the business.
They have set a Specific amount of debt they want to pay off. Alternatively, they could have also set a specific debt ratio.
Measuring the amount paid down should be a simple task.
The Attainability of this goal will be largely dependent on their ability to reduce costs or otherwise free up cash to apply towards debt.
Financial stability is one heck of a motivating Results-Driven goal.
Depending on the size of the business and revenue volumes, one year is probably an acceptable amount of Time to pay down this debt.
8. Increasing Web Traffic and Leads
Search engine optimization (SEO) can help you gather more web traffic and leads. Defining what results you expect from your SEO efforts is the real trick to setting a SMART Goal. These goals are critical to holding your SEO company accountable as well.
Improve our SEO rankings for five target keywords by the end of the year.
We can reach one of the top three positions by gathering 10 high-quality backlinks and improving our content.
We can achieve this goal with a strong SEO strategy.
Improving our rankings will help us attract more leads.
We can accomplish this within three months.
We will improve our SEO ranking in our primary 5 keywords to be at least in the top 3 placements on average. Doing so will generate more traffic and leads within the next three months.
One of the biggest mistakes of small businesses paying for SEO services is that they aren’t using Specific goals to hold their service providers accountable.
The key to the Measurability of keyword rankings is to make sure you average it out. At any given time, a keywords rank can fluctuate. You want to make sure you have some regular stability to it overall.
For ranking goals, you should typically set their improvement by about 5 ranks per quarter or so. Anything more than that and they may be beyond Attainability.
SEO leads to traffic and if your site design is sales oriented it will then lead to more conversions. Results here could represent either outcome.
Advancing 5 keywords to the top 3 every quarter is a solid Timetable.
Get SMART: Setting SMART Goals Helps Set Your Business Up for Success
Keep in mind that these are merely examples to help you craft your vision for how to set your own small business goals. Working with a business coach can significantly streamline this process, but it isn’t a requirement by any means.
The key point that we want to express is that you’re first setting goals at all, but that when you do, they are done in a fashion designed and proven for your success.
However if you need help setting SMART Goals for your business, we're here to help!
Contact us today to get started.
Out of the Box Advisors has been in business for over 10 years with a proven track record of helping small businesses achieve growth. Our clients grew revenues by 19.1% on average in 2022.
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