Do you dream of lofty aspirations? Whether that’s money, time, accolades, transformation, fame, or something else on the spectrum, do you want something beyond what you currently have?
That’s called ambition, and it’s a healthy characteristic of any entrepreneur.
However, wanting something isn’t enough—you need a plan for how you’re going to make it happen. That’s where SMART goal setting comes in.
Wanting something is easy. Making it happen is hard. SMART goal setting helps you bridge that gap.
SMART goal setting is a tried-and-true framework for establishing goals and outlining the roadmap to make them a reality. It provides a step-by-step path for choosing how you will get from Point A to Point B.
Below, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to write better SMART goals—goals that push you to achieve those skyscraper dreams of yours. Plus, we’ll provide you with real-world examples and templates to get you started.
What Are SMART Goals?
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound. When you’re setting goals, you want to answer questions that relate to all of these elements.
Each element of SMART goal setting’s purpose is to help you understand what needs to be accomplished to reach your goal. It sets a clear objective, reveals if you’re successful, and creates a timeline for making it happen. This method of goal setting reduces guesswork and helps you avoid setting unrealistic or irrelevant goals.
For example, if your dream is to quit your 9-to-5 in pursuit of your own startup, you might set multiple SMART goals to make it happen, like these:
- Increase side hustle income to at least $50K annually before the end of the year by finding more clients on LinkedIn.
- Launch a new webpage for my business by the end of September using a WordPress developer.
- Hire a virtual assistant for less than $25/hr to help manage invoices, client relations, and task management before the end of the quarter.
Now, let’s look at similar less-helpful examples of goal setting that don’t follow the SMART formula:
- Make enough money to be comfortable quitting my full-time job.
- Build a website for my new business.
- Hire a freelancer to help manage day-to-day tasks.
How much money is enough? When do you plan on actually finishing your website? Why do you need to hire a freelancer, and what day-to-day tasks do you need help with?
Answers to these questions completely shift your direction and focus.
You don’t just need money—you need a certain amount. You don’t just want to eventually launch a website—you want it by a specific date. And you don’t just want to hire a freelancer to help—you have specific things you need help with and a limited budget to make it happen.
Let’s break down each component of SMART in more detail:
S – Specific
Be clear about your goal and add as many details as possible. What exactly do you want to achieve? Will it be obvious if you accomplished (or didn’t accomplish) your goal?
If you have other members of your business or team, you might define who’s responsible for this specific goal. For example, the company might have a goal of hitting a certain revenue number, but individual teams would more appropriately have smaller goals for achieving supportive development, marketing, sales, and even human resources goals.
The specific part of your goal should also outline how you will make your goal a reality. If you need to hire more employees on your marketing team, you may have a goal like the following:
Allocate extra money to the human resources team’s LinkedIn and Indeed.com headhunting budget to find new marketing employees.
This goal not only outlines the desired outcome, but it explains what steps you’re going to take to support it.
M – Measurable
The measurable portion of your goal is where you attach finite metrics. Numbers are a great way to quantify a goal, and they make it clear whether you accomplished your goal, blew past the finish line, or fell far behind.
You’ll want to set numbers that make you stretch, but you’ll need to keep them achievable (more on that soon). Another major consideration is what data you have (or could have) available. You can’t track the success of a goal if you don’t have the systems and analytics in place to measure the right numbers.
You can also set goals with an obvious completed or did not complete status. For example, it’s measurable if you have a goal to launch a product by a specific date—there’s not really a number you can attach to it (you either launch or you don’t).
Let’s add measurable elements to our previous SMART goal to make it more effective:
Allocate $25K extra dollars to the human resources team’s LinkedIn and Indeed.com headhunting budget to find at least 5 new marketing employees.
Now, our goal is specific and measurable. You know what you need to achieve and how to do it.
A – Achievable
It’s important to set goals that make you stretch but resist the urge to make you or your teams stretch too far. Frequent failure to achieve goals can weaken resolve, leading to a mindset that your goals are useless because they’re impossible.
Instead, shoot for the moon and let your teams hit the stars. That’s not to say that you should set a low bar just so you can get high off the dopamine of success—however, you should set goals you can definitely hit if you try hard enough.
Consider factors that might inhibit you from hitting your goal. Do you lack the necessary headcount you need? Are you dependent on other factors to be successful for your goal to be attainable?
It’s hard to know from the get-go whether a goal is going to be attainable or not. Do your research to come up with realistic dreams, but don’t be afraid to shift the goal early on if it’s obvious you’re going to fall short of the mark. It’s better to pivot and achieve than to stubbornly push on and fail.
Looking at our original goal, we may realize we don’t have sufficient budget or bandwidth to aggressively go after the new headcount. Let’s adjust it accordingly:
Allocate $15K extra dollars to the human resources team’s LinkedIn and Indeed.com headhunting budget to find at least 2 new marketing employees.
R – Relevant
Target numbers that are relevant to what you can control. For example, if you’re a content marketing team that focuses on driving organic traffic to your website, you might not necessarily want to set revenue goals for your team. Why? Well, you probably don’t have control over the sales page, products, or pricing—you only have control over the quality and quantity of traffic you drive to the site.
It’s easy to get wrapped up chasing goals but take a step back to figure out what these goals mean to you. Is there a real benefit for you or your business, or are you just working hard to tick off an arbitrary check box?
Will hiring an extra headcount for your marketing team solve other business problems? Is it necessary? Will it move the needle?
T – Time-Bound
You don’t want to give yourself an infinite time limit to achieve your goals—that leads to procrastination and never-ending (never-accomplished) objectives. Set a deadline for every goal. Establish when you’re going to start working towards it and when it needs to be achieved.
Regarding our hiring goal, we’d want to give it a deadline:
Allocate $15K extra dollars to the human resources team’s LinkedIn and Indeed.com headhunting budget to find at least 2 new marketing employees by the end of the quarter.
Now, there’s a time-based element to our goal. We don’t have all year to hire new employees—we need to do it by the end of the quarter.
Timelines help you and your teams prioritize. You’ll likely always be chasing more than a single goal at any given moment in time, so a time-related parameter helps you know which deserves more of your attention.
If you have months to accomplish a goal, you may put it on the back burner while you focus on the goal that needs completing in just a few weeks
SMART Goals Examples (And Not-So-SMART Examples)
To help you better understand what a SMART goal is (and isn’t), let’s look at a few examples.
Here are examples of SMART goals compared to not-so-SMART examples:
SMART Goal Example #1
- SMART Example: Gain 15,000 visitors to our website in a single month by the end of Q4 using a mix of influencer marketing and pay-per-click (PPC) strategies on Instagram.
- Not-So-SMART Example: Grow web traffic to our website this year by investing in Instagram.
Identify the elements of SMART in the 2 examples. Let’s look at the first one:
- Specific – we want to gain visitors to our website with influencer marketing and PPC strategies using Instagram.
- Measurable – we want 15,000 visitors to our site.
- Achievable – we’ve given ourselves months to accomplish the goal.
- Relevant – traffic to our site will help us convert followers into customers.
- Time-Bound – we’ve given ourselves until the end of the year to accomplish this goal.
SMART Goal Example #2
- SMART Example: Boost email campaign average click-through rate (CTR) to 2.5% by the end of November by investing $5K in new templates designed to better drive towards call-to-action (CTA) buttons.
- Not-So-Smart Example: Improve our email campaign designs to boost traffic back to our website before the end of the year.
Let’s break down why the first goal is SMART:
- Specific – we want to improve our email CTR by building new template designs.
- Measurable – we want to achieve a 2.5% CTR, and we’re willing to invest $5K.
- Achievable – 2.5% is the average CTR, so we’re not being overly ambitious.
- Relevant – Improving our email campaign CTR helps the business’s bottom line.
- Time-Bound – We’ve given ourselves until the end of November to make it happen.
Tips for How to Write Better SMART Goals
Knowing what SMART goals contain and look like is a great starting point. However, there are additional tips you can follow to ensure you set and achieve dream-reaching SMART goals.
Here are a few of them:
1. Write Your SMART Goal Down
SMART goals don’t live in your head—they live on paper, Google Docs, and project management software (preferably all of the above and more).
Having a written goal serves as a visual reminder of what you’re working towards. Also, the simple act of putting your mental desires to paper increases your likelihood of success.
Put your goals in a place where you’ll see them. If you’ve stuck them in a deep, dark file cabinet or Google Drive folder, retrieve them and put them front and center. You don’t necessarily need to frame them on the wall (although that’s not a bad idea), but place them where you’ll notice them daily.
2. Plan Regular Check-Ins
Setting goals can be exciting and inspiring. Achieving goals can be elating and rewarding. However, another tedious step happens between planning and achieving, and that’s checking in.
Frequently check in with your goals to see how you’re doing. Are you getting close to achieving your goal? Are you far behind? Do you need to pivot to make it happen?
Don’t set a goal and blindly hope to accomplish it.
Imagine a New Year’s resolutionist who sets goals to lose weight and get healthy. Do they join a gym in January and finally step on the scale to determine their success in December? No, they need to be checking in on their progress week to week and month to month.
3. Make Adjustments When Necessary
Your goal isn’t set in stone. If conditions change that make it impossible (or nearly impossible) to reach your goal, don’t be afraid to make changes on the fly.
For example, if you set ambitious email marketing objectives, but then your head email marketer accepts a job at another company, you’re going to need to readjust your goals.
Or, if you planned to expand your company to a second location but a worldwide pandemic kept everyone locked inside, you might need to set a new timeline for your goal.
4. Celebrate Every Win
Accomplishing a SMART goal is a big deal—treat it like one. When you or your team complete a goal, don’t just move on to the next objective. Take time to recognize your victories and celebrate a little.
This could be as simple as having a small party on Zoom, treating your team to lunch, or sending all responsible members a gift card. It might seem like a small thing, but it demonstrates the importance of SMART goals and recognizes those who go the extra mile to make them happen.
Oh, and a project post-mortem does not count as a celebration—just saying.
SMART Goals Template (Copy/Paste)
Below, we’ve provided an easy-to-use SMART goals template that you can copy/paste and fill in. You’ll find a few subtle reminders to keep you on track as you set your goal. We recommend filling out the bullet points before trying to fit your goal into a sentence or paragraph—this will keep you focused and ensure you satisfy the primary elements of SMART.
- What are you trying to achieve?
- How are you going to do it?
- Is there a specific person or team that’s responsible?
- What numbers can you add to quantify success?
- Do you have access to the data you need?
- How much budget can you allocate to make it happen?
- Is your goal realistic?
- Are there any obstacles that could prevent you from reaching your goal?
- Do you have sufficient bandwidth and resources to make it happen?
- Does your goal help move the company’s mission and vision forward?
- What’s the benefit of attaining this goal?
- What’s the harm if you fall short?
- Does your goal have a deadline?
- Why does it need to be accomplished by a certain date?
- Does it have a start and end date?
Confident About SMART Goal Setting? On to the Next Thing…
SMART goal setting is important, but it’s only one part of building a successful business. Now that you’ve mastered it, it’s time to move on to the next element of your business.
Whether that’s launching your ecommerce store, growing your Instagram following, or writing killer copy for your website, let us help give you the tools and know-how you need to succeed.
Check out our catalog of free masterclasses to learn what your business needs to overcome obstacles and grow. Our classes are taught by doers (not gurus), so you walk away with actionable tips and tactics for building your startup.
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