As one year is behind us and another begun, small businesses find themselves hard at work in planning mode. Reviewing and analyzing successes and shortcomings of the previous year's goals and objectives are the basis for developing new strategy and advancing existing, incomplete ones.

Did you achieve all of last year's strategic goals? How SMART were the strategies you put in place for the coming year? Were your desired results met? Are your strategies still valid for this year, or were there changes in the outside world that are forcing a change in your direction? The overall outlook is to move your company forward; move it to a higher level and closer to your unique vision of success. Maybe your goal was to enter 2016 with some new products or services, to add staff to help you take on more customers.

Planning efforts need to be so much more than throwing a number of strategies into the pot each year, adding a few tactics, then allocating the necessary resources in terms of manpower, money, time and equipment. This loosey-goosey kind of planning effort isn't likely to get you where you want to go... forward and to new heights. To have a chance to achieve the company of your dreams, strategies must be concise and move your firm in a clear, measurable direction.

The key to successful execution of your strategic plan is to take a S-M-A-R-T approach.

SMART strategies meet the following criteria:

Specific   |   Measurable   |   Attainable   |   Relevant   |    Time-bound

Goals need to be Specific if you expect them to be successful.

Just wanting to 'add new customers' or 'sell more widgets' are not SMART strategies, they are far too vague. Without more specific language, errors can be made based on different perspectives or interpretations. A clear, SMART goal might be: add 10 new customers in the coming year, or 3 new customers each quarter of the coming year.

Another SMART strategy might be related to particular products or product lines you want to sell more of during the new year. Those goals paint clear pictures of what success will look like when you achieve those goals. A good way to judge your goals for specificity is to apply the 5-Ws to them: who, what, when, where, why.

Who will be held responsible for achieving the goal? What is the goal? By when does the goal need to be met? Where - if you have more than one office or location- will the work be done? Why - what benefits do you expect from implementing this SMART strategic goal?

A Measurable goal clarifies the intent and success of your goal.

Be specific with your goals. Do you want to double sales made the previous year, sell 50 more widgets each month, add five new customers each quarter, or add 3 new employees or a new location?

If your plan is to expand your business, you might set a SMART strategic goal of hiring new staff. It is important to be very clear about how many employees you will add and what each of them will do. "Add six new top level sales staff to increase widget sales by 10% in 2016." If you only find three high quality people during the year, your goal has failed. If you find the six top level sales staff you planned for, and they increase sales by the 10% specified, it was a success. Ask 'how much' or 'how many' to define the measurement of success of each goal.

Goals need to be realistic and Attainable.

If there isn't a prayer of achieving them, goals become nothing more than a glorified Wishlist. Taking them on with little chance of success will be a waste of time and effort. If a goal seems impossible, it probably is. Nothing will destroy the morale and vision of your staff faster than setting goals impossible to achieve with the resources you have available.

Phase in goals if necessary to make them achievable. Perhaps your vision includes having multiple offices or retail locations throughout your state or across the country. Can you add them all at once? Probably, not unless your firm is structurally and financially stable enough. But, setting a goal to add one new location each year for five years could be much more achievable with good planning. Running these types of goals through your 'How can we achieve this?' prism can make these far-reaching goals more likely to become reality.

Relevancy is an important characteristic of SMART strategic goals.

It is imperative that strategic goals be focused on supporting the necessary building blocks for your company. A strategy that does not relate to your company's core competencies, as well as it's vision, mission and culture, is certainly not relevant to the firm or it's success. Why expend effort and resources on things that will not get you to your vision of success?

Everyone in your company needs to understand and be in support of the company's direction. They are the ones that will be making it all happen. For this reason, they need to understand why each goal has been set and what it means to the growth and success of the firm. SMART planning will assure that staff can understand each goal. They need to understand how it all makes sense in relation to other strategic goals and initiatives.

Every member of your team needs to understand their part in the long term vision for the company. Does the strategic goal make sense to proceed with at this time, in this economy, with the technology and staff that are available now? How is it relevant to your long term vision and goals?

SMART goals must be Time-sensitive in nature.

Assigning a time frame to goals will assure their success. Focusing efforts on a deadline for completion keeps things moving forward at a logical pace. Goals that are multifaceted need teams to keep moving to ensure they can be completed in the time allowed. Focused deadlines eliminate the possibility that important projects might be put off until late in the year and then not get accomplished.

Assigning time to goals allows for the use of phases of a project. Breaking a goal down into a number of logical steps, each with it's own timeline and staffing assignments, makes the goal more easily achievable. When does this phase need to be finished so the next phase can begin without unnecessary delays?

Setting and analyzing SMART strategies is critical to moving your firm onward and upward. Think through your strategies, identifying three or four that will clearly define what you and your staff, or outsource help, need to do to keep the company on track, moving toward its vision. Putting too many goals in your plan can put you in the position of a disaster waiting to happen. Put your strategic plan in writing or some other structured format. Allow it to provide the visual format needed for all company stakeholders to easily understand the company's direction.

Develop SMART strategies, then let the plan work for your success.

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Comment by Vincent Wright on January 15, 2016 at 11:12pm


You're all good.

(When I first saw your post, I saw only the image and no copy.)

Comment by Terri L. Maurer on January 15, 2016 at 8:15pm

Re: image.  I thought I just up-loaded it, then inserted in article.  Did I do something incorrectly?

Comment by Vincent Wright on January 15, 2016 at 9:10am


Comment by Vincent Wright on January 15, 2016 at 1:58am

Hi, Terri:

Was the "SMART PLANNING" graphic supposed to be hyperlinked to a post?


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