Creating strategic and operational planYou can dress it up with terms like “strategic plan” or “operational plan” but at the end of the day, it’s just plain good old goal writing.  Really. I know it seems intimidating at times to put it on paper. If you decide to call it an action plan, that works too. For larger small businesses, there may be all kinds of meetings of teams or pertinent staff members but I’m telling you…when it comes time to figure out how to make the Big Ideas sing, you have to know how to write a goal.

We like predictability in most areas of our lives. According to Lars Andersen, a lack of predictability is a leading cause of stress in the workplace. When you’re the business owner or one of the executive team (no matter what your actual title says), you can create that predictability with clear goals that assign the task to specific people and embed accountability. This makes it clear and (dare I say it?) easy to follow through on what is desired.  You can even reduce the amount of procrastination that can accompany vague goals.

Goal setting has three components:  1) specifics, 2) measurements, and 3) deadlines.  It requires a step-wise way of thinking while you break a task down to its individual steps.  The first component, specifics, tells you what you are going to do.  This is why it is important to state the goal clearly.  You may even discover that you will have sub-goals to your main goal. (This is definitely true when you are setting up your 1 year, 3 year or 5 year plans). The second component, measurements, focuses how you will know you are successful.  Sometimes, measurements can let you know if you need to fine-tune the goal or even change the goal.  The last component, deadlines, gives you the necessary push to follow through with your chosen actions. 

See the difference here:

Vaguely worded goal: We will expand our reach to women-owned small businesses.

Do you know what to do here? I don’t and I hear goals like this all of the time. What does it mean to expand? Is it physical as in setting up a satellite office somewhere? Or is it really about marketing? Using social media, traditional media or what? Bad, bad, bad.

Clearly worded goal: We will contact 3 networking groups that focus on women-owned small business to inquire about speaking opportunities by Friday.

It becomes clear that you intend to use speaking as a way to connect with this particular market. This clarity is simple and easy to focus on.

The specific action is to contact the networking groups that focus on women small business owners. The measurement is that we will contact 3 of these groups. The deadline is Friday. Is it easy to imagine someone taking on this goal and completing it by the deadline? And he/she doesn’t complete it, they will be able to tell you what got in the way.

Some people believe you have to write your goals as SMART goals. Other prefer a more free-form style. There isn’t really one way to write the goals as long as you have the basic components.  Excessive words will make it hard to follow through as there will be too much to remember.  Keep your goal simple and succinct.  For measurements, use timers, logs, charts and a calendar.  Make your deadlines clear and realistic. This goes for any small business, no matter the size. Sometimes goals are long-term and will be accomplished over the course of a year or even several years. All of the goals and sub-goals have the same ingredients. Each goal is a note that enables your Big Idea, your vision, to sing.

What goals are you setting that will make your Big Ideas for your small business sing?