6 Key Ways to Set Strategic Goals for Your Business (Vetted by Entrepreneurs)

6 Ways to Improve Strategic Goal-Setting for Your Business

Eek! We’re more than halfway through 2018.

So before you dig into another meeting or go chasing after another client, I want you to ask yourself a critical question:

Has the first half of 2018 been successful for your business?

There’s no question that “success” has different definitions for different businesses. If you know what yours is—number of new clients, for example, or bottom line revenue—then you’ve got a solid starting point. If you don’t, then you’ve got foundational problems that need to be addressed.

In either case, now is the time for a hearty assessment of your business’s strategic goals. This kind of assessment should be completed at least once a year (and preferably two or more times). While the specifics of that assessment depend on your success metrics, there are a few good strategic starting points. 

Refine your vision and mission

An assessment without a clear vision is basically useless. So, take the time to revisit your mission statement.

Your company’s vision and mission are what guide your business towards where you want to go. They provide a solid basis for developing a strategic plan internally, while conveying your priorities, methods, and goals to the public.

SpaceX‘s mission statement, for example, highlights both their short-term goals and long-term aspirations. Fittingly, then, success takes many forms for the company. Elon Musk has leveraged public accountability for some of his company’s goals by announcing them during press events. For example, in 2017, he announced his intention (on behalf of SpaceX) to successfully launch unmanned spaceships to Mars by 2022. This aligns with the company’s mission: To “revolutionize space technology with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.”

Smaller, though no less important, goals include the company’s acquisition of assets to fund launches like the one Musk announced. 

What are your big and small goals? Are they clearly articulated? Do they align with your mission and vision? Do you have set metrics to determine success in these areas, and are they broken down for easy review at biannual assessment meetings?

As your company is confronted with the day-to-day hassles of operations, your mission and vision serve as a reminder of what is important and what you should focus on, so make sure they are up-to-date.

Look at your competition

A big part of your marketing and sales priorities are greatly affected by how your company has fared against its competition.

Conducting a competitive analysis allows you to take a close look at your market, your competitors, their strengths and weaknesses, and learn what others are doing in your industry (i.e. best practices).

You should also consider how your customers are engaging businesses in your industry, where they’re buying, and other relevant behaviors.

For instance, consumers in 2018 buy more for benefits and value—as well as overall experience—than mere product functionality or service reliability. Thus, more and more businesses are investing in marketing centered on the right experiences, often referred to as “emotional branding.”

Apple is a perfect example of a company that utilizes this approach; their product campaigns often urge us to be something bigger than ourselves. In one particular case, an ad for the MacBook became an ad for self-expression.

The inclusivity campaign that became popular a few years ago is another great example; viral views topping 59 million were possible because the Ad Council tapped people’s innate desire for connection and love.

Staying on top of your competitors’ marketing strategies greatly helps you establish effective product development initiatives, so make sure you’re active on the right media and have crafted appropriate messaging.

Know where the money comes from—and where it should be going

This sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many businesses get lost in ideation and creativity and forget how their products, services, and marketing will actually make them money. 

First, clearly identify the products and services that are your sources of revenue. For obvious reasons, these are the elements of your business that need the most support.

Second, determine what your budget is. This includes everything from business overhead (keeping the lights on, employee salaries, etc.) to the specific support expenses that make your revenue-earners possible.

Think about everything when you start outlining this budget. What physical tools and equipment keep your revenue-generators working smoothly? Do you need printers, computers, phones, etc.? Do you need more space to continue development of your products or start building new ones? 

This is also a great time to cut the fat. Bring an existing expense report from the last 6 months to your strategic planning meeting. Go through it carefully and ask your team which items are still serving your business and which aren’t. Remember: If they’re not clearly supporting your revenue-earners, they’re probably not worth it. 

There’s more great advice on building a budget for small business here

Get feedback from your people

Whenever Google completes their quarterly and annual plans (also known as OKR, or Objectives and Key Results), they make sure to include feedback from all employees.

Similarly, Eli Lilly (one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world), implements a feedback process wherein employees actively voice their ideas—a process is that is ongoing.

Why? Businesses live or die by their people; people are the ones who innovate, build, execute, and implement. Who else would know better how well your company is doing?

Put simply, soliciting input from your staff makes setting up strategic priorities easier.

Everyone in your company, from the frontline employees to the managers and supervisors, has a deep understanding of the current needs and challenges your business face. They can provide valuable insights that let you sort out which projects should be prioritized.

While this kind of feedback is critical, few business owners think to create an “open door culture” where anyone can offer their feedback at any time. This is critical to amassing valuable employee insight, so be sure you “open your door.”

And keep this in mind: If this desire for feedback isn’t articulated, your people won’t even think to look at your business critically or make note of changes that might be helpful. Then, when strategic planning meetings take place, they’ll have nothing to share. Don’t make that mistake.

Strike a balance between short-term and long-term priorities

It is easy to get overwhelmed with your short-term priorities and lose track of your long-term goals. So how do you balance them?

By working backward. Start with your mission statement. Revisit your goals for the year, then break those goals down into biannual or quarterly goals. 

If you find that energy is being put into a project or projects that don’t serve the quarterly goals aligned with your yearly goals and longterm mission, then set them aside. 

Really, the point is this: No short-term goal should be an end unto itself. It should always be serving longterm goals that ultimately serve your mission.

Communicate your strategic priorities to your team

Alignment is crucial to the success of any organization. Many organizations publicly communicate their strategies, as Elon Musk did with his SpaceX goal-setting in 2017.

Others focus on maintaining clear communication practices internally; hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, for example, records their meetings so employees can review them at any time.

Still other companies leverage digital bulletin boards, forums, and communication platforms like Slack, Asana, and WebEx to keep ideas flowing regularly and easily. 

What’s important is that there is a balance of both informal and formal review of strategic plans and goals. Open digital forums are great to track ideas and comments day-to-day, but every company needs to plan for semiannual strategic planning and assessment meetings to review all of the items mentioned in this article.

The recording of these more formal meetings is important, as is a full review of your company’s success metrics. These give you the chance to pivot as needed, updating strategy to ensure your revenue is maximized, your expenses minimized, and your mission is on point.

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Lidia Staron

Lidia D. Staron is a passionate creative writer and marketing manager at OpenLoans.com. As a financial advisor and certified financial planner, she helps clients navigate the complicated road of life and ensure they are financially secure.