How to Set Realistic Business Goals You Can Actually Keep

Christine Aebischer

Christine Aebischer is an editor at Fundera. Previously, she was an editor at the financial planning startup LearnVest and its parent company, Northwestern Mutual. She has written for print and online on topics ranging from personal finance and insurance to luxury real estate and interior design. She has a degree in journalism and English from The College of New Jersey.

The start of a new year may be the traditional time to set new business goals, but you don’t have to wait for January 1 to create business goals that will motivate you and your team to move your company forward. In reality, the best time to set new business goals is right now.

While starting a business may have been your ultimate goal for some time, now that you’ve accomplished this, it’s time to make new business goals so your entrepreneurial endeavor can continue to grow. After all, if you don’t know what you’re working toward, it’s hard to measure success.

As you’re deciding what business goals to set for yourself, it’s always a good idea to consult your business plan. This roadmap that you created in your business’s infancy can help you determine where your company should be heading. Setting business goals, then, will be how you’ll get there.

Sounds simple, right? It should be, but setting business goals can also be more complicated. You want to find the sweet spot between business goals that challenge you and your team, while also being attainable so that morale doesn’t suffer. In this guide to setting business goals, we’ll outline some do’s and don’ts to follow as you create business goals that will help grow your business.

Business Goals: Do’s and Don’ts

Ready to create the best business goals for your company? Follow these do’s and don’ts to set goals that will inspire and motivate your business.

business goals

Do Set Realistic Business Goals

There is nothing wrong with setting great, big, shoot-for-the-moon business goals. This is what entrepreneurship is based on, after all. But that next step, figuring out how you’ll actually achieve those big goals—with a series of smaller, realistic goals—typically never gets analyzed. Therein lies a big problem. Without an attainable action plan, you won’t be able to measure whether you’re making real progress toward reaching your big business goals.

Let’s say you want your business to be the most sought-after in your industry, or you want to double your sales, or open 10 more locations. It’s good to have these mega-goals, but this shouldn’t be where you stop. Once you know what you want to achieve, start researching and thinking about the steps you need to take to get there. In other words, get specific. The more specific your business goals, the more direction your team will have and the easier it will be to see when you’ve made progress.

Another specific you don’t want to forget is the timeline. If you assign an unrealistic timeline to a business goal, your team will likely be discouraged right away, knowing they’re working toward an unattainable goal. When creating your business goals, make sure you provide enough time for them to be realistically achieved and schedule check-ins along the way to monitor progress and adjust if necessary.

Don’t Set Too Many Business Goals

Every entrepreneur wants to accomplish everything, right away. It’s a natural instinct to want to fix every pain point or grow in any way possible—as soon as possible. But, creating too many business goals is a great way to create workplace burnout amongst your team and yourself. Not only will this impact productivity, but you’ll also run the risk of losing key employees who may decide they don’t want to work in that kind of disorganized environment.

When you have too many business goals, your team won’t know where their true priorities lie. And without this clear direction, they won’t be able to make substantial progress on any of their goals. Two to three company-wide goals is a good place to start, with strategies for how to accomplish each one. If you find this is too easily accomplished, you can always add additional business goals in the future.

Do Get Support From Your Team

Your business goals will not be successful if your team doesn’t believe in them. They are the ones who will make it possible, after all. As a leader, you should think broadly about what you want to accomplish as a business and draft some high-level business goals. Then, you should work with your executive team to get their input and finalize your two to three company-wide goals.

As these goals trickle down to the broader teams (marketing, sales, product, etc.), you should encourage managers to collaborate with their teams to drill down their more specific goals and the strategies they’ll employ to reach them. When everyone feels as if they had a say in the company strategy, they’re more likely to feel invested and motivated to achieve their goals. Not to mention, you never know where the next great idea for your business will come from. Encouraging all of your team members to speak up and contribute to your business goals can help facilitate the type of forward-thinking that can make a real difference for your company.

business goals

Do Be Clear About How You’ll Achieve Your Business Goals

Many business goals are vague proclamations or bold initiatives of what a business owner wants to achieve—or thinks they want to achieve. Sometimes, they aren’t even necessarily relevant to the business in question, but are simply following a broader industry trend. In this case, because the business goals aren’t founded on credible information specific to the business, they are often followed up with no guidance on how to reach them.

As we’ve mentioned, setting realistic business goals is key. Once this is done, you need to create specific strategies for how you will achieve these goals. Achieving business goals is really done in a series of patient, iterative steps, which gradually have increasing levels of difficulty. Developing a roadmap that accounts for each step along the way will not only provide your team with a clear idea of what they need to do and when, but it will also help you find out, just with a glance, how close you are to reaching your goals.

And don’t forget to celebrate the achievement of these interim goals with the entire team. Without acknowledgment and positive reinforcement along the way, your employees may start to wonder what they’re really working toward.

Do Let Go of Past Failures (and Successes)

Small business owners are constantly trying to learn from their failures. One of the benefits of starting your own company is you can test different strategies and learn from what does or doesn’t work. It’s all part of the process.

As you create your business goals, especially if this is your first experience doing so, it’s important to acknowledge that you will likely not reach all of them in the exact way or timeframe that you imagined. You may underestimate how much time you’ll need to find new clients, or overestimate how much progress can realistically be made on the construction of your new location. In other instances, a completely unforeseen circumstance may derail your timeline.

The most important thing in these situations is not that your goals may be delayed, but that you are learning from the mistakes and failures. And once you have learned all you can, let go and move on. Don’t let past missteps keep you from moving forward. Mistakes are a natural part of business—and life—and they shouldn’t prevent you from setting new business goals.

In the same thread, though, don’t let past successes inflate your ego and lead you to take some rash or under-researched actions. It’s great when things go well, but you can’t assume this will always be the case, and you should approach every new business goal with a fresh mindset and do your due diligence to make sure it’s in the best interest of your business.

Don’t Give up on Your Business Goals

As with any goal, the time immediately after you set your business goals will likely be filled with focus and hard work. Everyone is invigorated and ready to achieve their goals. Just like with New Year’s resolutions, though, once the second month rolls around, people’s motivation tends to plummet. In some cases, things may come up that you didn’t account for when you set your goals that take priority. In other cases, your employees may get tired of working toward the same thing each day.

Again, this is where creating smaller, more specific goals comes into play. As each smaller goal is reached, your team can celebrate the victory and see how their work is directly impacting the business, and then they can turn their attention to the next goal.

As a company, it’s important to check in on your business goals together. Meeting once a quarter to measure progress can help keep everyone accountable, and is also a great time to course-correct if necessary—and it likely will be necessary, especially when you’re first starting out. Whether or not you have a formal employee review system, it’s also a good idea to have each employee write down how their work is directly or indirectly impacting your business goals, and update their progress on a quarterly or biannual basis.

Do Upgrade Your Skills

As Thomas Jefferson once said: “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” Following this logic, if you want your business to reach a new level, your employees will need to work in new and better ways. In order to do this, they may need to learn new skills or attend specialized training.

Most small business owners never realize that it takes increased staff training to hit certain goals. Unfortunately, they often see this as an expense, rather than an investment in both their employees and their company. For each business goal that you set, ask yourself what skills the team will need in order to achieve it. Then, map out how and when they will receive any necessary training, and how long it will take for them to implement what they have learned. Some companies also offer the employee benefit of an annual education stipend to further their employees’ professional development in an area they’re interested in and that applies to their role.

Business Goals: The Bottom Line

Business goals are essential to help your business grow in a meaningful way. But as with all things associated with your business, they require forethought and planning in order to be effective. Throwing out vague, unrealistic business goals will, at best, confuse your team and, at worst, decrease their productivity and desire to work at your company—which can have a real impact on your business’s bottom line, in a bad way.

To create the best business goals that will motivate your team and help move your company forward, you want to work with your entire team to develop a few realistic goals and a specific strategy for how you will achieve them over a set amount of time. And keep in mind, while every goal won’t be a success, the most important thing is that you learn from each mistake and keep moving your company forward.

The 30 Best Business Books for Entrepreneurs

Editorial Note: Fundera exists to help you make better business decisions. That’s why we make sure our editorial integrity isn’t influenced by our own business. The opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations in this article are those of our editorial team alone. They haven’t been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of the companies mentioned above. Learn more about our editorial process and how we make money here.

Christine Aebischer

Christine Aebischer is an editor at Fundera. Previously, she was an editor at the financial planning startup LearnVest and its parent company, Northwestern Mutual. She has written for print and online on topics ranging from personal finance and insurance to luxury real estate and interior design. She has a degree in journalism and English from The College of New Jersey.

Our Picks