How to set realistic business goals

By Julian Harlow

Setting realistic business goals can help you to create a roadmap towards those larger aspirations and ultimately achieve business success.

When starting an enterprise, business owners have at least a general idea of what they want to achieve from their efforts, whether that's building a successful operation, turning a business idea into a reality or creating a good lifestyle. The difficult part is working out how to get from your current position to that ultimate aim. Setting goals can help you create a roadmap towards those larger aspirations, and can prevent you from spending all your time and effort on tasks that are of little importance in the long term.

Realistic goals shouldn't be overly easy for you to achieve, but neither should they be pie-in-the-sky targets. Too easy and they won't spur you on to get the most out of your business, while overly ambitious objectives can be morale sapping if you know from the outset they will never be met.

Instead, keep in mind the following tips to setting the most effective and realistic goals:

  • Break down your goals: Pulling apart your broader goals to simpler objectives can make them less daunting, and can also give you a better understanding of how to achieve them.
  • Approach from the sunny side: When judging where you should set a goal, start with optimistic assumptions and then whittle them down. This is likely to lead to a better combination of ambition and realism.
  • How many goals? There are only so many objectives you can focus on at one time. If you attempt to spread your attention across every aspect of your business, none of your stated targets will receive your full commitment.
  • Can you keep going? A goal to increase sales by 10 per cent every quarter is a fine target. However, if achieving this will run your staff and yourself into the ground and you won't be able to provide the resources to sustain that sales growth, it isn't worth it.
  • Who's watching? Setting heroic goals publicly may seem a good way to motivate yourself and your workers, but not if it undermines your reputation as a businessperson. Would you be happy to present your goals as realistic targets if you were giving a presentation to potential investors?
  • Keep believing: A realistic goal is one that you are passionate about. Revising your goals regularly allows you to maintain sight of how your immediate goals contribute to achieving your final objective.

By setting realistic goals you will give yourself the best chance of achieving that long-term dream, and as an additional benefit you will regularly gain the satisfaction of meeting a strived-for goal - even if it's just a small one.


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