Goal-Setting Tips for Entrepreneurs
Whether it’s a personal New Year’s resolution or a business plan goal, there are best practices to help ensure success in goal setting. We have some great tips from Carrie Callaway Cardy, VP, senior SBA relationship manager, KeyBank, a specialist in economic development and small business financing with a passion for underserved communities.
- Don’t let a big goal overwhelm you – it’s a series of smaller achievements that get you there
- When you get stuck, talk through your plan and goals with a friend, peer or advisor
- Business goals need to allow for evolution, or pivoting, as we now know it
“So often people are working hard at the wrong thing. Working on the right thing is probably more important than working hard.” – Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr
Questions and Answers on Goal Setting with Carrie Callaway Cardy, VP, Senior SBA Relationship Manager
Can you share how you help entrepreneurs and business owners with goal setting?
Planning for a new or growing business takes personal introspection on the part of an owner. Then, typically during the planning process, an owner will reach out to get help from others to turn their vision and their talents into a viable business. This is when an owner needs to start forming their advisory team – mentors, banker, accountant, attorney.
When I counsel an entrepreneur who is working on their business plan, sometimes it’s a detailed conversation and we work through the plan itself. At other times, the best course of action is to point to resources that will help an owner formulate their plan – like SCORE and Small Business Development Centers. These organizations have a wide variety of information and resources that help with business planning and goal setting. This assistance ranges from self-serve resources to free one-on-one mentorship.
Is there a particular method for goal setting that you recommend?
Goal setting really varies by business and situation, right? You have people just starting out who have never owned a business and have never applied for funding. You also have business owners who have owned their businesses for 20 years and have different needs. Depending on what stage of business ownership they are in, goal setting is very different, and preparation can range from an informal one-page email to a formal written business plan. When we counsel business owners, I point them to the most appropriate resources for their individual needs at the time, whether that be the Small Business Administration or other helpful tools.
When you are assisting a client with goal setting, what do you, a banker, focus on the most?
People will hear me ask over and over again, “How will you do that?” or “How did you get to those numbers?” Writing goals down shows thought and accountability, but what may be missing is the “how.”
Often, a series of small goals laddering up to a big goal is the “how” I am looking for. I like to see the thought process an entrepreneur goes through to meet their vision. To me, this means they recognize the effort that will be required to accomplish larger goals. Also, when goals are broken down into smaller, more attainable pieces, the business plan becomes more actionable to everyone, including a banker.
A well-known method of goal setting is the SMART method. This acronym describes creating goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based. We often point entrepreneurs to resources that highlight this goal-setting method. This is a method that stresses a clear articulation of goals along with a time-based component, which helps business owners with high-level time management. One of the roles of your core advisors is to check in frequently with an owner to review progress. Advisors will inevitably ask, “Did you hire those five people you said you were going to hire?” or “Did you earn 30 new customers in Q1? Congratulations! How did you do that? Now, what’s the plan for Q2?” In my role, I look for the tangible more than anything else.
Some entrepreneurs may get overwhelmed by the process of preparing a business plan and goal setting. How do you respond to clients if they are feeling this way?
Business planning is a big job, and sometimes it will feel like climbing a mountain. My advice is to use the credible resources available to you. With help, you can move forward more smoothly. Also, keep goals basic and clearly articulated. If a client shows me goals that look like an endless to-do list, I would have them prioritize those items that will have the biggest impact in reaching their bigger goals.
Another tip is to talk through your business plan with your banker in a less formal way, like you are talking to your best friend. Allow for your passion and preparedness to shine through. What you are really selling in that conversation is yourself and your ability to go after the goals.
Finally, remember to expect change, or pivots, in your plan. We’ve all seen the necessity of this in the past 18 months. Consider this a “new version” of your plan – not a complete do-over. There will always be economic and environmental factors that require an adjustment in your plan and goals. Business plan goals don’t belong in the back drawer when completed. They should be an evolving tool throughout the life of a business.
Is there one last piece of advice about goal setting you can give to entrepreneurs?
Yes, I tell a client to have three people review their plan, specifically their goals. The three people are:
- Someone in the same industry as your business. This person knows the marketplace and the specific challenges of navigating and thriving in it.
- Someone who knows you well. This person will let you know if something in your plan sounds “off” or “really does not sound like you.”
- Someone who has nothing to do with your business idea or plan thus far – a strong leader who will come in cold, without any time or emotion invested in your idea or plan.
Listen to all of these people! They will give you well-rounded input on your vision, your plan and your goals. You can adjust as needed and continue moving forward.