When you’re running your own business, achieving particular objectives may often be overtaken by the sheer volume of issues that sideline you during the course of your day. But those nagging goals still sit on your “to do list”, shouting at you to get them done! How can you maximize your chances of achieving your goals? The key is to get SMART.

SMART goals are Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Relevant and Time-Bound. Which means – what?

Choose something that you can really pin down, not something vague and airy fairy, otherwise how will you know when you cross the finish line? So instead of saying “Get my invoicing under control” try something like “Allocate half a day per week to focus on invoices”.

In the previous example, your goal is not only specific – sorting out your invoicing – but also measurable i.e. you’re going to allocate half a day a week to it. It’s easy if you’re setting a sales target or something very obviously quantifiable. But even a goal that is more intangible can be measured. Instead of saying “Improve my customer service”, make your goal something like – “Have ten conversations per week on the telephone directly with my customers to ascertain their satisfaction and in doing so, learn about our customer service levels”.

If you’re losing weight, you wouldn’t expect to drop twenty pounds in a week unless there’s something seriously wrong with you – and you’d be deeply disillusioned very quickly. Apply the same theory to your business goals. Setting aside an hour a week to concentrate on administration or drafting your website and actually achieving that is far more beneficial and positive than NOT attaining a goal of getting all your admin sorted out by the end of this week.

It needs to be important to you. If this particular goal doesn’t really matter to you, you won’t do it – so make sure you’ve got strong justification. For example – “I want to get my website written because I believe it will really help with my marketing and will increase customer enquiries”. Or, “I want to get my invoicing sorted because that will give me some more income to invest in a great new piece of equipment which will halve my production time”. Or even “I want to drop twenty pounds so that I will look like George Clooney/Claudia Schiffer…” (OK, perhaps that one isn’t so relevant – or achievable – or particularly SMART…)

Set a long term deadline. “I want to have my invoicing totally under control within six months”. “I want my website up and running by May because the summer is my busiest sales period”. “I want to have worked my way through all my customer base by Christmas so I can send a small present to my key top fifty”. In this way, you know when you’ve crossed the finish line. You have something to work towards and once you’ve got there, you reinforce your abilities to achieve your goals which will give you confidence to move onto other ones.

What happens if you don’t achieve your goal? Then work out why. Was there a big project that overtook you? Don’t beat yourself up about it, but by identifying the obstacles that got in your way this time, you can make the experience a learning process and re-set your SMART goal. Perhaps you were too ambitious on your timeline? Perhaps the goal simply wasn’t relevant enough to you – in which case drop it or delegate it to someone who will enjoy achieving it. Perhaps you were aiming for too much too soon – it wasn’t realistic – so you became disillusioned. By setting SMART goals for your business, you can make every experience one from which you learn for the future.

Deborah Done, the author of our Big Ideas, is founder and director of Nab Communications, a freelance public relations agency which provides sensible and value for money PR advice to regional and national businesses. www.nabcommunications.co.uk