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Setting Business Goals for 2020: A Guideline

January 02, 2020
2020 business goals written on a notepad
Set specific and actionable business goals and make 2020 your most successful year yet. (Photo credit): Nora Carol Photography

What should your business focus on in the coming year? That answer emerges out of reflection.

A new year—and new decade—are here, which means now is the time for small business owners to set their 2020 goals. To grow your company, you need to know where you’ve been, where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there. The following tips from fellow small business entrepreneurs will help you set specific, actionable goals so you can make 2020 your most successful year yet.

Reflect on what’s worked in the past year

When business coach Darlene Hawley first started her company, she was laser-focused on the future, looking at where she wanted to be five to ten years down the road.

“I wasn’t spending the time looking at what went really well for the year I was just finishing,” Hawley says.

Then she realized that reflecting on the past year could serve as a motivator for the year to come, both for herself and for the clients with whom she works.

“Adding that to the strategic planning process was huge, because we need to celebrate,” Hawley says. “When we celebrate those wins, that’s what inspires us to take action going forward.”

Hawley practices what she preaches and is in the process of conducting her own year-in-review as 2020 gets closer.

“Right now, I’m looking at what 2019 looked like—what went well, what didn’t go so great, what would I change to make it better for 2020?” she says.

Dmytro Okunyev, founder of AI team chat platform Chanty, says reflecting on the past year is also essential to learning from your mistakes.

“The best way to set actionable goals for 2020 is to take a good, deep look at your performance in 2019,” he says. “You may have overreached some goals and flopped badly at others. Analyze the reasons for your success and failure, and see what you’ve been doing wrong.”

An objective analysis of what you’ve accomplished—and where you fell short—will help you set attainable goals for the coming year, he says. Without that perspective, you may condemn yourself to repeating the same missteps.

“The best way to set actionable goals for 2020 is to take a good look at your performance in 2019. You may have overreached some goals and flopped badly at others. Analyze the reasons for your success and failure, and see what you’ve been doing wrong.”

-Dmytro Okunyev

Businessman looking at 2020 business goals written on office wall
(Photo credit): Thomas Barwick

Identifying those gaps and opportunities for growth proved critical to Ben Walker’s business, Transcription Outsourcing. Walker had been spending thousands of dollars attending medical conferences to connect with potential clients, but began to see diminishing returns. When he began working with a business coach, the coach suggested scrapping the conference strategy in favor of investing in marketing strategies that were already working.

One of those was search engine optimization (SEO), which was already generating leads for the business. Walker invested more heavily in SEO and request for proposal (RFP) responses, which led to substantially more business than the conference strategy.

Nowadays, “I do more closely watch what’s working and what’s not working,” Walker says. “You’ve got to put the money where it’s working.”

To develop strategies that build on your company’s foundation, he also looks at client segments that are seeing the most growth and where the company already has expertise. “I’m already looking toward 2020 with historical data,” he says.

Define specific, actionable goals

Once you’ve assessed where you are and where you were in the past year, you can decide whether to prioritize your incomplete goals in 2020 or whether to shift focus to other areas. Either way, you need a well-defined plan for how you are going to fulfill your ambitions for the coming year.

Dave Mason, CEO of The Knobs Company, uses a notecard system for goal setting. On a single notecard, he writes a goal, the date by which he plans to reach the goal and the action steps required to get there. Then he adjusts the action steps as needed.

“The action steps change constantly as you progress. I’ll often cross out one step that’s not working and replace it with another that I want to try,” Mason explains.

The key to the system is repetition, he says. “To make it work, you want to go over your outcome card three or more times per day, including first thing in the morning to set your intentions for the day, last thing at night to really program it into the subconscious, and at least once in the middle of the day,” he says.

Another approach is to create a vision board for your 2020 goals to keep them top of mind. That’s what Nikki and Adam Clarke, a New Zealand husband-and-wife team whose company Cadenshae makes activewear for pregnant and nursing mothers, do for their business and personal goals.

“A vision board is great because even if you just glance at it, subconsciously you've reminded yourself what your endgame is,” Nikki Clarke says. The couple sets annual goals and checks in with one another every three to four months to assess their progress.

Group of businesspeople discussing business goals for the next year
(Photo credit): Thomas Barwick
"They key is to also make sure you set challenging targets, but not unrealistic ones.”

-Adam Clarke

“The key is to also make sure you set challenging targets, but not unrealistic ones,” Clarke says. “There's no point in saying we aim to turn over $50 million next year when we're far from that right now. It's just going to dishearten us.”

At the same time, you should push yourself to achieve more next year than you did in 2019. “You've got to set realistic goals, but also goals that are still going to make you get up early in the morning to achieve them,” Clarke says.

Set deadlines, and put them in context

Without a timeframe for when you plan to achieve your goals, it’s easy to keep moving the target. Setting a firm but reasonable deadline adds accountability.

“Write it down, and then break it down as to how you're going to go about achieving that goal,” Clarke recommends. For instance, she suggests: "By March I want to have this much achieved, so that by September, it’s done!"

Setting incremental deadlines along the way to your final deadline makes the goal more attainable since you’re working steadily toward it, rather than trying to hit a major milestone all at once. Consider, too, what else is happening in your business and life, and how your goal strategies align with those factors.

“You can’t be all things to all people all the time. It’s just not practical,” says Heather Adams, founder and CEO of Choice Media & Communications. She builds her goals around different seasons of the year. Those might be the natural seasons, seasons in her family’s calendar, such as when school is in session and when the kids are on break, or periods when the business is typically busier or slower. Then she develops a game plan around what will take priority at those intervals, so her goal strategy aligns with what else is happening in her work and life.

Get your team’s buy-in

“Running a business should be a democracy,” says Stacy Tuschl, owner of The Academy of Performing Arts studios in Wisconsin and the 2019 Wisconsin Small Business Owner of the Year.

Tuschl suggests sharing your vision for the company and grounding everyone in the mission you’re trying to fulfill, as well as asking for their input and ideas. A sense of ownership will motivate everyone to work toward your shared goals for the business and will help with another recommendation of Tuschl’s—delegating tasks and deadlines.

“The earlier you delegate tasks, the better,” she says. “It gives your team a clear vision of what is expected of them, the company and yourself for the 2020 term.”

Reaching your goals in 2020 depends largely on how you structure your strategies. Get specific and break down your goal into action steps with measurable success metrics. Then you’ll know when you and your team are moving steadily toward your targets and when you’ve gotten off track. Above all, check in consistently so you don’t lose sight of what you hope to achieve.

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