Goal setting: a guide to planning your future

Before you get stuck into the practicalities of starting your own business, you need to solidify your aims. Here, two experts share the best courses of action for moving forward.
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The reason for starting a business varies massively from founder to founder: some want to turn a side hustle into a full-blown venture, others want to launch a company to improve their work-life balance. Either way, having both short- and long-term goals can help small businesses keep going in the right direction. 

Ellen Donnelly runs London-based coaching company The Ask, which helps business owners and freelancers turn their goals into realities. ‘I like to encourage founders to dream big,’ she says. ‘If there was an ambition scale of 1 to 10 (10 being ridiculously ambitious), then setting goals at about a 7 feels right. In a recent check-in with a group of founders that I coach, about half of them had already hit some of their annual goals. So, by stretching yourself, you get to see what you're actually capable of.’

Ellen recommends that new business owners set between one and three big-picture goals, which could be related to your finances, customer growth or even the lifestyle you want to live as a business owner. ‘Then set sub-goals that ladder up to the key goal and check in on those sub-goals once a quarter,’ she adds. ‘These three-month check-ins are a great chance to ensure each goal still makes sense, or whether it needs to be switched up for a new one that is more appropriate.’

The power of a team

Having people around to hold you accountable is a big piece of the puzzle, too, says Taylor Harrington, head of community at Groove, a global digital co-working community for solo business owners. ‘We've found that most Groovers have a daily or weekly practice of setting goals but, beyond that, their practices aren't quite as structured and sometimes get forgotten,’ she says. ‘When folks work solo, they don't have to say their goals out loud. We've found there's something so powerful about putting those goals out there into a supportive community. Suddenly, you're on the hook to get it done.’

Taylor also emphasizes the importance of celebrating when milestones have been achieved. ‘Progress can be difficult to track when you're working for yourself,’ she says. ‘But, by socializing accomplishments, we've helped solo business owners look out for the wins in their lives more intentionally, so that they can share them and even plan for them in advance.’

Where to dedicate your time

‘It helps to have some rules about when certain tasks will take place,’ Ellen says. ‘For example, Mondays are for marketing and Fridays for admin. Or difficult tasks can be done in the morning rather than the afternoon. You can get more done when you give a task focus and avoid the mental cost of switching.

‘It definitely helps to decide ahead of time when you'll do certain tasks, rather than waiting for the day to begin and then deciding what to do. When this happens, business owners spend so much time deliberating the best use of their time that they end up procrastinating. You have to become a better – often stricter – manager to yourself when you're your own boss.’ 

Overcoming fear and inertia 

Business owners can get stuck in a cycle of planning instead of doing what they need to do – which is partly driven by fear. According to Taylor, the first step to overcoming that fear is to acknowledge how much it drives you.

‘If you're in a car with your fear, where is it? Is it in the driving seat, leading the way? Is it in the passenger seat, trying to direct you, but you're still the one driving? Or is it in the backseat where you can still see it, but it's not right up in your business? I like this visual because it gives us a space to really think about where fear is right now, and if we want to make a change.’

This article was first published in How to Start a Business 2023. To purchase a copy or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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