Some time in history, it became the norm for businesses to set out short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. This all looks great in formal business plans, and can be a vital overall road map for companies.
As a modern day small business or freelancer, it is of course crucial to have goals and a strategic plan of action. But is it necessary, or even advantageous to have solid plans laid out for a whole year or more? Or even for the next six months?
I’ve recently come around to planning mainly for the short term… It makes perfect sense for my own business, and I think it might make you think twice about your own mid to long term goals too.
I’d like to tell you my logic behind this, to see what you think.
The trouble with annual and longer term goals
Let’s look at 12-month Goals, because what I want to say applies to longer term goals too.
For the person working at home, by themselves or with an outsourced/remote team, decision making, and changing/updating strategies or changing course to suit the current situation, can be done swiftly. It’s quicker and easier than for a larger organisation where more people and a more complex infrastructure is involved.
A larger business – even with goal-flexibility throughout the year – is often stuck to some extent in its plans for the year and beyond. That’s not usually a bad thing, of course, but I don’t believe it to be as necessary for a small operation.
Business aims can change a lot over the course of 12 months. For example, new, unexpected markets can open up; new opportunities can create new directions for the business; failures can force the need for a rethink of strategies; better than expected successes can make your 12-month plan irrelevant, things out of your control (like a global pandemic last year!) can get in the way of your well thought out plans, and so on…
Feeling the need to doggedly stick with the plans you made for the entire year doesn’t make sense – especially in the fast-paced, ever-morphing small business landscape of today, where many aspects of your business can change or require diversions throughout the year.
A more manageable and dynamic time frame
To keep your goals relevant, and allow for flexibility when the unexpected happens, and also to even help your business grow with more drive and dynamism, here’s my suggested method…
Firstly, you can set your overall and or long-term goals – the ultimate aims for the business – and also a loose plan of targets for the next year or two years etc.
(Short term goals do still go hand-in-hand with longer term goals, but things that happen in the short term can have a major impact on the route required to reach those longer term goals. So the short term is where to focus your attention.)
With your long term goals in mind, you can think about what is needed in the next three months to power you forward toward the ultimate goals. Just the next three months (or the rest of this current Quarter, so that your next plan will be created at the beginning of the next Quarter).
At the end of the Quarter, you will know how your plans have fared, and can plan for the next three months based on your gained knowledge and experiences of the past Quarter.
Because it’s a shorter time frame – but not too short a time as to not give you enough feedback on results – it has these advantages:
- Not being as overwhelming (potentially creating procrastination or confusion). Your goals for the Quarter are more of a hill than a mountain.
- More flexibility over time, allowing for quickly arranged detours in strategy or implementation.
- Your goals don’t seem as far away, or don’t give the impression as much that some of them can be worked on later. They’re less likely to foster the habit of putting things off. You’re more likely to take notice and do something about targets that need to be met this Quarter.
- Faster feedback. You don’t need to wait a whole year to find out if your work is going to achieve the results you’re aiming for.
At the end of each Quarter (as well as at the end of each week or month if you use even shorter term goals too), you could review what worked, what didn’t, what goals were reached or not, why, and what can be done to optimise the path forward – and then plan your next Quarter’s targets with the help of that data.
This is what I intend to do this year. Or, should I say, this first Quarter of 2021 and beyond!
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