Setting goals is the first step to getting what you want from your business. They give your work a sense of purpose and help you focus your limited time and energy on what’s important. Business goals also motivate and energize you to keep going when things get tough.

If you have the wrong business goals in place (or no goals at all), you won’t be clear on what you’re trying to achieve, and you’ll likely be half-hearted in your efforts. Even if you do reach those goals, the results won’t be as meaningful or feel as good as you might have hoped.

So what kinds of business goals should you be setting? Here are five things you need to consider.

1. Professional vs. personal business goals

Father and daughter laughing together
It’s easy to lose sight of your personal motivations as you bury yourself in work to try to grow the business. Via Caroline Hernandez.

When you consider possible business goals, your mind probably goes to getting more clients or earning more money. Those goals are important, but they are only part of the picture.

Think back to why you started freelancing or why you launched your business. You might have been motivated by more flexibility and time with your family. Maybe you wanted to be more creative or enjoy your work more. These are priorities that go beyond basic income and sales targets. Income makes all those other things possible, but money is rarely an end in itself.

When you’re setting goals, go beyond the obvious business-related areas. Consider things like:

  • The maximum number of hours you want to work each week
  • Specific days or time slots you want to have off
  • Never missing your children’s sports days and performances
  • Fitting in your yoga and meditation every day
  • Gaining a specific qualification

Remember your most important priorities—and set business goals that reflect them.

2. Long-term vs. short-term business goals

Telescope focused out in the distance.
Balancing a long-term vision with short-term goals will keep you inspired as well as focused on what you need to do to make that vision a reality. Via John Towner.

As you define both your personal and professional goals, consider the timeframe for achieving them. You may have big dreams for the future, but with no impending deadline it’s easy to procrastinate. On the other hand, short-term goals can mean you miss out on the bigger picture by making incremental progress without having anything more substantial to aim for.

The best approach is to set both long-term and short-term business goals. First, create a big vision to inspire you and give you something meaningful to work towards. Next, break that down into specific goals with more urgent deadlines to focus your immediate efforts.

A big picture or lifetime vision might include:

  • Reaching a specific income level
  • Establishing a passive income stream
  • Retiring early and traveling the world
  • Re-locating to a new country
  • Buying your dream house

Break this vision down into multiple long-term goals that you can achieve in 10 years, 5 years, 3 years and just one year.

For short-term goals, a three-month deadline is long enough for you to achieve big results, but short enough to maintain your focus. To make these goals even more achievable, break them down even further into monthly and weekly goals.

3. Outcome vs. process business goals

Typing on a laptop keyboard.
We should consider both the results that we’re aiming for (the outcome) and the actions we need to take to get there (the process). Via Glenn Carstens-Peters.

Ultimately, business goals need to get you results. Your future outcome is what’s going to motivate you, and in a way, it doesn’t really matter how you get there!

Outcome goals are directly related to the results you’re aiming for, but you don’t always have complete control over whether or not you’ll get there. To make reaching that outcome more likely, you need to take specific actions. That’s where process goals come in.

Process goals are related to things you do have control over. For example:

  • Sending a specific number proposals every week
  • Following up with prospective clients every day
  • Posting regularly on your social media channels
  • Blocking your calendar to spend time with your family
  • Signing up to an online course

Again, you’ll want a mix of both types of goals. Outcome goals usually correspond to that long-term vision that you’ve set, while process goals will be most useful for your short-term deadlines. For example, your one-year goal might be to increase your income by 50%, your three-month goal to get five new clients and your weekly goal to send at least five new proposals.

4. Quantitative vs. qualitative business goals

Hand holding a stop watch.
Numbers will help to make sure that the business is on track from a financial point of view but there will be other less tangible goals that you’ll want to set for yourself as well. Via Sabri Tuzcu.

Business goals need to be specific enough so that you can track them and know when you’ve achieved them. “Growing the business” is far too vague, as is “getting more clients” or “spending more time with my children.”

Quantitative goals ensure that you have specific, measurable and achievable targets (this is where SMART comes in). Examples of quantitative goals are:

  • Earn $10,000 in the next three months
  • Get three new clients by the end of the month
  • Work no more than 30 hours this week on the business

However, business goals that you can’t measure with numbers can be just as important. Qualitative goals might include:

  • Feeling more confident
  • Experiencing less stress
  • Enjoying your work more
  • Improving your writing or public speaking skills
  • Finding a better balance between work and your personal life

Be as specific as you can by defining what “better” means or how much “more” you want of something. Using scales is also useful. Rate your confidence today (for example, 6 out of 10) and then set a goal for three months from now (8 out of 10). This will enable you to assess your progress on less tangible goals.

As always, make sure you have a balance between the two types of goals. Set quantitative goals to make sure that you’re on top of your financial targets, and set qualitative goals to capture the more nuanced aspects of what you’re trying to achieve with your business.

5. Ambitious vs. realistic business goals

Man looking up at a tall mountain peak.
Ambition is great but don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the huge task that’s in front of you; break your big goal down into manageable chunks and milestones along the way. Via Christopher Burns.

Some finance coaches will tell you to define an income goal for the year—and then they’ll tell you to double it or even triple it. This kind of ambition can be inspiring and make you intensify your efforts. But it can also feel so daunting that you give up in the face of an impossible task.

A ‘dream’ goal or stretch goal can absolutely help motivate you to put that extra bit of effort in. And even if you don’t achieve it right away, you might get closer than you would have otherwise. However, stretch goals should be balanced with more realistic goals and milestones. You want to have little wins to celebrate along the way!

For example, you might have a stretch goal of creating a six-figure income alongside a more realistic goal of earning $10,000 more this year than last. Or you might dream of becoming a best-selling author, but your more realistic goal is to self-publish your first book this year.

Dream big, by all means. But set yourself those smaller goals to build your confidence and keep you going in the meantime.

What to do next

Block some time in your schedule to take a step back from your day-to-day client work and ask yourself what you’re really trying to achieve.

  • What are your business goals from a more personal perspective—not just the financials?
  • What’s your long-term vision, and what are the short-term business goals that will support that vision?
  • What are the actions you need to take to make those outcomes more likely?
  • Do you have the metrics in place to measure and track your results?
  • Do you have a good mix of ambitious goals and more realistic targets?

Setting business goals is all about intentionally creating the business (and ultimately the life) that you want. Making sure that you have the right business goals in place will make you more likely to succeed and will ensure that your success is meaningful when you do.

What are your goals? Let us know in the comments!