Those who stick too rigidly to the business plan die by the business plan.
Each day brings new surprises when you’re running a startup. For entrepreneurs, that insecurity can make goal-setting feel futile. It’s hard to make a plan when there is so little predictability about what the year will bring. But creating goals that actually account for the flexibility and spontaneity required when running a company not only helps future-proof your business plan, it can also be empowering. All entrepreneurs have a grand vision for what their business is capable of, and often we get caught up in focusing only on the most obvious goals: revenue targets, product launches, partnerships and team growth.
As you plan to tackle 2020, create goals that keep you anchored by allowing for the intangibles of running a business. Start by following these five steps.
1. Examine your intentions.
In today’s hyper-competitive world, it’s easy to set our eyes on accomplishments that look like success on the outside, but may not actually benefit our business as much as we think. It might be a press feature, an uptick in Instagram followers, a fancy award or attendance at a high-profile conference.
None of those aspirations are inherently problematic, but as you set your goals, consider what will actually be most impactful in the year ahead. Most importantly, ask yourself if it’s something you actually want to work toward, or if it’s just something that looks nice on paper.
Time is limited, and the more selective and purposeful we can be about our goals, the more likely they’ll be to actually contribute to our success and happiness.
Related: The Complete, 12-Step Guide to Starting a Business
2. Learn something new.
When setting your goals, identify objectives that demand you learn a new skill. Give yourself permission — and, indeed, a mandate — to thrive outside your comfort zone. Sign up for coursework and accreditations, immerse yourself in new design software, learn to do ad buying or plan on attending at least one networking event a month. The idea is to stay plugged in by expanding your thinking and skillsets, inspiring yourself in ways you might have otherwise missed out on.
There were several years in my own entrepreneurial journey when I was so caught up in the day to day that I rarely prioritized opportunities outside of the business. Looking back, it’s easy to see how that contributed to feeling isolated or burnt out. As business leaders, it’s important we embrace the rewards of investing both in ourselves and in each other. Community engagement and skill development are circular processes and provide the fuel to keep going.
3. Ask yourself who your goals will impact.
Our businesses don’t exist in a bubble. The goals we set will impact our personal lives, our community and the team members who work alongside us. For example, if you’ll be working toward an ambitious operations expansion this year, make sure you account for the effects it will have on the people around you. Talk with colleagues and partners about what to expect and how you can support one another. Evaluate how your growth might impact your community economically and socially, inform your workplace culture and influence customer perception.
Plan for more time than you might expect to suss out these important issues. Ambition is necessary for growing your business, but what good is it if, on balance, it’s resulted in insecurity for those who have made sacrifices to help you achieve success?
In other words: Don’t climb a mountain only to find yourself alone when you reach the top. Make sure your goals and plans account for those around you.
4. Leave room for spontaneity.
Once the planning-ahead gears are turning, it can be tempting to over-predict where you might land. Having a watertight plan makes us feel like the business is secure and stable, almost like we’ve accomplished what’s on our list before we’ve even begun.
But being too rigid or specific can lead us to miss out on unexpected opportunities. As you set your goals, it’s okay if they include broad placeholders. Gray areas aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Communicating the importance of flexibility to your team, too, will help ensure emerging opportunities are considered and encourage different ways of thinking. It’s the difference between having the freedom to pursue a crucial new partnership or sending that email to spam because it doesn’t immediately contribute to the quarter’s revenue goals. This effectively gives your employees permission to pursue de-risking the business, rather than encouraging the pursuit of growth at all costs.
What matters most isn’t sticking to a particular goal or plan but making measurable progress towards your greater vision. Stay true to your intentions, flexible in your approach. And remember to check in with yourself seasonally to make adjustments as you go.
Related: Need a Business Idea? Here Are 55.
5. Plan to celebrate along the way.
If you’re anything like most entrepreneurs (myself included), you probably have a tendency to cross one accomplishment off the list, then immediately move onto the next without significant reflection. Let’s change that in 2020. Plan to reflect on what you’ve learned, and recognize unexpected wins along the way, too. Build in rewards for yourself ahead of time and account for them in your budget now, like celebratory dinners and offsite gatherings with your team. Take the time at the end of a particularly busy month to journal on your reflections and accomplishments. And schedule a damn vacation for yourself.
Acknowledge those who contributed to your success, too. It’s easy to get so caught up in our work that we forget the importance of a simple, sincere acknowledgment. Don’t assume the people around you already know how grateful you are.
Too often, we miss out on business-defining opportunities and embrace the false sense of security that comes with overplanning. In 2020, by making room for the unexpected, we can change that.