If you are like many people, you have big dreams of achieving great success. You might be looking to start your own small business or achieve certain business goals for an existing enterprise. Maybe your dreams surround meeting personal goals, or you might be focused on being a source of support for your family or community in some meaningful way.

While dreaming - often referred to as imagining or visualizing - is a necessary step on the road to achievement, no amount of wishful thinking is going to turn your dreams into a reality. Instead, you will need to work through the process of setting and then realizing goals in some incremental fashion.

This article will explain how to use the SMART goals framework to move from dreaming of success to turning success into your reality.

The Importance of Goal Setting

All successful people - whether corporate moguls, world-class athletes, or accomplished artists - set goals. Setting goals gives you focus so that you can get to the next level on the road to reaching your full potential in whatever it is you set out to do.

Goals are more than dreams written down. When clearly defined and actionable, goals provide:

  • A means for motivation
  • A context for clarity of purpose
  • A path for turning vision into action
  • An organizational structure for achievement

What Does the SMART Acronym Stand For?

The SMART acronym first appeared in Management Review in 1981. Authored by successful corporate executive George T. Doran, the article set forth the SMART criteria for goal setting and achievement. Doran's smart goal setting technique requires goals to be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

How to Set Goals Using SMART

The SMART framework is easy to follow but can be difficult to perfect at first. If you follow these guidelines, however, you should be able to set and achieve SMART goals that serve your highest objectives.

S - Specific

When setting your goal, think about defining it in the most intricately specific terms that you can. A goal that is ambiguous, poorly defined, and vague has little chance of being realized. To reach the desired level of specificity with your goal, use the five questions that reporters ask when chasing a story: who, what, where, when, and why.

For example, you can ask yourself:

  • Who must be involved so that I can reach this goal?
  • What exactly do I want to accomplish with this goal?
  • Where will I achieve this goal?
  • When do I plan to achieve this goal?
  • Why is this goal important to me?

Let's say you are a small business owner who is overwhelmed by all of the record-keeping and accounting tasks that come with running a small business. An example of a goal that would be too vague is, "I want to spend less time on accounting for my business."

An example of a specific goal would be, "I want to find an easy and inexpensive way to manage the day-to-day accounting aspects of my business as quickly as possible so that I can focus on expanding my client base."

With the second example, you know who is involved (you), what you want to accomplish (find an easy and inexpensive accounting solution), where this will happen (your place of business is implied), when it will happen (as soon as possible), and why you need it (to have time to get new clients).

M - Measurable

Most goals are achieved over time, so you will want to ensure that the actions you take to fulfill your goals actually help you move in the right direction. The only way to gauge progress is to create measurable goals. You can do this by using milestones - smaller SMART goals that keep you headed in the right direction - and then use these metrics to incrementally measure progress.

Going back to the smart goal example of finding a way to better manage your small business accounting functions, you can measure your progress by setting certain milestones, such as:

When possible, give yourself a little reward when you meet a milestone. For instance, if you keep current with populating a worksheet for how many hours you spend on accounting tasks for a two-week period, indulge in your favorite meal at your favorite restaurant to reward yourself for a job well done.

A - Achievable

It's important that you set reasonable expectations for your goal. In other words, make sure that you set a goal that you can actually meet within a reasonable amount of time.

Looking back to the example above, make sure you have the time and background to seek out and understand the information you'll need to find and implement an accounting system for your small business. If you can commit to 30 minutes a week to learning about small business accounting and tracking the time you spend on accounting tasks, you have every reason to be confident that you will be able to achieve your SMART goal.

R - Relevant

Make sure that the goals you set are, in fact, moving you in the direction of reaching your long-term goals and the outcomes you need. Remember, you are setting a specific, measurable, and achievable goal that will, ultimately, help you reach an overarching goal. For each goal - and its subordinate milestones - make sure that it is relevant to helping you meet this objective.

Will streamlining your accounting functions so that you spend less time on day-to-day record-keeping and bookkeeping lead you to procure more business due to the time you save? If the answer is yes, then your goal is relevant to the broader objective of making your business more profitable.

T - Time-Bound

Goals can't exist in perpetuity. Each goal you set must be time-related. It needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. Without some type of time management, you won't have enough of a sense of urgency to actually complete the necessary steps to achieve the goal. At some point, you have to put an action plan next to the goal you have set. If you have followed the SMART system in a meaningful way, your attainable goal should lend itself to reaching success within a reasonable period of time.

Going back to the small business accounting example, if your goal is to find an accounting software package and business templates that will free up your time, think about giving yourself a deadline. You might want to set a target date for having the new system up and running by the beginning of the new year.

A word of caution: Don't be so rigid with your timeline for achievement that you end up putting form over substance. The SMART system is designed to aid in your achievement, not stand in its way. If you don't make progress you had hoped to make within a certain time frame, it's perfectly acceptable to extend the deadline. Perhaps you put unrealistic expectations on yourself and/or ran into unanticipated roadblocks that were out of your control. As long as you keep the SMART framework in mind, it's OK to pivot as necessary so that you continue to move forward.

Setting a Financial Goal? Let Skynova Help

Whether you are looking for streamlined small business accounting solutions or other help with meeting your financial goals, Skynova can help.

With software and templates that can help you track income and expenses, as well as handle all of your day-to-day bookkeeping and business operations, Skynova can free you up to focus on the work you were meant to do rather than the tasks that you have to do. Learn more about Skynova's software solutions today.

Notice to the Reader

The content within this article is meant to be used as general guidelines and may not apply to your specific situation. Always consult with a professional accountant to ensure you're meeting accounting standards.