How setting small goals now leads to big goals later when starting your business

I was listening to a Q&A episode of the Letters From A Hopeful Creative podcast recently and one of the questions really reminded me of conversations I’ve been repeatedly having with clients lately. 

Listen to the episode I’m talking about here. 

The question was how to approach short and long term goals. 

Should we be clear on big hairy audacious goals for the future when we plan our businesses?

Or should we just work in shorter 30-90 day cycles, and constantly revise what we are working towards? 

The irony here is that I speak a lot at The Reset about setting goals. Even in my coaching I speak with each client at the beginning of the session about what they want to get from the session and then we break down how to get there. 

The question is always “what do you want?” I encourage clients to think about the big picture and their vision for the future. Without that vision you can’t put into place the steps to get there. 

There’s also a lot of business advice out there that emphasises having a really clear, long-term plan for your business. Without it, so the story goes, you’ll fall flat on your face and never have a real ‘business.’ You’ll just be muddling along, pulled from side to side by distractions and never really channelling your energy into the right things. 

But I disagree when you’re just getting started.

Here’s my experience: 

I began focusing 100% on my business at the beginning of this year. Following all the standard advice (and going against the screaming voice in my head that said “we’ve tried this before and it didn’t work!”) I wrote out a financial projection for the year ahead. 

In January one I hit my very small but realistic financial target. Hooray! I’m a business genius! 

In February I missed my target by some way. Flop.

Just two months in, I was feeling a total failure – my focus was on financials and when I didn’t make the mark I felt useless. 

I then didn’t know what to do with the next month – do I reset and try again with the February goal for March? Do I completely restart? If I haven’t made what I want in month 2, how on earth was I going to make my December goal and overall 2019 target? Suddenly everything was totally overwhelming. 

What did I do?

Instead of feeling defeated, I turned my back on those 12 month financial projections. And I moved to focusing instead on 30 day cycles.

To keep me on-track with my goals for each month, I used my Imperfect Life Planner. I wrote out my 3-4 goals for each month and the steps I needed to take to get there. 

Technically speaking I could have mapped out the whole quarter, or even the whole year using the planner. But bringing it right back and doing just 30 days planning at a time, meant that I stopped feeling like I was ‘failing’. 

Instead I could check in at the end of each month to assess my progress and set new monthly goals that felt truly aligned to me in the present. Not the me 6 months ago, who had no idea how I would feel and how my business would look six months down the line. 

I’ve now come to a point, half way through the year, where I can actually start to see the wood for the trees.

I am finally thinking about the next six months in my business, not just the next 30 days. 

It’s a really exciting realisation. That I’m thinking about courses, membership groups and more offerings that I can bring my community than I would ever have been able to imagine in January. 

But if I’d stuck to my January targets, I would be feeling pretty useless and defeated right now. Because nothing has turned out the way I expected it would when I sat with a spreadsheet back in January.

The thing that I liked about Sara and Jen’s own approaches in the podcast was to go with the flow and do what feels right for you.

To some people that could definitely sound woo-woo and un-business-like. 

But when both women have 6 figure businesses and the freedom and flexibility to work as they want, I think it’s fair to assume there is some method in the madness! 

If you are just starting out in business and you’re finding setting goals for 1 year, 3 years or 5 years totally overwhelming then here is your permission: you don’t have to. 

Focus instead on the next 30 days. What’s important for the next month? What is in your control? What can you work on that will bring you joy and also income? 

Start there. Start small. Repeat every month.

Eventually you will start to look further ahead, I promise. But right now, it’s the next 30 days that are going to get you on that path to success and a flourishing business.  

What do you think? How do you set goals for your business? Have you had success with setting big, long-term goals? Or do short-term goals work better for you right now?