Setting goals for your business? Here’s what you need to know

Every business idea starts with a business plan. But how often should you evolve it, and what happens if you don’t achieve your goals? 

Setting goals and ambitions for your business helps you know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. But setting unrealistic goals can be disheartening and lead to burn out. 

Small business lender iwoca surveyed 500 small business owners about their motivations, goals, and ambitions. Read on to find out the secret to successful goal setting and how to get your business on the right track.

Nearly half of small business owners didn’t achieve their short-term goals within time frame and budget

iwoca’s survey asked small business owners about their initial (one to three-year) goals when starting out. Staggeringly, it found 45 per cent of small business owners didn’t achieve their short-term goals within their initial time frame and budget. 

These short-term goals were:

  • to stay in business – 39 per cent
  • to see the company make a profit - 46 per cent
  • to turnover £1 million in their first three years – 8 per cent

Short-term goals should be realistic and achievable 

If your goals are too ambitious then you may need to adjust them, which can feel demotivating. 

iwoca found 17 per cent of business owners reduced their short-term goals in order to achieve them in time frame or budget. While more than 22 per cent had to increase their budget to achieve their goals. 

Make sure your business plan is realistic with how long you want to give your business before it starts making money and scaling up – and that your budget reflects this.

Achieving new business goals takes longer than you might think

The same study found 64 per cent of business owners had to expand their initial time frames to achieve their long-term business goals. They said they needed to giveat least 12 to 18 months longer than initially planned to achieve their long-term goals. 

Keeping this in mind will help you when thinking about goals and growth plans for your business.

75% of business owners say their goals changed over time

Being able to manage unpredictability is a key part of running a business, and it’s not uncommon for businesses to change direction from their initial plans. 

According to iwoca’s study, 32 per cent of business owners said they had expanded into other areas over time. And 17 per cent said they had to have a full change of direction. 

The coronavirus pandemic showed just how important being able to pivot and adapt a business to fit with changing environment and legislation. Pubs became takeaways and cafés started serving customers on pavements. 

Changing goals could include things like:

  • getting extra investment, such as a business loan or angel investment
  • expanding into new areas or developing a new product or service
  • opening a new premises 
  • growing an online presence 

However, a Simply Business SME Insights Report into small business trends recently found many business owners are putting growth plans on hold as they battle the challenge of rising costs. 

Can unrealistic goals make you unhappy? 

iwoca found that nearly one in five business owners say they had to reduce time spent with loved ones in order to achieve their business goals. While 17 per cent missed out on holidays.

While many business owners start out because they’re looking for increased flexibility, this research shows that the reality can mean having less free time than before. 

This chimes with a separate Business study, which found 63 per cent of women business owners said running a business would give them more control over their work-life balance. 

Hapreet Kaur, winner of The Apprentice, shared in a webinar that she started her business to quit the 9 to 5 corporate life. But she then found that being a business owner becomes “a lifestyle” and is a 24/7 job. 

But she says “if you're like me and you feel really passionate about what you do, it's fun.”

Tips for setting goals for your business

  • analyse opportunities and threats – what’s happening in your industry? Can you embrace new technologies? Doing a SWOT analysis can help you understand the risks and trends that may impact your business 
  • be flexible – staying rigid with your goals can be limiting and stressful, so set time to re-evaluate where you’re going and adapt your business plan if you need to
  • consider working with a business mentor – it can be hard to know what to focus on, so a business mentor can help you explore what’s going to have the most impact for your business
  • set SMART goals – meaning goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound
  • record your achievements – and celebrate them in your own way, whether that’s writing them in a journal, sharing milestones on social media, or taking a much-needed day off


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