Visions of impact, products that solve real problems, and funding to ignite & scale product development are what entrepreneurs' dreams are made of. These are GREAT inspirations to help continue the entrepreneurial journey of any startup founder, but SMART goals are what makes dreams into reality through realistic execution & attainable milestone. Resolutions made typically in the new year are also like these visions of rainbows & unicorns fueling a heart's passion. Goals are much more structured, attaching those rainbows to a plan for the outcome to be even brighter, fueling the unicorns to run the marathon of a startup, and allowing the founder & their team to have a higher chance of succeeding.

Locke & Latham, two of the most prolific authors of goal-related research, define goals as “the object or aim of an action, for example, to attain a specific standard of proficiency, usually within a specified time limit.” Kleingeld, et al (2011) linked goals to success Similarly, Merriam-Webster succinctly defines a goal as “the end toward which effort is directed.” Importantly, setting goals is linked with better self-confidence, motivation, and autonomy (Locke & Latham, 2006).

Many startup founders are more comfortable in the visionary and creative zone of genius. However, research shows that “Goal setters are comfortable with risk, prefer innovation, and are energized by change.” Rick McDaniel goes on to mention that, “goal setters see future possibilities and the big picture”. Innovating and goal setting are not mutually exclusive, they feed off of each other for innovation to be encouraged and more problem solving to be accomplished for the greater good.

Goals are a critical part of success in any business

The five key principles that support the creation of effective and motivating goals were developed and published by Locke & Latham, in their seminal work in 1990, the theory of goal setting and task performance.

These are: 

  1. Clarity – The focus afforded by a clear, specific goal allows for actionable behavior.
  2. Challenge – Challenging & specific goals lead to higher performance. Research has shown that 90% of the time, specific and challenging (but attainable) goals led to higher performance
  3. Commitment – The mind is powerful; whatever the mind believes, the body achieves. 
  4. Feedback – Reporting & regular check-ins on challenging goals allows for specific direction & motivation to accomplish goals.
  5. Complexity – The degree of goal's demands for an individual and/or a team increases the success of accomplishment

Planning is pivotal for more streamlined business processes and planning is an essential part of the startup process to keep all of the craziness running a smoothly as possible. Make sure that you are setting yourself up for success. Get into an optimal flow, coined by Csíkszentmihályi, when he outlined his theory that people are happiest when they are in a state of flow—a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation.

When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.

-Confucius 551-479 B.C.

Goals Give You Direction

One of the reasons goals are so important is that they give you direction. When you've got clearly set and well-def

We have to get out of our own way. We are all visionaries, changemakers we want to do. That’s what is exciting and fun about being and terror right. But dreams and visions of unicorns running through rainbows are just dreams if they don't have milestones and some focus. Goals are simply drama with deadlines 

Entrepreneur goal setting is important because starting a successful business takes time, patience and dedication. If you're launching a new company, defining your goals can help you track your company's progress. Goal setting helps you visualize your thoughts and ideas more clearly. With proper planning, you can make necessary adjustments at every step of your entrepreneur journey, which could improve your efficiency.

SMART Goals list image

SMART goals are

  • Specific – Clarify what you are trying to achieve, in the most succinct way possible so clarity can match focus.
  • Measurable – the goal should be able to be quantified in order to know that the goal has been completed or is still in the progress and by how much.
  • Attainable / Acceptable – You must not only identify with the purpose of the goal but also feel like the goals are in line with your values, thus not leading you to compromise your sense of integrity.
  • Realistic – You have to work with the strengths you have as a founder, the resources you and your team have, and challenge a bit how much you think you can achieve, but not so much you won't be able to achieve the goal.
  • Time-bound – The time framework of any goal is pivotal, yet probably the easiest aspect to identify, and coordinate with your calendar of events & personal responsibilities.

This allows you to breathe, have a concrete plan of action within a specific time frame, commit to spending time dedicating yourself to your goals, and with all the dependencies & milestones written out, you have a better chance of turning your blue-sky ideas into realities.

Goals have an energizing function. The higher the goal, the greater the effort invested

Locke & Latham, 2002

Getting Goals Done

There is substantial evidence and research around setting goals for success, so here is a framework to get all of your goals for your startup written down. Prioritize on 10-12 goals that will get you through the next 12 months. Setting more than 12 turns out to be a to-do list that is unmanageable and frankly, unattainable. Be focused on what are the RIGHT goals for your business to get to your next inflection point – like to be ready for fundraising or hitting $1M revenue or impact 100 families with your product. Here it goes …

  1. Define the goal: Be as specific as possible in the type of goal (around marketing, financials, operations, fundraising, financials, team or your own personal/professional development)
  2. Set realistic deadlines: When looking at your goal, set a realistic deadline for that goal to be achieved, taking into consideration your strengths, your team, and deadlines outside of your control (like a conference you need to present your research or a trade show that you need to be at with X amount of products & team members).
  3. List actionable steps. Actions listed should be attainable and like a to-do list to be able to achieve your goals easier and more efficiently.
  4. Prioritize. There are dependencies and/or immediate needs that should be done first, second or third. By prioritizing, you will be less stressed because you know there is a process to get to all goals in the right time and place.
  5. Define obstacles. This is a hard one because some obstacles or biases are internal and some are external; internal being personal like knowing you go after shiny bright objects instead of being methodical or internal being that your team is small but mighty so goals are achievable but need to be resourced correctly.
  6. Take action. Inch your way toward a goal, but inch forward by taking daily steps towards the goals you know need to be accomplished for the success of your startup. Email gets in the way and meetings start piling up, but when you take action on those goals, the purposeful direction of your startup will be achieved.

An Example Always Helps

Examples are helpful in bringing theories and frameworks to everyday living and the journey of entrepreneurs.

Valeria wants to launch a SAAS platform to bring successful Latinx leaders together with budding startup entrepreneurs because believing is seeing. She wants to set realistic and specific goals to build a robust platform for her ideal customers. She sets her first goal of building out lo-fi (low fidelity) wireframes for the platform. can repeat this process for multiple goals. He sets his goal by following these steps:

  1. Define the goal. Valeria wants to build a set of 6 wireframes that will provide a good visual outline of the SAAS platform
  2. Set realistic deadlines: Valeria wants to build them within 2 weeks (because she has a full-time job and can only work on the startup on weekends and evenings)
  3. List actionable steps. Valeria lists steps to meet with Sofia (a programmer friend) to see what are the best ways to build wireframes and then meet with Miguel (a UX designer friend) to find out the best programs to build wireframes on and then have all 5 built
  4. Prioritize. Valeria decided that she should just write out on a white sheet of paper some ideas first before talking to her network, then talk to her network and then build the wireframes out with technology.
  5. Define obstacles. One challenge Valeria might face is that she gets too busy, so she sets a deadline on her calendar to check on her progress.
  6. Take action. Valeria creates a 30-min block on her calendar every day in the evening to check on her goals and actually accomplish the tasks.

She can repeat this process for multiple goals, creating a plan for launching an impact-driven, values-aligned, purposeful platform for Latinx startup founders.

Where should I start?

From mentoring and advising MANY entrepreneurs through this process, here are some actions to get started:

  1. Start with passion. When you think about it, passion fuels innovation, the mind fuels actions, and actions with a plan … well, that's genius.
  2. Vison board it. If you are a big picture person, then do that first, construct a huge Pinterest board or be creative with glue and scissors and do a vision board, dream big.
  3. Don’t neglect to establish regular check-ins — with yourself or with your team — to review goals and determine how well they are coming to fruition. Tracking your progress means asking yourself each day, “What can I do to move one step closer to achieving my goal or solving my problem?” 
  4. Chunk it out – forwards and backward. What’s a huge strength to most entrepreneurs is that you work great in the gray area. Use that to your advantage to write out what might go before and after a specific goal. 
  5. Track it. Figuring out a way to track your goals in a way that is quantitative rather than qualitative can set you up for more success, especially when working with a team because everyone is focused on the same metrics, and the room for error decreases.
  6. Writing it down is a feat in itself. People who write their goals are more likely to achieve their goal than those who don’t by 50%.

Motivation is the desire or want that energizes and directs goal-oriented behavior.”

Kleinginna & Kleinginna, 1981

Motivational Reminders for Goal-setting Success

Some tips on overcoming common mistakes made by entrepreneurs when working on achieving goals and hustling through the startup journey:

  • Be clear, specific, and challenging so you understand the outcome you’re trying to achieve and it’s challenging enough to energize and motivate you (straight out of goal-setting theory.
  • Be as bite-sized and task-specific as possible, giving you fewer opportunities to fail and more chances to take pride in your accomplishments
  • Goals should be coupled with frequent and ongoing feedback from your group, team, personal board of directors, friends, or yourself (I know, discipline is hard if you are relying on yourself for feedback, so find another solopreneur you can hold each other accountable)
  • Put our own health first. For so many of us, being mindful of our mental and physical health and wellbeing has never been more important.
  • Make goals that matter. If they matter to you, you will get them done!
  • Love the journey. Love the outcomes. Allow room for adjustments. Be human 
  • Identify the barriers to achieving your goal. For me, my barriers are diving deep, researching too much, analysis paralysis, whatever you want to name that, I have it. I have to watch myself and put timers on my time to research.
  • Rejoice / celebrate in goals being accomplished. This will keep you motivated to get across the finish line and create incentives for your team.
  • Find an accountability partner. This is especially important for solopreneurs, find someone you can meet o a regular basis to check on each other's goals or create a Personal Board of Directors that you check in on every quarter.
  • Work with your natural rhythms to find the right pace to accomplish your goals and leverage your strengths to do more. For example, you work best in the morning so prioritize your day to get the most effective work done at that time.
  • Stick to a routine to build more structure to make it easier to follow what you have planned. For example, every first week of the month you plan your monthly marketing calendar and review your revenue goals from the month before)
  • Be purposeful and optimistic. Research conducted in an academic setting, around goal-setting among students to understand success factors for them to graduate on time suggests that factors such as hope optimism, and social support have a significant impact on how you can achieve your goals (Bressler, Bressler, & Bressler, 2010 & Youssef & Luthans, 2009).

To Help Build Your Goals, Here are Some Examples to Inspire

One last thing, if you need some examples of smart goals for scale, here you go;

  • Diversify your revenue streams (with the resources you currently have and the assets under the umbrella of your biz – low hanging fruit people – identify 1-2 new revenue streams you can tackle in a specific period of time – and don't forget to test assumptions of the new streams of revenue/products)
  • Create or upgrade your website in 3 months with X new pages, updated copy on X, Y, and Z pages, and refresh all images to better reflect company values, so your ideal customer can engage with you more frequently and readily 
  • Build out your ideal customer persona 
  • Streamline operations through automation with online digital platforms Ana virtual hacks like PandaDoc for e-signatures, asana for group tasks, slack for group messaging, Google suite for everything, ai note takers for zoom meetings, Carta for cap tables, Mailchimp for newsletters, and Hubspot for CRM & analytics 

Today is YOUR day!

Goals also provide many people a sense of purpose

-Boa et al 2018

Goal setting, innovating, and holding yourself and your team to collective milestones to reach your startup dreams will enable you to be inspired, happier, purpose-driven, fulfilled, and prosperous (the quadruple bottom line: People, Planet, Profit and Purpose). Get your pen & paper out today. Today is a perfect day to start.

You can also join me for one of my two goal setting sessions for FREE:

  1. Coffee & Confidence: 2022 goal-setting session TOMORROW, January 18, 8 – 9:30 am PST. RSVP here.
  2. Wine & Winning: 2022 goal-setting session TOMORROW, January 18, 4 – 5:30 pm PST. RSVP here.

Some further research:

Building an Effective Data Room for Seed-stage Startups
Servant Leadership in the Startup Ecosystem: Practical Pillars & Doable Actions