Each year, most companies look toward the next 12 months (or longer) to chart their objectives (and the steps needed to get there).
It’s a noble initiative. Goal setting is a proven tactic that businesses use to help them incrementally get to where they want to go.
But are the long-term business goals you’re setting the right ones?
Are there areas where you should be measuring progress that you aren’t? Are there other kinds of growth that should matter to your company besides the ones you’re pursuing? How can you know?
The truth is that a lot more should go into long-term goal setting for businesses before you begin documenting where you want to be this time next year.
To consider if the long-term business goals you’re reaching for are the right (or wrong) ones, consider these five steps for guiding your business in setting the right goals to fuel your success and realize your vision.
1. Understand Your Own Competitive Advantage
Knowing what sets your business apart from the competition is critical for strategically planning your future and setting the right long-term business goals.
Be as specific as possible when defining your advantages above your competitors. Take an honest look at what your company is doing better than anyone else (and what you may actually not be doing better than your competition).
It’s important to pinpoint exactly where, how and why your business is different than any other. What does your organization offer that no one else does? Is your product distinguishable? Is your service clearly unique? Are your customers’ experiences different than if they had gone elsewhere? And if so, how?
Knowing your company’s strengths, weaknesses and competitive advantage intimately will create a strong foundation for making strong decisions and setting long-term business goals accordingly.
2. Anticipate Your Competitors’ Advantages (And How They Might Use Them)
After you’ve identified your business’s competitive advantage and differentiators, it’s important to do the same for your competitors. When it comes to your long-term business goals, this will help your company anticipate what challenges may come.
Once you’ve defined the specific entities who you consider to be your competitors, there are several ways to get information that can help you to assess your competitors’ advantages.
Do you want to know what they see as their own differentiators? Look at their company website. Do you want to know how they are looking to grow? Look at the open job positions they’re recruiting for. Do you want to know how their teams operate? Look at employer review websites.
There is a wealth of information readily available about companies everywhere that they may not even realize gives intel into their strategies, culture and differentiators.
Once you’ve gathered information about your competitors, use what you’ve learned to step into their shoes to think through what their futures might look like and how their advantages may impact yours. What might their long-term business goals be, and how may theirs affect yours?
3. Understand Your Ideal Customer
To set the kind of long-term business goals that will push your company forward, it’s important to know not only who your customers are, but who your ideal customer is.
Goals that are geared toward earning any business or meeting any request likely won’t yield the greatest strategic benefit for your organization. Instead, be intentional to set goals to earn business from the customers that are the right fit for your organization. To do that, you must first understand that specific segment of your audience.
What are their questions about your area? What are their problems (and how are they meeting their needs before your business enters the picture)? How do they access the information that’s important to them about your area of expertise?
Ask your current ideal customers about what’s most important to them to help you not only retain their business, but to gather insight that can help you attract other customers like them.
Knowing these key factors about your ideal customers can help you to be more focused on the long-term business goals that will mean more to your organization and those customers who trust you (and who will trust you in the future).
4. Know What Your Challenges Are
After you have a full understanding of your company’s advantages, your competitors’ advantages and the needs and desires of the ideal customers you’re competing for, consider what challenges your business currently has based on that information (not your previous assumptions).
Maybe it’s that your ideal customer likes to consume information in a channel that you haven’t been utilizing, and you haven’t been able to reach them.
Maybe it’s that other companies are growing their teams quickly, and you’ve been experiencing high turnover among your employees.
Maybe you’ve been focusing your efforts on solving one problem, when another problem is actually more important to your ideal customers.
Whatever your challenges may be, identify the most pertinent ones, and gather some data and evidence about them. Depending on the specific challenges you decide to focus on, these data points will be different and varied.
Consider gathering statistics and data anywhere that can help you collect reliable information about your business and others that can in turn help you make informed decisions in these areas.
5. Determine Where You Want to Go and What Your Objectives Should Be to Get There
With these challenges in mind, now it’s time to begin actually setting your long-term business goals.
Envision where you see your business in the future after you’ve overcome the challenges you’ve identified based on the information about your ideal customers and your competitors. Then, you’re ready to think through what realistic steps you need to take to get there.
Think backwards from where you want to be to define the results you want to see and the objectives that will get you there in a layered approach.
Formulating these long-term business goals will be different for each organization, but the process of defining objectives and results will largely look the same across the board as you chart your path.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember to make decisions that will allow for flexibility in the areas you want to grow in the future, even if they may not be the most comfortable decisions for the here and now. This means you’ll need to stop, adapt and refocus less as you reach your long-term business goals.
Setting Long-Term Business Goals and Formulating a Business Strategy
Setting (and documenting) long-term business goals for your business can be a daunting and intimidating task, but it’s essential for growing. Setting the right kind of goals is essential for growing in a way that will propel your business forward.
Setting the goals, of course, is just the beginning of success, but it’s undoubtedly the essential first step.
This article was originally posted on February 5, 2020 and recently updated on December 21, 2021.