How to Write SMART Goals That Actually Work by Following One Simple Principle

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Let’s talk about how to write SMART goals — you know, SMART goals that actually work.Two gears — when we talk about how to write SMART goals, it's often like talking about these two gears: If even one part is off, the whole system breaks.

‘Cause I gotta tell ya — a lot of folks write these things, and they have no frickin’ clue what they’re doing.

Setting the right goals for business growth is the only way to ensure your marketing is working toward a purpose — but if you don’t know what you’re doing, your marketing is going to fail, and that’s bad news for your business.

Have you set the right goals?

How to Set SMART Goals Without Getting Frustrated

A lot of our clients come to us because they’re frustrated — they’re frustrated with their marketing, they’re frustrated with their lack of results, and they want someone to take over and push their marketing in the right direction.

Often, they have difficulty even describing the problem — they just know that they’re not seeing the growth they expect.A light bulb in blue and three connected dots — Social Media Marketing for Manufacturing Businesses

In many cases, we find that they’re making a simple, yet crucial, mistake:

They’re not setting the right goals. They don’t even know how to set SMART goals, and they wonder why they’re struggling.

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The Simple Principle? Tying Goals to Growth

If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ve likely heard of SMART goals.

But I’ll give you the definition, just so we’re on the same page.

SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed Upon
  • Reasonable
  • Time-Bound

(If you need a refresher on SMART goals and how to implement them, read our blog post on how to build a SMART action plan here.)

The idea is simple to understand and easy to get behind, which is probably why SMART goals have remained so popular for so long…Three dimensional pie chart — when we talk about how to write SMART goals, it's just like this pie: All the pieces need to come together perfectly, or they'll fail.

And yet, if the goals themselves are the wrong goals, it doesn’t matter if you meet them or not.

So here’s your simple principle — If your goals aren’t tied to growth, they’re probably not worth working toward.

Every SMART goal you set needs to be tied to business growth — period.

If You’re Not Setting the Right Goals, Your Marketing Isn’t Going to Help You Grow

This is, far and away, where most people fail when they’re learning how to write SMART goals.

They’re setting the wrong goals. They don’t know how to write SMART goals that actually help them grow their business.

But you’re better than that — you’re going to set the right goals, aren’t you?

Yes you are!

What do I mean when I say “The right goals?”

This is, far and away, where most people fail when they’re learning how to write SMART goals

It’s more than simply going through the SMART methodology — that’s just a beginning.

When it comes to your marketing, or anything to do with your business, a vague, unmeasurable goal that’s absolutely unreasonable, isn’t agreed upon, and has no date associated with it is meaningless.

But you can have goals that fit into the SMART modality — you can even achieve these goals — and they can still have precisely zero effect on your business if they’re not tied to growth.

You Need to Learn How to Write SMART Goals That Are Tied to Growth

Here’s an example of a SMART goal that’s not tied to growth:

“We’re going to increase our Facebook likes by 60% in the next six months. I’ve checked with the boss and the social media people, and everyone agrees that this is a great idea.”The Facebook logo in a circle and the Facebook "Like" icon in a circle. Trying to get "likes" on Facebook is a waste of time.

That goal is SMART — it’s specific, it’s measurable, it’s agreed upon, it’s reasonable, and it’s time-bound…

But it’s going to have almost zero effect on your bottom line.

(Seriously, asking for Facebook page likes is meaningless…).

Actually, it will have a negative effect, because not only will you or one of your poor employees waste their time (and thus, the business’ money) gathering meaningless Facebook likes, but they’ll also waste the time they could have spent on a goal that’s tied directly to growth.

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Don’t Boost Meaningless Metrics

A metric is meaningless if it doesn’t support the bottom line, yet so many marketers and business owners are hyperfocused on raising metrics that basically mean nothing.

And I’m not just talking about Facebook likes or retweets here — yes, a lot of social media metrics are meaningless, but even the number of leads you bring in each month can be meaningless if you’re not properly equipped to handle them.

Are the numbers that we’re trying to boost directly tied to increasing revenue in some way?

So you need to ask yourself this: Are the numbers that we’re trying to boost directly tied to increasing revenue in some way?

For instance, if we’re working hard to generate leads, but we’re horrible at closing, is it really a good strategy to bring in more leads? Is that really the number we want to boost?

Maybe we need to focus on boosting conversion rates.

You Need to Learn How to Write SMART Goals That Are Directly Tied to Business Growth

Another example: Let’s say we set a SMART goal tied to our customer service outcomes, something like “Increasing the average survey rating of customer service interactions by 10% in the next six months.”

Sounds good on the outside, but it doesn’t address the root problem: Why the heck are people calling customer service in the first place!? Maybe we’re keeping a few people from falling through the cracks and we’re keeping the bottom line from dropping a bit, but are we focusing on the wrong problem?Brand Yourself — Envelopes, computer screen with email, sheets of paper

It’s not the customer service interactions and their rating that matters here. We should be focusing on the problem with the product or service that’s sending clients to customer service in the first place.

And, when those customer service interactions are taking place, are we doing anything to direct those customers to other products or services where appropriate?

Goals tied to the product or service and cross-sell/upsell opportunities are indicated here more than goals tied to the customer service interactions themselves. These new SMART goals are both tied directly to growth in some way.

A Goal Can Be SMART And Not Raise Critical Metrics

These are simple examples, but they help you see the principle at work — a goal can be SMART and still not help increase revenue, customer retention, or another critical metric.

Unfortunately, setting a SMART goal meant to push the needle on a meaningless metric is insidious because it feels like you’re doing something, like you’re really working toward an important goal.Smiley face inside three circular arrows.

I’m sure there have been thousands of employees, marketers, and business owners over the past decade who have felt incredibly accomplished when they pushed their twitter followers up above ten thousand organically…

And I’m sure the business saw very little benefit from that heroic effort.

Now you have the theory down, but theory and practice are very different beasts, and many business owners and marketers find that the actual creation of SMART goals tied to meaningful metrics is just the beginning…

Sticking to them can be even more difficult than choosing the right metrics to boost.

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Goals Are Only Successful With Action

For many business owners and marketers, even getting a goal on paper can be a struggle.

However, once they get their SMART goals created, it’s almost as if they get a form of amnesia — they forget completely that they made these goals in the first place.

The goals are in a Word document somewhere on their desktop. That document doesn’t get opened for weeks, then months.

Goals only hold meaning when they’re followed by action

Or maybe it gets printed out, set on the desk, taped to the wall, and when it eventually falls off, they’re filled with surprise, because they forgot all about those lofty goals they set.

And in the meantime, their marketing didn’t change one bit to reach their goals.

Goals only hold meaning when they’re followed by action, but, if that action is the same action you’ve always taken, if you aren’t altering your marketing to achieve these shiny new goals you’ve created, the goals are meaningless, even if the metric they’re tied to isn’t.

Your Metrics Need Meaning, Your Goals Need Action, and You Need a Template to Keep This All Straight

Now that you’ve got a better idea of what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and where you need to go from here, you need to put it all down on paper.Marketing strategy and marketing tactics — football strategy outlined with circles and x's

The template I mentioned at the beginning will help you outline your SMART goals, tie them to meaningful metrics, and begin a new era in your business…

One where your marketing actually does some heavy lifting, instead of feeling like a waste of time.

Download the template and get started.

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Adam Fout

Adam might be a little crazy, but we love him anyway.   Weaving beautiful paragraph-baskets into blog posts ain’t easy, but we couldn’t think of a better job for a recovering tech writer.   Follow him on Twitter @adamfout2, LinkedIn, Facebook, or our blog if you like valuable information accompanied by snarky simplifications of complex subjects. Check out his website at adamfout.com

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