If it needs mentioning, mistake ‘0’ is not setting objectives at all. We’re not skipping this step because it isn’t common, or important, or fixable — it’s all of those things —but because it’s been said enough times and often distracts from the more actionable details of what goes on (and wrong) after making that important zeroeth step.
For independent business owners, creators and entrepreneurs looking to be a little more rigorous in how they set, measure and reach objectives for their businesses — these are some of the most common mistakes I often see getting in the way.
I feel this point gets made enough, but without much nuance. Often, it refers to simply ‘setting a metric’ for your objectives. For example, if you want ‘more business’, define the metrics that will track whether or not you’re making progress (number of customers, gross revenue, number of leads).
This is good advice, and generally I’d say, ‘Yes, of course, make your objectives strictly measurable’. But this conversation often misses some of the underlying factors that lead to such loosely defined goals.
The short version is — independents are closely connected to their work. They have chosen to make this crazy leap, not for the insecurity and instability it brings, but because they are motivated by their work and gain some fulfilment from the occupation.
These kinds of markers (freedom, fulfilment, competence) truly are immeasurable. The trouble is, they’re important. I would never advise someone against setting, ‘To be happy in my business’ as a worthy goal, but I would warn against pseudo-metricizing it for the sake of making it a business ‘objective’.
Often, the things we really care about are downstream from the objectives we set for our business. Higher customer engagement and positive feedback is likely to lead to more fulfilment. Higher sales might contribute to a higher quality of living. Higher retention will reflect some level of increased competency — that you are providing value which brings people back.
The distinction is this: It’s important to have a vision for yourself and your business that is, almost by necessity, immeasurable. But it’s also important that you do not set these ‘vision statements’ as business objectives — it will only confuse, distract and subtract from the process of being an effective creator, builder and owner.
Then there are the objectives which are measurable, but simply don’t get measured.
You might say you want to ‘increase the time you spend prospecting for new business’. You tell yourself that you’ll log your hours, manually, each and every evening. Then, you’ll tag the hours of the day by ‘project’ or ‘category’, calculate the percentage that went towards prospecting, and track progress on this marker…
It won’t happen. And if it does happen, you’ll soon realize that you’re spending more time logging hours than planning the business. (For this particular example, I highly recommend using Timely AI as a frictionless solution).
Setting measurable objectives is good. But taking the additional step of making those data collection processes as frictionless as possible ensures you actually have some data to work with when needed.
Every business is unique. But it’s still a business. It’s still on planet Earth (for now), run by humans ( 👀), appealing to human customers, users and readers. Objectives should at least be within the ballpark of your industry or niche.
Benchmarks help with this. If you don’t spend a little time researching average Click-Through-Rates on ads, for example, you might forecast 1 in 4 people clicking and converting. You think, ‘My ad copy is excellent, my offer is incredible, and so maybe 75% of people will pass by, but the rest are bound to at least click…’
Our intuitions in many areas (particularly in the digital business space) are often wrong. In this CTR case, they would be wrong by an order of magnitude — benchmark CTRs are closer to 2.5% than 25%, depending on industry, and planning your business based on that erroneous expectation would lead to a 10X difference in leads and outcomes.
Do not lose sight of what makes your business unique, and by all means be ambitious in outgunning the benchmarks (or creating your own monopoly). But take the time to do some benchmark research to get your bearings, first.
If you’ve been in business for any period at all, you already have some data to work with. That data may not be rigorously collected. You may not have website analytics, google tags, extensive surveys, customer profiles and transaction histories.
But you might have an instagram account with followers, likes and comments. You might have a blog, with some first early traffic, clicks, average view times and subscribers. You may have some early customer conversations; feedback from friends and family; or even simply some intuitions about what’s selling and what’s not.
Whatever data you do have, this should be a primary resource in helping to set objectives moving forward — even if you are making a significant pivot and feel like that data is no longer strictly relevant.
Often, the moment you decide to start setting clear objectives is a moment of pivot. When you’re drawing a line in the sand. Setting a new norm. Burning all that has been and gone behind you and starting fresh.
By all means, give yourself a fresh start. But mine any data you already have (good or painful) to ensure the new path charted is grounded in what’s gone before.
Most have the intuition to set a target date for a given objective. That’s an important first step. But if that target is 6 months from today, you really don’t want to wait 6 months to find out whether or not you’re on track.
Checking in with your objectives should be a regular process — typically, weekly — so that you can make adjustments as needed along the way. You don’t want to reassess and question your primary objectives each and every check-in (“Is this really what I want to be doing?” 😱), that would be exhausting.
But a regular check-in will force you to accumulate some intuitions about how well you are tracking — both in the short-term and as projected into the future.
Setting a target date for your key objective is great. Setting yourself a regular check-in date is even better.
There are plenty of things to measure in one’s business. Most of them should be ignored.
In fact, there will really only be a few key metrics that any given business should be paying attention to at any given time — and these will vary from business to business (and across business stages).
Setting objectives that are irrelevant to your business or business stage is common. Striving for ‘more followers’ when what you really need is higher engagement and sales. Striving to increase your email ‘open rate’ when what you really need is to spend more time developing your product and implementing user feedback from those who are opening your emails…
Objectives that are concrete, measurable, and have the data collection processes in place are not enough — if they are irrelevant, they are a waste of resources and will only distract from achieving what you really want to get out of your business.
The objective setting stage of your business cycle should be inspiring. It’s where you get to cash in on the true freedom that comes from this crazy leap you’ve made to becoming a business owner.
You should give yourself permission to think long and well about how it is you’d like to be living in the next year, or 3, or 5, or 10. Not just setting objectives for the sake of being a ‘professional’. But because the exercise of setting inspiring objectives that reflect the change you’d like to influence is itself an exhilarating and motivating experience.
If you rob yourself of this — if you only ever set objectives that are mild and uninspiring — odds are, you’ll find it even harder to reach them.
Setting objectives isn’t anything like reaching them. But it’s a start that’s worth making well, and avoiding these common mistakes can hopefully help to get you on your way.