Most people who set New Year’s resolutions don’t follow through on them.
Annual business goals often fall by the wayside as well. Consequently, late December brings a crush of articles on why we fail, and how we might reform the process to boost success. Among the best suggestions I’ve heard lately? Forget year-long resolutions and focus on 90-day goals. Several small business owners who tried this over the past year as part of an accountability group they participated in explained to me why this tweak helped their businesses, and lives.
Life changes a lot in a year, especially if you work at a startup. Goals set annually may not feel relevant in 12 months. Or 12 months seems so far away that you figure you can always start tomorrow. Ninety days, on the other hand, is about "holding me accountable to my long range goals, but in smaller chunks, so I actually see an end in sight," says Marni Beninger, who owns Mountain Waters Spa and Wellness in British Columbia. She set a 90-day goal to raise revenue by $5,000/month, saw what it took to meet it, and then set another 90-day goal to raise revenue by another $10,000/month. That involved hiring a sales person, but now that she knows that, she might aim for another $15,000/month over the next 90 days. That would put her $30,000/month over where she started, all in doable chunks.
Of course, the day-to-day nature of startup life means it’s easy to get stuck in the weeds. When Beninger first tried to set quarterly goals, she realized that this was a challenge she faced. "The first time it was just basically a to-do list," she said, with 50 items on it. "It’s really hard to come out of that mindset of working in your business." But she soon figured out what made a good mid-range goal: one that involved looking just far enough into the future to challenge herself, but be achievable.
When we give up on New Year’s resolutions, it’s easy to let ourselves wait until next January to try again. Ninety day goals offer a quicker option. Victoria Lynden, who founded Kohana Coffee in Austin, Texas, says that "In 90 days, if I’m going to fail, I’m going to fail fast." One example: she wanted to enter the Canadian market, but after setting that as a 90-day goal, figured out that getting the proper organic certifications could be a two-year process. The take-away? Do more research, and figure out other international markets that are easier to enter. "I have succeeded through my failures," she says.
You may have lots of goals, and that’s a good thing. Giving yourself 90 days means you can focus on a few at a time, knowing that there’s another 90-day period coming up soon. Maybe during the first quarter you focus on launching a new product. Then in the second quarter you focus on finding a new and bigger space. At the end of six months, you’ll have the new product and the bigger space, whereas if you aimed to do both at once, you might get overwhelmed and figure out neither. "As an entrepreneur, you always go in a lot of different directions," says Lynden. "This, to me, is like having a map that charts my course."
The good thing about setting two to three goals four times per year is that this gives you space to think about all spheres of life. Rachel Hofstetter owns Guesterly, a startup that specializes in directories for events. Like many entrepreneurs, she finds it hard to take a vacation, and so she made taking a week-long December holiday one of her 90-day goals. When I sent her an email on a December Friday asking to chat the next week, she insisted on getting on the phone right then, since she was on the plane for Mexico the next morning and planned to unplug. "Without that part of my plan, it wouldn’t be my utmost focus," she says. But as one of her big goals for the quarter, she was determined to make it happen.