The Importance of Effective Goal-Setting for Small Businesses

Setting goals and establishing a clear vision are important parts of running your own business. But the types of goals we set, how well they are communicated throughout the company, and how closely our teams are united around and act consistently on these goals will ultimately determine the effectiveness of your goal-setting process and the return on your investment in goal setting.

What does it mean to be “goal-driven?” It seems obvious that someone who is driven by goals would be focused on achievement and have a strong sense of purpose.

So, is it a good thing to be goal driven? I suppose the answer to that question really depends on how effective we are at setting goals and implementing strategies to achieve them.  

Goals unite us; they orient individuals and teams toward a common sense of purpose. Goals provide the insight needed to shape the activities of our day; they shape our destiny. So, as a business owner, it is vital that we take time to reflect deeply upon our goals and to cascade and communicate them effectively inside our companies so that they are a positive and powerful force in our business.

Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals

Effective goal setting starts with an inspirational statement of vision—a long-term goal, perhaps 10 or more years into the future, that represents our ambitions, our dreams. They represent everything that we want to achieve in our business or in life. Jim Collins calls these long-term, dreamy goal statements of vision BHAGs—Big, Hairy, Audacious, Goals. BHAGs are moon shots; or in today’s vision, a manned trip to Mars. BHAGs are, by definition, the kind of goals that change the world represented by your dreams, however big they may be.

Setting SMART Business Objectives

Linked directly to the inspirational vision are business objectives—the quantifiable and time-bound measures of that which we want to achieve in the next one to three years. Business objectives set the stage for what the business will achieve during a specific time period. They set the stage for the foundation of business strategy.

Business objectives are achieved in steps, represented by short-term goals. These goals are often defined as needing to be SMART in nature—SMART meaning Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound. SMART goals are the most common and are the ones that we should remain most mindful of during the course of our day. They set the pace and focus of our day and are the primary motivators for getting things done.

RELATED: An inspiring vision, an effective plan, and other secrets of successful small businesses.

How a Business Coach Can Help

Business coaches provide much-needed insight, experience and discipline to business owners. They help put these factors into play to bring about positive change in business practices in order to achieve more than is possible without the use of a coach. Consider contacting a business coach to help set inspirational and achievable goals that are well-communicated throughout your company.

1Direction certified ActionCOACH Brian Alquist has over 35 years of business experience. 1 Direction helps small business owners focus on the importance of goal setting, which is critical to the success and sustainability of their business. Contact 1 Direction by clicking here and secure a free coaching session for your business to begin understanding how to translate leadership into success.

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  • Next up: The 'Paradox of Progress': A Year-End Reflection

    The 'Paradox of Progress': A Year-End Reflection

    As an entrepreneur, you started your business for yourself and to fulfill your goals. Sometimes we lose sight of why we started on this journey in the first place. The end of the year is a good time to pause, reflect and potentially realign your current strategies to accomplish your original intentions.

    2017 brought many changes to our lives. Some were positive; some were not. Maybe you were able to turn a long-time dream into a reality. Maybe you struggled personally and saw the end of a relationship. We all have our individual journeys, but, if we observe closely, we can find truths in every story, and we can extract lessons from each tale.

    With that in mind, this narrative below might resonate with your ongoing quest to be the best business owner in the world….

    As Mr. James Williams, owner of J.J.W. Lumber, parked his Stingray in the driveway and silenced the engine, his entire body ejected a booming sigh. He clutched the steering wheel and let out a groan as he thought about the latest incident at work. “I have to do something,” James told himself as he swiveled out of his jewel and headed toward the house. “I just don’t know what.”

    Like so many of us, Jimmy built his company through sweat equity, wise decisions, and support from friends and family. It took a few years to really get going, but in year four, he truly started to reap the fruits of his labor. Sales were booming and he realized that if he did it correctly, J.J.W. could give him what he truly wanted from life: More freedom and time to spend with his family. If he could find someone to run the business and move it in a new direction, he could step away and just oversee the overseer.   

    He discussed his idea with his three best buddies—John, Joe and Mike—who had worked with him from the beginning. Jimmy had hoped one of them could step into the role, but, after a lengthy discussion, they all agreed that none of them had the expertise needed to take J.J.W. to that metaphorical “next level.”  

    After about 50 interviews, Jimmy settled on a candidate, Noah Smith, to run J.J.W. “Settled” is the perfect word to describe his hiring process. During each interview, Jimmy asked some questions he pulled from the Internet (and a few others that he and his wife, Karen, had developed). Noah had the best answers, and he got the job.

    A few months into Noah’s tenure, however, Jimmy started to notice some curious changes within J.J.W.  A few company mainstays were no longer around. Other employees were working later into the evening. Customer issues were handled with a sense of nonchalance. Fewer and fewer workers were smiling throughout the day, and, in the break room, instead of talking to one another, they were glued to their phones, trying to escape into their own happy places. One afternoon, he even overheard Noah yelling at a receptionist. 

    Jimmy asked a few questions here and there, but Noah always seemed to divert the conversation back to the bottom line. Profits were up! “Everything’s great here! Look at the numbers! Be happy!” was the melody, and Jimmy decided to harmonize with that song. After all, numbers don’t lie….

    But then, today happened. Somehow, there was a miscommunication with a major order, and J.J.W. didn’t deliver the expected lumber to a worksite. Instead of taking the blame and trying to fix the situation immediately, Noah spent about 20 minutes arguing with the client. Jimmy learned about this on the way home from the golf course….

    'Paradox of Progress'

    This imaginary tale isn’t new or novel. Its lessons aren’t unique. In fact, the scenario reveals a common woe many owners encounter as they confront the “Paradox of Progress” misalignment.

    Every owner (and employee) has values and those values are manifest through actions. In many cases, however, people aren’t in tune with their principles and this creates misalignment within relationships. When this happens, stress grows, discord festers, the culture suffers, and productivity and revenue eventually decline.

    When we revisit the story, we can see that Jimmy is a good-intentioned owner. He values time with his family and he cares about maintaining healthy relationships with customers and employees (even with Noah!). Noah, upon closer examination, also appears to have good intentions. Think about it. If we were to ask him why he’s behaving in a certain way, he’d probably argue that he’s operating with Jimmy’s best interests in mind. Afterall, doesn’t Jimmy want more money so he can have more freedom with his family? Doesn’t Jimmy want to be free from the day-to-day operations? Isn’t Noah making that happen? Why aren’t they aligned? The problem is more complex than it first appears—and the solution rests with Jimmy.

    Your business, your vision

    Imagine how this might have played out differently if Jimmy had known what was truly important to him at an earlier point in time. Imagine if Jimmy would have been able to articulate his vision for the J.J.W. workplace before he began the interview process. He could’ve created better questions that incorporated his values and ensured that whoever he hired would operate in accordance with those principles. If the owner’s vision is clear, then everybody can align with that mission.

    It should come as no surprise that the very best leaders—in the business realm and life at-large—are clear about their goal and vigilant about moving toward that direction. We all know these people. They know exactly what they want and can transfer that vision to the collective whole. Maybe it’s your aunt who always throws the best cookouts and family parties because she puts everyone in the best position to contribute. Maybe it’s your old high-school track coach who always knew how to push the right buttons to get the most out of the team. Maybe it’s your former boss who helped nurture your dreams and gave you enough confidence to set out on your own.

    Remember: As an owner, it’s all about you. If you want to use your business as a vehicle to drive you to your life’s destination, you need to be clear about your focus. If you’re clear, you will set a solid framework with which everyone can align. And once that happens, you will find even more seasons to celebrate. 

    Christopher Leo is the President and CEO of Flash Three Consultants. A former English teacher, newspaper editor and football coach, Chris is committed to helping business owners get what they truly want from their personal and professional lives. Visit or email him ( to continue the conversation

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  • Next up: Strategic Volunteering: The Power of Pro Bono

    Strategic Volunteering: The Power of Pro Bono

    Volunteering your time and skill set to organizations in need isn't just the right thing to do, it can also help your business' marketing efforts. Behold the power of "strategic volunteering."

    Going pro bono is a win-win. An organization gains your expertise and talent at zero cost, and you gain more experience and positive exposure—not to mention a good feeling. Here’s how to go about it.

    Here’s a simple but very effective strategy to maximize the impact of a ‘No Budget Marketing’ campaign you may create for your employer or your own business—harnessing the ‘Power of the Pro Bono’ or Strategic Volunteering.

    Why volunteer at all?

    Whether you’re marketing the products or services of your employer or your own business or just simply enhancing your image and value to the people you work for and with, the Power of the Pro Bono can be a simple, quick and no-cost self-marketing strategy. Effectively done, it can help accomplish several important goals for you, including:

    •          Creating positive exposure for yourself as a caring and giving professional or a very positive reflection on your employer;

    •          producing positive name recognition and credibility;

    •          creating tools that can showcase your skills if you produce a newsletter, brochure, video or event. You can even win awards for your work;

    •          helping you learn new skills or enhance existing skills in leadership, project management, social media, accounting, e-marketing, writing or presenting;

    •          making you feel very good about yourself by doing the right thing and helping out a worthy professional, civic or charitable group; and

    •          stroking your creative ego and professional self-esteem by being involved with something worthwhile, creative and fun.

    How do you get started?

    As they say, getting started is the hardest part. We’re helping you ease in by giving you the following five steps to beginning your pro bono journey.

    Going Pro Bono Step No. 1: Clearly define your or your business’s value proposition. What do you do well that adds value to customers who will pay you for it at a profit?

    Going Pro Bono Step No. 2: Determine those professional, civic or charitable groups where lots of your customers and prospects are actively involved. 

    Going Pro Bono Step No. 3: Search for linkages between that group’s needs for support, other than money or pure volunteer time, that relate to your value proposition. For a web design firm, that could be a website makeover. For a writer, it could be help with their brochure. For an accountant, it could be serving as a volunteer auditor.

    Going Pro Bono Step No. 4: Reach out to each group and offer your services. It really helps if you’ve been an active member for several years rather than a stranger—yet another great reason to get involved with your profession or community.

    Going Pro Bono Step No. 5: When your task is completed, ask for a ‘subtle’ acknowledgement: ‘Website designed by x’ at the bottom of the home page, ‘Brochure content and design courtesy of y’ on the back page of a brochure or a glowing letter of thanks from the group leader with reference in their routine member communication.

    Where do you volunteer?

    There are lots of effective platforms for strategic volunteer activity. Be creative and think outside of the usual box with the following ideas:

    •          Start with your own industry and the professional associations that support it. Those groups can probably use the help and you can benefit from all the good will you will gain from the experience.

    •          Other professional, business or civic groups you may belong to or where you’d benefit from the exposure. Start with COSE and your local Chamber. 

    •          A charity or non-profit that has personal importance to your family, your boss, your boss’s spouse, the big boss, the big boss’s spouse, or an important customer.

    What volunteer activities should you consider?

    Strategic volunteer activities are “win-win.” The organization benefits from what you contribute, but you also benefit from what you learn or gain. What special skills or talents can you contribute and showcase beyond simply giving of your time? What skills do you want to learn or enhance? What will give you the kind of exposure you need and want?

    If you want to enhance or showcase ...

    Leadership or management skills: Manage an event or fundraiser, chair a committee or task force, hold an office or sit on a board

    Writing skills: Edit the group’s newsletter, write articles for it, PR releases, promotional pieces or blog posts

    Creative media skills: Coordinate the advertising or PR for the group a major event. Write or produce a video or media tool that helps them recruit members, raise money or train volunteers.

    Graphic design skills: Design or improve their logo, letterhead, brochure or newsletter layout

    Web design skills: Design or improve their website

    Social media skills: Create blogs, their presence on leading social media sites, regularly post content.

    Presentation skills: Deliver a presentation, emcee an event or serve on their speakers’ bureau or improve their PowerPoint presentations

    Training or facilitation skills: Teach or facilitate classes or workshops for members or leaders

    Financial skills: Serve as treasurer or audit their books

    As you’ve seen, Strategic Volunteering through the Power of the Pro Bono involves simple, quick, no-cost and personally rewarding strategies to promote your image or the image of your employer. The organization wins because you give of your talent, not just your time or treasure. You win because you earn ‘Psychic Income,’ gain positive exposure and learn or enhance career-related skills.

    So, begin volunteering strategically and see how it can add value to your ‘No Budget Marketing’ Tool Kits. It has worked well for me for over 25 years.

    Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication,, 440 449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. 

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  • Next up: The Top 5 Reasons to Attend BizConCLE 2018

    The Top 5 Reasons to Attend BizConCLE 2018

    From powerful lessons delivered by nationally known business leaders to a series of workshops focused on the most pressing issues facing your company today, there are plenty of reasons why BizConCLE 2018 needs to be on your radar. Here are the top five ways you can leverage BizConCLE to help your business succeed. And scroll to the bottom of this article to view a video detailing more ways BizConCLE helps companies grow.

    Northeast Ohio’s only conference for small- and middle-market companies—BizConCLE 2018—is coming up fast on Nov. 1.

    Here are the top five reasons why you need to register for this event today.

    1. Convenient Location

    This year’s BizConCLE is happening right in your own backyard at the I-X Center. Not only is this an easy location to get to, but the cost of parking is included in your registration.

    2. Powerful Keynotes

    Not one. Not two. Not three. But FOUR nationally known keynotes will be taking the stage and imparting their unique business insights during this year’s convention. Click here for a rundown of the four leadership lessons that the keynotes at BizConCLE 2017 shared with attendees.

    3. Strength in Numbers

    Speaking of attendees, BizConCLE draws hundreds of attendees every year, meaning you’ll have the chance to network and connect with like-minded entrepreneurs and executives as well as take advantage of a full exhibit hall and interactive show floor.

    Darlene Campagna, the president and CEO of Direct Opinions and a multiyear attendee of BizConCLE, said she appreciates the opportunity to learn from others at the convention.

    “I like the structure and pace of the event now which provides for opportunities to learn from experts and peers,” she said. “I have made great connections along the way and have established several key partnerships as a result of attending this event that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. I enjoy participating every year!”

    4. Resources to Help Your Business Grow

    From getting an intro to online marketing taught by actual Google employees to learning how to retain and develop your staff, BizConCLE 2018 features 10 educational workshops related to the challenges facing your business.

    Marvin Montgomery, another longtime attendee of BizConCLE and committee chair for the convention, said the educational sessions have been particularly helpful for him and his business.

    “I have been attending every year since I started my business in 1990,” he said. “You can network with other business professionals and share best practices. You can hear from relevant keynote speakers and attend workshops that will provide educational value to you and your business and you have a prime opportunity for Business Development in a non-threatening environment.

    5. The Price Is Right

    All of this is available to COSE/Greater Cleveland Partnership members for a special rate of just $59, which includes breakfast, lunch and an epic closing night party to wrap up the big day. Nonmembers are also welcome to attend. Contact Chad Hamman at 216-592-2329 or via email at to secure your ticket.

    Don’t wait! Secure your place at BizConCLE 2018 and join hundreds of other Northeast Ohio business professionals for a full day of learning and networking. Click here to register now! And check out the video below for even more reasons why this is one convention your business must attend!

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  • Next up: The 5 Skills All Successful Entrepreneurs Share

    The 5 Skills All Successful Entrepreneurs Share

    From a willingness to experiment with new ideas to questioning how and why you do what you do, here are the five skills all entrepreneurs (and successful members of business teams in general) all share.

    Finding success as an entrepreneur doesn’t happen by accident. The people running these start ups and small businesses all share the same skillset that allows them to have the vision to take their business to the next level.

    During a breakout session at a Recent Greater Cleveland Partnership educational event titled “The Essential Habits of Entrepreneurs: How to Adopt the Skillsets and Mindsets of Today’s Most Successful Small Business Leaders,” Lori Long, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship and a professor of management at Baldwin Wallace University, and Linda G. Kanner, adjunct professor in the School of Business and Entrepreneur in Residence at Baldwin Wallace, shared the five skills that entrepreneurs have in common that allow them to be successful.

    Not a small business owner? No problem! Long and Kanner stressed that the following five skills are just as important for use by teams at middle market and larger companies as well.

    Skill No. 1: A willingness to experiment

    As an entrepreneur, you have to come to grips with the fact that failure will happen—frequently. So, you tried something one way and it didn’t work? Try it a different way next time. Put a process in place that recognizes and rewards all ideas (not just the ones that get implemented), gather feedback and go forward with the prototype.

    Skill No. 2: Learn how to observe

    A big part of being an entrepreneur is generating ideas that you can possibly put into action. One way of sparking these ideas is by observing and taking note of everything around you. And this leads to the next critical skill…

    Skill No. 3: Connect the dots

    Understanding the shared relationships between two otherwise disparate ideas or things is an excellent way of generating new ideas. Maintain open communication and foster a supportive work environment among members of your team to help shed light on these connections.

    Skill No. 4: Question everything

    Once you have a prototype or new process in place, it’s important to measure and understand what your customers think of it. So, ask them! Go out and talk to customers frequently. Ask them questions about what they think of what your company is doing.

    Skill No. 5: Network your way to success

    You’re not going to become a success on your own. The relationships you form with other business people and organizations will help propel your own company forward. So, go out and identify events where you will have an opportunity to network with others, find out what they can offer you and what you can provide to them as well.

    Each year, COSE and the Greater Cleveland Partnership host a number of events to help give businesses the education and resources needed to succeed. Click here for a list of upcoming events that can help your company grow, too.

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  • Next up: The Boxed Blueprint: What Small Businesses Can Learn from This Startup's Rapid Rise to Success

    The Boxed Blueprint: What Small Businesses Can Learn from This Startup's Rapid Rise to Success

    Ecommerce disruptor Boxed went from garage to national phenomenon in just a few short years. Its focus on employee culture has been a big part of the growth story. Read on for three tips from the Boxed growth blueprint that you can put into play at your own company.

    Throughout 2019, we will be running a series of articles recapping BizConCLE 2018 and the lessons attendees learned at the show. Today’s article focuses on the keynote address delivered by Boxed’s Chieh Huang on how to effectively retain employees. Check out January's BizConCLE article by clicking here.

    Boxed started in 2013 as a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation in a garage and has turned into a major wholesale ecommerce disruptor that has raised $180 million in funding.

    During his keynote address at BizConCLE 2018, Boxed’s CEO and co-founder Chieh Huang laid out his blueprint for rapid growth and how the company goes about retaining talent.

    Your people are the difference

    Huang told the crowd gathered at the I-X Center that customers today aren’t just shopping based on price; but rather, a combination of price, convenience and brand name familiarity. Companies that can offer all three of those things tend to stand out from the rest of the pack. And the best way to create a standout impression in the minds of your customers begins with the people you hire.

    Huang listed three things Boxed, known for generous perks such as paying for employee’s weddings, has done that small businesses could replicate in order to establish a strong company culture and differentiate from the competition.

    Tip No. 1: Don’t micromanage

    No one has ever said, “We never would have closed that deal if we hadn’t used the Times New Roman font,” Huang joked. His point? Don’t micromanage. Your employees who feel the most tired everyday are those who are being micromanaged.

    It’s a natural tendency for business leaders to want to be hands-on, he said. After all, the further you grow your business, the more people you must hire. And the more people you must hire, the further you get removed from the daily goings on at the company and want to get back to having a say in the direction things are moving.

    Resist that urge, Huang implored. Your people are staying with you not just because of the amount of money you’re paying them, but because there’s something they like about your management style. The easiest way to destroy that relationship is to begin micromanaging.

    Tip No. 2: Install innovative employee retention strategies

    Again, employee retention isn’t all about the size of the paycheck you’re giving your employees. There are other things small businesses can do, particularly as it relates to your policy on leave, to encourage longer retention rates.

    At Boxed, for example, the company offers unlimited maternity and paternity leave. No one yet has taken gross abuse of the policy—the longest someone took off was 10 months and the shortest was four weeks. While small businesses might not be able to offer that strong of a perk, there are other little things businesses can do to keep employees happy. For instance, let your employees take off a little early to spend time with family or volunteer at their child’s school. Small touches like that can go a long way, he said.

    Tip No. 3: Nail the hiring process

    The best way to ensure your company culture stays intact is by consistently hiring the right people, Huang said. Here are some of the questions Boxed hiring managers like to ask:

    • Tell me something that’s not on your resume.
    • Tell me your life story. What are you all about?
    • The hiring managers also aren’t afraid to throw in a curveball question every once in a while to see how good the job candidate is at thinking on their feet. (One of these curveballs: “Which country will ban autonomous cars first and why?”)

    Huang also takes time to meet with every person who is hired. It’s not a full interview, but more of a “jerk test” to make sure the company is hiring a nice person.

    BizConCLE is just one of the many events hosted by COSE and the Greater Cleveland Partnership each year to help give businesses the education and resources needed to succeed. Click here for a list of upcoming events that can help your company grow, too.

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