If you have not yet determined goals or resolutions for your small business read the article on Small Goals that Make a Difference to help you choose goals that will increase your productivity and your success.
Once you know what you want to accomplish, write it down. When defining your goal, be as clear as possible. Say "I will increase my client base by 4 new customers each month." instead of "My goal is to find new customers." The first goal is measurable and achievable. The second may be achievable, but there is no clear cut definition or measure of success - is one new customer enough, two, one hundred? Decide on a realistic, but somewhat aggressive number. Great goals are challenging without being impossible.
Once you clarify and quantify your goal, then it’s time to work on the steps to achieve it. The Action Plan is a simple tool that I discovered and then adapted years ago. There are many varieties and flavors of action plans, but the basic premise is that you define a goal clearly, determine how to measure success, and then create action steps to achieve it. I use a form which lists the goal, action steps, measurable results, target date and a results column. You can create your own form, or download mine here.
No matter what form you use, or what format you choose for your action plans, the process is the same:
1—Define your goal clearly and make sure it can be measured.
2—List the action steps you will take to reach the goal.
3—Write down how you will measure your progress.
4—Set target dates for the actions
5—Log your results.
Action Steps are the key to the entire Action Plan. This is where you list the details of what you will do. It can be tricky sometimes because you just might not know what you need to do to get from here to there. The Action Plan process will help you learn how. It forces you to examine your thinking and make sure you are focused.
One of the easiest ways to begin writing Action Steps is to think backwards from the goal. Visualize what your world will look like once you get there. Now, imagine the path that you took. What happened right before you achieved your goal? What happened before then? And so on, all the way back to the present time. (For more detailed instructions, see Action Plan Tips and Examples
Each Action Step is a mini-goal in itself and there will be next steps involved in most of them. You can create mini Action Plans for each step that requires multiple actions, or you can just keep up with your efforts on your original plan.
The next step in creating the Action Plan is to determine measurable results for each step. For example, how do you measure “research online auction options”? One way would be to find the top three auction sites and explore each for ease of use, costs, and so on. Your measurement would be “did you do that”? Your results then would be whatever you discovered (for example, eBay has more traffic, is easy to use, and seems to be best choice). Then, you can create a “next step” for this action, such as “sign up for eBay account by February 1”.
The beauty of using action plans is that they are flexible and can change with you. As long as you keep writing down your goals and measurements, setting deadlines and tracking your results, you will make definite strides toward your goals.
An added bonus is that you learn to think differently. You learn to think in terms of actions required on your part to succeed instead of just wishing things were different. You'll learn to evaluate your desires for their practicality. And, you will learn how to overcome obstacles by breaking them down into small achievable steps that you can do. Action plans are not only valuable for your business success, but many people use them effectively in their personal lives, too. You can use them to plan a renovation, improve your social life, lose weight, create an award-winning garden, whatever you want!
The only secret is to actually do it. And keep doing it.
Action Item Create an Action Plan for one of your current goals. Actually write it down, all the way through.