If there’s one thing that the year 2020 taught us, it’s that all plans are truly tentative, and even the best laid ones can change in an instant. This time last year, no one could have foreseen the massive changes coming for us that, in many ways, rocked the in-home service industry (and many others) to the very core. It humbles us to realize how many factors in life are just plain out of our control. So, now more than ever, there’s a huge temptation to let a laissez-faire, “what’s the use in planning” feeling take over. “I have no control anyway, so what’s the use…” right? But nonetheless, if you’re a business owner who’s not at least trying to keep their hands on the wheel and intentionally point your company in the direction you want it, you’ll soon find the ditch.

How do you continue to plan and set goals while life throws its best curveballs at you along the way? How do you develop a vision for where you want to be this time next year, knowing in the back of your mind the odds of it looking exactly the way you’re picturing it when you get there are about a million to one? You must set S.M.A.R.T. goals for your company now and, most importantly, stay flexible and persistent every step of the way on the road to achieving them.

The S.M.A.R.T. goal setting system is nothing new and far predates our current reality of pandemics, stay-at-home orders, and EPA winds of change, but the method remains completely relevant. It was originally presented by George T. Doran in the November 1981 issue of the Management Review article called “There’s a S.M.A.R.T Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives.” There he presented an acronym for goal setting called The S.M.A.R.T. System. Achievable goals must be Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. In short, he floated the simple idea out to the business world that if you aren’t putting some serious thought into where you want to be, you stand little chance of getting there.

Setting goals that are S.M.A.R.T.

  1. Specific: The first standard in this method is to set goals that are specific. Ask most contractors their goals, and the responses are something like, “I want to grow,” or “I want to make more money.” And those are great things to shoot for. Who doesn’t want to grow and add to their income, right? But there are countless things that could actually mean. Growth could mean expanding into new neighborhoods or opening a new location to increase your footprint. It could mean selling more install jobs and becoming more important to your distributor or manufacturer. It could simply mean implementing some new programs that make you run more efficiently internally. All of those scenarios are business growth measurements, but they require very different actions to achieve. You could fire your lead salesman and go close all the sales yourself and make more money, but I doubt that’s what you had in mind.

    Put serious thought into exactly what you’d like to see happen. Specific goals would be things like: “Increase my sales closing ratio by 10%.” “Grow my residential customer base by 20%.” “Add 1,000 service agreement customers.” These are more defined targets that allow you to be more defined in how to make them happen.
  2. Measurable: It’s easy to set a goal and dream about where we want to be, but step two is where the work really starts. Is this a goal that you can track the progress of? Unless you buy out a competitor, your goal of 1,000 more service agreements won’t happen overnight. Set mini checkpoints along the way to see that you’re moving toward the goal. Don’t set a goal that can’t be tracked and measured.
  3. Assignable: Here’s where your goal gets legs. Good business leaders aren’t just dreamers — they’re good delegators. Who and what are going to help you achieve this goal? Are the pieces in place? This may take some shifting of staff positions, requiring new dispatching software, or finally allowing a marketing company to help organize your sales and marketing. Gather people around you or get the processes in place to help you reach your target.
  4. Realistic: Ask yourself here, is this a truly realistic goal? “I want complete market domination by the end of the first quarter!” Even the Empire had to take some time to build the Death Star. We all have visions of grandeur, but it can also get discouraging quickly (for you and your staff) if we consistently aim too high and fail repeatedly. Let your staff be part of your goal planning, and allow them to be brutally honest. They hear feedback and objections you don’t, and they also have a better understanding of the difficulties a major change might bring. Let business and marketing coaches give you advice, tempering your expectations to set you up for success. These people will also add great accountability for you as well.
  5. Time-Bound: What happens if you send out a fantastic offer to your customers but don’t include an expiration date? Everyone looks at it and intends to take advantage of it, but if there is no urgency it get thrown in the junk drawer and is quickly forgotten. “I’ll get around to it” holds us all back in some form or fashion, but it can be particularly damaging to your business. When you set a firm deadline on when you want your goal to be achieved, something magical happens. You will think about that goal more and with each passing day you will feel the weight of that deadline approaching, spurring you into more action.

Over the years many have put their own spin on the S.M.A.R.T. acronym. I’ve seen the letters changed to represent slightly different words, and also an E. R. added for “Exciting” and “Relevant.” And in light of what this industry (and culture as a whole) experienced in recent months, I have a couple of words I feel are very important to add as well. And while the acronym S.M.A.R.T. F.P. isn’t quite as catchy as S.M.A.R.T.E.R., these are more related to your attitude towards the goal than the goal itself.

Flexible: I say with full confidence this is the most important factor in achieving any goal you set — how flexible are you willing to be to get there? Even uncomfortably so at times? As said above, there will be unexpected things that come your way to throw your plans off track, and if you adamantly resist change, you will fail. The goal remains the same, but the way you get there is a work in progress.

Persistent: As you track the progress toward your goal there will be months where you miss. Don’t give up and don’t get discouraged, just make the necessary changes and press on. You’ve set a goal and I challenge you to fight with everything you have to get there. But at the end of the day, if you set a goal of increasing your profit margin from 11% to 15% and only get to 14%, it could still be life-changing for you and your business. Those are rewards you won’t see if you quit after your first hiccup.

No one knows what the next few months hold for any of us, but a ton of market share and potential business changes hands daily, and success rarely falls in our laps. Don’t be scared of the future, but dream, plan, and be prepared to roll with life’s punches.