With all the material that is so readily available about the importance of setting realistic goals, most business owners would have had at least some exposure to the process. Perhaps the most famous approach, if only because it really, really works is the process of setting “SMART” goals. Where SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based.

If you are not yet completely on board with the SMART goal revolution here is an easy to follow example.



In order to increase my monthly revenue, I will “increase my online course sign-ups by 20 this month to a total of 200 members. I will achieve this through an email campaign offering discounted rates to my existing email network of 2,500 subscribers.”

Quick test to make sure my goal really is SMART:

  • Specific – Increase my online course sign-ups by 20
  • Measurable – Increase by 20 to a total of 200 members
  • Attainable – Do this using an email campaign offering discounted rates
  • Relevant – Online course sign-ups relate to my core objective of lifting my revenue by increasing sales volume
  • Time-based – Increase sign-ups in one month

The process of setting realistic goals is a relatively simple one so long as you stick to the key pillars as laid out above. In fact, the actual setting of the SMART goal in and of itself is not really where things become tricky for most business owners.


Where does it go wrong?

In our experience, setting realistic goals for private practice businesses can go wrong in two places.

The first is being overly optimistic in the setting of goals. The second, and perhaps the far more serious problem, is that when the practice owner sets the goals they don’t then take the time to align the team with those goals.


1. Overly optimistic goals

First things first, how do you know if you’ve set overly optimistic goals?

We generally find that overly optimistic goals comes down to the business owner using some or all of the following thinking:

  • The goal is set by what the business owner needs to achieve, not what is actually achievable.
  • The goal is set without taking into account the workload the team already has.
  • The goal is set without taking into account the skill sets of the existing team.

Taking the SMART goal example from above, an overly optimistic goal would look like the below:

  • Unrealistic timeline: Increase my online course sign-ups by 100 this month.
  • Disregard of workload and skill sets: I will achieve this through targeted SEO, complete website redesign and an audit of all existing blog content.


Setting realistic goals

A lot of small business owners forget the importance of setting realistic goals because they tend to agree with the quote,

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

But a great leader understands the impact of never quite achieving the goals has on their team. A team working with unrealistic expectations can quickly lose their morale among other things. Continue this way, and you’ll find yourself never being able keep your team around for longer than a few months.

The best and perhaps only way to change your behaviours around setting goals in a realistic way is to review every goal with a basic checklist:

  • Have I set a goal that is based on what the business can actually achieve?
  • Have I taken into account the workload I already have my team under?
  • Does my team have the necessary skills to deliver the goal?
    • Or do I have the funds to hire and time to manage an external team?

If you can answer yes to each of these questions then by all means proceed to the next step. If the answer to any of them was no, then back to the drawing board and start over.


2. Aligning the team

Aligning the team is the most important component to achieving the realistic goals you set. It is also where things come off the rails more often than not.

As a business owner, it is easy to get caught up in what the achievement of (or more like not achieving) our business goals will represent. We know too well how tight our cash flow will be at the end of the month if we don’t hit the mark. The risk though, is that we charge ahead without bringing the team with us on the journey.

A team that is united in achieving a goal is a team that understands the purpose of that goal in the first place. If you collaborate with your team in designing the goal at the outset, then they have buy-in and they own a piece of the success of that goal.


The Dos

Here are some easy steps that will help with this:

  • Show the team the problem your goal is going to address.
  • Understand their workload.
  • Help them re-prioritise if necessary.
  • Listen to their ideas about the goal (they may well be better than yours).
  • Offer them the support and guidance they need to achieve the goal.
  • Be available to help.

Getting the most out of your team is never easy but it does not have to be a constant battle either.


The Don’ts

There are some key points to avoid in these areas as well. When it comes to business owners and their teams there are some key phrases to avoid:

  • “If we don’t succeed in this goal, there won’t be a business at the end of it.”
  • “The future of the practice is in your hands.”
  • “This is our last chance so if we don’t achieve this goal, then jobs will be on the line.”

You get the idea.

Motivating your team like this is not effective. In most cases they will go back to their desks and start working on their job search techniques. It is your job as their leader to lead them, not to frighten them into submission. It will only breed resentment and failure to achieve the goal. Instead, motivate your team with positivity and comradery, and use empowering and encouraging statements.