“The thing about goals is that living without them is a lot more fun, in the short run. It seems to me, though, that the people who get things done, who lead, who grow and who make an impact… those people have goals.” – Seth Godin, “The Thing About Goals”

One of my friends runs her own small business as a private chef, cooking dinners for people every week, and doing private catering events. She’s a really busy person, not only because of her business, but also because she’s a single mom to two boys under the age of 4. Her business has been successful pretty much from Day 1, but she recently decided to take things to the next level, because she’s trying to save money for an important goal: she wants to travel to India in January for a 2-week yoga retreat.

And here’s the thing: she’s making it happen! She’s booked her ticket to India. In spite of all the added work and stress and expenses involved with taking this trip, she’s going to make it a reality.

How many people say they would love to do something amazing (travel around the world, start a business, get another degree, get a big promotion at work) but never make it happen? The difference between people who actually make their dreams come true, and those who just shuffle along without ever fulfilling their potential, is simple: goals.

Setting goals is hugely important for a small business to succeed. Goals give you a road map – they help you measure your progress and make adjustments as needed along the way. Goals help you stay focused, and help you accomplish more than you ever thought possible. Goals create discipline – they give you an impetus to reach farther, try harder, drum up more business, and meet your deadlines. Ultimately, goals are about identifying what you most want out of life, and then creating a detailed plan to go get it.

Without goals, it’s all too easy to start drifting, lose focus, and fall short of expectations. Goals keep you honest to yourself.

For example, in my own business as a freelance writer, I have bi-weekly income goals. I have a two week pay period during which I try to earn a certain amount of money, and then I pay myself a paycheck on Friday of the following week. I keep track of my earnings and receivables along the way so I know whether I’m on target, over the target, or not even close. My income goal is like my own internal compass for my business: some days (or weeks) are more productive than others, but as long as I keep sight of my overall goal, I know whether I’m on track.

If I ever find myself falling short of my income goal – whether it’s because I took a few days off, or didn’t land a certain project, or didn’t feel very productive that day – knowing where I stand gives me the motivation to hustle faster and work harder to put myself over the top.

When my wife and I had our second child, I wanted to be able to take a full month off of work. My company where I worked at the time (this was before I started my own business) didn’t offer paid paternity leave, so I would have to fund the time off out of our own savings. I decided to work really hard, for all 9 months of my wife’s pregnancy, to get extra freelance work and save up enough money (after taxes) to have one full month off with the new baby.

It wasn’t easy. I stayed up working on a lot of late nights and woke up early in the morning. I worked on weekend afternoons when I could have been enjoying the outdoors, and I didn’t see my friends very often. But in the end, I achieved my goal, and that month of self-funded “paternity leave” was one of the sweetest months of my life.

One of the amazing things I’ve noticed about running my own business is that there is no one standing in the way of your success – except for you. No one is going to hold you back or tell you “you can’t do it!” If you have a goal, if you’re motivated, if you’re passionate about what you’re doing, there is no limit to what you can achieve. The opportunities will keep materializing. Just keep your eye on the prize, and go!

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