You can find a lot of material out there on the value of setting goals. Experts will tell you to design goals that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely); a few will tell you to forget setting goals altogether.
I'm a big believer in using small goals as stepping stones to reach larger ones. Here's a personal story to illustrate:
About seven years ago, I decided to ask the love of my life to marry me. Of course, I wanted to make the proposal special, so I racked my brain to come up with something she wouldn't totally expect. My girlfriend happens to be a talented musician (she plays two instruments), and she knew that I couldn't play anything...other than my iPod.
So I decided to completely surprise her--by learning to play a song on the guitar. We were a long-distance success story, so we'd adopted "Hey There Delilah" (by The Plain White T's) as our song. Oh yeah, and I completely rewrote the lyrics to fit us. (Hey--I was in love. Cut me some slack.)
I went to a close friend of mine (James, who happens to be one of the best guitarists on the planet) and asked how feasible it was that I learn to play and sing my proposal--in three months. I'll never forget our conversation:
Me: So, is that possible?
James: That depends. How much guitar can you play right now?
James: OK (chuckling). Do you want to just play the chords, or like, the real song?
Me: Come on--this is for my future wife here!
James: OK, OK. Well, it's possible, but it's definitely not going to be easy. But if you're committed, I think you can do it.
Me: I'm definitely committed.
We got to work. James met with me every three days for the next three months, and at every meeting, he gave me a new goal. In the beginning, I had to learn how to play four notes at a time. (Sound simple? Trust me, it's not.)
Over the next three days, I would need to master those four notes; then, James would show me the next four. I had three days to learn those; then, we'd meet again...and so on. James did all of this out of the goodness of his heart (and his desire to assist true love), but he named one condition: I had to reach each goal before we would move on to the next.
It took me about two months to learn to play the full song. The next month was learning to play and sing the lyrics at the same time. (For all of you out there who are good at this: respect.)
It was one of the most challenging things I've ever done.
Well...seven years (and two kids) later, my wife's eyes still light up when she tells our "proposal story."
So what does any of this have to do with you and your business? Let's extract four major lessons:
1. Get yourself a mentor.
I never (there is no way to emphasize this enough) would have accomplished this without James's help. Not only was he a genius guitar player, he was an excellent teacher, an awesome motivator, and the perfect coach. He knew the task ahead was formidable, but he never discouraged me, always remaining positive.
Of course, we don't all have friends that make wonderful business mentors. But I didn't always have access to my own personal George Benson, either. My friendship with James began a few years earlier--as a professional relationship.
Never underestimate the power of your network.
2. You need smaller goals to reach bigger goals.
Imagine James met with me on that first night, showed me how to play half the song, and said: "There it is. I'll see you again in a month."
My first goal was to learn four notes. Four notes. A gargantuan task for me, but a small fraction in relation to the big picture. Those four notes led to the next four, which led to the next four, etc.
Important: You define the ultimate objective, but your mentor can help you determine which goals will get you there.
3. Keep focused on the end product.
There were obvious challenges to finding time to practice every day, and these threatened to impede my progress.
But I had a strong belief in the symbolism of what I was trying to do: Marriage was more than just a piece of paper to me--it would mean a lifetime of commitment and hard work to be truly successful. Undertaking this incredibly difficult challenge was my way of saying to my girlfriend: I'm ready to do whatever it takes to be able to wake up next to you for the rest of my life.
Focusing on this, as well as on the joy of surprising my (potential) fiancÃ©e, kept me going...despite the obstacles that got in the way.
Similarly, when you encounter difficulty (and you will), view these as challenges to be overcome--not as dead ends. Focus on your end goal.
Remember: The harder you work for something, the more valuable it becomes.
4. Get started!
I can't remember exactly how long I tossed this idea around before I got moving, but it wasn't long. I knew that every minute sitting around thinking about it was a minute lost--and I was in no position to waste time.
Lesson: There's no perfect time. There are no perfect circumstances. It's not going to be easy...and there will be setbacks. But once you've determined what you want to do, what's holding you back?
So...what are you waiting for? Get up, and get a move on! At the end of the day, you'll be that much closer to what you hope to accomplish.
I can't promise that you'll reach every aspiration you set your heart on. But having set (and reached) a considerable number of goals in my life, I can testify that following the steps above can help you achieve great things.
And if you don't believe me...
Just ask my wife.