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Goal setting: when it doesn’t quite work for you

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Planning & Productivity

Goal setting: when it doesn’t quite work for you

The issue with setting goals:

  • Not everyone has a clear view of what they want for the future
  • Not everyone has a clear view of how to get there

A lot of it has to do with labels: how we perceive goals, targets, etc.

Types of Goals

There are so many types of goals, it’s easy to get lost… or to set the “wrong” goals for yourself.

Ask one and the same person:

  • “What’s your goal in life?” —> I want to live in the country, raise my kids to be good humans, be happy (that’s a life goal)
  • “What’s your goal with your business?” —> I want to teach the world how to crochet (that’s your business’ mission)
  • “What’s your goal in business this year?” —> I want to scale down to only working 3 days a week, so I can spend more time with my kids (great goal for the year!)
  • “What’s your income goal for the year?” —> I want to make 6 figures (I would call this an income target)
  • “What’s your goal with Facebook this year?” —> I want to grow my email list to 50k (again, I’d call it a target)

I like to make a difference between “big picture” goals (what is it you really want?) and “target” goals (which are basically key metrics turned into goals).

Why Income/Target Goals Don’t Always Work

The only time you should be setting income/target goals, is if you know exactly how you will get to these goals.


  • I want to grow my list from 2k to 5k this year. I know when I run ads, they convert at 2$ a lead; so I need an ads budget of 6k to grow my list.
  • I want to make $100k in sales. I know with every email I send, I get about 5 signups at 500$ each; I’ll need to send at least 40 emails, so that’s a weekly campaign.
  • I want one new client each month. I know every time I’m on a podcast, I get about 10 new leads, about 1 out of 10 leads gets on a discovery call, and about 1 out of 5 discovery calls turn into quality clients; so I need to be on 5 podcasts each month.

What I see a lot of people do, is setting targets without knowing how they’ll get there.

  • I want at least 2 new clients each month. I don’t know where they would come from, but I’ll put in a lot of effort!
  • I want to make 100k this year. Let’s start with brainstorming what I could do to make money.

I’m not saying these never work out; they’re just very vague goals. Even though they’re super specific and “smart”, it’s not super clear how you’ll get there. These are the kind of goals I see people get really, really disappointed with.

why SMART Goals Don’t Always Work

You know SMART goals, right?

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

In other words: “I’m going to be really rich someday” is not a SMART goal.
”By December 31st, 2025, I will be be making 100k monthly” is a lot SMARTer - provided this is achievable, of course. If you don’t have an amazing career, a unique business idea or are willing to do anything for money - you might want to settle for less ;-)

The thing is… SMART goals often look a lot like targets. For instance in the example of “making 100k monthly”, it’s what I’d call a “target goal”, and in order for a target goal to work, you need to know exactly how it will work.

And the thing with business owners is - a lot of their goals are target-bound. In life, you can have more lofty goals like “I want to move to Hawaii by the end of the year”, but business is often about money, sales, revenue.

The absolute killer: “Should” goals

This I learned from the amazing Jo Bendle: “should goals” do not work.

“I should be losing weight”. “I should get more clients”. “I should read more books”. Feel how these are really goals you don’t want to achieve?

If you hear yourself say “I should be doing that”, there’s something wrong. Why should you be doing that? How important is it for you to do it? What’s keeping you from doing it?

Not all “should” goals are wrong: “I should be paying my bills in time” sounds like it’s not going to happen, however, it’s pretty important! So what is keeping you from doing it?

  • If it’s procrastination, you could visualise what paying your bills in time will do for you. It’s not just about avoiding failure (I should be paying my bills in time so I don’t pay hundreds of dollars each month on extra fees), it’s about making it exciting: “If I pay my bills in time, I’ll have hundreds of dollars each month to spend on spa days and books”. It might also be about making it actionable (see below)
  • If it’s something actually keeping you from making those payments (e.g. your clients are always late paying you), then fixing THAT is your focus for the next month. So you’ll turn it into “I will send my invoices earlier and have zero tolerance for late payments, so I can always pay my own bills in time”.

What Are the Right Goals for You?

If you know exactly how to make money, make more sales, have more revenue, get more clients - then your goals are pretty clear-cut; you can keep using target goals without problems.

If that’s not the case, maybe you need goals that are just as SMART… but maybe not linked to results you have no way of anticipating.

  • By the end of this month, I will have a clear process to get clients.
  • By the end of this month, I will have a full business plan outlining HOW I’m going to make 100k this year.
  • By the end of this month, I will have launched the product I know my audience really craves for.

Taking action to Reach your Goals

“A goal without a plan is just a wish” - I believe Antoine de Saint-Exupery said this.

The things that really count in life are actions. Whether they’re one-time actions or recurring ones (habits/routines), they’re essentials to reaching the goals.

These actions definitely need to be SMART!

For instance, if your goal is to take a holiday - and you’ll do that by paying your bills in time (so you’ll save the overdue fees to go on that holiday)… the actions would be to

  • Set up a system for paying your bills,
  • Setting a set day each week or month to make the payments,
  • Creating a savings account where you put the money for the holiday aside,
  • etc.

The more you can turn goals into actionable baby steps, the easier it will be to reach them.

Big Goals, Multiple Steps…

However, many goals don’t get simply split into actions... most big goals need a step-by-step approach.

For instance, if your goal is to launch a course this year, you know you’ll need to get visible and grow an audience first so people can get to know you (and like you, and trust you) before you can start selling. So for launching your course, the steps could be the following:

  • Step 1: get clear on the strategy. Who’s your target audience, what will you help them achieve exactly, how are you going to do this?
  • Step 2: build your brand: decide on the voice you’re going to use, visual branding, messaging, etc
  • Step 3: create a marketing plan
  • Step 4: set up your marketing foundations (maybe that’s a website, social accounts, freebie, email funnels, etc)
  • Step 5: take regular actions to grow your audience (promote your freebie, write newsletters, post on social media, etc)
  • Step 6: launch the course
  • Step 7: review & scale

Of course, this is very much simplified - and it’s in no way a timeline; some people will have steps 1-3 done in a day, while others will need months to figure out what they want or need exactly.

And depending on what you’re doing exactly, each step might need substeps, outside help, creating new habits,…

Big Goals, Clear Focus

This is why in our monthly planning sessions, we are no longer setting monthly “goals”. Want to set yourself an income goal, decide how many people should be on your list by the 31st of this month, set yourself a challenge to grow the traffic to your website with 50%? You will get no pushback from me… but for most of us, setting a focus (or what my friend Erin calls “monthly intentions”) is a more efficient way to get things done.

For instance… let’s say your focus for the month is to “get new clients”. You can easily turn that into actions:

  • Join a networking/referral group so you can get more visible
  • Join a coworking group so you can meet more people
  • Make a list of 5 people you know need your help, and devise a plan to get them on a discovery call

If your monthly focus is to “lose weight”, the actions could be

  • Go for a run at least 4 times a week (turn it into a routine to make it easier on yourself)
  • Instruct your family to keep sweets out of your sight
  • Buy fresh fruit instead of cookies and chocolate…
  • Grab an apple when you feel like you want a snack
  • Start the day with a smoothie (another habit!)

Any other ideas, thoughts? Please share below!

What are your big goals? What’s your focus for this month? What works and doesn’t work for YOU?