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a notebook that says 'goal', 'plan', and 'action' on a table next to a cup of coffee

We interact with hundreds of business owners and executive leaders each year and if you give us more than 10 minutes, the conversation will veer toward the goals for their business and ours. For most of us, we go to sleep and wake up thinking about our businesses.

With the year coming to a close, we are right in the middle of the crucial fourth quarter when most of us begin evaluating the current year and planning for next year. For the last couple of years my business partner and I have met with two other business owners and friends for a planning session. We review and offer feedback on each other’s goals and it has been invaluable. This year, I thought it would be interesting to hear from a few more people. So, I asked 30 business owners and colleagues two questions:

  1. What’s your primary focus for 2017 in the life of your business?
  2. What goal-setting system or process will you utilize to accomplish this primary focus?

These are loaded questions and several colleagues were quick to tell me so! But they all answered, and most of them promptly. It’s as if they’d been thinking about it for months, like I have.

Today’s article will discuss the importance of creating a primary focus for the coming year and explore a few strategies for maintaining and achieving that focus. But, before I do that, let’s answer the question some of you may already be asking…

Do I Really Need a Primary Focus?

As business owners and executive leaders, we have a wide variety of responsibilities such as day to day operations, finances, seeking new business, staffing, service improvement, processes and procedures, and more. Most days we are just hoping to survive and make it home in time to enjoy dinner with our family.

When our days go this way, it can be difficult to identify what we accomplished. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come home, my wife has asked me what I did today, and I honestly couldn’t give her an answer. There wasn’t one primary project I worked on; instead I worked on about a thousand minor projects, bouncing from one task to another with little time to focus on any one task for long. Many days, I feel like the little silver ball inside of a pinball machine.

Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, has a great quote on this struggle: “Remember that if you don’t prioritize your life (or your business) someone else will.”

So, the answer is yes, you really do need a primary focus. It will help you make better use of your time, remain focused on the right areas of your business, and set measurable accomplishments. In order to make space for these priorities, you will have to say no to other things. McKeown has another great quote from the same book on this matter: “Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.”

So, let’s get to know the 30 business owners I spoke with and see what they are focused on next year.


What Did 30 Business Owners Have to Say?

I spoke with a variety of business owners based on industry, size, revenue, years in business, age, market, and gender. Here’s an in-depth look at the 30 business owners who shared their business goals for next year:

  • Age of Business Owner: 33-68
  • Company Size: 5-500 employees
  • Industries: Financial, Legal, Medical, Non-Profit, Retail, Service, Consulting, Media, Construction, Real Estate, Technology, Industrial
  • Primary Markets: Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Alabama, Ohio, South Carolina, Kansas, Louisiana, and District of Columbia
  • Type: Privately Owned and Franchised
  • Years in Business: 2-65 years

The combined experience and wisdom of the leaders represented by these 30 businesses is staggering and I’ve enjoyed getting to know each of them; several have been influential in the life of our business. It was important to ask a diverse group of people the same question to see if any of the distinguishing factors listed above impacted the issues they were facing and the goals they were setting. As you’ll see, a male attorney in Georgia has very similar goals to a female designer in Pennsylvania. We are all on the same ride.

So, what is this diverse group of business owners main focus? As you’d expect from a business owner, I asked for 1 focus and received 2-3 focuses on average. I took everyone’s answers and grouped them into 8 focuses.

Here’s what I found:

  • 50% are focused on increasing revenue and improving cash flow
  • 30% are focused on hiring and staff development
  • 27% are focused on improving services
  • 17% are focused on moving into new markets
  • 17% are focused on improving processes and procedures
  • 7% are focused on improving customer service
  • 3% are focused on starting a new business
  • 3% are focused on networking

It’s no surprise that increased revenue was specifically mentioned by half of the business owners, but what about the other half? Does revenue growth not matter to them?

I’ve heard countless business consultants preach the 3 P’s: if you focus on people, process, and product then everything else will fall into place. The 3 P’s dominate the list – cash flow, hiring and staff development, services, processes and procedures, customer service, and networking. So, although we are all focused on revenue growth, we simply have different focuses to get us there.

It was refreshing to find that most business owners have a very similar set of priorities regardless of industry. With that in mind, if we all have the same set of focuses and priorities, why do some prosper while others simply plateau?

Success is always found in the execution.


How Do I Stay Focused When Jeff Quits and Susan Yells at a Client?

Maintaining focus during the work week is difficult. Multiple colleagues have told me that if they don’t complete their tasks by 8am, it likely won’t get done that day. Some of the most productive hours for business owners tend to be 6-8am, evenings, and weekends. Regardless of your company’s size, there is an enormous amount of fires that take your attention away from your primary focus. That’s why systems are so important.

So, back to the second question I asked my colleagues: “What goal-setting system or process will you utilize to accomplish this primary focus?” I received a wide range of answers, from the very systematic to the simple:

  • Annual staff retreat and regular check-ins to get and keep everyone on the same page
  • Business model system – Entrepreneurial Operating System or Rockefeller Habits
  • Detailed to-do list with timelines
  • Industry-specific CRM system
  • Utilize peer groups for accountability
  • Weekly SWOT analysis

Regardless of the complexity of the system, what’s most important is that you have a system. One colleague responded to this question by saying, “It really isn’t about the exact system as much as just having one … Just have one and stay committed to it as a team.”

My business partner and I have set aside time for planning each year since we started in 2008 and our process has become more focused and systematic. As you prepare to evaluate the current year and plan for next year, start by writing down your primary focus. After you’ve recorded it for a few years, it will provide an excellent measuring stick for how well you are performing.

Here are a few tips that have helped us along the way:

  1. Spend time imagining how your business would be improved if you accomplished your goal
  2. Find an accountability partner either within your business or with a trusted colleague
  3. Break your goals down into smaller, achievable steps that move you toward the ultimate goal
  4. Assign a deadline to each goal
  5. Write out the action items required to accomplish the goal
  6. Meet monthly with your accountability partner to discuss progress (short weekly meetings are even better)

What’s at Stake If I Don’t Set a Primary Focus?

So, what’s the big deal if you don’t have a primary focus for the coming year? Well, maybe nothing. Maybe your business will continue to have the same steady growth it has had over the last few years, maybe your team will continue to show up to work on time and seem happy and engaged, and maybe you will make some new contacts that impact your business.

But, what if you could implement a system that would improve the odds of those things happening on a larger scale? Wouldn’t it be worth spending the time to set a primary focus and putting accountability measures in place if you could guarantee a higher likelihood of completing your goals?

One study revealed that you are 21% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. That’s a 21% increase in productivity just because you wrote down your goals. Now, imagine if you also had an accountability partner, you met monthly to discuss progress, and you broke your goals down into measurables? I bet that 21% would soar much higher.

So, here’s my challenge to you in 4 simple steps:

  1. Schedule time before Christmas to evaluate the current year and create your vision for next year
  2. Establish your primary goal for the coming year
  3. Write down the goal and chart out how you will accomplish it – include measurable steps that are tied to a date
  4. Find an accountability partner and schedule monthly or weekly meetings

A Few Resources to Get You Started

There are thousands of books and blogs that discuss goal setting. Most of them say the same thing but there are a few that have been influential to me on this topic:

  1. Verne Harinsh’s Scaling Up: How A Few Companies Make It…and Why the Rest Don’t
  2. Gino Wickman’s Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business
  3. Michael Hyatt’s blog
  4. David Finkel’s blog and eNewsletter

Tell Me What Works for You

I would love to learn more about your business and hear what has worked for you in both creating and maintaining a primary focus for your business. You can email me at [email protected].

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