When you take your first leap into entrepreneurship, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. You’re finally free (or on the path to being free) from the constraints of an employer, a 9-to-5 job, and climbing the corporate ladder. You’re in charge of your fate now, and the freedom is exhilarating.
But, eventually, the excitement wears off, and you find yourself without a clear idea of where you want to take your entrepreneurial pursuits. You were so caught up in getting to the point of being self-employed, that you didn’t have a chance to think about what you’d do next. You find yourself wondering, Now what?
Once you’ve reached this moment, it’s time to define your entrepreneurial career goals. Although your career goals as an entrepreneur differ from those as a salaried employee, the importance of having clear goals is just as significant, if not more important.
This article will explore how to define entrepreneurial career goals, including how they differ from traditional career goals, and how to set them in a way that will help you find the success and direction you desire.
How Entrepreneurial Career Goals Are Different
Most of the advice about setting career goals is aimed at corporate employees, advice which isn’t much help to you as an entrepreneur. You’re not interested in how to talk about your career goals in a job interview with potential employers. Explanations of the career path to a management position are irrelevant. And discussions of the role of career goals in directing your job search seem out of touch with the reality of your job, the job you’ve created for yourself.
We won’t rehash any of this advice; we know it’s not what you’re looking for. Instead, here are the five things you should keep in mind when setting your entrepreneurial career goals.
1. Set Realistic Goals
Entrepreneurship, in one sense, is an act of ego. You have to be willing to have enough faith in your idea, in yourself, and in your business in the face of naysayers and struggles. You should be bold; you have to be bold. But there’s also the danger of being so bold that you set unrealistic goals for yourself. Goals are a powerful tool when you apply them correctly, but if you set goals that are too lofty (especially on too short a time scale), you’ll only set yourself up for frustration.
We’re not saying you should fear failure; you must be prepared to fail, as all successful entrepreneurs fail and learn from their failures continuously. Nonetheless, you shouldn’t set goals that you cannot achieve with your current resources or abilities.
For example, we now know Elon Musk for companies like SpaceX and Tesla, but we forget that he only undertook those ventures after he was already a multi-millionaire as the result of his success with PayPal. He didn’t build either of those companies from nothing, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to do the same either.
Set goals that stretch you beyond where you currently are, of course, but that are still achievable with what you have available.
2. Set SMART GoalsTo set career goals you can accomplish, we recommend the SMART goal setting framework. We won’t go into the full details of the framework here, as we have a full article on the topic. But in brief, SMART goals are ones that meet the following criteria:
- Specific - The goals isn’t vague, but concretely defined.
- Measurable - You have an objective, quantitative way to determine if you’ve achieved the goal.
- Achievable - The goal is something you can accomplish with the resources, skills, and time you have.
- Relevant - The goal will contribute to your larger vision of success.
- Time-sensitive - The goal has a time frame that ensures you know when you have (or haven’t) accomplished it; it isn’t open-ended.
3. Define Your Long-Term Career Goals
Once you have your goal-setting framework in place, it’s time to set the goals themselves. We recommend you start with your long-term goals. These are the ultimate goals that you’d like to achieve within the time frames of 1, 5, and 10 years.
You can think even longer-term if you want, but beyond that it’s so hard to say how changes in the economy or your life situation might present new opportunities or necessitate shifts in your career trajectory that setting goals so far away isn’t productive; such is the territory of dreams.
Long-term goals can be fairly general. They’re goals such as “Make enough money to replace my employee income” or “Build a passive income business that requires a few hours a week of work” or “Create a business that disrupts my industry”. These are the big goals that will guide the short-term ones, always in the background to serve as reference for your overall path.
4. Define Your Short-Term Career Goals
Once you have set your long-term goals to guide you, you can work on the shorter-term goals. Where do you see your business in 1, 3, or 6 months, and what do you need to do to get it there? Are there networking events you should attend to find investors? Leadership skills you should develop to help direct your team as your company grows? Training you want to attend or books you should read?
These may not seem like entrepreneurial career goals, but they’ll get you on your way to the bigger, more exciting goals; short-term goals are crucial.
5. Record Your Goals
In order to define your goals and make them useful, you need to get them out of your head and onto the page. Writing is a powerful tool of self-reflection, one that allows you take the many plans and competing ideas in your head and put them down on the page. Once you have this material out of your head, you can work to organize it and put it in a form that allows you to act on it.
The bonus of writing down your goals is that you memorialize your goals in a format that lets you refer to them, post them on your wall, and keep yourself accountable. Write down your goals; you won’t regret it.