It’s that time of year when we like to take stock of where we are and where we’re headed. For lots of people, this takes the form of a resolution to exercise more, get out of debt, finish that novel, or a similar kind of self improvement. But what about your small business? Now is as good a time as any to set long-form goals for your company. As with any goal, these resolutions work best if they conform to some basic rules.

1. They Must Be Realistic

I’m not talking about why climbing Everest this spring is a poor resolution. That’s obvious. What’s less obvious is keeping your excitement in check when you’ve decided to make a change. It’s easy to get too aggressive and end up frustrated. Instead, set short-term goals low and long-term goals high.

  • Bad: I’ll work 20 hours a week instead of 60.
  • Good: I’ll find ways to cut 5 hours of work out of each week. 
  • Better: I’ll delegate 5 hours worth of weekly tasks to members of my staff.

2. They Must Be Specific

A resolution to “lose some weight” doesn’t do much good because you don’t really know what you’re going to do. Will you eat less? Exercise more? How much weight will you lose? For the same reason, “better advertising” doesn’t help your business much. Specific goals give your resolution direction by their very nature.

  • Bad: I’ll hire more people.
  • Good: I’ll hire somebody to do these three tasks I hate.
  • Better: I’ll find a part-time assistant using money from sales I’ll increase with the extra time.

3. They Must Be Measurable

Goals attached to numbers succeed, because you can gauge progress and know when you’re done. The best goals include a measure of success and a measure of time. That way you know what you’ll do, when you need to get it done, and how much progress you’ve made on your way.

  • Bad: Increase revenue. 
  • Good: Increase revenue by 20%.
  • Better: Increase revenue by 20% by this time next year. 

4. They Must Have Benchmarks

New year goals should be big ones, projects you spend the whole year attaining. For projects that size, it’s best to divide them into mini-goals that add up to major success over the course of a year. Without these benchmarks, it’s easy to become paralyzed by the size of the entire task — or to lose focus with procrastination during the first part of the year.

  • Bad: Empty and lease out the second warehouse.
  • Good: Empty the second warehouse in 10 stages, then lease out when finished. 
  • Better: Empty 1/10th of the second warehouse each month from January to October. Lease it out by December.

What’s your biggest new year goal for your company? Announce it in public here to cement your commitment to success.