Have a Plan, Not a Dream – How to Set Realistic Goals for Your New Business
“I have a dream,” so starts the infamous speech by Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream of a better America. One where there would be fair treatment for both the Whites and the Blacks. He so much believed in the dream that he spoke to others about it and went on to act on it.
Ask any modern-day African American who is familiar with the struggles of that era. They will all tell you that the dream was necessary.
All historians acknowledge the effort Martin Luther King Jr. put in his pursuit of what he believed was right.
This says something about dreams—that they are powerful.
And going by the results of the civil rights movement, dreams can come true.
This is encouraging news.
So, do you have a dream?
DREAM VS. VISION
There are many words and phrases used to describe dreams. Universally known to take place at night when you’re asleep, dreams can be fun.
They can get you to Disneyland where you have always imagined living in.
When dreams happen during the day when you’re awake, you may be said to be daydreaming. If your dream seems too good to be true, you may be said to be building castles in the air.
Many times, this is what many budding entrepreneurs are accused of doing. They have this great idea of how they can make life easier by inventing something unheard of. Even unimaginable.
But in sharing their dream, they get discouraged and the business idea dies.
In other cases, the idea is big and maybe crazy too but seems feasible. But for some reason, the idea remains in the mind and the person remains a potential entrepreneur.
But if dreams are powerful enough to create successful movements, why do so many fail to materialize?
From Dream to Vision
It’s worth noting that there is a difference between a dream and a vision.
A closer look at Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream will tell you that it was more of a vision than a mere dream.
There are real differences between the two.
And to see the differences, there is no better way than to look at the person behind it.
Dreamers are different from visionaries. Most dreamers enjoy the dream but do not take the necessary action to actualize it. Visionaries on the other hand seem to be a different breed of human beings—at least as far as dreamers are concerned.
Visionaries have dreams too but you won’t find anyone in their right mind calling them dreamers. The main thing setting visionaries apart from dreamers is their action mindset.
Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t just dream. He acted to bring about the reality of his dream.
And how easy was it to do so?
“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” Colin Powell
Well, he had to convince many people about its validity. He had to be bold enough to speak about it publicly. Be willing to stand out as the odd one out attempting to disturb the status quo.
This he did despite being only one person coming from the minority community.
It was an uphill task.
As if that was not enough, he had to take part in demonstrations. Though peaceful, the demonstrations faced the threat of force from the police.
And while marching with other like-minded people, the visionary was at the front-line. Right in the line of fire.
In short, there was a price to pay. And in his case, a price equal to his life.
Do you have a dream? Are you willing to pay the price?
Is a dream all you need?
Still on the very good example by Martin Luther King Jr., it’s clear that he didn’t just go out to accomplish his dream. Therefore, apart from your life-changing dream, you need something else.
That thing is a plan. You need a plan on how to achieve your dream.
As good as a dream is, without a plan you won’t achieve it. The farthest you will get—and with little effort—is being a dreamer.
The same applies to your business idea.
You have this great idea which if implemented will make life easier for many while making you wealthy. You also stand to be counted among the great entrepreneurs of your time. But if all that is to become a reality, you need a plan.
Your dream cannot stand by itself. It needs a foundation, a structure and a strategy for accomplishment. These are planned for and then worked out.
There are at least three things which characterized Martin Luther King Jr.’s realization of his dream:
1. He had a vision – as we have seen, his was a vision and not just a dream. This however does not disqualify his use of the word “dream.” A good dream gives you an urge. It pushes you towards its realization and it has a sense of urgency attached to it. This is a vision.
2. He rallied for support – fully understanding that he cannot fulfill the dream by himself, Martin Luther King Jr. had to get support.
For you as an entrepreneur, this is your pitching moment. You either need money, free or cheap marketing help (while beginning) or something else.
Whatever it is, you have to communicate well to convince the people you approach.
3. He worked hard on it – visionaries are not super human; they are just like everyone else. But their mindset is different. The status quo makes them uncomfortable. And they are ready to bring about change.
They also understand that the dream is bigger than them.
Therefore, their motivation is not just toward material gain for their comfort. They carry the burden of seeing things change for the benefit of many. The picture of the end result acts as fuel.
In these three things was the plan. He knew where to start, how to go about it, the process and how it would end.
For your new business, it is crucial that you understand how everything will fall into place. Failure to do so will result in unnecessary disappointment.
And along the lines of avoiding disappointments, consider doing a thorough market research before launching your business.
HOW TO SET REALISTIC GOALS FOR YOUR NEW BUSINESS
There is a very strong connection between dreams/visions and goals. Your dream and vision is what you want to achieve. Your goal is also something you want to achieve.
Does that mean that the words “dream”, “vision” and “goals” are synonyms?
As already discussed, dreams are quite different from visions. Similarly, goals are different from the two.
When you talk about goals, you are talking about more tangible results. Examples of goals include:
- Being promoted to the General Manager’s position within 2 years
- Solving the current problem in your department
- Earn an extra $1,000 by the end of the year
These goals are in line with the requirements of the SMART goal-setting principle. The vision and dream however, are more of a mental picture of the end result of all your efforts.
Your goals therefore, are more of the building blocks for your overall vision.
As such, for better results, you should convert your dream into goals. This is discussed in the second tip below.
Here are some tips on how to make goals which will ultimately bring you to your dream.
1. It starts with the vision.
With an understanding of the difference between dreams and goals, you have to decide what yours is.
Put differently, you have to decide whether you are a visionary or a dreamer.
The visuals which you have in your mind are not the issue. The issue is what you’re going to do about them.
If what you have is too fanciful and doesn’t stir up anything within you, then you have a dream. If the images in your mind make you uncomfortable and you feel like the world depends on you for the solution, then you have a vision.
You can run with a vision but not a dream. If what you have is a dream, be careful. Unless you can come up with some solid goals to pursue from the dream, you’re likely better off dropping it.
With the goals, you’ll also need something to fire you up and motivate you towards those goals.
With the vision in place, you are good to go.
Write it down.
If you’re able to, draw some images of now, the near future and the end result. Put the writing or drawing somewhere you can see it every day. This will serve as a reminder of what you’re working towards.
The picture of the end result will motivate you to get to it.
2. Derive goals from the vision.
The vision is not all you’ll need. You must have some goals to direct your path.
You could say that your vision is the long-term goal. All the same, for clarity, don’t label it as such. You can call it your desired future or something similar.
For example, your vision may be to run the coffee shop which sells the cheapest but highest quality coffee in town.
In being cheap, you’re looking to enable as many as possible to enjoy the popular drink. At the same time, you’re seeking not to compromise on quality.
Eventually, your coffee shop will be very popular, very big, operating several branches, employing many and probably operating 24/7.
At this stage of setting goals, you are dealing with the major milestones. This is the abstract level of the path to your end result.
3. Break them down.
Those major milestones cannot be hit as they are. They are too big for success to be reasonably within reach. Leaving them as they are is similar to having the vision with no plan to achieve it.
With this coffee shop example, you will need one plan which will then be used any time you’re opening a new outlet. That will serve as your template.
Below is what it could look like.
- Research the coffee shop market – (target demographics, coffee suppliers, coffee costs, coffee types, sugar alternatives, selling prices, average daily sales etc)
- Check barriers to entry – (customer opinion on current coffee shops, govt requirements i.e. licenses etc)
- Find the right location – (rent comparisons, security, normal work hours i.e. 8-5 or 24/7, proximity to suppliers, proximity to customers i.e. working adults and students etc)
- Buy equipment – (best coffee machines, ovens, crockery, cutlery etc)
- Ambience creation – (lighting, colors, internal branding, music, furniture etc)
- Hire employees – (right qualifications, average salaries and benefits, retention packages, turnover rates, working shifts etc)
- Train employees – (product knowledge, customer service, hygiene etc)
- Create awareness – (TV ads, Newspaper ads, social media campaigns etc)
This breakdown provides a good To-Do list structured in order of priority. Though the priority can obviously change, it becomes easier to follow on the tasks and check on the progress.
4. Set timelines.
These smaller goals need one more thing to become realistic. Then the overall goal will be achieved on time.
You need to include timelines. For every task, you should have a deadline attached.
Strictly speaking, these timelines can shift too. It all depends on the amount of work required for any new location being surveyed.
In some cities, there will be more work. For example, the more populous a city is, and the more coffee shops there may be. This will mean more time for the research.
All the same, your vision cannot run blindly. Otherwise, tasks will take forever to complete. Any time you want to achieve something without a timeline for it, you are likely not to succeed.
This is because deadlines introduce a sense of urgency.
Take the example of the above tasks. They follow one another in the expected order of completion. As such, it will be very difficult to move to the next task without the previous one being complete.
In some cases, tasks can also overlap. This may however be difficult if you are the one doing it all.
To include and maintain that sense of urgency, you can have timelines as shown below.
|1.||Research the coffee shop market.||3 Weeks|
|2.||Check barriers to entry.||1 Week|
|3.||Find the right location.||2 Weeks|
|4.||Buy equipment.||1 Week|
|5.||Ambience creation.||1 Week|
|6.||Hire employees.||1 Week|
|7.||Train employees.||2 Weeks|
|8.||Create awareness.||1 Month|
5. Consider alternative means of achieving your goals.
With the timelines set, you’re now closer to getting started with the actual work. Now is the time for some analysis.
Your vision is the future. Your break down of it is the easy-to-follow process.
But what are the alternative ways of achieving these smaller goals?
Normally, there are different paths leading to the same destination.
And where you can only find one, then the entrepreneur in you should be challenged to come up with a new one.
Especially if you’re looking to be different—something that’s necessary for every business.
These alternative paths are the options you’ll be evaluating as you go through the step-by-step process of opening a new coffee shop.
As such, they can work as the in-depth analysis of the tasks being undertaken.
Let’s look at how this can work for the task of finding the right location.
Having checked on rent comparisons, security and proximity to customers, you can dig deeper by asking some questions.
The answers to these questions are what will determine your final decision on the location.
Assuming that you have identified three different locations:
- Given the rent amount of locations A, B and C, which one has better terms (latest payment date, different payment mode, what happens if payment is delayed, how long can we operate before starting to pay rent)?
- Given the security situation in all three locations, where is it easier to have additional security (proximity to police station, banks, private security firms, fire department)?
- In which area does nearby businesses operate till late in the night or 24/7 and open earliest?
- In which area do people have the highest/lowest disposable income?
- Where are the consumer trends more favorable for coffee, cookies, bread etc.?
There is no end to the number of things to consider. But each one of them helps you become more accurate in your choice of location.
The confidence you get from your choice will also help power up your resolve to succeed.
If you have done your homework right to the nitty-gritty, then there is no reason your business shouldn’t pick up.
6. Be accountable.
Finally, if you’re really realistic about succeeding, you must get at least one accountability partner.
This is the person who will keep you on toes. He will ask you the difficult questions about your progress and help you stay the course.
If you are married, maybe your spouse could be the best person to keep you accountable. Maybe you can even be partners. Your best friend or a close relative can also be a good choice for this.
The person you choose should be one you’re free and open with. If you’re getting discouraged, he should be able to motivate you to keep going. If you make a mistake, he should be able to correct you.
In one way or another, he should be invested in your wellbeing just as you are.
If you have a dream, keep in mind that it needs to be worked on. If you decide to put in the effort, be realistic enough to realize that you cannot climb a mountain in one big step.
Break down your vision into manageable goals. Set deadlines by which to achieve them. Find out which path is best to follow then get to work.
Your accountability partner will help keep you disciplined.
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