In my last post, I shared a the­o­ret­i­cal out­line of the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. model. We also looked in more detail at the first two pieces—spe­cific and mea­sur­able. Today I’m going to talk about the next three: attain­able, rel­e­vant, and timely.

With­out attain­able goals, it’s impos­si­ble to move for­ward in any busi­ness ven­ture. Most busi­nesses (except maybe char­i­ties) have a goal of increas­ing rev­enue over time. This is a good goal. It’s rel­e­vant for almost every­one. More­over, if you define it right, it will be attainable.

Mak­ing your goals attain­able goes hand in hand with mak­ing them spe­cific. If you’ve already gone through the spe­cific step of this exer­cise, you should already know what you’re try­ing to achieve and what and how behav­iors will change if the goal is met.

Now, assum­ing you have an over­all goal of increas­ing profit, you can make it attain­able by set­ting the right para­me­ters. Ask your­self, or the appro­pri­ate deci­sion mak­ers, these questions:

  • Exactly how much profit are we aim­ing for?
  • What is rea­son­able and man­age­able for your situation?

Using ana­lyt­ics is an impor­tant best prac­tice to set­ting attain­able goals. Look at your past met­rics in rev­enue, prof­its, losses, allo­ca­tions, attri­bu­tion, and KPIs. Look­ing at these num­bers can tell you infor­ma­tion like

  • peak sales dates,
  • sales trends, and
  • how much money you’ve spent in the past

It’s good to be opti­mistic and set chal­leng­ing goals, but they also have to be real­is­tic. Find­ing the bal­ance is an art and a sci­ence. It’s easy to set a profit goal that is too high. If it’s not attain­able and you fall far short if it, peo­ple can get dis­cour­aged and lose moti­va­tion or they lose bud­get for the next round of goals because stake­hold­ers believe they are not per­form­ing to stan­dards. On the other hand, when the chal­lenge is man­age­able and you meet an attain­able goal, it gives you action­able infor­ma­tion to help you take the next steps.

So now, we’ve looked at mak­ing goals attain­able. It should prob­a­bly go with­out say­ing that they should be rel­e­vant too. I will say it any­way: your goals need to be aligned with your company’s over­all strat­egy. Even if I could reach the amaz­ing goal of churn­ing out 1,000 piz­zas a day, it would not be rel­e­vant if I run a dry clean­ing busi­ness. Obvi­ously, this is an extreme exam­ple, but let’s take a look at a more rel­e­vant goal-setting process that sev­eral search mar­keters face fre­quently. You have an appli­ance busi­ness, and at the end of the day the appli­ance business’s goal is to gen­er­ate more rev­enue at a steady cost. As a search mar­keter, we can be hung up on other goals, such as improv­ing click­through rates (CTR) or an improved posi­tion on the search engine results pages. Does an improved CTR or rank­ing drive dol­lars to the bot­tom line? Pos­si­bly. Would a focus on send­ing more traf­fic to land­ing pages and through spe­cific key­words that have had proven cost effec­tive con­ver­sions be time bet­ter spent than focus­ing only on CTR or rank­ing? Yes.

Rel­e­vance is one area where it’s easy to make assump­tions and end up mak­ing mis­takes. Here’s an exam­ple. Writ­ing for MOZ, Macken­zie Fogel­son of Mack Web Solu­tions points out that mar­keters often get bogged down in tools—figuring out which new gad­gets will make our work eas­ier and how to use them. I’m all for tools—I love tools!—but as Macken­zie says, they can dis­tract us from rel­e­vant goals.

There­fore, the rel­e­vance step is all about match­ing your goals to your larger orga­ni­za­tion or busi­ness unit. This means you have to under­stand these goals well. Take time to talk with the right peo­ple and ask many questions.

The fifth and last step—timely—means that your goals should have a begin­ning and an end. This step is espe­cially impor­tant because it sup­ports all the oth­ers. A goal with no start and end is not spe­cific or mea­sur­able, and there’s a good chance it won’t be attain­able. Tim­ing should be rel­e­vant, spe­cific, and measurable.

If your busi­ness is just start­ing out, make sure you under­stand that it takes time to cre­ate, test, and make progress toward goals. Each time you reach a goal or define a new one, try to push your­self a bit fur­ther. You will reach or exceed your long-term goal if you pro­ceed in short bursts. This is how you cre­ate best practices.

By now, it should be clear that the steps in the SMARTER model over­lap. The acronym is lin­ear, which helps us remem­ber the steps. But they don’t always hap­pen in order, and that’s all right. Think through each step in what­ever order makes sense, and then use the SMARTER acronym as a check­list to make sure you haven’t left any­thing out. In my next post, we’ll talk about the E and R pieces.