Diary of a Social Venture Start-up: The Importance of Being SMART

When you're just starting your business, there are a lot of benefits to being small. You're nimble, fluid, you can adapt quickly...

When you're just
starting your business, there are a lot of benefits to being small. You're nimble, fluid, you can adapt quickly to new situations. But for every advantage, there's a challenge. It's hard to stand out, hard to land important meetings, hard to get people to deliver things when you need them. It's even hard to negotiate pricing with vendors because you can't offer them any true sort of scale: If you own a small cafe, you're probably not paying the same price for your vegetables as is TGIFriday's (assuming, of course, that TGIFriday's actually serves vegetables).One of the tricks I've used to help overcome the burdens of being the little guy, is being SMART. Yes, business-strategy acronyms can be corny, but this is a truly useful one you can use for project management, in meetings, when sending out proposals, with goal-setting-pretty much whenever. It conditions you to be deliberate, to maximize your opportunities, and to get things done. It's also one of the only dorky business school acronyms I've ever found useful.S - SpecificThis is the easiest of the bunch. Chances are, if you're motivated enough to start a company, you're pretty good at asking for what you want. That said, the importance of being specific can't be overstated. What is it you want, by when, for what purpose, and from whom?M - MeasurableEver asked someone to "look into" something for you? Yeah. That can be pretty vague, and could mean anything from a thorough investigation to two minutes of googling. Regardless of what side of the request you're on, make sure it gets fulfilled with something concrete. Promise to deliver an email of relevant links. Ask for a one-page summary of everything you need to know. Setting up deliverables enables both parties to establish trust and goes a long way towards establishing who works with whom later on, because people do business with people they like to do business with.A - AssignableIt's as simple as it sounds: Who's needs to do what? Any call or meeting should end with every person involved knowing exactly what they're responsible for. Send a meeting recap, go around the room if you have to. Just make sure you've got a method in place to ensure everyone understands their role. R – Reasonable/RealisticA small business that can't deliver on expectations is a small business on its way out. Can you get them that presentation by the end of the day? If not, don't agree to it. You'll end up sending something sub-par. This is also important when setting goals. Can you really improve your website's traffic by a factor of 10 this year? Maybe, but you should know the likelihood of it going in. Now, realistic doesn't mean simple. You obviously need to push yourself, but making sure you're operating within the realm of feasibility will allow you to plan more accurately.T - Time-boundThis is, far and away, the most important piece of the puzzle. Unsurprisingly, it's the one that most of us are bad at. Usually, we try to be polite: "Could you get that back to me when you get a chance?" There's a theorem that posits the amount of time a task will take to complete is equal to the amount of time allotted for that task. Knowing this, it's not a huge shock that "when you get a chance" often ends up meaning "never."If you're asking for something or promising to deliver something, always attach a time to it. "I'll get that to you by the end of the day." "Could you have that to me by Thursday at noon?" It's not about being demanding; it's about being precise. It's about holding yourself and others accountable. And it's the key to getting things done.The Takeaway: The SMART system is an easy way to facilitate productivity that can be applied to almost any situation. See, look: Thanks for reading this post. There's a bunch more on the way, which I'd like it if you read as well [specific request]. If you find them helpful, don't hesitate to GOODMark them or leave a comment [measurable]. I'm going to write them and send them to my editor, who's going to make them sound like English. Then, they'll be here for you to read [assignable]. The next one will be up in two weeks [time-bound]. That all sounds reasonable, right?
Screenshot via (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

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