To start your business off on the right foot, be SMART about your goals.

My marketing agency was doomed from the start. At least that’s what I thought in 2010. I had no clear direction or confidence, and I nearly gave up on my dreams of owning a small business. 

That was until my wife, Linda, taught me how to use SMART goals. 

I remember sitting at my desk in the living room of our one-bedroom apartment, head in my hands, as I tried to figure out how I was going to make this work. I got a tap on the shoulder and turned to see Linda with what looked like an arts and crafts project. “Here!” she said as she thrust the items into my hands, “I want you to hang this chalkboard up on the wall and write down how many clients and how much you want to make in the next 3 months.” 

To say I was a deer in the headlights would be an understatement. I couldn’t fathom gaining one new client, let alone several. Still, I couldn’t say no to that beautiful smile, so I hung the chalkboard above my desk and started writing:

  • 5 clients in 3 months
  • $750 total per month

Linda smiled and said, “Congratulations, you just set your first SMART goal.” She handed me a pack of gold stars (just like kindergarten) and said, “For every new client you sign, you can add a sticker to the chalkboard. I bet you can get all five stickers by next month.” 

Unbeknownst to me, Linda’s challenge was exactly what I needed. She had given me the motivation I needed to build the agency I knew I could. 

How does goal setting work?

Goal setting may seem like a boring or even tedious task, but when you are a small business owner with a million things running at once, you need a way to mark what you are working towards. After all, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

According to a study by psychologist Gail Matthews at Dominican University, people who write down their goals are up to 20 percent more likely to complete them. Additionally, those who set actionable tasks and monitor their progress tend to achieve their goals 40 percent more. 

What this tells us is that writing down your goals and periodically checking in on them is not a waste of time. Instead, it is a great practice to aid in their successful completion.

So should you just start jotting down your goals on a checklist and marking them off when you achieve them? There must be a better framework to utilize to make sure that you are setting yourself up for success with each goal.

Here’s where SMART goals come into play.

What are SMART goals?

SMART is a handy acronym that creates a helpful framework for you to design your goals. Simply writing down a goal isn’t enough! You need to define the steps you need to take to achieve it as well as how you will measure your success.

Gif and link to Bryan Caplan's Easy SMART Goal Formula for Beginners video
Click on the image to watch a video on my easy SMART goal formula for beginners.

When I teach about SMART goals at my events, the most common question is, “What does the acronym SMART stand for?” It is actually the five tenets of the S.M.A.R.T. framework:

Specific (Can you drill down and hyperfocus on one area or task?)

Measurable (Can you assign a number or percentage to measure your progress?)

Attainable (Can you reasonably achieve this goal, so you don’t lose confidence?)

Relevant (Can you actually benefit from achieving this goal?)

Time Sensitive (Can you create a deadline or due date to hold yourself accountable?)

Bryan Caplan's SMART Goals chart
SMART Goals are a great tool to provide you with the clarity, focus and motivation you need to bring your small business to the next level. SMART goals are also easy to use by anyone, anywhere, without the need for specialist tools or training.

Let’s break it down letter by letter…


When you are setting a goal you want to be as specific as possible. What is your desired outcome? Do you want to get more email activity or increase your email click rate? One of these is measurable and well-defined, and the other is not.

If you want to focus on improving the results of your email marketing, you have to define what you want to change and how much you want to change it. By setting a specific goal, you are giving yourself a challenge you can accurately measure and achieve. When you are too vague you do not give yourself an actual goal to meet and are more likely to abandon your efforts. You can get specific by focusing on:

  • Increasing email click rates
  • Increasing email replies
  • Decreasing unsubscribes
  • Increasing email list subscriptions
  • Increasing SMS marketing subscriptions


Once you have set a specific goal how will you determine whether it has been successfully achieved? This is why setting a goal that can be measured is so important. Let’s say you want to increase email click rates by 5 percent. As part of your goal setting, you will analyze what your current email marketing metrics are telling you to know where you started from and use tools within your email marketing platform to monitor your progress.

How will the goal be measured? What tools will you use to measure success? What channels do you have available to you? Answer these questions before you get started. If you can’t measure success, consider crafting a more specific goal.

To enable measurement of your specific goals above, you might say:

  • Increasing email click rates by 5 percent
  • Collect 20 email replies per email campaign
  • Decreasing unsubscribes by 10 percent
  • Increasing email list subscriptions by 200
  • Increasing SMS marketing subscriptions by 50


You have to be realistic when setting SMART goals. Although I love shooting for the stars (and sometimes landing on the moon) to set yourself up for success, it’s important to set a goal that is attainable. For instance, setting a goal to end world hunger might be a little too lofty. 

Always set goals you can achieve because they give you the forward progress and traction you need to keep going! If you set a goal that is too difficult to achieve, there is a much greater chance you will give up on it altogether. If you have a big lofty goal, break it down into smaller goals so you can measure your progress more effectively.

Conversely, don’t set SMART goals that are super easy to achieve. For instance, my first SMART goal was to land 5 clients in 3 months for a total revenue of $750 per month. Linda let me bask in the glory of that goal for 24 hours before she instructed me to “think bigger.” I followed her lead and reset my goal to 5 new clients in 3 months for a total revenue of $1,500. 


Here’s a simple litmus test for your SMART goals: Will achieving this goal help you or your business right now? 

When setting goals, ensure you are aiming for something that is helpful instead of creating extra work for things that may not bear any fruit. Creating SMART goals for your email marketing campaigns like increasing your click rates is definitely relevant to driving more sales and growing your business.

Thinking through the goals listed above, here is how each is relevant to growing your business:

  • Increasing email click rates by 5 percent means more people are interacting with your content and are open to learning more about your business
  • Collect 20 email replies per email campaign means subscribers feel they have enough rapport to begin a dialogue with you
  • Decreasing unsubscribes by 10 percent means your content is relevant and adds value in the inbox so more folks will open, click, and interact with your emails
  • Increasing email list subscriptions by 200 means you’re providing a significant reason for people to join your list and learn more about your business
  • Increasing SMS marketing subscriptions by 50 means you can connect with more prospective customers on a device that they always have access to

Just think about what benefit you’ll receive if you achieve your goal, and remember — if you can’t really define the benefit, it may not be super relevant.

Time Sensitive

If you add a deadline to your SMART goal, you create an added level of accountability. Because we operate on a timeline (after all there are only 24 hours in a day) you can leverage time to create a sense of urgency for your goal. 

Be sure to set a timeframe that isn’t too far out, though. Setting a goal and giving yourself a year might be too much (depending on the goal), so try shooting for a shorter period of time like a month or a quarter. Make sure that the time you give yourself is enough to get it done but not enough that you will forget about it or kick it down the line in favor of more pressing tasks.

Thinking of our SMART goals above, we could add the following timeframes:

  • Increasing email click rates by 5 percent in the next month
  • Collect 20 email replies per email campaign by January
  • Decreasing unsubscribes by 10 percent in Q3
  • Increasing email list subscriptions by 200 each month
  • Increasing SMS marketing subscriptions by 50 each week

Putting it all together

Now that you have the entire acronym defined it’s time to pull it all together into one simple formula I created for members of our free Bigger Better Biz marketing community.

I want to [increase/decrease] my [marketing metric] by [quantity/percentage] through [marketing channel] in the next [length of time.]

SMART Goal Formula

Simply add in the details that are applicable to the specific goal you would like to set for yourself or your business. For example, if you want to increase your email list your statement would look a little something like this…

I want to increase my email marketing list size by 100 subscribers per month through my YouTube channel in the next 60 days.

There you have stated what you want to achieve, the metric you are shooting for, the means by which you will work to achieve it and the timeline it will be achieved on. Create a simple statement like this for each of your goals going forward, and you will see that having to define the specifics and measurements will help you find a path to completion more than just a vague statement or idea.

Putting your goals into action

By setting SMART goals, you are holding yourself and your business accountable. Don’t look at goal setting as a pointless task — look at it as the first step to success! You can’t know if you’ve succeeded if you can’t define where you started.

Looking back on that fateful day when my wonderful wife, Linda, introduced me to SMART goals, I can’t help but chuckle. I’ll never forget that forlorn feeling as I cradled my head in my hands, wondering how I was going to support my family by following my dreams. 

Yet here I sit, 12 years later, running a thriving marketing agency that has coached and consulted tens of thousands of small business owners and works with hundreds of email marketing clients each and every month. To say I knocked my initial SMART goal out of the park would be a bit of an understatement.

So what are you waiting for? Follow the SMART goal formula above and start building your business to where you want it to be!

Refine your email marketing campaigns by following these Email Marketing Best Practices.