It's time to determine your company's goals for the New Year. Smart business builders are working on this task now. From my point of view, it is imperative to establish reachable and measurable goals in advance.
Those who don't are destined for the Cemetery of Failed Businesses. Consider the profound advice of Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra: "If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else."
Where do you want your company to be one year from now? What do you want to achieve?
If you start planning today instead of waiting until the new year, you'll have much more time to establish and communicate the most important results that your company must achieve to be insanely successful during 2013.
Consider the following suggestions:
* Talk to customers: Successful organizations start planning for the new year by talking to customers. Listen carefully to what they have to say and respond appropriately. Each year, through my decades as an entrepreneur, I have diligently contacted my clients to ask what they want from us over the coming year. In some cases, we also use the visit as a chance to discuss innovations they haven't yet considered. Their answers about the purchase of current and future products, pricing, delivery, warranties and their feedback about buying experiences are valuable as we set our company goals. Combining this information with other company data helps determine revenue forecasts for the following year, as well solidifying plans for the products and services to make and deliver and the expenses involved.
* Establish very specific goals: Earlier this month, fellow Forbes.com contributor Sebastian Bailey discussed the results of a meta-analysis that shows that the establishment of specific goals results in significantly higher performance than general goals. I've also found that specific goals lead to better outcomes.
For example, a few years ago, my MarketStar team decided that our specific goal for the coming year, based on client wishes, was to expand our operations internationally. After considerable study, we recognized that Europe would be our best choice, followed by Latin America and Asia. In addition, Great Britain, Germany and France emerged as key targets, and London, Berlin and Paris as our cities of focus.
With this larger picture in mind, we sent a senior executive to live in England to analyze the economic environment of each area and create a plan to move our business forward. At each step of the way, we were very specific about what we wanted to learn, to measure and to accomplish.
Afterward, MarketStar established business relationships in our target countries and began to offer services to U.S. technology clients with an interest in this region of the world. Our specific goal led to a massive increase in opportunities and revenue, for that year and beyond.
Keep in mind that you will have both strategic goals (markets, customers, competitors, products, channels, people, other resources and processes) and financial goals (revenues, margins, expenses, profits and various industry financial ratios). All should be highly defined and very specific.
* Be inclusive: Involve employees in the development and establishment of your company goals. Workers need to be heard, understood and respected, especially if you want them to fully commit. I view this process as a negotiation between parties. In short, goals need to be mutually acceptable to be attainable.
With this in mind, the next step is to clearly communicate to employees exactly what needs to happen at each layer of the organization. Everyone should know their assignments, their level of authority, their resources (people and budgets) and when and how to report on progress. They should also know how their duties fit within the full picture.
* Set long-term and short-term goals: Create long-term goals (such as double revenue by the end of the second year of business) to provide mileposts to help you visualize progress for the years to come. Then develop short-term, monthly and quarterly objectives to lead your organization step-by-step toward the accomplishment of the longer-term goals.
* Have a Plan B: Even with your best efforts, you won't reach every goal. Knowing this, allow for some variation in your plans. There should always be an alternative that addresses unexpected challenges or opportunities beyond your control
* Measure, evaluate and respond: Once goals are approved, meet with your employees on a regular basis -- weekly, monthly or quarterly -- to assess the progress of each critical task. With evaluations in hand, you can determine what needs to happen between each meeting to align current results with expected outcomes.
To succeed in establishing and reaching your goals, focus well in advance on what needs to happen and spend the time necessary in advance to ensure their success. Get started now, and you'll be much more likely to succeed when January arrives.
What are your goals for next year? I look forward to hearing your responses. You can reach me at @AskAlanEHall, or at www.AlanEHall.com.
This article originally appeared in Alan's weekly Forbes column.