This article was originally published on ECRM’s blog on January 6, 2021. 

For most people, the start of the New Year involves setting goals, and ECRM’s first podcast of 2021 focuses on exactly that. For this episode, Joe Tarnowski speaks with Alli Ball, a former grocery buyer and founder of Allison Ball Consulting and host of the Food Biz Wiz podcast. 

Ball works with emerging food and beverage brands to help them succeed in retail. She takes us through the steps and strategies brand owners can take to set and achieve goals (and the common mistakes to avoid). She then shows us how to reverse-engineer those goals into tactics and timelines that deliver optimal success without becoming overwhelming. 

Listen to the full podcast video here.

Why set goals?

While it may seem like a simple question, the reason it is necessary to set goals is to give yourself, and your team, a good idea of how and where to focus your efforts. As entrepreneurs, you are your own boss, and you make a majority, if not all, of your business’ decisions. While this has its benefits, it can also pose challenges as there are only so many directions you can take. 

Goals also provide a benchmark for measuring success. “If we don’t set goals, we can’t measure our success and identify areas in which we can improve,” says Ball. “And while this might sound counterintuitive, I don’t care if you hit those goals or not. It’s more about the systems and processes that we put into place along the way toward reaching those goals. That’s what drives the business forward long-term.”

Common mistakes when setting goals

Before we dive into the strategies, let’s address some common mistakes people make when trying to set goals. One common mistake has to do with timing. “People focus on the wrong goals at the wrong time in their business,” says Ball. “For example, one goal might be to get their products into Whole Foods Market in 2021. But if you don’t have your marketing strategy dialed in, your branding perfected, and your plan for product discovery in place, it’s not worth it to land on that shelf yet. The end goal is not appropriate at this stage of the business.”

Ball uses one unique method to determine if the timing is correct, and that is to ask yourself, “If I achieve this goal, will it break my business?” Using the Whole Foods example above, if the brand succeeded in getting into Whole Foods, and the products sell well, will they be able to accommodate that success? Can they ramp up their production, distribution, and marketing capabilities to handle the volume? If not, then the goal’s timing is off, and perhaps they should focus on one that’s more realistically attainable.

Another mistake in goal setting is not understanding the difference between a goal and a tactic. The goal is the large, aspirational, and quantifiable outcome you are looking to achieve. The tactics are all of those steps and moving parts it takes to get to that outcome. 

“So your goal may be to increase your wholesale accounts by 30 percent for the year,” says Ball. “The tactics to get to that goal would include participating in ECRM’s category-specific programs and Supplier Introductions, submitting to retail category reviews on RangeMe, creating a great sales sheet, developing a solid virtual sales pitch, understanding placement deals, and hiring brand ambassadors.”

Also, each of these tactics may have sub-tactics. If you are participating in an ECRM program, for example, you need to build your RangeMe profile, prepare your presentation, and make sure you have all of your virtual meeting tech optimized. You’ll also need to research the buyers you will be meeting with, tailor your presentations, and so on. All of these sub-tactics must be considered.

Reverse-engineering your goal

Once you are clear on goals versus tactics, then it’s time to reverse engineer your goal. Starting with the end goal in mind, outline how you will achieve it, considering the timing and tactics involved in getting there. Check out the following step-by-step guide for accomplishing this:

Step 1: Identify the goal

Considering the above recommendations, identify an attainable goal, given your resources and timeline.

Step 2: Set the timeline

Set benchmarks regularly (such as quarterly) to help track your progress. Keep in mind that your success compounds and that you can grow into your goal. So if your goal is $100K in annual sales, don’t plan for $8,333 every month starting in January. Sales projections should be lower in the early months and increase month over month throughout the year. 

Step 3: Brainstorm your tactics

Take ten minutes and do a “brainstorm tactic dump.” Write down every single tactic you can think of that will help you achieve your goals – nothing is off the table here; just write down as many ideas as possible. “We’re just throwing all of our ideas on paper during this part,” says Ball. “Once finished, I walk away and leave it for 24 hours, during which additional ideas might pop into my brain.”

Step 4: Choose your top three tactics to focus on

Deciding these tactics might arguably be the most challenging yet most important part, as you may have many tactics you consider strong. Still, it’s essential to narrow them down to just three so that you can focus entirely on executing those. “It’s all about saying no to every shiny distraction that comes our way,” says Ball. “It’s not that the ideas you don’t select are bad ideas, but it all comes down to sharpening your focus on the essential ones.” 

Step 5: Bullet out all of the sub-tactics

Finally, once you have chosen your three tactics, take some time to write out all of the sub-tactics that will support each of those three tactics and move you closer to your goal. Once you finish listing these sub-tactics, you’ll understand why it’s essential only to select three tactics, as the complete list of tactics and their corresponding sub-tactics will be quite long. 

Taken together, the three tactics and the corresponding sub-tactics for each will help you establish your roadmap toward attaining your goals and will keep you on the path to success!

Watch the full podcast episode with Alli Ball below.