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Long-Term Goals: What’s Your End Game?

Long term planning can feel daunting; we know it’s critical, yet it seems so ambiguous and a long ways away, even when it’s only a few years. If you’re like many business owners, you push it off to tomorrow, and worry about later, well…later. The problem is that “later” arrives when the time for careful and thoughtful planning is past.

Years ago, I joined a young, growing, software company. Profits were strong, and growth seemed easy. I asked the CEO “what’s the most likely end game? How do you want to get out of this? What do you want to get out of this?” I was shocked that he had no idea. Over the next few days we’d circle back to the question again and again, and he eventually realized that the most likely outcome was to be acquired by one particular company. My next question was “what decisions do we make that will make that outcome most likely to happen?” That most likely, and desired, outcome guided the company’s strategy over the coming years and yes, we were acquired by that most likely company at a very lucrative price.

A client and I were talking about his 2014 plans this week when I threw in the question “how long do you want to do this?” My client has owned a very successful business for 14 years and, honestly, he’s tired. I wanted him to start thinking about his ultimate goal, and we then started talking about his most likely exit strategy and the path most likely to get him there.

This week, another client and I talked about possible outcomes and what each might look like for his life. After all, business ownership, and it’s winding up, should support our personal goals and dreams. Once he sorted out the most likely outcome, we created possible paths to reach that outcome. When you take a trip, you look at different ways to reach your destination and select the path that best meets your wants and needs. At every intersection, you make a decision to follow the road that will get you to your destination when you want to, in the manner you want. You select one course, but you know there are alternatives in case you encounter obstacles.

Defining long term business goals and strategies is the same as creating your travel plans; define a goal, set a course, but always have alternatives in the back of your mind in case you need to take a detour. Long term planning, whether it’s an exit strategy or a few years away, becomes simple when you think in terms of “most likely and desirable outcomes”. Give it a try and let me know where you want to end up. 

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Helen Dutton, A Vision of Your Own, has provided business and personal coaching for small business owners since 2000, providing online and face to face coaching for entrepreneurs, small business owners, start-up businesses as well as established businesses across the country. Clients come from New Hampshire, her home state, but she has also acted as a mentor to business owners in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Denver area, and closer to home in the Boston area. Helen helps her clients develop their small business ideas, create marketing plans, improve operation efficiency, build customer service systems, build management and leadership skills, and develop confidence as a business owner. Helen provides business tips and resources through her blog and her newsletter, where you can also find business templates to help your business prosper.