Goal setting is one of the most important activities you can do in your small business, regardless of how old your business is, where you are located, how profitable it is, or what you sell. Goals help you stay focused and they can prevent your business from becoming stagnant. Your business goals keep you moving forward and set the stage for ongoing success.

Although we often think of goal setting as something we do at the start of every year, the truth is that it is extremely important to work on your business goals all year long. You should be setting goals multiple times each year, tracking your progress, and refining the strategies you are following in order to achieve your goals on an ongoing basis.

To help you get started with your small business goals this year, here is a list of goals that have the potential to change your business for the better. Pick one or two that are fitting for your small business, turn them into SMART goals (more on that at the end of this article!) and create a plan to tackle them in the coming months.

Reduce Ongoing Business Expenses
This is a goal that is fitting for most small businesses. After all, what business owner would not want to reduce the costs of running his or her business? As you set this goal for the year, be specific about how you will reduce business costs — using more technology, reducing debt, or changing up your operations — in order to make it stick.

Hire Your First Employee
If your solo business has reached the point where you can’t continue to maintain it in your own, make this the year you expand by hiring an employee. Take time to consult your accountant and attorney to make sure you follow all of the necessary regulations, and to confirm that now is the right time for you to hire an employee before moving forward.

Ramp Up Productivity in Your Business
Your level of productivity can directly impact your bottom line, so it’s never a bad idea to set a goal to boost your productivity and the productivity of your team. You can become more productive by eliminating distractions during the work day, improving the way you use business tools such as email, and by incorporating the use of productivity apps.

Create a New Customer Service Process
How do you communicate with your employees and ensure their satisfaction with your business and products and services? Set a goal that focuses on making your customer service process exceptional, handling customer complaints more effectively, or incorporating customer service into your social media practices. And don’t forget about the power of asking your customers for feedback in order to identify what your business can be doing better. ​

Increase Traffic on Your Business Website or Blog
More website traffic often translates into increased sales and customer loyalty, making this a great goal for small businesses. There are many ways to get more eyes on your website or blog. Start by creating a plan to ramp up your content marketing strategy. Then, once you have relevant and engaging content ready to share on your website or blog, try one of these five ways to drive targeted website traffic.

Create a New Product
If you haven’t changed up your product line in a while, one way to give your business new life is by creating a new product to add to your offerings. Consider the feedback you have received from customers and their buying behavior as you get started with this goal. You can also consider changing up the way you market an existing product since sometimes a new spin can give an older product new life.

Start Using Social Media Marketing in Your Business
It is never too late to add a new marketing tactic in your business, and if you have been resistant to social media, this is the year to dive in. Learn more about using social media for small business by reading this collection of articles, then pick on social platform and set a goal to incorporate it into your marketing plan this year.

Improve the Financial Health of Your Business
Do you have a handle on what money is coming in and going out of your business every day? Do you have an ongoing budget to guide your expenditures? Make this year the year you lock down your spending and improve the fiscal health of your business. Start with these tips for giving your small business a money makeover.

Open a Second Business Location
If you have a brick-and-mortar shop that is doing well, it may be time to consider opening a second location. Follow these tips on choosing a location for your business as you explore if expanding your footprint is the right move for your small business.

Go Paperless
Eliminating or reducing the amount of paper you use in your small business can cut costs and improve productivity, if it is done successfully. But keep in mind that going paperless is not right for every business. Before you commit to this goal, take a look at the pros and cons of a paperless office to decide if this is can work in your small business.

Conduct a Marketing Audit
Sometimes we get caught up in the “doing” and forgot to check if what we are doing is worth the time and money we are investing in it. When was the last time you took stock of all of the marketing activities you are doing in your small business, and measured the level of success of each of them? Commit to doing a marketing audit this year to improve the effectiveness of your marketing investment.

Do a Thorough SWOT Analysis
A SWOT analysis is a tool that helps you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your business, a new product offering and of the competition. It can be used in any stage of business to help you determine what makes your business unique, identify potential new areas of the market that are untapped, and explore what your competition is doing better than you are. Do a SWOT analysis this year as part of a larger process to improve your decision-making ability.

Increase Your Market Share
Capturing a larger part of the market is a key component in making your business more competitive and increasing profitability. One way to start with a goal of increasing market share is by doing market research. Then, try one of these five ways to increase market share and capture a larger part of the market.

Create a New Employee Incentive Program
Keeping up the morale and motivating your employees to work hard in your business can be a challenge. This is especially true for small businesses that do not always have the resources to offer financial incentives. The good news is that employee incentives do not necessarily need to be financially driven. Take a look at these non-monetary and low cost incentive ideas.

Find New Opportunities for Networking
If you are not actively networking in your small business, set a goal this year that gets you in front of more people and expands your business network. You can attend more conferences, ramp up your online networking on platforms like LinkedIn, and even share your expertise by speaking at small business events.

Work on Your Personal Brand
Many times in small business, success is reliant on the business owner and his or her ability to stand out in the crowd. This is why it is so important to develop a personal brand. If you have not spent time on creating your own brand yet, make it a goal for this year, and boost your credibility at the same time.

Revamp Your Business Plan
You probably created some type of business plan when you started your business, but when was the last time you took a look at it? This year is the perfect time to dust off your business plan, see where you are in relation to where you expected to be, and create a new plan that helps you get even further with your small business. Try this quick and easy business planning exercise and these 14 business plan writing tools to get started

Schedule a Break From Your Business
If it has been a while since you took a break from your business, you should consider scheduling one this year. Not only can time off help to reduce stress and prevent burnout, but it can also give you a fresh perspective that you can use in your business when you return. Of course, taking a break — even a short one — from your business is often easier said than done. Consider these tips for taking a working vacation that gives you some downtime without being completely disconnected.

Use SMART Goal Setting
Once you have some ideas about goals you can set in your small business, it is time to take the next step and turn each goal into a SMART goal. A SMART goal is one that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. For example, a goal to increase your market share could become: Increase market share by 3% before the 4th quarter of 2017. This version of the goal meets all of the SMART criteria.

Review this article on SMART goal setting and use the resources in the Ultimate Guide to Small Business Goal Setting to set and achieve all of your small business goals this year.