By Rieva Lesonsky

My company, GrowBiz Media, just conducted a survey with Zoomerang Online Surveys and Polls that found some interesting insights into how well small businesses are doing these days. SMB Business Perspectives polled 1,000 decision-makers at small and midsize businesses about the challenges they faced this year and their outlook for 2012.

One question we asked was whether small businesses are achieving their goals, and the answer was more heartening than you might expect in today’s turbulent economy. Fifty percent of respondents said they were falling short of meeting their business goals for 2011, while 43 percent said they were either on track to meet their goals or had already done so.

The remaining 7 percent weren’t sure, which suggests to me that perhaps these companies hadn’t set clear goals or didn’t know how to measure them. That’s a big mistake. The first step to achieving your goals is having them in the first place.

Do you have goals for your business? If not, the end of the year is a good time to start thinking about them. Here are some of the yardsticks you might want to think about:

  1. Sales. This is an easily measurable metric. More important than sheer sales volume, however, you’ll also want to measure your profit margins. Are you adding more customers, but they’re low-value ones who demand a lot and pay very little, or only buy when things are on sale? Then you may need to change your business model, fine-tune your branding or use a different marketing approach.
  2. Efficiency. As your business gets more efficient and productivity rises, you can sell more, do more and make more money. Implementing systems can increase your workers’ productivity compared to doing everything by the seat of your pants or constantly reinventing the wheel. Upgrading your technology can also pay off in greater efficiency. Remember to measure costs of the new technology against the payoff to make sure it’s worth the investment.
  3. Personal. Every small business owner has personal goals as well that are just as important as the business goals. Why did you start your business—to express your creativity, be your own boss or build a big income? Is your business meeting your goals, both now and for your future? It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when you’re in the day-to-day of running a business. For instance, if you want to sell your business and retire in 10 years, are you building enough value in the business to make that a real possibility?  Spend some time to pinpoint what you want out of your business and figure out how to measure whether you’re getting it.

Here’s to achieving all of our goals in 2012 and beyond.