Originally Published in the U.S. Small Business Administration newsletter, August 4, 2016.

By Betsy Markey, SBA’s Region VIII Administrator

Over the years I have talked with dozens of entrepreneurs about why they took on the challenge of starting their own small business.  Many wanted to create niche markets for a new product or service; some simply saw small business ownership as a way to replace lost income streams due to unemployment or retirement. No matter what the reason, it is critical to create a clearly defined vision for where you want your business to be one year, two years, or three years in the future.

Prosperous entrepreneurs understand that the process of “visioning” is vital to achieving success through effectively managing day to day operations, and guiding their business’s strategic decisions.  Without a well thought out vision, a business can be left struggling without short-term or long-term goals and objectives. The following are four simple steps to help clarify your vision for your business.

To be clear, visioning is not the same as creating a strategic business plan. The vision articulates where you are going. The business plan lays out a concise series of steps for getting there. A business plan should only be developed after you formulate your vision. Take a moment to project into the future and envision what your ideal business might look like one to three years down the road.  Envision what your staffing levels might look like, what vendors you will use, your location, your product and/or service offerings, your branding, targeted customers, and how those variables will affect your family life.  Your vision is about possibilities, what could be.  Summarize your vision and make it known to your staff as a reminder of where the business is headed.

Next, consider what your business looks like currently.  Try to view your business from the perspective of an outsider. What do you see?  Who are your current customers? What are your product and/or services? Are your staffing levels appropriate? Who are your current vendors? Does your brand resonate with your customers? In order to begin moving your company forward from where you are today you must have a clear understanding of the gaps that exist.  Identify those gaps and list the changes that must occur to help you reach your vision. You must now set concrete goals and action steps for achieving your three year vision.  Remember that your goals need to be SMART; Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time based. Always write down your goals and refer back to them regularly to ensure that you are staying on track.

Though we spend most of our work lives responding to problems and opportunities as they are presented to us, visioning comes from the inside out. It’s about what you believe, what gets you excited, and what you truly want to accomplish.  For more assistance on creating your own business vision, visit www.sba.gov or contact your local SBA district office.

Betsy Markey serves as SBA’s Regional Administrator for Region VIII, overseeing all agency programs and services in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Utah