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How to Set First-Year Business Goals for 2023 (3 Steps)

Want to learn how to set business goals that you know you’ll achieve? 

You’re in the right place. Today, you’ll learn what it takes to strategically set first-year business goals that you know you’ll achieve.

Thanks to this system I was able to grow a 7-figure business in 12 months.

First year business income

Want to dive right in? Let’s go. 

Step 1: What is goal setting for business? 

Step 2: The foolproof method for achieving your goals

Step 3: What to do when you don’t hit your goal

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What is goal setting for business? 

If there’s ONE thing every business owner should get right, it’s goal setting. And setting goals for the first year is all the more important.

Here’s what you need to know about setting business goals that truly make a difference.

Why do you need to set business goals?


Building a business is demanding enough as it is.

The RIGHT goal setting can remove most of the uncertainty you feel about your business. (Note: you can’t remove ALL uncertainty, which we’ll talk more about below, but you can success-proof your business against things you can’t plan for).

My goal-setting process goes something like this:

1) Set the right business goals.

2) Reverse-engineer your goals.

3) Believe in your goals.

4) Learn from your goals.

By following this system, you can get those results you need to quit your 9-5 and build your business or further scale your business to multiple 6 and 7-figures. Just like my student Summer did here… 

“Barely a month & I landed my first 3 clients-from scratch. Now I have a six-figure business with a 90% profit margin.” – Summer W.

What are some good business goals?

Too often, I see people set their business goals in the wrong way. They’ll say something like:

“This quarter or this year, I’m going to hit my goal and grow my business to six figures.” 

The problem? 

First, yes — research shows that the best goals are specific, time-constrained and challenging goals. That’s when your performance improves 90% of the time.

But if your goal is TOO challenging, you won’t achieve it.

In the example above, a lot of people will fail because most of them have never built a business.

What this means is that most of them don’t know how to find clients, sell, or market their businesses.

And too often, the quarter or year ends… And nothing has happened.

They aren’t closer to 6-figures (or even 5-figures).

Now, I love big goals. I don’t think goals need to be “realistic.” (What does that even mean?)

But if you set goals for your business without a clue about how you’re going to reach them, they’re dreams, not goals. 

With that said, some examples of business goals for the first year (assuming that you’ve never built a business) might be:

  • Find a business idea.
  • Get my first paying clients.
  • Grow my business to a consistent monthly income.

On the other hand, it’s completely realistic for someone to come to me and say:

“I’ve made $10,000 in my business. I want to make six figures in the next four months.”

Why? Because they already know the basics. They have the fundamental pieces in place.  Now it’s more about scaling that business plan. 

When setting your goal, ask yourself:

Does your goal feel scary, but you know how you’re going to achieve it? 

If yes, you’re on the right track.

But what about SMART business goals?

You might have heard of SMART business goals. Goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

And you might be thinking, “Should I use SMART goals in my business?”

Look: I’m all for those goals, even if I don’t specially call my goals “SMART.”

Today, I’m going to show you how to implement those goals… Even when you don’t feel motivated and things get tough.

First, let’s look at how you should choose your goal.

How I chose my goals early on in my business

When I started my business, I didn’t have a business idea. In fact, I randomly happened to come across the idea that would eventually become my first business, ads consulting, while checking out a Facebook group. 

In the beginning, I had zero credibility. And certainly no clients. 

Which meant I needed to come up with a business goal setting system.

I started small

Look, I am MASSIVELY risk averse.

I test my idea on a very small scale to see if I can make it happen. Then, I think about how to scale my idea, step by step. 

That’s why my first goal was to get ONE client to see if my services were actually something people cared about.  

I was dead focused on that one client because I figured that if I could sell to one person, I could get another client, and so forth. 

So once I got a client who said “Yes!” when I shared my price, I could move on to the next level of my goal-setting system — to see for myself that it wasn’t just a fluke.

Payment first paying client

I continued to the next small goal

Next, I focused on getting my next three clients. 

After I had achieved THAT goal, I looked around and thought, “How can I take what I’ve been doing and double it and go from three to six clients?”

I did just that and soon enough, I had booked my next six clients.

At this point, I wanted to start scaling my business so I moved on to selling out my small group program. Again, I didn’t go for six figures all at once.

Instead, I wanted to make $5-10k from my group program launch. 

The good news was:

I knew I had an offer that sold, a launch strategy, and a certain number of people in my audience. I knew I could get some people to buy — but I also knew that I wasn’t ready for 6-figures just yet.

So when my first group program earned me $8,000, I crossed off that goal.

This is when I set a really ambitious goal

When I had reached this point, I had my launch methodology in place and I knew my numbers better than ever.

THIS is when I started thinking about six figures. My next goal was to make $100,000 by launching my online course. 

This was definitely a stretch for me. I didn’t have a huge audience and I had never done anything like it before.

But I knew that with the data I had and the confidence I had built, I could take what I had in my business and scale it. 

ETE testimonial
These types of testimonials made it much easier to sell my program.

After all, the math was clear: If I converted a certain number of people at a certain price, I would reach my goal and make $100,000.

See the difference? If I had NEVER had any clients in my business, I would have been creating a methodology from scratch. Most likely, I wouldn’t have had a successful launch.

But with the sales I had made in my business (even if they weren’t close to $100,000), I already had a base to build on. I knew exactly what steps I needed to take to reach my goal. 

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How I went from $100,000 to $1,000,000

I used these exact steps to go higher and higher in my goal setting. Once I had hit my $100,000 launch, I moved on to $1 million. 

It felt SCARY. I had no idea if I could actually get there.

Truth be told, my initial goal was to make $300,000 with my next launch.

But this is where the support of my mentors became invaluable. 

One of them said, “Why don’t you aim for $1 million?”

I looked at my numbers and it hit me:

To hit $1 million, I would need to sell my $3,000 program to 300 people.

I had already had a $100,000 launch, so this goal didn’t seem totally unachievable…

With all of that in mind, I asked myself:

“How many people would I need to add to my email list based on past numbers?”

Luisa Zhou livestream
I wasn’t JUST rational about my goal. I knew I needed to overcome fears and insecurities. Here, I had created a board with 300 post-its on it. Each post it had a name — this helped me visualize the people I wanted to sell to and they made my goal feel real.

Ultimately, I didn’t hit $1 million, but I did make $800,000. That was way more than the $300,000 I had initially planned for and catapulted my business to a million-dollar business in my first year. 

Online business first year earnings

How to decide on YOUR goal

With this in mind, where are you in your business right now?

Think about where you ultimately want to be and then break it down into bite-sized goals.

For example, have you just started building your business?

Great, then focus on getting your FIRST client. That’s it. 

After that, think about your next 3-5 clients. Then, maybe a group program or an online course.

If you’ve already had a good number of clients in your business, you can start thinking about six figures and more. 

The thing is:

You need to earn the right to set bigger and bigger goals.

You might be thinking:

“I want to achieve my goal FAST. This feels too slow…”


Ever heard of the hockey stick growth curve? 

Basically, it’s a startup growth curve. First, you have slow growth. Once you come to a breaking point, that growth accelerates and goes pretty much straight up (like a hockey stick, get it?). 

Hockey stick growth graph

That’s the type of growth YOU want to achieve. 

The foolproof method for achieving your goals

As a former Space Station engineer, I think about goal-setting in a different way than many. You see, I focus relentlessly on the numbers. 

And that’s why I developed a foolproof method for achieving my goal by reverse-engineering them.

What this means is that I think about what my goal is AND how I will hit it (as you’ll see, I’m VERY methodical in my approach). 

How I reverse-engineer my goals

My process has always been the same, even when I didn’t have sophisticated marketing systems or a team.

Here’s how it works:

I start by setting business goals on a monthly and yearly basis. You can use this process to set short-term goals for a business, as well as plan out your long-term goals, like 5-year and 10-year business goals.

I write down my goal and a plan where I outline how I’ll hit it. (Fun fact: Research shows that those who write down their goals are far more likely to achieve them.)

Of course, the goals I write down look different today than they did at the beginning of my business.

Back then, I would write down a goal like: “Get one new client.”

Today, I’ll set revenue numbers for myself and then think about how I’ll hit those based on the data I have. 

YouTube video example
For example, tasks I work on to hit my revenue goal include writing emails and creating YouTube videos.

If I want to sell out a program, I look at it this way:

How many products (in my case, online courses) do I need to sell to get to my revenue goal? 

So, I look at my existing audience. How many people can I expect to convert? 

Once I’ve calculated how much I’ll make from audience members who buy my program, I know the remaining number of sales I need to make to make up the difference.

That’s when I create a plan for myself to make those extra sales.

For example:

Can I add things that increase the average order size, like upsells, or can I increase conversion rates? 

Do I run paid ads? Partner with affiliate partners? And what can I expect the conversion rate to be for this? 

Maybe I can publish a guest post in a publication like Business Insider and do livestreams on social media. 

Business Insider article

Once I know all this, these are the ONLY things I focus on in my business. I don’t run around trying to do a gazillion different things. Instead, I buckle down and get to work. 

And look:

The strategy behind an online business is pretty simple.

You need leads and sales in your business.

Those are the things you need to focus on. 

So decide, based on where you are in your business, how to get there.

If you’re just starting your business, you should focus on 3 online communities where you market your business. (Read my guide here!)

If you’re further ahead, you can focus on other ways to get clients. (Read about them here.)

Or if you’re building your online course, there are specific actions you need to take. (You can find my online course guide here.)

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Why you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket

That said, any sort of business advice that has you blindly following ONE way of doing something is massively flawed. And it will most likely fail.

Let me give you an example: 

Let’s say you’ve decided to get clients by pitching a guest post. Well, instead of pitching just one publication, you pitch several. If one publication rejects you, you have options.

As you can see, this is not about overwhelming yourself. Instead, it’s about using several versions of the same strategy. 

How to make sure you get your tasks done

You have a plan and you have tasks to execute… But how do you make sure that you get them done, no matter what? 

What I’ve done from the start is that I schedule everything.

I’m super detailed so that I don’t give myself any leeway. 

Here’s what my calendar looks like:

Business calendar for setting goals

Early on, when I was still in a 9-5, I would work on my business during lunch hours, mornings, and evenings. Everything was scheduled.

Screenshot of calendar

Does this mean that I’m a robot who executes tasks no matter what?

Of course not. Some days, I would skip my tasks. But I ALWAYS made sure to get them done every day after that.

The “secret” to effective goal-setting: Mindset

The key to hitting your goal is, in the end, to believe in them. And there’s a difference between trying to believe in your goal versus actually believing in it. 

The first time I read the popular book “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill, I tried everything the book said I should be doing. I wrote on a piece of paper that by a specific date, I would make $30,000 in my business. 

The only problem was: At that point, I had made $0 in my business. 

That’s why, deep down, I didn’t believe in my goal. I hadn’t sold a single unit in my business, so how could I have? 

On the other hand, when I made $1 million in my business in my first year, I first started with what I could believe. I had a plan that I knew worked (because I had already made a significant amount of money in my business) and that I was going to follow through on. 

I firmly believed in my goal despite any setbacks and rejections. And I had created proof for myself bit by bit so that I could build that belief. 

That’s why I was able to eventually hit that goal. And that’s why I didn’t make $30,000 when I was just starting to build my business.

Note that even if I HADN’T earned $1 million in my first year, I would have continued to believe in it and found ways to reach it. It’s not about achieving your goal right off the bat, but persisting until you do. And that takes us to the next chapter…

What to do when you don’t hit your goal

The beauty of reverse-engineering your goal is this:

Once you have set business goals and you have a plan, you don’t need to worry about things outside of your control.

Sometimes you just can’t control how things work out.

And you definitely won’t achieve every goal you have.

How to use every goal you don’t achieve as a way to grow

When you don’t hit your goals, revisit them.

For example, early on in my business, I got my first client and charged $5,000. I thought this meant that I was set and could just continue selling at this price. 

Little did I know… Over the next 30 calls, everyone I talked to said no. 

The reason? My first client trusted me on a very deep level because I had spent two weeks helping her for free. But I couldn’t keep on helping every potential client for free for two weeks.

So I reconsidered my offer. I COULD continue selling it for $5,000 and eventually get a client. Or, I could get some quick wins by lowering my price.

I opted for the latter and dropped my price to $1,500. After a few clients had converted at this price (and I was feeling much more confident about my offer), I raised my rate back to $5,000 and didn’t look back. 

At the end of the day, if you’re systematically working towards hitting your goals and revisiting them, you will improve in one way or another every month. Keep that in mind and remind yourself of how much you’ve improved. 

For example, maybe you didn’t hit that $10,000 goal this month, but you made $6,000, which is more than you’ve made so far. And now you know what went wrong this month, so you can reach your goal the next month instead.

How to prepare for failure

A big mistake so many new entrepreneurs make is to take failure as proof they’re not going to make it. 

But that’s not how it works.

Instead, take failure as part of the process. It’s a learning opportunity that will help you grow. 

In fact, you should plan for failure. Hope for success, but also plan for failure.

When I was planning for my $1 million launch, I asked myself: 

“What’s the worst-case scenario that can happen? How can I be prepared for it?” 

I estimated that I would need to spend $80,000 on ads to be able to hit my goal. (Keep in mind, this was after I had a proven process and knew how to run ads. I didn’t start with this number and I only made this investment once I had a lot of experience in running ads and launching.)

But I didn’t go out there and spend $80K at once. Instead, I asked myself what I was comfortable spending. That’s why I started by spending $30,000.

After I had made $100,000 in sales in one day, I moved to spend the rest of my budget. If I wouldn’t have made any more sales, I would have broken even, which I was something I would have been comfortable with.

This way, I planned for failure before going all in and minimized my risks. 

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How to get past rejection

When thinking about your goal, ask yourself: 

“What do I do if I get rejected?” 

For example, people will easily get discouraged if a potential client says “no” on a sales call. That’s when you have to plan for them to say “yes,” but also think about how you’ll react if they say “no.” 

Rejection is part of the process. Today, I have a multiple 7-figure business. I’ve been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, and Entrepreneur. I’ve worked with thousands of students, I have mountains of testimonials, and I’ve spoken in front of thousands of people on live events like Gary V Live. 

Gary V Live Luisa Zhou

And I still get rejected all the time. Take this podcast pitch I sent. The podcast host got back to me and said it wasn’t a fit. 

Guest post rejection email

That’s fine. It has nothing to do with my credentials. Rejection is just part of the game, but by looking past your rejections, you will start achieving your goals so much faster.

What’s your goal THIS month?

There you have it. Now you know how to set business goals and achieve them. Setting business goals doesn’t have to be difficult… What it comes down to is being extremely specific and taking action even when things get hard.

Now, over to you:

What goal are you going to achieve this month?

Let me know in the comments below.

About Luisa Zhou

Luisa Zhou has helped thousands of students build and scale their own profitable online Freedom Business. Fun Fact: She used to work as an engineer for the Space Station and holds a B.S.E. from Princeton. Click here to learn more about Luisa.

Hope you enjoy this blog post.

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How to Build a 6-Figure Coaching Business - Luisa Zhou-2

Want to Build a 6-Figure Coaching Business So You Can Achieve More Freedom?

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