What do your goals for your business look like? Are you setting goals to set goals later?

By Mana Ionescu (Founder & President, Lightspan Digital)

At a recent business conference, I got to observe how many folks set goals… to set goals later. I was more than a bit shocked that half of the business people in the room wanted to build successful businesses. Yet they set a goal to decide in the next six months what they want to do next.

This didn’t seem productive to me. Also, I didn’t know how to help. In a business sense, how do you help someone who says they don’t know what they want?

Women 2.0 asked me to share a bit about my path to being a successful entrepreneur, and since I continue to be preoccupied with the importance of goal-setting I’d love to share a few hard lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1. Remember That a Goal to Set a Goal is Not a Goal

Who are we kidding? Only ourselves, and that’s a sure path to failure. It’s very important that we are honest in what we want to accomplish — with ourselves first, then with others.

I once sat on a panel with a successful male business owner who loudly and clearly stated, “I’ll be honest, I want to make millions of dollars before I’m 30.” And I believed he would accomplish his goal. The mere expression of the goal showed clarity and determination. I could picture people jumping in to help him, because it’s clear what he wants.

We’ve been taught (directly or indirectly) that expressing a money goal is close to avarice and may somehow be immoral.

But let’s admit it: If you want to make money, they only way to get there is to admit it, make it specific, make a plan and go for it. It doesn’t help to pretend the goal is something else. Meeting big goals requires support, and you won’t get it if you aren’t honest about what you’re looking to accomplish.

2. Squash the Self Doubt

“What if” and “but” have their place in life, but there is also a time to ignore them. It’s likely that as soon as you read this, you started to say “yes, but” or some other variation.

Together with “I don’t know if,” these expressions are killers of action. And without action you have nothing but empty words. I read once that it’s easier to do a 180-degree move if you’re already moving than if you’re standing still. A zero energy object resists movement. Do you truly want to be that zero energy object? Do you want others to see you as the zero energy object?

So get moving.

Accept that you may fail. Know that you will certainly succeed. One of my favorite things about being an entrepreneur is that I am allowed to fail. I won’t get fired. I only really compete with myself. I also love being wrong. Because for someone to prove me wrong, especially my employees, it means I planted a seed that’s growing. I elicited movement and ultimately we are all better off for it.

But if I held back on trying things and taking chances, I would never know that. And I would certainly not be where I am today.

At 18, I left Romania to go to school to Bulgaria. I didn’t know the language, and I didn’t know anyone there. I got a scholarship and I went.

When I graduated from college, I got a scholarship to go to grad school in the U.S. I arrived with $200 and found out that wasn’t enough to make my housing deposit. I was crying in the school lobby when a professor found me and talked to his family about housing me until I could earn enough to get a room on campus.

When I graduated from grad school, I had $100 to my name ($20 borrowed from another kind professor.) I packed up my car and drove to Chicago, where I knew two people. I made it here broke and refused to give up.

Today I look back on it and realize all of that was crazy. Just absolutely crazy chances and choices, yet the best choices I could have ever made. I still don’t understand fully how or why. I just know I was clear and determined; I wanted a marketing communications career, and I was willing to work hard at it.

I refused to dwell on the roadblocks and challenges along the way. They were hard and painful when they happened, but in the grander scheme of things I knew challenges are temporary. Accomplishments are long lasting. Today I am a U.S. citizen. I’ve built a career I am proud of and a strong business that employs some of the best digital marketers in Chicago.

Do not let self doubt hold power over you and your future. It doesn’t define you and it’s not you. You are the boss of it.


Collaborating during a Master Mind session at the Genius Shared Chicago conference, June 2014. Photo credit, Raul Colon of limonadeinc.com.

3. Embrace Determination

Some may call you stubborn. Embrace it. I choose to call it determination. Thomas Edison called it “stick-to-itiveness.” He said, “The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”

We often fail to embrace what determination truly means: Firmness of purpose and resoluteness. Obviously, if you don’t have purpose, you can’t be determined. This is another reason why I dislike postponing setting goals. Finding that purpose is much too important to start any other day but today.

People who are determined have clarity and focus. They are unwavering in their pursuit. They ooze confidence. And as a result they attract help.

During my corporate career, I frequently read in my reviews that I needed to be more flexible. I often asked for clarification and it usually came down to a cultural expectation. Although not stated so, women are expected to be softer in their communication, more giving in to others’ pursuits. Collaborative and nurturing. Selfless. We simply cannot be “mad scientists,” focused and determined the way men seem to be expected to be.

Not everyone saw it like this, but we cannot deny there are cookie-cutter employment profiles that willingly or unwillingly support this paradigm.

I’ve always been a direct communicator and have had my wrist slapped for it, over and over again. When I started my business, I found the opposite to be true from what was expected of me in my corporate career. I found I could be determined and flexible. I found I could be direct and collaborative. The more I embraced my natural way of doing things, the more successful I became. The more steadfast I appeared, the more people wanted to join in and help. When I was wishy-washy I failed. When I was clear and direct in my purpose, I succeeded.

I can guarantee you that if you set your purpose and express determination in reaching it, you will get more support from those around you than you’ve ever imagined. Employees will work harder, spouses will be more supportive, your children will mirror your confidence, you’ll have an easier time gaining funding and other kinds of outside support. Others will feel like heroes helping you. So give them a reason to do so.

Purpose, action and determination will be your strongest allies in your pursuits. Take the time to sharpen those tools, and strengthen those muscles. Practice every day and you will get where you want to be and so much further.

Want to hear more from Mana? She’ll be speaking at our City Meetup in Chicago this Thursday, June 10. RSVP today >