When setting goals for your private practice this year, you are more likely to succeed if you have a structured plan.

One such plan is SMART goals. Coined in 1981 by George T. Doran (1935-2011) in an article in Management Review, the acronym stood for:

S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Assignable
R - Realistic
T - Time-related

Over the years, other experts substituted different words. "Assignable" has often been replaced by "Attainable" or "Action-oriented." "Realistic" has become "Relevant" or "Results-based." "Time-related" has been written as "Trackable" and "Time-based."

SMART is only one of many acronyms that have been applied to goal setting in organizations (others include CLEAR, QUEST, SMARTER, HARD and several more). They all have in common an emphasis on clear, specific goals that can be measured.

Most of these goal management systems were designed for corporations, but they have been used for individual goals as well. And, of course, they can be applied to your mental health practice.

Here's an example, using a modified version of SMART goals:

SMART goals

Image by Dungdm93 via Wikimedia.org


Specific: What results are you seeking - who, what, when, why, how?

To expand my business, I will get clients from at least three new referral sources in 2020. In order to do so I will first identify 15 professionals or organizations who can refer the types of clients that I enjoy working with. Next, I will develop a schedule to contact and meet with each referral source, and to keep in touch with them every two months.

Measurable: How will you measure progress, and how will you know when you have met your goal?

On my intake form I will ask new clients how they were referred to me. I will create a spreadsheet listing new clients, who referred them, and the dates when they were first seen. I will contact two prospective referral sources per week, requesting to set up a meeting to discuss how I can help their patients or clients.

Attainable: What skills and resources do you need? What are some obstacles to achieving your goal, and how will you address them?

The purpose of contacting prospective referral sources is to establish a working partnership with them, and to communicate how my expertise can help them and their clientele. For this I will need to develop some marketing materials such as business cards and informational handouts to give to referral sources. If my business cards need updating, I will order new ones within the next week. If I don't have any fact-sheet handouts I will create one by repurposing something I have already written, or by copying public-domain information from NIMH.

One possible obstacle to setting up meetings with prospective referral sources is that they may not reply to my first attempt at contacting them. For those who don't respond, I will follow up three times at two-week intervals, setting a reminder for myself on my calendar. I will create a dedicated spreadsheet to track my contacts and meetings with referral sources.

Another potential obstacle is my own anxiety and discouragement. When I feel like procrastinating, I will remind myself (just as I remind my clients) that the action steps I committed to are non-negotiable, regardless of how I feel at the moment.

Relevant: Does the goal fit with your long-term strategy? Are you able to commit the time and energy to meet your goal?

Expanding my referral base increases the odds of getting new clients who can benefit from my expertise, and my practice is apt to grow more quickly. I will then have the option of adding one or more clinicians, which could give my practice greater prominence in the community.

I am able to devote one to two hours per week in courting new referral sources. I will schedule the time on my calendar, rather than wait for a free hour to open up.

Time-based: What is the time frame for achieving your goal?

I expect to reach or surpass my goal of referrals from three new referral sources within one year. Interim goals are to get referrals from at least one new source every 4 months.

Setting up your own SMART Goals

If you are ready to set up your own SMART goal, start with something that is important to you. It may not even be directly business-related. For instance, your SMART goal may focus on enjoying more quality time with your partner and/or family, or attending to your own health or spiritual needs. Attaining these types of goals can indirectly have a positive effect on your practice, to the extent that you are happier and less stressed overall.