One of the reasons this part of business planning can become a little confusing is that lots of different words are used to mean more or less the same thing. Some people will call objectives aims, others will call them goals, and they may also be referred to as targets. It really doesn't matter what you call them, as long as you know what they are, and why you need them. For us, they are the next level down in the hierarchy from Vision, to Mission, to Objectives (next will come Activities). Each level gets a little more detailed.
Your objectives are the key things that you want to achieve, in order to achieve your social mission. They will give the reader a feel of the means that will achieve your end.
At start-up, you'll probably find it most useful to concentrate on short-to medium-term objectives - ie the next 18 months/2 years/3 years - whatever makes sense for you. Anything beyond that is probably just guess-work at this stage. What are the key things that you want to achieve in this timescale?
Some social enterprises find it useful to organise their objectives into social and financial objectives - or even social, environmental and financial objectives. This reflects the fact that they judge success by a double or triple bottom line - as opposed to the single bottom line (profit) by which conventional businesses have been traditionally judged.
If you organise your objectives in this way, it can help you to identify whether there is a good balance between what you're trying to achieve socially, and what you're planning to achieve financially. If there's lots of talk about the good you're going to do, but not about how you're going to make money, then you may need to think again.
There are no hard and fast rules about what makes a good set of objectives. It's worth remembering that your objectives are a key part of your business plan - once you're up and running you should regularly be referring to your objectives to see if you're on the way to achieving them (by undertaking your activities - next section). So as a result, you want to keep them fairly simple - so if you've got more than six or seven objectives, it might be worth asking yourselves whether you're trying to achieve too much.
If you do a good job of defining your objectives, it will be a lot easier to undertake social accounting in the future - as social accounting is basically about assessing how you are achieving your objectives - and letting others know about it. Successfully achieving your social objectives is the added value for which your customers or investors may be happy to pay a premium.
We couldn't write about objectives without mentioning the word SMART - which is an acronym which reminds you to set objectives which are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. In other words, don't set yourself daft objectives which you've got no chance of achieving (and which you won't know if you've achieved or not)! We found a good exlanation of SMART objectives on this blog.