The busiest quarter of the year for our industry will soon be behind us. You are most likely feeling overwhelmed by lack of sleep and tired fingers and feet. Or you may be disappointed that it wasn’t as good as you had hoped.
Either way, as you turn the pages of the calendar from one year to the next, we have a unique opportunity to learn from our past mistakes, as well as our successes, and to create a dynamic plan for the remainder of the year. In other words, now is the ideal time for new beginnings. It’s the time to take a deep breath, find a quiet spot and pause to reflect on your accomplishments as well as your failures.
You may suspect that I’m going to tell you that this is the time you need to dig out that business plan or, if you don’t have one, let’s start making one.
Far from it.
When I first started my business, I did all the research and created a detailed business plan. I always recommend doing this if for no other reason than it helps clarify what you need and what you may be missing. But since then I’ve experimented with all sorts of different planning techniques including not planning at all. As a result, I’ve discovered that without some sort of plan, I tend to go around in circles, making
mistakes along the way.
So, no, I’m not saying you have to have a technical business plan. You probably aren’t going to be taking one to the bank to apply for a loan so your plan serves a different purpose. I consider my plan for each year to be “planning my strategies” and I’m going to share with you how I do it.
If you want to follow along with me, I suggest that you write your thoughts down as they come to you. Get out that pen and write them — don’t type them. Brainstorming is wonderful but it’s easy to forget those little things that you think of as you read. Our brains also seem to work better and remember more when we transfer our thoughts from our brain to our fingers.
The biggest lie I tell myself is
I don’t need to write that down.
I’ll remember it!
I begin by taking time to reflect on why I started my business 30 years ago and how I may have strayed from what created the initial passion.
Next, I review the past year and determine what, if anything, needs to be changed. I begin with the good stuff by writing down the following:
- A list of all the things I can think of that I’ve accomplished this year.
- Mark the three things that I am most proud of.
- Mark the things that have surprised me in a positive way.
As we’ve all learned, everything doesn’t always go as well as we had hoped in January 2021. We learn from the bad things too. So I write down:
- The things I wish I had done but didn’t do.
- The things that didn’t go as well as planned.
- The things that surprised me in a negative way.
- One thing that I won’t do or try again.
The next thing that I do is look at the things that can be measured. You have been keeping records, haven’t you?
If you’re still following along with me, get out your financial records and look at where most of your customers are coming from.
- How many of your old customers did you lose and why did you lose them?
- Are most of your sales profitable?
- Are you happy with the profit for the past year?
- How about your pricing and designs?
- Do you offer too many choices or not enough?
Decide if you need to be targeting a different market. In what area are you making the most sales? The least?
Is your business profitable throughout the year or is it a seasonal business? By looking at your business differently and changing your basic business model, you can expand those seasonal highs into year-round sales.
What about your marketing?
- Are you tracking it and determining what has worked and what hasn’t?
- Are you constantly educating yourself about new methods and opportunities for marketing?
- Had you promised yourself to use more social media or create regular posts for a blog but let it fall by the wayside?
- Are you a local business that would like to expand into a national one?
- Have you educated yourself on how to create a successful e-commerce business?
- Have you considered offering your designs to other gift basket companies on a drop ship basis?
- Or perhaps you should consider increasing your sales by adding drop shipped gift baskets to those you create. The internet has made these options more possible than ever before.
- Are you still doing everything yourself?
- Do you have employees that cost you more than you feel they are worth?
These are lots of questions to think about and answer but taking the time to do so can make a huge difference in the coming year. Now that you’ve done all this, here are some other questions to ask yourself (and write the answers down) before we move on to the next phase.
- What is your biggest business objective for the coming year?
- What is the most important thing in your business? In your life?
- Where are your biggest opportunities as you enter the new year?
- Where do you see a gap in your market that everyone else is missing? What is needed?
- What do your customers complain about?
- Where are you leaving money on the table?
- What new revenue streams can you most easily add next year?
- What are your top three time eaters and energy drainers?
- What is your “Biggest Opportunity Project” for 2022?
- What are the top five marketing strategies that you need to focus on?
- What marketing strategies do you need to either drop or cut back on?
- How will you know at the end of 2022 that you’ve had a great year?
Hopefully as you think through each question and write the answers down, you will have some ah-ha moments that you might have missed before.
Okay, time to take a break. That’s a lot of thinking and writing and, like Rome, it doesn’t have to be done in a day. Once I’ve done this part of my planning, I sleep on it. I’ve found that, for me, nighttime is the time when answers come and ideas swim around in my subconscious mind. By morning, I usually have more thoughts to add to the list and some of the ones that I was unsure about have become more defined.
The Next Step — Create Your Goal for the Year
Setting a SPECIFIC and COMPELLING goal is the most critical part of my business strategy. It’s my “burning desire” as someone once called it. It’s the fuel that feeds my creativity and guides me through obstacles and challenges. It helps me make business and personal decisions. So, yes, it is very important.
And IT REALLY WORKS!
For each year, I pick just ONE big goal. I have lots of little goals that add to that goal but I have only ONE main goal. Why only one? I have found that if I really want to achieve something, I am better off focusing 100% on that one thing than jumping from one goal to another.
The magic is finding a goal that YOU really want to accomplish. It has to be something that is important to you and that you really, really, really want to achieve. And you need to be able to measure it so that you know whether you’ve reached it and can see your progress along the way. You want to be able to measure your progress monthly, and weekly, and maybe even daily.
Your goal can be anything as long as it is important enough to be your driving focus for the next year and you can measure it.
It can be a financial goal. Perhaps you want to make a certain amount of money this year. The most obvious way to do this is to increase sales revenue and profit. Sales revenue can be easy to measure but sometimes profit isn’t quite so easy to track. The profit you make in your business is your revenue less all your costs. If you aren’t keeping these records up to date and just toss your receipts into a shoe box, you aren’t going to be able to measure your profits.
Maybe you have an important goal that you want to achieve that is not financial. It’s fine to use that instead. The most important thing is to be sure that it is something you really have a passion to achieve and know why you want to achieve it.
The WHY is another part of the magic. Your goal and why you want it should be so big that you wake up excited to work on it every morning and you’re still thinking about it every night. If your goal is to “make more money,” be specific as to HOW MUCH more money and WHY you want to make more. The money itself is just a number in a checkbook or on a balance sheet. It’s what you want to do with that money that is the big prize.
Once you’ve decided on that one big goal, I suggest you write it out and put it where you can see it every day.
Now comes the Strategies
The next step that I do is to create the strategies that I need to accomplish my one big goal. You can write them out any way that you want but this is what I do:
- I sit down at my dining room table with a BIG piece of paper and a pack of Post-it notes.
- I write the Big Goal on the paper.
I start thinking of activities that I can do to reach my business goal:
- Writing each one on a Post-it note and stick the notes randomly on the large piece of paper.
- I don’t worry if they sound crazy. Many times these crazy ideas lead to excellent ones.
- I take a break and then come back to the project. When I return, I usually have more ideas to add.
- Next, I take all the Post-it notes off the paper and sort them into groups that are similar and give each group a name — such as social media, article marketing, cut expenses, etc.
- I look at each group and if I have lots of groups, I try to combine them into no more than 3-5 groups. The reason that less is more is that it is always better to do a few strategies very well than to do a bit here and there with a lot of strategies. You can’t do everything that you wrote down this year so keep only the most important ones.
- What I have now is One Big Goal, 3-5 strategies to reach that goal, and a number of activities for each strategy. Now I go to my computer.
- I open a Word document and type the big goal at the top. I then create a column for each of the 3-5 main strategies and list each activities under the correct strategy.
As an example, if I want to increase my profits by 25% next year, my three strategies may be (1) cut expenses (2) increase internet sales (3) build a larger local customer base. My activities would then go under each strategy
Now Break that Big Goal Down into Smaller Chunks
This Word document can be intimidating if you aren’t careful. So before you throw up your hands in exasperation, let me remind you that this is for a whole year.
You don’t do everything all at once.
You break it down into smaller chunks. For most things, I usually use a three-month time period.
If it is much longer than that, it’s all too easy to put the activity off until later. If it is too short, I feel frustrated as I try to do too much at once.
You’ve already done the hard work so just look at the document and decide what you can achieve in the next three months.
At the end of the three months, I look at the list once again and see what I have accomplished as well as what I wasn’t successful at doing. Don’t be discouraged if you haven’t done everything you plan to do. Life intervenes and some activities take longer than others.
Then I determine what I can do during the next 90 day period. And repeat the same process.
The Magic that Makes it Work
No, I’m not going to leave you hanging here. There is one more step that creates the magic that makes this whole process work for me. And it is very simple to do.
Remember I told you that the magic of brainstorming is transferring words from your brain to your fingers that write them on paper. This is the very same magic that helps keep you on track.
Some people call it record keeping. I call it fun.
At the end of each year, I buy a journal. It can be a pretty journal or just a school composition book — whatever works for you. It doesn’t have to be big because even though you are going to write in it every day for the next year, you aren’t going to write much each day.
On the first page, I write my Big Goal for the year.
On the next page, I write my goal for the first 3 months and the strategies that I’ve decided I need to do to accomplish that three month goal.
And then each day I write down what I have done to work towards that goal. They don’t have to be big things but they need to be things that you’ve actually done that day.
On your days off (and hopefully you don’t work every day of the week), still dig out your journal and write down any thoughts you have that will help you accomplish your three-month goal.
Write down your progress. If the goal is financial, you should be keeping records that will let you know how you are doing. It’s wonderful to see how much closer you may be towards that Big Goal. But even if you are slipping or not going forward as much as you want, this will tell you where you are and give you the incentive to push harder and perhaps try something different.
As I go through the year, I think of new activities that will help me reach my goal. Perhaps I read about something I wasn’t aware of or learned a new skill. Evolution requires adjustments so don’t be afraid to make them.
- Sometimes it helps to set certain days to do certain things. When I was a stay-at-home mom, I would plan to wash clothes on one day, cook for the freezer on another day, etc. I still set up a loose schedule for business but never let it tie me down.
So that’ s it. Not as hard as sitting down and trying to write out a detailed business plan that you can take to the bank but it serves the same purpose.
You are creating a plan for your business — but one that is a whole lot simpler and one that is more likely to be followed rather than sat on a shelf until you dig it out next January.,