If you’re at all familiar with our approach to accounting for business success and personal wellbeing, it won’t come as a surprise that we’re not really the types to set New Year’s resolutions just for the sake of tradition. Because financial and sales goals usually revolve around the tax year, it’s convenient for many business owners to review those things in December. But for us, there’s also a natural lull in activity in the last few weeks of the calendar year that makes it a great time to make adjustments to our strategic plan that affect daily processes and workflows. It might come at a different time for you, but as I’ll explain, using slow periods to find clarity on what your business really needs and implement all kinds of changes will give you certain advantages when it comes to creating the kinds of success you want.
Keep a Running List of Frustrations
Making the most of this season takes year-round preparation. I keep a running list of things that aren’t working in OneNote and regularly take notes on what’s bugging me in my business. I also have sections for things that frustrate my team and my clients. It gives me a place to get things off my chest when I’m busy, and the end-of-the-year lull is when I take this list out and spend some quality time with it. For my team and client concerns, I can determine if it’s something I want to address or if perhaps the client wasn’t a great fit. Most importantly, looking at everything at once gives me the perspective I need to make decisions that work across multiple aspects of my business.
One thing that’s been on my list for a few years is the problem that when I send a checklist of documents I need from my clients stating that I won’t start their returns until I have everything on the list—there are always a few that send me incomplete information. Similarly, I always get a handful of updates from clients after I’ve filed their returns; for instance, they’ve refinanced their home, moved to a new address or made a donation and forgot to notify our team. While this is not part of my financial review, it really affects my energy and my productivity. I’ve tried a few different ways to get ahead of this, and nothing has completely solved the problem yet, but focusing on one strategy at a time helps me know what’s working and what’s not.
Find Time to Retreat
As I mentioned, taking advantage of the slowest week or two of the year to make high-level strategic decisions has helped me make big strides toward creating the business I want. Notice that we are not necessarily talking about growth; business goals are not just the dollar amount coming in through sales, but the kinds of activity and well-defined outcomes I want to see. During this yearly retreat, I look at every “department” on a granular level: my people, my systems, my processes, my communication, my boundaries and my fees. I take the time and space I need to get real and vulnerable about imperfections in my business, look for common threads and meaning in my data, prioritize, create action steps with timelines and schedule everything. After taking this approach for a couple of years, I found that I had clearer insights when I took time to review everything at once than when I tried to make these decisions on a case-by-case basis throughout the year.
In the past, I have recruited a coach or business bestie to go through this process with me and hold me accountable for implementing these decisions later on. Now that I have a team, I gather everyone on-site for a four-day retreat. Our agenda typically includes addressing what’s working and not working for the team, identifying knowledge gaps and bringing team up to speed, reviewing our tools to make sure they are being used appropriately and creating accountability systems for any decisions we make. My top priority for this retreat is reassessing my expectations for the team and what they expect of me.
Think bigger than revenue goals
I’ve found that I have more control over my business when I look at revenue as an outcome or a byproduct of my activities rather than a goal in itself. For the past three years, I have been focusing more on increasing profitability than increasing sales. I have a long-term goal to reach seven figures, but I knew that with the kinds of activity and the issues I was dealing with on a daily basis, I would never get there without making some big changes. I have made some changes to my offerings and internal processes, like letting go of my physical office spaces, that took off some financial pressure and allowed me to hire a great team. We also decided to create a new policy of not returning original documents that has saved us a lot of time and up to $2k per year in postage. Now I’m getting back to a place where I can feel good about landing lots of new clients!
At the end of the day (or the year, for that matter), it’s not just about selling more, doing more activity or hiring more people. The point of this strategic planning process is getting super real about what’s happening in your business and understanding the complexity of what works and what doesn’t. It’s about creating goals out of that information that are less arbitrary and more realistic; not making a million dollars, but revamping communication systems, setting and enforcing boundaries, cutting out unnecessary costs or fixing any of the other issues on your list. It takes vulnerability to accept your own imperfections as a leader and then figure out what really needs to change, create a plan with accountability in mind and schedule out the steps. And don’t forget that communicating your plan to your team, your clients and an accountability partner is the critical final step!
I hope this process helps you become more conscious, connected and committed as a business leader. If this article has sparked any great ideas or questions for you, I’d love to hear about it! Let’s get in touch.